Making Sense of the CDC's Not-So-New (and Controversial) Guidelines on Alcohol During Pregnancy

cdc alcohol infographic.pngLast week, the Centers for Disease Control released a new public information campaign aimed to inform women about the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy. While none of the information presented was new or based on new research, the CDC reiterated it's no-tolerance for alcohol use during pregnancy stance with the following guidelines for health care providers working with women:

1. Assess a woman's alcohol consumption

2. Recommend birth control if she is having sex, not planning on getting pregnant, and drinking alcohol

3. Advise her to stop drinking if she is trying to get pregnant or not using birth control

4. Refer to outside services if help is needed to stop drinking

5. Follow up often

The CDC bottom line reads: Drinking any alcohol at any stage of pregnancy can cause a range of disabilities in children; why risk it? 

In what was likely intended to be a valiant message to protect unborn children, the CDC press release and associated graphics unleashed a firestorm of backlash from women everywhere who found the guidelines to be misogynistic, paternalistic, and fear-mongering. News agencies, bloggers, columnists, and others with public platforms blasted the organization for suggesting that all women of childbearing age should stop drinking unless on birth control, and for omitting one essential part of the conception equation: men. Not to mention the fact that abstinence messages are not effective. 

Critiques of the CDC message aside (no point in reiterating what has been said by many, many others; plus, you can draw your own conclusions), many of us are left, once again, wondering what to believe and what course of action to take. The reality is that there are several studies that show a link between small and heavy alchohol consumption and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) disorders. FAS is real, the leading cause of developmental disability and birth defects -- and very preventable. There also are several studies that show that small or moderate levels of alcohol consumption have no effect on behavior, mental, or motor development. (Source: Debunking the Bump, Adler, 2014) To further muddy the picture, governing health care agencies from different countries are in disagreement with each other on alcohol consumption guidelines.  

Ultimately, the decision to consume alcohol -- whether pregnant or not -- is yours. It's important to do your own investigation and collect input from multiple sources (research studies, doctors, medical professionals, advisory organizations) to make a decision that's right for your family.

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