Italians and Brits are most likely to drink while pregnant

Five percent of Italian women, and four percent of Britons, admitted to drinking alcohol at least once or twice a week during pregnancy, researchers said on Wednesday.

Italians and Brits are most likely to drink while pregnant
Photo: Juanpedrazo/Flickr

Only 0.1 percent of expectant women in Sweden – along with 0.2 and 0.5 percent in Norway and France, respectively – said they imbibed with the same frequency, according to a survey of nearly 8,000 women from 11 European countries.

Looking at women who knowingly drank at least one or two alcoholic beverages over the course of their pregnancies, the study showed that more than a quarter of Britons and Russians met that criterion.

Just over 18 percent of Italians drank at least once while carrying a child.

READ MORE: Are Italians becoming boozier than the Brits?

“Overall, one in six women reported use of alcohol after the pregnancy was recognized,” Angela Lupattelli, a scientist at the University of Oslo who took part in the study, told AFP.

By that measure, the most abstemious nations were Norway, Sweden and Poland, where only four, seven and ten percent of pregnant women said they had consumed any alcoholic beverages at all.

A bottle of beer, a glass or wine or a single shot of spirits counted as one drink.

Some of these trends should be of concern to national health officials, the researchers told AFP.

“This figure from Italy should solicit tailored campaigns and policies, and increase awareness about the risk posed by alcohol use in pregnancy,” Lupattelli said.
In Russia, more than 26 percent of women said that had had indulged while pregnant. But more than 70 percent of them imbibed only once or twice, with another 24 percent tippling no more than one-to-four times per month.

No defined safe minimum

A wealth of research has shown that drinking during pregnancy can cause a range of lifelong physical, behavioural and intellectual disabilities.

“It is important to differentiate between regular drinking and occasional drinking in small amounts,” said Lupattelli.

But at the same time, there is no defined safe minimum amount of alcohol that can be consumed.

READ ALSO: Drinking between mealtimes is on the rise in Italy

“We therefore recommend that all pregnant women should adhere to the guidelines for total abstinence during pregnancy,” said lead researcher Hedvig Nordeng.

Surprisingly, women who admitted to imbibing while pregnant were more likely to be older, more highly educated, and employed.

The researchers speculated that these women might be more critical towards guidelines recommending total abstinence, or less exposed to campaigns than younger women.

Women carrying a child were also more likely to have been smokers up to the time of their pregnancy, the study found.

The other countries included in the study were Finland, Switzerland, Serbia, Croatia and Poland.

The findings were published earlier this year in the journal Women and Birth.

By Marlowe Hood

NOW READ: Ten things you need to know about giving birth in Italy

Ten things you need to know about giving birth in Italy
File photo: Pexels

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Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Over-the-counter painkillers can be surprisingly expensive in Italy, and some brands of medicine that visitors use back home aren't available in Italian pharmacies. So what are the rules on bringing medicines in from outside the country?

Reader question: Are there limits on bringing medicines into Italy?

Question: I’m moving to Italy for a few months and planning on bringing some painkillers with me, as I’ve heard they cost a lot more over there. Does Italy have rules on how much I can bring?

Basic pharmaceuticals can cost considerably more in Italy than in countries like the US or the UK.

For example, a box of 20 paracetamol will set you back around five euros on average in Italy, while a pack of 16 pills of the same painkiller in the UK costs 49 pence, or 57 centesimi. In Australia, a box of 20 paracetamol caplets will set you back around $3.49 (€2.30) and in the US there are much bigger savings to be made on larger-size packs, which are not available in Italy.

It’s not just headache pills: cold and flu tablets, lozenges and antihistamines are all often significantly more expensive in Italy than in many other countries.

With these kind of price differences, it’s understandable that visitors would want to save money by bringing their own medication over from abroad.

So what are the rules on bringing pharmaceuticals into Italy – and why are they so pricey in the first place?

Why are pharmaceuticals so expensive in Italy?

In essence, Italy has a powerful pharmacists lobby that raises strong objections at the slightest sign of market liberalisation.

Italy has strict rules in place governing the number of pharmacies that can operate in a given area based on the number of people living there, as well as around transfer of ownership, with many pharmacies simply being passed down to the next generation. While the system may not exactly be a monopoly, in the past it’s certainly seemed not far off one.

The passage of the Bersani law in 2007 relaxed the rules slightly, allowing basic over-the-counter drugs like painkillers to be sold outside of pharmacies for the first time; and a 2012 decree increased the number of drugs that could be sold in those venues without a prescription.

But that doesn’t mean you can just waltz into a supermarket, swipe a couple of packets of ibuprofen off the shelves next to the washing up liquid and the toothpaste and walk out with them for less than the price of a cappuccino, like in the UK.

Parafarmacie or ‘parapharmacies’, drug stores that were introduced in the wake of the Bersani law, are allowed to sell a limited range of over-the-counter drugs along with health and beauty products – but still require a pharmacist to administer the transaction.

Basic pharmaceuticals are often considerably more expensive in Italy than in other countries.

Basic pharmaceuticals are often considerably more expensive in Italy than in other countries. Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP

The same rule applies in supermarkets, where medicines must have their own dedicated counter that is manned at all times by at least one qualified pharmacist.

This means it’s not unheard of to end up spending 50 centesimi per pill for a basic headache drug like paracetamol, and sometimes even more. According to a 2016 survey, buying drugs at the supermarket as opposed to other venues offered savings of around 10 percent – not exactly life-changing.

READ ALSO: How to get a coronavirus test in Italy

The rules on bringing medicines into Italy from abroad

For controlled substances – that includes drugs like Adderall and Valium, which are considered narcotics in the EU – Italy’s rules are fairly strict.

You’ll need a prescription along with an official certificate stating the country and place of issue, the issuing authority, the prescribing physician and patient, and the dosage.

With these types of drugs, you’re also only allowed a 30 day supply – so if you’re in the country for longer than this, you’ll want to bring extra prescriptions from your doctor that will allow you to top up your medication in Italy for the length of your stay.

As for over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and non-narcotic prescription medicines, Italy doesn’t appear to have any clear published rules on importation for personal use. 

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Other EU countries such as Sweden and Finland allow travellers coming from outside the Schengen area to bring a three-month supply of these kind of pharmaceuticals, so it’s safe to assume that similar limits will apply in Italy.

The Local has sought confirmation from the Italian authorities as to the legal limit of over-the-counter medication that can be brought over from abroad.

If you do find yourself needing to buy basic painkillers and other drugs at an Italian pharmacy or parafarmacia, remember to ask for the generico (generic) version. 

You’ll usually be automatically handed a branded version as it increases the pharmacy’s mark up, so asking for the generic version could save you a good few euros.