Last week the CDC released a report and the Internet exploded in anger. The CDC warned that women of childbearing age who aren’t using contraception and who are consuming alcohol are taking a risk that may endanger the health of their potential future children. According to the CDC report, every month 3.3 million women in the United States risk having an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.
Soon after this was released, headlines began springing up all over such as “An Unrealistic Warning from the CDC to Women: Don’t Drink Unless You’re Using Birth Control,” “The CDC’s Alcohol Warning Shames and Discriminates Against Women,” and “Non-Pregnant Women Now Guilted for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”
When I first started reading these articles, I was in shock. Half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended and many women have an unmet need for contraceptive methods. Additionally, research and guidelines regarding the relationship between alcohol and pregnancy have not always been very clear or consistent. All contraceptives are not created equally and different methods have varying levels of effectiveness. Furthermore, family planning is not just an issue that pertains to women, and lastly, not all pregnancies will result in a live birth.
The CDC does report that three in four women who wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible reported that they continued to drink alcohol. I believe their message regarding ending alcohol consumption was aimed more that this population of women who intentionally wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible rather than all women of reproductive age not using a contraceptive method.
The one thing I am clear on regarding this issue is how poorly this information was messaged by the CDC. What is a better and less paternalistic way that they could have framed this recommendation to avoid receiving such a negative and immediate reaction?