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Alcohol Use in Pregnant Low-Income Women

Mary J. O'Connor, Shannon E. Whaley

Objective: The present study had two aims: (1) to examine the prevalence rates of prenatal alcohol consumption in a group of women participating in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in Southern California, with special emphasis on Hispanic women, and (2) to identify variables associated with postconception drinking in low-income minority women. Method: The study employed a cross-sectional survey that assessed alcohol use rates, demographic variables, and alcohol risk status. Participants were 826 pregnant women enrolled in the Public Health Foundation Enterprises (PHFE) WIC Program in Los Angeles and Orange counties, California. Pregnant women who enrolled self-administered a specially designed alcohol screener. Results: Findings were that 24% of sample women were consuming alcohol post conception. Of that percentage, approximately two thirds drank prior to pregnancy recognition, and one third continued to drink after pregnancy was confirmed. Approximately 30% of white non-Hispanic, black non-Hispanic and English-speaking Hispanic women were found to drink post conception compared with 15.8% of Spanish-speaking Hispanic women. This finding supported recent research that suggests more acculturated Hispanic women tend to incorporate the drinking patterns of the larger U.S. population to a greater extent than less acculturated Hispanic women. Although a number of demographic variables differentiated women who were abstinent from those who were postconception drinkers, the best predictor of postconception alcohol consumption was the woman’s high-risk drinking score as measured by the TWEAK (sensitivity = 70.1%, specificity = 88.5%). Conclusions: Results suggest the importance of screening low-income minority pregnant women in a community setting so that interventions can be initiated to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome and related conditions. (J. Stud. Alcohol 64: 773-783, 2003)