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‘To drink or not to drink’: media framing of evidence and debate about alcohol consumption in pregnancy

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Abstract

The issue of women’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has gained increasing public attention in Australia in recent years. This article examines the framing of the issue in news media and pregnancy and parenting websites during 2013–2014, with particular attention to the two most prominent frames of ‘contested evidence and advice’ and ‘women’s rights’. Public health guidelines in Australia, as elsewhere, advise women that not drinking during pregnancy is the safest option, but debate continues to surround the evidence to support this advice and its impact. This article considers these guidelines in the context of critical public health scholarship highlighting the intensification of discourses of health, risk, and responsibility in relation to pregnancy and maternal practices. Newly published scientific research provided a key source of news about the risks associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy, with stories reporting on studies that variously identified evidence of harm, or no harm, to the fetus. In the context of the ‘women’s rights’ frame, consuming alcohol during pregnancy was not constructed primarily as a matter of scientific research or expert opinion but as one of many social practices women negotiate during pregnancy. It foregrounded the rights of women to make their own decisions about alcohol consumption. The deployment of these two frames in mediated public discussion of the issue reflects the inconclusiveness of evidence about the risks of low to moderate consumption and shows women critically engaging with public health advice in the context of the numerous directives they are inundated with during pregnancy.

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McCallum, K., & Holland, K. (2018). ‘To drink or not to drink’: media framing of evidence and debate about alcohol consumption in pregnancy. Critical Public Health, 28(4), 412–423. https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2017.1414150

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