Thursday, 7 October 2010

Another opportunity for body policing lost

Cross posted

When I was pregnant, I was very careful about how much alcohol I drank. From vague recollection, I think I had a couple of half glasses of wine during my first pregnancy, and maybe three during my second one. Except for the full glass of wine I had on my midwife's recommendation on the dark and stormy night when my waters broke, but nothing else was happening to indicate that labour might be starting. Seriously, it was a dark and story night: according to the midwife the air pressure may have caused my waters to break.

I didn't exactly feel guilty about it, but I was faintly worried, and I had to talk myself through the worries. I had completely absorbed the "DO NOT DRINK DURING PREGNANCY" mantra.

Each time, I was worried that someone would tell me off (except for that glass of wine on the dark and stormy night). The excellent Blue Milk has an excellent post on policing women who drink from time to time during pregnancy: Compare and contrast. And see also Lauredhel's post at Hoyden about Town: Bad science on booze in pregnancy: Women infantilised with absolutist messages.

But it turns out that there is no evidence to suggest that women who have one or two drinks a week during pregnancy do any harm to their babies whatsoever.

Light drinking during pregnancy fine - study

Women who have one or two alcoholic drinks a week during pregnancy do not harm their children's behavioural or intellectual development, according to a new study.

The British researchers found that pregnant women who drank up to a glass (175 millilitres) of wine, up to 50 ml of spirits or just under a pint of beer a week did not affect their children.

What are the pregnancy police going to do now?

Previous posts:
Firing up the baby machines
Because it's always better to police women


Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the 'safe' amount of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy is unknown, hence the advice to consume none. Better safe than sorry...

But I take your point that women are made to feel guilty over so many things.

I recently had a miscarriage and the doctor assured me that it wasn't caused by me not taking folic acid before I knew I was pregnant. Well, it had never occurred to me that it was my fault! But there you go, the doctor assumed I might be feeling guilty about it because educated middle class women feel guilty about everything, it seems.

Deborah said...

As it turns out, your understanding is wrong. Do check out the article I've linked to, and check out Lauredhel's post that I've linked to. And with respect to middle class guilt - Blue Milk is a great antidote to that.

Scuba Nurse said...

I think that they have established that fetal alcohol syndrome exists, but not when the baby is effected, and therefore advocate total abstinance.
The issue is when people with no qualifications, no real vested interest, and no business telling Mum what do do get all judgey with it.
I get just as big a cringe factor by hearing about mums trying chiropractory as them drinking from a bottle of whiskey, but it is none of my damn business.
end of rant.

Alison said...

I am cheering for this study. It has made me supremely uncomfortable to be expected to churn out the line that "we don't know whether any alcohol is safe and therefore you shouldn't drink". I couldn't stand that until now no-one could be bothered to do the research for women. Unfortunately I strongly suspect that the need to police pregnant women in our society is so strong that even a brilliant study as this one appears to be is going to take a long time to be widely accepted.

tussock said...

Y'all know alcoholics have no idea how much they drink, eh. Public health messages aren't really targeted at deeply responsible and self-aware people.

Random Lurker said...

"any harm to their babies whatsoever"

Extraordinary conclusion. The study claims no such thing.

You would need to limit your conclusion to the outcomes that the study looked into, and also to European women. The claim would be that if there are any effects, they are too subtle to be discovered by a study such as this. You may also want to look at whether the results of the study apply irrespective of socioeconomic status.

Alison said...

@tussock, these messages are not aimed at alcoholics; nearly every maternity carer in NZ hands out the Ministry of Health's recommendations for healthy eating in pregnancy, which make the statement;
"Alcohol, even in small amounts, will enter the baby’s bloodstream, so whatever the mother drinks, the baby is having too. Alcohol could affect the development of your baby, especially of its brain"
and "it is best not to drink in pregnancy," the latter without *any* research evidence.

Having had a quick look at the new study (rather than the media reports of that study) it appears methodologically very strong. I really *really* hope the MoH and other parties will recognise its validity and show respect for women's ability to monitor their own alcohol intakes.

Alison said...

@Random Lurker. They have indeed adjusted for SE status, and many other factors besides, including parental education, parenting competence and more. The study tested children using a validated measure of cognitive and behavioural function over five years. It is also not specific to "European women" as far as I can see.

katy said...

I am not sure if the methodology of the study is actually that compelling. How has it been triangulated beyond the retrospective questionnaire??

The way to more convincingly test whether light drinking during pregnancy is harmless would be to carry out a trial where one randomly assigned group of pregnant mothers was given alcohol "once or twice a week" and the control group wasn't given any.