Vital Signs: Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies — United States, 2011–2013

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Background: Alcohol is a teratogen. Prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with a range of adverse reproductive outcomes and can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) characterized by lifelong physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. FASDs are completely preventable if a woman does not drink alcohol while pregnant.

Methods: CDC analyzed data from the 2011–2013 National Survey of Family Growth to generate U.S. prevalence estimates of risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy for 4,303 nonpregnant, nonsterile women aged 15–44 years, by selected demographic and behavioral factors. 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 in the past month; was not sterile; and had a partner (or partners) not known to be sterile.

Results: The weighted prevalence of alcohol-exposed pregnancy risk among U.S. women aged 15–44 years was 7.3%. During a 1-month period, approximately 3.3 million women in the United States were at risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.

Conclusions and Implications for Public Health Practice: Alcohol use in pregnancy is associated with low birthweight, preterm birth, birth defects, and developmental disabilities. Women of reproductive age should be informed of the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy, and contraception should be recommended, as appropriate, for women who do not want to become pregnant. Women wanting a pregnancy should be advised to stop drinking at the same time contraception is discontinued. Health care providers should advise women not to drink at all if they are pregnant or there is any chance they might be pregnant. Alcohol misuse screening and behavioral counseling (also known as alcohol screening and brief intervention) is recommended for all adults in primary care, including reproductive-aged and pregnant women, as an evidenced-based approach to reducing alcohol consumption among persons who consume alcohol in excess of the recommended guidelines.

Related Topics

  • Behavioral Health
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)