Some pregnant women still smoke and drink

Some pregnant women still smoke and drink

Media Release — 15 November 2011

A recent study has found a minority of Australian women still report drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes during pregnancy.

The study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found 18 per cent of women smoked and 38 per cent of women drank alcohol while expecting.

The study uses data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), which has tracked the progress of more than 10,000 children since 2004.

Growing Up in Australia will be the subject of a two-day conference in Melbourne on 15 and 16 November, covering new research into multiple facets of Australian childhood.

Australian Institute of Family Studies LSAC manager, Dr Ben Edwards said alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking were related to the age of the mother, with younger mothers more likely to report smoking and older mothers more likely to report drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

"The early childhood health experiences of these newborns and young children varied depending on where their families live, the age of their mother and whether their parents are well off or struggling financially," he said.

The study found:

  • Nearly 20 per cent of mothers under 25 years old drank alcohol and 37 per cent smoked cigarettes during their pregnancy.
  • Around 44 per cent of mothers aged 30 and over drank alcohol and early 10 per cent smoked cigarettes during pregnancy.

Dr Edwards said the study also found that women living in regional areas were more likely to report smoking at some stage during pregnancy than women in metropolitan areas.

"Younger mothers were more likely to smoke but were less likely to take over-the-counter medications and less likely to drink alcohol at some stage during pregnancy," he said.

"Older mothers were more likely to experience diabetes during their pregnancy, to drink alcohol at some stage during pregnancy, but were less likely to smoke.

"Mothers from a poorer socio-economic background were more likely to take prescription medicines and less likely to take over-the-counter medications during pregnancy.

"Poorer mothers were more likely to smoke, have high blood pressure and stress, anxiety or depression during pregnancy and their children were more likely to be born pre-term, and to have a low birth weight.

"At the other end of spectrum, mothers from the top 25 per cent of socio-economic position were more likely to report drinking alcohol at some stage during pregnancy, compared to other mothers."

Dr Edwards said changes in public health warnings about alcohol may have caused confusion among pregnant women about how much alcohol is safe.

"High levels of alcohol consumption in early pregnancy have been shown to be associated with severe outcomes for the baby although there has been less consensus on whether low to moderate alcohol consumption is dangerous during pregnancy," he said.

"But while some women reported drinking alcohol our study didn't go into how frequently they were drinking or how much. It may be that some women had an occasional drink while others consumed alcohol more often.

"We are keen for future research to use LSAC data to investigate the association between children's early pre- and peri-natal health experiences and their later health and development."

The article Children's pre- and peri-natal health experiences can be obtained from the LSAC annual statistical report 2010.

Conference details:

What: Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and Footprints in Time - The Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children conference.

Researchers and policy makers from around Australia will present research and discuss issues that have resulted from the use of data from LSAC and LSIC.

When: Tuesday 15 and Wednesday 16 November 2011.

Where: Rydges on Swanston, 701 Swanston Street, Carlton.

The Conference Program.

Media contacts

Luisa Saccotelli
0400 149 901
Aileen Muldoon
0419 112 503