Latest Study Reports Some Drinking During Pregnancy May Be Okay

When I was pregnant with each of my three children, I did not drink any alcohol during my first trimester. The first twelve weeks of the baby’s development were the most crucial I learned, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize that. But my doctor told me it was okay to drink a small amount of wine thereafter, so I gingerly sipped an occasional glass of wine without worry. I know that many people refuse to take even a sip of alcohol during those nine long months. But that wasn’t me. And it wasn’t one of the essayists in our forthcoming anthology, Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up (Seal Press, Sept 2012), who wrote how her British obstetrician recognized the all-or-nothing American attitude and was quite comfortable with her patients drinking every once in a while.

Now, the pregnant women of the world who’d like to have a guilt-free, occasional glass of wine can perhaps do so (emphasis on perhaps). The results of a series of research studies from Denmark, published in the BJOG Journal, suggest that “low to moderate weekly drinking in early pregnancy  had no significant effect on neurodevelopment of children up to five years, nor did binge drinking.”

The study focused on children’s intelligence and found no differences in test performance between the children whose mothers consumed up to 8 drinks a week during pregnancy, compared to children whose mothers did not drink any alcohol. There was, however, one result that surfaced associating a lower attention span in five year old children whose mother drank more than 9 drinks per week. These children were also found to be at a risk nearly five times higher of having a low IQ compared to children of nondrinkers.

The research was drawn from 1,628 Danish women and their children–almost a third of all Danish women who were pregnant during the span of years from 1997 to 2003. The average age of the women was 31; fifty percent were first-time mothers; 12 percent were single; and 31 percent said they smoked during their pregnancy. In all of the studies, the researchers controlled for a variety of factors that may potentially affect a child’s brain development, such as maternal intelligence and smoking.

An important point to note–and highlighted in the journal article–is that a drink in these studies is defined by the the Danish National Board of Health and is equal to 12 grams of pure alcohol. The amount of alcohol in a drink can vary greatly from country to country, however, and in the United States there are 14 grams of pure alcohol in a standard drink. This is the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor, according to Rethinking Drinking, a website covering alcohol and health.

In a statement, the study’s authors said, “Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged 5. However, despite these findings, additional large scale studies should be undertaken to further investigate the possible effects.”

Though some women may feel relieved to learn about the latest study results, it is unlikely the new information will quell the controversy surrounding drinking during pregnancy, as many doctors continue to warn against potential disorders that the study may not have considered. “I would still caution women about drinking during their pregnancies,” Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthDay. “There may be subtle neurobehavioral changes that were not picked up in the study.”

“Although it’s still best for pregnant women to avoid alcohol, these results suggest that small amounts may not be a serious concern,” said HealthDay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still urge women not to drink at any time while pregnant, says Dr. Jacquelyn Betrand, who represents the CDC and served as co-author of three of the studies: “This study doesn’t change our recommendation.”

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Pregnant in Wine Country

pregnant woman holding wine glassby Kate Rockland

I am the mother to a very boisterous 11-month old. Before giving birth to my son, I was pregnant one other time which ended in miscarriage. With that pregnancy, I followed all the rules: I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, stopped getting the light brown highlights I favor, didn’t even use nail polish on my toes lest the chemicals seep into my skin. I used all-natural shampoo and conditioner, stopped jogging, and took up prenatal yoga. I took my prenatal vitamins religiously, and avoided all the reccomended foods such as tuna fish, unpasteurized cheeses, and sliced deli meat. I miscarried at thirteen weeks, and felt devastated. I’d followed every rule my midwife recommended, and still, tragedy struck.

When I got pregnant for the second time with my son, I started out by again following all the rules. But everything changed when I booked a trip with my husband to California. The area surrounding Sonoma is wine country, and I found myself staying in a very quirky b&b by the ocean in the small town of Carmel. I was seven months pregnant, and enchanted by all the local vineyards and small, independent labels I read on the bar menu in our lobby. The name of the bed and breakfast was the Cypress Inn, run by the actress Doris Day. One is allowed to bring one’s dog, and the lobby bar, which has an open patio section with pretty white lights strung in the trees, showcases several of the inn’s dogs, as well as big Great Danes resting on beds by the roaring outdoor fireplace. A surreal, eartheal and beautiful scene, set by the ocean.

