Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas

Jay has been blogging about drinking during pregnancy, and zero tolerance policies toward said drinking as a way to control women. I've blogged lightly about this before, when Melissa of Suburban Bliss was appearing on the Today show to defend cocktails at playdates. I think Jay has done a good job talking about puritanism and moderation; I don't need to add anything on those topics. But here are my not-very-well-organized thoughts on drinking in pregnancy:

This website (which Jay made me aware of in another context) has a very good rundown on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and research evidence. I'd particularly like to highlight the point made towards the bottom of the page: that the role of alcohol in FAS can be hard to separate from the other risk-taking behaviors that tend to cluster with alcohol abuse--smoking, drug use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care.

But here's another thing about pregnancy, alcohol use, and research: I'm pretty sure the data is tainted, because of this anecdote from a friend:

Setting: L&D ward. A nurse is filling out the admitting questionnaire.
Nurse: And did you drink during this pregnancy?
My friend: Yes.
Nurse: raises eyebrows You did?
My friend: Yes, I had a glass of wine from time to time.
Nurse: Oh, that's all. Well, I'm just going to write "no" here.

Great. So if all the moderate yeses get recorded as noes, what kind of answers are we going to get about safe levels of drinking in pregnancy? This isn't just a case of "everybody lies" as Dr. House famously says; this is a case of "health professional lies for you."

When I was pregnant with R., my first, we were having dinner with a wise priest friend at an Italian restaurant. I held my hand over the glass to keep him from pouring me some red wine, and he sighed, "I'm sure the mothers of Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas drank wine every day when they were pregnant." I'm sure they did, too--watered wine, granted. And I know the health practices of our centuries-ago forbears, with their shorter life spans and sometimes mysterious ailments, are not necessarily a model for today's healthy behavior. I also know just because, closer to our time, the author of Thank You, Dr. Lamaze was knocking back scotches on the rocks while she practiced her breathing techniques--and her kids turned out okay--is no reason to pour a scotch on the rocks when you're expecting.

But it's food--or drink--for thought.

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