Numbers of women drinking during pregnancy are higher than expected. One in 10 pregnant women reported drinking in the last 30 days, with more than 3% reporting to binge, in a 2015 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),
In a new report, published today, the CDC have estimated millions more women in the US are exposing babies to alcohol during development, by not realizing they are pregnant.
The report found 3.3 million women were putting their fetus at risk by drinking alcohol whilst sexually active and not practicing birth control.
Rates of drinking have been found to be as high as 80% during pregnancy in Ireland, and between 40% to 80% in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand in other studies.
Exposure to alcohol in the womb is one of the leading preventable causes of intellectual disability in children along with a range of physicial, behavioral and intellectual disabilities known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
Five levels of disorder fall within the spectrum starting with the milder Fetal Alcohol Effects and building up to Alcohol Related Birth defects, Alcohol Related Neuro Developmental Disorder, Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and then the worst of them all -- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).
Globally, rates of FASDs are thought to be 1-2% of all birth defects. South Africa tops the list with 11.3% of the population estimated to be affected by FASDs in a recent study.
In the US, rates of FASD are estimated to be up to 5% among school-age children.
Impact will vary depending on when during development the fetus was exposed to alcohol. Facial abnormalities occur mainly during the first trimester, but risks to the central nervous system remain throughout.
Alcohol can cause damage because it is rapidly absorbed inside the body and transmits throughout the body's systems within half an hour. It then crosses the placenta and once inside the fetus, alcohol can go on to damage growth and nerve cells during development.