Pregnancy and Newborns

Alcohol When Pregnant – How Much Is Too Much?

Consuming alcohol when pregnant – this might be the hardest post I’ve ever composed, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. Here’s my conclusion: because it’s a subject I feel very strongly about – but perhaps not in the way you may imagine. Having written the post in my usual way but finding myself entirely unhappy with it, I’m now starting afresh…

I once wrote a post titled ‘Should You Get Married?’ which looks at some really critical questions you should ask yourself before making that lifelong (hopefully!) commitment. The most important thing you should agree on, I said, is the big stuff – your values must align if you’re to have any hope of succeeding as a couple. I can’t begin to fathom how you’d maintain a relationship otherwise. I’d suggest it would be impossible.

So imagine, as an example, that you and your partner disagree about how much alcohol is safe to consume during pregnancy. Bit of a biggie, huh? But – of course – something you’d need to resolve. Particularly if you were already carrying said partner’s baby. It’s not something you could just agree to disagree on; you would have to accept that his (or her) feelings came from a place of deep concern – even if you felt they were unwarranted.

I’m not going to lie – I enjoy a tipple. Even – or perhaps especially – after beating my demons, I do enjoy a glass of wine occasionally.

Of course, with children comes change: we must be responsible – if not for our own sake’s then for theirs. So when I fell pregnant with Pixie I hardly touched a drop. I think I had a sip on two separate occasions, at family weddings I attended. And that was it.

Alcohol when pregnant - how much is too much? Is there a 'safe' amount? And would you judge other women who have a different view to you?

 

When I was breastfeeding I found it quite frustrating that still I wasn’t able to drink even a nominal amount without expressing – according to many guidelines. But I was more frustrated at the contradictory information I found when researching the subject – so much so that I delved and delved until I was finally satisfied I’d found the truth. And then I wrote about it.

That post has become one of my most successful to date.

I established that the guidelines about alcohol and breastfeeding are often misleading in terms of research and facts and giving responsibility to parents. I’m now pregnant for the second time, so what do I now feel about alcohol during pregnancy?

Alcohol When Pregnant

Well, the bottom line is that it’s not necessary and it’s not beneficial to your baby. However, there’s a lot of disagreement – even among the experts – about how much is deemed ‘acceptable’ should you choose to have the odd glass of wine. Ultimately, the guidelines state that it’s best to abstain completely to negate any and all potential risk. Sound advice; but of course in practice some women do choose to have a small amount on special occasions. And I happen to be one of them.

So that’s my big confession and the reason this post is tough to pen – because I know many people feel passionately that drinking even the tiniest drop of alcohol is plain wrong.

So I’m essentially opening myself up to criticism from people I like to think have respected me to date. That makes me nervous, even if I don’t feel I’m doing anything inherently bad.

And for the record, I’d never willingly put my babies at risk – I genuinely don’t believe a rare, nominal few sips of alcohol is harmful after the first trimester, particularly with a meal. That said, I absolutely respect those who choose to abstain entirely, and I absolutely accept it’s the safest option if you prefer to err on the side of caution. I appreciate that many women simply prefer not to take even the smallest chance, and that’s fine – admirable in fact.

But back to the matter at hand. There are some people we are willing to accept disapproval from, no matter how uncomfortable, because it may be a situation that affects them equally – such as the example I provided between a husband and wife.

Here’s my second confession: there’s no issue between my husband and me – he fully supports me and my views in this regard.

So why am I talking about this controversial subject today? My intention was to set a scene in which this type of conflict or disparity of attitudes is acceptable and understandable – in order to illustrate the very great contrast when it is absolutely not…

How would you react to meddling from, say, a friend or relative? Perhaps not really their place – buuuuut, maybe you could still accept it if handled sensitively and for the right reasons. What if it was a perfect stranger judging you in entirely inappropriate circumstances and intruding on a private dinner in order to do so?

We recently had a short break with family in Center Parcs, and one particular evening hubby and I enjoyed a date night. We booked a table at Strada and as a treat with dinner, we ordered two small glasses of red wine.

Alcohol When Pregnant

When I wrote the first draft of this post, I included this next part. I subsequently removed it because there’s such a thing as making too many excuses, which can ring hollow. However I’m adding it back in because actually, it adds context and without this information it leaves room for inaccurate presumptions…

I feel quite sure that if my husband had simply ordered a single large glass of wine, rather than two small ones, this issue would never have arisen. It would have stood in front of him and I’d have enjoyed the occasional sip and nobody would have taken any notice.

So why, then, did he order two small glasses instead?

Very simply, he was being chivalrous, and a little indecisive. They were different reds, and he wanted to ensure that my few tastes were enjoyable. He ordered a small glass of two we thought I’d like, allowing me to try both. And then, other than the occasional sip of my preferred Merlot, he finished them. After a short while I moved ‘my’ glass in front of him due to the extreme discomfort we both felt, and we were finally able to relax a little.

Not that I should have to justify myself to anybody outside of my marriage, I will clarify my intention that night nonetheless: I planned to drink no more than half of my small glass – and very probably less – with my meal.

This is not a regular occurrence, and was one of the few occasions I’ve touched alcohol during my pregnancy. I’m generally quite healthy and I’m conscious of taking care of my baby: I’m a good mum. There are plenty of others who are less responsible, of course – and midwives and GPs are there to support those families.

But I wouldn’t judge a woman who decides to have a few sips of wine with dinner on a special occasion, as I did – I don’t personally consider it a problem. (I put my hands up to the fact that I may probably would be guilty of judging a pregnant lady consuming much more than that…)

Alcohol When Pregnant

At the time of placing our order, the waiter raised his eyebrows at us in disapproval. Shocked, I smiled and told him I only intended having a few sips of wine, and that my husband would finish the rest.

