An OB-GYN Reacts to the CDC’s New Alcohol and Pregnancy Report

The recommendations call for all women who could get pregnant to stop drinking.


Alcohol photo by Jamie Ducharme

Even if you haven’t seen the CDC’s latest report about alcohol and pregnancy, you’ve probably seen the pushback.

To summarize, the CDC released a report Tuesday saying that, “More than 3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.” To prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, the report calls for women to stop drinking not only if they are actively trying to get pregnant, but also if they could get pregnant.

Then, the Internet went crazy. The Atlantic, for onepublished a scathing article (cheekily headlined, “Protect Your Womb from the Devil Drink“), and many women have sounded off against the CDC on social media. While avoiding alcohol during pregnancy is solid and widespread advice (as is using birth control if you’re avoiding pregnancy, for that matter), many feel that the recommendations are condescending to women and ridiculously hard to follow, especially considering nearly any woman of reproductive age could, however probably or improbably, get pregnant.

But it’s not just the Internet masses that think the recommendations are impractical. Ingrid Balcomb, founder of AFA Obstetrics and Gynecology at Emerson Hospital, also feels the guidelines are near-impossible to follow.

“I agree that alcohol consumption during a pregnancy should be eliminated,” she says. “But suggesting that anybody of reproductive age who may be trying to conceive should not consume alcohol is not practical and it’s not going to be able to be followed.”

While Balcomb was not involved in drafting the report, she says it’s possible the CDC was overstating its point to draw attention to the issue. Still, she says women should prioritize common sense over sweeping restrictions.

“If you have a glass of wine and you end up being 72 hours pregnant, that’s different than if you go out and get blitzed,” she says. “The fear that is being put out there by the CDC is going to cause a lot of difficulties for practicing OB-GYNs, to try to interpret this information in a realistic and practical way.”