NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of this post for an update. Thanks.
My niece Jennifer is pregnant. In November she wrote on facebook, “I would really love to enjoy a glass of Asti Spumanti champagne.”
Within minutes, a friend posted, “LOL! NEVER!”.
Huh? I had to chime in, and wrote, “In a world where caffeine, chocolate, raw oysters, unpasteurized cheese, tropical fruits, drugs that alleviate cold symptoms, nail polish, suntan lotion and hair dye, all of which in some amount may harm the fetus; wine in small amounts, sipped slowly with food, has been shown to increase fetal motility and result in more intelligent infants. I’m kind of the wine guy in the family, and would point you to the 1994 Wine Spectator article by Thomas Matthews, The Myths of Motherhood, or the study of 33,000 California woman showing that the 47% who drank moderately during pregnancy had zero incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); and the 1993 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology by Little and Weinberg showing a higher successful birthrate among moderate consumers of alcohol than rates among abstainers. Find a doctor who reads, and enjoy the glass of Asti on Thanksgiving. The stress reduction and joy in the mother is healthy for the fetus. Just saying’.”
I do tend to go on.
Another friend of Jennifer, also pregnant wrote, “I don’t know you John, but as a fellow pregnant gal who can’t have anything she loves either, I L-O-V-E your post.”
Jennifer finished up the thread with, “Bwahaha, thanks uncle John,,,I’ve enjoyed a small glass of wine here and there…I’ve also enjoyed sushi, massages, pedicures, caffeine AND…of course…chocolate! Baby’s fine…he comes from good healthy stock”
In December, Jennifer posted, “I’m really craving a glass of good champagne…maybe spumanti” on her facebook wall.
I replied, “You know what Uncle John says…a glass is a healthy choice for you and the baby,”
Another friend wrote, “sorry, hopefully you can have one soon. When are you having that baby?”, written as though having a glass of wine, or bubbly, before the baby is born is unthinkable.
When Lisa, the mother of my only child Charlie, was pregnant, we attended a wonderful wine tasting in San Francisco. It was my birthday, and I did more than taste the many Zinfandels being poured at the event, I had a bit to drink that day. My wife, noticeably pregnant at 7 months, tasted; but after nosing and swirling the wine in her mouth, she spit it into large receptacles provided for that purpose. Although she drank no wine at all, she was subjected to many dirty looks, and one old woman actually hissed at her. There is an anti-alcohol sentiment ingrained in people who should know better.
A pregnant woman wants a small glass of wine to sip with a meal, and the instinctive response of her friends is shock and admonishment. The response is based on all of the information generally available. The next time you pick up a bottle of wine, look and you will find a warning mandated by the United States government, “According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.”
While there is overwhelming evidence of health benefits associated with moderate consumption of wine in the general population, and specific health benefits to a pregnant woman and her fetus, the same United States government requiring that wineries put warning on their labels forbids including any information about healthful benefits associated with wine consumption; “a specific [health] claim on a label or in an advertisement, ” no matter how well documented, “is considered misleading.” and requires further detailed warnings of the risks of alcohol if included – said warnings being unable to fit on a wine label. Effectively, the government is engaged in censorship and prohibiting free speech. Worse, it requires warning, and disallows wineries from countering the warning with truthful statements.
With wineries muzzled, unable to present any information regarding health and wine, or pregnancy and wine consumption, gross distortions and outright lies are posted in pregnancy forums and spread by ignorant, but well meaning, friends. A quick google search of “wine and pregnancy” will lead to link after link of falsehood spread as truth – and the wine industry is prohibited from countering these lies with the truth.
For a short time, 20 or more wineries were going to include, “To learn the health effects of wine consumption, send for the Federal Government Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” on their wine labels. The Dietary Guidelines, while almost wholly damning of alcohol consumption, bending to overwhelming scientific evidence included two new lines, “Alcoholic beverages have been used to enhance the enjoyment of meals by many societies throughout human history,” and, “Current evidence suggests that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease in some individuals.”
Neo-prohibitionist and tramplers of the US constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech, threw a fit. Rather than allow a winery to point at a government pamphlet in advertising or on a label, without mention of any health benefit; these forces for ignorance pushed through a new requirement: any winery mentioning the dietary guideline pamphlet must include a new warning on their label and promotional material, “this statement should not encourage you to drink or to increase your alcohol consumption for health reasons.”
Some of the information the government is preventing wineries from telling you about includes:
Men with high blood pressure who drink one or two drinks a day were 44 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated lower risks of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total mortality in elderly men and women…These findings suggest that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of dementia in individuals aged 55 or older, according to a six year study by Dr. Ruitenberg in the Netherlands, published in The Lancet
Moderate drinkers had 50% fewer deaths from coronary disease than abstainers, according to the 60 year Framingham Heart Study
Preliminary evidence in a Harvard study suggest that longevity may be increased in red wine drinkers, while European studies point to a possibility that Alzheimer’s and other cognitive degeneration may be postponed for moderate drinkers.
