I sat at the bar in my little off-white sundress, a big bow right under my bust and straps that were just thick enough to hide the bra holding up my engorged boobs. My wedding day was finally here. I looked down at my left hand to see my wedding band, while my right hand held a wine glass filled with chardonnay. I brought it to my lips. It was cool, refreshing and sweet, just what I needed at that moment.
Then I felt it: those sweet little baby kicks inside my growing belly. I was seven months pregnant, but didn't look it. I patted my stomach and smiled as my new husband walked towards me with another glass of wine, courtesy of a couple sitting nearby. They wanted to wish the new couple a happy marriage.
Were those the only glasses of wine I had during my pregnancy? No. I had a few drinks every once in a while during both of my pregnancies — and I'm happy to report that both of my kids turned out perfectly fine.
Of course you're probably thinking: why would a mom-to-be want to drink during her pregnancy? I'm not a vicious person out to drown my child-to-be in alcohol on a daily basis. But I am human, and I like an occasional drink to unwind from time to time, especially during a time in my life when I was uncomfortable all the time and when my mind was racing a million miles an hour. So I chose to have a glass of something that helped to calm my nerves and loosen me up a bit.
Almost everyone in my life was supportive of my decision to drink occasionally during my pregnancy. (Which is not that surprising, considering nearly one in 10 women drink alcohol while they're pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control.) In fact, I don't think I can remember one get-together with friends or family when I didn't have a few "eh, just have a glass of wine, you'll feel better" comments thrown my way. It just wasn't seen as a big deal. My midwife felt the same way. She told me that it was fine to have a drink here and there, though she didn't go so far as to recommend that I go home and down a bottle of wine in one sitting.
I don't think there's a damn thing wrong with drinking the occasional glass of wine during pregnancy.
The official stance of most doctors, as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), however, is that women should avoid drinking any alcohol during pregnancy, because there isn't enough research to prove that it's OK in even small amounts. The American Academy of Pediatrics supports this, stating: “There is no safe amount of alcohol when a woman is pregnant. Evidence-based research has found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, or sudden infant death syndrome.”
With statements like these, it's hard to back up my belief that I don't think there's a damn thing wrong with drinking the occasional glass of wine during pregnancy, except for the fact that I do have two healthy babies in my arms. But as long as you aren’t overdoing it and drinking multiple drinks on a daily basis, I happen to think it's totally OK.
I'm well aware that drinking excessively during pregnancy carries with it an increased risk of developing fetal alcohol syndrome, which can cause, among other things, birth defects and emotional difficulties. But I also think these risks have been vastly overstated, and I'm not alone in this regard.
In an article for Cosmopolitan, Michelle Ruiz wrote that according to a CDC study, she's one of a handful of "college-educated, employed women in their late 30s" who "are more likely to 'non-binge' drink — a few drinks per week — during pregnancy than any other group." And in her book Expecting Better, Dr. Emily Oster argued that there's scant evidence that light or occasional drinking has detrimental effects during pregnancy, and that there are plenty of studies of mothers in Europe who imbibe occasionally to back this up.
"Pregnant women are clamoring for better information about everything from exercise to hair dye to bed rest and delivery," she wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2013. "They don't want categorical limits based on fuzzy science and half-baked research. They want to assess risks for themselves and make their own best decisions."
I also feel like I have a unique perspective on the issue, in light of the fact that I grew up with a mom who worked as a nurse and cared for premature babies. Many of these babies were delivered by mothers who were dealing with drug or alcohol addictions (sometimes both); in many cases, the mothers were sent straight to rehab after delivering. I remember asking my mom about the babies: were any of them sick? Born addicted? She shared with me that in all her twenty or so years working there, she had only seen a handful of babies born in that state. After seeing firsthand all the mothers who dealt with legitimate substance abuse issues, I figured that if I had a glass of wine a few times a month during pregnancy, I probably wouldn't harm my growing baby.
Based on the ACOG and AAP recommendations, I get why some moms would choose to adhere to current medical guidelines and abstain from drinking during pregnancy, and I respect their decision to do so. But I’m also an adult capable of forming my own opinion, which is based on both my own experience with pregnancy and the pregnancies of my loved ones. My sister, mom and aunts, for instance, enjoyed a glass of wine every once in a while while they were pregnant, as a way to unwind and relax during a time in their lives when it's very hard to do those things. They weren’t drinking every day — or even every week, for that matter — but every single baby was born happy and healthy.
Unfortunately, there's still a lack of firm consensus in the United States in particular as to whether or not the occasional glass of wine is OK during pregnancy. When I asked my midwife about it,she gave me a very confident, "It's definitely alright to have a drink from time to time. Minimal, occasional alcohol isn't a big deal."
But this isn't always the belief of everyone in the healthcare field — or, at least, that's not what healthcare professionals say in order to protect themselves from liability. Chandra Adams, OBGYN and the owner of the OBGYN practice Full Circle Women's Care in Jacksonville, Fla., told Romper, "There are so many unknowns that the official answer has to be 'no.' Because we don't know why some people can drink a lot and have unaffected pregnancies, and others can drink small amounts and have babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, we can't say how much is OK."
I can't speak for any other mother, but I can say that I feel fortunate enough to have two perfectly healthy children. Thinking back, those few drinks that I downed while I was pregnant with them felt much needed at the time, and there are zero regrets on my end. Sometimes, a mom-to-be just needs a drink.
Overall, I wish there was more transparency when it came to women having these types of conversations with their doctors. There are so many things that a woman is told that she should or shouldn't do during her pregnancy — don't drink, don't eat soft cheeses, don't have deli meats. Instead of leaving these decisions to the patients themselves, doctors are advising them to steer clear of them altogether, even though we are all ostensibly adults who understand risks and can make decisions accordingly.
Pregnancy should be a happy time when we are learning to become more confident in our mothering skills. The last thing we need is to constantly feel fearful or ashamed that we may or may not be doing something wrong. By having a glass of wine — OK, two – at my wedding, I am confident that I did nothing that I should feel ashamed of — and when I look at my two healthy children, I know for sure that is true.