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What to suspect when you’re expecting

By Alice Bradley

The New York Times broke the news this week: despite all the warnings against it, pregnant women have been known to sometimes enjoy a glass of beer or wine.

Anyone who lives in the world knows this, although some people believe it’s their job to give the stink-eye to any woman with a bump who dares sip a Guinness. Of course, how are these people to know if it’s that pregnant woman’s first Guinness or her sixth? Then again, if it’s her sixth, can she even see the stink-eye?

Although most doctors can agree that the occasional drink (or maybe two!) is probably okay, no one’s ready to put that on bottles. Because no one really, truly knows. Studies such as this one show that prenatal alcohol exposure does indeed have a negative effect, but it doesn’t say how much alcohol exposure. It depends on your body weight and your metabolism, and that means it’s up to the individual to determine how much alcohol is okay. And public-health advocates don’t trust the individual, so as a result we get stern warnings and stink-eyes, and women wonder if they should trust warnings at all.

After all, the list of Terrible Things That Will Harm Baby grows every day. And after a while it’s hard to discern between what you truly should avoid (Paxil, apparently) and what they’re just tossing in to the do-not-use bin for the hell of it. For instance: Benzoyl Peroxide? This article warns against using Retin-A during pregnancy, providing a coherent reason, okay, affects your DNA, got it, and then adds a footnote: also avoid benzoyl peroxide. No reason. Just don’t. The end. For me and my spotty sisters, many of whom face dermatological challenges during pregnancy, this is cruel. I’m glad I didn’t know this when I was pregnant and liberally applying Clearasil to my hormone-riddled face. (So far my son seems unscathed. But I’ll keep on eye on him.)

I’m fairly certain there’s a vast conspiracy going on to deprive pregnant women of all the remaining joy in their lives. Antidepressants? Bad for baby! Alcohol? Bad! Bad skin? Good! A recent study showed that a mild amount of anxiety in the mother is good for the baby. Of course this is good news for neurotic nutjobs like myself, but it smacks of some kind of puritanical conspiracy, does it not? “Suffering is good. The baby likes it. That beer you’re sipping to unwind is lowering the baby’s IQ! Now put it down, and get to fretting!” I imagine the research lab that came out with this finding getting their directive from some secret government agency. “Here are your results. When pregnant women are unhappy, it’s good for the baby. Other things that we’re going to make pregnant women forego are, let’s see [shuffling papers], phone calls to friends, back rubs, and “What Not to Wear” marathons. Don’t break that news all at once, though. Space it out.
As a tonic to all this hand-wringing, we have our parents’ generation, who enjoy nothing more than regaling us with tales of their all-night partying while we were still in the womb. “I had to have my Virgina Slims when I was pregnant,” they croak, reaching for the Scotch. “Kept my weight down. And look how you turned out.”

On the other hand, maybe we should heed the warnings.

Published December 1, 2006. Last updated October 28, 2017.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Scout's Honor

    December 1, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Okay, call me guilty. There arose a few occasions during my pregnancy where I had a glass of champagne or wine to celebrate. So far, kidlets are out of the park in academics, so I think we are okay…unless they turn into serial killers!
    That said, my biggest fret is the amount of drinking I did in the first month of my pregnancy when I DIDN’T know that I was pregnant. Can we say party binge?
    So do we get credit for after the fact, after delivery, anxiety? That has to count for something, eh? Partial credit?
    I do know my mother-in-law ingested lots of alcohol during breastfeeding. She said my husband once slept for three days straight after she was introduced to martinis at a cocktail party. Maybe that’s why he sometimes clearly does not speak the same language as I do? Hmmm.

  • Mauigirl52

    December 1, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Agree – I hate it when they say to avoid something (like benzoyl peroxide) but don’t say why. It’s like the complex cryptic instructions that come with your prescription medicine (hereafter known as Drug A): “Please notify your doctor if you are also taking…” (fill in any prescription medicine of your choice here, which we will call Drug B). Doesn’t say why. Nothing on the Internet can be found showing an interaction between Drug A and Drug B. A call to the doctor reveals that he or she has no freakin’ idea why the instructions say this and can’t think of a reason not to take the two drugs together. So why do they put these things in the instructions??? It’s like they want to make you nervous.
    Speaking of making people nervous, does it occur to the folks doing the study that found the babies of people who were mildly anxious during pregnancy of being more advanced, that perhaps more highly intelligent people tend to worry more during pregnancy (since they know more about what could go wrong), and genetically their children would tend to be more advanced anyway? I’ll need to ready that study in more detail…

