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New recommendations issued by the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) call for annual alcohol screening for women, and screening in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The guidelines state that for women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant, it is important for obstetrician-gynecologists to “give compelling and clear advice to avoid alcohol use, provide assistance for achieving abstinence, or provide effective contraception to women who require help.” ACOG’s new recommendations also note that health care providers should advise women that low-level consumption of alcohol in early pregnancy is not an indication for terminating the pregnancy.

According to ACOG, at-risk alcohol use—defined as more than seven drinks per week, more than three drinks at one time, or any amount of drinking in women who are pregnant or at risk of pregnancy—is increasing in women. The group notes that 13 percent of women in the United States consume more than seven drinks a week. reports that high levels of alcohol can cause many harmful health effects in women, including decreased fertility, an increased risk of many cancers including breast cancer, menstrual disorders and seizures. The article notes that alcohol is toxic to fetuses. Drinking during pregnancy can lead to impairment of the baby’s growth, intellectual development and nervous system, as well as facial abnormalities and behavioral problems.

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