Sit down, kids, because I have some terrifying news: Sometimes, women drink. And smoke. Sometimes they even smoke marijuana. To top it all off, some of those women are mothers.
Yes, this is the news that USA Today brings us, in an article about post-pregnancy “substance abuse” — a term apparently so loosely-defined that it includes any alcohol use at all.
Women drink in fairly low numbers while pregnant — only one in eight women has a drink during the entire course of her pregnancy, and most of that seems to be in the first trimester, when some women don’t realize they’re pregnant. The number of women who drink alcohol — not binge-drink, mind you, just drink — within three months of giving birth is 31%, a figure that strikes me as fairly low (I haven’t ever had a baby come out of my body, but the day I do, someone had better give me a glass of wine). And despite the fact that women with children use alcohol, cigarettes and drugs in low numbers, USA Today still thinks you should be Very Concerned:
The portion of pregnant women using alcohol dropped during pregnancy (19% the first trimester, 7.8% in the second, and 6.2% in the third).
“Women are getting the message and are reducing their drug use across the board when they’re pregnant,” Delany says. “We need to do better in helping women understand: Not only should you not use while you’re pregnant, you should continue not using.”
According to the study, 31.9% of women used alcohol within the first three months after childbirth.
The study also found that the number of postpartum women who used drugs and alcohol was significantly less than the number of non-pregnant women who were using substances, except in the case of cigarettes.
The implication, Delany says, “is that having children creates a protective factor so that women may not be going back to drug use.”
Delany says the study highlights the importance of getting the message out to women to not resume substance use after pregnancy.
“It’s just something we need to work better on as a nation,” he says. “Women just aren’t stopping the way we would hope.”
I’m all for efforts to help people — all people, not just the ones with uteruses — curb substance abuse. I’m in favor of efforts to encourage parents not to smoke around their small children. But I can’t get on board with the message that women need to stop all substance use after pregnancy. And I definitely can’t support those efforts when they conflate “use” with “abuse.” Mommies are people too, and it doesn’t make someone irresponsible or an addict to have a beer or a cigarette after they have a kid.
It is interesting, though, that for all the focus on telling women to never ever drink or smoke or use drugs ever because of the babies, there’s no similar admonishment made of men. Last I read, men actually do have higher rates of substance abuse than women; and from the statistics in this article, it sounds like pregnant women and mothers have substance use and abuse rates on the lower end of the spectrum. So why are we focusing on Bad Mothers again?
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