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A randomized controlled trial of motivational interviewing to prevent risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy in the Western Cape, South Africa


Correspondence to: Kirstie Rendall-Mkosi, School of Health Systems and Public Health, University of Pretoria, Bophelo Road, Gezina, Pretoria, Gauteng 0001, South Africa. E-mail:



To test the effectiveness of motivational interviewing (MI) to reduce the risk of an alcohol exposed pregnancy (AEP) in a high-risk population.


Randomized controlled trial.


Rural population in the Western Cape, South Africa.


A total of 165 women aged 18–44 years at risk of AEP.


Five-session MI intervention.


Structured questionnaires were administered pre-intervention and at 3 and 12 months follow-up. The primary outcome measure was AEP at 12 months. Secondary outcomes were AEP at 3 months, and alcohol use and effective contraception at 3 and 12 months.


There was a significant difference in the decline in the proportion of women at risk for an AEP in the MI group at 3 months (50 versus 24.59%; P = 0.004), maintained at 12 months (50.82 versus 28.12%; P = 0.009). In an intention-to-treat analysis these differences were also significant (32.93 versus 18.07%; P = 0.029; and 37.80 versus 21.69%; P = 0.024, respectively). The odds ratio for no longer being at risk of an AEP (MI versus control) at 12 months was 2.64 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.18–5.94]. In the intention-to-treat analysis this ratio was 2.19 (95% CI: 1.05–4.65).


A five-session motivational interviewing intervention was found to be effective with women at risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy, and could be implemented as part of routine primary care clinic services in similar populations. The message of ‘no alcohol in pregnancy’ should be adapted to include better family planning and early recognition of pregnancy.