By Leah Devorak | Layout Editor
“If I have a patient that asks me about using alcohol during pregnancy, I say, ‘Why take the chance?’”
While this is what Dr. Jill Hasenberg of Prevea Family Health told The Chippewa Herald, it could have come out of any reasonable doctor’s mouth. After all, because of what modern science has shown regarding drinking while pregnant, professionals would seem quite unqualified to advise otherwise.
But such sound advice is unfortunately not enough to stop some women from consuming the toxin while pregnant.
According to a Sept. 24 study by the Centers for Disease Control, more than one in 10 pregnant women have admitted to drinking alcohol within the last month. The study also found that within that same span, one in 33 had at least one episode of binge-drinking, which the CDC defines as four or more drinks in one sitting.
With doctors warning for decades that abstaining from drinking is the only way to ensure a child does not get a fetal alcohol spectrum disease – what the CDC defines as any part of the range of effects that can happen to a baby when the mother drinks during pregnancy – it’s hard to believe that so many women would still be taking such an outdated risk.
But the fact that U.S. health officials have set a goal of lowering the number of pregnant women who drink to 2 percent, as well as eliminating all binge-drinking before the year 2020, as the LA Times reports, shows that the problem might not be as antiquated as was thought.
With various studies now hinting that there could be no effect – or even positive ones – on fetus health when drinking carefully outside of the first trimester, it’s no wonder why some women aren’t giving up their bit of nightly fun just because there’s a little one on the way.
Emily Oster, associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago and author of “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong,” proudly admits in an article for Slate that she drank during her pregnancy and sees nothing wrong with it.
“Because you might enjoy the occasional beer, it seems worth at least asking the question about the risks,” Oster says.
Her opinion is based off her obstetrician’s words that drinking every now and then while pregnant cannot harm the baby. She also did her own research into the subject, finding many studies that showed positive effects on children whose mothers drank, such as a higher IQ score.
“Based on this data, many women may feel comfortable with an occasional glass of wine – even up to one a day – in later trimesters,” Oster says. “The value of the data is not that it leads us all to the same choice, just that it introduces a concrete way to make that choice.”
While Oster has a point regarding the freedom to choose, it’s hard to just disregard whether or not that choice is actually worth it.
Oster points out that drinking while pregnant is just as detrimental as any other activity a pregnant woman can do, such as driving a car or going on vacation. While she doesn’t explicitly state it, she clearly means here that anything in the world can hurt something as fragile as a fetus, so why not have a drink, too?
But what she – as well as all other pregnant women who drink – fails to realize is that there’s a huge difference between the risks of average behavior and those of drinking.
If something tragic happens while driving around town or getting a tan on the beach, chances are it’s going to completely kill the fetus. While this is heartbreaking since the child never gets the chance to live out life, at least it also doubles as the blessing of never having to suffer.
That same duality, however, is not afforded with the risks of drinking, and that’s because the fetus is still alive.
When constantly exposed to alcohol, the developing child is more likely to experience disorders in mental development and physical disfiguration than death, as the CDC reports. This means a perfectly healthy mother very well may give birth to a permanently deformed baby that can – in complete contrast to the accident victim – never escape suffering.
Sure, this isn’t a guaranteed outcome, but the fact that it’s even somewhat possible should be enough to make a mother put down her cup for a few months, just in case. Unless she is a struggling alcoholic, the thought of having a little drink should not warrant more consideration than eliminating any easily preventable misery from her child’s life.