Policing Pregnancy: The Pregnant Woman Who Drinks

  • Ellie Lee


This essay …
  • Draws attention to the further development of parental determinism through the insistence by medical/moral entrepreneurs and policymakers that what happens when a woman is pregnant determines the health and development of the child-yet-to-be-born.

  • Develops points made previously about risk consciousness in relation to the specific example of drinking alcohol in pregnancy.

  • Explores the way that the perception that there is a conflict of interests between the mother and ‘child to be’ is expressed through claims about problem of drinking when pregnant.

  • Reviews what research suggests about the effects of the demand that women do not drink when pregnant for parental experience and identity.


Pregnant Woman Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Fetal Alcohol Syndrome 
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Further reading

  1. Armstrong, E. M. (2003) Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Diagnosis of Moral Disorder (Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press).Google Scholar
  2. This (together with the text by Golden) remains the seminal work on drinking and pregnancy from a sociological/historical perspective. The text uses a range of sources to provide a groundbreaking reading of how the definition and meaning of risk, and so morality, has changed over time. Important distinctions are drawn between perceptions of alcohol in the past and in the late twentieth century onwards, generating important insights about the relation between medicine, culture, and the meaning of risk in the present. This work includes discussion based on interviews with doctors in the US working in obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, and family practice.Google Scholar
  3. Golden, J. (2005) Message in a Bottle: The making of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press).Google Scholar
  4. Like Armstrong’s book, this work is about the US and offers a reading of the relation between medical knowledge and the wider culture. Golden is an historian and first offers a clear and really informative account of both the story of FAS and what she calls ‘historical sightings of alcohol and pregnancy’. Her focus through the rest of the book is then on how FAS has played out in culture and politics. Golden shows us how representations of drinking in pregnancy have taken us further and further away from what the original diagnosis suggested to, instead, a repressive system of public health warnings, pregnancy policing by media, and legal sanctions.Google Scholar
  5. Lupton, D. (2013b) The Social Worlds of the Unborn (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. This is a recently published book by Deborah Lupton, whose body of work as a whole has made a major contribution to sociological analysis of the concept ‘risk’, the development of public health programmes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and pregnancy and parenthood. This book appears in the ‘Palgrave Pivot’ series of short books offering a responsive commentary on issues of our time. Beginning with a discussion of what is meant by the term ‘unborn’, the text covers ultrasound and imaging, maternal-foetal separation, death and disposal of the unborn, and pregnancy in risk culture. This text can be read alongside other commentaries on ‘the unborn’ by the same author, which are referred to in this chapter.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ellie Lee, Jennie Bristow, Charlotte Faircloth and Jan Macvarish 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ellie Lee

There are no affiliations available

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