28 Percent of Australian Women Drink Alcohol While Pregnant: Study

The survey of 21,000 people also found 77 percent of Australians had at least one alcoholic drink in the last year.
28 Percent of Australian Women Drink Alcohol While Pregnant: Study
Some pink wines today are so dry that they taste slightly more red than white. (Hitdelight/Shutterstock)
Monica O’Shea

More than one in four women in Australia drink alcohol while they are pregnant, a new national drug strategy household survey has revealed.

A total of 28 percent who had been pregnant in the 12 months preceding the study drunk alcohol while pregnant, a 2022 to 2023 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (pdf) study of 21,000 Australians showed.

However, despite this seemingly high figure, the authors noted there had been a long-term decline in alcohol consumption while pregnant.

Back in 2013, 42 percent of Australian women were consuming alcohol while pregnant.

In addition, the study found almost two in three Australians, or 64 percent, drank alcohol while they did not know they were pregnant.

Women were much less likely to consume alcohol once they found out they were pregnant, with 14.9 percent admitting they had still consumed the substance once aware they were expecting a baby.

The authors noted alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs can have adverse impacts on unborn children including lower birth weights, miscarriage, and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Alcohol, nicotine, and illicit drugs can also cross into breastmilk, the authors highlighted, which can “then be consumed by a baby during breastfeeding.”

“To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol,” AIHW said.

“For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.”

The survey also gauged public awareness of the harms of drinking alcohol while pregnant. The researchers found that 87 percent agreed pregnant women should not drink alcohol during pregnancy, and only 5.6 percent disagreed.

Meanwhile, a further 80 percent agreed a woman who is actively trying to get pregnant should stop drinking the substance, but 13.2 percent said they were not sure.

Also, 12.7 percent of people thought that “occasionally drinking a small amount of alcohol” while pregnant would not harm the baby.

77 percent of Australians Drank Alcohol in the Past Year

Meanwhile, the study also found 77 percent of Australians have had at least one drink in the last year. Further, one in three Australians, or 31 percent, drank in such a way that it put their health at risk in 2022 and 2023.

This figure was similar to the 2019 result, when 32 percent of Australians were found to be drinking at risky levels.

Risky drinking is considered as drinking more than four drinks a day once per month or consuming greater than 10 standard drinks a week.

Men were more likely to be drinking at risky levels than women, the study found. The survey found 39 percent of men were drinking at risky levels, compared to 23 percent of women.

However, this rate of men drinking at a risky level has fallen from 50 percent back in 2007. In women, risky drinking has fallen from 27 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2022 and 2023.

“Use of alcohol and other drugs has historically been higher among males than females, but this gap is closing, particularly for young Australians aged 18 to 24,” the authors noted.

Alcohol is the most common drug in Australia, with the use of alcohol, e-cigarettes, and illicit drugs, including cocaine, all rising among young women.

Monica O’Shea is a reporter based in Australia. She previously worked as a reporter for Motley Fool Australia, Daily Mail Australia, and Fairfax Regional Media.
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