Study Reveals That Half of Women Drink Alcohol While Trying to Get Pregnant

A new study by Vanderbilt University suggests that about half of the women in the United States drink alcohol just prior to getting pregnant or during early pregnancy before they know they are expecting. The vast majority of women in the study, however, stopped drinking as soon as they learned they were pregnant. Now, public health officials are recommending more frequent pregnancy tests for women who have the potential of getting pregnant.

More than 5,000 pregnant women were surveyed by phone when they were around six weeks pregnant and later on when they were three months pregnant. During the second call, they were asked about their drinking habits, “including how much they drank, and how frequently.”

About 70 percent of the women surveyed said their pregnancy was planned.

Via Live Science:

In the interviews conducted when the women were three months pregnant, a little over half of the women — 55 percent — said they had consumed alcohol within the past four months, meaning they had consumed alcohol around the time they got pregnant or at some point since then during the pregnancy. The researchers essentially used the past four months as a ballpark time period for when the women could feasibly have been pregnant, because they didn’t know exactly when the women became pregnant.

However, nearly all of the woman said they stopped drinking at around four weeks of pregnancy. This is around the time that many of these women would have taken a pregnancy test and discovered they were pregnant, the researchers said. The women who had planned pregnancies tended to stop drinking around the same time as women with unplanned pregnancies, the study found.

“Our data suggest that the majority of women, regardless of pregnancy intention, stop or decrease alcohol use around the time of a positive pregnancy test,” the researchers, from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote in the April issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

That’s good news because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 advised women who are planning to become pregnant to completely abstain from alcohol use. Some doctors in the past have said that a small amount of light drinking during pregnancy does no harm, but the latest research has indicated that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Evidence-based research has found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or sudden infant death syndrome.”

Dr. Katherine Hartman, Deputy Director of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health said researchers were “pleasantly surprised” that women changed their alcohol use pretty promptly upon learning that they were pregnant.

Researchers now see a need for prompter pregnancy testing so women can recognize their pregnancies earlier. Since the study showed that the majority of the pregnancies were planned and the majority of women stopped drinking as soon as they knew they were pregnant, the sooner women could find out they were pregnant, the better.

Hartman acknowledged that the CDC recommendations are a little unrealistic.

“There are 61 million reproductive-aged women in the United States, she said.”Forty-three million of them are deemed to be at a potential risk of a pregnancy. It seemed unlikely that 43 million women, about whom half use some amount of alcohol on occasions, would completely forgo alcohol use.”