By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) — For decades women have been told not to drink while pregnant but according to a new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of children affected by maternal alcohol use is much higher than previously thought.

Researchers examined more than 6,000 first graders in four communities across the country and asked their mothers about their drinking habits during pregnancy.

They found that the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affects between 1% and 5% of the children, which could be a conservative estimate.  In some communities, it might approach 10% of children.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders can cause atypical facial features, learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and growth issues, sometimes severely.

About 10% of women report drinking while pregnant but this is unwise. Pregnant women should not drink alcohol at all.

And the CDC goes so far as to say women of reproductive age shouldn’t drink at all if they’re not using birth control because half of all pregnancies are unplanned.

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