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Alcohol and Pregnancy

Why Take the Risk?

An estimated 3.3 million US women between the ages of 15 and 44 years are at risk for exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy, according to a new CDC Vital Signs report. The report also found that 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant as soon as possible do not stop drinking alcohol.

  • Alcohol use during pregnancy, even within the first few weeks and before a woman knows she is pregnant, can cause lasting physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime. These disabilities are known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). There is no known safe amount of alcohol – even beer or wine – that is safe for a woman to drink at any stage of pregnancy.
  • About half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned and, even if planned, most women will not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy when they still might be drinking.

Every woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant – and her partner – want a healthy baby. But they may not be aware that drinking alcohol at any stage of pregnancy can cause a range of disabilities for their child. It is critical for healthcare providers to assess a woman’s drinking habits during routine medical visits; advise her not to drink at all if she is pregnant, trying to get pregnant, sexually active, and not using birth control; and recommend services if she needs help to stop drinking.

For this Vital Signs report, scientists from CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities analyzed data from the 2011–2013 National Survey of Family Growth, which gathers information on family life, marriage, divorce, pregnancy, infertility, use of birth control, and men’s and women’s health.  National estimates of alcohol-exposed pregnancy were calculated among 4,303 non-pregnant, non-sterile women aged 15–44 years.  A woman was considered to be at risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy if she was not sterile, her partner was not known to be sterile, and she had vaginal sex with a male, drank any alcohol, and did not use birth control in the past month. 

Women can:

  • Talk with their healthcare provider about their plans for pregnancy, their alcohol use, and ways to prevent pregnancy if they are not planning to get pregnant.
  • Stop drinking alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or could get pregnant.
  • Ask their partner, family, and friends to support their choice not to drink during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant.
  • Ask their healthcare provider or another trusted individual about resources for help if they cannot stop drinking on their own.

Healthcare providers can:

  • Screen all adult patients for alcohol use at least yearly.
  • Advise women not to drink at all if there is any chance they could be pregnant.
  • Counsel, refer, and follow up with patients who need more help.
  • Use the correct billing codes so that alcohol screening and counseling is reimbursable.

FASDs are completely preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Contact Information

CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286
media@cdc.gov

Spokespersons

Anne Schuchat, MD

Anne Schuchat, MD

Biography

Anne Schuchat, M.D.

"Alcohol can harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?"

Anne Schuchat, MD - CDC Principal Deputy Director Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Lela R. McKnight-Eily, PhD

Lela R. McKnight-Eily, PhD

Biography

Lela McKnight-Eily, PhD

"Alcohol screening and counseling helps people who are drinking too much to drink less. This means no alcohol use for women who are pregnant or might be pregnant. Women, their partners, and health professionals can work together for an alcohol-free pregnancy."

Lela R. McKnight-Eily, PhD - Health Scientist, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention Team

Alina L. Flores, MPH, CHES

Alina L. Flores, MPH, CHES

Biography

Alina L. Flores, MPH, CHES

"La detección del consumo de alcohol y la consejería ayuda a las personas que están bebiendo demasiado alcohol a beber menos. Esto significa cero consumo de alcohol para las mujeres que están embarazadas o podrían estarlo. Las mujeres, sus compañeros, y los profesionales de la salud pueden trabajar juntos para poder tener un embarazo libre de alcohol."

Alina L. Flores, MPH, CHES - National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

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