A new Australian study has found that women tend to reduce their boozing while pregnant and in the first year after giving birth, just as you might expect. But, by the time their youngest child is five, they return to pre-parenthood levels of drinking, and researchers say it just might have something to do with “the demands of parenthood.” By which, of course, they mean motherhood.
The study, which analyzed data from more than 4,ooo Australians across three studies, also found that women’s likelihood of reporting binge drinking increased with the age of their youngest child. Fifteen percent of women with school-age children reported binge drinking in the past week, compared to 25 percent of women without children. “Men, on average, did not change their alcohol consumption on becoming fathers,” reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
It’s easy enough to understand the reduction in women’s drinking pre- and immediately post-baby. As the researchers note, women are flooded with warnings against drinking during both pregnancy and breastfeeding. Also, speaking from personal experience, I was basically drunk from sleeplessness alone, slurry words and all, in those early months. While the study didn’t analyze the reasons for gradually increased alcohol consumption after the first year, the researchers did note that “it is possible that some women may drink alcohol as a coping mechanism in response to the demands of parenthood.”
Ah, yes, the demands of motherhood. We live in a world in which the Facebook group Moms Who Need Wine has more than 600,000 members. It’s a world in which there exists the A Very Mommy Wine Festival (tagline: “babes on the hips, wine on the lips”), the wine labels Stressed Mommy, Mommy Juice, and Mad Housewife, and endless “mommy needs her wine” and “wine o’clock” memes. As Elissa Strauss wrote of the 2016 film Bad Moms, “alcohol was ultimately a self-administered consolation prize for failing, at a macro level, to make the world more hospitable to mothers and caregivers” (via, say, universal paid leave or childcare, or even a parter who shoulders equal domestic responsibility).
The most compelling thing about this study is the question it raises, but fails to answer: What motivates women’s post-baby drinking? Because of course most women return to drinking after their socially sanctioned abstention—but, when they do, does their reason for drinking change? The scads of boozing-mom merch currently for sale on Etsy—from tumblers reading “because baby shark” to T-shirts announcing “they whine, I wine”—might suggest that it’s a potent avenue for research.