CDC Urges All Sexually Active Women to Stop Drinking Alcohol Unless They’re on Birth Control

By May Wilkerson 02/03/16

Contrary to what some studies suggest, the CDC says there is no safe level of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy. 

Fact sheet CDC

Are you between the ages of puberty and your mid-40s and possess a uterus? Well, the CDC has some advice that the majority of you probably won’t take: don’t drink alcohol. Federal health officials this week urged all women of childbearing age to abstain from alcohol unless they’re using contraception, in an effort to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “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.”

According to the CDC, an estimated 3.3 million American women between ages 15 and 44 are at risk of exposing a developing fetus to alcohol because they drink, are sexually active and are not using birth control. And among women who are actively trying to get pregnant, three out of four continue drinking after they stop using birth control, said the report. "The risk is real,” said Schuchat. “Why take the chance?”

Though some studies suggest moderate drinking during pregnancy may not harm an unborn baby, the CDC says there is no known “safe” level of alcohol at any stage of pregnancy. 

Alcohol exposure "can cause lasting physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime," says the CDC. They estimate that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) affect up to one in 20 school children.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women abstain completely from drinking while pregnant. Mark DeFrancesco, the president of the organization, urges doctors to screen women routinely about their alcohol use “both before and during pregnancy, and [they] should provide support for women to stop use of alcohol when planning a pregnancy or when becoming pregnant.”

But is abstaining from alcohol a realistic proposal for all sexually active adult women who aren’t using birth control, until they reach their mid-40s? Maybe not. But Wanda Filer, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said she hopes the report will at least "make people stop and think.” She adds: "Some women will take this advice, and some will not." True.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.