Alcohol and pregnancy

by Milton on Fri, Feb 26th, 2010

in Managing risk,Research,Week 29

It’s true that drinking during pregnancy is seen as a big taboo, and part of the reason is the lack of information about the causes, risks, and chances of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome along with the rather scary warnings in pregnancy books and on pregnancy websites.

Here are some interesting numbers that I got from this article called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the Social Control of Mothers“:

  1. Only 5% of alcoholic mothers give birth to babies who are later diagnosed with FAS.
  2. Drinking alcohol, while a requirement of being diagnosed with FAS, doesn’t seem to cause FAS by itself.  Other environmental factors needed include smoking, poverty, malnutrition, high parity (i.e., having lots of children), and advanced maternal age.
  3. There is a genetic component to FAS that makes you more or less susceptible to FAS.
  4. Almost all public health campaigns, whether sponsored by states, social movement organizations, public health institutes, or the associations of alcohol purveyors tell pregnant women not to drink alcohol during, before, or after pregnancy… at all… or else.
  5. Women are being blamed for FAS, even though they do not cause FAS, and neither does drinking alcohol (by itself).
  6. Very few women drink at the levels correlated with FAS, even when they aren’t pregnant.

So, the question is, are the FAS campaigns by all of these organizations merely another way for society to blame women for something bad that might happen?  To treat pregnant women as women with some kind of problem that needs to be “fixed” by hospitals, doctors, professional advise, and medication? Why does our society do this to women, and what can we do to help be a little more rational and fair to women and less scared, protective, and controlling?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zelda Fri, Feb 26th, 2010 at 6:13 am

You might be interested in checking how alcohol recommendations break down by country. In the UK, up until recently, they recommended you have no more than a glass (175ml) of wine a day. France and Spain see no problem with you drinking, but woe betide if you try to have salad while visibly pregnant — you could get toxoplasmosis.

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2 Esther Sun, Feb 28th, 2010 at 7:04 am

I have checked that out! See my comment above about how I feel we are talked down to and made dumb by the American media and culture? It kills me. babycenter.com vs babycentere.co.uk have the most obvious and ridiculous difference in alcohol recommendations I can think of.

Speaking of the world trying to manage my diet decisions, the guy at Whole Foods suggested to my husband a few weeks ago that I should not be ordering a tuna melt. It’s nice that he cares enough to say something but I’m pretty sure that I can gauge how much tuna is too much after reading the million books and trolling the internet for a trillion hours. Good grief! What he did not know is that I was craving dairy, but am lactose intolerant. I imagine he would have given me a *very* cross bad mom look had I told him that much AND ordered a beer.

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3 Jana Kleitsch Fri, Feb 26th, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for doing the research — although a bit too late in my situation. I have heard it is good for pregnant women to drink an occasional Guinness while pregnant as it is high in iron. So if I see Esther with a pint you’ll get no evil eye from me. Unless she gets drunk, in which case my eyeball would go really evil.

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4 Kristy Sat, Feb 27th, 2010 at 12:34 am

While all those things may be true, it’s probably still better to NOT drink than it is to drink. I believe in all things in moderation, I drank caffeine (no alcohol but I am not a drinker) and ate fish and all those other taboos- I just didn’t go nuts. That article sounds like someone just trying to justify drinking alcohol or defending themselves after having a FAS baby. This is my favorite: “Women are being blamed for FAS, even though they do not cause FAS, and neither does drinking alcohol (by itself).” – Um… if alcohol is required and the woman put the alcohol in her body knowing it was bad, how can it not be her fault? And “Advanced Maternal Age” is only 35 years old, so this is a good chunk of the pregnant polulation these days. Why risk it? There’s probably a similar chance of being in a car accident – so why put the baby in a carseat?

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5 Esther Sun, Feb 28th, 2010 at 12:55 am

What Milton is talking about here is the rule that’s been marketed to American women over and over again. We’re supposed to believe that NO amount of alcohol is safe. I’ve had girlfriends freak out because meals were (god forbid) cooked with wine. It’s ridiculous! We have been made to feel guilty for even a half a glass of wine as mothers to be, pregnant mothers, or mothers of small children.

Alcohol in excess is also not good for a man’s sperm count while trying to conceive. Advanced paternal age also ups your chance of having a problem with the baby. But by no means do we ever hear men being told not to drink ANYTHING at all, and we certainly don’t balk at a 50 year old man trying to conceive. It’s an obvious double standard.

Aside from that, the whole issue of assuming that the American people are stupid is really pressing at me lately. We can’t roast a chicken! It’s too hard. Buy a prepared chicken at the grocery store. We can’t have our babies naturally! It’s too hard. Opt early for an elective c-section or at the very least get an epidural and end up with a 35% chance of a section in even our best hospitals, anyhow. Don’t drink only 1 or 2 glasses of wine a week, lady! You can’t handle it! You’ll go off the deep end and end up a smoking, drinking gutter punk with a defected baby. I won’t accept the assumption that American folk can’t do some self-educating, make reasonable choices that provide for healthy lives, roast a darn chicken by themselves. If we’re lazy, it’s partly because we’re listening to all the hype and marketing and not being self-aware.

For the record, I have had one glass of delicious wine a week since the end of my first trimester. I’ve enjoyed every glass without guilt, and I’m 100% certain that this baby will not have FAS.

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6 Kristy Tue, Mar 2nd, 2010 at 12:19 am

I agree with you, in my post I said that I believed in all things in moderation. Had I drank alcohol, I probably would have continued a bit myself. However, what I was trying to say was that the article (not my brother) sounded defensive. If a baby is born with fetal alcohol syndrome, then I don’t see how you cannot blame the mother if she was drinking alcohol while pregnant (and obviously large quantities of it). That’s all. And I appreciate your viewpoint, I agree that society and the media are all about extremes and hype, I would hope that people don’t take that crap for truth but rather do the research on their own. Maybe those that do are the stupid ones… But until you go through the labor that I had, please don’t call me lazy for requesting an epidural, or better yet hopelessly begging for a c-section after 18 hours of back labor and 3 hours of pushing – everyone’s pregnancy and delivery is different. I hope that yours is perfect, as I wished mine had been – but it doesn’t always work out that way.

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