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U.S. Surgeon General Releases Advisory on Alcohol Use in Pregnancy

Urges women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant to abstain from alcohol

February 21, 2005
CONTACT: HHS PRESS OFFICE (202) 690-6343

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona today warned pregnant women and women who may become pregnant to abstain from alcohol consumption in order to eliminate the chance of giving birth to a baby with any of the harmful effects of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). FASD is the full spectrum of birth defects caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. The spectrum may include mild and subtle changes, such as a slight learning disability and/or physical abnormality, through full-blown Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can include severe learning disabilities, growth deficiencies, abnormal facial features, and central nervous system disorders. This updates a 1981 Surgeon General's Advisory that suggested that pregnant women limit the amount of alcohol they drink.

"We must prevent all injury and illness that is preventable in society, and alcohol related birth defects are completely preventable," Dr. Carmona said. "We do not know what, if any, amount of alcohol is safe. But we do know that the risk of a baby being born with any of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders increases with the amount of alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, as does the likely severity of the condition. And when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. Therefore, it's in the child's best interest for a pregnant woman to simply not drink alcohol."

In addition, studies indicate that a baby could be affected by alcohol consumption within the earliest weeks after conception, even before a woman knows that she is pregnant. For that reason, the Surgeon General is recommending that women who may become pregnant also abstain from alcohol.

"Thanks to our ever-increasing body of scientific knowledge we are now able to identify more and more causes of premature births and birth defects," Dr. Carmona said. "And we must use this knowledge, not for knowledge's sake, but for the sake of the health of children everywhere."

Dr. Carmona made this announcement prior to participating in BirthDay Live!, a 10-hour live television program on the Discovery Health Channel that shows childbirths from three locations across the country. This announcement and participation in the program are both part of Surgeon General Carmona's "The Year of the Healthy Child" agenda: a commitment to help improve the holistic health of children from pre-conception through the teen years. For more information about "The Year of the Healthy Child," visit www.surgeongeneral.gov.

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