When a recent study from Denmark reported that women who drank moderately during pregnancy were no more likely to have babies with developmental issues than were women who didn't drink at all, the mommy community was buzzing. Was it safe to take a few sips to celebrate a special occasion? Have a drink here and there during the third trimester?
The safest answer when it comes to how much alcohol is okay during pregnancy is still the same, though -- none. "We know that alcohol can pass directly from mom to baby. It crosses the placenta. We also know that alcohol can adversely affect the baby," says Hugh Gilgoff, M.D., a pediatrician at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Gilgoff has more than 15 years' experience working with babies, specializing in newborn care.
Because every woman is different, every woman metabolizes alcohol differently. ""How your body reacts to alcohol also depends on your individual liver and body, and then your ability to break down, metabolize, and get rid of what is essentially a known poison," Dr. Gilgoff says. The worst-case scenario? Alcohol in high levels during pregnancy will cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), which can result in multiple developmental problems in children, including speech delays, mental retardation, and heart defects.
Because there is no known safe amount of alcohol that a woman can have during pregnancy, and know that she isn't risking her baby's development,the March of Dimes, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and plenty of other organizations advocate absolute abstinence during all nine months of pregnancy. Siobhan Dolan, M.D., MPH, professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York, agrees. "There is no safe thresh-old because we just don't know what the effect of the alcohol that passes through the placenta to the developing fetus may be for each woman," Dr. Dolan says.
Sure, there will always be the odd study showing that women drank during pregnancy and didn't have babies with developmental complications. But, Dr. Gilgoff says, the newer studies from other countries, with varying ages of children being tested in varying methods, will never change the science. "Alcohol is never good for the fetus, and since we would often do anything for our babies, I could never recommend drinking during pregnancy as a medical professional," Dr. Gilgoff says.
In the absence of an absolute answer, doctors give the safest answer. Dr. Dolan points out that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are the leading known cause of mental retardation. They affect approximately 40,000 newborns each year. "And most important, they are 100 percent preventable," she says.
In the end, even though it might be a hard sip to swallow, the answer to the question of how much alcohol is safe is none. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero.
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