The debate: Did you drink at all while pregnant?

Two moms face off on the topic of drinking during pregnancy.

Illustration: Jessica Rae Gordon

“Yes, I drank a little while pregnant.”
Crystal Luxmore, mom of one

I love beer. And as a beer reviewer, it’s my job to write about it. So when I got pregnant, I planned to cut down, but not to stop drinking completely. In fact, while I was pregnant I passed the certified cicerone exam (it’s like being a sommelier for beer), becoming the fourth woman in Canada to reach this level.

That was a year ago last fall, around the same time a study found children of women who consumed a couple drinks a week while pregnant had IQs one or two points lower than kids whose mothers abstained. I told my husband this with trepidation, figuring he’d want me to hang up my stein for the entire nine months. “One IQ point?” he said. “I can live with that.” And something clicked with me, too: I was going to quit the occasional pint, and my job, over the chance that my child might be short one measly IQ point?

I asked my doctor for advice on how much I could drink per week. One unit? Two? But he refused to quantify it. “I can’t give you a guideline beyond, ‘No safe time, no safe amount,’” he said. “And no other doctor will be able to, either.” This blanket approach keeps women from having a comprehensive discussion about alcohol — and all the contradictory research — with their caregivers: When I was six months along, another study found no cognitive differences in the children of non-drinking pregnant women compared to moderately drinking ones. And why are the artificial ingredients in many pregnancy binges (I craved cheese puffs and licorice, washed down with pop) more socially acceptable than a bottle of all-natural, locally brewed pale ale packed with antioxidants, vitamin B6, and folic acid?

So, I created my own guidelines: no booze at all for the rest of the first trimester (I found out I was pregnant five sudsy weeks in). From 12 weeks on, I consumed no more than one or two beers a week, and only a half-pint at a time. When I was accepted into midwifery care, and my midwife OK’d my customized drinking plan, it was a huge relief.

Pregnancy taught me that treating our bodies like temples in the quest to create a perfect child isn’t my idea of a good time. Being a happy mother who can indulge responsibly, and raise a healthy baby, is more my cup of lager.

“No, I did not drink at all while pregnant”
Christine Davidson, mom of one

Pregnancy can be an anxious time for many of us. You’re emotional, exhausted, and maybe a little freaked out by all the big changes to come. Let’s face it — you need a drink. At least I did when I was pregnant with my daughter last year. But for me, the risks of drinking during pregnancy outweighed my desperate desire to unwind with a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio at dinnertime.

I must admit that I was a tad overcautious about almost everything when I was expecting. I wouldn’t even wear nail polish because I was afraid of how the chemicals might affect my pristine, unborn child. Crazy, right? And while most of my pregnant friends were enjoying the occasional wine spritzer and bite of unpasteurized soft cheese, I was researching symptoms of rare genetic disorders and fretting about every ache and cramp. When I confessed my rapidly multiplying worries to my partner, he would respond, calmly, “Babe, you need to relax. I hope you’re not this neurotic when the kid is born.”

I know that those sophisticated, progressive mothers we read about in the latest, trendy French child-rearing books scoff at how uptight we North Americans are. We have an extensive list of what to avoid, while they indulge in the good life. And yes, perhaps all French babies do sleep through the night at six weeks because their mothers weren’t afraid to have a glass of red wine and a chunk of Camembert during pregnancy, but I doubt it.

Read more: Health precautions for pregnancy>

Personally, I couldn’t ignore certain medical facts, and the advice my doctors gave me. A number of recent studies show that drinking while pregnant can cause long-term consequences for your child, including behavioural problems and cognitive defects. Yes, the health ramifications are much more severe for the children of heavier drinkers, but why not eliminate the risk and avoid alcohol all together?

Now that my perfectly healthy daughter is here, and growing and thriving, I shake my head in shame at all the stress I put myself (and my partner) through during those nervous nine months. If we decide to have another child, I’ve learned that I can be a bit more relaxed next time, and more focused on enjoying the pregnancy. But I also know I won’t be reaching for the corkscrew.

A version of this article appeared in our December 2013 issue with the headline “Did you drink (a little) while pregnant?” p. 158.

Read more:
Confessions of a Merlot-loving mom>
Your healthy pregnancy>
Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?>

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