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One fifth of pregnant women smoke or drink

A study into childhood development breaks down the drinking and smoking habits of pregnant women in Ireland.

ALMOST ONE IN five mothers in Ireland drinks or smokes at some point during her pregnancy, a new report has suggested.

‘Growing up in Ireland’ is a government-funded study that has followed the development of thousands of children all over the country. The first part of the study relates to data collected on 11,100 nine month old infants.


Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-term delivery, low birth weight, placenta praevia, poorer lung functioning in infants and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death).

The study found that:

  • 18 per cent of mothers said they had smoked at least at some stage during their pregnancy
  • 13 per cent smoked in all three trimesters
  • Mothers born in Ireland had higher rates of smoking in pregnancy (20 per cent) than those born in other countries (13 per cent)
  • Mothers with the lowest levels of education were the most likely to have smoked at some stage in pregnancy (40 per cent)
  • Semi-skilled/unskilled social class (33 per cent), the lowest-fifth income income group (33 per cent)

The study notes that it is “relatively common” for women to be unaware of their pregnancy until several weeks into the first trimester – particularly if they had not intended to become pregnant.


Drinking during pregnancy has been linked to low birth weight, stunted growth, facial deformities, defective limbs, and diminished intellectual function. However, experts conflict on the subject, as some believe that drinking alcohol in low or moderate amounts poses little or no danger.

The study found that 20 per cent of mothers had drunk alcohol at some stage during pregnancy but only 6 per cent (in total) had drunk in all three trimesters. Interestingly, the sociodemographic trends observed for alcohol consumption contrasted with those observed for smoking.

Drinking at some stage in pregnancy was highest for:

  • Mothers with degree-level education (26 per cent)
  • Mothers in the upper-fifth income bracket (29 per cent)
  • Professional/managerial class (25 per cent)
  • In two-parent families with more than one child (21 per cent)

The study shows that mothers with the highest level of education were more likely to drink at any stage of pregnancy than their peers with the lowest education. However, it also suggested that mothers in the lowest education group drank more if they did drink.

The report suggests that 70 per cent of the mothers of nine month old children are married, and 15 per cent are living with a partner.

Of those included in the study, 27 per cent of mothers and 24 per cent of fathers were not born in Ireland.

Read Growing up in Ireland, the full report >

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