The CDC issued  a recommendation today that “Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they’re using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.” From a USA Today story which reported the advice as a new study. The CDC did not report a new study, rather it just issued a recommendation based on no new evidence whatsoever.

So I went to the CDC website to see if I could find evidence that would have prompted the government agency to issue such a stern warning. I’ll let you decide if the CDC made an evidence based recommendation. On the website the agency makes the incredible statement that 5% of all children in the US may have, not Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but something called “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which are physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that last a lifetime.”

Digging deeper into the CDC’s database I found this:

An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has published five papers from the Lifestyle During Pregnancy Study which examined three specific neurodevelopmental outcomes in five-year-old children whose mothers reported drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. The findings, specific to the outcomes of intelligence, attention, executive function, and in combination with each other, were as follows:

  • Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy did not predict intelligence scores and was not associated with decreased intelligence scores for five-year-old children. In addition, no association was found between binge drinking early in pregnancy and child intelligence except that women who binged in gestational weeks 1-2 were less likely to have children with low IQ. This latter finding has not been reported previously in the literature.
  • Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was not associated with attention skills for five-year-old children. However, there was an association between drinking nine or more drinks per week and low overall attention scores. No consistent associations were observed between binge drinking and attention test scores.
  • Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was not associated with executive functioning in five-year-old children. Only weak and inconsistent associations between binge drinking and executive functions were observed.
  • Drinking low to moderate amounts of alcohol or any binge drinking during early to mid-pregnancy was not associated with five-year-old children’s intelligence, attention, and executive function, when studied in combination with each other.


These findings would seem to undercut the CDC’s draconian advice. So the CDC quotes other studies that suggest that drinking during pregnancy can cause FASDs. Why the agency decided today would be a good one for new recommendations is impossible for me to know. Women have been drinking alcohol during pregnancy for millennia without obvious ill effect. This doesn’t mean alcohol may not be harmful to a fetus, but along with the data cited above it does strongly indicate that an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy is very unlikely to be harmful.

The press which questions almost everything the government says is always willing to accept what it says about medicine. How hard would it have been for a reporter to have gone to the CDC’s website to uncover the material therein? He then might have asked someone there to explain the seeming discrepancy. But when it comes to medicine the press is forever gullible.

But now the CDC has frightened every sentient woman in the country and required that their doctors tell them not to drink any alcohol during pregnancy for fear of being sued if a baby should be born with anything less than a perfect body and a subsequently perfect life. The same government that can’t keep lead out of drinking water hopes to keep chardonnay out of pregnant women.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-90)