This company is facing backlash for suggesting women can drink while pregnant

Korin Miller
The poster that sparked backlash in Australia. (Photo: DrinkWise)

A series of posters that gives a mixed message about drinking while pregnant is facing swift backlash from medical experts.

The posters, distributed to hospitals in Australia by an organization that promotes safe drinking habits, feature a pregnant woman cradling her belly, with the message, “It’s safest not to drink while pregnant.” But the small print below, which says, “It’s not known if alcohol is safe to drink when you are pregnant,” is what’s ticking folks off, the New York Times reports.

DrinkWise, the company behind the posters — which discloses on its website that it’s largely funded by the alcohol industry — withdrew the 2,400 posters after protests and reportedly substituted new text: “A very important choice you can make for the health of your baby is to abstain from alcohol while pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breast-feeding.”

Although many women generally understand that it’s not safe to drink during pregnancy, there are still confusing messages, like this recent example, that people must contend with. “There’s a lot of misinformation from the media and even the medical community,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Numbers show us that a significant number of pregnant women think it’s OK to drink.”

The messaging on these posters is “pretty confusing,” which is “likely not unintentional,” given DrinkWise’s funding, Wider says. “This is dangerous because it’s confusing enough for pregnant women.”

The problem is that experts haven’t been able to establish a set amount of alcohol that’s considered safe to drink during pregnancy.

“The bottom line is that we know a lot of drinking is bad and no drinking is fine,” Lauren Streicher, MD, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Nobody knows what the cutoff is, and it can be different for different people. That’s why we say do not drink in pregnancy.”

It can even be tough to prove if just a little alcohol during pregnancy affects a woman’s baby, Streicher says. “There can be things that are not fine that are not so obvious,” she says. “Sure, maybe the baby wasn’t born with two heads, but you don’t know if there will be subtle issues down the road in terms of learning and development.”

As a result, many organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, say pregnant women should completely avoid alcohol during pregnancy to lower the risk of birth defects and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which are health problems that can happen in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.

“The message is clear: The safest choice is not drinking anything during your pregnancy,” Wider says.

Even though DrinkWise removed the posters, the company’s alcohol and pregnancy initiative is still ongoing.

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