Pass the wine? Study suggests moderate drinking in pregnancy increases mental health in children

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No woman feels more judged in her life than when she is in a public place, showing her pregnancy, and holding an adult beverage.

The horror! Passers by raising their torches and pitchforks and silently curse the mother daring to indulge in anything containing alcohol, declaring she is dooming her baby to the dreaded Fetal Alcohol Syndrome at that very moment. Doulas are asked about alcohol consumption by our clients from time to time. It’s an ongoing conversation throughout pregnancy since it’s a rather controversial topic.

Let’s examine the facts.

  1. The amount of alcohol it takes to cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is unknown.
  2. Alcohol does have the potential to affect the developing baby’s brain.
  3. Each woman’s body will process alcohol at different rates, and may, therefore, affect a growing baby in unpredictable ways.
  4. Nobody knows if any certain phases of development in pregnancy are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than another.

For these reasons most providers, both midwives and OB/GYN’s, recommend not drinking at all throughout the pregnancy. Abstain completely.

However, there is one more fact that is often times overlooked or forgotten. Many women admit to drinking occasionally throughout their pregnancy without them and their babies suffer ill effects from it. (In pregnancy, “occasional” or “moderate” drinking is defined as 1-2 drinks a week). So there may be a balance; There is a safe level somewhere even if it eludes us.

Recently, a study was published about the effects of alcohol and pregnancy. Many of the findings were rather surprising.

For instance, children whose mothers had an occasional drink enjoyed better mental health than those who abstained completely. These findings certainly had other factors at play, but even when all of the controls were in place, the findings suggested the same. More research is certainly indicated, however, since experts in the field report that “correlation does not prove causation.” They continue to recommend abstaining.

So is it fair to say that moderate drinking has the potential to prove beneficial to some women? According to this study, it certainly warrants discussion. Further research is indicated in the matter of health benefits of drinking in pregnancy, along with moderate consumption.

In the end, it’s important for women to have all the facts so they can make an educated decision. While it’s true that nobody knows for sure exactly if or how much alcohol is safe in pregnancy, it’s also true that many women who indulge in an occasional drink do just fine.

Doulas are experts in gathering information and helping women to make informed decisions once they have all the facts. We would never dare to try and tell you what to do with your own body.

Check this fact sheet from the National Institute of Health. And here is some more pertinent information about risks with drinking during pregnancy.

You know yourself and your body best, and your decision to consume alcohol in pregnancy deserves to be an informed one. Know the risks – and possible benefits – for yourself and proceed accordingly.

***Edited to add: This blog post is stated as a question to referenced study & the blog itself is about gathering evidence for the informed decision. You make the informed decision for your body. I have no medical authority to make any suggestions to consume or not consume alcohol during pregnancy and this article does not suggest such. That would be beyond the scope of a doula.