Pregnancy, Fertility, Breastfeeding, and Alcohol Consumption: An Analysis of Framing and Completeness of Information Disseminated by Alcohol Industry–Funded Organizations

AUDREY W. Y. LIM, m.a., (Cantab), m.p.h.,a,† MAY C. I. vanSCHALKWYK, m.b.b.s., m.p.h.,bNASON MAANI HESSARI,, ph.d.,a & MARK P. PETTICREW, b.a., ph.d.a,*
a – Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom
b – Public Health Policy Evaluation Unit, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom


Objective: Alcohol use during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus. The exact amount, pattern, and critical period of exposure necessary for harm to occur are unclear, although official guidance often emphasizes precautionary abstention. The impacts on fertility and breastfeeding are also unclear. Information on alcohol and pregnancy is disseminated by the alcohol industry–funded organizations, and there are emerging concerns about its accuracy, suggesting the need for detailed analysis.

Method: Information on alcohol consumption in relation to fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding was extracted from the websites of 23 alcohol industry funded–bodies (e.g., Drinkaware [United Kingdom] and DrinkWise [Australia]), and 19 public health organizations (e.g., and NHS Choices). Comparative qualitative and quantitative analysis of the framing and completeness of this information was undertaken.

Results: Alcohol industry–funded organizations were statistically significantly less likely than public health websites to provide information on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and less likely to advise that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. They were significantly more likely to emphasize uncertainties and less likely to use direct language (e.g., “don’t drink”). Some alcohol industry–funded (and no public health) websites appear to use “alternate causation” arguments, similar to those used by the tobacco industry, to argue for causes of alcohol harms in pregnancy other than alcohol.

Conclusions: Alcohol industry–funded websites omit and misrepresent the evidence on key risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This may “nudge” women toward continuing to drink during pregnancy. These findings suggest that alcohol industry–funded bodies may increase risk to pregnant women by disseminating misinformation. The public should be made widely aware of the risks of obtaining health information from alcohol industry–funded sources.

(J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs, 80, 524–533, 2019)