So The CDC Tells Women To Never Drink Again…Wait, What?

Last week, the CDC issued a report on alcohol and pregnancy. In the report, they recommended that women of childbearing age, who are not using birth control, should refrain from ever drinking alcohol. Why? Because they may become pregnant, and alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.

I read this, and my head about explode. You want me to do what? Give up any and all alcohol…on the off-chance that I may become pregnant? Come again?

I learned of this recommendation through a piece on The Atlantic‘s website. Sadly, their comment section is gone for most pieces (too many trolls), so they encourage readers to send their thoughts via email. I couldn’t wait to race home and bang out a sternly worded response the CDC recommendation, and synthesize my rage into something worthy of reading.

Here’s what I came up with:

Hi, just saw your post on the CDC’s new guidelines for women regarding drinking and I felt compelled to throw my 2 cents in the ring.

I am one of the women who is offended by the CDC’s guidance. Why? For a variety of factors. For one, the CDC guideline reads as a Chicken Little “the sky is falling!” warning, when the limited studies that are available show that light drinking, even during the first trimester, is fine. Many many women don’t even learn that they are pregnant until end of the first trimester, or afterward, and go on to have healthy, happy babies. Not to mention the millions of babies born in the years when drinking and smoking during your entire pregnancy was considered normal, or the millions of children born in European countries where mothers drink wine throughout their pregnancies. Emily Oster, the author of Expecting Better, dives into many of these studies in her book.
Second, the CDC guidelines implies that women are here to be human incubators, and they should put their entire lives on hold in order to have children, even children that are unplanned (and in many cases, unwanted). What’s next – is the CDC going to decree that women of childbearing age stop being served sushi or deli meat? Must we give up all prescription drugs other than Tylenol, on the off-chance that we may become pregnant? Women must spend decades of their lives held hostage by the simple threat of pregnancy, and that potential baby holds more clout and weight in her life than her own desires? A fetus has more clout than a living breathing human? According to the CDC, it does.
Finally, the CDC guideline feels extremely heavy-handed, and based on risk to doctors, not mothers and children. Yes, fetal alcohol syndrome is traumatic and devastating, and the CDC ruling feels like it was created to give cover to OBs, so that they can defend against malpractice lawsuits. The majority of mothers, or women trying to become mothers, are rational women who recognize that binge drinking is inappropriate during pregnancy. But there will always be those who make the wrong choices, and choose to go on a bender, or take illegal drugs during their pregnancies, and their children are harmed. Should we treat all women as if they are irrational and unable to make wise choices? Of course not, but that’s what the CDC ruling implies. It says to me that I’m incapable of limiting my drinking to 1-2 drinks per week during the first trimester, and up to 1 drink per day in the 2nd and 3rd trimester, and thus I NEED the CDC to tell me to do the right thing or else my poor baby will be harmed forever.
I’m not a child. I’m a woman in my 30’s, with a bachelors and masters degree in the sciences, with a successful career and a loving husband. A husband, btw, who supports me having a reasonable amount of red wine during my pregnancy, should I become pregnant. I don’t need the CDC to tell me what to do, or that I must acquiesce my desires because I might become pregnant. If the CDC really wanted to address fetal alcohol syndrome, they should support more birth control options, birth control that is widely available and over the counter. That would do more to prevent more children born with fetal alcohol syndrome than this misguided decree that women stop drinking.
I’m still livid a week later, btw. The CDC would NEVER make this kind of recommendation to men.