Uncertainty, manageability and individuation: A longitudinal qualitative study of women’s conceptualisations of risk from pregnancy to breastfeeding—the case of alcohol consumption


Alcohol use during pregnancy and breastfeeding is associated with diverse risks to infant health. As there is no known safe threshold of alcohol consumption, official guidelines advocate a precautionary approach and advise pregnant and breastfeeding women to abstain. Sociological research has shown that women’s occasional drinking during pregnancy involves complex responses to risk messages and health recommendations. However, research on women’s views on alcohol consumption during breastfeeding is mostly non-existent. Moreover, how and whether women’s understandings of the risk change from one period to the next has not been investigated. Based on longitudinal qualitative interviews, this article aims to understand how women make sense of the risk of alcohol consumption from pregnancy to breastfeeding. Using thematic data analysis, we identify three key conceptualisations of alcohol use as a risk. The first one relates to risk discourses emphasising scientific uncertainty about low alcohol consumption, strict abstinence as shaped by discourse on “good motherhood” and representation of the pregnant body as permeable. The second conceptualisation focuses on the risk as manageable and refers to strategies for controlling consequences of occasional drinking and to representation of woman’s body as a filter. The third conceptualisation highlights individuation as the way women regard their foetus or infant as a vulnerable and concrete being. By examining the continuity and change of women’s views of the issue of alcohol consumption, this article addresses the transition to motherhood through the lens of the risk issue and contributes to the understanding of risk perception over time.

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