Unscientific advice, and knowing when to say “sod that”

A very lovely woman sent me the link to the best article on pregnancy I have ever read. It trumps all of the three (and counting) pregnancy books I’ve got and makes me feel like I’m in good company as a pregnant person who isn’t blindly accepting the many old-wives-tale-type/culturally-trendy/barely-researched-and-hardly-scientific pieces of medical advice she’s offered.

It’s written by Zoe Williams, a candid, currently-pregnant Guardian writer who is frustrated with the conflicting advice she’s got from medical professionals, and the patronising “just to be on the safe side” guidance pregnancy books offer.

“Amid the barrage of advice,” she writes, “what should you take seriously, and what can you ignore? What’s right, and what’s just scary nonsense? I decided to do some research on the subject, rather than just taking the government’s word for it.”

Hoorah! Yay for Zoe, and yay for me! A properly, journalistically researched, non-politically-motivated, unpatronising article on the dietary and lifestyle limitations of knocked-up females (in contrast to almost everything else, which basically reads as, “Gaaaah! No soft cheese for you – you have a baby in your belly! Never mind that millions of Greek women eat feta cheese during pregnancy! Who are you to presume that this kind of advice has scientific backing?! Stop thinking so much! You’re pregnant! You have to listen to everything you hear because otherwise we’ll all know you don’t really care about your baby! Gasp!”).

Here’s an extract on the increasingly fervent abstinence-from-drinking campaigns in the UK, aimed at pregnant women:

“All this despite the fact that a study in 2006 by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology concluded that there was no convincing evidence of adverse effects of prenatal alcohol exposure at low to moderate levels, where moderate was defined as 10.5 units per week (but, the study author Dr Robert Fraser reminds us, not at one sitting, obviously).

Physiologically and sociologically, it just does not make sense that small amounts of alcohol are bad for you when pregnant. As Dr Eric Jauniaux, professor of obstetrics and foetal medicine at the Royal Free hospital in London, points out: “Alcohol is mainly metabolised by the liver, and only what’s left will be met by the placenta. The amount that could reach the foetus in a glass of beer or a glass of wine is negligible. I would be much more concerned with breastfeeding and drinking.” Jauniaux, incidentally, has been studying transfer through the placenta for the past 20 years, is one of the leading national experts on the matter and yet is never quoted in connection with any of the scare stories you read on alcohol and unborn babies. And sociologically, of course, Jauniaux reminds us: “How long have people been drinking wine or beer, thousands of years?”

Many of our mothers drank during pregnancy, and while this may not be very scientific, the lack of alcohol-related brain damage in our generation should militate against blank credulity when you are told not to touch a drop.”

What I love about this is the appeal to our common sense and to basic biology. I have been told that “alcohol crosses the placenta!” and I immediately pictured a single sip of beer going straight to my bump, seeping through the placenta, and going directly to The Turnip, soaking her skin and brain and tiny heart in booze. The scariness of that image was enough to put me off completely. But in the back of my mind, I knew there was something physiologically wrong with it.

The article also touches on listeria hysteria (the feta cheese thing) and other frightening urban-legend-esque horror stories peddled both by people who know *nothing* about pregnancy and by those who purport to be experts.

Go on – read the full thing if you care about science and research and accurate versions of the truth. Or if you’ve ever frowned at a pregnant person for having a glass of wine.

[Note: In the last four months, I’ve had about three sips of Dylan’s beers, half a glass of red wine, and half a flute of champagne. I haven’t missed alcohol at all, and haven’t really felt like drinking. But when next I do, I’m making myself a beer shandy.]

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Ian

     /  November 10, 2011

    Dig your article. My sisters pregnant and when I saw her having half a glass of wine I freaked out. My point is still this though.. I drink because I like the feeling after 2 beers or a glass of wine and if you only having half a glass or a sip then why poison your body at all??? What’s the point? You drink every other time so if not for your baby then give yourself a break from alcohol.

    Reply
    • Glad you liked it, Ian. 🙂

      It amazes me how often it’s the dudes that get upset when they see a pregnant woman drinking – and usually it’s not the father of the baby (presumably because the couple have discussed what is and isn’t ok before the woman goes out drinking in public). Obviously with your sister you have a vested interest in the health of her baby, but not more than she does. People trust women to take care of themselves ordinarily, but as soon as there’s a baby involved, suddenly they are not to be trusted, and the protective paternal/patriarchal instinct kicks in. It can’t be helped – it’s not a logical or rational reaction.

      I guess the reason I haven’t really drunk at all since getting pregnant is that I know I won’t be able to drink enough to get a buzz on, so there’s not much point. The only thing that makes me want a beer or a glass of wine is sheer boredom with the alternatives. Soft drinks are too sweet, as is fruit juice – and I still want to feel like I’m an adult, enjoying a drink after work or with dinner. Rock shandies seem to be doing the trick for the moment. And sparkling water out of a wine glass.

      Reply

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