herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Docs say mums-to-be shouldn't drink, but does an occasional sip hurt?

A pregnant woman with a glass of wine
A pregnant woman with a glass of wine

'Pregnant and p****d' screamed the headline on Today FM's lunchtime news this week after a report found that most women drink while pregnant.

It sounded like every woman with a child got regularly hammered during their pregnancy. The headline referred to a report that 45pc of Irish women binge drink during pregnancy. This is deeply troubling, but the majority of women don't do it. They either don't drink at all or drink little or moderately, perhaps just occasionally.

Now they're feeling guilty and irresponsible. I even spotted a thread in a forum on a popular Irish website entitled 'The wans necking wine while pregnant'. Demonise much?

There is other evidence. A study by Danish researcher Janni Niclasen found women who drink an average of a bottle of wine a month during pregnancy have children who are emotionally better adjusted than those who abstain.

theoretical

US obstetrician Austin Chen said: "If a patient tells me that she's drinking two or three glasses of wine a week, I am personally comfortable with that after the first trimester. But technically, I am sticking my neck out by saying so."

The mantra seems to be that no amount of alcohol is safe. No doubt that's true, in a strictly theoretical sense, but it's also theoretically correct that you can't go down the stairs in the morning without risking an accident. That doesn't deter us from getting up in the morning.

Surely, with everything in life, you should make sensible, balanced judgements about what's an unacceptable degree of risk.

There's no denying that heavy drinking during pregnancy is harmful for babies and mothers. But is there a middle ground? Some studies show that perhaps there is - that perhaps having a sip or half a glass of wine at a special occasion during pregnancy may not be an unreasonable or unsafe choice.

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