Women in the UK and Ireland are among the world's worst for drinking during pregnancy, a new study has claimed.

The research, published in the Lancet Global Health medical journal, ranked countries according to the estimated prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy.

It calculated more than 40% of women in the UK drink alcohol during their pregnancy - higher than the Russian rate of 36.5%.

Ireland topped the list of the five worst offenders, which also featured Denmark and Belarus.

Notably, all the countries within the top five fell within the World Health Organisation's European Region.

On the other end, the five countries with the lowest prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy were Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

The UK also had an estimated rate of 61.3 cases of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) - of which drinking during pregnancy is an established cause - per 10,000 women, the report claimed.

By contrast, researchers suggested about 15 of every 10,000 live births worldwide will have FAS.

National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome UK chief executive Sandra Butcher said the findings drove home the importance of raising awareness about drinking during pregnancy.

She said: "The latest advice from the UK's chief medical officer is clear, but it has not yet filtered through to all levels of our society: 'If you are pregnant or think you could become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all.'"

Meanwhile, UK And European Birth Mum Network founder Pip Williams said the country must also hold a "proper dialogue" on the root cause of the problem.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, also argued there was an "urgent need" for a worldwide FAS surveillance system.

Researchers tried to "fill these knowledge gaps" on the issue, estimating about 10% of women in the general population consume alcohol during pregnancy and one in 67 women delivered a child with FAS.

It concluded: "Further efforts should also be made to better educate women of childbearing age about the risks of alcohol use, especially binge and frequent drinking, during pregnancy."

"Moreover, prevention programmes aiming to change alcohol use behaviour during and before pregnancy ... should be implemented around the world."

But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service's director of external affairs Clare Murphy said prior research had shown the proportion of UK women drinking heavily fell dramatically once a pregnancy is confirmed.

She said: "Unplanned pregnancy is a fact of life and so inevitably a significant number of women may binge drink before they know they are pregnant.

"We believe the paper is at risk of creating problems where they do not exist. We are extremely wary of calls for greater surveillance of pregnant women, who already feel their behaviour is heavily scrutinised."