The epidemiology of alcohol utilization during pregnancy: an analysis of the Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey (MES)

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2011 Jul 12;11:52. doi: 10.1186/1471-2393-11-52.


Background: Maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy may potentially constitute a major public health concern in Canada but despite this, the available epidemiological data on both rates and predictors of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is limited. The present study assessed the prevalence and predictors of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy of women living in Canada from 2005-2006 who had a singleton live birth and whose child remained in their care 5-9 months following birth. Prevalence of maternal alcohol consumption was examined across the Canadian provinces.

Methods: The analysis was based on the Maternity Experience Survey (MES), a population-based survey that assessed pregnancy, delivery and postnatal experiences of mothers and their children between November 2005 and May 2006. The main outcome variable assessed was ever drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The sample of mothers who drank during pregnancy consisted mainly of low to moderate level-alcohol drinkers (95.8%), while only 1.7% of the sample were heavy drinkers (>1 drink per day). Socio-economic factors, demographic factors, maternal characteristics, and pregnancy related factors that proved to be significant at the bivariate level were considered for a logistic regression analysis. Bootstrapping was performed to account for the complex sampling design.

Results: Analysis of 5882 mothers, weighted to represent 72,767 Canadian women, found that 10.8% of women drank alcohol at some point during their pregnancies. This mainly reflects prevalence of low to moderate maternal alcohol consumption. Prevalence of drinking alcohol during pregnancy was 13.8% in Eastern-Central provinces, 7.8% in Western Provinces-British Columbia, 4.1% in Eastern-Atlantic provinces and 4.0% in Western-Prairie Provinces. Utilizing alcohol during gestation was significantly associated with several important factors including marital status, smoking status, reaction to the pregnancy and immigrant status. While being an immigrant to Canada appeared to confer a protective effect, women who have partners (odds ratio (OR)=2.00; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.20, 3.31) and smoked during pregnancy (OR=1.54; 95% CI: 1.12, 1.87) were significantly more likely to drink alcohol during their pregnancies. Perhaps most importantly, pregnant women who reported indifference or being unhappy/very unhappy in regards to their pregnancies exhibited 1.89- and 2.5-fold increased risk of drinking alcohol during their pregnancies, respectively.

Conclusion: A number of important factors associated with maternal alcohol utilization during pregnancy have been identified, indicating areas where increased focus may serve to reduce maternal and pediatric morbidity and mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Emigrants and Immigrants
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Logistic Models
  • Marital Status*
  • Maternal Age
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy / psychology*
  • Pregnancy Complications
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted / psychology*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Prevalence
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Smoking / epidemiology*