Alcohol consumption during pregnancy

The consumption of alcohol is widespread within Australia and entwined with many social and cultural activities. Alcohol consumption in pregnancy can lead to poorer perinatal outcomes including low birthweight, being small for gestational age, pre-term birth and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) (NHMRC 2020).

FASD refers to a range of adverse physical, learning, and behavioural effects after exposure to alcohol during pregnancy, with issues occurring into childhood and adult life (NHMRC 2020).

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol (NHMRC 2020). Support to address alcohol consumption is widely available through antenatal clinics.

Data on maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy were available for the first time in 2019. Data exclude New South Wales for both 2019 and 2020, and South Australia for 2019.

In 2020, most women did not consume alcohol in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy—ranging from 95% to 99.3% for 7 jurisdictions.

The data visualisation below presents data on alcohol consumption status of women in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and after 20 weeks of pregnancy, by selected maternal characteristics, for 2019 and 2020.

The figure shows proportions of women by alcohol consumption status in the first twenty weeks of pregnancy by a range of topics including state and territory of birth, Indigenous status and maternal age. In 2020, just over 2% of women in reporting jurisdictions reported consuming alcohol in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The proportion of women who consumed alcohol in the first 20 weeks decreased after 20 weeks of pregnancy (from a range of 0.7% to 5.2% in the first 20 weeks, down to a range of 0.3% to 2.1% after 20 weeks).

Women were more likely to consume alcohol in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy if they:

  • lived in Remote (4.6%) or Very remote (9.9%) areas
  • were Indigenous (8.2%)
  • were teenage mothers (aged under 20) (4.5%).

However, women from these population groups showed a decline in alcohol consumption after 20 weeks of pregnancy with:

  • 2.0% of women who lived in Remote areas and 5.1% women who lived in Very remote areas consuming alcohol
  • 3.6% of Indigenous women
  • 1.1% of teenage mothers (aged under 20).

For more information on alcohol consumption during pregnancy see National Perinatal Data Collection annual update data table 2.17 and 2.18.

References

NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) (2020) Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, NHMCR, Australian Government, accessed 18 January 2021.