Expectant mothers should never drink alcohol, the British Medical Association (BMA) stressed in its annual conference.

The BMA finds no room for gray areas as far as drinking during pregnancy is concerned. Some say a tiny bit of alcohol is fine and will not hurt the mother or the baby, but the BMA emphasizes its possible effects and says drinking during pregnancy is not at all an option.

Despite this, many pregnant women still ignore or fail to understand the risks that drinking during pregnancy has on mothers and babies, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge analyzed information gathered from a large group of women in varying socio-demographic levels to see how vast the population is of women who consume alcohol while pregnant. They found a large number of women who drank alcohol while pregnant, calling it a "significant public health concern."

Findings of the study were published in BMJ Open.

The results show a high percentage of expectant mothers are not aware of the risks of drinking during pregnancy. The researchers analyzed data from 17,244 women from the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand through the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI), Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) and Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) studies.

The researchers found that drinking during pregnancy is common among 20 to 80 percent of the study subjects across the three cohort studies. They also learned that if a woman is a smoker, there is a 17 to 50 percent chance that she also drinks alcohol.

Of the four countries, Ireland stood out with the highest rates as 90 percent drink before pregnancy, while 82 percent continue to drink after. As regards excessive consumption, 59 percent binge on alcohol before and 45 percent binge-drink during pregnancy, particularly in the crucial first trimester.

In all the four countries, 15 to 70 percent of the participants confirmed having drunk one to two units a week during the first trimester. The units dropped towards the second semester, and binge drinking became less frequent.

Caucasian women were more likely to drink during pregnancy than those of other ethnicity. Older women were also found more likely to drink than younger women.

Being obese or overweight, having other children, and having attained higher education are three factors that helped steer pregnant women away from drinking, the researchers learned.

The PRAMS and GUI assessed women using varying data regarding the amount of alcohol consumed; the two studies therefore reported much lower rates at only 20 to 46 percent. These two studies noted that only about 3 percent made up the group of women who were exposed to binge drinking.

Even when the alcohol consumption of expectant mothers is limited, health organizations such as the BMA are consistent in saying that women should never drink alcohol at all during pregnancy.

Photo: Frank de Kleine | Flickr

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