CBC News screenshot

A new campaign from the territorial government of Nunavut is getting some media attention. (See the coverage in the Huffington Post here and CBC here).

The posters, in English and in Inuktitut, read “Baby or the bottle? Pregnant women should never drink alcohol.”

The campaign was designed by Iqaluit-based graphic design company Atiigo Media Inc. According to the Huffington Post article, the image was inspired by a poster campaign from Russia (which I blogged about here in 2012.)

The media coverage discusses how responses to the campaign have been mixed with opinions ranging from “effective” to “offensive.” This follows discussions last week about a campaign in Ontario by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) that spurred one mother to make a formal complaint.

The LCBO campaign was critiqued for suggesting that mothers who drink during pregnancy are irresponsible and uncaring. Rather than promoting love, it was suggested that the campaign promoted shame and guilt.

The Nunavut campaign takes a different approach with the use of a shocking image and threatening message (“Pregnant women should never drink alcohol”), but still raises similar questions about the target audience and what is actually being communicated.

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While public health authorities clearly state that there is “no safe time, no safe amount, and no safe kind” of alcohol use during pregnancy, this type of campaign can lead to mixed effects or even have unintended consequences.

While most women stop drinking after learning they are pregnant, some women continue to drink due to addiction or other related concerns. For these women, the use of shocking images or the suggestion that women who love themselves and their baby bump won’t drink can lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment – which makes it hard for women to reach out for care and support from family, friends, and health care providers.

This type of approach may also have negative consequences for women who drank (lightly or otherwise) before knowing they were pregnant. It may cause unwarranted anxiety about possible effects or lead some women to consider an abortion. (See a previous post: Do concerns about alcohol use during pregnancy lead women to consider having an abortion? February 1, 2013)

For more on FASD prevention in Nunavut, see earlier posts:

For more discussion on best practices and controversies related to messaging, see earlier posts: