The dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant aren’t being communicated effectively between health professionals and pregnant women, UniSA research has found.
The research shows that some health professionals are wrongly telling pregnant women that limited drinking is allowed, when Australian guidelines state one glass may be ‘one too many’.
Published in Women and Birth and Pregnancy and Childbirth journals, the research states communication needs to be improved to ensure that accurate information on abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy is provided to women by doctors, midwives and obstetricians.
UniSA researchers Fiona Crawford-Williams, Professor Mary Steen, Professor Adrian Esterman and Dr Andrea Fielder, set out to identify the gaps in knowledge about the effects of alcohol use in pregnancy.
“While the harmful effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy are well known, there is still a level of uncertainty and lack of evidence surrounding the effects of low amounts of alcohol,” says Crawford-Williams, who is completing her PhD in the School of Nursing and Midwifery.
“Although the latest Australian guidelines recommend that not drinking is the safest option, a significant number of pregnant women still continue to drink.
“This can be attributed to a number of things – ongoing changes in the Australian guidelines, differing worldwide policies and conflicting media portrayal – and so it is understandable that this has led to some confusion among pregnant women and the general public about the acceptable level of alcohol consumption.”
For the studies, five focus groups were conducted with a diverse range of participants. A mix of pregnant women, their partners and mothers participated in discussions around the adverse effects of drinking during pregnancy, a partner’s role in health decisions, information sources and the availability of reliable health information.
Face-to-face interviews were also conducted with health professionals, including doctors, midwives and obstetricians, who regularly provide antenatal care.
The findings were consistent in indicating that although the majority of focus group participants knew not to drink alcohol in pregnancy, they had limited information on the specific harmful effects. It was also found that routine enquiry and the provision of information by health care professionals was seen as lacking.
Health professionals displayed adequate knowledge that alcohol can cause physical and mental difficulties, however some knowledge of the broader spectrum of difficulties associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy was limited. Although health professionals said they were willing to discuss alcohol with pregnant women, many did not make this a routine part of practice, with most citing time and the sheer volume of information to fit into an appointment as being an issue.
“Communication between health professionals and pregnant women needs to be improved to ensure that accurate information about alcohol consumption in pregnancy is being provided,” Crawford-Williams says.
“Firstly, public health messages and educational materials need to provide clear and consistent information about the effects of alcohol consumption on a developing baby. It is also important to ensure that there is ongoing education for all health professionals on the issue of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.”
The most recent version of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol was released by the National Health and Medical Research Council NHMRC in 2009. The guidelines state that ‘for women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, the advice is clear: no alcohol is the safest option’.
More information on the guidelines is available on the NHMRC website.
Crawford-Williams says the researchers have developed a brochure using mocktail recipes to convey the safety message and are looking for pregnant women to contact her at Fiona.firstname.lastname@example.org to participate in a study.