  • susan

    December 1, 2006 at 1:57 pm

    one of my last doctor visits before my daughter was born was the day before I was going to a friend’s wedding at a winery. I mentioned this at my appoitment and my midwife gushed about how nice that particular winery was while I lamented the fact that I couldn’t enjoy the wine. she assured me that I could have a glass or two with no ill effects. tempted as I was, I decided to refrain – not because I didn’t believe her, but because I’d be surrounded by my parents and family friends who would no doubt chastise me for years to come. and that was something I just wasn’t willing to put up with. 🙂

  • Amy at Fannfare

    December 1, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    I do miss my Effexor during this pregnancy. I’ve missed the beer(s) since I drank enough for a small independent nation after my first was born, but that’s my fault! I don’t think I would have been grandfathered in to any new research.
    Cheers, Alice! Thanks always for the laugh.

  • lizpenn

    December 1, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    alice, i’m so glad you addressed this article! (and as a longtime finslippy fin, i’m loving wonderland, by the way.)
    when i hear people guiltily admit that they sipped half a glass of champagne once during their pregnancy, i want to hide in a closet. although i had only a few sips in the first trimester (because alcohol, like pretty much everything else, sounded gross), by the second half of the pregnancy i was having two or three glasses of wine a week. basically, if i felt like having a glass of wine with dinner, i had one. it seemed like common sense at the time–the european way and all that — but after my baby was born (healthy and lovely in every way) i started, for some reason i still don’t get, to have a retroactive guilt freakout about it.
    i combed the net for data on moderate drinking in pregnancy but, as this nyt piece points out, there is none. all i could find were opinionated sources — AA, which obviously is not going to OK casual drinking, and prissy mothers on message boards asking things like, “is the pleasure of having that drink really worth the risk to your child?” i tore myself up about this for months. what made me different from these women who, in the absence of research either way, just made the default choice never to let alcohol pass their lips while pregnant? after much soul-searching i arrived at an answer: i liked wine more than they did. so, in the absence of ANY evidence that the odd glass would have any effect, i drank some. i’ve finally let go of second-guessing this, but things like the nyt piece and your awesome response to it are helping to bury it once and for all.

  • Ms. Jen

    December 1, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    I lived in Ireland the last year it is was not odd to see a pregnant woman having a glass of wine with her husband/family in a pub.
    From what I could read in the papers and from friends who live in Britain & Ireland, they have access to the same research and choose to interpret it to mean moderation and think we in the US are puritans to interpret it to no drinking at all.

  • Plain Jane Mom

    December 1, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    Hi, my name is Plain Jane Mom. (“Hi Plain Jane Mom”) During my second pregnancy I had 1-2 glasses of wine per week. Sign me up for AA and send CPS on over.
    Oh, I almost forgot, I drank coffee too. Now get me to Gitmo!

  • Leslie

    December 1, 2006 at 9:10 pm

    In the for-what-it’s-worth department: I hadn’t had a drink for years and years before I got pregnant — didn’t mix well with meds I was on. But after my amniocentesis, which required a devastating five sticks (preg w/ twins, one of whom — my darling daughter — fought the needle), I was sent home with emphatic orders from my doctor to drink a glass of white wine to calm the resulting contractions. Later, when I was having preterm contractions, my doula strongly recommended the same thing, and I complied.
    Oh, and I didn’t go off my anti-depressants either. And had two very healthy, full-term babies.

  • cagey

    December 1, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Ditto on Lizpenn regarding my 1st pregnancy.. … I did quite a bit of research and read several white papers, but still did not feel comfortable talking about it much – certainly not on my blog because people are so damned judgemental about it. Then, in the 72 hours before I gave birth to my son, I was given all sorts of “goodies” – nubain, ambien, morphine, then an epidural. And THAT was okay? But not a glass of wine? WTF?
    I’m now 9 weeks into my 2nd pregnancy and had this discussion with my doctor last week. She flat out said that a glass or two of wine isn’t going to hurt – and we discussed portion sizes. However, she said that she isn’t comfortable telling her patients that because of liability. She can’t guarantee that someone will be responsible with the information she gives them, so it is safer to say “none”. She and I know each other so well, she felt okay telling me a glass here and there is okay.
    I will be celebrating this New Year’s Eve with a precious, precious glass of Veuve Clicquot and this time around, it will be guilt free.
    I’ve debated posting about this on my blog. However, yet again I am not comfortable doing so because people are so damned judgemental. I’ve already had folks question my precious, precious morning cup of joe.

