Sexually active women who are not on birth control should refrain from alcohol to avoid the risk of giving birth to babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, even if those women are not yet known to be pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended.
The C.D.C. report, released on Tuesday, estimated that 3.3 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 who drink alcohol risk exposing their infants to the disorders, which can stunt children’s growth and cause lifelong disabilities.
The report, which appeared to refer exclusively to heterosexual sex, also said that three in four women who intend to get pregnant do not stop drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control.
“The risk is real. Why take the chance?” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., said in a statement.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been widely linked to stunted physical, mental and behavioral development of children.
In October, a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that “no amount of alcohol should be considered safe to drink during any trimester of pregnancy.”
About half of pregnancies are unplanned, and most women do not know they are pregnant until four to six weeks into the pregnancy, the C.D.C. noted.
The only way to ensure that the effects of alcohol would not be passed on to a child, then, would be alcoholic abstinence.
The suggestion of indefinite sobriety did not sit well with some women.
“The latest recommendation to avoid alcohol completely is obviously out of step with the way many ‘pre-pregnant’ people live their lives,” Ruth Graham wrote in Slate, calling it “swath-yourself-in-bubble-wrap thinking.”
“Why is it that whenever public health officials talk about alcohol, they act like they’re Puritan robots from outer space who could never understand earthlings’ love of distilled spirits,” Olga Khazan asked in The Atlantic.
And the reaction on social media sites ranged from mocking to incredulous.