HomeMedicinePediatricsWhat motivates women to intentional alcohol consumption during pregnancy?

What motivates women to intentional alcohol consumption during pregnancy?

Recently researchers conducted a study where they interviewed high-risk women to find out their reasons for alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

In recent times, alcohol has become the most common substance that affects unborn babies. Up to 50% of females worldwide drink alcohol at some point in time during pregnancy. The current medical recommendations state that there is no safe time, and the limit for prenatal alcohol consumption and alcohol should be avoided. Nevertheless, some women drink a mild to moderate amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

Due to the importance of the problem, researchers from Sao Carlos, Sao Paulo, Brazil talked to a group of participants to determine what motivated them to drink alcohol during pregnancy or to completely change previous habits and stay away from alcohol during pregnancy. The results were published in the journal PloS ONE.

The researchers used a database from a previous study that addressed habits during pregnancy. As a result, fourteen females who were identified as at risk-drinkers during pregnancy participated in the study. They were interviewed individually, face-to-face in relaxed homely settings to ensure trust and the absence of clinical judgment.

Sixteen motives from the interview questions were divided into three categories: “general motives of alcohol use”, “specific motives for drinking during pregnancy”, and “reasons for partly or fully abstaining from drinking during pregnancy”.

General motives for alcohol consumption during pregnancy

The most common general motives for alcohol consumption during pregnancy were social reasons. Many women experienced the need to drink alcohol as an opportunity to maintain bounds with groups or partners, and for socialization, while others consumed it for fun, pleasure, and relaxation.

“Personal interaction. Not drinking is just like going to a party where you stay outside and everyone else goes in.” said one of the participants. Another woman mentioned that “In a certain way it’s pleasurable. So, I said, ‘I won’t give it up while I’m pregnant.’”

Among other general reasons, coping with difficulties was another motive that was identified. Although pregnancy, birth, and maternity are generally associated with positive emotions, some women experienced financial, relationship stresses, and stress related to the pregnancy itself. So, some women believed that stress had a worse effect on the baby than alcohol exposure.

Specific motives of alcohol use and avoidance

In regards to specific motives, craving was the most common, as women experienced difficulties to control their will. “I can’t explain it. It’s uncontrollable. Some women have these crazy cravings. People eat earth, soap, whatever. I went for drinking, which I found pretty strange.” reported one participant. In addition, some females continued to drink alcohol for the reason that during prenatal check-up, their doctors didn’t emphasis the importance of alcohol abstinence.

However, there were also reasons that made some participants drink less alcohol than they had prior to pregnancy, or even to completely avoid it. One frequently occurring motive was concern about the baby’s future health, which was associated with maternal responsibility. And for some women, disapproval by family members, friends, and doctors was also reported as a reason to avoid alcohol.

“I drank up to 5 months. Then I found out about the pregnancy, and I stopped. And, you see, I even felt like it, but I said, ‘I can’t, because of my daughter.’ Because I thought about her health.” said a participant.

Researchers hope that this study will help with the identification of specific reasons for alcohol consumption during pregnancy and will lead to developing more effective preventive methods, therefore, further studies are needed and the results need to be analyzed in more depth.


Written by Anna Otvodenko



Martinelli, J., Germano, C., de Avó, L., Fontanella, B. and Melo, D. (2019). Motivation for alcohol consumption or abstinence during pregnancy: A clinical-qualitative study in Brazil. PLOS ONE, 14(10), p.e0223351.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


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