CDC abstinence recommendation under fire from women's health expert

The U.S. Centre for Disease Control is being criticized for a report that called on women who are sexually active, and not using birth control to stop drinking altogether to prevent the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Report calls on sexually active women not using birth control to stop drinking to prevent FASD risks

The CDC report says 3.3 million women in the U.S. aged 15-44 are putting their potential developing babies at risk for FASD because they might get pregnant while drinking. (Torsten Mangner/Flickr)

The U.S. Centre for Disease Control is being criticized for a report that called on women who are sexually active and not using birth control to stop drinking altogether to prevent the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in unexpected pregnancies.

The report says about half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned and as a result, 3.3 million women in the U.S. aged 15 to 44 risk exposing a fetus to alcohol because they might not notice they are pregnant until four to six weeks into their pregnancy.

While the goal of the report was to reduce instances of FASD, it was criticized online and on social media for blaming women and omitting the possibility of failed birth control or lack of abortion services.

Still, the report has many women are asking: does total abstinence from alcohol make sense for women who may potentially become pregnant?

Jan Christilaw, provincial vice president of maternal and newborn care at B.C. Women's Hospital says no. She is more concerned the report could scare women away from speaking to their doctor if they do become pregnant.

"More than anything else, I don't see how it's going to empower women to seek better health care," she told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko.

She says women who think they might be pregnant should stop drinking, but the risks of major damage to the baby from a few drinks in the early days of pregnancy are slight, and the focus should be on making the pregnancy as healthy as possible from that point on.

Christilaw says that in Canada as a whole, last year, there were only 300 to 350 cases of "full-blown" FASD, which works out to about one in 1,000 pregnancies.

"Don't get me wrong; we do advise women to avoid drinking during pregnancy. It's just that I think we need to take a slightly more nuanced approach to women who are not pregnant yet but might be considering pregnancy in the future," she said.

Christilaw says there's a big difference between a woman drinking when she thinks she's pregnant or is trying to become pregnant and a woman who drinks and might potentially become pregnant in the future.


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: CDC report on alcohol and pregnancy criticized online and by women's health practitioner

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