Key Findings: Understanding and improving health messages about alcohol and pregnancy

woman talking to doctor

The American Journal of Health Education published a study looking at women’s knowledge and beliefs about alcohol use and its risks during pregnancy, the role others play in influencing women’s behaviors, and women’s sources of health information to understand this issue. The study also provides suggestions based on these findings for health educators and communicators to consider when developing messages and materials for women about alcohol use and pregnancy. You can read the article’s abstract hereExternalexternal icon.

Main Findings from this Study

  • While women recognized the risks and consequences of drinking alcohol during pregnancy, many still held common misconceptions.
    • Some women reported that certain kinds of alcohol are okay to drink during pregnancy and that drinking in the third trimester (last 3 months of pregnancy) did not harm the developing baby.
    • Others thought that drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was acceptable and some said that their health care providers agreed that it was okay to drink small amounts.
    • Some women continued to drink alcohol during pregnancy or said that they intended to continue drinking until it was confirmed that they were pregnant.
  • A woman’s partner, family, and friends influence her decisions whether or not to drink alcohol during pregnancy. Health care providers and the Internet act as important sources of health information for women, but do not always provide consistent information about the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy.
  • Education and awareness among women and health care professionals about the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy continue to be important to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Considerations for messaging and educational materials related to alcohol use and pregnancy include providing clear and consistent messaging (especially from health care professionals), focusing on social support strategies, and utilizing electronic media.

About this Study

Researchers conducted 20 focus groups with 149 women of reproductive age segmented by age, pregnancy status, and race/ethnicity. Data were coded and analyzed across several categories (for example, knowledge and beliefs, misconceptions, social influences, information sources).

More Information

To learn more about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, please visit

To learn more about alcohol and pregnancy, please visit

Paper Reference

Elek E, Harris SL, Squire CM, Margolis M, Weber MK, Dang EP, Mitchell B. Women’s knowledge, views and experiences regarding alcohol use and pregnancy: Opportunities to improve health messages. American Journal of Health Education. July 2013;44(4):177-190.

Preventing Alcohol Use During Pregnancy and FASDs: CDC Activities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been involved in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)-related activities since 1991, which have enabled the prevention, identification, and treatment of FASDs. Key activities include:

  • Monitoring alcohol consumption among women of reproductive age
  • Tracking fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in three geographic areas
  • Supporting implementation, adoption, and promotion of alcohol screening and brief intervention within primary care systems
  • Developing and promoting effective interventions for children, adolescents, and young adults living with FASDs and their families
  • Enhancing health care provider education on the prevention, identification, and treatment of FASDs
  • Offering FASD-related educational information and materials for women of reproductive age, health care providers, and the general public
Basics About Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and developmental disabilities collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). It can also cause other pregnancy problems, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, and prematurity.
  • There is no guaranteed safe level of alcohol use at any time during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. All kinds of alcohol should be avoided, including red or white wine, beer, and liquor.
  • Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she is pregnant.
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are preventable if a woman doesn’t drink during pregnancy.