Preg­nant pause: should I stop drink­ing while I’m ex­pect­ing?

So­licit ad­vice from other mums and Dr Google and you’ll get any num­ber of wildly vary­ing opin­ions

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Family Motherhood - Tanya Sweeney Mammy-ish

Two days af­ter I found out I was preg­nant, I was sent on an all-ex­penses press trip to Las Vegas (I’m not even re­motely ashamed at this hu­mon­gous brag-bomb, by the way. These trips hap­pen around once a year; be­sides, I take them as a sort of cos­mic pay­back for short dead­lines and even shorter Twit­ter trolls).

This was the sort of trip where drinks are prof­fered reg­u­larly: it be­ing Vegas, drink­ing was pretty much sched­uled on the halfhour. Once I got to my air­craft seat, I was im­me­di­ately handed a glass of cham­pagne. Ev­ery­one else sat back, guz­zled away and set­tled down to a binge of Big Lit­tle Lies, but I found my­self at a whole new fork in the road. It’s to­tally con­ceiv­able that I might have found out I was preg­nant af­ter the trip, and what would a cou­ple of days make in the scheme of things?

I held the cham­pagne glass to my face, let­ting the bub­bles tickle my nose. And then some­thing very un­usual hap­pened. A sort of deep down, pri­mal feel­ing came out of nowhere. Guilt, I think it was. Hav­ing to think of some­one other than my­self, maybe. A small wave of pro­tec­tive­ness bub­bled in­side me. My first taste of some­thing vaguely ma­ter­nal. And so I switched to juice and watched avari­ciously as ev­ery­one else chose their own bot­tle of red wine for din­ner.

Reader, it was the long­est four-day jun­ket of my life. By day three, I had snapped dur­ing a cock­tail-mak­ing class. I fled to my room and sulked while I watched The Hand­maid’s Tale. Be among my own peo­ple and all that.

But thoughts soon turned to the win­dow of time in be­tween be­com­ing preg­nant and ac­tu­ally know­ing I was preg­nant. There were the few cel­e­bra­tory whiskies on the night of the Eighth Amend­ment ref­er­en­dum. The day of the royal wed­ding, where I spent noon un­til night ri­otously sloshed on Pimm’s and Pros­ecco at a friend’s house. The week­end in London, where I spent the day meet­ing sep­a­rate strands of friends for drinks.

Yet, many women will drink in the very early stages of preg­nancy, of­ten with­out know­ing they are ex­pect­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Pat O’Brien, a spokesper­son for the Royal Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists in the UK, al­co­hol con­sump­tion in those very first few weeks car­ries lit­tle to no risk. “It tends to have all or noth­ing ef­fect,” he is quoted as say­ing in the Daily Tele­graph. “It ei­ther tends to cause a mis­car­riage then and there. If it doesn’t, there tends to not be any ef­fect with an on­go­ing preg­nancy.”

He also notes that fe­tal al­co­hol syn­drome – a con­di­tion that causes devel­op­men­tal prob­lems and de­for­mi­ties for some chil­dren ex­posed to al­co­hol in the womb – is typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with women who drink heav­ily through­out their preg­nancy. It is be­lieved that 80 per cent of women in Ire­land and the UK drink some al­co­hol dur­ing their preg­nancy, whether or not to drink al­co­hol dur­ing preg­nancy has be­come a mas­sively con­tentious hot po­tato.

Life­style choices

There’s also some­thing vaguely pa­ter­nal­is­tic about the con­ver­sa­tion around al­co­hol and preg­nancy, as is very of­ten the case with ex­pec­tant mums and their life­style choices. For some rea­son, the world loves noth­ing more than to mon­i­tor women’s be­hav­iour in preg­nancy.

So­licit ad­vice from other mums, and you’re likely to come up against a num­ber of wildly vary­ing opin­ions. “I’d never do that,” noted one. “If any­thing went wrong with the baby, I’d only blame my­self.”

Said an­other: “I had one glass of high-qual­ity red wine on the week­end, mainly so I wouldn’t go mad.”

An­other quoted a very em­i­nent Ir­ish gy­nae­col­o­gist, who noted that “one gin and tonic a day” was fine, as it acted as a de-stresser.

While most health­care pro­fes­sion­als agree that an in­take of zero is the safest for a baby, you’ll find a study that will say other­wise if you spend enough time in the com­pany of Dr Google. A 2017 study by Bris­tol Univer­sity found the ef­fects of two glasses of wine a week was as­so­ci­ated with a 10 per cent in­creased risk of pre­ma­ture birth. An­other study car­ried out by psy­chol­o­gist Janni Ni­clasen at the Univer­sity of Copen­hagen posited that a glass or two of wine a week is not only con­sid­ered safe, it could help pro­duce hap­pier, more well-ad­justed chil­dren.

Me, I’m tak­ing the mid­dle road, and en­joy­ing a very oc­ca­sional glass of red wine at home (friends have re­ported ex­pe­ri­enc­ing var­i­ous cases of side-eye when they are spot­ted drink­ing even non-al­co­holic beer in a pub).

I know I’m in­cred­i­bly for­tu­nate to be able to say that not drink­ing has be­come one of the hard­est parts of this preg­nancy. But the truth is that af­ter 20 years of car­ry­ing on to my lik­ing, and so­cial­is­ing four or five times a week, it has been a huge ad­just­ment. Worse, I went sober dur­ing our glo­ri­ous heat­wave, when all I wanted was to horse into a crisp bot­tle of white wine.

I doubt I’ll ever be one of those women who cheer­fully takes the per­sonal sac­ri­fices in­volved in preg­nancy on the chin. But nurs­ing cran­berry juice in the pub, be­ing around hearty drinkers, try­ing to find an­other way to blot out bad feel­ings – I won’t lie, all of it has been a strug­gle (first trimester tired­ness of­ten negates the perks of a han­gover-free week).

Above all else, it’s as sure a sign as any that life as I’ve known it is slowly but in­ex­orably eb­bing away. A new, dif­fer­ent type of life is just vis­i­ble on the hori­zon.

Drier, but one, hope­fully, with a dif­fer­ent type of ad­ven­ture in­volved.


Tanya Sweeney: “It’s as sure a sign as any that life as I’ve known it is slowly but in­ex­orably eb­bing away. A new, dif­fer­ent type of life is just vis­i­ble on the hori­zon.”

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