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Why Warning Pregnant Women Not to Drink Can Backfire

In many areas of health policy, the best of intentions can lead to more harm than good. Such is the case with America’s approach to alcohol and pregnancy.

The best evidence shows that punitive policies — such as equating drinking while pregnant as child abuse and threatening to involve child protective services — can dissuade women from getting prenatal care.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders refer to a collection of problems in babies and children. These include low birth weight; impaired growth; and problems in the heart, kidneys and brain. Children can have developmental delays, communication difficulties, learning disabilities and lower I.Q. Some of these last a lifetime.

It’s hard to know how many American children are affected.Studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that between 2 and 15 infants per 10,000 born in the United States have fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of the disorders.

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