Irish women top the global league for drinking alcohol while pregnant
Irish women are more inclined to drink while pregnant than their counterparts in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, according to a new international analysis.
Although their weekly consumption tends to be low - one or two small glasses of wine a week - they are ignoring public health guidelines which say women should give up alcohol because of the risk of mental and physical problems the unborn baby may suffer.
The new research compared previous studies involving 17,244 women who delivered live babies in the four countries.
Dr Linda O'Keeffe of Cambridge University in the UK led the study that was published in medical journal BMJ Open last night.
She told the Irish Independent: "The big message here is the mismatch between what the guidelines say and what women are doing. We must put the responsibility on government to ensure we are conveying the guidelines effectively."
Ireland emerged as the country with the highest rates of drinking, both before (90pc) and during (82pc) pregnancy.
We were also highest for binge drinking, before (59pc) and during (45pc) pregnancy, based on estimates from the SCOPE study.
But the researchers also pointed out the exact prevalence could be far lower - as estimates of drinking during pregnancy from two other Irish studies were substantially lower at 20pc and 46pc.
Those studies suggested 3pc of Irish women reported binge drinking.
The reported alcohol units women drink dropped substantially in all countries between the first and second trimester, as did binge drinking.
While women across all social classes drank, they were much more likely to be drinkers if they were also smokers.
The researchers point out most clinical and government guidelines advise women to stop drinking during pregnancy.
Most of these women consumed alcohol at very low levels and the number of pregnant women who drank heavily in the three studies was small, they say.
Nevertheless, given that the risks of light drinking are not fully known, the most sensible option is not to drink alcohol during pregnancy, they add.
"Since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood [than at higher levels], the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern," they warn.
The Department of Health here advises total abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy. One of the problems is that women can be unaware they are in early pregnancy.