14 years of data from Australia finds that children of mothers who drank moderately during pregnancy (2-6 drinks per week, or one a day) had fewer “emotional and behavioral problems through childhood and adolescence” than children of total abstainers. This being Australia, researchers felt flat out able to say that light drinking mothers had “better behaved” kids (here in the U.S., we might need to refer to them as “differently behaviorally abled”) and the study seems sound: kids whose moms drank some during the first trimester may actually be better off.
Me, I take this as personal vindication, because while I gave up plenty while pregnant (the cheeses, the sushi…), I never gave the occasional glass of wine, and I took some flak for it (but not much, because I’m known to bite while pregnant). I always suspected that 30 million French women couldn’t be wrong.
But is it the alcohol, or something else?
Researchers, of course, aren’t sure–it’s tough to sort out causation from correlation, and even tougher to find a root cause in a complex system. It could be, they suggest, that moms who have a few drinks during that first trimester are already more mentally healthy than abstaining moms–or at least, are passing down a more mellow personality to their offspring. (Reuters said it, I didn’t–although I would–”research has shown that moderate drinkers are mentally healthier than abstainers or addicts”.) It could be that those few drinks are calming for mothers, resulting in calmer kids.
Whatever the reason, the results were delightfully affirming for someone like me: the children of those moderate and occasional pregnant drinkers were consistently better behaved, with lower scores on things like depression and aggression as assessed using a standard psychological checklist.
Those researchers (specifically represented by Dr. Monique Robinson, from Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth, Western Austra, whose idea of a great thing to study completely rocks) add that they’re not advocating that pregnant women head off to the nearest pub (remember, this was Australia). But they do point out that there’s a big difference between the kind of heavy alcohol intake that results in real problems like fetal alcohol syndrome and a few drinks a week, or even one a day. You could, as they seem to feel obligated to suggest, just take this as a little reassurance in the case of a little drinking before you realized you were pregnant. (What with half of pregnancies being unplanned.) You could consult your care provider. Or you could read the research yourself, and use your own common sense to decide on what’s right for you.
The real question is, could you even do this study in the U.S.? Me and my occasional glass of wine felt awfully lonely (although calmer…but I couldn’t say actually calm) when I was pregnant. I’d have loved to carry a copy of this research around with me for company.