Irish women are the worst offenders when it comes to drinking during pregnancy, a new study has claimed.
Ireland had the highest rate of pregnant drinkers, with more than six in ten women continuing to drink in spite of warnings. The UK was also among the highest ranked, coming in fourth place with more than 40 per cent of women saying that they drank alcohol when pregnant.
Belarus was second on the list, followed by Denmark, with Russia completing the top five. All of these countries come under the World Health Organisation’s European Region while, unsurprisingly, the bottom five are all located in the Middle East.
Women from Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait were least likely to consume alcohol while pregnant.
Experts warned that drinking while pregnant could increase the chances of the baby suffering from health problems. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, drinking more than three drinks a day increases the risk of miscarriage and more than 12 drinks a week increases the risk of premature birth.
The study, which was conducted by the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, estimated that one in 67 women delivers a child with foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Published in The Lancet, it concluded that there is an “urgent need” for a worldwide FAS surveillance programme.
“Further efforts should also be made to better educate women of childbearing age about the risks of alcohol use, especially binge and frequent drinking, during pregnancy,” it said. “Moreover, prevention programmes aiming to change alcohol use behaviour during and before pregnancy […] should be implemented around the world.”
Sandra Butcher, CEO of the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK, echoed the concerns documented in the report. She said the findings highlighted the importance of raising awareness about drinking during pregnancy and explained how abstention was the safest route to take.
“The latest advice from the UK’s chief medical officer is clear, but it has not yet filtered through to all levels of our society: ‘If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all’,” she said.
This policy was encouraged by study author Dr. Svetlana Popova who urged expecting mothers to refrain from drinking any alcohol for the entire pregnancy as a precaution.
“Appropriate screening for alcohol use in women of childbearing age, in combination with pre-conception health promotion, contraceptive counselling, and referral to substance-abuse programmes, should become routine in primary care settings,” she added.