Why Alcohol Advice For Pregnant Women Is Overblown And Sexist

Photo: Ashley Armitage
Women are bombarded with all manner of “advice” as soon as they announce they’re pregnant. Whether it’s overly cautious warnings to avoid certain foods, prenatal exercises they absolutely must be doing or even the genre of music they should be playing to their unborn child, many women are sick of having people sticking their noses into their pregnancies.
One thing women generally do adhere to without complaint, however, is avoiding alcohol while pregnant. But according to experts, warnings over the dangers of drinking during pregnancy are “sexist”, overblown and may even lead women to have abortions, reported The Guardian.
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Since January 2016, official guidelines have advised women “not to drink at all while [they are] expecting”. Previously, it was long assumed fine for women to drink one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.
But now a group of academics, maternal rights campaigners and doctors from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) argue the “overtly precautionary” advice isn’t based on reliable evidence and could lead to unnecessary anxiety.
“We need to think hard about how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy,” said Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS. “There can be real consequences to overstating evidence or implying certainty when there isn’t any.
“Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm, sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.”
The advice is sexist because it means many pregnant women unnecessarily avoid socialising, said Ellie Lee, director of Kent University’s centre for parenting culture studies. “As proving ‘complete safety’ [of drinking in pregnancy] is entirely impossible, where does this leave pregnant women?” she said.
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“The scrutiny and oversight of their behaviour the official approach invites is not benign. It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction. And the exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign,” Lee continued.
However, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) maintains its belief that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should shun alcohol completely. “This advice is not about policing pregnant women’s behaviour, it is about giving them unbiased information and enabling them to make the choice that is right for them,” said Janet Fyle, the RCM's professional policy advisor.
“Cumulative and regular alcohol consumption in pregnancy could have an impact on the health and well-being of mother and baby.”
Drinking heavily and consistently during pregnancy – as opposed to small amounts occasionally – has been linked to foetal alcohol syndrome, which can lead children to be born with mental and physical defects, including poor growth, learning difficulties, cerebral palsy and ADHD.
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