  • Monster Mama

    December 2, 2006 at 9:21 am

    Seeing as I have NO ability whatsoever to tolerate drinking, not even a glass of wine-a half a glass is okay, but then I argue with myself as to whether or not it is half empty or half full-so maybe it does still effect me! Anyway, I didn’t drink…..well, I drank – coffee during my 1st and 2nd pregnancies! Yes, I heard the warnings-and I curtailed it a bit, but man did I slather on the benzoyl peroxide! I hadn’t heard of any warnings-and if I had it would’ve had to have pinpointed what exactly could happen, before I’d let my hormonely challenged face out uncovered in public! I didn’t have sushi, I layed off the shellfish-stopped with the feta-call me malnourished baby!! My mother drank and smoked through all 4 pregnancies-there was one preemie in the bunch, but we are all just fine! Funny that you hear that having a glass of beer while breastfeeding helps the milk let down-just don’t do EITHER of them in public-either alone OR together these days!!!! Love your writing-I am a Finslipplian-and I am so happy to read your tongue in cheek articles regarding the news in Wonderland!

  • Jacqueline

    December 2, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    I hear ya on the wine, but saying that mild amounts of anxiety are good for the baby seems like a relief to me. Who doesn’t experience some anxiety? Say that it’s ok seems miles better than “Stress is bad for the baby! Stop feeling stress! What do you mean my telling you to stop stressing is making you feel stressed? Cease all feelings of anxiety RIGHT NOW!” etcetera…

  • dorothy

    December 2, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    I’m with Cagey. I drank shot glasses of wine when I was pregnant with the little angel, because I was so neurotic and cranky I didn’t trust myself to drink the entire bottle in one long-lasting glug if it was not rationed out to me like moonshine. But that’s just me and my issues. (ahem)

  • RLJ

    December 3, 2006 at 4:55 am

    Hell, had I been in the US, they’d have jailed me. Smoked salmon, blue cheese, paracetamol, milk straight from the cow, carbonara, salami, sparkling wine, overwork, sex, daily 1km swim, and, in the last couple of weeks, a long soak in the hot tub. (I did sacrifice my plans to learn to ski that winter, however.) BF was no obstacle to the odd Scotch.
    As for the “prissy mothers on message boards” (lizpen), perhaps they stayed in bed for 9 months and didn’t take any risks of crossing roads, lifting up older children, walking down stairs, etc.
    Sounds like my perfect son is waking up… though sleeping till 10am does suggest my dreadful behaviour has instilled slothfullness.

  • Nina

    December 3, 2006 at 6:12 am

    I had a similar situation last night. I’m BF my nearly 5 mos old. I was at a party discussing BF with some people at the party. Two of the women were lamenting the confinement(“I always had to come home to feed the baby” and “I was always stuck on the couch”) and abstaining (“I really missed my coffee/chocolate/broccoli/etc.”) associated with breastfeeding. I asked these women why they had given up those things and they said they had because their doctor had told them to. They were both a bit put out that I said I eat all those things in moderation. My son has a happier mother because of it. I also don’t think the hostess had realized I had already feed my son twice at the party and didn’t have to go home once.
    Whenever I hear stories about abstaining from caffeinated or spicy foods, I remember a story my mom told me. She was at my Italian grandparents house for dinner. She told my grandfather she wasn’t eating the paste because the sauce was too spicy for the baby (me). His response was simply did you think my mother (my great grandmother) stopped eating pasta or drinking wine while she was BF her six children while living in Italy. My mom never again limited what she ate unless she saw a specific reason to and I think I can thank my wide and eclectic tastes for that. My son has experienced many different ethnic, spicy, complex flavors second hand due to my healthy, but varied diet. Even a bit of Stella Artois and fajitas with salsa and guacamole tonight ;-).

