February 3, 2016

If You’re a Woman Who is Fertile & Not on Birth Control, the CDC Doesn’t Want you to Drink.


I rarely drink and am sliding towards the end of my fertile years. Still, this recommendation from the United States Center for Disease Control stating that women of childbearing age who are not using birth control shouldn’t drink alcohol really p*sses me off.

The blame-ridden recommendation, issued on Tuesday by the CDC, states that “More than three million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy.”

The report also suggests that almost 50 percent of pregnancies in the US are unplanned.

The director of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Coleen Boyle, said, “It is critical for healthcare providers to assess a woman’s drinking habits during routine medical visits; advise her not to drink at all if she is pregnant, trying to get pregnant or sexually active and not using birth control.”

Here are three reasons this is ridiculous, (though I’m sure there are many more):

  1. The CDC’s ballsy recommendation focuses on eliminating alcohol intake instead of reducing unwanted pregnancies and STDs. If almost half of US pregnancies are unplanned, shouldn’t our efforts focus on making birth control more accessible and effective? And not solely the responsibility of the woman?
  1. It’s condescending, controlling and sexist. This recommendation implies that women cannot be trusted—to drink in moderation, to know how to prevent pregnancy, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy or to take care of herself if she decides to proceed with a pregnancy. It also harkens to the idea that fertile women are simply vessels for fetuses, and we should act as if we’re already pregnant.
  1. What about other substances besides alcohol? According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the rate of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a set of symptoms caused by prenatal exposure to illegal or prescription narcotics, was 3.39 per 1000 babies born in 2009. This is significantly higher than the .2 to 1.5 per 1000 babies the CDC identified with having Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. These troubling stats indicate that many more babies are born with health issues related to narcotic exposure than to alcohol exposure, despite the fact that alcohol is a legal substance for people 21 and older.


While Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a valid public health problem, the CDC surely could’ve found less a inflammatory, more reasonable way to communicate and educate the public.


Relephant read:

Mindful Birth Control: Why I Chose an IUD.





Author: Lynn Shattuck

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: gauri_lama at Flickr 

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