The CDC guidelines on drinking and pregancy… and subsequent unwarranted media outrage!

This is a few days late, but to bring everyone up to date, the CDC has released new guidelines on the topic of drinking and women. The main take away points: don’t drink while pregnant and don’t drink if you are not using some form of birth control and have the chance to become pregnant. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. It has long been known that Fetal Alchohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs) come about from consuming alcohol during pregnancy. While many doctors say it’s OK to have a drink every once in a while, the CDC stresses that no alcohol is the best way to be absolutely certain to avoid FASDs. From the CDC:

Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), which are physical, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities that last a lifetime. More than 3 million US women 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. Alcohol screening and counseling helps people who are drinking too much to drink less. It is recommended that women who are pregnant or might be pregnant not drink alcohol at all. FASDs do not occur if a developing baby is not exposed to alcohol before birth.

When I first saw this, my reaction was basically “duh”.  Apparently, others reacted differently. There has been lots of media outlash and uproar over the CDC recommendations. Some claim that this is an unrealistic warning-from Jezebel:

The CDC isn’t alone in this recommendation: the Mayo Clinic, for one, also recommends that any sexually active woman not on birth control refrain from drinking. But “the risk is real, why take the chance” has such a historical stranglehold even on women who are already pregnant, whose risk level is not real but immediate; to extend this idea to women whomight become pregnant just because they are alive and unmedicated—or to phrase the recommendation with a basic disregard for the facts of how women live—suggests the same old idea that all women are either future, current, past or broken incubators, and that is their body’s primary use.

forget that the real problem is abortion access and the fact that birth control occasionally fails. Women, your body is a ticking time bomb in which the bomb is a fetus, so get on birth control or stop drinking—that’s the way it’s going to be!

An article in The Washington Post claims that this message is incredibly condescending towards women, stating that the guidelines suggest drinking without being on birth control can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. NPR summarizes some other reactions:

The way this advice was communicated has struck many women as severe and condescending. “CDC to younger women: Better take your birth control before you drink that glass of wine,” read one headline.

The Internet let forth a tsunami of derision. One columnist for The Washington Post quipped, “That’s the last time I drink merlot alone in my apartment. I don’t want herpes.”

Indeed, the CDC did also point out that drinking can make a woman more vulnerable to injuries or violence and sexually transmitted diseases. But many commenters pointed out that there was no report warning men that drinking can lead to violent behavior and STDs.

“The way [the CDC] stated this is very extreme,” says Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University who wrote a book on the sometimes anxiety-producing advice that women are given during pregnancy.

Oster says the CDC has an important message to convey. Some women undoubtedly are unaware of the risks of alcohol during the early weeks of pregnancy when they may not even know they’re pregnant.

But given the tone and the judgment woven into the messaging, Oster says, it touched a nerve.

Let me say that I am SHOCKED by the amount of outrage over this article. These guidelines are legit- don’t drink while pregnant; don’t drink if you have the chance to become pregnant. No one can deny that this is sound advice. Access to birth control, abortion, etc. is all a different issue- which should definitely be discussed (and improved upon), however, unrelated to these guidelines. Furthermore, I believe the swarm of posts have all taken these guidelines grossly out of context. Thank god for The Huffington Post:

“We definitely didn’t make any recommendations for women who are pre-pregnant,” said Lela McKnight-Eily, an epidemiologist and clinical psychologist on the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Prevention Team at the CDC. 

“It’s more a matter of women knowing and being informed that if they are drinking alcohol, sexually active and not using birth control, that they could be exposing a baby to a teratogen, and that could cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” McKnight-Eily said.

The warning was really directed at the three out of four women who reported wanting to get pregnant “immediately,” but who said they continued drinking as they tried to conceive. 

It was intended to inform women about the risks of alcohol and pregnancy (both expected and unexpected) — not to control the behavior of women who aren’t trying to have a baby. 

“Women should have conversations with their health professionals about drinking alcohol and their health, in general, “McKnight-Eily added. “Particularly if they are planning to get pregnant or trying to get pregnant, this should be part of the conversation that they’re having.” 

As a woman, I take no offense from the CDC guidelines, and I don’t think others should either. Some say it’s “unrealistic” to expect women to completely stop drinking if they are trying to become pregnant (it can take a while sometimes)… fine. As mentioned, this is a conversation that women need to have with their health professionals, and THAT is what the CDC recommends. The CDC isn’t telling women what to do with their bodies, it’s encouraging them to know the facts and discuss with their doctors. That’s ALL.

As for me, WHY would you take the chance? I like drinking just as much as the next person, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to stop drinking for a little while leading up to pregnancy. And I think it’s crazy that others are outraged by this. Ladies, we have REAL issues in this country that need to be dealt with (access to birth control, abortion, wage gap, ‘leakly pipeline’ when it comes to leadership positions, etc etc), let’s try to focus on those issues instead.


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