A new CDC recommendation says women should quit drinking alcohol, even if they aren’t pregnant.
Hey, do you have a uterus? Well, good news! The CDC wants you to stop drinking wine because you could possibly get pregnant someday, maybe. Sounds legit, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
In a report released Tuesday, the CDC urged women to abstain from alcohol use if they’re not on birth control because, according to their calculations, over 3 million U.S. women are at risk of having an “alcohol exposed pregnancy.” That sounds like a huge problem, until you read how they came up with that figure.
Per the report: any woman was considered at risk “if she had sex with a male, drank any alcohol, and did not (and her partner did not with her) use contraception.” So, if someone had one single glass of wine and then got frisky sans condom, bam! They’re technically at risk for an alcohol exposed pregnancy, and based on that we’re all supposed to start panicking immediately and burn our booze in a trash can fire or something. Who knows?
The CDC says we should all take the “better safe than sorry” approach and avoid alcohol completely if we could become pregnant. That seems a tad extreme, especially when you take into account the CDC’s own findings that half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Pretty much all of us could potentially become pregnant. Plus, some women try for months and even years to have a baby. Are we to begrudge them a glass of wine the entire time they’re trying to conceive just because you never know what a single glass of alcohol will do? That’s absurd, and even the CDC’s own deputy director says it’s difficult to quantify the risks.
When asked by news site Vocativ about the actual risk of fetal alcohol exposure for a woman drinking moderately while trying to conceive — or while accidentally conceiving — Principal Deputy Director, Anne Schuchat, said, “We can’t put a number on that for any individual woman, but what we can say is that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are 100 percent preventable if there’s no alcohol exposure at all. So that’s why we say, ‘Why take the risk drinking any alcohol during any time in the pregnancy, even before you realize you’re pregnant?’”
Um, maybe because women aren’t just baby machines, and we don’t feel like we should have to give up the occasional drink with dinner to prepare for a fetus that may or may not exist yet? Here’s the thing: alcohol is undoubtedly harmful to fetuses, and no one is contesting that. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It’s also the leading cause of preventable intellectual disabilities in children. That said, asking women to abstain from all alcohol just because they might become pregnant is a ridiculous way to combat those issues.
A study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that, all the way up to age five, kids born to mothers who drank 1–2 drinks per week during pregnancy were not at an increased risk of behavioral or cognitive deficits. Given those findings, it’s not completely far-fetched to assume your baby will be just fine if it turns out you had a drink or two before you found out you’re expecting. That’s just reality for most people, and it’s incredibly sexist and paternalistic to recommend women live their lives like walking incubators, always at the ready in case a surprise fetus shows up. Looking out for the health of unborn babies is a noble cause. Asking women to change the way they live just because they happen to have a functioning uterus is just batshit crazy.