Few people catch more scorn than a pregnant woman with a drink in her hand, triggering some to whisper to each other in horrified tones: “Can you believe it? How selfish! She's putting her baby at serious risk.”
But people may want to hold their judgment, according to a new series of studies by Danish researchers. Turns out, the research suggests moms-to-be may have a little more leniency with alcohol than previously believed.
The researchers looked at the effects of drinking alcohol during pregnancy by studying 1,628 five year olds and their mothers. Kids of moms who were low to moderate drinkers during pregnancy (one to eight drinks per week), and even children of mothers who had a binge drinking incidence during pregnancy (more than five drinks at once), weren't any worse off in terms of brain development than kids whose moms didn’t imbibe alcohol at all while pregnant.
What’s more, children whose mothers had completely abstained from booze did not perform any better on IQ or executive function tasks than the children of low to moderate drinkers.
The new research flies in the face of what many obstetricians have been telling their pregnant patients for years and veers from the American Pregnancy Association's stance on drinking alcohol while pregnant. According to the association: “If you are aware that you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or think you could be pregnant, you should not consume any amount of alcohol.”
So what to make of all this?
Obstetrician Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., author of “The Yale Guide to Women’s Reproductive Health: From Menarche to Menopause,” says the Danish studies affirm what she's been telling her pregnant patients for decades. “We definitely don't want you drinking a lot,” explains Dr. Minkin, “and we have excellent data that say if you drink two drinks a day on a regular basis, that can be toxic for a baby. But if you're at your cousin’s wedding and you want to toast the bride, you may toast the bride. There's no reason not to.”
So being pregnant may not mean you have to be a complete teetotaler. That said, pregnancy is certainly a time to cut back on booze, notes Minkin—not keep the party going—and if you know you have poor control around alcohol, don't risk it by having a cocktail. “If you're going out for a really special occasion, an occasional glass of beer or wine is fine,” adds Minkin. “What people need to hear is that an occasional glass of wine doesn't mean you can booze it up.”
That’s because alcohol still comes with risks to your unborn child—namely, fetal alcohol syndrome, which is one of the leading causes of mental retardation.
Bottom line: If you want to have a glass of wine a few times over the course of your pregnancy, it appears to be safe. But if you have any doubt about your self-control around alcohol, those cocktails could still turn into a tremendous gamble over your baby's health.
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