Alcohol-use disorders during and within one year of pregnancy: a population-based cohort study 1985-2006

BJOG. 2013 May;120(6):744-53. doi: 10.1111/1471-0528.12167. Epub 2013 Feb 19.


Objectives: To examine alcohol-use disorders in pregnant women and the extent of under-reporting.

Design: Population-based cohort study.

Setting: Western Australia.

Population: Women with a birth recorded on the Western Australian Midwives Notification System (1985-2006).

Methods: Mothers with an International Classification of Diseases 9/10 alcohol-related diagnosis, indicating heavy alcohol consumption, recorded on population-based health datasets (non-Aboriginal n=5,839; Aboriginal n=2,583) were identified through the Western Australian data-linkage system. This 'exposed' cohort was frequency matched (on maternal age, year of birth of offspring, Aboriginal status) with comparison mothers without an alcohol-related diagnosis (non-Aboriginal n=33,979; Aboriginal n=8,005).

Main outcome measures: Trends in maternal alcohol diagnoses in relation to pregnancy for non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal women. The proportion of children diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) who had a mother with an alcohol diagnosis recorded during pregnancy.

Results: The proportion of Aboriginal mothers in Western Australia with an alcohol diagnosis (23.1%) is ten times greater than for non-Aboriginal mothers (2.3%). There has been a six-fold increase in the percentage of non-Aboriginal births with a maternal alcohol diagnosis recorded during pregnancy and a 100-fold increase for Aboriginal births. Around 70% of the mothers of children diagnosed with FAS did not have an alcohol diagnosis recorded during pregnancy and 18% of the mothers had no record of an alcohol diagnosis.

Conclusions: Maternal alcohol exposure during pregnancy is significantly under-ascertained. Given the severe risks to the fetus from heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, assessment and recording of alcohol use should be routinely undertaken in maternity and other health settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Western Australia / epidemiology
  • Young Adult