A new study shows that 80 percent of Irish women drank during their pregnancy at some point.

Researchers in University College Cork conducted the international birth study which found Ireland had the highest proportion of drinking during pregnancy among the countries profiled.

The study found that 80 per cent of the 1,774 women recruited to the Irish portion of the study had consumed some alcohol in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. More than 20 percent of women reported drinking heavy to moderate levels of alcohol at 15 weeks. Some 31 percent of women admitted to two or more instances of binge drinking in the first 15 weeks, compared with just four percent of women in New Zealand.

Prof Louise Kenny, director of the Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research and chief author of the study, said she was shocked at the high rates of alcohol consumption.

“We were struck by the high level of alcohol use in these pregnant women and the rather startling levels of geographic variation we found between the countries involved. I was quite shocked that 20 per cent of women in Ireland reported moderate to heavy drinking at 15 weeks of pregnancy when the standard advice is that it is best to avoid alcohol altogether as it is not known what is a safe level,” she said.

The study found alcohol consumption in early pregnancy did not appear to adversely affect the baby's weight, pre-eclampsia or spontaneous pre-term birth.

The Health Research Board-funded research was conducted as part of the major international project Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (Scope).

The study included 5,628 healthy women in Ireland, Britain, Australia and New Zealand who had given birth between November 2004 and January 2011. A follow up European study is to examine the trends in other European countries.

The findings from the study have just been published in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology journal.
The newly published study was conducted by researchers funded by the Health Research Board and led by the College of Medicine and Health in University College Cork (UCC).