Inconsistent guidelines for low alcohol intake or abstinence
during pregnancy are confusing for pregnant women and have little effect on women's
alcohol intake during pregnancy, according to research published in the Medical
Journal of Australia.
Ms Jennifer Powers, statistician at the University of
Newcastle, NSW, and co-authors analysed data collected by the Australian
Longitudinal Study on Women's Health from women aged 22-33 years who were
pregnant before October 2001, when guidelines recommended zero alcohol, or who
were first pregnant after October 2001, when guidelines recommended low alcohol
They found that women's alcohol intake prior to pregnancy
was the strongest determinant of alcohol intake during pregnancy, whereas
guidelines for low alcohol intake or abstinence had little effect.
"Relative to women who did not drink before pregnancy, women
who drank any amount of alcohol before pregnancy were about five times less
likely to drink no alcohol during pregnancy," Ms Powers said.
"Women who drank moderate or high amounts of alcohol before
pregnancy were 1.5 times less likely to drink low amounts of alcohol during
The study also found that about 80 per cent of women
consumed alcohol during pregnancy under zero and low alcohol guidelines.
Ms Powers said the inconsistency of Australian alcohol
guidelines was confusing for pregnant women and health practitioners, and there
was an overwhelming need for research to clearly establish the risks associated
with different levels of alcohol intake during pregnancy.
"The effects of low to moderate alcohol intake on the unborn
child are unclear, which leaves most pregnant women in a "no-person's-land"
where guidelines are not backed up by clear consequences and the guidelines
themselves are poorly communicated," she said.
"It is important that the large group of women who drink
alcohol at low to moderate levels receive clear and consistent messages from
"Whatever the research eventually shows, the current
situation is untenable."
The Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health is
funded by the Department of Health and Ageing and this analysis was funded by a
NSW Department of Health grant to the University of Newcastle and the
University of NSW.
The Medical Journal of Australia
publication of the Australian Medical Association.