I guiltily fingered the bar menu, as my husband smiled at me. There was a quote by Humphrey Bogart on the cover, which read: “The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.” My gaze lingered over a local 2009 Chardonnay from the Heller Estate, a vineyard which we would later visit down the road from the hotel. “Why don’t you order a glass?” my husband asked. “One glass of wine would be fine for the baby, I know women who drink one a day while pregnant!”wine grapes

“I guess I’ll play a game of hide the belly under the table,” I answered sardonically when the waiter approached our table. I glanced furtively around, sure any moment someone from the Mom Police, aka our society in general would haul me away in handcuffs. My nervousness was unwarranted however, when I spotted a very famous and very pregnant actress three tables over. I gasped. She appeared to be drinking a glass of Pinot Noir, and looked relaxed and happy, laughing with friends. I’d just seen a movie she was in the week before we left on our trip. “Did you see?” I asked my husband. “I did!” he replied. Well. If a woman nominated for an Oscar could enjoy a glass of grape, so could I.

I just had the one glass of Chardonnay, but because it was one glass I enjoyed it more than I’d ever enjoyed wine before. Before the pregnancies, I was known to drink an entire bottle alone. This time, I learned to sip, and my one glass lasted the hour spent in that courtyard, trying not to ogle the actress. I tried a different glass from a different local vineyard each night of our vacation, and it turned out to be one of my favorite trips ever taken in my lifetime. After dealing with the heartache of miscarriage, I realized that I had to stop beating myself up. I’d followed all the rules doctors ask of pregnant women, and ended up without a baby. Part of me feels asking pregnant women not to drink a sip of wine throughout their entire nine months is another way of controlling women, which is what our society likes to do. There is definitely a very scary term called fetal alcohol syndrome, but I don’t believe one glass of wine enjoyed from time to time with dinner results in that sad diagnosis. I think my own miscarriage happened because not every pregnancy is meant to be, and I have to accept that we are human and therefore part of nature.

My son was born on a whip-cold night last winter, and he came out perfectly healthy at 7 pounds, 4 ounces. I’d never seen such a beautiful baby in my life. I hope our society eases up a little on the restraints for pregnant women, and that my fellow sisters no longer feel they have to play “hide the bump under the table” while out enjoying themselves at a restaurant or neighborhood bar. There’s always people who overdo it and I don’t condone that. But a nice, full-bodied glass of Chardonnay after a day filled with backaches, sore breasts, and bloated feet? That surely, we deserve.

Kate Rockland is the author of  150 Pounds, and Falling Is Like This. Kate lives in Hoboken, NJ with her husband, son, and cat, Elizabeth Taylor. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times. She weighs 150 pounds.

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Mother's Little Helper

by Patty Nasey

Life is different today/I hear everybody say

Mother needs something today to calm her down.

She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper

And it helps her on her way/Gets her through her busy day.

~Rolling Stones, 1967


Just in time for Mother’s Day, a California-based winery recently filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to declare that its MommyJuice Wine does not infringe on the trademark of rival vitner, Mommy’s Time Out.

 When it comes to wine, MommyJuice’s attorneys say, there’s no monopoly on the word ‘mommy.’

Both wines promise harried caregivers a respite from the demands of motherhood.  Mommy’s Time Out offers a “well-deserved break” although, judging by the picture on the label, this “break” involves sitting alone with a bottle in a corner. It looks like more of a punishment than a reward. The MommyJuice imagery is a little more inviting, featuring a cute cartoon of a mom with four arms, sitting in the lotus position while juggling a house, a computer, a spatula and a teddy bear.  The website offers a “gift set” with a bottle of wine and a baby onesie that says: “When I whine, Mommy wines.” And the copy on the label reads: “Being a mom is a constant juggling act, so tuck your kids into bed, sit down and have a glass of MommyJuice.”

