A recently released video by South African Breweries claims to increase awareness of the effects of alcohol on the developing foetus. The video shows expecting mothers place a stethoscope on their abdomen to hear the pre-recorded plea of a child, claiming to be ‘inside your tummy’, to refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. It is called the ‘Sobering Stethoscope’, and effectively represents the shortcomings of South African interventions to alcohol-exposed pregnancies.
The video and accompanying text states that foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are ‘100% preventable’ and that ‘responsible drinking is a positive choice we all have to make’. The message in this text is clear, and common in discussion surrounding the topic: that women who drink during pregnancy choose to injure their children. In reality, alcohol consumption is a core component of social life for many South Africans and refusing to partake often means social withdrawal.
SAB mentions the rate of unplanned pregnancies but does not acknowledge that reproductive choices such as condom use are denied to many South African women by their partners. South African women die at the hands of intimate partners at a rate 6 times the global average (Abrahams, Martin, Mathews, Lombard, 2009), and research in the Eastern Cape has shown that women who experience intimate abuse are more likely to drink at harmful levels during pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, alcohol consumption is related to the perpetration of interpersonal violence. SAB’s message fails to mention that the World Health Organisation has identified patterns of alcohol consumption in South Africa as extremely detrimental (2004).
Coping with the context of widespread alcohol abuse is made the sole responsibility of pregnant women by saying ‘women expecting should take a stand against social pressures from boyfriends, husbands, friends who say it’s okay. It is not okay!’.
We suggest that those who wish to raise awareness of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders consider underlying causes of drinking during pregnancy such as the availability of alcohol, the widespread culture of binge drinking (which causes the most harm to the foetus, especially in the early stages of pregnancy), and the great stress that pregnant women are often under (such as poverty and partner difficulties).
Abrahams, N., Jewkes, R., Martin, L. J., Mathews, S., Vetten, L., & Lombard, C. (2009). Mortality of women from intimate partner violence in South Africa: a national epidemiological study. Violence and victims, 24(4), 546.
Dunkle, K. L., Jewkes, R. K., Brown, H. C., Gray, G. E., McIntryre, J. A., & Harlow, S. D. (2004). Gender-based violence, relationship power, and risk of HIV infection in women attending antenatal clinics in South Africa. The lancet, 363(9419), 1415-1421.
Jewkes, R. K., Dunkle, K., Nduna, M., & Shai, N. (2010). Intimate partner violence, relationship power inequity, and incidence of HIV infection in young women in South Africa: a cohort study. The lancet, 376(9734), 41-48.
Shepherd, J. P., Sutherland, I., & Newcombe, R. G. (2006). Relations between alcohol, violence and victimization in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 29(4), 539-553.
Skagerstrom, J., Chang, G., & Nilsen, P. (2011). Predictors of drinking during pregnancy: a systematic review. Journal of women's health, 20(6), 901-913.