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Counseling Helps Young Women Cut Drinking, Improve Contraception Use

A few nonjudgmental counseling sessions can prompt women to both scale back risky drinking and practice more effective contraception, according to a new study//.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is a leading preventable cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities in the United States. This CDC study explored a strategy that could reduce a woman’s risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.

“A lot of people find this to be an intuitive and sensible approach,” said lead study author Louise Floyd. “If a woman drinks frequently or binge drinks even occasionally, this is not the best time for her to get pregnant, for her or the baby. So why not advocate that she postpone pregnancy until her drinking is reduced?”

The study appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The 830 study participants were not pregnant but were at high risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy because they were binge drinkers (five or more drinks on one occasion) or frequent drinkers (consuming eight or more drinks per week). All of the women were sexually active but were not using reliable measures to prevent pregnancy.

The study tested the effectiveness of motivational interviewing — a kind of supportive yet goal-oriented therapy — to encourage the women to adjust their excessive drinking and ineffective contraception habits.

“What we were able to do was to help the women become aware that they were at risk, and subsequently they made decisions to change their risk behavior,” said Floyd, chief of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention Team at the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

All of the study participants said they were not planning a pregnancy in the near future. But Floyd says about half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned.

“If a woman is drinking at risky levels and doesn’t know she is pregnant, the fetus has been exposed to ethan
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