Drinking is part of our culture where men and women indulge in alcohol at happy hours, ceremonies, and even dinner. Many women find it harder to stop drinking, even when they're pregnant, especially if alcohol is the norm in their social group. Now, European researchers have found drinking rates remain high among pregnant women in several countries.

On average, 16 percent of women in the 11 European countries surveyed reported drinking alcohol, even after knowing they were pregnant, according to a new study published in Women and Birth. The countries with the highest percentage of women drinking while pregnant included the UK (28.5 percent); Russia (26.5 percent); and Switzerland (20.9 percent). Meanwhile, the countries with the lowest percentage of alcohol consumption were Norway (4.1 percent); Sweden (7.2 percent); and Poland (9.7 percent).

Read More: Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy Is Common In The UK, Ireland, and Australia

A total of 7,905 women were surveyed, with 53 percent pregnant, and 46 percent new mothers with a child up to one year old. The countries included were Croatia, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. Differences in pregnant women's drinking behavior among countries may be the result of a nation's general attitudes about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

"There could be differences in national guidelines or educational campaigns about drinking during pregnancy, differences in prenatal care and attitudes toward alcohol use in pregnancy, or a combination of all these factors," said Hedvig Nordeng, principal investigator of the study, and professor at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, in a statement.

In the U.S., there is no federal law restricting women from drinking while pregnant, but some states do have some statues/regulations that insinuate child abuse or neglect with alcohol use during pregnancy. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes there is no safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy, or while trying to get pregnant, as well as there's no safe time during pregnancy to drink. Despite the U.S. warnings and education on alcohol use and baby's health, one in 10 pregnant women report drinking in the past 30 days.

In the European study, of the women who drank alcohol while pregnant, 39 percent consumed at least 10 milliliters (mL) per month. Those who drank more frequently, or more than 10 to 20 mL per week, were in Italy (7.8 percent) and the UK (2.8 percent). Among the 80 percent of women who drank during pregnancy in Norway and Sweden, they only had 10 to 20 mL during their entire pregnancy. Meanwhile, 70 to 80 percent of those in France, Poland, Finland, and Russia had 10 to 20 mL for the entire duration of pregnancy.

Interestingly, although Russia has a high percentage of women who drink while pregnant, they don't drink as much compared to women in other countries. For example, Italy doesn't have a high rate of women who drink while pregnant, but among those who do, they drink a lot more than their counterparts. Researchers suggest both social and cultural factors influence the likelihood of drinking during pregnancy, and the frequency of how much alcohol is being consumed.

A correlation was also found between smoking, age, and education and drinking. Women were more likely to drink alcohol if they smoked prior to the pregnancy, which could potentially be a risk factor. Moreover, older and highly educated women were more prone to drinking during pregnancy. However, the researchers did not analyze the link between education and how much pregnant women consumed.

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The authors hypothesize whether older women are less exposed to health campaigns warning against alcohol during pregnancy. These women possibly drank a little during their previous pregnancies, and had healthy children. However, Nordeng has a warning for all women of childbearing age:

"There is no defined safe minimum amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. We therefore recommend that all pregnant women should adhere to the guidelines for total alcohol abstinence during pregnancy."

Drinking alcohol while pregnant increases the chances for premature birth, birth defects, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These disorders include a range of problems, including intellectual and developmental disabilities. FASD and other alcohol-related health problems can be prevented by not drinking.

Expectant mothers who need help to stop drinking can talk to their doctor about alcohol treatment programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and reach out to other organizations, here and here.

Source: Mardy AC, Lupattelli A, Hensing G et al. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy—A multinational European study. Women and Birth. 2017.

See Also:

How Heavy Drinking Affects Fertility

Alcohol Consumption Among Pregnant Women Changes Before And After Unwanted Pregnancy