According to the CDC, there's a huge group of women who are at risk of alcohol exposure during pregnancy—and it's more dangerous than we thought.
We've all heard our fair share of warnings against drinking during pregnancy. From stories about the devastating effects alcohol can have on a developing fetus to medical studies pointing out serious risks associated with it, you might think we've heard enough about how dangerous drinking while pregnant is to reduce rates of fetal alcohol exposure.
Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case. According to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 3.3 million women run the risk of exposing their babies to alcohol's effects. This isn't always due to addiction, negligence or even the belief that moderate drinking is fine during pregnancy—many, many cases involve women who don't realize they're pregnant and continue to drink.
Don't drink and try
But according to the CDC, women who don't intend to become pregnant aren't the only ones who seem to be falling into this dangerous trap: 3 of 4 women who are actively trying to get pregnant continue drinking even after they stop using birth control, according to their statistics.
This is incredibly scary because alcohol consumption—even when it is in moderation and done during those first few weeks of pregnancy—is never safe for pregnant women. "Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant," CDC principal deputy director Anne Schuchat, M.D., said. "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. The risk is real. Why take the chance?"
The CDC's stance is clear: Healthcare practitioners should advise women to stop drinking when they stop taking birth control. After all, most women don't realize they're pregnant until they're four to six weeks into the gestation period—which means that the risk of drinking without realizing you're pregnant is very real. Women are considered at risk of alcohol-exposed pregnancy if they are not sterile, not with a monogamous partner who is known to be sterile, having vaginal sex, consuming alcohol in any capacity, and not taking birth control. It sounds like there are a lot of conditions one must might to fall into this category, but if you think about it, so many women fit this description to a T.
The doctor's role
The American College of Obstetricians and Gyneocologists shares a similar statement. "Obstetrician-gynecologists have long recognized that use of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, FASD, and that the effects of fetal alcohol exposure can last a lifetime. During gestation, alcohol can quickly reach the fetus's underdeveloped liver and brain through the placenta, leading to a wide range of birth defects and developmental disorders. That's why ACOG recommends that women completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy," the group said in a statement. "OBGYNs should routinely screen women regarding their alcohol use, both before and during pregnancy, and should provide support for women to stop use of alcohol when planning a pregnancy or when becoming pregnant."
The CDC encourages women to think carefully about their choices when it comes to drinking while trying to become pregnant. After all, everyone wants healthy children—and abstaining from alcohol even before you start celebrating your pregnancy is a great way to maximize those chances.