PHILADELPHIA (CBS) —  Millions of women may be putting their developing babies at risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, according to the CDC.  Because of that, it is now advising all women between the ages of 15-44 to avoid alcohol completely if they are not using birth control.  The government agency says any alcohol use during pregnancy can cause lifelong physical, emotional and behavior disabilities.

According to the latest CDC Vital Signs report released today, no amount of alcohol is safe for a woman during any stage of pregnancy.  “Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”

The CDC says more than 3 million women in the United States, “are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy. About half of all US pregnancies are unplanned and, even if planned, most women do not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy. This means a woman might be drinking and exposing her developing baby to alcohol without knowing it.”

“It is critical for healthcare providers to assess a woman’s drinking habits during routine medical visits; advise her not to drink at all if she is pregnant, trying to get pregnant or sexually active and not using birth control,” Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said.

For more information about alcohol use during pregnancy and FASDs, click here.