ALCOHOL consumption during pregnancy is higher in Ireland than in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, according to a new study.
The new research compares results from previous studies in these countries, and concludes that 80% of more than 17,000 women may have drunk alcohol during the first trimester.
Dr Linda O'Keeffe of Cambridge University in Britain led the study that was published in medical journal BMJ Open on Monday.
The decision to drink, whilst described as common in the journal BMJ Open, is labelled a “significant public health concern.”
Ireland has the highest rates of drinking, where one study found that 90% of women drank before pregnancy, and 82% did so after giving birth.
These women were also the most likely to binge drink, with 59% doing so before they were pregnant, and 45% during pregnancy.
But further studies in Ireland suggested that the figures could be lower, with rates from 20%-46%, and only 3% of women admitting to binge drinking.
The report also states that the levels of drinking decreased substantially in the second trimester.
The authors of the study state that the guidelines vary from country to country, with Ireland, New Zealand and Australia recommending no alcohol for the duration of the pregnancy, whilst in Britain one to two units twice a week is deemed harmless after the first three months.
In Ireland, although weekly consumption of alcohol tends to be low, it appears that the public health guidelines highlighting the risk of mental and physical problems to the unborn baby are not wholly effective.
The authors indicate that exposure to alcohol during may occur in 75% of pregnancies in Britain and Ireland.
They state: “The widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern.”