Risky Or Relaxing?

Seeing a pregnant mom with a drink in her hand while pregnant is an unfamiliar sight in the United States. But a new study indicates that occasional drinks could actually benefit the child. Is drinking while pregnant okay?
Pregnant Woman with Empty Wine Glass

A new study that was published online in the International Journal of Epidemiology in October looked at the impact of low-levels of alcohol consumption by pregnant women, which they defined as no more than two drinks on any given day and on no more than two days per week. The study looked at more than 12,000 new moms. The moms were asked if they drank during pregnancy, how much, and followed the children through their early years to assess behavior. The result was a finding that moms who had a low-level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy actually had kids with fewer behavior and cognitive problems than moms who didn't drink at all.

While that might support the belief in other countries that a low amount of alcohol during pregnancy is okay, in the United States there is a different sentiment. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) maintains that the only certain method of protecting fetuses from the dangers of alcohol is abstention. Other countries are less concrete.

Who's right?

There is no certain answer as to whether alcohol is safe or not during pregnancy. Medical professionals both in the US and abroad fall on both sides -- some saying that occasional drinks are safe while others say that alcohol is never okay during conception or pregnancy. They all, however, agree that drinking a lot of alcohol is unacceptable.

"The evidence is clear that significant amounts of alcohol are harmful. There is no evidence to show whether small amounts are harmful or harmless. The cardinal rule of toxicology is that the poison is in the dose; i.e., if the amount is small enough, even the worst toxins are harmless; in large enough amounts everything is toxic, even water," says Harriet Hall, MD, of The SkepDoc.

Psychologist Raymond Shred points out that there are many behaviors with potential risks that people avoid, so alcohol during pregnancy should be no different. "On the other hand, alcohol is a poison -- it has its affects by altering brain function -- inhibits and/or kills brain cells. It may or may not affect the fetus. But, I don't understand why anyone would want to take a chance. If you do a cost benefit analysis of the situation you get the following. Drink wine -- chance of harm to the fetus -- above 0%. Don't drink wine -- chance of harm to mother and fetus = 0%," says Shred.

Amount matters

No one is certain what the magic amount that is okay to have is. Having a drink - one drink - on a few occasions while pregnant is considered light drinking. Even having a glass of wine a few times a week is light drinking. But drinking every night or to the point of drunkenness? That's heavy drinking and can lead to serious problems with a fetus.

"One thing is clear and that is that dose matters. The more a woman drinks and the frequency has an effect. So a woman who has 2 glasses of wine 3 times/week through out pregnancy has more of a cumulative exposure than a woman who drinks a few cosmos 1-2 times in her pregnancy," says Nurse Practictioner Barb Dehn. "It's controversial because when a baby's born, most who've been exposed to small to moderate amounts of alcohol look normal. It's not until children are older, perhaps having social or cognitive issues, that the effects might be seen."

A personal decision

Given the uncertainty of how much is too much and how little is okay, some moms-to-be choose to avoid alcohol all together while pregnant. But the relaxing properties of a glass of wine, as well as the health benefits of red wine, lead other moms to indulge in a glass here and there.

"People who are very risk-averse will bend over backwards to avoid even the smallest possibility of risk; other people will conclude that the pleasures and nutritional benefit of an occasional glass of wine outweigh the small possibility of risk. It is an individual decision based not on science and evidence but on one's individual philosophy about the risk/benefit ratio and about playing the odds," Hall said.

When asked if they indulged in wine while pregnant, the resounding answer for many moms was yes. In fact, many said that their doctors and medical professionals advised them -- particularly late in the third trimester -- that a glass here and there was perfectly fine.

"Yes, I did drink wine when pregnant (4oz of red) 3-4 times a week. This WAS recommended by my nurse practitioner as I was on bed-rest for pre-labor contractions for the last 3 months of my pregnancy," says mom Susie Shina, a fitness lifestylist.

So did mom Shari Cashman. "The second of my pregnancies was high risk due to a full placenta previa. And absolutely I drank red wine during both pregnancies. My doctor encouraged it more so during my second pregnancy. He often told me he would rather me have a glass of wine to relax myself from the stress of a full time job, being pregnant AGAIN and taking care of an infant than cause myself any undue stress potentially resulting in bed rest. That was more than enough incentive. I do have to say that one glass did the trick," said Cashman.

The stigma

For moms who decide to drink while pregnant, there is a stigma that can be difficult to stomach. From waiters who won't serve them to friends who feel the need to add their two cents, the perception that any alcohol at all is bad is particularly pronounced.

For mom-to-be Lizz Stendera, the negative reaction came at her own home during a dinner party.

"My most interesting encounter was with a women five years my junior who is neither married or has children, but felt the need to tell me, 'You're not having a glass though." ... I, the hostess, was being informed by a guest that I could not possibly have any wine. I feel it's important that women, even if they feel they can't support one another's decisions, not judge each other," says Stendera.

