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Drinking in pregnancy and stillbirth risk

Women who continue to drink alcohol after they know they are pregnant, especially in large amounts may increase the risk of stillbirth.

Drinking in pregnancy and stillbirth risk

Women who continue to drink alcohol after they know they are pregnant, especially in large amounts, including binge drinking, may increase the risk of stillbirth (fetal death). The researchers define binge drinking as consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks on any one occasion. Dutch researchers asked 86,752 women about their alcohol intake during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. Nearly 24 percent reported at least one binge drinking episode during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, most of which occurred during the first 6 weeks. It was found that fetal death occurred in 3,714 (or 4 percent) of the pregnancies. Of these, 3,270 were spontaneous abortions and 444 were stillbirths (fetal death). Therefore, compared with non-drinkers, the risk for stillbirth was twofold higher among women who averaged three or more alcoholic drinks a week and partook in two or more binge drinking episodes during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. The researchers found no association between binge drinking in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and the risk of spontaneous abortion in clinically recognised pregnancies. They did, however, find an elevated risk of stillbirth for mothers who had three or more episodes of binge drinking, and women with a weekly consumption of three or more drinks and at least two binge drinking episodes had twice the risk of fetal death as women who abstained from alcohol intake during pregnancy. In light of the above findings, the researchers suggest that pregnant women, and those who plan to become pregnant, avoid alcohol consumption. They also emphasise that, for the time being, women have no reason to fear that a single episode of moderate binge drinking in the pre-recognised part of pregnancy will impact fetal survival.
Obstetrics and Gynecology,
February 2008
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