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Research Summary

The Prevalence of Drinking Among Women Who Are or Might Become Pregnant

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can harm both the mother and the fetus. To characterize alcohol use among women who are pregnant or might become pregnant (i.e., are sexually active, able to become pregnant, and do not use birth control), researchers in the United States analyzed data from women aged 18-44 years who had participated in a national behavioral risk survey.

  • About 10% of 2689 pregnant women reported alcohol use (at least 1 drink on 1 occasion) in the past month; 2% reported binge drinking (>=5 drinks on 1 occasion) or frequent drinking (>=7 drinks per week or binge drinking).
  • Nearly 55% of 4404 women who might become pregnant reported alcohol use in the past month; 12%-13% reported binge or frequent drinking.
  • Among women who might become pregnant, binge drinking was significantly more common in 18-34 year olds, non-Hispanic whites, current smokers, unmarried women, and women who had driven while alcohol-impaired.

Comments:

Drinking among pregnant women may have been underreported since self-report of alcohol use is subject to social desirability bias (i.e., interviewees' desire to report abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy). Drinking among women who might become pregnant was also likely underestimated because this group did not include women who used ineffective birth control methods. Nonetheless, this study's findings suggest a need for continued efforts to screen all women of childbearing age for alcohol use and to counsel them—well before they choose to become pregnant—about the adverse effects of alcohol on pregnancy.

Joseph Conigliaro, MD, MPH

Reference:

Tsai J, Floyd RL. Alcohol consumption among women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant- United States, 2002. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004:53(50);1178–1181.


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