Is drinking while pregnant ok?

According to a recent article in Time, “light” drinking in pregnancy is fine, and so is up to 8 drinks a week. And drinking this little (based on the findings of five papers published in the journal BJOG) apparently has no effects on intelligence, attention or self-control in children at age 5. They do however add, that “drinking more heavily was associated with measurable negative effects”. All this is, really, is a classic example of how, when mainstream media quotes academic papers and studies, they don't always give the entire account, and research "findings" can be potentially damaging. And in this instance, the damage is being done to an unborn baby.

How much, exactly, is too much?

Because what does an article like this actually mean? That it’s okay to have a glass of wine with a meal every day? That it’s okay to go out once a week on a Saturday night and knock back 8 shooters? That it’s okay to get your baby drunk? I mean it is in utero, after all, so you wouldn’t have to deal with its hangover right away.

Why take risks based on (conflicting) studies?

What bothers me the most about the article, though, is that not only will everyone who reads it believe it, and proceed to drink during their pregnancies – we all saw what happened when one doctor (now disbarred) published one article saying that the MMR causes autism – but moms-to-be are misinformed when it comes to drinking during pregnancy. Some gynaes say it’s fine. Some don’t. Some articles say it’s fine. Some don’t. But who actually knows? No-one! So why risk it?

The recent Time magazine article says that a pregnant mother’s drinking makes no difference in children up to the age of 5, but what about children over the age of 5? Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is a frightening disorder, especially common in South Africa’s poorer communities. And according to the American Academy of Paediatrics, children who have been exposed to some alcohol could get what is known as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and exhibit some of the FAS signs, but not necessarily all of them. In other words, if you drink lightly as opposed to heavily, your child might not have distinct facial abnormalities or be mentally disabled, but he might be slower at school or more violent as a teen or more difficult as a young adult.

What’s ok for you, may not be ok for your baby

The point is, no one actually knows what alcohol does to a baby and there is no concrete evidence for an effect on the foetus. What we do know, however, is that alcohol crosses the placenta, like drugs and cigarettes and caffeine, and is a poison not only to you, but to your baby. We also know that while one drink might not make you feel drunk, or raise your blood alcohol level, it would certainly have an effect on the 300g that is your developing baby, and its blood alcohol level. According to parenting expert Dr Miriam Stoppard, just one shot of vodka in a diet soda can stop your baby’s breathing movements for up to half an hour within three to thirty minutes. And finally, you don’t know what is developing when. In the first three months, your baby’s entire central nervous system develops. So would you really want to mess with its brain at this point?

Temporary sacrifice, long-term benefits

The answer is obvious to me. But sometimes I think I am the only one who thinks this way. If you don’t know what the consequences of your drinking will have on your child, then follow the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and accept that no amount of alcohol is safe for you baby. It’s only 9 months of your life, after all.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Do you agree that abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy is safer for your baby?

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24