Most women know they’re not supposed to drink while they’re pregnant. Yet, alcohol is the number one drug problem in the United States, and about one in 13 pregnant women reportedly abuse alcohol.
As bad as that sounds, things are far worse in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. According to a University of Cambridge study published in BMJ Open, as many as 80% of women drank during pregnancy.
Researchers analyzed the data from 17,244 women from the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand through the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI), Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) and Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) studies.
The results show a high percentage of expectant mothers aren’t aware of how risky it is to drink during pregnancy.
Researchers found that drinking during pregnancy is common amongst 20-80% of the study subjects across all three data sets. If a woman is a smoker, there’s a 17-50% chances that she also drinks alcohol.
Ireland had the highest rates of drinking, as 90% of Irish women drink before pregnancy, and 82% continue to drink after. Worse, 59% binge on alcohol before their pregnancy, and 45% binge-drink during their pregnancy, particularly during the crucial first trimester.
In each country studied, 15-70% of the participants confirmed having drunk one to two units a week during the crucial first trimester, with units dropping off towards the second semester, and binge drinking becoming less frequent.
“Alcohol use during pregnancy is highly prevalent, and evidence from this cross-cohort and cross-country comparison shows that gestational alcohol exposure may occur in over 75% of pregnancies in the UK and Ireland,” the researchers write.
However, it should be noted that most of the women studied consumed alcohol at very low levels, and that the number of women who drank heavily while pregnant was small. Nevertheless, the risks of even a little drinking during pregnancy are still unknown, making abstinence the best option.
“Since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood [than at higher levels],” the authors conclude, “the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern.”