Melbourne, May 13 : A new study has found that more than one third of pregnant women in Australia drink despite most of them knowing the harmful effects alcohol can have on their unborn children.
The study outlines the results of a telephone survey of 1,103 Australian women aged between 18 and 45.
The survey showed that 34 percent of the women consumed alcohol during their last pregnancy and 32 percent said that they would drink if planning, and during, a future pregnancy.
Around 93 per cent of women knew alcohol could affect unborn children and 81 per cent agreed pregnant women should not drink alcohol.
Paediatrician Elizabeth Elliott said that consuming alcohol early in pregnancy puts the unborn child at risk of birth defects, while consumption later can have effects on the developing brain.
"The message, really, for women should be that no safe level has been established, and that large amounts of alcohol frequently, and particularly early in the pregnancy, is likely to cause the worst outcomes," The Daily Telegraph quoted Professor Elizabeth Elliott, as telling AAP.
"Not drinking in pregnancy is the safest option and we particularly advise women not to become intoxicated," she added.
The alcohol level is same in both mother and child's blood.
During pregnancy, the risks that alcohol consumption poses are difficult to predict for each individual because factors such as a woman's weight, age and general health, come into play.
Elliott said that about half of pregnancies are unplanned so inevitably that many women have consumed alcohol before learning they are pregnant.
"What we do is reassure women that if they've drunk alcohol at low levels then it's likely that they've done no damage to their baby," she said.
Elliott is hoping that revised guidelines on safe drinking, to be issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council later this year, will include messages to women about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.
In the survey, 95 per cent of women wanted doctors to ask them about alcohol consumption in pregnancy and to advise them of the potential harm to their foetus.
"The community is ready for a tougher message on alcohol. We have got to not only give them (women) the knowledge but we have got to somehow change their attitudes," she said.
The study has been presented at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians annual congress in Adelaide.