Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Risks Lead CDC to Warn Women About Drinking Off Birth Control

Federal health regulators are warning about the serious risks associated with fetal alcohol syndrome, and urging women not to drink alcohol if they are not using birth control. 

In the latest edition of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vital Signs monthly report, women are warned that any alcohol consumed during pregnancy, even in the first few weeks, can cause serious harm to the baby, including physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities.

The CDC indicates that 3.3 million women between the ages 15 to 44 may be at risk of exposing a developing baby to alcohol during pregnancy. The group warns that women who are sexually active and not on birth control may unintentionally expose children to a risk of fetal alcohol syndrome.

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American women have been urged to stop drinking if the stop using birth control pills, as fetal alcohol syndrome is preventable if women do not drink while pregnant.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol for a woman to drink at any stage of pregnancy, the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasized in a report.

The CDC analyzed data from the 2011 to 2013 National Survey of Family Growth and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. The data found seven percent of women 15 to 44 are at risk of exposing a baby to alcohol if they become pregnant.

The health agency said doctors should urge women who want to get pregnant to stop drinking as soon as they stop using birth control. Continuing to drink may pose a risk since most women don’t know they are pregnant until 4 to 6 weeks into the pregnancy and could unknowing expose a baby to alcohol.

Many women found the CDC’s warning patronizing and insulting. Alexandra Petri, Washington Post commentator, wrote an opinion piece following the CDC report indicating that it suggested women are not in charge of their own bodies.

Other women have suggested that the way the CDC told women drinking lowers their inhibitions to engage in unprotected sex was insulting. Many said the report shamed women in the same way many do for dressing provocatively and was a “puritanical view,” that put the responsibility on the women who are not yet pregnant.

Despite the backlash and varying viewpoints, studies reveal one in 10 women admit to drinking alcohol while knowingly pregnant on more than one occasion.

The CDC encourages women, partners and friends to be supportive of not drinking for a while because a woman is considering getting 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,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “The risk is real. Why take the chance?”


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