Drinking While Pregnant? Mum's the Word!

Filed under: Opinions, Research Reveals


A delicious recent study suggests that pregnant women can drink a glass of wine without dooming their kids to lousy report cards and after-school detentions. Leave it to the Brits to exonerate mums-to-be who like the occasional drink (1-2 glasses a week or at a time).

After London researchers grouped over 500 moms based on their drinking during pregnancy, they found -- no surprise -- the children of moderate and heavy drinkers fared the worst on academic and behavioral tests at age 5. Who did best? Children of light drinkers. That's right. They outscored even the kids of the teetotalers. Even after researchers adjusted results for factors like mum's education and income. Pretty good evidence small amounts of alcohol pose no harm.

But does this also mean babies benefit from a little vino in utero? That we should rewrite the recommendations? Should the Surgeon General recommend that women drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy?

Obviously not. Heavy drinking during pregnancy has devastating effects (i.e. fetal alcohol syndrome). Some evidence suggests that alcohol might be risky early in pregnancy. As for the children of light drinkers, their test scores had little to do with the drink and everything to do with the drinkers. Something about the light drinkers stimulated their children's development. Maybe the parents were more relaxed or confident and did a lot of little things differently. Clearly they took expert advice with a grain of salt (if not a twist). Any benefits, then, came from mom, not the drink. Seems obvious but only because we're used to hearing about the dangers of drinking and don't automatically assume the alcohol itself made the kids smart and well-behaved. Usually we're quick to label the substance "the cause."

That's why I love this study. It's like the surprise $6.99 bottle of wine that goes down smooth and makes you reconsider buying the other bottles on the shelf. Only here we're reminded to think before "buying" the other scientific evidence so often cited to inform/warn/reprimand/scare parents. Like studies where experts eagerly tell us the toxin, the weight gain or mama's behavior caused the outcome, be it childhood obesity, early puberty, juvenile diabetes, autism, ADHD, peanut allergies, asthma and so on.

I dare you -- try to stop thinking of the perils in your grocery cart, medicine cabinet, water bottle and thus, your womb. If you can't, don't even consider picking up the just-published "Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives" (or its companion Time cover story). If only the exaggerated threats stopped at labor and delivery.

For better or worse, health officials will keep up the "no alcohol" routine because too much is hazardous. Only some cop to the other reason -- no one knows how much is too much. But now that the British have honed in on that limit, perhaps allowing us to stop worrying for the rest of our lives about that occasional drink. And so, I raise my proverbial glass and say "Bottoms up."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.