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Should Moderate Drinkers Drink Alcohol During Pregnancy? Hard Decision for Pregnant Women
Pregnant women often wonder whether it's okay to take just one drink of mild liquor--such as beer or wine--during pregnancy. There's plenty of medical literature asserting the harmful effects of drinking alcohol when you're pregnant. Still, the answer to the question can sometimes be hard to know for sure, especially if you're only a light drinker. Whether a pregnant woman's alcohol intake is safe for the baby or not depends on whether she's a hazardous drinker, how much
is drunk, how far along she is in the pregnancy, her family history, and quite a lot of other stuff. Since we don't know all the factors,
taking the safe route is usually just that--the safest choice for all concerned. Usually.
For Those Without a Drinking Problem, Whether or Not to Take Alcoholic Drinks is a More Complex Issue
If you have a drinking problem, don't drink when pregnant. There's enough medical evidence to show that excessive drinking has a very high chance of having serious consequences for your baby. Do whatever you can to get help. If you're not alcoholic, however, then the question becomes a more difficult one to answer.
When I worked for a major university research hospital, there was a featured medical article posted that challenged the common perception that all drinking while pregnant is automatically a health risk to the baby. It said that while higher intakes definitely and significantly increase the risk of problems (including but by no means limited to fetal alcohol syndrome), a low alcohol intake (a glass of wine every couple of months, say) may not hurt the baby at all....
again, it may.
The exact risk is unknown, since most of the research done has been on excessive drinking in pregnancy. And many factors come into play. Factors such as the time of pregnancy, whether or not the mother has a drinking problem, other risk factors of the pregnancy, and many others play a role.
So it's not black and white. But for the pregnant woman who must decide whether or not to drink, it becomes black and white when the whole world is looking.
For pregnant women
who don't have a drinking problem, and could go either way, it's
especially difficult to find guidance...especially if your pregnancy is
stressful and you'd just like to relax a little every so often. After all, hasn't every pregnant woman read that medical evidence shows that too much stress
while pregnant can hurt the child? So it's not actually an easy
decision to make, but one colored with shades of gray.
The medical establishment takes a hard stance on drinking when you're pregnant: Don't do it! I suspect they say this because of the risk of advising just any pregnant woman that it's OK to drink a few sips of soft liquor occasionally. They'd risk women with incipient or full-blown drinking problems talking themselves into drinking, then having trouble keeping their intake low. In other words, they take a blanket hard line by weighing the cost of freedom against risk. A similar philosophy is used in SIDS Back-to-Sleep recommendations. I personally like this approach, but I see it lends itself to restrictions that can be uncomfortable and even, at times, problematic.
I wouldn't--and didn't, in my case--advocate drinking even one drink of liquor during pregnancy. Personally, I was paranoid about the intake of a teaspoon of alcohol-based vanilla flavoring. Yes, it's a personal decision, but it's one that has a serious impact on the unborn baby for whom you're responsible. Make sure you're clear-headed when you make that choice and prepared for the consequences for yourself and for your baby.