Why can't I enjoy a glass (or three) of wine without the pregnancy police telling me I'm evil?By Clare O'reilly
Last updated at 11:32 PM on 15th December 2010
Now, what can I get you?’ asked my friend politely. ‘Tea? Coffee — decaf, of course? Or a soft drink?’
‘Actually, I’ll have a glass of the red, please,’ I replied and, instantly, the room took on a decidedly Arctic chill. After a long silence my friend looked at me quizzically, not sure if I was joking or not.
It wasn’t ten o’clock in the morning and neither was I a recovering alcoholic threatening to fall off the wagon. No, it was far worse than that… I was at a dinner party and I’m eight months pregnant.
Raising a glass: Clare is choosing to drink while pregnant
Although I felt a slight moral victory as I sipped my claret, I caught my husband Jon’s eye and we exchanged a knowing ‘we won’t be invited back here again’ look.
For the past eight months I’ve been breaking the biggest pregnancy taboo. I have been drinking alcohol since I got my little blue line on the home test and will do so until I give birth.
And before I’m reviled, hated and condemned as being a selfish woman who doesn’t care about the health of her unborn child, let’s have a grown-up conversation about it, shall we?
Because the reality is you’ll struggle to find anyone without a medical licence who knows more than me about drinking during pregnancy.
I’m a proud 31-year-old mother of two wonderfully healthy, happy, smart and mischievous boys — Eddie, six-and-three-quarters (he’d kill me if I didn’t include the three quarters), and Sammy, aged two.
I drank through each of their pregnancies, mostly one glass of wine in the evening after dinner but, sometimes — if it was a special occasion — I would have two or three over the course of a meal.
I’m not advocating that pregnant women get drunk, just that they be allowed to drink responsibly without any inciting hysteria.
I’ve read practically every piece of literature and study on the effects of drinking during pregnancy and have come to the educated conclusion that my alcohol intake during each of my three pregnancies has not adversely affected either of my two children and won’t affect my third, due next month.
Soft drinks only: Myleene Klass' agents were quick to deny she had been drinking alcohol when she was pictured with a wine glass at a party
But with so much misinformation and so many crossed wires out there it’s easy to see why my ill-informed hostess looked at me like I’d asked for crack cocaine, when all I’d wanted was a perfectly legal tipple.
A Google search of ‘drinking during pregnancy’ yields a staggering 4,220,000 results.
My first click takes me to a parenting website, which states: ‘Nobody knows for sure how much alcohol is safe for you to have while you’re pregnant. That’s why many experts advise that you should cut out alcohol throughout pregnancy to be on the safe side.’
Pardon me, but there’s plenty of research that points clearly to the fact that moderately drinking in pregnancy does no harm to the foetus.
In 2006, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists concluded there was no convincing evidence of adverse affects of prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels of alcohol consumption — moderate being 10.5 units or seven small glasses of wine a week.
Which means I can drink two glasses of wine with dinner at least three nights a week, or drink a glass or so a day, and do myself or my baby no harm.
Another study, carried out in October this year by University College London, monitored children over five years and concluded that light drinking in pregnancy does children ‘no long term harm’.
So, if it’s OK with you, I’ll take the advice of medical experts rather than a bunch of hysterical housewives on an internet forum.
Besides if we did everything to ‘be on the safe side’ we’d never leave the house in case we got hit by a bus. We’d never go on holiday in case the plane crashed and we’d never let our children play outside for fear of them being kidnapped.
But when a woman gets pregnant she becomes public property.
Take the middle-aged checkout woman in Sainsbury’s recently who trilled, ‘Not for you, I hope?’ as she scanned the two bottles of plonk in my weekly shop.
A terse ‘some of it will be’ silenced her. I know she meant well, but it’s none of her business.
Does she helpfully remind obese people that they shouldn’t be eating those doughnuts? I doubt it.
The feeling of being collared by the self-appointed ‘pregnancy police’ will be familiar to Caroline Williams from Hove, Sussex.
Last year, on a hot summer’s night, a six-months-pregnant Caroline thought she’d order a nice, cooling half pint of beer. The bar staff refused to serve her. When Caroline pointed out she was a paying customer and would like her beer, they threw her out. ‘I’m a respectable woman. I’ve never been thrown out of an establishment before in my life,’ said Caroline. ‘I felt so humiliated.’
No doubt the pubs that refuse to serve alcohol to pregnant women who will stop after one or two drinks will happily carry on pouring pints for those who have had a skinful.
The problem with the pregnancy police and my sanctimonious dinner guests is a lack of education, half-informed opinions and scaremongering.
Every mother who’s ever thought about drinking during pregnancy is aware of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome — a mental and physical disorder which permanently affects the central nervous system of the developing foetus.
There’s no cure and it’s caused by excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy — meaning a large intake of alcohol over a sustained period of time. We’re talking a bottle a day, not a bottle a week. No study has ever found a correlation between the diagnosis of the condition and light to moderate alcohol consumption in expectant mothers.
The studies used to scare us away from alcohol are all based on results from heavy drinkers and alcoholic mothers-to-be.
About 60 per cent of women drink during their pregnancy. Of these, 20 per cent will have babies affected by alcohol in some way
I’ve been fortunate enough to have all three doctors I’ve seen through each of my pregnancies tell me the truth; the current UK medical advice to abstain entirely comes from the medical profession’s distrust for the public.
In short, pregnant women aren’t trusted to know when light to moderate drinking stops and heavy drinking begins.
I could pretend that I drink during pregnancy to give my kids a higher IQ — one study found the children of mothers who drank moderately during pregnancy had a higher one than those that abstained.
But the truth is, I like wine. I like the taste of it. I like choosing the perfect one to complement what I’ve cooked. I like the cooling effect of a chilled white in the summer and the warming effect of a hearty glass of red in the winter.
I like the unwinding sociability that comes with a glass of wine and, until I’m shown conclusive evidence that my imbibing is harming my baby, I will enjoy a tipple whenever I fancy it — even if that strikes me off a few Christmas card lists.
My husband, Jon, has supported my choice to drink through my pregnancies — not least because he gets to finish whatever bottle I open.
But I have friends who have chosen to avoid me during pregnancy, as they ‘can’t bear’ to see me drink.
I find it depressing that Myleene Klass’s agent felt compelled to deny she was drinking after she was spotted at Piers Morgan’s CNN party recently with a wine glass in her hand at six months pregnant.
The pregnancy police were assured ‘it was 100 per cent Diet Coke’. Phew. Cancel that call to social services.
And when Gwyneth Paltrow dared to admit she was drinking Guinness and was spotted sipping red wine in 2006 while pregnant with her second child, Moses, she was lambasted.
All this hysteria does is encourage the evangelists who make pregnant women feel guilty about so much as sniffing a barmaid’s apron.
But I’m not a one-woman-campaign against the Temperance League, out to advise all expectant mums to crack open the Sancerre and put their feet up. Far from it.
I’d just like every mum to do their own research and come to their own — informed — conclusion.
So you may not feel like drinking during your pregnancy. That’s fine — I’m not standing in judgment. All I ask is that you afford me the same courtesy.