When it comes to sourcing information on the harms of alcohol use, pregnant women most commonly use written or electronic resources, antenatal health providers, and family or friends, according to a recent study.
Dr Tracey Tsang, lead author on this paper from The University of Sydney, explains what this means for preventing prenatal alcohol exposure and related harms, preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and improving outcomes for all pregnant women.
Most pregnant women receive information from at least one source
Of over 4,500 pregnant women surveyed by the research team, 80% received information from at least one source.
Nearly half (45%) used written or electronic information such as posters, pamphlets, or websites, highlighting the importance of these convenient, evidence-based resources.
Over a third of women (37%) spoke to a health professional. One fifth of women (20%) received information from friends and family, which reinforces the need for the broader community to be educated about alcohol harms and how to support pregnant women to avoid consuming alcohol.
Individual circumstances matter
A woman’s individual circumstances, such as alcohol use, age, number of previous pregnancies, education level and socioeconomic circumstances, all played a role in the sources of information she was likely to receive.
Written or electronic information was more commonly used by women in their first pregnancy with higher education levels.
Antenatal health providers were more likely to share information with women who were younger, in their first pregnancy, had lower education levels or from socioeconomically disadvantaged regions.
Family and friends were more likely to share information with women in their first pregnancy and with those who had higher education levels.
1 in 5 women still receive no information
While public health messages and campaigns raising awareness of the harms of alcohol use in pregnancy have improved over the years, nearly 20% of women surveyed did not receive any information about alcohol.
Women who were older, had lower levels of education, and had previously been pregnant were more likely to fall through these gaps.
More can- and should - be done to improve antenatal care and reach these women, stresses Dr Tsang.
"Every pregnancy presents an opportunity to prevent harms from alcohol use… All women should be provided the correct information in culturally sensitive ways, and where required, the necessary supports and referrals for additional help."
-Dr Tracey Tsang, Senior Research Fellow, The University of Sydney
“By embedding the provision of assessment, advice and referral (when needed) regarding alcohol use into routine antenatal care, the proportion of women missing out on the information should be greatly reduced. Noting that health professionals are not the only source of information, we need to continue to provide reliable and readily-accessible information on websites, pamphlets and posters, and more," siad Dr Tsang.
A multi-pronged approach
This new research outlines several recommendations to ensure that all pregnant women receive vital messaging about the harms of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and the risk of FASD.
Crucially, multiple sources can and should work together.
- A need for evidence-based websites such as the FASD Hub and government health department websites
- National campaigns across billboards, radio, television, and other media
- Mandatory alcohol labelling to highlight potential lifelong harms
- Awareness raising for those people who support pregnant women, including partners
- Support for health professionals to routinely provide advice on alcohol to all pregnant women
To find out more, you can read the publication here.