  • Adda

    December 3, 2006 at 7:10 am

    I am fortunate enough to have been pregnant in Europe, where I actually had to fend off a bit of peer pressure to have a cocktail after work with the girls all through my pregnancy- mostly because I couldn’t stand the taste of it. In my seventh month my husband and I went on a week long holiday in Crete, and there I was constantly questioned about my pregnancy and the gender of my child, was it twins? (I was pretty big) and would I like another Pina Colada? How rare would I like my steak? It was bizarre. I am convinced that the stigma attached to even slight alcohol consumption in the US is overblown and ligitation-motivated, just as one commenter stated above. I once took a wine class with a teacher who made an excellent point- if moderate wine during pregnancy were as detrimental as we are led to believe, the human race would have died out centuries ago, when water HAD to be cut with wine in order to kill bacteria.
    What I can’t figure out is why aspartame is still ok to drink, considering it’s a neurotoxin…

  • Liz

    December 3, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    When I was pregnant, I bought a bottle of vodka for my hairdresser for a Christmas present. I’m standing in line at the liquor store, vodka and GIFT BAG in hand and some busybody decided to tell me off. I listened, calmly told her it was a gift as evidenced by the gift bag in my hand, and then told her since we were such good buddies that she could give me a piece of her mind I should be entitled to do the same. And, frankly lady, you could do with some highlights, get some eye cream and you should never, EVER wear yellow.
    The checkout guy laughed himself silly.

  • Natalie

    December 4, 2006 at 12:13 am

    The first six weeks I was pregnant were from Thanksgiving to New Years. I did not know I was pregnant. Take a guess at my alcohol consumption (clue: MASSIVE). Now look at my three year old son…he’s the most perceptive and intelligent person I have ever met. Of course I would have never done it had I known I was pregnant, and I stressed BIG TIME my entire pregnancy; but I think studies are overrated sometimes and are there just to make us worry about what we’ve been doing. Just be smart about what you are doing and your baby will be fine (barring any circumstances that are not controlled by anything you’ve been doing).
    Now, the woman I saw chain smoking outside my apartment at 8-9 mos preggo; I question her judgement.

  • Yukonruby

    December 4, 2006 at 7:23 am

    I BF for 10 months. The only time my son seemed to react to what I had eaten was the morning after I had smoked brie and roasted garlic for dinner.
    Liz: I I BF for 10 months. The only time my son seemed to react to what I had eaten was the morning after I had smoked brie and roasted garlic for dinner.
    Liz: I <3 your response to the busybody. I want to be that quick on my feet.

  • Nicole

    December 4, 2006 at 8:33 am

    Gotta love those Europeans. We are puritanical indeed. I regularly drank a glass or wine or two in my third trimester and was given the go ahead about it from many repuatable sources – and also drink in moderation while nursing.

  • Vikki

    December 4, 2006 at 11:08 am

    My partner is from Portugal where they encourage a glass of wine per day. Oh, how I love Europe!

  • Suebob

    December 4, 2006 at 12:30 pm

    I suspect that part of the problem with some of the banned substances may be that no one has ever tested them on pregnant women – can you imagine the liability issues? So to be safe, they are put in the “no” column. Better safe than sued.

  • Alexa

    December 4, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    The next time someone tells me to relax and stop worrying I will tell them I am merely in training for pregnancy, determined to give my child the very best start in life. Thanks Alice!

  • veronica

    December 4, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    My first pregnancy I had a profound, lasting craving for beer. I had never been a big fan of beer, so this was unusual. I had two doctors during teh course of that pregnancy, and the first one (who had known me for years and trusted my responsibility) said that there was no evidence that one drink per week hurt babies.
    So twice during that pregnancy I had a beer. And it was the most fabulous beer of my life, despite the horrified head-shaking of the woman in the grocery store who stopped to stare at me while I picked it out.

  • Liz

    December 4, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    It seems you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I’ve heard the judgements from women who think its wrong to even look at alcohol or caffeine during pregnancy, while I have other women who roll their eyes and think its ridiculous that I’m obstaining from things like wine and unpasteurized cheese for the next 5 months or so. For me, it’s less stress and frustration to just obstain instead of defending myself each time I do something “wrong”. And I just keep thinking of how good that first glass of wine will be after the baby is born.

  • Marie

    December 4, 2006 at 9:14 pm

    Funny, I had just looked up acne medication during pregnancy, and found a million links that said to avoid products containing salicylic acid, but benzoly peroxide was perfectly safe!

  • Lynn

    December 5, 2006 at 1:54 am

    All I have to say is that my good friend’s father is a doctor. His motto (presumably not outloud to patients due to liability) is that if moderate alcohol consumption was really as bad as American medicine says, ALL of France would be retarded.
    Makes sense to me.

