The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report advising women of childbearing age to avoid alcohol if they are not using contraception.
The CDC report warned that drinking during pregnancy causes a wide range of problems, including Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), media reports said.
“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, according to USA Today. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking.”
Health professionals were advised to tell women to stop consuming alcohol when they stopped taking birth control.
“The risk is real. Why take the chance?” Schuchat added.
Their are five levels of disorder which can result from alcohol consumption during pregnancy: fetal alcohol effects, alcohol-related birth defects, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, partial fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome.
The consequences can include intellectual disability, behavioral problems and physical disabilities.
“Some women who want to become pregnant take prenatal vitamins but don’t think about their alcohol use,” Wanda Filer, President of the American Association of Family Physicians told USA Today. “Hopefully this is the sort of report that will make people stop and think.”
Recent medical research has revealed the scale of the problem.
“We have estimated rates of 2-5 percent in the general population and it’s probably very similar for many countries in Europe,” research professor Philip May told CNN.
“It’s much more common than we thought,” he added.
The CDC reported in 2015 that 1 in 10 mothers admitted to drinking during pregnancy. A study conducted by the British Medical Journal found that levels in Britain were as high as 40-80 percent.
There are no known safe limits for alcohol consumption during pregnancy, according to the CDC.
May added that 80 percent of children with FASDs go undiagnosed.
A University College London study in 2013 suggested that light drinking during pregnancy has no impact on a baby’s intellectual development, but even if true, this would only apply to one potential danger posed by FASDs.