Caution for women of childbearing age


Over the last 3 weeks, I have been amazed at how much I have learned about alcohol from a biological, social, and environmental standpoint. As a current dietetic intern studying nutrition, I have been very fascinated by the effects of alcohol in the body from a biological standpoint. In class, we discussed how alcohol can have detrimental effects on reproductive and maternal health, rates of infectious diseases, the incidence of non-communicable diseases, and mental health. Moreover, I was saddened to learn about the negative effects alcohol can have on infants and how drinking while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in children. FASD is a devastating condition that can lead to poor cognition and delayed development in children. However, what is, even more, devastating is that this disorder could be prevented if the mother would have abstained from alcohol during pregnancy. 

  1. Image of children with FASD


Sadly, there is new research coming out every day that shows how destructive alcohol consumption can be in the body even if it is “controlled” especially in women. One example of this is a study published in June 2019 that showed how alcohol can stunt the growth of the early embryo and the stem cells that become the placenta. Researchers wrote, “After the rats were exposed to alcohol, the placenta was poorly formed and was not able to give the fetus all the nutrients it needed to grow. This effect was more severe in female fetuses than in male fetuses.” Furthermore, researchers were able to show that alcohol consumption prior to a few days before conception can have detrimental effects on the development of the fetus in rats.

Researchers were not able to fully understand the mechanism behind why female fetuses were more vulnerable than male fetuses calling for more research to be done. While it may take years to fully understand the mechanism behind this study, I believe it further solidifies the growing opinion around how toxic alcohol can be especially in women of childbearing age.

This led me to think about the following questions:

What if a mother drinks before she knows she is pregnant? 

If more childbearing age women knew that alcohol could potentially harm their fetus especially female fetuses would it decrease consumption of alcohol?

Should there be more policy around the alcohol industry targeting women of childbearing age since there is a greater health risk involved?

This article sparked many questions that I think our society should think about on a deeper level. 

One day while on Twitter, I came across a classmates tweet on the CDC recommendations for women of childbearing age. 

According to the CDC, women should avoid alcohol if they are sexually active and not using birth control. What was interesting was how much backlash this recommendation receive from the public. Many major news outlets like Elle magazine expressed outrage over the new recommendations. Did the CDC go too far in telling women that they should not drink if they are sexually active and not using birth control?

In my opinion, the CDC is right. Women of childbearing age are more susceptible to some of the most devastating effects of alcohol. I think this policy helps to protect this population even though it may sound like your grandma preaching to you about your habits.  Furthermore, I think Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC Principal Deputy Director, said it best, “Alcohol can permanently harm a developing baby before a woman knows she is pregnant. About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and even if planned, most women won’t know they are pregnant for the first month or so, when they might still be drinking. The risk is real. Why take the chance?”






Alcohol and Women – a Social Issue

So it has been a week since we started our #GSUwhyshedrinks class and I am already blown away by how deep the subject of women and drinking is in our society. Before starting the class, I did see women drinking as a social issue. However, by the end of the class, I think I may change my viewpoint. That is why they say information is power, right?

One of the topics that really intrigued me is how drinking is on the rise especially for women.  Researchers are calling the rise “a public health crisis” and are concerned at the narrowing of the gender gap in drinking disorders between men and women. This data was very alarming to me. I was not aware statistically at how many women were turning to alcohol to solve their problems. Moreover, we talked about how this rise is being fueled by media and marketing ads targeted at women.  It seems like alcohol companies are taking advantage of this crisis and using it to increase sales. 

I decided after class to look more into how marketing companies were targeting women. I was amazed at how many advertisements played off of the nurturing aspect of women.  I also found hundreds of memes that promoted women having there daily sip of “Mommy Juice”.  Furthermore, there is a huge market for mommy juice merchandise that ranges from $3 – $30 dollars. If I was a stressed-out mother I would surely find solace online from all the mommy juice memes. 

Recently, I came across a blog by a mom who I believe hit the nail on the head. She wrote, “I don’t blame memes for my alcohol addiction, but I do believe they play a part in desensitization. They made me feel like it was normal. They made it much easier to rationalize. I deserved those drinks because I was a mom and, gosh darn it, I work hard to be a good mom. I felt like I was fitting in where I never really felt that way in real life.“According to her, you cannot get away from the “mommy juice” memes. They are on every social media site and as a mom who follows motherhood pages, you will surely be influenced in some way by these wine promoting memes. 

How ‘Mommy Juice’ Memes Normalized My Alcoholism

Another thing I noticed, even before starting the class, is how many ads are targeted at young (18-34) single women. Many of these liquor ads glamorize women having a drink with friends out on the town. Like the author of the blog noted, drinking is promoted as a way to fit in with the “cool” people. In fact, drinking is so normalized that if you do not drink, you are seen as weird. 

As someone who does not drink, I can say that when you stop drinking, it does seem like you cannot have as much fun because drinking is so closely tied to the idea of being a young happy millennial. I am excited about this class, because I will be able to dissect some of these ideas around drinking. I am learning that the media plays a huge role in why I used to feel “left out” when I stopped drinking. 

I started to think about many of the shows I watched that have female leads. Most of the characters use alcohol as part of there coping method. In fact, I do not think I have seen an American TV show or movie that did not promote drinking alcohol. Again, drinking alcohol has been normalized in every genre and it almost seems weird if you do not drink. 

In conclusion, alcohol use among women is on the rise. More and more women are turning to alcohol to help decrease stress. As a future dietitian and health professional, I hope to learn about the tools I need to help address this growing problem in women.  I believe this class will provide me with a framework to help solve this developing social issue.