Citation: Ujhelyi Gomez K, Goodwin L, Chisholm A, Rose AK (2022) Alcohol use during pregnancy and motherhood: Attitudes and experiences of pregnant women, mothers, and healthcare professionals. PLoS ONE 17(12): e0275609. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0275609
Alcohol is the most used substance by women of childbearing age. Alcohol exposed pregnancies can have serious consequences to the fetus, and the UK has one of the highest rates of drinking during pregnancy. Alcohol use during motherhood is also a public health concern, linked with potential harms to the woman and child.
This qualitative study investigated the attitudes and experiences of pregnant/parenting women and healthcare professionals regarding maternal drinking. A semi-structured focus group and interviews were conducted in the North West of England with pregnant women, mothers, and healthcare professionals. Quantitative measures captured demographics, alcohol use, and screened for mental ill-health for pregnant women and mothers. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to analyse narratives.
Findings revealed that most participants believed avoiding alcohol during pregnancy is the safest option. However, some pregnant women and mothers stated that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate the harms of low-level drinking and that abstinence guidelines were patronising. All participants reported that low-level drinking during motherhood was acceptable. Heavy drinking was believed to pose serious harm during pregnancy and motherhood to the baby and mother, in addition to damaging relationships. Strong motives were revealed for choosing and avoiding to drink, such as coping with the difficulties of motherhood and parental responsibilities, respectively. Contradictions were found across quantitative and qualitative self-reports of consumption, reflecting potential underreporting of alcohol use. Additionally, drinking levels were discussed in extremes only (low/heavy) without considering ‘grey area’ drinking.
Clear, consistent advice and guidelines are needed to support women in reducing their alcohol use during pregnancy and motherhood. These should include the unique potential risks regarding maternal drinking, and the harm attributable to non-clinically dependent alcohol use. The maternal participants in this study were middle-class, therefore, research is needed to capture the views and experiences of women of all socioeconomic backgrounds.