New study: Moms who find out they are pregnant are not drinking

Most women stop drinking the moment they find out they are pregnant.

Vanderbilt University surveyed 5,000 women as part of a study of early pregnancy health about their use of alcohol during pregnancy. What it found was that once they discovered they were pregnant, all but 6 percent stopped drinking. Those that did continue to drink, did so at a low level.

“Our study was not focused on whether or not alcohol is safe in the early conception window,” said Katherine Hartmann, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt and the senior author of “Pregnancy Intention and Maternal Alcohol Consumption” study, recently published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. “We wanted to see what actual women were currently doing. And we were pleasantly surprised about how promptly people changed their alcohol use.”

This is really good news, but it also points to the fact that perhaps, the existing message that women who are trying to conceive or have the potential to become pregnant should not drink is unrealistic. Perhaps the better approach would be to focus on not drinking at the first sign of pregnancy and to provide better access to early pregnancy testing.

“Women were already self-regulating their alcohol use,” Hartmann said in a news release about the study. “Our findings suggested that promoting early pregnancy awareness could prove to be more effective than promoting abstinence from alcohol among all who could conceive.”

Most women discover that they are pregnant at the first missed period, which is usually at four weeks pregnant or two weeks after conception.

“Around the time of a positive pregnancy test is about the time that a developing embryo could be exposed, theoretically, to maternal alcohol byproducts,” Hartmann said. “And in that early window, exposure should be very low because there is not yet a full maternal fetal circulation.”