Continuing to do something potentially harmful to your child and choosing to do something that will not do it good are different issues. Medical opinion is unanimous that smoking when pregnant is potentially dangerous, but experts cannot agree on whether or not there are safe levels of alcohol. Does a limited amount do any harm, or does it simply not do any good? At the top end of the scale there is little medical doubt that children born to alcoholics are likely to suffer a range of mental and physical abnormalities.
Dr Ann Striessgarth, a leading researcher into fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) at the University of Washington, has listed the main risks as being mental retardation, retarded growth, and abnormalities of the central nervous system, malformations and death in utero.
A study in Dundee of nearly 1000 first-time pregnancies suggested that babies of pregnant women who drank less than 100g of alcohol a week (equivalent to about ten standard drinks) would suffer no ill-effects. And although many handbooks written by medical practitioners recommend complete avoidance – since some of the alcohol from every drink reaches the baby’s bloodstream – they also recognize that there is no conclusive evidence that an occasional drink does any harm to an unborn baby. ‘Safe’ estimates vary from one or two drinks once or twice a week to no more than one unit a day, usually with the caveat that if possible all alcohol consumption be avoided in the first trimester, the crucial development time for the fetus.
Certainly in the UK attitudes to alcohol in pregnancy are more liberal than in the USA where any drinking at all in pregnancy is frowned on. And in September 1996 a study of 15,000 pregnant women conducted by Professor Jean Golding at Bristol University actually came up with surprising results.
We found a U-shaped curve where women who had never drunk alcohol during pregnancy were more likely to have a low birth weight baby than those who drank occasionally.
Those women who had cleaned out in order to conceive did not drink at all; many others stopped as soon as they knew they were pregnant, feeling that seven or eight months of abstinence was not too much to commit themselves to. Lisa found herself irritated by what she saw as the excessive purist approach to pregnancy. She was confident that the odd drink or joint would be harmless, so although she rarely drank or smoked anyway, she didn’t attempt to stop during the early weeks. It was only later in the pregnancy that she realized that part of her confidence had come from ignorance.
I was very anti about reading anything or doing anything about it until I was ready for. I was quite stubborn, and there were periods when I read pregnancy books and other periods when I didn’t read anything at all. At the beginning I wasn’t very curious.
Several women who had gone off the smell – let alone the taste – of alcohol in the first 12 weeks did allow themselves the occasional watered-down glass of wine after that point, particularly those who had already had one successful pregnancy. For Fran the smell of lager (and curry) during her first pregnancy had been enough to send her hurtling from the room.
is a mom, breastfeeding counselor and blogger who enjoys writing about topics on breastfeeding, baby care and kids health. She currently writes for Mommy Edition, a site that focus on topics such as pregnancy, parenting, kids, relationships or any subject matter in relation to mums.