A Beer Lover’s Pregnancy, Part VIII: Drinking While Pregnant
Pregnant Hop Culture writer Caroline Southern dives into the science that dictates the rules for alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Written by Caroline Southern
Image by Courtney Bruch
“What are you going to order? Can I try a sip?” I plead to Rob from across the table. I can’t bring myself to look at the beer list. What’s the point?
When the server comes to take our drink order, I tell him “I’m fine with water.” But the truth is, I’m not fine. I want a beer really badly, but there’s a baby growing in my belly and I love her and I want her to be president someday, so I pass.
Whether out at a restaurant or perusing the beer selection at a grocery store, I find myself drooling, yearning even, for a beer again. Like clockwork, the third trimester has bestowed a new smorgasboard of ailments upon my already fragile body. My legs ache like they would have after a 10-mile run a few years ago, yet I can’t walk for more than 30 minutes without feeling like Big Snack is hunkering down for the big push. Food sits in my stomach undigested for hours on end, slowly leaking back up my esophagus. I’m exhausted because I don’t sleep through the night anymore. In other words, a cold beer at the end of the day would taste great right now.
But the question remains: how much am I allowed to drink, if at all, during pregnancy?
But the question remains: how much am I allowed to drink, if at all, during pregnancy? My doctor agrees with the medical and government authorities (which is a hard “No.”) on drinking during pregnancy. But anecdotally, plenty of women I know (including my own mother) have had a beer or two during their own pregnancies and their babies turned out just fine. What is the wiggle room here and how am I supposed to make any sort of educated decision with seemingly contradictory information?
Of course, the simple solution would be to just be to avoid alcohol entirely, which is what most women do during pregnancy. The lack of beer in my life has left a void, one that I’m not necessarily proud of or totally understand. If there is a safe way to consume alcohol during pregnancy, I’d like to know about it. Does this make me a bad mother? No. Though I’m totally submitting my body to the tiny human that’s growing in my belly, I’d like to maintain any possible semblance of myself. And part of who I am is the beer I drink. So yes, if there’s a safe way for me to drink even a little bit of beer, I want to know about it.
Emily Oster, a professor of economics at Brown University and author of Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong — and What You Really Need to Know, falls on the opposite side of the drinking during pregnancy debate. In her book she uses data to optimize decision making as it relates to pregnancy. During her own pregnancy, she developed a skepticism of the current government-issued guidelines and sought to clarify the “why” behind the pregnancy guidelines that have been the standard for decades. Using an economical framework, she analyzed countless studies that examine the effects of drinking on pregnant women. Of her research, she says, “When I looked at the data, I found no credible evidence that low levels of drinking (a glass of wine or so a day) have any impact on your baby’s cognitive development.”
“When I looked at the data, I found no credible evidence that low levels of drinking (a glass of wine or so a day) have any impact on your baby’s cognitive development.”
During her first trimester she herself had maybe one glass of wine per week (when she wasn’t totally nauseated by the idea), and in her second and third trimester she allowed herself to have a half glass of wine everyday. She then went on to deliver a healthy baby girl.
So, where does that leave me? Pretty much in the same place that I started. Much remains to be discovered about pregnancy. In the meantime, the best thing I can do is to educate myself with the information available and then make a decision based on my own personal needs. Oster’s book is worth a read because it questions certain aspects of pregnancy restrictions that have been considered standard practice for decades. It’s refreshing and well written, a strong counterargument to the traditional medical recommendations.
Despite a thorough engagement with both side of the argument, I still don’t know where I stand. For now, I’ll tread lightly while keeping an open mind. Maybe I’ll have some sips, maybe I won’t. But I’ll certainly keep looking for an answer.