Unborn babies at risk as more women drinking and drug-taking

An Australian study says that women who have been hospitalised with mental or behavioural disorders related to drugs or alcohol are up to four times more likely to have a low-birthweight baby.

Researchers explored data on 1107 first-time mothers and found increased risk even if hospitalisation took place 12 months before conception.

There is overwhelming new evidence that alcohol and drugs lead to low birthweight, pre-term birth and the need for admission to a special care nursery, says Dr Michelle Bonello of the University of NSW.

The results of the study were outlined on Monday at the annual congress of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide.

"We believe this study is the tip of an iceberg because the prevalence of women drinking alcohol to excess or taking illicit drugs is increasing and approaching similar levels to men," says Dr Bonello.

"Social values of women are changing