APH 2010, 68, 134-142:

Alcohol during pregnancy and lactation: recommendations versus real intake

Guelinckx I, Devlieger R, Vansant G

Even though total abstinence of alcohol for pregnant and lactating women is recommended, consumption prevalences ranging from 12% up to 30% have been reported. No Belgian data on alcohol consumption in pregnant women were recently published.

First, a literature search on the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and lactation was performed in the MEDLINE database using Pubmed. Secondly, in a prospective study the alcohol consumption of 215 Belgian women was evaluated every trimester through 7-day food records. The international standard unit for alcohol or 1 standard glass equals 13.5g pure ethanol. Binge drinking was defined as drinking more than 50g on one occasion.

Prenatal exposure of the foetus to alcohol can lead to a broad range of anomalies, including pre- and postnatal growth retardation, preterm delivery, central or craniofacial dysmorphia, neurological and behavioural disorders and disorders of cognitive function, which can persist throughout adulthood. In the Belgian study population, total abstinence of alcohol was seen
in 76% of the women. Of the 24% of women who consumed alcohol, 13.9% consumed alcohol during 1 of the 3 weeks. These women were considered to be low consumers. Five women (2.5%) reported drinking during all 3 weeks of recording. This could suggest that these women drink more regularly. No binge drinking was recorded. The maximum amount was 5 consumptions per week.

Even though total abstinence of alcohol for pregnant and lactating women is recommended, at least 25% of pregnant women still consumes alcohol. Health care providers have to be aware of the underreporting of alcohol use by pregnant women, especially if they drink heavily since they fear of being stigmatised.