Drinking While Pregnant

Michael Y. Park

An American friend living in Europe came across one of the starker cultural differences between our Old World cousins and us when she became pregnant. While her new condition automatically meant, for her, politely declining wine, beer and liquor, her French sister-in-law, painfully gravid at eight months, was still filling up her wine glass and smoking like a chimney.

Both my friend and her sister-in-law have since had beautiful, healthy babies. The sister-in-law's takeaway? Drinking while pregnant isn't that big a deal. My friend's conclusion? Her sister-in-law was lucky.

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They're smart enough not to turn a difference of opinion on medical matters turn into a family feud, but for those of us who don't have to see each other on holidays, the question of whether you can safely drink while pregnant can be as divisive as the government shutdown or Obamacare. Even obstetricians aren't in lockstep--only two-thirds advocate no alcohol during any stage of pregnancy, and there's a nearly even split between those who think the data on the subject is clear and those who say it's inconclusive.

When author Emily Oster wrote that pregnant women who drank a moderate amount of alcohol--as in a single drink a day or less, say--had babies who showed no adverse effects, readers were outraged, and questioned the future that lay ahead for her young daughter.

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Indeed, the research seems to show that a compromise between my expat pal and her self-indulging in-law is perfectly OK--at least for most people. That last bit's the big question. As we're learning more and more every year, if you're a loser in the genetic lottery, you have to take extra precautions--a study found that women whose bodies were less efficient at metabolizing alcohol and who drank as little as one glass of wine a week while pregnant lowered the IQ of their babies by an average of 1.8 points. Not necessarily enough to notice, but still a scary finding.

So in other words, is drinking in moderation OK while you're pregnant? Depends, as always, on who you are.

What about you? Is a glass of wine a day all right while you're expecting? Are the abstainers giving into needless fear and hinting at a future of helicopter parenting? Or is any chance of brain damage too big a risk when it comes to your baby?

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