Prevalence, predictors and perinatal outcomes of peri-conceptional alcohol exposure--retrospective cohort study in an urban obstetric population in Ireland.

BACKGROUND: Evidence-based advice on alcohol consumption is required for pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy. Our aim was to investigate the prevalence, predictors and perinatal outcomes associated with peri-conceptional alcohol consumption.

METHODS: A cohort study of 61,241 women who booked for antenatal care and delivered in a large urban maternity hospital between 2000 and 2007. Self-reported alcohol consumption at the booking visit was categorised as low (0-5 units per week), moderate (6-20 units per week) and high (>20 units per week).

RESULTS: Of the 81% of women who reported alcohol consumption during the peri-conceptional period, 71% reported low intake, 9.9% moderate intake and 0.2% high intake. Factors associated with moderate alcohol consumption included being in employment OR 4.47 (95% CI 4.17 to 4.80), Irish nationality OR 16.5 (95% CI 14.9 to 18.3), private health care OR 5.83 (95% CI 5.38 to 6.31) and smoking OR 1.86 (95% CI 1.73 to 2.01). Factors associated with high consumption included maternal age less than 25 years OR 2.70 (95% CI 1.86 to 3.91) and illicit drug use OR 6.46 (95% CI 3.32 to 12.60). High consumption was associated with very preterm birth (<32 weeks>gestation) even after controlling for socio-demographic factors, adjusted OR 3.15 (95% CI 1.26-7.88). Only three cases of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome were recorded (0.05 per 1000 total births), one each in the low, moderate and high consumption groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Public Health campaigns need to emphasise the importance of peri-conceptional health and pre-pregnancy planning. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is likely to be under-reported despite the high prevalence of alcohol consumption in this population.