We aimed to identify characteristics associated with alcohol drinking before and during pregnancy to better target pregnancy guidance and public health campaigns. A cross sectional study including 1895 pregnant women interviewed at 16 weeks’ gestation. Information on characteristics and drinking habits before and during pregnancy was collected by in-person interview. Associations between characteristics and alcohol consumption were estimated by ordinal logistic regression models. Average alcohol intake before pregnancy was categorised; 0; > 0–3; > 3–6; > 6 drinks/week; and intake during pregnancy 0; < 1; 1–3; > 3 drinks/week; binge drinking 0; 1; 2; 3; ≥ 4 episodes. Characteristics for average alcohol intake before pregnancy were older age, odds ratio (OR) 3.99 (95% CI 2.77–5.74) when being 35 years or older. Schooling > 10 years, being primiparous and partner’s alcohol consumption were also significantly associated with average alcohol intake before pregnancy. Characteristics for average alcohol intake during pregnancy were age 25 to < 35 years, OR 0.78 (CI 95% 0.61–0.98) and being single OR 1.52 (CI 95% 1.01–2.29). Characteristics for binge drinking during pregnancy were smoking OR 1.34 (CI 95% 1.06–1.69) when binge drinking was defined as ≥ 3 drinks/occasion and OR 1.49 (CI 95% 1.18–1.91) when defined as ≥ 5 drinks/ occasion. Other characterises found with a significant association were schooling > 10 years, being single, being primiparous and partner’s alcohol consumption. We identified characteristics that may be considered when counselling pregnant women or women planning to conceive. Public persuasive campaigns can be used to reach the general public, especially women of childbearing age, before they start planning to conceive, but also their partners, since women with partners consuming alcohol, did show to be more likely to consume alcohol during pregnancy.