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Couples’ perception of maternal drinking: a sociocultural approach to an «ordinary risk»

At a glance

  • Project leader : Prof. Dr. Raphaël Hammer, Prof. Yvonne Meyer, Prof. Dr. Jessica Pehlke-Milde
  • Project team : Solène Gouilhers Hertig, Irina Radu
  • Project status : completed
  • Funding partner : SNSF (SNF-Projektförderung / Projekt Nr. 169884)
  • Project partner : Haute école de santé Vaud HESAV
  • Contact person : Jessica Pehlke-Milde


The consumption of alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding is a public health issue characterized by uncertainty regarding the effects of a low or moderate intake. Health policy-makers have adopted a precautionary approach and recommend complete abstinence from alcohol as the safest choice. In this context, maternal drinking is not only a public health challenge but also an important sociological issue.

Drawing on a socio-cultural perspective that explores how people experience risk as part of their everyday lives, this longitudinal qualitative project aims to better understand how couples conceptualize and manage the issue of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The objective is to examine the values, norms, knowledge and constraints that shape the meaning of alcohol use as a health risk. The project will focus on risk perception as a two-fold process, by considering how the issue of alcohol use is dealt with in the transition to the pregnancy and breastfeeding stage, and how such a transition is managed within the couple relationship.

The research design includes two series of semi-directive qualitative interviews with about 40 couples in two cantons of Switzerland (Vaud and Zurich). In the first series, pregnant women and their partners will be interviewed separately. In the second series, which will take place during the breastfeeding stage, only the women will be interviewed.

The project intends to contribute to sociological and midwifery debates about the influence of risk discourses and uncertainty on people's attitudes to health in the context of the contemporary medicalisation of motherhood. By providing an understanding of couples’ representations of moderate or occasional alcohol consumption during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as of the possible influence of the couple relationship on these representations, this study will have implications for healthcare professionals involved in pregnancy and maternity care, as well as for public health stakeholders.