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Determinants of pregnant women's compliance with alcohol guidelines: a prospective cohort study

Amy E Anderson1*, Alexis J Hure1, Jennifer R Powers1, Frances J Kay-Lambkin23 and Deborah J Loxton1

Author Affiliations

1 Priority Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW, 2308, Australia

2 Priority Research Centre for Translational Neuroscience and Mental Health Research, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW, 2308, Australia

3 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Randwick, NSW, 2032, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:777  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-777

Published: 13 September 2012



In 2009, Australian alcohol guidelines for pregnancy changed from low to no alcohol intake. Previous research found a high proportion of pregnant Australian women drank during pregnancy; however, there has been limited investigation of whether pregnant women comply with 2009 alcohol guidelines. The purpose of this study was to provide an assessment of pregnant women’s compliance with 2009 Australian alcohol guidelines and identify predictors of such compliance, including previous drinking behaviour.


Cross-sectional analysis of prospective data from the 1973–1978 cohort of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health was conducted. Women aged 30–36 years who were pregnant at the 2009 survey and had data on alcohol use were included (n = 837). Compliance with 2009 alcohol guidelines for pregnancy was defined as no alcohol intake. Predictors of compliance were analysed using multivariate logistic regression, controlling for area of residence, in three separate models to account for multicollinearity between measures of previous alcohol intake (compliance with 2001 guidelines; frequency and quantity; bingeing). Private health insurance, household income, and illicit drug use were entered into all models and retained if significant.


72% of pregnant women did not comply with the 2009 alcohol guidelines and 82% of these women drank less than seven drinks per week, with no more than one or two drinks per drinking day. The odds of complying with abstinence increased by a factor of 3.48 (95% CI 2.39-5.05) for women who previously complied with the 2001 alcohol guidelines and decreased by a factor of 0.19 (95% CI 0.08-0.66) if household incomes were $36,400 or more. In other models the odds of complying were lower for women who consumed alcohol before pregnancy at least weekly (OR = 0.40, 95% CI 0.25-0.63) or binged (OR ≥ 0.18, 95% CI 0.10-0.31) and were higher for those who abstained (OR = 45.09; 95% CI 8.63-235.49) prior to pregnancy.


Most pregnant women did not comply with alcohol guidelines promoting abstinence. Prior alcohol behaviour was the strongest predictor of compliance during pregnancy, suggesting alcohol use should be addressed in women of child-bearing age. The study is limited by the relatively short timeframe between the official introduction of the 2009 guidelines and the date the surveys were sent out. Widespread dissemination of the guidelines may be necessary to help increase guideline compliance by pregnant women.

Alcohol drinking; Guidelines; Health behaviour; Patient compliance; Pregnancy; Prenatal care; Prevalence; Women's health