Alcohol and Pregnancy

Why take the risk?

Alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to lifelong effects

Alcohol use during pregnancy can lead to lifelong effects

Up to 1 in 20 US school children may have FASDs

People with FASDs can experience a mix of the following problems:

Physical issues.

  • low birth weight and growth.
  • problems with heart, kidneys, and other organs.
  • damage to parts of the brain.

Which leads to…

Behavioral and intellectual disabilities

  • learning disabilities and low IQ
  • hyperactivity
  • difficulty with attention
  • poor ability to communicate in social situations
  • poor reasoning and judgment skills

These can lead to…

Lifelong issues with

  • school and social skills
  • living independently 
  • mental health
  • substance use
  • keeping a job
  • trouble with the law

Drinking while pregnant costs the US $5.5 billion (2010).

SOURCES: CDC Vital Signs, February 2016.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November 2015.


Graphic with illustration of a pregnant woman on the left and non-pregnant woman on the right

Doctors, nurses, or other health professionals should screen* every adult patient, including pregnant women, and counsel those who drink too much. Providers can help women avoid drinking too much, including avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, in 5 steps.

  1. Assess a woman’s drinking.
    • Use a validated screener (e.g., AUDIT {US}*).
    • Take 6-15 minutes to explain results and provide counseling to women who are drinking too much.
    • Advise her not to drink at all if she is pregnant or might be pregnant.
    • Come up with a plan together.
  2. Recommend birth control if a woman is having sex (if appropriate), not planning to get pregnant, and is drinking alcohol.
    • Review risk for pregnancy and importance of birth control use.
    • Discuss full range of methods available.
    • Encourage her to always use condoms to reduce risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
  3. Advise a woman to stop drinking if she is trying to get pregnant or not using birth control with sex.
    • Discuss the reasons to stop alcohol use before the woman realizes she is pregnant.
  4. Refer for additional services if a woman cannot stop drinking on her own.
  5. Follow up yearly or more often, as needed.
    • Set a time for return appointment.
    • Continue support at follow-up.

*Learn how to do alcohol screening and counseling at
SOURCE: Adapted from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Page last reviewed: February 2, 2016