DEAR DR. BLONZ: Two weeks ago, I found out I was seven weeks pregnant with my second child. I typically have irregular periods and I had no idea that I was pregnant. I had been drinking wine periodically with dinner, but I am now concerned that this might have affected my unborn child. Aside from this, I have a good diet and take good care of myself. Several women have told me that they had a glass of wine every day or so during their pregnancies, and that nothing happened to their babies. Another friend heard from her doctor that a glass of wine once in a while during her pregnancy wouldn't do any harm. But then I read the horror stories. How could anyone know what is safe or unsafe given this conflicting information? Please do what you can to clarify. -- D.D., Berkeley, Calif.
DEAR D.D.: First, let me offer my congratulations on your pregnancy. The question of whether your wine consumption might have had (or will have) an effect on your developing child is difficult to answer with any degree of certainty. We simply don't know. Research and statistical tables are available that reveal associations between the level of alcohol consumption and subsequent problems for the developing child. In most cases, the connection gets made between risk and the habitual amount of alcohol consumed.
You are not the first woman to find out that she was pregnant while engaging in a healthful lifestyle that might have included a moderate consumption of wine. It is not an uncommon circumstance, so don't let it consume you with guilt. There are many studies with gobs of statistics in the scientific literature. Abusive or binge drinking has been associated with problems, but a low-to-moderate intake (not daily, or less than an average of one drink per day with a meal) does not appear to be associated with any harm to the health of the child or mother. Having the alcohol with food is important.
Indeed, in a systemic review of available evidence in the January 2007 issue of BJOG, the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, it was reported that there was no convincing evidence of adverse effects from low-to-moderate levels of alcohol intake. This being said, however, it must be emphasized that any excess of alcohol is definitely dangerous, and that alcohol is not essential for the health of your child. Of all the times in life, pregnancy is not one to take risks, however small. I recommend that you talk about these issues with your OB/GYN, and until you have had that conversation, consider tapering off your consumption of wine, if you haven't stopped already. It is always best to err on the side of safety.
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