Selfish. Reckless. Alcoholic. Unfit mother. These are some of the names you can expect to be called in most corners of the internet if you admit to having a drink while pregnant. Well, get ready to clutch your pearls and run for the hills—because I’m guilty of one of the Great Mom Sins. I drank while pregnant. On purpose.
So why am I outing myself here? Well, at the risk of opening myself up to judgement and ridicule from teetotalers and other concerned citizens, I would like to suggest that there’s a more rational discussion to be had. Perhaps by sharing my personal experience, I can tamp down some of the fear-mongering and name calling a bit and show that it’s possible to enjoy a few drinks while pregnant and still give birth to healthy children. Maybe we can find a happy medium here.
No, I wasn’t binge drinking or imbibing on a daily basis; there is no question that heavy drinking while pregnant can cause birth defects. However, it’s still inconclusive what the threshold is for “light” drinking during pregnancy—and whether or not it can have any long-term negative effects on the baby. From all the reading I’ve done on the topic, I think there’s enough evidence out there to suggest that occasional drinking during pregnancy is not particularly risky behavior.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, is not taking any chances and recently issued a report that warned women against drinking any alcohol at all while pregnant, which re-opened the discussion on the always controversial topic.
I get that most health care providers prefer to err on the side of caution and don’t want the liability of condoning behavior that is potentially harmful to a developing fetus, I do. But some people have taken that caution and gone off the rails with it, rushing to judge any pregnant woman with a wine glass in her hand.
In her 2013 book “Expecting Better: Why Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know,” economics professor Emily Oster delved into a number of “drinking while pregnant” studies and highlights several that showed no discernable difference in children’s behavior and IQ scores between those born to women who abstained from alcohol during pregnancy and those who were light drinkers.
The U.K.’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that while not drinking is the safest option, “small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy have not been shown to be harmful.” Maybe we should follow the lead of our more sensible European foremothers who imbibe responsibly during pregnancy minus the guilt and shame faced by pregnant women in America today.
Many women abstain from alcohol while pregnant. This is a healthy and responsible decision. However, if you do choose to have a few drinks during those nine months, maybe you’re not the worst person ever. Pregnancy is a time fraught with a constant balancing act of weighing behaviors and choices that are good/bad/indifferent for you and your developing baby. Should you take a Tylenol for that pounding headache? Should you drink that extra cup of coffee? Should you drive your car in the rain?
Even though I chose to drink occasionally while pregnant, I’m pleased to report that I have three wonderful, perfectly healthy (if far from perfect) children—ages 7 1/2, 5, and 7 months. If I may brag about them for a moment, my oldest daughter is a sweet, creative straight-A student; my son is a rambunctious, curious, and articulate pre-K student (who was recently identified to participate in a gifted program at school!); our baby is pretty much the physical embodiment of joy and hope here on Earth. (From a completely objective standpoint, of course.) Their pediatrician has yet to suggest to me that any of their picky eating, seasonal allergies, occasional defiance, or sibling rivalry could be related to alcohol exposure in the womb.
I drank while pregnant for the same reasons I drink while not pregnant. Not because I was stressed out about being the perfect mother and wife or because I needed to calm my shaky nerves. I did it because having a drink is relaxing, tastes good, and pairs well with fun social activities like live music and sporting events. Most of my friends are drinkers, and having drinks with dinner or at happy hour is just part of the social fabric of our lives. Don’t worry—we’re not getting wasted at all of our get togethers. Hey, we’ve got kids to take care of, and we drink like we parent—responsibly.