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Irish women top study for binge drinking while pregnant

NewsBy Morgan Flanagan Creagh
Irish women top study for binge drinking while pregnant

A new study conducted by researchers at Cambridge found that pregnant Irish women drink more than those in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with many mums-to-be downing up to six units of alcohol per session.

The report means that Irish women are ignoring public health guidelines which say women should give up alcohol because of the risk of mental and physical problems the unborn baby may suffer.

The new research compared previous studies involving 17,244 women who delivered live babies in the four countries.

It found prevalence of drinking alcohol ranged from 20pc to 80pc in Ireland, and from 40pc to 80pc in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Dr Linda O’Keefe of Cambridge University who led the study said that the finding show that “new police and interventions are required to reduce alcohol prevalence bot h prior to and during pregnancy.”

The research, which is to be published in the British Medical Journal today found that nine out of ten Irish women drank before they became pregnant, this compares to 83 per cent in the UK, 77 per cent in New Zealand and 55 per cent in Australia.

More than eight out of ten Irish women 82 per cent, admitted having some alcohol during the first trimester, compared to 75-per cent in the UK, 56 per cent in New Zealand and almost 40 per cent in Australia.

Finally a shocking 45 per cent of Irish women admitted to binge drinking during the first trimester, compared to a third of women in the UK, 10 per cent in Australia and 8 per cent in New Zealand.

But the researchers also pointed out the exact prevalence could be far lower - as estimates of drinking during pregnancy from two other Irish studies were substantially lower at 20pc and 46pc.

Those studies suggested 3pc of Irish women reported binge drinking.

The reported alcohol units women drink dropped substantially in all countries between the first and second trimester, as did binge drinking.

While women across all social classes drank, they were much more likely to be drinkers if they were also smokers.

The researchers point out most clinical and government guidelines advise women to stop drinking during pregnancy.

Most of these women consumed alcohol at very low levels and the number of pregnant women who drank heavily in the three studies was small, they say.

Nevertheless, given that the risks of light drinking are not fully known, the most sensible option is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy, they add.

"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 widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern," they warn.

The Department of Health here advises total abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy. One of the problems is that women can be unaware they are in early pregnancy.