Light drinking pregnant women, not abstainers, have the best chance of delivering a baby of optimal weight, according to Dr. Robert Sokol of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse in Detroit.
Mentioned above, there is the study of 33,300 California women, 47% of whom drank moderately during their pregnancies. Not one had a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
There were fewer stillbirths and fewer losses of fetus due to early labor among women who consumed a moderate level of alcohol, according to a study by Little and Weinberg, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology
Children of moderate drinkers tend to score the highest on developmental tests at the age of 18 months, according to the book Alcohol and the Fetus, by Dr. Rosset and Dr. Wiener.
There is research that shows moderate drinking during pregnancy may actually help the development of the child after birth, according to a study by Dr. Whitten and Dr. Lipp of the University of California at San Francisco
But what about the government warning on the label warning about birth defects for pregnant women who choose to drink moderately? The government can’t lie, can they?
The campaign against drinking during pregnancy started in 1973 when several studies showed that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause a condition known as ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.’ These studies demonstrated that the children of many alcoholic mothers were born with a cluster of severe birth defects.“What the government conveniently chose to ignore” say Dr. Whitten and Dr. Lipp, is that “this syndrome is extremely rare, occurring only 3 times in 100,000 births, and only when the mother drinks abusively throughout her pregnancy”.
In the absence of valid, and useful information to the contrary, many people make grossly incorrect assumptions about wine and health, and wine and pregnancy. Our government forces wineries to print one sided, misleading, and possibly false information on their labels, and prohibits the dissemination of the many health benefits associated with moderate, responsible consumption of wine. This ridiculous censorship, combined with the efforts of anti-alcohol forces*, leads otherwise intelligent people to make a pregnant woman feel bad if she has a sip of wine.
If you don’t drink at all, don’t feel that you need to start if you become pregnant. If you abuse alcohol, stop; your life is at risk, as well as your baby’s if you become pregnant. If, however, you enjoy the responsible, moderate, consumption of wine with dinner, and you become pregnant, don’t feel compelled to abstain for the health of your unborn child.
Moderate consumption of wine during pregnancy is shown to lead to safer births and healthier, smarter children than those born to either abstainers or abusers of alcohol.
Sometimes, being between jobs is nice. Because I do not work for a winery or wine distributer, I am able to tell you the truth that those in the industry are prohibited from telling you. Just sayin’.
If you are reading this, and are pregnant, I toast you. The good news is that you can raise a glass in response. Cheers!
*see the ‘talking points’ memo created by these neo-prohibitionists to beat back mention of a possible health benefit in the official US Dietary Guidelines pamphlet at http://www.cspinet.org/booze/talkpoint2.htm .
For those interested in the topic of alcohol and health, I recommend Gene Ford’s book , “The Science of Healthy Drinking”.
I have caused a bit of an uproar with a wine column that ran Thursday, May 2, 2013. This column was recycled and used.
My wine and pregnancy piece was actually written 4 years ago and was an extension of an online conversation with my niece who was pregnant. Much of the basis for the article was a long article regarding the science of moderate consumption during pregnancy that appeared in Wine Spectator before my son was born.
My son’s mom had the very occasional half glass of wine with a meal, and my son was the tallest boy in his grade throughout elementary school each year, played as a center on CYO, city, and school basketball teams, and regularly crushed any standardized test he took.
I am pretty sure my mom had more than a single drink of alcohol, and probably smoked, when she was pregnant with me, as did the mothers of many of the people I know who are my age. The people I know, of my generation, seem to be doing well.
I posted this piece here in 2010 and it generated positive feedback. I was contacted by some pregnancy forums, and thanked for the post.
I was completely ignorant of the information accumulation regarding drinking while pregnant, or the move beyond Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to include lower birth weights and other symptoms to identify a larger collection of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders, existing now.
In addition to a counterpoint column from our county’s public health officer and other letters in the paper following my column, I have heard from members of the medical community who shared that we live in a county with serious drug addiction problems and, for these people, alcohol is a drug, and it is better to be absolutist and say that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy than give folks, who the piece wasn’t written for, a sense that they are not likely harming their child with their abuse.
I also was contacted by some mothers with adopted children that do suffer from FASD and/or FAS. The stories they shared were personal, tragic, and compelling. They, too, would urge that no alcohol be consumed during pregnancy, and each said that spending a week, or even a day, with their children would drive the point home more strongly than any words.
Obviously, I would never have allowed the piece to be recycled for my newspaper wine column if the response years ago to the same piece online wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.
I apologize for the outrage I caused with my recycled piece, but hope the conversations started through the controversy lead to more informed choices. I, for one, probably learned the most.