New mums quick to hit the bottle

MOST women cut out the booze upon getting pregnant, but by their child's fifth birthday they are back drinking as much as they did pre-pregnancy.

A Melbourne-led international study, which tracked the drinking habits of more than 4000 adults from their early 20s until mid-30s, also found no evidence that the combination of marriage, mortgage and kids changed the drinking habits of men.

The study, led by Murdoch Children's Research Institute, used self-reports taken every four years over 14 years to find women without children had the highest levels of risky drinking. And while mothers with babies drank the smallest amount, consumption steadily increased each year from the child's first birthday.

By the time their children turned five, 15 per cent of mothers reported binge drinking in the past week.

Women increased alcohol consumption after their child’s first birthday, the study said.
Women increased alcohol consumption after their child’s first birthday, the study said.

Lead author MCRI senior research fellow and psychologist Rohan Borschmann said while parenthood had long been associated with a "maturing out" of behaviours such as alcohol consumption, changes in the way parenthood was now approached could be driving the trend.

"Adults these days are typically coming to parenthood at a later age, so they're bringing with them more established patterns of drinking," Dr Borschmann said.

"They're typically having fewer children, and the children are spaced more widely apart, so it might be harder to change these entrenched habits.

"Many women, too, have expectations of returning to their pre-pregnancy lifestyle after having kids - and one of these appears to be returning to similar drinking patterns.

"It's really important both men and women find different ways to put the brakes on their drinking."

The study found women without children had the highest levels of risky drinking.
The study found women without children had the highest levels of risky drinking.

The findings from the three longitudinal studies were published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Sandra Kuntsche, of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, said while parents typically took stock of their drinking habits when their children became teenagers, the early years were just as important for modelling healthy behaviour.

"We know from the research children from the ages three, four and five are aware of what their parents are doing with alcohol," Dr Kuntsche said. "In our early years that's when we start shaping our beliefs, norms, what we expect and what is expected from us."

Among the next series of studies, the MCRI team are now following these adults at age 41 to further plot their drinking habits.

They are also taking 1000 of their children and measuring their cognitive and educational outcomes at age eight, to test the impact of alcohol and other parental influences on childhood outcomes.