Say you want to have a social life. But because you’re a woman, nature has decided there’s a possibility that if you have sex, you could become pregnant. At 25, what are you supposed to do, abstain from alcohol for the next 20 years of your life because you could be susceptible to contracting a fetus?
An infographic that ran in the Star Tribune on Tuesday seemed to suggest that all women of childbearing age (18-44) should avoid drinking because they could get pregnant. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, Minnesota has the nation’s second-highest rate of alcohol consumption among fertile women, a “key risk factor” for fetal alcohol disorders in newborns.
Statewide, 64 percent of women reported having at least one drink a month. That’s runner up after North Dakota, where 64.4 percent of women drank.
But some women did not appreciate the implication they were nothing more than walking incubators for imaginary babies. A number took to Twitter to complain.
Silly Strib! Don't they know you have to actually be PREGNANT before you can put your fetus at risk? pic.twitter.com/RAJGTTpbmw
"Advise a woman to stop drinking if she is trying to get pregnant or not using birth control with sex," the CDC wrote to gynecologists in February.
Translation: If a woman wants to get pregnant, she should stop drinking to reduce the risk of giving birth to a child who could have lifelong challenges with brain damage. If she doesn't want to get pregnant, some kind of birth control would be really helpful for avoiding a costly and emotional taxing abortion.
And that's pretty much it. The advice really isn't meant to be interpreted to say that all women of a certain age shouldn't be allowed to drink, says CDC spokesman Bret Atkins.
It's also not to say that women drinkers who didn't realize they were pregnant until four or six weeks into the pregnancy are bound to give birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. Most don't. But those who drank in those early weeks and choose to keep their babies do run some risk.
"Women who are pregnant or who might be pregnant should be aware that any level of alcohol use could harm their baby," Atkins says. "No safe level of alcohol during pregnancy has been established."
There's hardly a good way to study how much alcohol it would take to harm a baby. Until then, Atkins says, "Alcohol is known to cause birth defects and developmental disabilities as well as other poor pregnancy outcomes, so advice continues to be that women should refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy."