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Women Still Drinking During Pregnancy

Despite the Surgeon General’s warning that alcohol can affect unborn children, pregnant women haven’t changed their drinking habits much over the past two decades, the CDC said.

The average annual percentage of pregnant women who drank remained relatively stable at about 12% for any alcohol use and 2% for binge drinking, C. H. Denny, Ph.D., of the CDC, and colleagues reported in the May 22 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

“The prevalence of any alcohol use and binge drinking among pregnant and nonpregnant women of childbearing age did not change substantially over the years of the study,” the researchers said.

The U.S. Surgeon General has consistently advised women against drinking alcohol during pregnancy. National prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome is about 0.5 to 2.0 cases per 1,000 births, but the other fetal alcohol spectrum disorders occur about three times as often, the researchers said.

They analyzed data from Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System telephone surveys conducted between 1991 and 2005.

The surveys ask about any alcohol use — drinking in the past 30 days — and binge drinking.

The prevalence of any alcohol use and binge drinking among pregnant and nonpregnant women did not change substantially between 1991 and 2005.

The average annual proportion of pregnant women who used any alcohol was 12.2%, while 1.9%. reported binge drinking Those numbers were 53.7% and 12.1%, respectively, for women who weren’t pregnant.

Women with the highest rates of drinking during pregnancy were older, college graduates, employed, and unmarried.

Between 2001 and 2005, 17.7% of pregnant women ages 35 to 44 reported having at least one drink in the past 30 days, compared with 8.6% of women ages 18 to 24.

Also, more-educated pregnant women were more likely to use alcohol. The rate was 14.4% among those with a college degree or higher, compared with 8.5% for those with high school diploma or less.

More employed than unemployed pregnant women reported having a drink in the past month (13.7% versus 8.3%), as did more unmarried than married women (13.4% versus 10.2%).

There were similar results with the last two groups for binge drinking. A higher percentage of employed pregnant women versus unemployed women had an alcohol binge (2.3% versus 1.3%), as did more unmarried than married women (3.6% versus 1.1%).

While it’s not well understood why drinking habits differ across certain aspects of social status, the researchers had a few possible explanations. It could be that older women may be more alcohol dependent and have more difficulty abstaining from alcohol while pregnant, they speculated.

Also, they said, more-educated women and employed women might have more discretionary money to spend on alcohol.

And unmarried women might attend more social occasions where alcohol is served, the researchers said.

They emphasized that healthcare providers should routinely ask women of childbearing age about their alcohol use and inform them of the risks of drinking during pregnancy.

Alcohol use levels before pregnancy are a strong predictor of alcohol use during pregnancy, the researchers said. Many women who use alcohol continue to do so during the early weeks of gestation because they don’t realize they’re pregnant, as about half of all births are unplanned.

About 40% of women realize they’re pregnant at four weeks’ gestation, a critical period for fetal organ development, the researchers noted.

The researchers said their study was limited by self-reported data, including the potential underreporting of negative health behaviors such as binge drinking and other alcohol use during pregnancy.

source: MedPage Today

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