Partners can directly influence the likelihood that a pregnant woman will drink alcohol and feel depressed, which affects fetal development, new research shows.
The study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, highlights the importance of engaging partners in intervention and prevention efforts to help pregnant women avoid drinking alcohol. Prenatal alcohol exposure carries the risk of potential lifelong problems, including premature birth, delayed infant development, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
“The findings emphasize how many factors influence alcohol use during pregnancy,” says lead author Carson Kautz-Turnbull, a third-year graduate student in the psychology department at the University of Rochester. “The more we learn about these factors, the more we can reduce stigma around drinking during pregnancy and help in a way that’s empowering and meaningful.”
Researchers followed 246 pregnant women at two sites in western Ukraine over time as part of Collaborative Initiative on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (CIFASD), an international consortium of researchers.
They found that higher use of alcohol and tobacco by partners as well as pregnant women’s lower relationship satisfaction increased the likelihood of prenatal alcohol exposure. Conversely, women who felt supported by their partners reported lower rates of depressive symptoms and were less likely to drink during pregnancy.
All study participants had a partner; most were married. In their first trimesters, the women reported on their relationship satisfaction, including frequency of quarreling, happiness with the relationship, and the ease of talking to their partners, their partners’ substance use, and their socioeconomic status.
In the third trimester, researchers surveyed the participants about their own drinking habits and depressive symptoms. Subsequently, the researchers assessed the infants’ mental and psychomotor development around the age of six months.
According to the team’s analysis, pregnant women’s depressive symptoms and drinking directly correlated with their relationships with their partners and to their partners’ substance use. The researchers asked about alcohol and tobacco use only.
Positive partner influences resulted in women’s lower alcohol use in late pregnancy and fewer depressive symptoms. The findings applied even when researchers took socioeconomic status, generally linked to depression and drinking, into account.
Higher prenatal alcohol exposure resulted in poorer mental and psychomotor development in the infants, though a mother’s prenatal depression did not affect babies the way drinking did.
That’s why maternal health and pregnancy interventions are likely to be more effective when partners are included, with benefits for both mothers and babies, the team concludes. Interventions addressing the partners’ substance use may help reduce pregnant women’s substance use, too, while improving their relationship satisfaction, protecting against depression, and boosting infant development.
Additional coauthors are from Emory University; the University of South Alabama; the University of California, San Diego; Omni-Net Centers and the OMNI-Net for Children International Charitable Fund, both in Ukraine; the University of Rochester; and CIFASD.
Source: University of Rochester