Stop the Denial: Alcohol & Pregnancy Don’t Mix


Last week’s headline from the Centers for Disease Control grabbed people’s attention.

More than three million at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancy
Sexually active women who stop using birth control should stop drinking alcohol, but most keep drinking

Advocates for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder applauded – as the “leading known preventable cause of developmental disabilities” received much-needed press. But a number of females took to social media to refute the CDC’s claim.

governor's adoption partyMany cited studies about moderate alcohol use “relaxing the expectant mother and improving her baby’s mental health.”

Sadly, these women aren’t alone in their misguided thinking.

The report “found that 3 in 4 women who want to get pregnant as soon as possible do not stop drinking alcohol when they stop using birth control.”

And with the number of unplanned pregnancies – which occurs 50% of the time, the total is staggering.

Three million women – from all racial and socioeconomic groups – are at risk for giving birth to a child with FASD.

If women drink alcohol before suspecting a pregnancy, they unknowingly inflict harm on an innocent fetus for four to six weeks. Even upon confirmation, some refuse to acknowledge the danger and continue drinking.

The result in both scenarios is trauma in the womb with a range of “physical, behavioral and intellectual disabilities that can last for a child’s lifetime.”

All preventable.

None reversible.

Interestingly, the research has been mounting for 30 years. There’s no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy.

Not even a little beer or wine.

The reason is biology. Alcohol is a teratogen – meaning it alters cell development in the fetus. For the most-affected newborns, the devastating effects are seen immediately. They fail to thrive.

FASD brain

However, the majority of children afflicted with FASD fly under the radar for years. They look normal. Their challenges appear invisible until third grade or later – which researchers “promoting moderate alcohol use during pregnancy” failed to consider. In study after study, they focused exclusively on Infants and toddlers.

Without question, their data was deeply flawed – leading to questionable public statements.

Still not fully convinced? Take a look at four of my children.

When I adopted the sibling group 18 years ago, they had been diagnosed with FASD – thanks to a fast-acting child welfare case manager familiar with the birthmother’s alcohol use.

Unfortunately, no one ever focused on her. Rather than treating a co-occurring substance abuse and mental health condition, birthmom was routinely shamed – which did more harm than good. Over a ten year period, she delivered six children with FASD.

A huge opportunity for prevention was lost.

nurtureMeanwhile, the FASD diagnosis proved extremely helpful to my daughter and three sons. From birth to three, they received extensive therapy services. From three to five, they qualified for early childhood education through public schools. By the end of kindergarten with hours of reinforcement at home, each finished the year at grade level.

That’s when my thoughts turned to beating the odds. Could we possibly overcome the permanent brain damage associated with FASD?

But FASD proved to be overwhelming as my children grew older – just like the experts predicted. One by one, new inabilities surfaced in middle school.

They couldn’t interpret ambiguous social cues. They couldn’t process increasingly complex language or generalize academic information. Critical thinking was out. And they couldn’t grasp cause and effect – instead, repeating the same mistakes – over and over again. Not surprisingly, they hit a plateau in reading comprehension and mathematical reasoning.

To pay attention in class – and not lose previously acquired knowledge, my children needed psychotropic medication. Several years later to combat intense anxiety – coupled with chronic depression, they needed additional drugs.

Nothing about FASD was easy. They faced frustration and isolation every day.

By the end of high school, only one was able to obtain a high school diploma – by the skin of his teeth.

And meeting their needs amid the chaos wasn’t cheap – taxing the resources of both the education and mental health systems. The care for one of my sons – now a young adult – is approaching $1 million.

For two of my children, the birthmother admitted to binging on alcohol and blacking out. But with my youngest son, she spent the majority of her pregnancy in jail – affecting him nonetheless.

So today, I support the CDC’s firm stance on alcohol and pregnancy. The growing FASD epidemic needs to stop.

How about new energy propelling the movement?

How about a coalition of values-based organizations taking a stand?

The National Federation of High Schools (3.3 million female athletes), National Panhellenic Conference (4 million sorority women) and Girl Scouts of the USA (3.2 million members) immediately come to mind.

Together, they could make difference – one girl at a time, one woman at a time.  DCP

FASD red shoes


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow his son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page. Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold

5 thoughts on “Stop the Denial: Alcohol & Pregnancy Don’t Mix

  1. Yeah alcohol is worse than all the drugs combined on prenatal development. If you wouldn’t shoot up “just once” on heroin while pregnant, don’t take “just one” drink either. It’s only nine months. You can drink after the baby’s born.

    1. You are right on and it is so sad the lack of awareness and help for those FASD kids and their families who struggle everyday. These are innocent victims that will struggle throughout their entire lives.
      FASD Communities is working hard on a solution for young adults afflicted with FASD. Visit our website at

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