A NEW international study has found that a third of Irish women drink high levels of alcohol in early pregnancy.
The research, which was carried out by a team in Cork, found that 80 per cent of women in Ireland drank at some point in their pregnancy compared to 65 per cent in Britain.
The researchers found that Ireland had the highest proportion of drinking during pregnancy and more than double that of Australia (38 per cent).
New Zealand was the fourth country surveyed and came out at 53 per cent/
A follow-up study will look at the situation in other European countries.
Eighty per cent of the 1,774 women who responded to the Irish part of the study had consumed some alcohol in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.
More than 20 per cent reported drinking moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol at 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Thirty one per cent of women in Ireland admitted to binge drinking in the first 15 weeks on more than two occasions.
This compared with just 4 per cent of women in New Zealand.
Prof Louise Kenny, who led the study and is the director of the Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research, said she was shocked at the high rate of alcohol use amongst some pregnant Irish women.
She said, however, that despite the alcohol consumption the research found that the women are not increasing their odds of having a smaller baby, high blood pressure or a premature birth.
However she stressed the potential for damaging the baby’s brain remains one of the single most important reasons for pregnant women to avoid alcohol intake.
She said: “We looked at the effects of alcohol on the eventual outcome of the pregnancy, we looked at whether alcohol is associated with smaller babies or earlier babies.
“We didn’t actually find any correlation between alcohol intake and the outcome of pregnancies, which is perhaps not that surprising.
“Previous work has indicated that the detrimental effects of alcohol are quite subtle and they affect the cognisant development of the babies, by that we mean brain development.”