This month is a time to raise awareness about birth defects and its impact on individuals living with these conditions across their lifespan. Not all birth defects can be prevented. However, avoiding alcohol at any time during pregnancy is a healthy behavior that can increase the chance of having a healthy baby. As a teratogen, alcohol is a leading cause of preventable birth defects. The range of effects resulting from alcohol exposure in utero are known collectively as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
Alcohol use continues to be prevalent during pregnancy. Recent data from the CDC reveal that an estimated one in seven pregnant people reported alcohol use in the past month; additionally, about one in twenty of pregnant people who reported consuming alcohol reported binge drinking in the past month. Evidence suggests that the high blood alcohol concentrations associated with binge drinking may be especially harmful, making this statistic particularly concerning. Moreover, pregnant people who experienced frequent mental distress and people who did not have a healthcare provider were more likely to report alcohol use.
Obstetrician–gynecologists can play a critical role in reducing the rates of alcohol use during pregnancy by educating patients on the developmental risks of alcohol exposure in utero. ACOG recommends that all obstetrician–gynecologists implement universal screening and brief intervention for risky alcohol use, including any alcohol use during pregnancy. The AUDIT (U.S.) is a validated tool to quickly screen for alcohol use, and motivational interviewing is an effective way to support behavior change with a brief intervention. Learn more and access free online resources at www.acog.org/alcohol.