Use of Record Linkage to Examine Alcohol Use in Pregnancy


  • This project is funded by HERON (Health Evaluation and Research Outcomes Network), a collaborative program conducted under the auspices of the Institute for Health Research with The University of Sydney, The University of New South Wales, University of Technology Sydney, The Cancer Council NSW and NSW Health through NH&MRC Grant 262121.

Reprint requests: Lucy Burns, MPH, PhD, Lecturer, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia; Fax: 61 2 9385 0222; E-mail:


Background: To date, no population-level data have been published examining the obstetric and neonatal outcomes for women with an alcohol-related hospital admission during pregnancy compared with the general obstetric population. This information is critical to planning and implementing appropriate services.

Methods: Antenatal and delivery admissions to New South Wales (NSW) hospitals from the NSW Inpatient Statistics Collection were linked to birth information from the NSW Midwives Data Collection over a 5-year period (1998–2002). Birth admissions were flagged as positive for maternal alcohol use where a birth admission or any pregnancy admission for that birth involved an alcohol-related International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th Revision, Australian Modification (ICD-10-AM) code. Key demographic, obstetric, and neonatal variables were compared for births to mothers in the alcohol group with births where no alcohol-related ICD10-AM was recorded.

Results: A total of 416,834 birth records were analyzed over a 5-year period (1998–2002). In this time, 342 of these were coded as positive for at least 1 alcohol-related ICD-10-AM diagnosis. Mothers in the alcohol group had a higher number of previous pregnancies, smoked more heavily, were not privately insured, and were more often indigenous. They also presented later on in their pregnancy to antenatal services and were more likely to arrive at hospital unbooked for delivery. Deliveries involved less epidural and local and more general anesthesia. Cesarean sections were more common to women in the alcohol group and were performed more often for intrauterine growth retardation. Neonates born to women in the alcohol group were smaller for gestational age, had lower Apgar scores at 5 minutes, and were admitted to special care nursery more often.

Conclusions: This study shows that linked population-level administrative data provide a powerful new source of information for examining the maternal and neonatal outcomes associated with alcohol use in pregnancy.