A survey of women in England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand found that between 20-to-80 percent of women consumed alcohol while pregnant, prompting study authors to suggest that new policies and interventions are needed to reduce those numbers.

The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that most women had "low levels" of alcohol consumption, but that alcohol use during pregnancy was prevalent and socially pervasive, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

We know that women who drink during pregnancy increase their risk for miscarriage, premature or still births, fetal alcohol syndrome and intellectual and physical disabilities.

The research was compiled from three different databases of pregnant women who gave birth between 2004 and 2012. The Growing up in Ireland (GUI) database collected information from nearly 11,000 women, the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), also located in Ireland, collected data from 718 women and the Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints study  (SCOPE) was based on information provided by 5,573 women from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Manchester and England.

SCOPE had the highest overall prevalence with 82 percent of participants reporting alcohol consumption during pregnancy. SCOPE also reported the highest prevalence of binge drinking, according to AFP.

"The amount of alcohol drunk varied across the three studies," the researchers said. "Between 15 percent and 70 percent of the women said that they had drunk one to two units a week during the first three months (trimester) of their pregnancy."

"Since most women who consume alcohol do so at lower levels where the offspring growth and development effects are less well understood, the widespread consumption of even low levels of alcohol during pregnancy is a significant public health concern," the researchers said.

The study did not include statistics from other parts of the world.

The bottom line is: No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy, so it's important not to drink at all. Heavy drinking or binge drinking during pregnancy can cause permanent mental retardation in your child, and even light or social drinking has been linked to learning disabilities and a host of other problems.

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