Booze, Babies and Ballyhoo

By James Madeiros


In the ultra-safe, padded and padlocked 21st century a woman who drinks while pregnant might be burned at the stake. Okay, so maybe she won’t be charbroiled, but she’ll definitely be ejected from the PTA and the golf club’s biannual garden party.

That is, if she’s living free in the U.S.A. Soon-to-be moms in Denmark (and elsewhere, once news gets out) might see things a little differently, though, in light of a new study conducted by Danish scientists that suggests there is no link between low to moderate drinking while pregnant and children’s mental abilities.

The study examined the development of 5-year-olds born to mothers who drank at low (one to four drinks per week), moderate (four to eight drinks per week) and high (nine or more drinks per week) levels, and found that children’s mental abilities suffered no ill effects in the low and moderate ranges.

Interestingly, the fact that the study took place in Denmark holds relevance. In the land of windmills and tulips a standard drink contains 12 grams of pure alcohol, whereas the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism measures a standard drink at 14 grams – 2 grams more and therefore stronger than those used in the tests.

The Surgeon General of the United States says that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy, period. A 2005 advisory from the Surgeon General had this to say about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): “We do not know what, if any, amount of alcohol is safe. But we do know that the risk of a baby being born with any of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders increases with the amount of alcohol a pregnant woman drinks, as does the likely severity of the condition.”

Despite being a contradiction in terms (not knowing what is safe, but knowing that it is unsafe), this is the position taken up by American critics of the report. Variations in genetics, the age of the children and myriad other factors weigh on the reliability of the results – and for good reason.

While there really may be no harm, at the end of the day it’s a personal choice informed by very personal factors. Some mothers may be more predisposed to FASDs or may have some other type of medical condition that exacerbates problems caused by alcohol. There is really no way to know, which makes abstinence the clear winner in many circles.


Legal Stuff: Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).

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