Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy
The subject of drinking alcohol during pregnancy is typically emotion-charged. There is no scientific support for the type of widespread hysteria that permeates public discussion on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Many people falsely believe that even a single drink during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). If this were true, the majority of the populations of dozens of countries around the world would suffer the effects of FAS.
Some pregnant women have actually become frantic upon realizing they had inadvertently eaten salad that had wine vinegar dressing, fearing their children would be born suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Of course, wine vinegar, being vinegar, contains no alcohol. In Quebec, scare tactics were dropped when health officials realized that many women were demanding abortions upon realizing that they had consumed alcohol after becoming pregnant.
In reality there is no good evidence that light drinking, even on a daily basis, leads to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Actually, most women who are light or moderate drinkers choose not to drink during pregnancy. The real problem is found among frequent heavy drinkers, who most often are alcoholics consuming heavily on a daily basis throughout their pregnancies.
Additionally, those who give birth to FAS children characteristically smoke, use illegal drugs, are frequently malnourished, and rarely receive adequate medical care during pregnancy. And drinking during pregnancy has not declined among such women over time. Because of their addiction, these women are virtually immune to our current educational approach. This may also be because so many of these women are poorly educated and often lead marginal lives.
What's a Pregnant Woman to Do?
Several important points are worth noting:
- Because it's impossible to "prove a negative," opponents of drinking alcohol in general can always and forever say that "no safe limit on consumption has been proven"
- There appears to be no evidence that drinking in moderation (no more than one drink of beer, wine or distilled spirits) by pregnant women has ever caused Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or otherwise harmed a single baby. The burden of proof lies on those who contend that such drinking is harmful and they have not been able to do so.
- Women who choose to drink in moderation while pregnant can do so with knowledge that their decision is consistent with scientific evidence.
- There is always the possibility that some as yet unidentified harm to a baby might result from light or moderate drinking during pregnancy.
- Given the above possibility, even if remote, the very safest choice for an expectant mother's fetus would be to abstain.
- Women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should discuss the matter with their own physician or health care provider.
This website does not provide any suggestions or recommendations regarding drinking alcohol and pregnancy or any other health matter and none should be inferred.
- Abel, E.L. and Kruger, M. (2010). Reply: Physician attitudes concerning legal coercion of pregnant alcohol and drug users. American Journal of Obstetrics and gynecology, 188(1), 299.
- Bakker, R., et al. (2010). Associations of light and moderate maternal alcohol consumption with fetal growth characteristics in different periods of pregnancy: The Generation R Study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 39(3), 777-789.
- Chavkin, W. and Paltrow, L.M. (2010). Physician attitudes concerning legal coercion of pregnant alcohol and drug users. American Journal of Obstretics and Gynecology, 188(1), 298.
- Ellis, F.W. and Pick, l.R. (1980). An animal model of the fetal alcohol syndrome in beagles. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 4, 123-134.
- Goh, Y., et al. (2010). Alcohol content in declared non-to low alcoholic beverages: implications for pregnancy. Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 17(1), e47-50.
- Hanson, J.W., Streissguth, A.P., and Smith, D.W. (1978). The effects of moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy on fetal growth and morphogenesis. Journal of Pediatrics, 92, 457-46O.
- Jacobson, S.W., Sokol, R.J., Jacobson, J.L., Martier, S., Kaplan, M., Ager, J., Billings, R., and Bihun, J. (1989). How much underreporting of pregnancy drinking can be detected by one year postpartum? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 13, 344.
- Kelly, Yvonne, et al. (2008). Light drinking in pregnancy, a risk for behavioural problems and cognitive deficits at 3 years of age? International Journal of Epidemiology, Advance Access published on October 30, 2008; doi:10.1093/ije/dyn230
- Lowe, P. and Lee, E. (2010). Advocating alcohol abstinence to pregnant women: Some observations about British policy. Health Risk and Society, 12(4), 301-311.
- Nilsen, P., et al. (2010).Is Questionnaire-Based Alcohol Counseling More Effective for Pregnant Women Than Standard Maternity Care? Journal of Women's Health, 19(1), 161-167.
- Ornoy, A. and Ergaz, Z. (2010). Alcohol abuse in pregnant women: Effects on the fetus and newborn, mode of action and maternal treatment. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Policy, 7(2), 364-379.
- Polygenis, D. et al. (1998).Moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the incidence of fetal malformations: a meta-analysis. Nerotoxicol Teralol, 20, 61-67.
- Rorabaugh, W.J. (1979). The Alcoholic Republic. Oxford University Press: New York.
- Streissguth, A.P., Barr, H.M., Sampson, P.D., Darby, B.L., and Martin, D.C. (1989). IQ at age 4 in relation to matemal alcohol use and smoking during pregnancy. Developmental Psychology, 25, 3-11.
- Toutain, S. (2010). What women in France say about alcohol abstinence during pregnancy. Drug and Alcohol Review, 29(2), 184-188.
- Weiner, L., Rosett, H.L., Edelin, K.C., Alpert, J.J., and Zuckerman, B. (1983). Alcohol consumption by pregnant women. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 61, 6-12.
filed under: Women's Health