'I’m not clear on what the risk is’: Women’s reflexive negotiations of uncertainty about alcohol during pregnancy

Kate HOLLAND, Kerry MCCALLUM, Alexandra Walton

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    28 Citations (Scopus)
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    Health guidelines in many countries advise women that not drinking alcohol during pregnancy is the safest option for their babies. This advice is based on a lack of evidence about what is a safe amount of alcohol and increasing concern about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. While there is some knowledge of factors informing women’s views and practices in relation to alcohol consumption during pregnancy, there is little knowledge or understanding of the ways women interpret and respond to the abstinence public health advice in Australia and its bearing, if any, on their own practices. In this article, we examine women’s experiences of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and their views of the abstinence advice. We locate our analysis within the body of thinking that views pronouncements about risks during pregnancy as bound up with social and cultural values and ideas about what it means to be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mother, as much as they are about science. We draw on a study that we undertook in 2014 of 20 women, who were either pregnant, had recently had a child or who had young children, or who were planning for pregnancy, who took part in one-to-one qualitative interviews or participated in focus group discussions in Canberra, Australia. We found that the women in our study variously described receiving reassurance after drinking in early pregnancy; opting to abstain as the safest option in the face of uncertainty; and having an occasional drink if they felt like it. In response to the abstinence advice, we found that some women understood it as a responsible message, even if they had not necessarily adhered to it, while others criticised it as an example of policing pregnant women. Overall, the women in our study accepted that it was possible to drink responsibly during pregnancy and defended this view through strategies of normalising the occasional drink, emphasising a woman’s right to make her own decisions, and associating low-level consumption with low risk.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)38–58
    Number of pages21
    JournalHealth, Risk and Society
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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