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As a woman who is eight months pregnant and who likes her wine, this topic is of particular interest to me. Centers for Disease Control findings show that an increasing number of women, especially the college-educated crowd between ages 35 and 44, do have an occasional glass of wine while pregnant. Anecdotally, many doctors are telling their pregnant patients that it’s okay to drink a little every now and then. But the stance from official bodies like the Surgeon General of the United States and the National Institutes of Health remains that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe for pregnant women.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is clear in its recommendation: “There is no safe amount of alcohol when a woman is pregnant. Research evidence indicates that even drinking small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or sudden infant death syndrome.” And a recent study from the University of Bristol with more than 4,000 participants shows that binge drinking during pregnancy (defined as four or more drinks in a day) “can increase the risk of mental health problems — particularly hyperactivity and inattention — in children aged 11 and can have a negative effect on their school examination results.”
Meanwhile, a series of five papers published in BJOG, an international journal of obstetrics and gynecology, found that “low (one to four drinks per week) to moderate (five to eight drinks per week) drinking in early pregnancy had no significant effect on neurodevelopment of children aged 5 years, nor did binge drinking.” And in the bestselling book “Expecting Better,” economist Emily Oster examines extensive data and concludes that, “It’s fine to have the occasional glass of wine – even one every day – in the second and third trimesters.”
What the Experts Say
Dr. Janet Williams, a pediatrician at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and a past chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on substance abuse, told NPR that alcohol is the number one preventable cause of birth abnormalities, and “the safest conclusion is that no drinking causes no fetal alcohol effects.”
Meanwhile, Fred Bookstein, an applied statistician who studies fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at both the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of Vienna, told Discovery Health, “There is no detectable risk associated with light or moderate drinking during pregnancy.”
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What Parents Say
“I drank occasionally while pregnant after the first trimester. I wasn’t drinking excessively, and I knew my mother and grandmother drank (and smoked) through all of their pregnancies, so I wasn’t too worried.” —Tori W.
“There is no legitimate reason to put a growing fetus in any kind of jeopardy for a nutritionally devoid drink.” —Ann M.
“I think it’s fine to have a glass of wine once in a while. As a matter of fact, my doctor told me exactly that when I was pregnant!” —Jenn B.
The Bottom Line
While much of the current research suggests that light to moderate drinking during pregnancy does not pose significant risks to the baby, most medical professionals and organizations (at least officially) continue to recommend abstinence for pregnant mothers as a foolproof method of avoiding potential hazards. “There could be a ‘safe number’ [of drinks],” Dr. David Streitman, an associate professor of maternal fetal medicine at Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC in Pittsburgh told TODAY, “but we don’t know what that is.”