Drinking While Pregnant Becoming More Common In The US

By Lindsey Weedston 05/03/19

More than 10% of women reported drinking alcohol while pregnant, according to a new survey.

pregnant woman holding a glass of wine

Over one in nine pregnant women consume at least one drink per month and about 4% engage in binge drinking—consuming more than four drinks at a time—according to a new survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These numbers come from between 2015 and 2017, and are up from 2011 to 2013. In the earlier period, a little over one in 10 women drank while pregnant with a bit over 3% engaged in binge drinking.

Any amount of alcohol consumption while pregnant is considered to be unsafe for the developing embryo or fetus by the CDC. 

Rates of drinking while pregnant appear to be associated with stress levels. Unmarried women were found to be twice as likely to consume alcohol during pregnancy and three times as likely to binge drink, and researchers pointed to the “financial stress associated with being the sole provider as well as lack of social support” as a possible factor. The youngest age group surveyed, ages 18-24, were also the most likely to binge drink. However, the age group most likely to drink at all was the oldest, ages 35-44.

In spite of the many warnings against drinking while pregnant, the idea that it’s safe for pregnant women to drink small amounts persists. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, even a single glass of wine increases the risk of health problems and fetal or infant death.

“There is no safe amount of alcohol when a woman is pregnant,” says their fetal alcohol syndrome FAQ page. “Evidence-based research has found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or sudden infant death syndrome.”

These risks increase substantially the more a pregnant woman’s blood alcohol level increases, making binge drinking even once during pregnancy more dangerous than an occasional single drink.

At the same time, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2017 found that drinking and alcohol dependence are on the rise in the U.S., particularly among women and people of color.

The study found that “high-risk drinking,” defined the same as binge drinking in the CDC survey, increased by 58% among women from 2002 to 2013.

The CDC survey also found that women who engaged in binge drinking before becoming pregnant were more likely to do so during pregnancy.

To address the problem, the CDC recommends regulating the number of stores that sell alcohol in a given area, screening and counseling for “unhealthy alcohol use” for all adults 18 and older, and “alcohol use screening for all women seeking obstetric-gynecologic care, including counseling patients that there is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy.”

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston