Researchers in Norway found that negative affectivity is linked to light alcohol use and binge drinking during pregnancy.

Pregnancy is often described as one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, but according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 14-23% of pregnant women will struggle with depression.

Negative affectivity is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anxiety and depression. Women suffering from this often tend to have an unfavorable view of themselves and the world in general.

They may be overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness and guilt and may lose the desire or ability to look after themselves properly.

Previous studies have linked negative affectivity with greater vulnerability to stress, intense emotional reactions to daily life, and inclination to use intoxicants, such as alcohol, in response to stress.

This study focuses on the impact of these negative feelings and alcohol consumption.

This population-based study, led by Dr. Kim Stene-Larsen from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway, used data from 66,111 pregnant women and their partners who were part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Mothers filled out surveys related to alcohol use at 17 and 30 weeks of gestation.

The results, published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, a journal of the Nordic Federation of Societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology, show that many women continue to drink alcohol while pregnant – 16% of women had light alcohol use in the first trimester and 10% in the second trimester.

During their first trimester, 12% of women reported binge drinking and this fell to 0.5% in the second trimester.

Mothers who drink alcohol while pregnant potentially risk their unborn child’s health. Alcohol consumption has been linked with increased risk of premature birth, low birthweight, fetal alcohol syndrome and even fetal death. Leading health experts around the world recommend that women abstain from alcohol while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.

But this advice is often ignored. Previous studies have shown that 25-50% of women report drinking alcohol while pregnant, with low income level, partner’s drinking behavior, and mother’s pre-pregnancy alcohol use all adding to the risk factors.

Researchers used the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) in this study to measure light alcohol use (0.5 to 2 units, 1-4 times per month) and binge drinking (intake of 5 alcohol units or more in a single drinking episode).

In Norway, one unit of alcohol is equivalent to “one glass (1/3 liter or ≈11 oz) of beer, one sherry glass of fortified wine, or one snaps (shot) glass of spirit or liqueur.”

The women’s emotions and tendency toward negative affectivity was assessed in gestational weeks 17 and 30 using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist. This measures anxiety and depression. Medical evidence has shown that these measures are comparable to negative affectivity measures.

Findings indicate that with each unit increase in the mother’s negative affectivity, the chances of her drinking alcohol increased in the first and second trimester, 27% and 28%, respectively.

Researchers say the odds for binge drinking were much higher in the first trimester (55%) and in the second trimester (114%) for each unit increase of negative affectivity in the mother.

Dr. Stene-Larsen concludes:

Our findings clearly show a link between a mother’s negative emotions, such as depression and anxiety, and light alcohol use and binge drinking during pregnancy. Further study is needed to understand why women continue to drink alcohol while pregnant despite health warnings.”

Negative feelings and depression during pregnancy can have far-reaching effects. Earlier this month Medical News Today reported that prenatal depression is linked to offspring’s depression in adulthood.