Drinking During Pregnancy 'Prevalent and Socially Pervasive' in Ireland

By May Wilkerson 07/09/15

Even low levels of alcohol consumption by pregnant women is a significant health concern.

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Alcohol use by pregnant women is “prevalent and socially pervasive” in Ireland, according to an international study.

The research compared drinking patterns before and during pregnancy in Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Ireland had the highest rates of alcohol consumption at 90% pre-pregnancy and 82% during pregnancy. The country also had the highest rates of prenatal binge drinking, at 59% pre-pregnancy and 45% during pregnancy.

Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy even at low levels is, “a significant public health concern,” said researchers.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy was common in all four countries studied, with rates at 40% and up in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. In all four countries, rates of drinking and binge drinking decreased significantly in the second trimester.

Overall, researchers found that non-white women were less likely to drink before and during pregnancy, along with younger women, those with more education and those who already had children. In Ireland, researchers also found that expectant mothers were significantly more likely to drink alcohol if they were also smokers.

Most women who drink while pregnant consume smaller amounts of alcohol, and the potential harms of this remain controversial. But experts agree that heavy drinking or binge drinking can put unborn babies at risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which can harm physical and mental development.

Dr. Peter Boylan, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, said Ireland has a widespread problem with excessive drinking so "it’s no surprise the same thing extends into pregnancy.”

While there is no evidence to support that low levels of drinking during pregnancy is harmful, he said that excessive drinking or binge drinking while pregnant is a cause for concern. He said the government should intervene and recommended education and the restriction of cheap alcohol sales as a potential solution.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.