THE BLOG
09/18/2013 06:23 pm ET | Updated Nov 18, 2013

The Gamble: Drinking While Pregnant

Anyone who has studied the topic for a given time will tell you: there seems to be something especially trendy about nutrition. Fad diets come and go. There is almost always a new supplement that "seriously everyone should be taking." When I tell people I study nutrition, I automatically brace myself for a series of follow-up questions:

"So, do you eat really healthy?"
"What supplements do you take?"
"How do you feel about fish-oil tablets?"
"Have you heard of the paleo diet?"

The thing is, there's a lot of (mis)information out there. Social media has basically placed "word of mouth" on steroids. So mostly I just keep to myself, shrug my shoulders and stay out of it. But since entering the age where people around me are getting married and having children left and right, there's one "trend" that I simply cannot keep my mouth shut about: mixing booze with pregnancy!

When did it become "trendy" again to say, "It's totally fine to have a glass of wine every once in awhile when I am pregnant, right?"

Um... What?

No. Wrong. Pregnant women in the US have been advised to avoid alcohol since the 1980s. Does the quote below look familiar to anyone?

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems.

Not too many people these days are still saying, "It's okay to drive just a little drunk, right?" The health risks associated with drinking during pregnancy are just as real. Similar to carbon monoxide in cigarettes, alcohol in booze readily travels from the women's bloodstream to the baby's via the placenta and umbilical cord. So it's true when they say, "When a pregnant woman drinks, the baby drinks, too." The baby's blood-alcohol content will be at least that of the mother's, if not higher. Here's the kicker -- because the baby cannot metabolize alcohol as effectively as adults can, the baby's BAC will remain elevated for an extended period of time, prolonging the toxic exposure. Ah!

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are diagnosed by the thousands each year. FASD actually refers to a group of conditions found in children born to mothers who consumed alcohol during pregnancy. Symptoms can include: behavior and attention problems, heart defects, changes in the shape of the face, poor growth before and after birth, problems with thinking and speech, learning problems, poor muscle tone and problems with movement and balance.

These diagnoses are permanent, but are totally preventable by "simply" not drinking. Nope, not even "just every once in awhile." Yes, unfortunately there is no known "safe" amount of alcohol to consume to avoid FASD. Every woman is different and every pregnancy is different. So why chance it?

Alright. For all you Mama's out there reading this and getting upset with me, I will admit: I have never been pregnant. In fact, I don't plan on becoming pregnant for a number of years. But I think I can appreciate that a lot of things get taken off the table (literally!) for pregnant women when you are growing another human inside of you.

But I knowwwwww. A glass of wine is so relaxing to enjoy at night from time to time. And to some of you -- you're totally right. It does get really annoying that everyone is allowed to have an opinion on what you can do with your body. No one ever said being a woman was easy, right? But hey! I'm still pretty pumped about being one!

I'm not saying we should live our lives totally risk averse. There are plenty of decisions in life that may be worth rolling the dice on. For example, it's probably safe to go ahead and skip purchasing that extended warranty package on your new television. Even bigger risks -- like quitting your job, or in my case, taking out another student loan to finish my graduate studies -- are necessary gambles to take in life, right? We all make these decisions by weighing the benefits against the risk. So I must ask, what is the real benefit of having, say a glass a wine a week when you are pregnant?

Is it worth the gamble?

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