(WPRI) – It’s no secret drinking alcohol while pregnant can be dangerous for an unborn baby. But now, the Centers for Disease Control says all women of child-bearing age should avoid alcohol unless they’re using contraception.

The agency says alcohol – even when consumed during the first weeks of pregnancy – can cause long-lasting physical and intellectual disabilities.

“Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “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 CDC estimates more than three million women between the ages 15 to 44 in the US are at risk of drinking while pregnant.