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Competency 1: Introduction to FASD

Changes in U.S. Perspectives on Alcohol Use During Pregnancy

It has taken some time for the United States to recognize the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy. Although no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been determined, some physicians still tell their patients that it is okay to have a drink "now and then." Even people who knew alcohol could harm a fetus were reluctant to say anything to pregnant friends or relatives for fear of causing undue stress or jeopardizing the relationship.

In the past couple of decades, attitudes and practices have begun to change. In 1981, the Surgeon General recommended warnings against alcohol use during pregnancy. Congress passed the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act in 1988, which required alcoholic beverage labels to carry a warning about birth defects. Today, 19 States and the District of Columbia have laws requiring warning signs at the point of sale about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy.

In February 2005, the Surgeon General issued an updated advisory on alcohol and pregnancy. He urged pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant to abstain from drinking alcohol. His advisory also urged health professionals to inquire routinely about alcohol consumption by women of childbearing age and advise them about the risks of drinking while pregnant.

Despite these warnings, 1 in 9 pregnant women drinks alcohol. Nearly 1 in 20 pregnant women engage in binge drinking (four or more drinks in about two hours).2 In addition, more than half of all pregnancies are unplanned.13 Women who binge drink before conceiving are more likely to engage in other risky behaviors, including drinking during pregnancy.14

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