CDC Vital Signs: Alcohol and Pregnancy Why Take the Risk–

This month’s CDC Vital Signs* presents information on the risk of alcohol exposure during pregnancy among U.S. women. We know that alcohol use during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which are physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that last a lifetime. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Even if planned, most women do not know they are pregnant until they are 4–6 weeks into the pregnancy. This means a woman might be drinking and exposing her developing baby to alcohol without knowing it. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby at any stage of pregnancy, even as early as the first few weeks. Alcohol screening and counseling helps people who are drinking too much to drink less. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or might be pregnant not drink alcohol at all. FASDs do not occur if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth.

Main Findings
  • 3 million U.S. women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol (also known as an alcohol-exposed pregnancy). This is because they are drinking, sexually active, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.
  • 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant as soon as possible report drinking alcohol.

Data from the report come from CDC’s 2011-2013 National Survey of Family Growth, which gathers information on family life, marriage, divorce, pregnancy, infertility, use of contraception, and men’s and women’s health. National estimates of alcohol-exposed pregnancy were calculated among non-pregnant, non-sterile women aged 15–44 years.

Women and their healthcare providers can work together to prevent alcohol use during pregnancy.

Women can
  • Talk with their healthcare provider about their plans for pregnancy, their alcohol use, and ways to prevent pregnancy if they are not planning to get pregnant.
  • Stop drinking alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or could get pregnant.
  • Ask their partner, family, and friends to support their choice not to drink during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant.
  • Ask their healthcare provider or another trusted individual about resources for help if they cannot stop drinking on their own.
Healthcare providers can
  • Screen all adult patients for alcohol use at least yearly.
  • Advise women not to drink at all if there is any chance they could be pregnant.
  • Counsel, refer, and follow up with patients who need more help.
  • Use the correct billing codes so that alcohol screening and counseling is reimbursable.


vital signs


What you can do
  • Visit the Alcohol and Pregnancy Vital Signs Web page to find the Vital Signs MMWR article, fact sheet, and other materials, including information on billing codes.
  • Take advantage of CDC’s social media tools, such as the Vital Signs buttons and email updates. You can have Vital Signs sent directly to your own website to display through our content syndication service.
  • We also invite you to join us for the Vital Signs Town Hall Teleconference, Partnering to Prevent Alcohol Use during Pregnancy: A Call to Action on February 9 at 2:00pm Eastern.

NCBDDD looks forward to continuing to partner with you to ensure that we do all we can to reduce alcohol use during pregnancy and the impact of FASDs.

*Vital Signs is a CDC report that appears on the first Tuesday of the month. It includes a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Early Release, a graphic fact sheet and website, a media release, and social media tools. Most of the materials are available in English and Spanish. Issues include colorectal and breast cancer screening, obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, HIV testing, motor vehicle safety, cardiovascular disease, teen pregnancy and healthcare-associated infections, foodborne disease, and more.

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