Drinking during pregnancy is a hot-button issue, creating intense controversy whenever it’s questioned.
Despite public health warnings and the social stigma associated with it, an estimated 14-15 percent of pregnant women choose not to give up alcohol.
As long as it’s done in moderation, some doctors are telling them it’s probably safe.
“I think if a pregnant woman is at a party and wants a glass of wine, have the glass of wine. Enjoy the glass of wine. If it’s New Year’s Eve, have a glass of champagne, you won’t do harm to the baby,” said Dr. Jacques Moritz, Director of Gynecology, St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital on “Good Morning America Weekend” today.
How much is hype?
The pregnancy paranoia list is long. Everything from bikini waxes to nail polish, hair color and cats have long been feared and nowadays coffee, sushi and botox are high up on the list, too.
But what about alcohol?
Despite the Surgeon General’s warning that alcohol can cause birth defects, many women do drink after the first trimester.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the March of Dimes say zero alcohol. Dr. Mortiz says, though, “that’s very, very strict.” And the reason is “because there are no studies done.”
“Everybody is scared of this thing called Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I practiced 20 years. I haven’t seen a case. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” he said. Because of the lack of testing, the default consensus is “no one is definitely safe.” Dr. Mortiz said that in his opinion, what is clearly unsafe is “people that drink every day, repetitively.”
Dr. Michael Brodman, an obstetrician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, made a similar case. “We know that 14-15 percent of women drink during pregnancy … Drinking very little is probably OK, but drinking daily, and drinking a lot at one time, is not OK,” he said.
Beth and Melanie
Beth Schneider & Melanie Justice are both in their 30s, eight months pregnant and expecting their first child. Both women are healthy and active.
Since becoming pregnant, they have become much more careful about their diet, and each has made a very different decision about alcohol - with their doctor’s approval.
“I did stop drinking because of the risks associated with it,” says Melanie.
“The fact that she’s decided to stop drinking is a good thing,” says her husband, Andy.
“I don’t drink every single day, it’s probably four or five days a week that I enjoy a glass of wine or beer,” says Beth. “When you get one glass a day, you milk the hell out of it!” she laughed.
Though Beth says she’s heard warnings, she’s not buying the hype.
“I’ve heard of fetal alcohol syndrome. Everything scares you as a pregnant woman, and they put fear in you,” says Beth.
“OK, yeah, there’s a chance. How big of a chance? We don’t know. It’s not something to worry about or stress about!” says her husband Jeff.
“The public does judge. I don’t care. I’m a firm believer in anything in moderation,” says Beth.
The notion of pregnant women drinking is generally considered taboo in America. And when a pregnant woman is seen drinking, some are overcome with the need to judge and intervene.
ABC News decided to ask women what they thought when they see a pregnant woman drinking.
“Your first reaction is, ‘Oh, look at that completely irresponsible mom, what is she doing to herself?’” said one woman.
“I have had pregnant women come up and ask for like, a glass of wine, I personally have to refuse them,” explained a female bartender.
“It does bother me. It makes me think, ‘Why are you having a child if you’re not willing to give that sacrifice of yourself?’” explained another woman.
Keep it to Yourself?
ABC News Correspondent JuJu Chang, who recently had a baby, says that “any time a pregnant woman goes out in public and drinks, she is liable to get harsh scrutiny from friends, relatives, even complete strangers. But whatever she decides, that decision is between a pregnant woman and her doctor and not some random stranger on the street who wants to assert their opinion.”
Chang spoke with a group of health-conscious and independently-minded expecting women to get a sense of the stigma. Some confessed that even when they do drink responsibly, they are closet drinkers.
One pregnant woman Chang asked says she won’t drink in public, “because you don’t want to cause a stir, or get that evil eye.”
“It’s really not [worth] risking public ridicule or scorn or any advice I’m sure I’d get,” said another woman.
By JUJU CHANG, MABLE CHAN and OLIVIA STERNS