More than 10% of all pregnant women drink alcohol, and a third of the drinkers admit to binge drinking, a recent study has shown.
The report was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), following a collaboration between the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.
Experts analyzed the results of phone surveys conducted between 2011 and 2013, as part of the nationwide Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which included more than 200,000 women of childbearing age (aged between 18 and 44).
Out of these respondents, randomly selected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 8.383 of them were pregnant.
Overall, researchers discovered that subjects who weren’t pregnant were much more likely to drink. More than half of them (53.6%) had consumed alcohol at least once in the last 30 days prior to the interview. On the other hand, around 1 in 10 (10.2%) of those who knew they were pregnant drank alcohol in that given time frame.
The percentage was higher among those with higher education: 13% of those who were college graduates had consumed alcohol, in comparison with 7.7% of high school dropouts.
Having a job also increased the likelihood of consuming alcohol, despite expecting a child: 12% of employed women drank, versus 8.1% of their unemployed counterparts.
It appears that age didn’t result in more responsible behavior either: 18.6% of pregnant women aged 35-44 had drunk alcohol in the month prior to the survey, while for other age groups the proportion ranged between 8 and 10%.
It was also discovered that married women who were expecting a baby were less likely to drink (7.9%) than those who were unmarried (12.9%).
Researchers also analyzed the prevalence of binge drinking, which consists in consuming at least 4 consecutive drinks on one occasion. According to results, 18.2% of all female respondents of childbearing age were binge drinkers, and 3.1% of pregnant women could also be included in this category.
Moreover, expectant mothers who indulged in binge drinking actually had more such episodes than those who weren’t pregnant (4.6 instances versus 3.1).
Overall, these findings were disturbing to researchers, especially considering women may have understated the frequency and severity of their alcohol consumption.
Federal health officials had set the objective to limit alcohol consumption among pregnant women to 2%, and to completely obliterate binge-drinking in this population category by 2020.
Pregnant women have been urged to abstain from drinking alcohol ever since 1981, because such behavior can result in miscarriage and stillbirth, or can cause the baby to develop a series of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
FASD affect 2 to 5% of all first graders, and have been linked to growth deficiency (low body weight and height), abnormal appearance (indicating brain damage), poor coordination, low intelligence, behavioral problems, hearing loss and vision impairment.
The most severe of these disorders is fetal alcohol syndrome, which is signaled by extreme growth issues, distinguishable facial features (small eyes, thin upper lip, smooth philtrum) and central nervous system damage.
Those who are born with FASD are more likely to have difficulties at school, to resort to crime and be jailed frequently, to indulge in risky sexual behavior and to suffer from alcohol or drug addiction.
The dangers of alcohol are so far-reaching for pregnant women, that health practitioners advise even against taking foods and medication containing alcohol in small doses. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “no amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy”.
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