“Sexist!!” was my first reaction to this latest development in the Mommy Wars.  I have plenty of male friends who suck on cigars while watching their kids, but I doubt they’d smoke a stogie called Daddy’s Binky or Papa’s Paci. Of course they wouldn’t!  So how is that not one but two vintners are fighting for the right to put Mommy on their label?  Maybe it’s because we really haven’t come such a long way, baby.  Our moms had Valium; we have MommyJuice.  Why not just call it Mother’s Little Helper and end the lawsuit.

“Why are you so angry about this?” a friend asked as I shouted from the top of my feminist soapbox.  Indeed, I had no problem
with National Mom’s Nite Out, a series that took place last night all across the country. But something about those mommy wines got me in a rage.  “You know,” she said, “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical.”

And then I remembered Veronica.*  She and I got married and pregnant around the same time. I watched in awe as Veronica transitioned gracefully and effortlessly into her new role as a wife and mother.  When my daughter was just 10 weeks old, I couldn’t wait to get back to the controlled environment of my office while Veronica stayed home, organized play groups (I used to send my nanny) and breast fed for a year.

My apartment looked like a war zone; Veronica’s was spotless. I bought Gerber’s baby food; Veronica mashed her own.  I was still carrying a few pounds of baby weight when I got pregnant with my second child; Veronica did Strollercize in Central Park every morning and looked better than before she was pregnant.  She was my go-to mom who could juggle it all like the lady on the MommyJuice label, while I felt like balls were dropping all around me.  And then her second child was born.  She started smoking again, the apartment got a little messier, the food took longer to make, it was harder for her to find time to exercise. After she weaned the baby, she started having a glass of wine once the kids went to sleep. Within two years, the glass at night had turned into a bottle; the cigarettes had become marijuana. The “I deserve a break” message she had told herself had insidiously evolved into “I can’t do this without a drink.”  And Mommy’s “time out” became an all-the-time habit.

When her kids were only 3 and 5, Veronica went to her first rehab. When her husband came alone to social events or playdates, he covered for her saying she was home taking a nap or feeling sick. I just assumed she was exhausted like the rest of us. She returned from rehab only to relapse within the year. She tried a second rehab where she met a recovering Crystal Meth addict. She relapsed again only this time she got hooked on Meth. After several failed attempts to get clean, she ended up leaving the country, granting her husband a divorce and giving up custody of her kids.

I bumped into her just before she moved away. She was almost unrecognizable — a fragile, hollow shell of her former beautiful self.  I had been so angry at her when I learned what had happened, but that day I  just hugged her as we stood on the sidewalk sobbing. Six years later, I still can’t look at her kids without breaking down and crying.

Of course, there are plenty of moms who can safely enjoy a “time out” with a glass or two of wine. and will celebrate on Sunday with a well-deserved drink. But seeing the word “Mommy” on not one, but two wine labels reminds me of my friend — and of the millions of women who won’t be spending Mother’s Day with their children as they battle the powerful disease of addiction. These mothers don’t need another “little helper.”  They need help. And on Mother’s Day and everyday, I hope and pray that they may find it.

*Names and minor details have been changed.


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We Want to Know: Would You Let Your Underage Teens Drink In Your House? How About Their Friends?

Today, I read yet another article about parents arrested for letting their underage teens drink in (or this case, outside) their house. This time, it was two moms, who admittedly, were intoxicated themselves when the police came and found 15 teenagers drinking in their yard and making noise. In her defense, one of the moms said something to the effect of, “I can’t control my kid. Can you control yours?” When the officer asked her why she didn’t call the police, she said that it was Homecoming, and drinking is what kids do on Homecoming.

When we did a poll here at Drinking Diaries, asking “Would You Let Your Underage Teen Drink In Your House?” the answers were evenly split between: “Yes, but only sips of wine or beer at the dinner table” and “Yes, I’d rather have my kids drink under my supervision than out of sight. At least I’ll know what my kids are doing, then.” Fewer people said they would not allow their kids to drink in the house.

Here’s the real question: If you’d be willing to let your kids drink in your house, would you be willing to let them share a few beers with friends? What if they had 5 friends over, and they wanted to drink? What if it were 10? When does letting your teen drink in your house morph into hosting an underage drinking party–for which you can get arrested.

