The problem with parents and drinking

Many parents-to-be stop drinking when they start expecting, but new research shows the abstinence doesn’t last long. So why the booze backflip once baby is born?

When it comes to pregnancy and breastfeeding, it seems most expectant and new mums are heeding the warnings from health practitioners that there is no “safe” amount of alcohol they can drink when it comes to doing the best for their baby.

But new research from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute shows that by the time their child is five, mothers are back to their pre-pregnancy drinking levels.

And lead researcher, psychologist Dr Rohan Borschmann says perhaps more alarming is that men don’t really change their drinking patterns at all once they became fathers.

Dr Borschmann, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and University of Melbourne, says while previous studies have looked at the drinking behaviours of parents in pregnancy, particularly mothers, they have not continued to examine drinking patterns beyond the first year.

Mums cork their alcohol habits while pregnant

Dr Borschmann says the new research draws on data from three previous studies that tracked the drinking habits of more than 4000 people in their teens, 20s and 30s.

“Most mothers with a child aged under one take a brief time out from drinking, but it doesn’t last,” Dr Borschmann says.

“By the time their youngest child has turned five, most mothers have returned to their pre-motherhood drinking patterns.”

Dr Borschmann says the research found 15 per cent of mothers with a child aged five or older reported binge drinking in the past week.

“The reasons why women increase their drinking over the first five years after childbirth need to be explored in future studies,” he says.

What parents can do about it

“One of the important messages of our findings is that both men and women need to find different ways to put their brakes on their drinking during this time of life,” says Dr Borschmann.

“The traditional combination of marriage, mortgage and kids no longer has any impact on men’s drinking, while motherhood only prompts women to have a brief reprieve from drinking.”

Dr Borschmann says a key tip for both mums and dads to cut back their drinking is to realise that if they have done it once, they can do it again.

“It can be done – they’ve already done it,” he says.

“There is loads of research out there that shows drinking negatively impacts kids.

“Whether the baby is in the womb or breastfeeding, it can lead to poorer bonding.

“Then once the children are old enough to understand, parents are modelling poor behaviours.”

He says mums don’t deserve to cop all the criticism though.

“Women are stopping when pregnant and breastfeeding but the dads are maintaining the status quo,” he says.

“It is important that we are not being too picky on the women here as the research here reflects poorly on the guys,” Dr Borschmann says.

Written by Sally Heppleston.