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The CDC Wants All Women To Stop Drinking — Unless They're On Birth Control

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Photographed by Ruby Yeh.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all sexually active women who don't use birth control avoid alcohol in order to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, according to a new report released Tuesday.

"It is critical for healthcare providers to assess a woman's drinking habits during routine medical visits; advise her not to drink at all if she is pregnant, trying to get pregnant or sexually active and not using birth control," the report reads.

The CDC estimated that over 3 million women between 15 and 44 years old risk their developing baby's health by drinking when they're sexually active and not using a form of birth control, adding that three in four women who are trying to conceive don't stop drinking right away.

"About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned," Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD, said in the report. "Even if planned, most women won't know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?"

While it's commonplace for Ob/Gyns to recommend that women who are trying to get pregnant stop drinking, the stakes aren't so high for every single sexually active woman out there. Should all women who have sex just stop drinking altogether? The "why take the chance" argument here feels a little overstated and behavior policing.

Beyond that, all women who forego birth control shouldn't be deemed irresponsible for their own health when it comes to their drinking habits and ability to prevent pregnancy — ever heard of the rhythm method? (Okay, it's not perfect — some estimate it only prevents 87% of pregnancies — but it's certainly better than nothing.) Plus, the research out there that links drinking to fetal alcohol syndrome is based on the effects of "heavy prenatal alcohol exposure" or "binge drinking," as opposed to the effects of having a single glass of wine once in a while.
Of course, it's up to every woman to manage her health while pregnant — fetal alcohol syndrome is real, and the effects can be devastating. That said, recent research suggests that light drinking during pregnancy doesn't harm the baby's development. So, whether you're pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or just off the pill for a bit, the choice to grab a beer is yours.

Our suggestion to the CDC? Include a call for more accessible birth control in your next report on preventing fetal alcohol syndrome. Not only will it help reduce unplanned pregnancies, but it will serve as a potent reminder that women do take responsibility for their own health — especially when they're given the necessary resources.
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