Drinking While Pregnant

Yeap, you read that title right! I said drinking while pregnant.

But really, what else did you expect from the mommy blog called “Total W(h)ine”?

Now, I’m certainly not the mom to take a doctor’s advice/ orders/ evil glare lightly, but I’m also not that mom who’s going to take it and follow it unquestioningly. I always want to understand the substantive reasons as to why that advice is given, and doctors rarely have time during my appointments to go into the detail I’d like. I’ve done this for example when I was told not give my daughter any honey before she was a year old. I thought it was a weird rule,  but after doing the research it made sense. Babies don’t have the digestive enzyme to block botulism that may be present in some honey until they are one. So now if my daughter accidentally eats some honey, I’m not going to immediately dial 911 but will be on the lookout for symptoms of botulism.

When I saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test telling me she was on her way and realized I was staring down 9 months of tee-total sobriety (at a time when let’s face it, we women need a drink the most), I wanted to see the research myself on whether it really is that bad for me to have an occasional drink, and what the effects would be on my baby. I had always heard that  European women continue to drink occasionally throughout their pregnancies, and yet I’ve never heard about an explosion of behavioral and developmental issues among European children. As a result, I’ve always been skeptical of this hard-line rule, so once it became my reality I decided I would just do the research and get to the bottom of it.

A tangent for a moment. The judgement hurled at mothers who even dare sniff alcohol is frankly ridiculous. My dear co-blogger herself was denied a sample of wine at Trader Joe’s for being pregnant. Another friend while purchasing a bottle of wine as a hostess gift was told point blank by the cashier that she felt it wrong to let a pregnant woman buy alcohol. *insert all the eye rolls* Ok sure, we moms learn early and often that the stranger feels entitled to levy their opinion on all things regarding our children and the way we carry them, birth them, feed them, and raise them. But come on! A woman is not giving her child fetal alcohol syndrome by taking a sip of wine, and it doesn’t make me a bad mother to admit that. 

For the sake of those reading this with their finger already hovering over the number for child protective services, allow me to define what I mean by drinking while pregnant. I’m not talking about going on a late night binge where I’m closing a bar at 2am, or even so much as having 2 drinks in a sitting. I’m talking about the occasional (once or twice a week at most) glass of wine or beer. What effect does that have on my rapidly-developing infant?

According to a few studies I found, not much. There just isn’t a large body of research to show the effects of occasional drinking because women seem to either binge or totally abstain while pregnant and therefore it’s these groups that make up the pool for statistical studies. The short answer is that based on the research we have, we don’t know definitively what the occasional drink does to the baby, which for most is reason enough to conclude that any booze is bad news.

What swayed me and my decision was a study done on mothers in Australia. It was quite comprehensive, tracking the mothers through their pregnancy – those who drank heavily, totally abstained, and drank occasionally – and then tracking the children of those pregnancies through age 5 for such things as behavioral problems and IQ levels. While the difference between the children of mothers who drank heavily vs. those who abstained was dramatic, the difference between the children of mothers who abstained vs. those who drank occasionally was minimal, down to a decimal percentage point. On one of the behavioral markers, the children of mothers who drank occasionally actually scored slightly better (again, merely a decimal percentage point) than children of mothers who abstained completely.

Based on what I read, I decided that I would go cold turkey through the first trimester, since my research also showed that this was the period of major neurological development for my baby. After that, I wouldn’t sweat the occasional drink, but wouldn’t go looking for it either, and would only have it on a full stomach drunk slowly. I’ve stuck to that now with both my pregnancies. I gave birth to a perfect, healthy baby girl back in March who is fun and inquisitive, and have no reason to expect any less for my little boy coming in June.

I’m certainly not looking or even hoping for agreement on this, and have been advised enough up one side and down the other on how to be a good mom, so this is not me standing on a soapbox. If anything, I hope that the take-away is that it’s ok to question what your doctor or cashier or all of society tells you is the best or worst thing for you and your baby, and to tune out that evil side-eye from the self-righteous lady watching your pregnant self relax with a glass of red while on a rare and much-needed date with your husband. Be confident and secure in what you decide is best for you and your family. Do the research to back it up. Being a mom is the hardest job on the planet, and a largely thankless one at that. With or without that occasional glass of fermented goodness, you’re doing a great job!

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