Whereas health experts have always advised against drinking alcohol while pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised women who are even thinking about becoming pregnant need to avoid booze. If a woman doesn’t realize she is pregnant and drinks, the developing fetus could be significantly harmed.
The agency’s report published on Tuesday found three out of four women who plan to get pregnant do not cease drinking booze even after stopping birth control. Many women do not know they are pregnant for at least four to six weeks after conception and continue to drink.
“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said in a statement. “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?”
As reported by Fox News, the CDC says there is no safe amount of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy. The warning affects approximately three million women who are sexually active between the ages of 15 and 44.
As everything an expectant mother eats and drinks is passed along to the fetus, health experts have linked alcohol use during pregnancy to low birth weight, preterm birth, and other birth defects. A fetus exposed to alcohol can develop lasting physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities, also known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
“Every woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant— and her partner— want a healthy baby,” Dr. Coleen Boyle, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in the report. “But they may not be aware that drinking any alcohol at any stage of pregnancy can cause a range of disabilities for their child.”
Researchers with the CDC compiled data from a 2011-2013 National Survey of Family Growth. For the survey, more than 4,300 women were asked about their alcohol and sexual habits.
“A woman was considered at risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy during the past month if she had sex with a male, drank any alcohol, and did not (and her partner did not with her) use contraception,” the CDC report said.
In contrast, a 2014 study by researchers in Denmark found that moms who drink while pregnant can have children with better mental health than children of mothers who abstain.
Janni Niclasen, a post-doctoral student at the University of Copenhagen, looked at data obtained from a survey of 37,000 women. Between 1996 and 2002, the women were asked questions about their children at different stages of development. At seven years old, the kids were also asked some questions about their emotions and relationships.
The research indicated mothers who drank roughly two alcoholic drinks per week had children with better intellectual and emotional health than mothers who avoided alcohol altogether. However, it may not be the alcohol consumption that affected the results.
In addition to drinking while pregnant, the mothers exercised regularly, ate healthier, and were better educated. While these lifestyle choices do impact a developing child’s mental health, Niclasen’s research showed the alcohol consumption really had little influence.
“The abstainers did the poorest in all outcomes. They were the poorest educated, smoked the most, did not exercise, and watched a lot of TV,” Niclasen said.
Despite her analysis, Niclasen still cautions against drinking while pregnant. She warned that drinking heavily during pregnancy can have significant adverse effects on a developing fetus, and even a glass of wine here and there could still be bad.
A disturbing report from the CDC back in September revealed about 30 percent of women who drank during pregnancy admitted to excessive or “binge” drinking. The report defined binge drinking as consuming four or more alcoholic drinks in less than three hours.
In addition to the warning aimed at women, CDC officials urged health care providers to advise patients about the dangers of drinking while pregnant when they discontinue use of birth control. The CDC’s Vital Signs report was posted February 2 on the agency’s website.
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