Women drinking, smoking in pregnancy

Australian women continue to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol during pregnancy, a new study reveals.

Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found 18 per cent of women smoked and 38 per cent of women drank alcohol while pregnant, with younger mothers more likely to smoke and older mothers more likely to drink while pregnant.

The study, based on data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, which has tracked the progress of more than 10,000 children since 2004, found nearly 37 per cent of mothers under 25 smoked cigarettes during their pregnancy, compared with just 10 per cent of mothers aged 30 and over. This includes women who smoked only occassionally.

It also found that 44 per cent of mothers 30 and over drank alcohol at some stage while pregnant compared with 20 per cent of mothers under 25.

A mother’s financial situation also had an impact on whether she smoked or drank alcohol during pregnancy. Almost 36 per cent of poorer mothers (in the lowest socio-economic quartile) reported smoking while pregnant, compared to just 4 per cent in the highest-earning category.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent of women in the highest-earning category reported drinking alcohol at some stage during pregnancy, compared to 23 per cent of poorer mothers.

Dr Ben Edwards, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said the number of women who reported drinking while pregnant also included those mothers who only had the ”occasional” drink.

He added that changes to public heath warnings about how much alcohol is safe may have caused confusion among pregnant women. Between 1992 and 2001, the federal government’s advice was that women should abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In October 2001, it revised the guidelines to say it was safe to drink small amounts of alcohol while pregnant before reverting to the current message of abstinence in 2009.

”High levels of alcohol consumption in early pregnancy have been shown to be associated with severe outcomes for the baby although there has been less consensus on whether low to moderate alcohol consumption is dangerous during pregnancy,” he said.

Dr Louise Farrell, vice-president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said while the jury was still out on whether small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was harmful, it was disappointing that so many pregnant women were still smoking, given the clear health warnings against it.

”The evidence to support the advice of absolutely no alcohol at all at any stage of pregnancy is pretty weak,” she said. ”And I think that when the evidence for your advice isn’t very strong it probably won’t be observed as closely.”

”But when it comes to smoking, we have had a lot of campaigns to get out there very strongly the adverse effects on pregnancy. So it is disappointing that 18 per cent of women still smoke in pregnancy,” she said.

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