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11.29.2006

More about Wine and Pregnancy

Drinking while pregnant is a touchy subject no matter how you approach it. Most Americans, understandably, seem to be unable to approach any discussion of it without the strong moralistic bias that underlies so much of our culture. While the majority's point of view on the subject is morally driven, the righteousness of the "common sense" on the issue comes not from some religious conviction, but from an unconsidered, yet zealous acceptance of supposed scientific evidence. In short, everyone knows that "it's dangerous to drink while pregnant because it leads to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and birth defects."

Yet, like so many things that are "common sense" in our culture, this accepted wisdom, is only barely true, as today's article in the New York Times discusses.

Now I've addressed the subject of wine and pregnancy here before on Vinography. And the discussion which ensued was a perfect example of how strongly people feel about this subject.

One of the great things about the Times article is how well it sets out the conflicting points of view. On the one hand, we have folks who point to the experiential evidence of, essentially, the whole nation of France, where women regularly drink and smoke through their pregnancies with statistically no higher rate of FAS than in the US. On the other hand we have the warning labels on bottles of wine, and the strident insistence of many that there are scientific studies which prove that drinking during pregnancy is dangerous to the fetus.

In my opinion the supposed "scientific facts" which are behind everyone's default point of view on the subject don't support the notion that drinking while pregnant is dangerous. Oh sure, there is scientific evidence relating to alcohol and pregnancy, but scientifically it only proves two things:

1. heavy drinking while pregnant is dangerous for every normal person
2. for those with a history of alcoholism, any drinking may be dangerous during pregnancy

As the Times article, as well as the article cited in my previous post on the subject relate, there are no studies which show any increased likelihood of FAS or birth defects in healthy women who occasionally consume alcohol in small quantities during pregnancy. Of course, this doesn't stop anyone from sermonizing about the dangers. Which really has led to a culture of fear in the US.

Thankfully, reports from several of the friends I have who recently had children show that doctors are increasingly not buying the hysteria and are giving sensible advice. For most of my friends, that has amounted to "an occasional single glass of wine with a meal is perfectly fine."

Which is why any pregnant woman who eats at my house gets a wine glass at her table setting. But of course, I live in America, so I'm now forced to say that everything you've just read is my opinion only, and doesn't constitute medical advice, and you should talk to your doctor before eating or drinking anything during pregnancy which might affect your health or the health of your baby.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud