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Counseling Helps Young Women Cut Drinking, Improve Contraception Use

ol, a teratogen, in that first eight to 12 weeks when all the fetal organ systems are developing,” Floyd said. A teratogen is any substance that can cause physical or cognitive defects in a fetus.

Half of the study participants received health brochures about the risk of exposing a fetus to alcohol. The other half worked with a trained counselor who offered information and skills to help each woman consider her drinking and contraception habits. During the sessions, the women examined the pros and cons of their behavior. The women were also linked to medical services to obtain birth control, if they were interested.

The research team assessed the women after the motivational interviewing sessions ended. Overall, significantly more women in the intervention group had reduced risky drinking and instituted effective contraception at all three check-in points — three, six and nine months.

Today, intensive preconception counseling on alcohol and contraception use is not part of routine care for women of childbearing age — even for those with drinking problems. But the study found that a woman’s odds of reducing her risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy were twofold higher if she received the counseling intervention compared to information only.

In 2005, the surgeon general re-released an advisory urging pregnant women and women considering pregnancy to avoid alcohol to prevent a constellation of developmental problems known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Grace Chang, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said “not every child gets fetal alcohol syndrome. There are all these very subtle neuro-behavioral effects that are lifelong, that are preventable and that are all induced by alcohol.”

“There is no safe drinking limit during pregnancy,” Chang said. And she says motivational counseling is “a smart solution and a great idea” to curb the cases of fetal alcohol syndrome.
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