The research, conducted by senior research fellow at the University’s News and Media Research Centre Kate Holland and Associate Professor Kerry McCallum, found that women are faced with mixed and sometimes contradictory messages about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
The current Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines state that not drinking during pregnancy is the safest option.
Alcohol consumption during pregnancy contributes to the development of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), which includes a variety of conditions which can affect a child throughout their life from physical, developmental and/ or neuro-behavioural.
The research examined 110 media articles about consuming alcohol during pregnancy, finding that messages often vary from one day to the next.
“The confusion was sometimes evident within a single article about new research findings, in reports that questioned the evidence associated with the risks of low-level consumption, and with the flow of different messages from one day to the next,” she said.
“For example, one article claimed the NHMRC guidelines do not offer any compelling evidence about the risks of low-level alcohol consumption and called for more research to provide clarity.
“Another reported on a new book saying that pregnant women could safely drink two glasses of wine per day, a claim that was immediately challenged by experts who stressed that there is no safe level of drinking during pregnancy.
The research also involved speaking with expecting and new mums about their views and experiences of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the various messages about it.
“Women we spoke with highlighted doctors, midwives and mothers groups as trusted sources of information, advice and reassurance about drinking during pregnancy, assisting them to navigate other information and deal with any anxieties they had. .
Dr Holland’s research was funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s and was released as part of the launch of FARE’s Women Want to Know campaign.
That campaign is directed at encouraging health professionals to talk to women about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Dr Holland added that journalists and others talking about the issue in the media might also find the resources useful for informing their reporting when the issue arises.
“Reporting responsibly on the issue is not necessarily straightforward. Journalists and their sources should be aware of the potential for their words to create a sense of hysteria around pregnant women’s choices that could end up discouraging women from openly discussing issues like alcohol consumption,” Dr Holland said.
More information about Conversations About Alcohol and Pregnancy: Investigating Media Portrayals and Women’s Experiences is available via the News and Media Research Centre website.
University of Canberra