Cashman ordered wine in a restaurant and could feel eyes upon her. "I ordered wine while visibly pregnant in a restaurant and I still remember a few of the glaring looks. Mostly from older women which really struck me as odd considering women my mothers age seemed to always have a martini and cigarette in their hands while they were pregnant," said Cashman.

Mom Nina Birnbaum says that the issue of occasional glasses of wine or even a beer is blown out of proportion by American society. In her opinion, "the whole issue of drinking while pregnant is overblown in the particularly absolutist American way. Yes, being a drunk is certainly bad for your fetus. However, having a glass of wine every so often with dinner probably does not cause irreparable harm. As usual, the authorities seem to feel that women can't be trusted to make competent decisions about our own bodies in this regard," said Birnbaum.


What do you think? Is an occasional glass of wine during pregnancy okay? Tell us below!

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Comments on "Drinking alcohol while pregnant: Safe or risky?"

Kate June 01, 2013 | 2:03 PM

Tina- Let me guess you were soda free throughout your pregnancy? Did you have grapes? Or what about blue cheese or feta cheeese on a salad? Or how about a turkey sandwich made with deli meat? Get off your high horse. A 4 oz glass of wine will not effect the baby. The baby gets very little of the alcohol from the glass of wine due to how your body metabolozies it. Research the facts before you point your finger. You are selftish for posting such an arrogant rant on a pregnancy board. Invest in a zipper for your mouth, because if i were to go through your diet throughout a pregnancy i can guarantee that there would be something that passed through to the baby and if you didn't, then your attitude surely will and that is horrible in itself.

Tina May 31, 2013 | 10:02 PM

Drinking even one glass while pregnant is selfish. Like seriously you can't drink some water?! Imagine how tiny that baby is inside of you and look at how big you are. I don't know about you but even after a 4oz glass of wine I can feel the effects of that. So ---- and listen here you dumb ------- who drink while pregnant. Who the ---- do you think you are?! Get off ur pitty wagon and start being a good parent. What you drink the baby drinks. What you eat they eat. So pipe the ---- down! Would you give your newborn baby some wine? I don't ------- think so. It's not the end of the world to stop drinking while ur pregnant. If you aren't a ------- alcoholic then you should be fine with it. A drink shouldn't even cross your mind. But if ur craving alcohol that bad then maybe you need a different outlet or go to ------- rehab. Dumb --- drinking pregnant -------. ---- you! Horrible parenting already!! Be ashamed of urself if you drink!!!!

Jenna May 23, 2013 | 5:55 PM

At 39 weeks I asked my doctor if it was ok to have ONE glass of wine (I had totally abstained up until that point) . She actually said that from that point it would be ok for me to have one glass a wine a night for the duration of my pregnancy. I had just a couple of sips of merlot and felt TOTALLY relaxed but decided against having a glass every night. I feel like anyone wanting to have a splash of wine should certainly consult their doctor and not the web.

jenni December 09, 2012 | 6:06 PM

"There are plenty of studies that show that even as little as one glass of alcohol during pregnancy can cause harm to an unborn child" I would like to see these published studies. 4 oz of wine causes FAS? How absolutely ABSURD. Women do MUCH more harmful things to themselves during pregnancy- including ingesting hundreds of toxic household products and foods (beauty and cleaning products/ preservative laden foods and/or fast foods/ soda and OTC medications). No one seems to care if a pregnant woman walks out of McDonald's with toxic junk food.

Shamaka June 17, 2012 | 5:29 PM

Americans in general love to make absolutist comments. There is a thing in life called balance. I drunk half a glass of red wine @ 30 weeks and the benefits were wonderful. I was able to sleep after a week of insomnia, extreme pain, and stress. All of those things are horrible for the fetus, less than 4 oz of wine is not. Get over yourselves and be real!

sunshine June 17, 2012 | 4:25 PM

This is like any other debatable topic, only you and you alone know whats right and what your body can handle, I personally have had 2 glasses (4oz) (1/2 cup) of red wine throughout my pregnancy. One it relaxed me and helped my constipation, and even helped me sleep, the even funnier thing is i just turned 21 and i can speak for myself and say that i do have complete control over what i put into my body. I think if you can make a HUGE life changing choice about having children you are more than capable of making the choice of having a glass of red wine when needed.

kate May 28, 2012 | 3:30 AM

its not a matter of knowing that people were 'fine'. its exposed risk. is it worth the risk of having FAS? no? then dont drink!

Informed Adoptive Mother of FASD kiddo May 14, 2012 | 7:40 AM

What a dangerous article! Zero alcohol for 9 months. Zero. There are plenty of studies that show that even as little as one glass of alcohol during pregnancy can cause harm to an unborn child. One glass! It has also been proven that many of the FAKE studies that suggest otherwise were paid for by the wine industry and the facts are being attributed to doctors who have come forward pubicly and said they did not EVER make those claims and that NO alcohol consumption is safe. I have adopted a child with FASD who has this because her birth mother was told by an irresponsible nurse that it was ok to have a glass of wine now and then and now my child receives services as a special needs child, something she will always live with! Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term that includes both Fetal alcohol syndrome (what most people have heard of) and ARND or Alchol Related Neurological disorder. ARND is when a child has been affected by prenatal alcohol exposure and it has affected their bodies without giving them the small stature and physical features that commonly associated with FAS. With ARND the issues may be learning disabilities, difficulties regulating emotions, and behavioral issues similiar to autism and or ADHD. Why would anyone take the chance of sentencing their child to that? Ever? Zero alcohol for nine months. And frankly..part of being a good parent is putting your kids needs first. While your pregnant is a great time to start practicing that!

