How Dangerous Is Drinking While Pregnant?

Drinking while pregnant
Drinking while pregnant

Is having an occasional drink during pregnancy tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with your baby’s health? Or just a harmless relaxation?

Science really doesn’t know the answer to this one. A few recent studies have suggested kids whose mothers drank lightly – 1-2 drinks per week – do better than children whose mother’s abstained from alcohol entirely. Other research suggests even moerate amounts of alcohol do damage, but no one knows how much.

Worrying about all this leads to more stress during pregnancy, which in turn is bad for pregnant women. What’s a knocked up mama to do?

The American approach it to abstain completely, but as the Slate piece points out, that’s as much about controlling women’s behavior as it is about keeping our babies safe. More kids die in car accidents than are harmed by prenatal exposure to booze, but the warning on your wine bottle lists the risks of drinking while pregnant before those of drinking while driving.

I’ll never forget the day I walked into a liquor store to buy drinks for a party. Five months pregnant with my first child, I was craving beer and afraid to take even a sip from my husband’s microbrew. So I dawdled at the non-alcoholic beer section. A liquor store employee approached me and entreated me to pray to god for the strength to stay away from even non-alcoholic beer during my pregnancy. If I could not, he was certain my unborn child would pay a terrible price.


Like everyone else, I do not know what the safe level of alcohol consumption is for a pregnant woman. In the course of both pregnancies, I probably had no more than one or two drinks during the entire year. But: it’s clear to me that our cultural attitude says more about paternalistic control of women than it does about real safety concerns for babies.

Photo: Brett L.

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