The waiter responded with: ‘I’m not worried about you or you – I’m worried about the baby.’

I was horrified. And humiliated. And ashamed.

I felt chastised and that my competence as a parent had been called into question – on holiday and during my off-duty evening (as much as one can be off-duty whilst heavily pregnant) – by a perfect stranger. The waiter knew nothing about me or my circumstances. He had no idea as to whether I drink heavily or rarely. And he didn’t think to care about any of that – even after I answered his disapproving look with what I felt was far more information than he deserved.

I left later that evening wondering if I’d allowed my own selfish whims to colour my judgement. I doubt I’ll touch another drop before this baby arrives because what I said earlier is true: alcohol is not necessary. So in truth, I was indulging my own desire and this experience has made me want to demonstrate stronger willpower.

When I recounted the experience to my brother, he made a very good point:

No matter how much I chose to drink in that restaurant (literally about three sips in the end because I was so mortified) – even if I’d been quaffing an entire bottle, it was certainly not a waiter’s job to pass comment. His job was to serve us that evening, and make us feel welcome – the very opposite of what he achieved.

Finally, after getting feedback from others, finally I felt something else: indignant.

If I were to be gracious and give the waiter the benefit of the doubt I suppose I could say I forced him to be complicit in something he fundamentally disagreed with.

Still, what did he hope to accomplish? I wonder whether he anticipated changing my ways for the better had I been the irresponsible woman he took me for?

I asked many of you how much alcohol is too much during pregnancy, and the response was interesting. The result was different on Facebook and Twitter, but essentially the consensus seems split between not drinking at all, or keeping it to special occasions, as I do.

The overwhelming attitude, though, was that the majority seemed not to judge a woman who would drink a small amount – even if they wouldn’t choose to do so themselves.

What do you think?

7 Comments

  1. Nicola | Mummy to Dex

    April 28, 2017 at 7:59 am

    I feel absolutely indignant that you were spoken to in this way. Your brother is spot on when he says that the waiter is there purely to serve you. Why on earth he thought it necessary to share his personal opinion with you, is beyond me. I hope you make some sort of formal complaint. Perhaps you won’t because you feel guilty about enjoying a few sips of alcohol, but I am enraged for you and this shouldn’t happen to another woman. If he had seen a man suffering quite clearly with liver disease (jaundiced perhaps?) would the same comments have been made? As I’ve said to you before, I chose not to consume alcohol during my pregnancy but would not judge those who decided to have a few sips. You drinking half a glass of merlot is far from you strawpedoing ten bottles of Smirnoff ice!!
    #rantover

    1. Kate Tunstall

      April 28, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Thank you so much for your support, it means a lot. I’m currently waiting for Strada to respond, but they are looking into it.

  2. Gorgeousgsmama

    April 28, 2017 at 9:00 am

    I agree with Nicola’s comment of whether the waiter would have questioned a person clearly suffering liver disease. It was very out of place for him to comment but then I do find waiters and waitresses get more on a personal level in some establishments. Usually in a good way though.
    I know I wouldn’t openly confront a pregannat woman about this. More because I try not to cause pregnant women any stress at all. I regularly order two drinks in restaurants too so you could have totally thrown in his it face saying they were both for your indecisive hubby. You shouldn’t have to justify yourself to strangers or anyone for that matter. Society is far too judgmental before they even know the facts.
    For me personally I know that should my baby be born with anything wrong with it or miscarry then I know I would look for reason why. Being the harsh critique of myself that I am I know I would be questioning “if I hadn’t lifted that heavy thing/sipped that alcohol/ drank too much caffeine” would my baby have been ok. It’s my irrational worrying that prevents me from doing things “against the rule book”.
    For the record I did lift and move stuff I shouldn’t whilst I was pregnant. I guess we all struggle to live up to our own ideals.
    You are a fab mum and this is a great post. No judgement passed x x x

    1. Kate Tunstall

      April 28, 2017 at 9:48 pm

      Thanks Cassie, I felt I shouldn’t have to justify myself, which made me first feel humiliated and then later feel a bit cross. It was only when recounting to others that I realised just how wrong his handling of the situation was.

      I totally understand your stance regarding irrational worrying, I’m quite pragmatic so wouldn’t tend to allow things like that to haunt me. I don’t think…

      Thanks for your support hun. (And by the way, from what I understand lifting and carrying won’t hurt your baby, it will only potentially hurt you.) xx

      1. Gorgeousgsmama

        April 29, 2017 at 8:15 pm

        Thank you. No I double checked. Lifting heavy weights (above 20lb) regularly, especially if you’re body isn’t used to it, can be a cause of miscarriage. It always stuck in my mind when I first started working as a student tech, there was a heavily pregnant women working there. we all saw her walk past the office carrying two huge shopping bags whilst heavily pregnant. The women around me all told her off and said she should have asked for help. The next day she sadly suffered a miscarriage. I don;t know if it was related but it was enough to scare me. Stuck in my mind. Just checked it here though. http://www.miscarriagesupport.org.nz/things-we-may-not-know/

        “Lifting something heavy – including small children:

        Pregnant women often complain of back ache, pubic pain and ligament conditions. Aggravating any part of this natural process by lifting something that will cause further pain, and possibly affect a pregnancy, is not advisable. Generally, 15-20 pounds is not too much for a healthy, pregnant woman. Although most people would probably drop anything too heavy before causing harm, lifting heavy weights regularly or as part of a physical job, can be a cause of miscarriage.”

  3. Mim

    April 28, 2017 at 9:42 am

    I’m horrified that he felt the need to judge you, and so openly, when he didn’t know the facts. Completely agree with the above comments and whilst everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they needn’t always express it x x

    1. Kate Tunstall

      April 28, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      Thank you Mim, couldn’t agree more xx

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