Sam N. May 09, 2012 | 9:48 AM

My sister is 35 weeks pregnant, and just yesterday I asked her if she thought it was worth it to not drink during her pregnancy. She looked me straight in the face and said, "It was completely worth it." In my opinion, FAS is too volatile to mess around with or experiment with. Thanks for the post!

Joyce February 01, 2012 | 2:58 PM

As a mother of an adopted child with fetal alchohol syndrome I have done extensive research on the topic. Please look up teratagen, the toxic element in alcohol and tell me it's safe. Raise a child with fetal alcohol syndrome and then return and tell me about the struggles and heartbreak your drinks caused. This poison enters your body and the fetus and depending on what developmental stage the fetus is in is dependent on what is affected. Please please research FAS and look into what it takes to raise a child who has been affected by alcohol and maybe you can find it in yourself to avoid alcohol at all costs during those months .

Koren January 25, 2012 | 2:23 PM

OK, I have read many of these posts from many different kinds of women but there are NO posts commenting trying to incriminate the past generations of women who smoked and drank in large amounts and have had perfectly healthy children?! All the posts about the past are those who believe in the occasional drink. Please all of those people who find it sooooo incriminating for a woman to have an OCCASIONAL, HENSE OCCASIONAL glass of red wine. which is perfectly healthy for anyone. This next queestion is for the house wives who are the Atypcial sit at home take care of the house and children type. What about back in the middle ages when the only think people could drink was beer? Because the water was bad and people would get sick and they didn't know that how they made beer and the process they did killed all the bad bacteria in the water. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE drank beer back then. Babies came out fine back then and found out how to evolve more into what we have today. So please correct me if im wrong, but drinking seems to be safe in small ammounts.

Maegan December 23, 2011 | 10:07 AM

I don't think mothers should drink while pregnant because most do not have the self control it takes to just have more than 1 or 2 drinks. I never drank while pregnant and I have 2 of the healthiest and smartest kids you will find! They're wonderful kids and if I had drank I fear they would have health or develpmental problems. In my opinion you just shouldn't drink at all while pregnant.

andrea March 20, 2011 | 12:55 PM

I believe that drinking while pregnent is the most selfish thing a pregnant mother could do. If there could be even the slightest chance that you could be explaining to your son/daugheer why they aren't like everyone else one day, and that it's because you didn't want to put down the glass or can, and u felt it was better to relax than to actually be concerned about having a strong healthy child. Wow, too bad, the sad thing is, that if you have a child with FAS or other alcohol related problems, you will hate yourself for the damage you have done, and if you don't then you shouldn't be a parent. This is no joke, this child is drinking what you are drinking, their little body is being built and your are conprimising the construction by drinking beer or wine or other booze. There is a reason why the legal drinking age is 21, you wouldn't give your newborn baby wine or beer, Then why on eartg would you drink it while you are pregnant. I just don't understand why moms would take such a gamble with these little tiny gift. Way to go pregnant mommies who drink, you are cool.

john November 24, 2010 | 2:46 AM

alcohol while pregnant is very risky

navakanth November 23, 2010 | 9:19 AM

Drinking while pregnant is okay to mother and baby if it is in limit.,.,

banasree1992 November 23, 2010 | 8:58 AM

Is drinking while pregnant and having alcohol while pregnant is really okay and beneficial?

Lyn November 23, 2010 | 6:08 AM

Alcohol while pregnant! I am sure is not a bright idea. An occasional drink does no harm but its better to refrain.

Manjit November 23, 2010 | 4:24 AM

Women who drink while they are pregnant or breastfeeding risk affecting the health of their babies.

jayalatha November 22, 2010 | 9:39 AM

As per my opinion the drinking of alcohal is very bad and dangerous habit of the women in her pregnency. Today world is full of bad whether, water and food items. In this situation if we have the habit of drinkng of alcohal in pregenancy It directly effect to the child while suppling the food by his mother to child. usually alcohal effect to the eyes, skin and hair effect to the grown up of the hair of the child.

Judith September 14, 2010 | 11:26 AM

I just wonder how many of you who would condemn a pregnant mother having a glass of wine are the same ones who have NO problems ingesting artificial sweeteners, eating food with artificial dyes or chemical preservatives etc... NONE of those has been studies for safety on fetal development or outcomes either. SO why is it acceptable for a pregnant mom to drink a 20 oz caffeine free diet coke and a bag of Doritos, but a 4 oz serving of wine is not?

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