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17th Jun 2021

World Health Organisation wants all ‘women of childbearing age’ to stop drinking alcohol completely

Laura Grainger

The advice comes as part of a global alcohol action plan calling on countries to raise awareness of alcohol-related harm.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants women “of childbearing age” to stop drinking alcohol just in case they are pregnant and may harm their unborn child.

The proposal is part of the WHO’s draft global alcohol action plan 2022-2030, which is calling on countries to raise awareness of alcohol-related harm.

“One of the most dramatic manifestations of harm to persons other than drinkers is pre-natal alcohol exposure and the development of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders,” says the draft.

“Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age, and protection of people from pressures to drink.”

The suggestion has already been branded as patronising and sexist by social media users and drink industry officials alike. Matt Lambert of the Portman Group, which represents UK brewers and distillers, called it “sexist and paternalistic.”

Others were quick to compare it to something from the Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian series about a totalitarian regime that treats women as child-bearing property of the state.

Pregnant people in Ireland are already advised to keep their pregnancy alcohol-free to prevent conditions like foetal alcohol spectrum disorders or foetal alcohol syndrome.

As alcohol passes from the mother’s blood to the baby’s bloodstream through the placenta, it can damage the baby’s developing brain and body. This can have a range of life-long implications on the child after they’re born, including hyperactivity, inattentiveness, learning difficulties, difficulty controlling impulses and behaviour, or emotional or mental health issues.


In more serious cases where a pregnant person has been drinking heavily throughout pregnancy, foetal alcohol syndrome can occur and cause the baby to be smaller or underweight, have abnormally-shaped features, have damages to the brain or spinal cord, or have other issues with their heart and organs.