  • carrien

    December 5, 2006 at 2:49 am

    I’m pregnant right now with my third. I’m due in 4 weeks. My first pregnancy i avoided alcohol for the first trimester. I’ve never been an excessive drinker, 2 drinks is pretty much my limit, but all I could think about that whole trimester was how much I wanted a beer, or a glass of chardonnay. So when I passed three months, I let myself have some, one glass, and man it tasted good. Now I have wine at least once a week sometimes more often, and I eat sushi. THe only thing I avoid really is tuna and other large fish because of the mercury, oh and preservatives and chemicals and irradiated food, and pesticides, etc. but alcohol? nah I’m convinced a little bit won’t hurt a baby one iota.
    I wonder though, if a little bit of stress is good for a baby, what about depression? Is that why we’re supposed to stop taking antidepression medication?

  • Vikki

    December 5, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    I was reading Veronica’s comment on the beer craving and the head-shaking woman and remembered the time I went to this annual wine sale. I was 9 months pregnant and had an entire shopping cart full of wine (c’mon people – buy 1 bottle get the second for a nickel!). When my partner noticed all the stares, she said, “I think we have enough…”

  • Julie B.

    December 5, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Seriously! Add hot dogs, lunch meat, soft cheese, sushi, caffiene, decaf coffee (the chemicals used for decaffienating are bad, apparently), steak cooked anything less than well-done, shellfish or any other fish, and any drug other than tylenol to the list. All of which, by the way, my OB said is fine to eat. I think it’s a conspiracy to drive pregnant women even more crazy than they’re already predisposed to be!

  • Erika

    December 7, 2006 at 10:18 am

    I’ve heard you shouldn’t paint your nails either. You just never know what percentage of the nailpaint is seeping through the nails into your blood stream! And honestly, the only craving I had during my second pregnancy was a Corona and I didn’t like them before that. Man, was that a great Corona!

  • Stacy

    December 7, 2006 at 10:46 am

    When I think about the alcolhol in the first trimester, all that comes to mind is “How do you think I got pregnant in the first place??” I did have a bit of anxiety over the alcohol consumption before I knew I was pregnant, but my children have so far shown no signs of ill effects.
    I also had a glass of wine when I was 7 months pregnant in a US restaurant. I didn’t get any stares, but then again I wore all black…and as you know black is thinning 😉

  • Lisa Duggan

    December 7, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Will we ever make true progress in this country? 9 months forward, three centuries back. I say we all take our kids down to Hooters, hoist a few and breastfeed. Talk about a conflict of interests.

  • Joanne

    December 8, 2006 at 10:29 am

    I really enjoy your writing and I agree with everything you say regarding FEAR and SCARE TACTICS used against pregnant women. However, I have to say I am a little weary of women drinking when they are pregnant and defending it as if they were taking medicine. I would think the fact that we don’t know exactly how much alcohol does damage would be enough to make one refrain but it is clearly not. Anti-depressants, I can see but I do not understand a woman’s right to do something that might harm their kid. And the fact that others have done it without any ill effects (so far) is a crap argument, in my opinion. Just because it worked out for one doesn’t mean it’s going to work out for another. It’s not the thought of my family or others giving me the stink eye that keeps me from drinking when I’m pregnant, it’s the fact that it could hurt my baby. And frankly, my baby is bad enough without adding fetal alcohol syndrome to the mix!

  • Karen Rani

    December 10, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    I know I’m late to the party, but I gotta tell you, the thing that saddened me the most about preggo warnings was the avoidance of sushi. I DREAMT about it the entire 40 weeks.

  • ewe_are_here

    December 13, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    I gave up Retin-A during my first pregnancy. Sigh.
    I also attended my husband’s MBA graduation event when I was 6 months’ pregnant. I brought a bottle of sparkling apple cider to enjoy -in one of the wine glasses- so I could feel festive. Oh, the looks I got! I just laughed.

  • Scout's Honor: United States of

    December 18, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    SUSHI! Yes, that was one of my biggest cravings. I ate trays of it after I had my last baby. And, oh the bottles of Cab….

  • Elizabeth

    May 26, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Can i take my anti-depression medication while i’m pregnant? what is the risk for my child?

  • Amy

    August 5, 2008 at 12:41 am

    What I don’t understand is the hypocrital reasoning of some people. Everybody will say one thing like smoking or certain pills are VERY bad during pregnancy, but not alcohol. When alcohol has been proven in unknown amounts to be harmful to the baby. I mean very harmful…Smoking and most anti-depressants and over the counter meds have actually never caused mental impairment to a fetus. The fact is people defend their chosen habit.