Drinking during pregnancy is on the rise
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have revealed new findings on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. According to the latest data, the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies has risen from 1 in 9 in 2019, to 1 in 7 in 2021.
1 in 7 pregnancies in the U.S. is exposed to alcohol.
The CDC study reports that 13.5% of pregnancies are exposed to alcohol in the U.S. This means that 1 in 7 pregnancies are exposed to alcohol. This is an increase from the 2019 data, in which 11.5% of pregnancies (or 1 in 9) were exposed to alcohol.
In addition, the report states that 5% of pregnant people engaged in binge drinking versus 4% in 2019. Pregnant people under mental stress (defined as 14 or more days of poor mental health in the past 30 days) were more likely to report alcohol use.
The findings on drinking during pregnancy seem to mirror the increases in overall alcohol use during the pandemic. According to a study comparing self-reported changes in drinking during the pandemic in relation to longitudinally measured changes in drinking-related behaviors, approximately 1/3 of participants perceived increases, 1/3 perceived decreases and 1/3 perceived no changes in alcohol use during the pandemic.
No amount of alcohol during pregnancy is safe to consume. The continuation of pandemic-generated hardships, isolation and mental health pressures are weighing heavily and alcohol use is on the rise, especially among women. Women have increased their heavy-drinking episodes (four or more drinks within a couple of hours) by 41 percent since the start of the pandemic.
Drinking during pregnancy can lead to FASD.
Alcohol is a teratogen. A teratogen is something that causes birth defects. For example, tobacco, lead and alcohol are all teratogens.
Drinking during pregnancy can have serious effects on how the fetus develops. It can harm different organs, and it’s especially harmful to the brain. The brain develops throughout the entire pregnancy. Because of this, drinking alcohol during any trimester can cause brain injury. It can also cause microcephaly, which is when the head and brain are much smaller than expected. These effects on the brain can result in mild to severe disabilities.
The safest choice is to remain alcohol-free during pregnancy.
What's it mean for Minnesotans?
While this data included pregnancies nationwide, the Minnesota rate is very similar: here, 13.1% of pregnancies are exposed to alcohol. This means that an estimated 8,755 babies are born with prenatal alcohol exposure each year in Minnesota. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause FASD – a lifelong invisible disability. While there is no cure for the brain injury and disability caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, FASD is 100% preventable with the right information and support.
“We need to continue to rigorously educate all people that there is no safe time, no safe amount, and no safe kind of alcohol during pregnancy.”
What's behind the recent increase in prenatal alcohol exposure?
Is it pandemic related?
Over the past decade, we’ve seen alcohol use during pregnancy steadily increase: from 10% in 2015 to 13.5% in 2022.
Prenatal alcohol exposure is a complex public health issue, and there are many reasons that a pregnancy may be exposed to alcohol. This includes (but is not limited to) drinking before pregnancy is known, not knowing the risks related to drinking during pregnancy or having an alcohol use disorder.
Additionally, this specific study found that alcohol use was more common among women who had experienced frequent mental distress, defined as 14 or more days of poor mental health in the past month.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues and distress, which could help explain (at least in part) the increase in alcohol use during pregnancy.
"As an obstetrician, this increase is very concerning. We need continued education, not only for patients but also for all obstetric care providers."
1 Gosdin LK, Deputy NP, Kim SY, Dang EP, Denny CH. Alcohol consumption and binge drinking during pregnancy among adults aged 18–49 years – United States, 2018–2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(1):10–13.
2 Proof Alliance. (2021, December 13). Drinking during pregnancy can cause FASD. Proof Alliance. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.proofalliance.org/article/prevention-keystone-effects-of-drinking-during-pregnancy/
3 @MichaelSPollard, M. S. P. (2020, October 16). Alcohol consumption rises sharply during the pandemic; heavy drinking by women rises 41%. RAND Corporation. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.rand.org/news/press/2020/09/29.html
4 Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health . (n.d.). Drinking while pregnant will lead to birth defects and lifelong issues. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.childandadolescent.org/drinking-while-pregnant-will-lead-to-birth-defects-and-lifelong-issues/