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"Our study was not focused on whether or not alcohol is safe in the early conception window," said study senior author Dr. Katherine Hartmann.
"We wanted to see what actual women were currently doing. And we were pleasantly surprised about how promptly people changed their alcohol use," said Hartmann, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Most quit completely, while about 6 percent of women continued to consume some alcohol, almost all of them at very low levels, she said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women who are pregnant or could become pregnant avoid alcohol use.
The fact that many women understand the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy and change their drinking habits is encouraging, but doing so is most effective the earlier women know they're pregnant, Hartmann added.
"Women were already self-regulating their alcohol use. Our findings suggested that promoting early pregnancy awareness could prove to be more effective than promoting abstinence from alcohol among all who could conceive," she said in a university news release.
The study will appear in the April issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
-- Robert Preidt
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