No Birth Control? No Alcohol, Says CDC

Women having unprotected sex shouldn't be drinking alcohol, according to new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sofie Delauw/Getty Images

The CDC released a memo Tuesday for all women of childbearing age: If you're sexually active and not using birth control, don't drink alcohol. Period.

According to the organization's latest findings, more than 3 million sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 44 aren't using contraception and are continuing to drink. The CDC says this is a big problem because if these women get pregnant, their babies are at a higher risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).

It's not news that drinking while you're pregnant is a bad idea. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), no amount of alcohol is safe while you've got a bun in the oven. "During gestation, alcohol can quickly reach the fetus's underdeveloped liver and brain through the placenta, leading to a wide range of birth defects and developmental disorders," says Mark S. DeFrancesco, M.D., MBA, president of ACOG. "That's why ACOG recommends that women completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy."

But the CDC's new guidelines reach past pregnant women and even those TTC to all women who have even the slightest possibility of becoming pregnant.

On the one hand, this seems a little absurd, as if the CDC is viewing women not as autonomous human beings, but as baby-making machines who must be primed for childbirth at all times. On the other hand, yes, of course, we all want to give our kids (or potential kids) the healthiest start possible. The whole point here is to prevent fetal alcohol disorders, and the less children born with these complications, the better. 

The tricky part is that about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, says Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even if a woman is off birth control because she's trying to get pregnant, she won't know there's a baby brewing for the first month or so—which, if she's drinking, is enough time to potentially cause harm to the developing fetus. And in fact, according to the CDC, 3 out of 4 women continue to drink while they're actively trying to conceive.

That last stat is a little shocking. Women are much, much more than baby-making machines. But if you are priming your body for a baby, make sure you aren't taking that prenatal vitamin with a glass of Pinot.

Kaitlin Ahern is Editor of She's a fan of microbrews, babies, and Brooklyn street art, which can all be found on her Instagram.


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