Cecilia and I had been friends since childhood, so when she went to pour me a second glass of wine and I refused, the jig was up.
“Oh my God, you’re pregnant!” she exclaimed.
My face turned almost as red as the cabernet. “How did you know?” I asked, astonished.
“Because you never say no to a second glass of wine!” she replied.
It’s true – I love to drink – and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like pregnancy stand in the way of my joie de vino : I just knew I had to drink in moderation. I blushed and told her, yes, I was pregnant. Cecilia, beaming happily at me, poured me another tiny sip of red, just enough to swallow after a toast to the 9 months ahead.
Drinking in moderation of course is an idea open to interpretation, kind of like “dressy casual” or “let’s meet at 8 a.m.” (For the record, I interpret “at 8 a.m.” as “at 10 a.m.” and “moderate drinking” as “imbibing no more than 3 a week.”) Thanks to the laid-back attitudes of my friends and family, I wasn’t worried about the effects a pint of beer or a glass of pinot might have on my baby – they weren’t judging me. Unlike Being Pregnant’s Monica Bielanko, I never got “the stink eye” for having a drink in public. Being a comic, I actually had plenty of enablers greeting me at bar shows with choruses of “Hey, they do it in Europe!,” so I never felt guilty or weird resting a beer on my baby bump. Plus, I’d already quit smoking – the day I found out I was pregnant – so I figured I deserved some slack. My mother never quit smoking (or drinking) while she was pregnant with me, and I was born prematurely at just 4 pounds. My daughter weighed a hearty 8 pounds, 2 ounces at birth. (Maybe I should have switched to Miller Lite.)
Now, before you start ranting and raving that I’m being flippant about a potentially grave issue, you should know (if you don’t already) that there’s honest-to-God science suggesting moderate drinking during pregnancy can actually be good for your baby. According to the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study, which followed 2,370 children over 14 years, “the children of women who were light or moderate drinkers (2 to 6 drinks per week or one per day) early in pregnancy tended to have more positive behavior than the children of mothers who did not drink at all early in pregnancy.” Children of light to moderate drinkers early in pregnancy were found to display less depression and aggression than the children of non-drinkers. It’s possible these findings are a result of genetics, since moderate drinkers are thought to be mentally healthier than both abstainers and addicts, according to researchers. But, as Reuters reports, the study’s outcome also reflects the notion that “low doses of alcohol in pregnancy may help calm the mother-to-be,” thus yielding calmer kids.
That makes perfect sense to me. A happy mommy makes a happy baby, and because I never felt as though my pregnancy was a boring chore full of extraordinary sacrifice, I really enjoyed it. This, of course, is not to make light of addiction, or to suggest that fetal alcohol syndrome isn’t a real concern. But pregnant women who want to enjoy a drink a day should do so without worry. As Dr. Monique Robinson of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research explains in the Reuters article: “We need to be cautious about generalizing the effects of a heavy alcohol intake to a light consumption of alcohol – they are not equal : Women should not feel guilty or anxious about low-level drinking effects prior to recognition of the pregnancy. However, binge and large alcohol intake should still be avoided, as this does have potential for harm.”
Babble’s Science of Kids columnist Heather Turgeon pointed out on Strollerderby last month that according to a Northwestern University study, moderate alcohol consumption will affect each baby uniquely based on his or her particular genetic makeup. It’s clear that not every mother can drink while pregnant without consequence, since a study published by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that “if mom had 1 or more drinks per day (of beer, wine, or liquor) during the first trimester of pregnancy, her adolescent was more likely to be diagnosed with a conduct disorder.” Turgeon writes, “This effect held even after factoring out mom’s psychology,” which is why the CDC asks, in effect, why risk it?
For me, drinking while pregnant didn’t seem like risky behavior. It felt like a normal part of life. My friend and former Strollerderby blogger Paula Bernstein had a similarly relaxed attitude about having a glass of wine with baby on board. She told me, “While I was pregnant with my first daughter, my husband and I planned a ‘babymoon’ in the south of France during my second trimester. My midwife gave me permission to drink a glass of wine a day since, after all, that’s what the French women do!” See? My friends were right! They do it in Europe, so I felt perfectly comfortable doing it in New York.
Other moms (and judge-y bartenders) need to realize that no sane pregnant woman is going to do a keg stand, get drunk when she orders a glass, or let the whole bar do body shots off her protruding belly button (well, at least not more than once). I didn’t drink every day of my pregnancy, but on average I’d say I had three drinks a week, and my baby turned out just fine. Now she’s a happy, healthy, precocious 5-year-old who’s more refreshing than a mojito in July. Let’s raise a glass to that!