On Beer and Babies

There has been a few articles written recently, about drinking while pregnant.  There has also been good accompanying discussion (and no shortage of less than good shouting-type reaction, as would be expected in an issue this polarizing).  I haven’t actually weighed-in in any form, and went too today, but realized that what I wanted to say exceeded the scope of a comment on Facebook.

Andrew Bentley Schryer, about 10 minutes old.

Andrew Bentley Schryer, about 10 minutes old.

So, some qualifications: Obviously I’m a man, and will never fully appreciate what it is like being pregnant.  Both the physiological and psychological realities are, at best, things I can only imagine.  That being said, I am a father of two wonderful kids, and was with my wife during both pregnancies (and the lengthy process of fertility treatment leading up to both).  I am anything but puritanical in my views on drinking.  I have no ethical problems with kids in bars, kids getting a sip of beer or wine here or there, kids hanging out at breweries, etc.  I think that so much of what is perceived as “common sense” in terms of drinking habits is just learned behaviours from a culture that is still hobbled by prohibition.

So what do I think about women drinking while pregnant?

Well before I even get to what I think, I’ll say, one of the worst parts of a women being pregnant is the way that our society seems to feel you somehow become our possession.  They are free to touch you, tell you how tired/awful you look, and tell you why you’re probably destining your child to a future of poor health and developmental delay.  These privileges should only be for close friends and family.  Which is to say, if you believe a woman is making a poor decision in terms of her’s and the baby’s health, but you don’t know her middle name, say, or the name of her first pet or what her favourite food is, keep your damn mouth shut.  Hopefully, if she is making a bad choice, she has people in her life who will call her on it.  If you wouldn’t naturally hug the pregnant women or put an arm around her shoulders when she isn’t with child, keep your bloody hands off her now. On balance, if you seem a woman injecting krokodil into her pregnant belly, call the cops.


Now then, about drinking while pregnant:

Yes, there is a stigma attached to it, and people have no trouble telling you off in public if you do it.  There are so many things wrong with this I don’t have time to address it.  It is natural that there is going to be a push-back from women who want to subvert that, I totally can understand that.  But I’m not particularly comfortable with that either.

Babies like beer.

Babies like beer.

Yes, opinions about “safe” amounts vary from country to country.  This is true about things other than alcohol; most North American doctors will tell pregnant women not to eat sushi. Most Japanese doctors would encourage it. As at least one of the recent articles on drinking while pregnant mentions, there are reams of studies done on the effects of alcohol on developing foetuses, but many don’t make fine enough distinction to give solid advice about drinking, say 3 drinks per week.  Further, there still isn’t enough published information about the causes of FASD.  We know that the rate goes up as the consumption goes up (particularly after a certain point, and much much more than most women who are asking these questions would drink).  But we also know that there are cases of it where the woman might only have had a single drink.  This leads to the sensationalizing that many prohibitionist groups do.  “Don’t even use mouthwash!” With the exception of the aforementioned groups, I think most people would agree that women could use more studies, to aid in their decisions.  Rarely does more information hurt.

But we don’t have that, and we have so many conflicting opinions and “answers”. So what is a woman to do?

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, her hair-dresser asked about adding some funky blue and purple highlights to her hair (Erika gave her carte blanche with her hair).  At the time we hadn’t gone public with the news, so Erika feigned being in a hurry, and said maybe next time.  She then asked her wonderful OB/GYN about it.  Her advice was pretty simple: There are no studies that prove damage caused by hair dye.  There are heaps of internet horror stories, and the manufacturers recommend against it, but still; no real “proof”.  But, why do it, if it’s not necessary?  If the child ended up having some type of developmental problem, even if it didn’t remotely relate to hair dye, odds were Erika would feel terribly guilty about it, and for what? A few colour streaks in her hair.  This is the same obstetrician who suggested Erika have a cup of coffee or tea every morning because she had very low blood pressure, and caffeine would naturally help boost that.  Again, she said there simply wasn’t enough evidence of harm caused by occasional minimal caffeine-consumption, but in this case, the benefits were obvious. She then pointed out that nobody tells pregnant women not to fly, yet to get on an airplane you get bombarded with all manner of radiation (particularly if you’re getting a body-scan) and you’re standing feet away from massive x-rays that scan your handbags.  Nobody would tell a pregnant woman to stop commuting to work, but sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic means you’re breathing in heaps of carbon monoxide.  Every single decision a woman makes, even before she’s pregnant, is going to impact the development of her child.  A lot of the decisions have much more dire consequences than an occasional beer or glass of wine.

So, as a woman, do you drink while pregnant?  Obviously, I think that’s up to you.  I don’t think doing it to stick it to the prohibitionists is a good and healthy choice.  I don’t think reading a single study that says often there’s only minimal impact and diving right in is okay either.  Because of our difficulty even conceiving, Erika opted only to have a very occasional few sips of wine with a meal, maybe a half-glass at a time at most.  She also forwent some of the testing that can be done to flag for things like Down’s Syndrome, etc, because of the potential for complications.  She changed her diet and some of her lifestyle choices, again trying to reduce the potential for complications wherever possible.  Erika went pretty hardcore, but that doesn’t mean that I think every woman ought to do that either.  Every woman (ideally supported by her partner) needs to find her own way.  Weighing the immediate benefit vs the long term possibilities.  I know it’s easy for a man to say this, but I would hope most women, given the admitted lack of real clarity on the subject would choose to minimize or eliminate alcohol from their pregnancies; I also hope they decide to quit smoking when they find out they’re pregnant (or when they decide to start trying to conceive). I hope they limit or remove processed foods from their diets and focus on eating whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, and dairy and proteins raised without antibiotics or growth-hormones.

But honestly, it’s not my business. And unless it’s somebody you love, it’s not yours either.

More on the topic:

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting