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For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 21, 2009
Contact: CDC Division of Media Relations
(404) 639-3286



New Data Show Drinking While Pregnant Still a Problem

Exposure to alcohol is a known cause of birth defects

The number of women who drink alcohol while pregnant is not decreasing, according to a 15 year-study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 1 in 8 women drank any amount of alcohol while pregnant, the study says.

The drinking patterns persisted despite repeated warnings from surgeons general about the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant. The surgeons general have told pregnant women, and women who may become pregnant to abstain from alcohol consumption in order to eliminate the chance of giving birth to a baby with alcohol related birth defects.

The CDC analysis, as well as a study also published today by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that far too many women use substances (especially alcohol) during their pregnancies.

The CDC study, “Alcohol Use Among Women of Childbearing Age, United States, 1991-2005,” is in the CDC′s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC study also found that 1 of every 50 pregnant women engaged in binge drinking each year during the 15 years.

“Exposure to alcohol can cause lifelong physical and mental disabilities that are preventable by avoiding alcoholic drinks while pregnant,” said Edwin Trevathan, director of the CDC′s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “All women should know that there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink or safe time to drink it during pregnancy. We encourage all women to pay attention to the surgeon general warnings.”

The study found that pregnant women most likely to report any alcohol use were 35-44 years of age (17.7 percent), college graduates (14.4 percent), employed (13.7 percent), and unmarried (13.4 percent). Pregnant women who binge drink were more likely to be employed and unmarried than were pregnant women who did not binge drink. This study did not examine the reasons why women are still drinking while pregnant.

Any alcohol use was defined as at least one drink of any alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.

“By screening and advising women about the risks of drinking while pregnant, health care providers can play a key role in reducing rates of fetal alcohol syndrome,” said Clark Denny, a CDC epidemiologist and primary author of the study. “This study revealed that there is still a great need for health care professionals to routinely ask all women who are pregnant or at risk of being pregnant about their alcohol consumption.”

The study examined data from 533,506 women aged 18-44 years, of whom 22,027 reported being pregnant at the time of the interview. The data were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The BRFSS is a state-based system of health surveys that collects information on health risk behaviors, preventive health practices, and health care access primarily related to chronic disease and injury. Data are collected monthly in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.

For more information about FAS and other birth defects please call toll free 1-800 CDC-INFO or visit http://www.cdc.gov/fasd.

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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