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Alcohol and Pregnancy

Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which are physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that last a lifetime. More than 3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.

About half of all US pregnancies are unplanned and, even if planned, most women do not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy. This means a woman might be drinking and exposing her developing baby to alcohol without knowing it. Alcohol screening and counseling helps people who are drinking too much to drink less. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or might be pregnant not drink alcohol at all. FASDs do not occur if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth.

Women can:
  • Talk with their health care 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 health care provider or another trusted person about resources for help if they cannot stop drinking on their own.

Women can:

  • Why take the risk?

  • Women who are pregnant or who might be pregnant should be aware that any level of alcohol use could harm their baby.

  • All types of alcohol can be harmful, including all wine and beer.

  • Doctors, nurses, or other health professionals can help prevent alcohol use during pregnancy in 5 ways:

  • Provide alcohol screening and brief counseling to all women.

  • Recommend birth control to women who are having sex (if appropriate), not planning to get pregnant, and drinking alcohol.

  • Advise women who are trying to get pregnant to stop drinking alcohol.

  • Refer for additional services for women who cannot stop drinking on their own.

  • Follow up yearly or more often, as needed.

  • The baby’s brain, body, and organs are developing throughout pregnancy and can be affected by alcohol at any time.

  • Drinking while pregnant can also increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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