Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Alcohol Consumption and Pregnancy - A Divisive Topic

Does a pregnant woman who drinks a glass of wine put her unborn child at risk? If it's ok to drink a glass of wine, is two ok? Three? A beer? A cooler? Is any alcohol acceptable during pregnancy?

If you ask this question, it's very likely you will get very strong opinions on either side and not much leeway in between. But is alcohol really so bad? Or is it something that you might as well avoid, since it's only for the duration of pregnancy (and nursing, if breastfeeding follows).

A Danish study, published yesterday in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, looked at the effects of alcohol consumed during pregnancy on children were now five years old; 1,628 women participated in the study. They were on average 40 years old at the time. Half were first-time mothers.

The researchers looked at the children's IQ, attention span, and ability to perform functions, such as planning, organizing, and maintaining self-control. Binge drinking is not considered to be regular alcohol consumption but, rather, having five or more drinks in one occasion.

How big is a drink?

Whenever a study like this is performed, the definition of a drink must be determined. In this case, the researchers used the Danish National Board of Health guidelines that state one standard drink equals 12 grams of pure alcohol. In the United States, a standard drink is 14 grams, or 6 ounces, while the United Kingdom measures their alcohol in another way, by units. Each unit contains 7.9 grams of pure alcohol.

The researchers defined low average alcohol consumption as one to four drinks per week. Moderate was five to eight drinks per week and high consumption was nine or more drinks per week. 

The study findings

The researchers found that among children whose mother drank up to eight drinks per week, there wasn't a significant difference between them and those children whose mothers had consumed no alcohol while pregnant. However, for children whose mothers drank nine or more drinks per week, there were signs of lower attention skills, and other issues.


This study wasn't meant to be a rousing endorsement of drinking alcohol while pregnant, rather one that worked at finding if problems did result if mothers did drink while pregnant. The authors concluded that "it remains the most conservative advice for women to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, however, small amounts may not present serious concern." 

So now what?

Some people will argue that it is not worth the risk - there is no need to drink alcohol while pregnant and to do so would be foolhardy to take any chances. Of course, drinking alcohol isn't a "must" in life. But studies like this one do suggest that a woman who is attending an event and wants to have a glass of wine or some other alcoholic drink, should not be made to feel guilty if she chooses to do so.

Women can be very, very harsh on other women who make decisions that they don't agree with. While the decision not to drink alcohol at all during pregnancy may right for one woman and her family, other women may feel differently - and as there is the right to choose not to take a drink, there is also the right to have one, if that is what mom-to-be wants.

What do you think?


Kathe Lieber said...

Interesting, Marijke. In France pregnant women are told to drink red wine but stay away from green vegetables... I went off alcohol (and lost my taste for chocolate, sob) while I was pregnant, but I did have a glass of champagne on my 40th birthday, when I was 6 months pregnant and toasting new beginnings. I guess the problem is that some people don't know when to stop.

Marijke Vroomen-Durning said...

Thanks Kathe. You make a good point. I think in some cases, the fear of women drinking alcohol while pregnant is that they may not keep it moderate. But, that in itself is a bit patronizing.

I think, as a woman, I know what was considered to be moderate and what isn't.

I remember getting the evil eye from a family member when I had a glass (or two) of Bailey's on New Years Eve when I was pregnant with child number two. If I recall, this person did say something to the effect that I shouldn't be having any alcohol. Oddly enough, this is the child who grew up to be, literally, the top of her graduating university class.

Oh, a new study! Drinking Bailey's will give you a super smart kid! ;-)

Tracey H said...

What I find interesting is how different "a drink" is in different countries. I wonder why. And articles like this make those of us who had a drink (or two) before we knew we were pregnant less guilty.