The Light Drinkers

I’m busy reading Annie Murphy Paul’s book Origins and it presents some pretty interesting stats, especially about drinking during pregnancy.

She does not condone it (and didn’t touch a drop during either of her pregnancies), but mentions a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that found that a pregnant woman’s light drinking causes no developmental harm to her fetus. Light drinking, for the purposes of the study, was defined as no more than one or two drinks a week.

The children of mothers who drank lightly while they were pregnant were tested against the children of mothers who abstained while they were pregnant, all at age 5. Not only did the Light Drinkers’ children do no worse on cognitive tests than the Abstaining Mothers, they actually did better on some of the tests (including naming vocabulary and pattern construction).

The Light Drinkers’ kids were also found to be about 30% less likely to have behavioural problems than the Abstainers’ kids, particularly in the case of boys.

But the most interesting thing for me about the study is that, once researchers adjusted for differences in maternal income and education, the results were a lot less impressive. This is because pregnant Light Drinkers tend to be more affluent, better educated, and generally more successful than pregnant Abstainers. Who knew?

So my wanting a glass of wine every now and then is probably because I went to private schools and a good university, earn an acceptable salary, and am pursuing a career. Right? Just kidding. Don’t shout at me.

[Note: in Murphy’s book, she also quotes a study that found that in a group of alcoholics who drank heavily while pregnant, about 70% of the poorer women’s babies were diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. Only 4.5% of the wealthy alcoholics’ kids were diagnosed with it. I can’t find anything online to corroborate this, but I do find it intriguing. Murphy reckons this is because of the women’s nutrition while pregnant more than anything else, but I’m sure it’s because the wealthy alcoholics were drinking loads of Pinot Noir and Absolut vodka instead of papsak and Russian Bear.]


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