Objective: Factors associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy and with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) births were examined as part of a larger epidemiologic study of FAS in a community in the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
Method: Using retrospective case-control methodology, 31 mothers who had given birth to FAS children 6 to 9 years previously were compared with 31 matched controls on a variety of demographic, socioeconomic, drinking, family and maternity variables. Descriptive analyses were utilized to determine major differential characteristics between the two groups.
Results: In this community with a very high rate of FAS and rather uniform low socioeconomic status, the two groups were found to be comparable with respect to age, annual income, ethnic background, age of initiation of regular drinking, age at birth of the index child, gravidity and parity. However, mothers of FAS children reported initiating drinking at an earlier age, as well as reporting higher rates of heavy alcohol consumption in their extended family, current use of alcohol, drinking before and during pregnancy, and smoking of tobacco (percentage who smoke) during each trimester of the pregnancy. Mothers of FAS children had lower educational attainment and reported lower religiosity than control mothers.
Conclusions: This study in South Africa draws upon the experience of mothers of 31 children with FAS to confirm many of the same high-risk variables identified in maternal risk studies in the United States and Europe. Some factors associated with less maternal alcohol abuse in this high-risk population were also identified, which may be helpful for implementing prevention in this region as well as in other developing countries.