Binge-drinking in pregnancy: the truth behind the headlines

Are the claims that large numbers of women drink heavily while pregnant really true?

binge-drinking-in-pregnancy-the-truth-behind-the-headlines_127712

Recent headlines suggest that a large number of us are binge-drinking during pregnancy. But, if you look more closely at the studies, that number may not actually be as high – or as shocking – as it’s been reported.

Advertisement

So where does this information come from?

The figures come from a data analysis of three recent studies which looked into amount and type of alcohol drink by 17,000 pregnant women across the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

What is being reported?

If you read the scary headlines, you would assume that pregnant women are swigging back alcoholic drinks with abandon. You could be forgiven for thinking that a large number of women – and, in particular, women in the UK and Ireland – are regularly binge-drinking while pregnant but, from what we can tell, this isn’t a completely accurate picture of the researchers’ findings.   

What is the truth?

The researchers found that drinking alcohol is common in pregnancy – ranging from 20% to 80% of the pregnant women questioned for the various studies. But most of the women who did consume alcohol did so in very moderate amounts (1 to 2 units a week), and the number of pregnant women who drank heavily was very small across all three studies.

Interestingly, researchers also found that it was more common for women to drink in the 1st 3 months of pregnancy (between 15% and 70%, depending on the study, drank 1-2 units a week in their 1st trimester). Later in pregnancy, consumption of alcohol dropped substantially, even among the small number of women who’d reported binge-drinking earlier on.

This does seem to suggest that at least some of those women who did drink heavily early in pregnancy may not have known they were pregnant at the time.

“This study suggests women in the UK reduce their alcohol consumption dramatically when they find out they are pregnant,” commented Clare Murphy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in The Independent. “By the 2nd trimester, many women are not drinking at all. And, among those who are consuming some alcohol, nearly all are doing so at very low levels where there is no evidence of harm.”

So, how much can I safely drink during pregnancy?

You can find out more about whether it’s safe to drink alcohol in pregnancy in the latest guidelines

Advertisement

Read more:

Comments ()

Please read our Chat guidelines.