Women who continue to drink alcohol heavily after they know they are pregnant, or binge drink repeatedly, may increase the risk of stillbirth (fetal death), a new study shows.
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 study team reports in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
They defined binge drinking as consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks on any one occasion.
For their research, Katrine Strandberg-Larsen, of the University of South Denmark, in Copenhagen, and colleagues asked 86,752 women about their alcohol intake during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. They women were enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort between 1996 and 2002.
Nearly 24% reported at least one binge drinking episode during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, most of which occurred during the first 6 weeks, the investigators report.
Fetal death occurred in 3,714 (or 4.2%) of the pregnancies. Of these, 3,270 were spontaneous abortions and 444 were stillbirths (fetal death).
“We found no association between binge drinking in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and the risk of spontaneous abortion in clinically recognized pregnancies,” they report.
“We 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 these findings, the researchers suggest that pregnant women, and those who plan to become pregnant, avoid alcohol consumption. They also emphasize that, “for the time being, women have no reason to fear that a single episode of moderate binge drinking in the pre-recognized part of pregnancy will impact fetal survival.”
Source: Obstetrics and Gynecology, March 2008.