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>Alcohol Use During Pregnancy in Korea

March 29, 2011

>Karen commented on something important: She wrote,”I’d be very interested to find out the rate of prenatal exposure for the general population of Korea. The general belief in the adoption community seems to be that there is little/no stigma to drinking while pregnant in Korea and I’m not sure I believe that to be true.”

Just this morning I found a 2010 research study Alcohol Use During Pregnancy and Related Risk Factors in Korea that answers the first question. In 2009, Doctors at an obstetrics clinic in Seoul surveyed one thousand pregnant Korean woman who came to the clinic during their pregnancy. The study concluded:

Results     Of these participants, 16.4% reported using alcohol during their pregnancy, 12.2% had used alcohol in the previous 30 days, and 1.7% reported binge drinking during their pregnancy. In the year before pregnancy, 77.1% had used alcohol, and 22.3% had binge drunk. The group using any amount of any alcohol during pregnancy showed a lower educational level, a lower rate of planned pregnancy, a lower level of knowledge relating to the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and a higher frequency of alcohol drinking in the year before pregnancy when compared with the abstinent group. Low educational level and unplanned pregnancy were revealed to be significant risk factors for alcohol consumption in pregnant women. (Lee, Shin, Won, Kim  and Oh, 1)

The overall rate of prenatal exposure in the survey group was 16.4%. This drastically lower rate of alcohol consumption during pregnancy than before it (77%) suggests that it is generally understood that alcohol consumption is harmful during pregnancy among the women surveyed.

However, note the important qualifier: those surveyed voluntarily sought prenatal care at an obstetrics clinic. Many mothers who make an adoption plan report no prenatal care. So if this survey was repeated in a different setting, say upon intake at a home for unwed mothers, or upon intake at a social service agency that offers adoption as an option, the survey would capture a different segment of women.

I am  not surprised that no matter which Korean demographic the research slices, there is a rough correlation between the prevalence of social drinking among Korean women (the research surveyed in this series ranges from 67-87 %), and the prevalence of prenatal alcohol exposure reported by U.S. placing agencies (75-90%). To repeat the doctors’ conclusion: “The group using any amount of any alcohol during pregnancy showed a lower educational level, a lower rate of planned pregnancy, a lower level of knowledge relating to the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, and a higher frequency of alcohol drinking in the year before pregnancy when compared with the abstinent group. Low educational level and unplanned pregnancy were revealed to be significant risk factors for alcohol consumption in pregnant women.”

Those finding describe the majority of Korean birth mothers who make an adoption plan for their baby. Our kids’ birth mothers are by and large not alcoholics. They generally don’t have a problem misusing alcohol. They are the average Korean woman who, in the case of the Workplace study, go out for a drink with her boss and coworkers once or twice a week. Or in the WHO study, are underemployed and detached from family and/or strict school routine. Or in this report, they are 77% of the population of women during the year before their pregnancy. Social alcohol use is that normal in Korea.

Then, surprise! Three or four or five months later, one of these typically social women realizes she is pregnant with a child she was not expecting. She cannot go back and undo those social shots of soju.

Korean mothers love children. I cannot imagine them willfully doing something they knew would harm their babies. But it is not a given that our kids’ birth mothers know how damaging alcohol is to a developing baby. Most of them did not even know there was a baby at the time they consumed the alcohol they later report to an intake social worker.

Note: I edited the original title of this post to remove the word “prevalence” because the authors specifically caution in their conclusion that the demographic of women they sampled was limited; therefore it is not a “prevalence” study across all socio-economic strata in Korea, which they agree is needed.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 21, 2011 8:16 pm

    >Thanks for this- I missed it before. It does answer some questions. I appreciate the time and effort you are putting into researching this. I think it will become more and more needed as our adopted Korean born grow closer to school age.

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