Most women dramatically reduce their alcohol intake on learning they are pregnant, but by the time their child is five they are back to their pre-pregnancy drinking levels, a new international study has found.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, reported little change in the drinking patterns of men on becoming fathers.

The paper, 'Alcohol and parenthood: an integrative analysis of the effects of transition to parenthood in three Australasian cohorts' is published in the latest edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

Lead author, psychologist Dr Rohan Borschmann, said the study drew on data from three longitudinal population studies – two in Australia and one in New Zealand – which tracked the drinking habits of more than 4,000 people in their teens, twenties and thirties.

"Most mothers with a child aged under one take a brief time out from drinking, but it doesn't last," Dr Borschmann said.

"By the time their youngest child has turned five, most mothers have returned to their premotherhood drinking patterns."

Dr Borschmann said the research found that 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.

"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.

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

Dr Borschmann said policy advisors and health professionals could send a message to people that if they can manage to reduce their drinking over the first 12 months, they have shown it can be done longer term.

"Reducing parental drinking is likely to produce a double dividend that is both good for the parent and good for the child," he said.

MCRI's Dr Rohan Borschmann, who is also a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, said the aim of the research had been to investigate the extent that becoming a parent protects against heavy and problematic drinking in young men and women.

Participants for the study came from the Australian Temperament Project, the Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study and the Christchurch Health and Development Study.

Available for interview:

  • Dr Rohan Borschmann
  • Case study

Media Contact

Christine Tondorf - MCRI communications advisor (media/PR)
Ph: +613 9936 6197 | Mob: 0413 307 092

Bridie Byrne - MCRI communications specialist (media/PR)
Ph: +613 9936 6211 | Mob: 0403 664 416

  • The study received funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council grant. The CHDS has been supported by funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand, the National Child Health Research Foundation (Cure Kids), the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board. The VAHCS has been supported by the NHMRC, the Royal Children's Hospital Foundation and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute. Research at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute is supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Program. The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW Australia are supported by funding from the Australian Government. The development of the CCRC harmonised cohort was supported by two NHMRC Project Grants with additional support from the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) Australian Research Council/NHMRC Research Network (Seed Funding 2009). The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) is funded by the Australian Government under the Substance Misuse Prevention and Service Improvements Grants Fund. The study has also been supported by the Financial Markets Foundation for Children (Australia). Rohan Borschmann is supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship. Craig Olsson is supported by an Australian Research Council Principal Research Fellowship (DP1311459). Delyse Hutchinson is supported by an Australian Unity Senior Research Fellowship. Richard P. Mattick is supported by a NHMRC Principal Research Fellowship. George Patton and Louise Degenhardt are supported by NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellowships.

Photo by Sérgio Alves Santos on Unsplash