The recommendation that has become conventional wisdom is that pregnant women should not drink any alcohol. We assume that this is based on solid research but it’s not. We assume it’s just as unacceptable in all countries but that’s not true.
Messages to eliminate all alcohol are purely motivated by the true danger of a fetus’ exposure to high levels of alcohol which results in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
The presumption: ”If large amounts are dangerous, small amounts are probably dangerous too” argument is unfair. Instead of fact, fear is used to support a “better safe than sorry” defense for zero tolerance while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Obviously, drinking heavily while pregnant is dangerous, and can lead to FASD. But no study has been able to correlate moderate drinking to birth defects. The studies used to promote abstinence from drinking are based on results from heavy drinkers. Why do they blur the lines to make it apply to drinking across the board?
Whilst there is current evidence to support the recommendations from NICE, suggesting that consuming small amounts of alcohol may not put the foetus at risk, the big problem is that there is often much misunderstanding amongst pregnant women as to exactly what a small amount of alcohol is considered to be.
Basically, pregnant women can't be trusted to know where moderate drinking ends and heavy drinking begins, so let's tell them all not to drink.
A study in 2006 by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology concluded that there was no convincing evidence of adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels, where moderate was defined as 10.5 units per week (but, the study author Dr Robert Fraser reminds us, not at one sitting, obviously).
There's a difference between warning caution and recklessly misinforming. The zero tolerance = zero risk equation eliminates the freedom of choice. Sure, you might think the recommendation doesn't harm anyone. Where is the harm in putting out a blanket statement telling women not to drink alcohol while pregnant...or caffeine, herbal teas, unpasteurized dairy...and stay away from fish (cooked or raw), deli meat, pate, cheese, undercooked eggs, chocolate, raw oysters...and nail polish, suntan lotion, hair dye. In fact, let's not limit that to pregnant women, but all women even planning or may become pregnant. It's not that much to ask of all us women within child bearing age, is it?
Dr Eric Jauniaux, professor of obstetrics and fetal medicine at the Royal Free hospital in London:
"Alcohol is mainly metabolised by the liver, and only what's left will be met by the placenta. The amount that could reach the foetus in a glass of beer or a glass of wine is negligible."
Even though Jauniaux has been studying transfer through the placenta for the past 20 years and is one of the leading experts on the matter, he's never been quoted in connection with any promotion of absolute abstinence from alcohol.
In the absence of 100% certainty about the issue, many continue to insist that abstinence is the best advice to give pregnant women. Others, however, see this attitude as illogical and have concluded that the risks and benefits associated with light to moderate regular wine consumption compare quite favorably with most other activities of daily life.
The fact is, it's easier to hand out a long list of foods to avoid while pregnant than to actually explain the information and promote real understanding.
This gives everyone a false sense of security. The government and medical community pretends they are doing something to promote health and inform the public. Women and their families believe they have control over the health of their baby. The public can participate in safeguarding their society by reprimanding pregnant women behaving badly.
Many American obstetricians, skeptical about the need for total abstinence, quietly tell their patients that an occasional beer or glass of wine — no hard liquor — is fine.
“If a patient tells me that she’s drinking two or three glasses of wine a week, I am personally comfortable with that after the first trimester,” said Dr. Austin Chen, an obstetrician in TriBeCa. “But technically I am sticking my neck out by saying so.”
The pregnant woman is scrutinized, chastised, and patronized while it's perfectly acceptable to feed a child soda, fried food, and candy by the truckload. This is because parents aren't expected to be able to control their children, but self-sacrificing a woman's own body for the sake of optimal fetus health (and the greater good for all mankind) is a no-brainer. Why can't we be told the truth and allow us to use our own judgment? It's simply not true that women who drink a glass or two a week is participating in dangerous or risky behavior that will inevitably harm her baby.
As far as we know, drinking lightly during pregnancy does not have adverse consequences. The systematic studies and meta-analyses we looked at suggest that drinking fewer than three small drinks per week is a safe level of consumption for pregnant women. This result seems robust in that the literature reviews considered hundreds of articles.
In the face of all this lack of proof that moderate amounts of alcohol is harmful, I wonder what else pregnant women will be asked to avoid. Women in France are asked not to eat any raw vegetables while pregnant -- no salads for them. Did you know too much sugar during pregnancy is harmful? Can you imagine the day when we're asked to avoid ANY sugar during pregnancy? And pregnant women are exposed to twice the amount of radiation from medical scans as they were a decade ago. The risk of radiation on the fetus is well documented, actually. Yet nobody questions the scanning "procedures" but there'll be hell to pay if a pregnant lady asks for a soy latte at Starbucks.
Pregnant? We've Got You Covered: