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Drinking alcohol while pregnant ‘common’

Tuesday July 7th, 2015

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is common among women in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia – especially if they are also smokers, researchers warn today.

Researchers based their findings on three studies: The Growing up in Ireland (GUI) study; the Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) study; and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), which involved a total of 17,244 women in the four countries.

They found a high prevalence of drinking, including binge drinking, among expectant mothers, which ranged from 20% to 80% in Ireland, and from 40% to 80% in the other three countries.

While drinking alcohol while pregnant was seen across all social strata, the most consistent predictor of a heightened risk of drinking alcohol during pregnancy across all three studies was smoking, with smokers 17-50% more likely to drink while pregnant.

The study, published in BMY Open, found that women in Ireland had the highest rates of drinking, both before (90%) and during (82%) pregnancy, and of binge drinking, before (59%) and during (45%) pregnancy, based on estimates from the SCOPE study.

However, the researchers have urged caution over the figures because estimates of drinking during pregnancy from the PRAMS and GUI studies were substantially lower (20-46%), with only 3% of women reporting binge drinking in the PRAMS research.

The amount of alcohol drunk varied across the three studies, with between 15% and 70% of the women said that they had drunk 1-2 units a week during the first trimester of their pregnancy. However, units drunk – and binge drinking – dropped in all four countries between the first and second trimester.

Compared with white women, those of other ethnicities were less likely to drink alcohol while pregnant, while women between the ages of 30 and 39 were also less likely to do so than older women.

A higher level of education, having other children, and being overweight or obese were also associated with a lower risk of drinking while pregnant.

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, described the findings as “concerning”.

“Smoking is known to worsen outcomes and the effects are even worse if combined with alcohol consumption,” she said. “Where midwives are encouraging women to quit smoking they should also ask about alcohol consumption and encourage abstinence during pregnancy.

“The overall number of pregnant women who continue to drink alcohol during pregnancy is very concerning, as there is no evidence that any level of consumption is safe for the growing baby. This is why the RCM continues to advise women to abstain from drinking alcohol when pregnant or if trying to conceive. Drinking around conception and during the first three months may also increase the chance of having a miscarriage.”

O’Keeffe L et al. Research: Prevalence and predictors of alcohol use during pregnancy: findings from international multicentre cohort studies. BMJ Open 7 July 2015; doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006323 [abstract]

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

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