CDC tells fertile women: Don't drink at all

Can You Drink During Your Pregnancy?

If you're a woman who could get pregnant, regardless of whether you're trying to become pregnant or not, put down the Chardonnay. Back away from the end-of-the-day IPA. In fact, don't drink a single drop of alcohol. That's the message delivered by a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which finds that 3.3 million women are at risk of exposing their theoretical developing fetus to alcohol because they are drinking and not using birth control.

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"Drinking too much for women means any alcohol use if you're pregnant," said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director for the CDC, during a conference call with the media. "It's not as much how many drinks, it's any drinks if you're pregnant -- at any time during the pregnancy."

The report, which analyzed data from the National Survey of Family Growth to estimate at-risk pregnancies, emphasizes the danger of drinking during the early weeks before a woman finds out that she's pregnant and recommends that women who could possibly become pregnant entirely abstain. Further, the report states that because half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, it's risky for women to drink any amount at any time during which she may intentionally or unintentionally become pregnant.

See risk factors for complications during pregnancy:

Risk factors for complications during pregnancy
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CDC tells fertile women: Don't drink at all

Advanced maternal age

Pregnancy risks are higher for mothers age 35 and older.

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Lifestyle choices

Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs can put a pregnancy at risk.

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Medical history

 A prior C-section, low birth weight baby or preterm birth — birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy — might increase the risk in subsequent pregnancies. Other risk factors include a family history of genetic conditions, a history of pregnancy loss or the death of a baby shortly after birth.

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Underlying conditions

Chronic conditions — such as diabetes, high blood pressure and epilepsy — increase pregnancy risks. A blood condition, such as anemia, an infection or an underlying mental health condition also can increase pregnancy risks.

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Pregnancy complications

Various complications that develop during pregnancy pose risks, such as problems with the uterus, cervix or placenta. Other concerns might include too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) or low amniotic fluid (oligohydramnios), restricted fetal growth, or Rh (rhesus) sensitization — a potentially serious condition that can occur when your blood group is Rh negative and your baby's blood group is Rh positive.

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Multiple pregnancy

Pregnancy risks are higher for women carrying twins or higher order multiples.

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This stance reignites a contentious debate on the topic. Thousands of papers have demonstrated that alcohol can harm fetal development, causing everything from low birth weight to developmental abnormalities -- but other research has found no proof that light drinking during pregnancy causes harm.

That's the heart of the divide: On one side are public health officials who take a hardline stance against any amount of alcohol during any stage of pregnancy -- even, essentially, pre-pregnancy or could-be-pregnancy. On the other side are experts and activists who say that such guidelines lack nuance and fail to respect women's ability to weigh risks.

The CDC has long taken a stance of "better safe than sorry" on the matter. When asked about the risk of a woman drinking very mildly while trying to get pregnant -- a process that can take months or even years for some -- the CDC's Schuchat said, "We can't put a number on that for any individual woman, but what we can say is that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are 100 percent preventable if there's no alcohol exposure at all," she said. "So that's why we say, 'Why take the risk drinking any alcohol during, any time in the pregnancy, even before you realize you're pregnant?'"

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This approach is extreme and unreasonable, though, according to Rebecca Kukla, a professor at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and author of "Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers' Bodies." "We don't tell pregnant women not to drive cars, even though we are much more certain that there's a nonzero risk to their fetuses from each car ride than from each drink," she said. "The ideal of zero risk is both impossible to meet and completely paralyzing to try to meet."

Kukla argues that such guidelines are also excessively punishing. "The idea that the pleasures and routines that make up women's days are mere luxuries that are not worth any risk whatsoever is patronizing and sexist," she said. "And it would also turn their lives into complete hell if really taken to [its] conclusions."

The post CDC Tells Fertile Women: Don't Drink At All appeared first on Vocativ.

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