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Drinking for two: Time to lighten up a little on alcohol and pregnancy

Updated: August 5, 2012 6:08AM



By the time I was visibly pregnant with baby No. 4, I would get a charge out of going to dinner and telling the waiter, “I’m drinking for two now, so I’d like a really big glass of Cabernet!” It was a joke, of course, yet it was always fun to see the waiter or other patrons squirm. A pregnancy cheap thrill, I guess you would call it.

But yes, I did enjoy sipping a glass of wine a few times a week while pregnant with my last one. Someone finally had pointed out to me that European women — not to mention our own mothers — never got on the abstinence bandwagon when it came to alcohol during pregnancy and, wow, 11 years later, is my youngest easy to get along with. Come to think of it, I didn’t dwell on my pregnancy with her much at all, but was pretty relaxed about it throughout. (Maybe that’s because of the other three I was running after.)

That’s in contrast to baby No. 1. I spent most of that pregnancy completely hysterical. At month three, I worried I might have inhaled some fumes while filling my gas tank. That made me psychotic for about two weeks. At month six, I ate some meat that might not have been cooked through. I spent a month convinced I’d contracted toxoplasmosis (which, while potentially dangerous, is rarely picked up during pregnancy), and that made the earlier psychosis look mild by comparison. I even stopped coloring my hair for fear of dyes hurting my little guy, so you know I took this stuff seriously.

Boy, I would have benefited from the occasional glass of wine during that pregnancy — but that first time around I was too terrified and wouldn’t have dared. Too bad.

I revisit all this because of a large study just out that says, gasp, “light to moderate drinking (even) early in pregnancy — up to eight drinks a week — has no effect on intelligence, attention or self-control in children at age 5.” That’s according to Time magazine’s report on it.

The study, from Denmark, included 1,600 Danish women and took into account variables like the mother’s intelligence, lifestyle and other health factors. And it queried women while they were pregnant, versus asking them about it later after memories fade. No surprise, really. As Time points out, there is a growing body of evidence that says light to even moderate drinking does not affect a developing baby.

But, an occasional glass of wine might affect the mother and help her lighten up a bit. OK, that’s my own editorial comment there. But guess what? Many obstetricians, including mine at the time, have been slyly telling pregnant moms exactly that even throughout the years of the abstinence craze.

Yes, I know people will still say, “Don’t take a chance; abstain anyway!” To which I answer, fine, do or don’t do as you will. But by that logic, a pregnant woman should refuse to get into a car — always an inherently risky proposition — to go see a movie for a relaxing but unnecessary evening out, too.

Now before I get deluged by readers horrified that I would write a “pro-baby mama and drinking” column, take a chill pill, as my kids would say. That’s not my intent at all. For starters, let’s be clear: There is overwhelming evidence that heavy drinking during pregnancy is dangerous. Come on. No reasonable woman has to be told that when you are pregnant, it’s just the beginning of life thankfully no longer being “all about you.”

Use common sense.

I am pointing out that we live in a culture that increasingly goes to extremes when it comes to controlling our environments and trying to eliminate risk because we are convinced that doing so allows us to control our fates. This despite all evidence to the contrary. Worse, this dangerous tendency now literally starts in the womb.

The recently created but still powerful myth that an occasional drink will irrevocably harm the baby you are carrying is a perfect example of this craze. If debunking that myth helps us to rethink our control issues a little, well, I’ll raise a glass to that.

Scripps Howard



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