Alcohol use and pregnancy consensus clinical guidelines

J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2010 Aug;32(8 Suppl 3):S1-31. doi: 10.1016/s1701-2163(16)34633-3.


Objective: to establish national standards of care for the screening and recording of alcohol use and counselling on alcohol use of women of child-bearing age and pregnant women based on the most up-to-date evidence.

Evidence: published literature was retrieved through searches of PubMed, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Library in May 2009 using appropriate controlled vocabulary (e.g., pregnancy complications, alcohol drinking, prenatal care) and key words (e.g., pregnancy, alcohol consumption, risk reduction). Results were restricted to literature published in the last five years with the following research designs: systematic reviews, randomized control trials/controlled clinical trials, and observational studies. There were no language restrictions. Searches were updated on a regular basis and incorporated in the guideline to May 2010. Grey (unpublished) literature was identified through searching the websites of health technology assessment (HTA) and HTA-related agencies, national and international medical specialty societies, clinical practice guideline collections, and clinical trial registries. Each article was screened for relevance and the full text acquired if determined to be relevant. The evidence obtained was reviewed and evaluated by the members of the Expert Workgroup established by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. The quality of evidence was evaluated and recommendations were made according to guidelines developed by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care.

Values: the quality of evidence was rated using the criteria described by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care (Table 1).

Sponsor: the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

Endorsement: these consensus guidelines have been endorsed by the Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Quebec; the Canadian Association of Midwives; the Canadian Association of Perinatal, Women's Health and Neonatal Nurses (CAPWHN); the College of Family Physicians of Canada; the Federation of Medical Women of Canada; the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada; and Motherisk. SUMMARY STATEMENTS: 1. There is evidence that alcohol consumption in pregnancy can cause fetal harm. (II-2) There is insufficient evidence regarding fetal safety or harm at low levels of alcohol consumption in pregnancy. (III) 2. There is insufficient evidence to define any threshold for low-level drinking in pregnancy. (III) 3. Abstinence is the prudent choice for a woman who is or might become pregnant. (III) 4. Intensive culture-, gender-, and family-appropriate interventions need to be available and accessible for women with problematic drinking and/or alcohol dependence. (II-2).

Recommendations: 1. Universal screening for alcohol consumption should be done periodically for all pregnant women and women of child-bearing age. Ideally, at-risk drinking could be identified before pregnancy, allowing for change. (II-2B) 2. Health care providers should create a safe environment for women to report alcohol consumption. (III-A) 3. The public should be informed that alcohol screening and support for women at risk is part of routine women's health care. (III-A) 4. Health care providers should be aware of the risk factors associated with alcohol use in women of reproductive age. (III-B) 5. Brief interventions are effective and should be provided by health care providers for women with at-risk drinking. (II-2B) 6. If a woman continues to use alcohol during pregnancy, harm reduction/treatment strategies should be encouraged. (II-2B) 7. Pregnant women should be given priority access to withdrawal management and treatment. (III-A) 8. Health care providers should advise women that low-level consumption of alcohol in early pregnancy is not an indication for termination of pregnancy. (II-2A).

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking* / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking* / epidemiology
  • Alcoholic Beverages / analysis
  • Alcoholism* / complications
  • Alcoholism* / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism* / therapy
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Consensus
  • Counseling
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / etiology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Fetal Diseases* / etiology
  • Fetal Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Preconception Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications* / therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Temperance