by University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center

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When health researchers ask pregnant women about their alcohol use, expectant women may underreport their drinking, hampering efforts to minimize alcohol use in pregnancy and prevent development of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in children.

In a recently published study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, University of New Mexico scientists found that pregnant women‘s reporting of their own risky drinking varies greatly depending on how key questions are worded.

Most women know that alcohol use during pregnancy may harm their unborn child—and that leads to fear of being stigmatized or facing legal consequences when they admit to drinking, says lead author Ludmila Bakhireva, MD, Ph.D., MPH, professor and director of the Substance Use Research and Education (SURE) Center in the UNM College of Pharmacy.

“We are trying to destigmatize this and get more accurate reports,” Bakhireva said. “We’re trying to do it in a compassionate way without blaming the mother or inducing shame. Since as many as half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, many women may be drinking before they know they are pregnant.”

Existing self-reporting tools are suitable for identifying chronic heavy drinking, Bakhireva said, but are less likely to detect episodic binge drinking or moderate alcohol use—which still may pose a risk to the developing fetus.

Bakhireva was joined in the study by SURE Center colleagues Melissa Roberts, Ph.D., and Dominique Rodriguez, MA, along with Lawrence Leeman, MD, MPH, professor in the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine, and Sandra Jacobson, Ph.D., professor in the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

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necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the ‘FASD Prevention Conversation, A Shared Responsibility’ Project, its stakeholders, and/or funders.

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