Pregnant Women Are Still Binge Drinking Far Too Often

Drinking during pregnancy is bad. 1 in 33 women admit to binge drinking in the past 30 days. That's astonishing.

Sep 24, 2015 at 3:46 PM ET

Physicians say pregnant women should abstain from alcohol, save an occasional glass of wine. But that hasn’t stopped 10 percent of pregnant women in the United States from knocking back at least one drink a month. What’s worse is that more than 3 percent of pregnant women continue to binge drink on a monthly basis, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC defines binge drinking as four or more alcoholic beverages consumed in one sitting, and the report suggests that pregnant women who binge drink tend to do so 4.6 times per month, or more than once per week. Meanwhile, binge drinkers who are not pregnant tend to keep it to 3 episodes per month. It appears that pregnant women binge drink even more often than their peers.

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This isn’t the first time the CDC has warned us that pregnant women are probably tossing back one too many per trimester. Prior studies have confirmed that about one third of women who drink alcohol regularly (while pregnant or otherwise) are likely to also binge drink. So it isn’t necessarily surprising that, if 10 percent of pregnant women drink alcohol, about 3 percent also binge drink. What is surprising is just how often these women are drinking to excess.

And that’s unsettling, because alcohol–obviously–isn’t good for a mother-to-be or her baby. For the baby, there’s an additional risk of suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a suite of physical and behavioral problems that may affect as many as 5 percent of all first graders in the United States. On any normal day, regular binge drinking is linked to liver disease, certain cancers and depression, not to mention motor vehicle crashes. These risks become even more serious for pregnant women, who are often immunocompromised and prone to depression.

With this report, the CDC has set a new goal of bumping the number of pregnant women who abstain from alcohol to 98 percent, and the number who avoid binge drinking to 100%. The CDC is now formally recommending that physicians begin screening pregnant women for alcohol dependence, and stage interventions whenever possible, to prevent harm to both the mother and child.