Your Health Seth Stratton | 6 years ago

Alcohol and Pregnancy: Physicians Weigh in on New CDC Guidelines

Recently released guidelines on pregnancy and alcohol use have caused quite a buzz.

Women of child-bearing age who are not on contraception are recommended to abstain from drinking alcohol because of the possible impact on the fetus’s health during the time when a woman may not know she is pregnant. We talked with three Carolinas HealthCare System physicians – Leslie Hansen-Lindner, MD, of Charlotte OB/GYN, Priya Pillai, MD, of Piedmont GYN/OB and Jessica Deane-Wyman, MD, of Eastover OB/GYN – to get their thoughts on the new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What’s your reaction to the new guidelines?

Leslie M. Hansen Lindner, MD Leslie M. Hansen Lindner, MD
Dr. Hansen-Lindner: I think they are bold and sweeping, but they have to be with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders on the rise. These disorders are the #1 cause of mental retardation worldwide AND are nearly completely preventable. Dr. Pillai: The blanket statement that all child-bearing women abstain from alcohol is somewhat unreasonable in this society, but I agree that pregnant women should abstain from all alcohol during pregnancy as soon as the woman suspects she is pregnant and it is confirmed with a pregnancy test. Dr. Deane-Wyman: When I first read these new recommendations, my initial reaction was that it seemed like an impossible task to recommend no alcohol consumption to all women not on birth control. However, I think this is a great platform to start discussions with patients about these issues.

What’s the key takeaway for women who are of child-bearing age?

Priya K. Pillai, MD Priya K. Pillai, MD
Dr. Hansen-Lindner: It is important to avoid alcohol at any time that you may be trying to conceive or NOT preventing conception. Alcohol affects the baby neurologically in ways that are not unlike Zika or other agents that can disturb the development of an embryo or fetus. Dr. Pillai: Women of child-bearing age who are interested in pregnancy should be more conscious of their health. Patients in my practice have asked about having 1-2 alcoholic beverages during their pregnancy, but I have told them the best recommendation would be to totally abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. Dr. Deane-Wyman: I think the biggest takeaway is that half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned. It is important for women of childbearing age to think about reliable forms of contraception – and there are so many different options that a lot of women are not aware of.

Will the new recommendations change how you practice medicine? 

Jessica Deane-Wyman, MD Jessica Deane-Wyman, MD
Dr. Hansen-Lindner: No – I have always encouraged women who are attempting pregnancy to avoid alcohol. Dr. Pillai: These guidelines will not really change my practice since I was already telling patients to refrain from alcohol during pregnancy. I will probably be more attentive in telling patients to be cognizant of consuming excess alcohol whether on contraception or not and to drink responsibly. Dr. Deane-Wyman: These guidelines will surely change some of the conversations I have with patients at preconception visits, when we discuss lifestyle modifications. It will also change conversations I have with patients who decline the use of birth control or use condoms only.