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Pregnant Women Who Binge Drink Imbibe As Much As Nonpregnant Women

(Image credit: Ctacik | Dreamstime)

Pregnant women are much less likely to engage in binge drinking than other women, but pregnant women who do binge drink tend to so just as often, and to drink just as much as their nonpregnant counterparts, according to a new report.

The report says that 15 percent of nonpregnant women reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, while 1.4 percent of pregnant woman said the same. However, both pregnant and nonpregnant women who said they binge drink reported doing so about three times a month, on average, and having about six drinks per occasion.

"This is concerning, because binge drinking is a dangerous pattern of alcohol consumption for both pregnant and nonpregnant women, said Clark Denny, a health scientist at the CDC's National Centers on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

For women, binge drinking is defined as drinking four or more drinks on an occasion.

Women who binge drink before becoming pregnant are more likely than women who don't binge drink to continue drinking after becoming pregnant, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By conducting alcohol screening and interventions for nonpregnant women, health care providers could reduce the use of alcohol by pregnant women, the researchers said.

At least 1 percent of U.S. births are affected by a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Such disorders can cause neurological deficits and lifelong disabilities.

Studies done in animals have suggested that binge drinking is more dangerous to fetal brain development than drinking even a greater total amount of alcohol in a more continuous drinking pattern, according to the report.

The report is based on data gathered on 345,076 women, including 13,880 pregnant women, between ages 18 and 44 from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a telephone survey that collects information on health-related behaviors U.S. adults.

The researchers also found that 7.6 percent of pregnant women reported drinking any alcohol in the past 30 days, but there were sharp differences among pregnant women of different ages. While 14.3 percent of pregnant women between ages 35 and 44 reported drinking, 4.5 percent of those between ages 18 and 24 said the same.

A previous CDC report, based on data gathered between 1991 and 2005, found that 12.2 percent of pregnant women reported drinking in the past 30 days. While the new report shows that percentage to be lower, the drop may have in part been due to a re-ordering of the survey questions, Denny said. In the earlier version, questions about drinking appeared before the question asking women if they were pregnant; in the current survey they are asked if they are pregnant first. Women may be less likely to report drinking after they've disclosed their pregnancy, he said.

White women were more likely to report any drinking during pregnancy than women of other races, and college graduates and employed women were more likely to report drinking than women who had less education or were employed.

Pass it on: Binge drinking during pregnancy may be especially dangerous for a fetus.

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Karen Rowan
Karen came to LiveScience in 2010, after writing for Discover and Popular Mechanics magazines, and working as a correspondent for the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. She holds an M.S. degree in science and medical journalism from Boston University, as well as an M.S. in cellular biology from Northeastern Illinois University. Prior to becoming a journalist, Karen taught science at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, in Lincolnshire, Ill. for eight years.