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Keywords:

  • alcohol use;
  • Australia;
  • breastfeeding;
  • pregnancy;
  • prevalence;
  • risk factors

Abstract:

Background:  Previous research suggests that alcohol use during pregnancy and breastfeeding has a negative impact on birth and neonatal outcomes. No threshold for this effect has been determined. The aim of this study is to determine the prevalence and correlates of alcohol use in pregnancy and lactation in a large representative sample of Australian women.

Method:  Data were used from a large representative sample of Australian women drawn from the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey. A complex sampling framework was used to elicit prevalence estimates for alcohol use during pregnancy and lactation. A logistic regression analysis was used to determine the psychosocial characteristics associated with alcohol use during the perinatal period.

Results:  Alcohol use was reported by 29 percent of women who were pregnant in the past 12 months. In addition, 43 percent of women who were breastfeeding in the past 12 months reported alcohol use, whereas 36 percent of women who were both pregnant and breastfeeding in the past 12 months reported alcohol use. Most women (95%) reported a reduction in the quantity of their alcohol use while pregnant or breastfeeding. Older age was significantly associated with alcohol use in pregnancy, and also with alcohol use while breastfeeding (after controlling for other psychosocial characteristics). Higher educational attainment, and breastfeeding for more weeks in the past 12 months were significantly associated with alcohol use while breastfeeding, after controlling for confounding psychosocial factors.

Conclusions:  More research is needed to ease uncertainty about “safe” levels of alcohol use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. A high proportion of the sample reported alcohol use during pregnancy or lactation, despite uniform international government guidelines recommending that no alcohol should be consumed during the prenatal and postnatal periods. These results indicate that public health education campaigns about the risks of alcohol during these periods are needed. (BIRTH 38:1 March 2011)