Why Drinking Alcohol while Pregnant is a Potentially Lethal Game of Chance
DR GINNI Mansberg, a well-known Australian GP, has some sobering words for pregnant women who enjoy the occasional glass of wine.
“All the mums who say, ‘Oh well, it is just one drink.’ would you give just one drink to your baby when it is born?” asks Dr. Mansberg. “You wouldn’t. You would think any woman who gave her baby a couple of chardies when it is two months old was completely insane. But why is it different to give your baby a couple of chardies when it is in the womb?”
Her comments come after a recent study revealed that 40 per cent of Australian women drink alcohol throughout their pregnancy.
While most people accept that heavy drinking and binge drinking can harm your unborn baby, there seems to be confusion around the effects of low-level drinking. Many women, and even some health professionals believe it is safe to have one or two glasses of alcohol a week even though there is no research to support this.
Rachel Denim*, 35-year-old mother of two, had one glass of wine a week throughout her two pregnancies. She felt confident she was not harming her unborn babies, as she was under the belief that less than seven standard drinks a week was safe.
“I really enjoy a glass of wine, and I am not convinced that one or two standard drinks a week would do any harm, so abstaining wasn’t really something I ever considered,” says Rachel. “If the evidence against any alcohol in pregnancy was stronger, like it is for smoking, then perhaps I would have a different opinion.”
Larissa Graham* is another mum who drunk one glass of wine a week throughout pregnancy because she came to the conclusion it was safe. The 28-year-old says once a week she treated herself to a glass of wine with dinner to relax.
“I’m sure one [glass of alcohol] wouldn’t harm bub [sic],” says Larissa. “But if someone advertised that drinking a small amount was safe, then many more [pregnant women] may drink a lot more than they would have otherwise.”
But despite their beliefs that drinking low amounts of alcohol throughout pregnancy is safe, there is research to suggest otherwise. In November 2012 a study was released that indicated even drinking small amounts of alcohol, (between one and six glasses a week) was enough to affect a child’s IQ.
“Our results suggest that even at [low] levels of alcohol consumption, which are normally considered to be harmless, we can detect differences in childhood IQ, which are dependent on the ability of the foetus to clear this alcohol,” said Dr Sarah Lewis, the main author of the report. “This is evidence that even at these moderate levels, alcohol is influencing foetal brain development.”
Dr Ginni Mansberg explains that drinking throughout pregnancy is like playing Russian roulette with your unborn baby’s health.
She explains when you are pregnant the concentration of alcohol in the amniotic fluid is actually higher than the concentration of alcohol in your blood.
And if you consume any alcohol throughout pregnancy you run the risk of your baby being affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome include abnormal appearances, short height, low body weight, small head, poor coordination, low intelligence, behaviour problems and problems with hearing or seeing. While excessive drinking has been linked to the more severe symptoms like abnormal appearances, lower levels of drinking have been linked to less obvious symptoms such as lower IQ.
“What if you have just taken [your child] away from [being] a really gifted kid and made them pretty average or just struggling?” says Dr. Mansberg. “What if their destiny had they not had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome been to be a really bright kid keeping up and now [they are] really [struggling]. Not enough to be impaired but enough so they will never have the success that you had — just think about that for your children.”
Even Dr. Ginni Mansberg says it is not about judging women, it is just about making sure women understand the risks of consuming any amount of alcohol throughout pregnancy — because there is no known safe level.
*Names have been changed.