The last time I had a proper drink was at Bourbon by the Bay on Nov. 15, 2020. I was judging the cocktail competition for the annual charity event, and Gabe and I took full advantage of the opportunity, sampling dozens of whiskeys from various distillers over the course of the night.
Four days later, I discovered I was pregnant. Four months and two days pregnant, to be exact. I keep meticulous records. We were overjoyed! We bought a pair of baby Vans! I immediately cut poke bowls and alcohol from my diet. And thus began a months-long clandestine mission to keep my teetotalling a secret until the second-trimester mark, the agreed-upon calendar date when revealing you’re expecting is considered apropos.
This proved harder than I thought it would, especially over the holiday season. At home, I got really into nonalcoholic drinks, but out in the wild, I had to improvise. At Braided River with friends, I ordered a shandy sans beer. (A glass of lemonade.) At Thanksgiving dinner with Gabe’s parents, I sipped on a bottle of bubbly S.Pellegrino. (I am fancy now.) At a Christmas party, I chugged unsweet iced tea.
“Are you pregnant?” someone would occasionally ask.
“Oh, no, just trying to be healthier!” I’d say through a strained grin. And then I’d resent them for paying so close attention to my drinking habits. Mind your biz!
As the 12-week date approached, I started leaking the news to close friends and family. The reaction was not one I expected. Yes, they’d be elated at first, but then, especially if they were moms themselves, they’d often say, “You can still drink, you know.” It was sometimes the first piece of advice they’d give me. Not which yoga pants can double as maternity clothes (Lululemon’s Align collection, hello), but how many glasses of wine I could consume a night while simultaneously growing a fetus inside of me. They drank and their kids turned out fine, they’d say, so I shouldn’t stress too much about it.
I found their responses odd. I wasn’t stressed about not drinking, even though drinking has been a large part of my life, my identity, for more than a decade. I was stressed about the chances of my baby having genetic abnormalities and how Gabe’s boys were going to react to the news. But it did get me wondering about the actual medical advice, not the word that spreads on the mom grapevine, regarding drinking alcohol while pregnant.
In a report on alcohol use in pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during your pregnancy or when you are trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink when you are pregnant.”
According to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” the longtime new-mom Bible on such topics, a few drinks before you know you are pregnant is nothing to fret about. But because alcohol enters the fetal bloodstream in the same concentrations it enters the mother’s, while taking twice as long to leave, it can be quite dangerous depending on the dosage. Risks include abnormal growth rates, preterm labor and later, behavioral and developmental problems associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The book recommends changing your lifestyle and avoiding booze altogether to be safe. The book also recommends cutting raw sprouts out of your diet completely, so who knows what to believe.
The much more reasonable baby book “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster has updated data on the subject. According to her, recent studies out of Europe and Australia — where occasional drinking is more common than in the U.S. — indicate “there is no good evidence that light drinking during pregnancy negatively impacts your baby.” Strangely enough, some studies have found that “women who drink moderately in pregnancy have children with higher IQ scores.”
In fact, 40 percent of doctors in the U.S. do not even recommend their pregnant patients completely cut out alcohol. Heavier, binge drinking should be avoided always, of course. In the first trimester, though, one to two drinks with food a week seems to be OK, and in the second and third trimesters, up to one drink a day is allowable. But pregnant women should consult with their own doctors on the matter since the author of the book is an economist, not an obstetrician.
For me, someone who is going on month four without alcohol, I don’t see the point in starting now. The rewards don’t seem to outweigh the risks by my calculations. I’m thriving with a clear head and liver and I can boost my child’s IQ in alternate ways. But for other moms-to-be, that may not be the case. They may genuinely need to drink that nightly glass of Malbec and they feel safe doing so at the recommendation of some studies, their doctors and friends. I’m not judging. Besides, I have started taking my chances again with poke bowls.
(For the record, the baby’s chromosomes appear to be normal and Gabe’s boys reacted to the baby news with resigned groans. They had even more of those when we excitedly revealed to them the baby’s going to be a girl. A girl! Thank God!)
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist, but is on a brief sabbatical from actually consuming alcohol due to her current medical condition. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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