Why do some women drink alcohol during pregnancy?

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6 Reasons Women May Drink

1. Women are unaware they are pregnant.

Approximately 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Most women will stop drinking when they learn they are pregnant. It’s important to have conversations with women about alcohol use before they become pregnant.

2. Women are unaware of the extent of damage alcohol can cause the fetus.

While Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the leading known cause of developmental disability, the range of harms of alcohol during pregnancy is still debated in the media and science has yet to determine all the factors that affect how alcohol can affect a developing fetus.

3. Women underestimate the harms alcohol consumption can cause because they know other women who drank during pregnancy and their children appear healthy.

While many women are aware of the possible harms of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the effects can be varied, invisible and only apparent years down the road.

4. Alcohol use is the norm in their social group, so abstaining may be difficult.

For some women, it can be hard to abstain when it’s expected that they drink, especially if people don’t yet know they are pregnant. Alcohol use is often an integral part of business networking, socializing and relationships.

5. Women may be using alcohol to cope with difficult life situations such as violence, depression, poverty or isolation.

Many women can find it difficult to stop drinking when their life circumstances remain challenging during pregnancy or if they have few alternatives for finding support and treatment.

6. Women may struggle with alcohol addiction.

Addiction spans all segments of society and can be a concern long before pregnancy. In some cases, pregnancy can be an opportunity to address addictions issues, but in other cases, harm reduction approaches should be considered until a woman is ready to address her addiction.

Click to download ‘Why do some women drink alcohol during pregnancy?’ information sheet.

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Created by and reproduced with kind permission from the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health

References

1. Cismaru, M., et al., Preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders: the role of protection motivation theory. Health Marketing Quarterly, 2010. 27(1): p. 66-85.

2. Skagerstróm, J., G. Chang, and P. Nilsen, Predictors of Drinking During Pregnancy: A Systematic Review. Journal of Women’s Health (15409996), 2011. 20(6): p. 901-913.

3. Walker, M., Al-Sahab, B., Islam, F., & Tamim, H. (2011). The epidemiology of alcohol utilization during pregnancy: an analysis of the Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey (MES). BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 11(1), 52. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-52

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