Home > Monitoring behaviours and experiences before, during and after pregnancy in Ireland.

O'Keeffe, Linda M (2014) Monitoring behaviours and experiences before, during and after pregnancy in Ireland. PhD thesis, University College Cork.

External website: https://cora.ucc.ie/handle/10468/2050

Background: On-going surveillance of behaviours during pregnancy is an important but overlooked population health activity that is particularly lacking in Ireland. Few, if any, nationally representative estimates of most maternal behaviours and experiences are available. While on-going surveillance of maternal behaviours has not been a priority thus far in European countries including Ireland, on-going surveillance was identified as a key priority in the United States (US) during the 1980’s when the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), was established. Today, PRAMS is the only surveillance programme of maternal behaviours and experiences world-wide. Although on-going prevalence estimates are required in Ireland, studies which examine the offspring health effects of maternal behaviours are also required, since various questions regarding maternal exposures and their offspring health effects remain unanswered. Gestational alcohol consumption is one such important maternal exposure which is common in pregnancy, though its offspring health effects are unclear, particularly at lower or moderate levels. Thus, guidelines internationally have not reached consensus on safe alcohol recommendations for pregnant women.


The aims of this thesis are to implement the PRAMS in Ireland (PRAMS Ireland), to describe the prevalence of health behaviours around the time of pregnancy in Ireland and to examine the effect of health behaviours on pregnancy and child outcomes (specifically the relationship between alcohol use during pregnancy and infant and child growth).


Structure: In Chapter 1, a brief background and rationale for the work, as well as the thesis aims and objective is provided. A detailed description of the design and implementation of PRAMS Ireland is described in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 describe the methodological results of the implementation of the PRAMS Ireland pilot study and PRAMS Ireland main study. In Chapter 5, a comparison of alcohol prevalence in two Irish studies (PRAMS Ireland and Growing up in Ireland (GUI)) and one multi-centre prospective cohort study, Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) Study is detailed. Chapter 6 describes findings on adherence to National Clinical Guidelines on health behaviours and nutrition around the time of pregnancy in PRAMS Ireland. Findings on exposure to alcohol use in pregnancy and infant growth outcomes are described in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8. The results of analysis conducted to examine the impact of gestational alcohol use on offspring growth trajectories to age ten are described in Chapter 9. Finally, a discussion of the findings, strengths and limitations of the thesis, direction for future research, policy, practice and public health implications are discussed in Chapter 10.Results: Implementation of PRAMS: PRAMS may be an effective system for the surveillance of health behaviours around the time of pregnancy in the Irish context. PRAMS Ireland had high response rates (67% and 61% response rates in the pilot and main study respectively), high item completion rates and valid prevalence estimates for many health behaviours.


Examining prevalence of health behaviours: We found high levels of alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy, poor adherence to healthy diets and high levels of smoking before and during pregnancy among women in Ireland. Socially disadvantaged women had higher rates of deleterious health behaviours before pregnancy, although women with the most deleterious behaviour profiles before pregnancy appeared to experience the greatest gain in protective health behaviours during pregnancy. The impact of alcohol use on infant and offspring growth: We found that low and moderate levels of alcohol use did not impact on birth outcomes or offspring growth whereas heavy alcohol consumption resulted in reduced birth length and birth weight; however, this finding was not consistently observed across all studies. Selection, reporting and confounding biases which are common in observational research could be masking harmful effects.


Conclusion: PRAMS is a valid and feasible method of surveillance of health behaviours around the time of pregnancy in Ireland. A surveillance program of maternal behaviours and experiences is immediately warranted due to high levels of deleterious health behaviours around the time of pregnancy in Ireland. Although our results do not indicate any evidence of harm, given the quality of evidence available, abstinence and advice of abstinence from alcohol may be the most prudent choice for patients and healthcare professionals respectively. Further studies of the effects of gestational alcohol use are required; particularly those which can reduce selection bias, reporting bias and confounding.

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