It began with a promising statement, “It’s safest not to drink while pregnant,” wrapped around the belly of a pregnant woman, on posters distributed to medical facilities across Australia.
Something we generally consider common knowledge.
But the fine print below continued with a concerning phrase: “It’s not known if alcohol is safe to drink when you are pregnant.”
What ensued was public outrage. Public health groups widely protested the release of these posters in Australia, which risk misleading pregnant women to think that there's a possibility that alcohol may actually be safe for use during pregnancy.
The posters were created by an organization called DrinkWise, which is largely funded by the alcohol industry. The posters have since been withdrawn and Simon Stahan, CEO of DrinkWise, substituted the text to remove the possibility of confusion.
Despite this, public health groups who work diligently to spread awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol on pregnancy are concerned that the release of this erroneous information could have lingering effects on public perception of alcohol use during pregnancy.
What do we actually know about the risks of drinking alcohol while pregnant?
Among pregnant women in the U.S., one in 10 reported alcohol use and one in 33 reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The unsafe effects of alcohol on pregnancy have been well studied and published in several scientific journals.
The general consensus from most public health organizations is to abstain from alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol has been widely linked with birth defects and developmental disabilities collectively known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, according to the CDC. It can also cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and prematurity.
What do women think about drinking alcohol during pregnancy?
The American Journal of Health Education published a study in 2013 to understand women’s knowledge and beliefs about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
They found that several women falsely believed that drinking some types of alcohol during pregnancy was not harmful to the baby. Factors influencing women’s misconceptions included their families and friends, the internet and public messages. The study honed in on the importance of consistent messages to avoid the possibility of false beliefs, which could lead to harmful behaviors like drinking during pregnancy.
In response to the posters, Tony Bartone, president of the Australian Medical Association, reiterated the importance of ensuring that publicly displayed messages are reflective of evidence-based findings.
Richa Kalra, M.D., is a resident physician specializing in psychiatry and working in the ABC News Medical Unit.