During her pregnancy, Connie Sievers frequently enjoyed a glass of red wine. "Probably as often as every weekend, if we had an event or party to attend," says Sievers, an Ohio mom of one. Her son is now five years old and healthy. "I was encouraged by a friend from France, who said that French women drink red wine during pregnancy to keep them relaxed. My relatives also weren't shocked—the older adults had been told by their doctors that drinking red wine during pregnancy was OK."
Many moderate drinkers may have similar stories. But is the advice they've been given about the safety of alcohol in pregnancy accurate—or are they just incredibly lucky?
Probably the latter, says Dr. Mark Mengel, MD, MPH, chair of community and family medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "As much as all of us would like for there to be, there doesn't seem to be a safe threshold for alcohol consumption in pregnancy."
"Generally I think most women know that a large amount of drinking is not good for the baby, but they may not think that they really drink 'a large amount'," adds Dr. Mavis Schorn, CNM, director of the nurse-midwifery program at Vanderbilt University. "Somehow it has become accepted that a small amount really doesn't hurt."
How Much is too Much?
The truth is, no one knows exactly how much alcohol a pregnant woman can consume safely. What is known is that drinking during pregnancy can cause physical and mental birth defects. Most severe is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). People born with FAS suffer from problems such growth deficiencies, facial deformities, and learning disabilities. According to the March of Dimes, FAS is one of the most common known causes of mental retardation.