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July 12, 2007

will this pinot noir really hurt the fetus?

A pregnant Swede looks at what she considers alarmist alcohol prohibitions. Of note:

The strict alcohol consumption guidelines set up by Swedish, UK or US health care authorities, agencies and associations all share the aura of scientific and medical credibility. However, a study in 2006 by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology concluded that there was no convincing evidence of adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels, where moderate was defined as 10.5 units per week (not at one sitting).

Messages to eliminate all alcohol are purely motivated by the true danger of a fetus’ exposure to high levels of alcohol which results in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

The presumption: ”If large amounts are dangerous, small amounts are probably dangerous too” argument is unfair. Instead of fact, fear is used to support a “better safe than sorry” defense for zero tolerance while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Here's how I feel about it: I have the occasional long slug of really delicious cold beer when it's hot and miserable out. I pour myself half a glass of wine if I'm enjoying a decent meal. Do I think some alcohol is 100% safe? I'm not sure. A huge part of the problem with "policy" on all this is that women metabolize alcohol differently. One drink does different things to different bodies. Also, do you guzzle a beer before eating and push that blood alcohol way up? Or slowly sip on some while eating a three course meal?

There's an incredible story in Dan Savage's amazing book about his experience adopting, in which he learns that his street punk birth mother was consuming fairly large amounts of beer. His web search for "alcohol and pregnancy" was so terrifying, he considered bailing out. But then he contacted top researchers in the field of FASD and they ALL reassured Dan and his partner that moderate, even regular drinking has not been proven dangerous. (They emphasized binge drinking as the proven cause of problems). The baby was fine. It's a radical story in many ways and I mention it here only because it's another example of the "medical recommendation" vs. what-the-doctors-know. (Also because I really love that book!)

The cultural background is also interesting: I have a friend who spent her first trimester in France. People offered her drinks and all but blew smoke in her face. But when it came to cheese she was forbidden from even looking at it. In America, alcohol is considered scarier than cheese-- partly because we have a different attitude towards drinking, partly because most of our cheeses are pasteurized.

It's all a bit scary really. Or not. I accidentally ate some sliced ham the other day and waited for the hard-to-detect symptoms of listeriosis to kick in... for about five minutes. Then I had to get on with my life.

by ceridwen at 9:17 AM
in pregnancy


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