Most women who are planning to get pregnant should avoid and stop drinking alcohol as soon as they stopped using birth control, public health officials say.

A new released report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 3.3 million women of reproductive age are at risk of having developing babies exposed to alcohol because they stopped the use of birth control and at the same time, continued drinking alcohol.

It is widely-known that alcohol consumption during pregnancy may cause birth defects and developmental disabilities in babies. For moms, it may increase the risk of other pregnancy problems such as miscarriage, prematurity and stillbirth. Disabilities associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy are termed as fetal alcohol disorders (FASDs).

"Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant," Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC Principal Deputy Director, said.

She said that about 50 percent of pregnancies in the country are unplanned. So, most women do not know that they are pregnant in the first few weeks of pregnancy and they might still be drinking.

CDC researchers analyzed data from 2011 to 2013 by the National Survey of Family Growth. The data generated national prevalence estimates of the risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy for more than 4,300 women aged 15 to 44 years old in the United States.

The researchers considered women to be at risk if in the past month, they stopped using birth control methods, the women and their partners are not sterile and they engaged in sexual intercourse.

They found that 7.3 percent of the U.S. women population who are of reproductive age, were at risk of having developing babies exposed to alcohol and its effects.

In a related report by CDC in September 2015, 10.2 percent of pregnant women in the country reported drinking alcohol in the past month and a third of pregnant women (3.1 percent) reported binge drinking, which means drinking four or more glasses of alcoholic beverages on one occasion.

Public health officials urge health care providers to properly assess the drinking habits of pregnant women during routine consultations. Doctors are also urged to advise their pregnant patients to avert or stop drinking alcohol during pregnancy to prevent detrimental health effects on their babies.

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