Drinking Among Pregnant Women Up in U.S.

MORE THAN 1 IN 9 pregnant women in the U.S. drink alcohol while pregnant, and about 4 percent binge drink, according to new survey estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Estimates of current drinking and binge drinking among pregnant women in 2015-2017 were both slightly higher than in 2011-2013 – when the figures were 10.2% and 3.1%, respectively – according to a new report from the CDC published Thursday. Drinking alcohol at any time while pregnant can be dangerous for fetal development, the CDC says.

Harm Prevention or Population Control?

Women who binge drink before pregnancy are more likely to do so during pregnancy, the researchers noted, citing a previous study. According to the new report, among pregnant women who said they had binged on alcohol in the last month, the average number of binge drinking episodes was 4.5. On average, the highest number of drinks consumed on one occasion was six.

The researchers defined binge drinking as having four or more drinks on one occasion or more in the past 30 days, and current drinking as having at least one alcoholic drink in the past 30 days.

"Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders," the report says. Alcohol in the mother's blood that passes through the umbilical cord to the fetus can lead to physical issues, behavioral problems and intellectual disability.

"There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant," the CDC says.

The report showed notable differences between pregnant women who binge drink and those who drink at all. Among age groups, pregnant women who were 35 to 44 years old had the highest prevalence of drinking, while those who were 18 to 24 were most likely to binge drink.

Women with a college degree were more likely to drink alcohol than those with a high school diploma or less, but women with lower education levels were more likely to binge drink.

Hispanic women showed the lowest prevalence of drinking while pregnant, while women who were not Hispanic and either multiracial, American Indian or Alaska Native, or Asian or Pacific Islander had the highest prevalence of current drinking, at 18.5%.

Unmarried women were nearly twice as likely as married women to drink while pregnant – 15.2% to 8.6%, respectively – and nearly three times as likely to binge drink. The higher prevalence of both drinking and binge drinking among unmarried women may be due in part to "the financial stress associated with being the sole provider as well as lack of social support," the researchers said.

The researchers compiled the estimates based on 2015-2017 telephone survey data for 6,814 women across the U.S. They noted that the data were self-reported and likely underestimate the true prevalence of drinking while pregnant.

"Efforts to expand implementation of community-level interventions and universal alcohol screening and brief counseling might decrease the prevalence of drinking during pregnancy," the report summarizes.

Such interventions could happen during primary and prenatal care and might help reduce the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and "other adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes," the report says.

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