A few months ago I was at dinner with friends, one of whom is pregnant. The topic of drinking in pregnancy came up and someone said to me “you just tell people not to drink because you have to, not because it’s really harmful right?” Um…I made that face. That face. You know. The one where you couldn’t possibly believe what you heard but, then again, you heard it. The one where your eyes are big and your mouth is open. After a pregnant pause I explained that national and now international guidelines recommend against any alcohol consumption in pregnancy.
We all know that you are never going to get more unsolicited advice than when you are pregnant. What you can and can’t do including raising your hands above your head or eating peanut butter in the bathtub along with what your baby should eat, how it should sleep, what it should wear and where it should go to college. Whether or not you should consume alcohol in pregnancy is among that advice. However, drinking during pregnancy is the most common cause of birth defects in the United States. And while these birth defects are most common among women who drink heavily, there is no safe amount of alcohol consumption for a pregnant woman. Alcohol use in pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, preterm birth, birth defects and developmental disabilities. Health care providers are encouraged to discuss discontinuation of alcohol for women who are pregnant and those actively trying to get pregnant.
April is alcohol awareness month. It was established to reduce the stigma associated with alcoholism and increase awareness about alcohol abuse, treatment and recovery. Excess alcohol use costs the United States about 250 billion dollars per year. About 5 billion of that is related to alcohol use in pregnancy. So no, as gynecologists we don’t just say these things because “we have to.” We say them because we truly want the best outcome for you and your baby. So if you should find yourself with two lines on that pregnancy test, congrats! It’s time to take a break from alcohol. If you are already pregnant and haven’t stopped drinking I would urge you to do so now. You can tell your grandmother, your best friend, the lady at the grocery store and the dude at the gas station that you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself and your baby. Really. We’re not making this up.