22 April 2007

booze alert for pregnant mums: safety measure or scare tactic?


As I was perusing my copy of the Sunday Age over breakfast this morning, I came across this article about the perils of drinking in pregnancy which is, as anyone who has ever had a baby will know, is not a new concern. According to new guidelines set out by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), warning labels will be placed on bottles to alert pregnant women to the risks of drinking for the fetus. You can read the whole article here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/booze-alert-for-pregnant-mums/2007/04/21/1176697155273.html


I have very mixed feelings about this. I've never been pregnant so I don't know how it feels to negotiate the mixed messages pregnant women are given with regard to making lifestyle decisions such as whether to have a glass of wine or to participate in any 'risky' behaviour. In America, alcohol bottles have the warning shown in the picture above. I was particularly captivated by the label this year over Christmas dinner with my parents. On some level, I felt like the label was another blatant privileging of fetal rights over mother's rights. I think for the most part, women are generally aware that drinking significant amounts of alcohol in pregnancy can interfere with the development of a fetus. Maybe I am being naive, but how many women really have no sense at all that alcohol is potentially dangerous during pregnancy? I think that some of the 'risk' management in pregnancy often positions women as passive dupes; that the government needs to tell women what to do in order to protect unborn babies from their irresponsible mothers. It just rubs me the wrong way. Whilst perhaps a positive step in educating women in pregnancy, I think this issue is more closely tied to issues of fetal rights. What bothers me is that the government and/or cultural institutions are so worried about women causing harm to their fetuses by drinking alcohol, no one seems to care about women who are actually addicted to alcohol? The health of the woman in this case is totally neglected in favour of the baby. Warning labels aren't being placed on alcohol bottles for the general population; they are being placed on bottles because fetal lives are 'at risk'. Although pregnancy involves certain ethical obligations, it is legally and politically problematic to assume that a woman must sacrifice her self-sovereignty for public interest even if we do not condone her lifestyle choices during pregnancy. As a consequence of such protracted and divisive political feuds surrounding fetal rights, pregnant women are increasingly perceived as merely ‘uterine environments’ and their bodies are policed as sites for ‘public inspection’ (Duden 1999: 24).
Why do fetal rights matter for women?
For many people, it is hard to deny that pregnant women do have certain responsibilities to the unborn; however, the institutionalised social and medical management of pregnancy as an experience to be had in the public is extremely problematic. The privileging of fetal rights potentially encourages the subordination of women’s reproductive rights in protecting the survival of the fetus at all costs. On the other hand, not recognising fetal identity may alienate many women who do see fetuses as babies.
Women experience their relationship to the politics of fetal rights differently on the basis of class, race, sexuality and religious or cultural background. For example, the rules of self-sacrifice in pregnancy (like not drinking or smoking) are commonly seen as the inevitable path to motherhood for many middle-class women (i.e. it's just what you do. period.) In contrast, poor women or young mothers are seen as being ill-equipped to make responsible choices simply because they do not have the financial means or the experience/knowledge to defend themselves. In my view, the crux of the fetal rights debate rests in how women can be pregnant without sacrificing their rights as citizens.
I wrote a similar post about pregnancy and smoking:
Here are a few other articles on drinking in pregnancy from The Age today:
I am really interested in what you think about this issue. How have you made your choice about drinking alcohol in pregnancy? Have people in your life (or complete strangers) judged you for the choices you've made? Feel free to share your thoughts and I'll post them on the blog.

2 comments:

Sazz said...

Me again. Let me know if you want me to stop commenting so frequently. I know it's more interesting to hear the thoughts of pregnant wimmin and mothers, rather than another academic!

I just wanted to say that I really loved this:
"Warning labels aren't being placed on alcohol bottles for the general population; they are being placed on bottles because fetal lives are 'at risk'. Although pregnancy involves certain ethical obligations, it is legally and politically problematic to assume that a woman must sacrifice her self-sovereignty for public interest even if we do not condone her lifestyle choices during pregnancy. As a consequence of such protracted and divisive political feuds surrounding fetal rights, pregnant women are increasingly perceived as merely ‘uterine environments’ and their bodies are policed as sites for ‘public inspection’"

The concern about consuming alcohol in pregnancy seems to me like an attempt to control wimmin. It's widely documented that alcohol in pregnancy is detrimental to foetal health, and I'm suspicious about constant reminders. But I'm also concerned about how these kinds of warnings are getting extended to other things. For example, I have heard of pregnant wimmin being treated like irresponsible mothers for eating soft cheeses!

I also find it a bit of a contradiction that health care experts are so concerned about the effects of a drug like alcohol on the foetus during pregnancy, but less concerned about the effects of narcotics on the foetus during birth.

I worry about wimmin's experiences of pregnancy becoming a series of anxieties. I worry wimmin are forced into living one test at a time, carefully monitoring exactly what they do, rather than enjoying this unique experience.

Anonymous said...

I hear a lot of warnings. I don't drink or smoke...never have, never will.

But I'm also told I shouldn't eat meat that is well done, and no runny eggs, etc.

Guess what? I eat them the way I want to. The way I see it is that the human race survived all this time without all this stupid regulation. People get paranoid.

I made a comment to my husband that they said I shouldn't have runny eggs. His first reaction was "well, you're not having them." I said, "Like hell I won't." Next morning, I had my eggs over-easy, just the way I like them. Mmmmmmm.

And, historically, I think about all people drank was alcoholic beverages: women, men, and children alike. Because of the processing I think it made is safer than drinking most water sources. I'm not saying that they didn't drink water, but alcohol was a big part of their existence. And yet, the human race still exists.

Shocking.

Anyway, I know this is Wiki, but even though it's not considered an "official" source, I have found that most of it's info (at least that I have read) to be reliable.

History of Alcohol

 
Creative Commons License
The Baby Bump Project by Meredith Nash is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.