We want to know: What are your thoughts about this controversial issue? Are you willing to risk breaking the law, or do you (or will you) follow it to the letter?



Laphroaig-QuarterCask-lgby Ann Hood

The first time I drank single malt whiskey, I was soaking wet and shivering on the isle of Skye. My then husband and I had been touring Scotland for a few weeks. We’d gone on a midnight Ghost Tour in Edinburgh, looked for the Loch Ness monster, and hiked the highest peak in the Highlands. But somehow we had not even tasted one wee dram of single malt.

Years earlier, I’d had a sip of a boyfriend’s Johnnie Walker and decided that would be my last drink of scotch. Turpentine came to mind when it burned its way down my throat. But for the past three days, Bob and I had been walking around Skye in a steady drizzle. The space heater in our B and B didn’t dry our clothes or warm our bones. By the afternoon that we walked into the local pub, it seemed that I might never be warm again. The bartender asked what we wanted. “Anything to take the chill away,” I said. He placed before me a glass of amber liquid. It smelled like smoke and curled its way around my tongue, instantly warming me.

That whiskey was Talisker, and although I became a fan, the price tag kept me from buying it very often back in the States. A dozen years later, I had a different husband, two children, and a better bank account. A bottle of Talisker or Laphroaig was almost always on my shelf.

In April, 2002, my five year old daughter Grace died suddenly from a virulent form of strep. One day she was twirling in her ballet class and the next day she lay dying in the ICU at our children’s hospital. In the days after she died, friends brought us food: lasagnas and stews, cookies and fruit, loaves of fresh bread. They brought bottles of wine too, the big ones. Sitting around our kitchen table, stunned, those bottles emptied every evening.

Sleep was impossible for me in those first weeks. The wine I drank each night managed to make me drowsy, but also had me waking up at three in the morning. The world always looks bleaker at 3 a.m., but when you are grieving, that bleakness takes on even deeper dimensions. I prowled the rooms of our house, as if I might find Grace there somewhere. The emptiness that greeted me in each room sent me into fresh waves of misery. Grief begs for anesthesia of some kind, anything to dull the pain and quiet the screams that threaten to emerge at any moment. Despite my desperate need to be numb, I realized that gulping too many glasses of Australian shiraz was actually making things worse.

The first night I stayed away from the wine, I didn’t sleep at all. Instead, I lay in bed, awake and alert, haunted by the time in the ICU and by images of my little girl dead. The wine had at least given me a few hours respite. The next night I took a few Benadryl. That knocked me out, but made it hard for me to wake up, and kept me fuzzy headed and cotton mouthed the entire next day.

When everyone gathered again at our kitchen table that night, I remembered our bottle of single malt and poured myself a good-sized amount. The thing about good whiskey is that it wants to be sipped, not gulped. My husband had some too, and soon all of us gathered there were sipping whiskey instead of wine. That night, I slept uninterrupted. Not the deep sleep that comes when your children are safe and alive in their beds; that particular sleep will perhaps always elude me now. But for many hours I slept fitfully, and woke to another day without Grace, clear headed and broken hearted.

I cannot say how long this ritual continued. Sometimes it seems that bottle of single malt was passed around our table for many long nights. Like other aspects of grief, one day I looked up and I was once again enjoying a glass of wine with my dinner. The single malt took up its residence on our shelf again, opened on chilly winter nights or special occasions.

My father kept a bottle of Jack Daniels in the liquor cabinet, beside dusty bottles of Drambuie and Crème de Menthe. That bottle came down on the Christmas night his brother died, on the cold January day when my grandmother died, and during the grief filled summer of 1982 when my brother Skip died. The sight of that square bottle with the black label used to make me tremble. It meant something terrible and irrevocable had happened. It meant my father, the person I relied on for strength and support, needed some himself. And now I have my own bottle, saved for those times when the force of grief returns. Grief, it chills me to the bone.

Ann Hood is the author of 8 novels, including the bestsellers The Knitting Circle and Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine; two memoirs and a collection of short stories. Her most recent memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, was a NY Times Editor’s Choice and one of the top 10 non-fiction books of 2009 by Entertainment Weekly. Her new novel, The Red Thread, was just published on May 1st.

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