Guideline No. 405: Screening and Counselling for Alcohol Consumption During Pregnancy



      To establish national standards of care for screening and counselling pregnant women and women of child-bearing age about alcohol consumption and possible alcohol use disorder based on current best evidence.

      Intended Users

      Health care providers who care for pregnant women and women of child-bearing age.

      Target Population

      Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age and their families.


      Medline, EMBASE, and CENTRAL databases were searched for “alcohol use and pregnancy.” The results were filtered for a publication date between 2010 and September 2018. The search terms were developed using Medical Subject Headings terms and keywords, including pre-pregnancy, pregnant, breastfeeding, lactation, female, women, preconception care, prenatal care, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, prenatal alcohol exposure, drinking behavior, alcohol abstinence, alcohol drinking, binge drinking, alcohol-related disorders, alcoholism, alcohol consumption, alcohol abuse, benzodiazepines, disulfiram, naltrexane, acamprosate, ondansetron, topiramate, cyanamide, calcium carbimide, alcohol deterrents, disease management, detoxification, Alcoholics Anonymous, alcohol counselling, harm reduction, pre-pregnancy care, prenatal care, incidence, prevalence, epidemiological monitoring, and brief intervention. Evidence was included from clinical trials, observational studies, reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses, guidelines, and conference consensus.

      Validation Methods

      The content and recommendations in this guideline were drafted and agreed upon by the authors. The Board of Directors of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada approved the final draft for publication. The quality of evidence was rated using the criteria described in the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology framework.

      Benefits, Harms, Costs

      Implementation of the recommendations in these guidelines using validated screening tools and brief intervention approaches may increase obstetrical care provider recognition of alcohol consumption and problematic alcohol use among women of child-bearing age and those who are pregnant. It is anticipated that health care providers will become confident and competent in managing and supporting these women so they can achieve optimal health and pregnancy outcomes.

      SUMMARY STATEMENTS (GRADE ratings in parentheses)

      • 1
        Alcohol is a known teratogen (high).
      • 2
        The current evidence cannot establish a safe threshold for alcohol consumption in pregnancy (high).
      • 3
        Abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy is the safest option (high).
      • 4
        Abstaining from alcohol while breastfeeding is the safest option (high).

      RECOMMENDATIONS (GRADE ratings in parentheses)

      • 1
        All pregnant women should be questioned about alcohol use by asking a single question (in a nonjudgmental way) to determine use. If women consume alcohol, one of the following screening tools should be used: AUDIT-C or T-ACE, or another evidence-based screening tool available in the provincial/territorial prenatal record. If women consume alcohol, pattern of use should be established to screen for binge drinking (strong, high).
      • 2
        If screening identifies an alcohol use disorder, brief intervention should be provided at the same time screening is completed (strong, high).
      • 3
        When a maternal alcohol use disorder is diagnosed, it should be documented in the infant's medical record after delivery (strong, low). Carers should be encouraged to discuss in utero alcohol exposure with their child's health care provider (strong, low).
      • 4
        Every clinical encounter is an opportunity to discuss alcohol use. All women of child-bearing age should be periodically screened for problematic alcohol use. Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment can be brief or in depth depending on the context. Health care providers should incorporate screening for problematic alcohol use into routine women's health screening and information sharing and include screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment where needed (strong, high).
      • 5
        Brief interventions and, if needed, coordinated referral and follow-up should accompany screening for alcohol use. A nonjudgmental, supportive approach is important to encourage disclosure of alcohol use and accessing of services (strong, high).
      • 6
        If a woman continues to use alcohol during pregnancy, harm reduction, treatment, and social support strategies should be encouraged (strong, high).
      • 7
        Health care providers should be knowledgeable on providing brief interventions and be aware of referral pathways (strong, moderate).
      • 8
        Women need to be able to participate in brief interventions and treatment without undue risk of loss of child custody; where universal screening and brief interventions are implemented, policies must be aligned so that support and treatment can be encouraged by providers and accessed by women without fear (appropriate attention must still be given to the safety of the child) (strong, moderate).
      • 9
        Specialized, community-based interventions need to be available and accessible to women with problematic drinking and related health and social concerns (strong, moderate).



      FASD (Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), MI (Motivational interviewing), SBIRT (Screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment)
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