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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Drunk and pregnant

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

The Weighty Responsibility of Drinking for Two

Published: November 29, 2006

IT happens at coffee bars. It happens at cheese counters. But most of all, it happens at bars and restaurants. Pregnant women are slow-moving targets for strangers who judge what we eat — and, especially, drink.

What amount? Signs bear a warning that some women choose to ignore.

“Nothing makes people more uncomfortable than a pregnant woman sitting at the bar,” said Brianna Walker, a bartender in Los Angeles. “The other customers can’t take their eyes off her.”

Drinking during pregnancy quickly became taboo in the United States after 1981, when the Surgeon General began warning women about the dangers of alcohol. The warnings came after researchers at the University of Washington identified Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, a group of physical and mental birth defects caused by alcohol consumption, in 1973. In its recommendations, the government does not distinguish between heavy drinking and the occasional beer: all alcohol poses an unacceptable risk, it says.

So those of us who drink, even occasionally, during pregnancy face unanswerable questions, like why would anyone risk the health of a child for a passing pleasure like a beer?

“It comes down to this: I just don’t buy it,” said Holly Masur, a mother of two in Deerfield, Ill., who often had half a glass of wine with dinner during her pregnancies, based on advice from both her mother and her obstetrician. “How can a few sips of wine be dangerous when women used to drink martinis and smoke all through their pregnancies?”

Many American obstetricians, skeptical about the need for total abstinence, quietly tell their patients that an occasional beer or glass of wine — no hard liquor — is fine.

“If a patient tells me that she’s drinking two or three glasses of wine a week, I am personally comfortable with that after the first trimester,” said Dr. Austin Chen, an obstetrician in TriBeCa. “But technically I am sticking my neck out by saying so.”

Americans’ complicated relationship with food and drink — in which everything desirable is also potentially dangerous — only becomes magnified in pregnancy.

When I was pregnant with my first child in 2001 there was so much conflicting information that doubt became a reflexive response. Why was tea allowed but not coffee? How could all “soft cheeses” be forbidden if cream cheese was recommended? What were the real risks of having a glass of wine on my birthday?

Pregnant women are told that danger lurks everywhere: listeria in soft cheese, mercury in canned tuna, salmonella in fresh-squeezed orange juice. Our responsibility for minimizing risk through perfect behavior feels vast.

Eventually, instead of automatically following every rule, I began looking for proof.

Proof, it turns out, is hard to come by when it comes to “moderate” or “occasional” drinking during pregnancy. Standard definitions, clinical trials and long-range studies simply do not exist
What happens if you're not honest about your drinking and get hammered?

Let me put it this way, if you're working class and someone sees you drinking while pregnant, you could lose your kids.

Yes, this is a class issue.

posted by Steve @ 3:20:00 AM

3:20:00 AM

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