Wander into the women's washroom at any bar in North America and you might find the usual assortment of handy dispensers tacked to the wall: tampons, perfume, condoms … but pregnancy tests?
Yes, Pub 500 in Mankato, Minnesota claims to have the unusual distinction of being the first bar in the world to stock pregnancy tests in their women's washroom, reports the Mankato Free Press.
But chuckle not, says Jody Allen Crowe, executive director of Healthy Brains for Children. Her group was behind the installation of the pregnancy test dispenser, which have a serious purpose. The group hopes that if a woman knows she's pregnant, the less likely she'll be to drink alcohol, and the less likely she'll be to expose her fetus to the dangers of alcohol.
News of the dispenser comes on the heels of a recent study conducted by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 340,000 women that says one in 13 of them admitted to drinking alcohol while being pregnant. And of those one in 13, one in five admitted to binge drinking.
The numbers don't surprise Dr. Lisa Graves, a Sudbury-based family physician and chair of the Maternity and Newborn Care Committee at the College of Family Physicians of Canada. She was part of the group that developed the alcohol and pregnancy guidelines with the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, and spent a good part of her clinical career working with women who have addiction issues.
"Many women drink some alcohol during pregnancy," she says. "There can be some very mixed messages about how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy and many women consume alcohol before they know they're pregnant."
Dr. Graves says it's hard to gauge exactly how many Canadian women drink during pregnancy, because many who report it had consumed alcohol before they even knew they were pregnant, but she suspects the numbers in Canada would be slightly lower than they are in the United States.
We tend to have more visible messaging around the issue of drinking during pregnancy, says Dr. Graves.
"The federal government has provided funding to organizations to ensure women understand alcohol use in pregnancy and the risks associated with it," she adds.
But Dr. Graves also points out that health care providers who tell women it is safe to consume alcohol in small amounts while pregnant are giving mixed messages to their patients.
"Many physicians are faced with situations where women patients have had a glass of wine or champagne at a social event, or have had alcohol when they knew they were pregnant. These women are looking for reassurance that the impact may be small. But, in fact, the real message should be, the most prudent choice for women is not to drink alcohol when they know that they're pregnant."
Part of the problem is public messaging, says Dr. Graves. As a society we have to make it acceptable for anyone, be it male or female, pregnant or not, to not drink. That means providing non-alcoholic options at social events, at restaurants, and in public venues.
As for the pregnancy test dispenser, anything that gets people talking about the issue of drinking during pregnancy is aces in her books.
"Perhaps it's one of those things that gets the conversation started in an interesting way and getting this topic into conversation isn't always easy," she says.
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