Preventing Alcohol-exposed Pregnancies

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Fetal alcohol exposure affects approximately 1% to 3% of live births in the United States. Family physicians are in a unique position to reduce the incidence of alcohol-exposed pregnancy. Fetal alcohol exposure can be minimized through 2 general approaches: reducing alcohol consumption or increasing effective contraception among childbearing-aged women who engage in “at-risk” drinking and encouraging pregnant women to abstain from alcohol. Although no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is established, women who binge drink are more likely to deliver infants with physical and cognitive-developmental anomalies. Screening tools, such as quantity/frequency questions, the TWEAK and the T-ACE, developed specifically for prenatal care, are more useful with women than the CAGE and Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST). Screening alone seems to reduce alcohol use among pregnant women. Brief interventions, including education about alcohol's effects on the developing fetus, are effective among women not responding to screening. Unfortunately, many barriers exist to effective implementation of alcohol-exposed pregnancy (AEP) prevention in the clinical setting. Designing effective office base systems so the entire burden of implementing AEP prevention activities does fall solely on the family physician is critical.

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