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Drinking in pregnancy 'predictable'

Wednesday July 17th, 2013

Women's pre-pregnancy drinking habits are linked to the amount they tend to drink when pregnant, new research shows.

The researchers surveyed 1,969 women taking part in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, with the aim of identifying those at risk of high alcohol intake during pregnancy. Surveys were completed at five points between 1996 and 2009.

About four-fifths of the women reported consuming alcohol during pregnancy, but intakes were mostly low - one or two drinks per drinking day - and 90% drank just once or twice per week.

Women who drank every week before pregnancy were 50% more likely than others to continue drinking during pregnancy, compared with those who drank less often than weekly. Previous binge drinking doubled the chance of continue to drink during pregnancy.

When official guidelines promoted abstinence, 78% of the women drank some alcohol, whereas with low alcohol guidelines the drinking rate was higher, at 85%.

Lead researcher, Amy Anderson, of the University of Newcastle in Australia, said: "Pre-pregnancy alcohol consumption was a significant risk factor for antenatal alcohol use. Our results also suggest that more conservative drinking guidelines may influence the behaviour of pregnant women. However, even under guidelines promoting abstinence, the majority of women continued to consume alcohol while pregnant.

"These findings suggest that to avoid alcohol-exposed pregnancies, risky episodic and regular alcohol use by women of childbearing age should be addressed prior to conception. More effective dissemination of guideline recommendations may also be useful."

The study appears today (17 July) in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The research was welcomed by the UK Royal College of Midwives.

Janet Fyle, of the college, said: “This is very useful research that supports our advice to women about alcohol and pregnancy.

“There is a large amount of evidence suggesting that the cumulative effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can harm the developing foetus.  Our advice continues to be that for women who are trying to conceive or those that are pregnant it is best to avoid alcohol."

Anderson, A. E. et al. Predictors of antenatal alcohol use among Australian women: a prospective cohort study. BJOG 17 July 2013 doi:10.1111/1471-0528.12356

Tags: Australia | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Drug & Alcohol Abuse | Nursing & Midwifery | UK News | Women’s Health & Gynaecology

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