by India Knight
I don’t know why I should feel quite so incensed about this drinking and pregnant women thing – all the clashing advice about safe levels of alcohol consumption – but I am. Perhaps it’s because it seems quite symptomatic of the new spirit of joyless puritanism that our dear leader so ably incarnates – do this, don’t do that, notice how my Scottish accent usefully implies gravitas (unless it’s prime minister’s questions, when I go all huffy and babyish whenever the toff David Cameron gets the better of me).
I am aware that Gordon Brown didn’t himself declaim from the pulpit that it was a heinous sin for any pregnant woman to get within sniffing distance of a glass of the devil’s brew, but you sort of feel he would if he could. I think the intention with Brown is for people (women) to feel reassured by his ursine can-do capabilities – we’re probably supposed to think of him as a kindly grizzly bear with claws – but instead he reminds me of a surly panda.
Anyway, as I’ve said before, who’d be pregnant these days? There was a time when, much as children miraculously managed to play outside and do normal childhood things without getting murdered, raped or abducted, pregnant women ate what they liked, drank what they liked, smoked even – and produced generations of children who grew up to be rather more capable, creative and high-achieving than today’s sorry, half-illiterate lot.
More to the point, people didn’t issue edicts every two seconds telling them what to do – even though it is blindingly, crashingly obvious that, actually, when it comes to safe levels of drinking in pregnancy, nobody has a flipping clue. Binge drinking while pregnant is clearly a bad idea but beyond that, who knows?
Not the health department, which last May decided to tell all pregnant women, and also women who were trying to conceive, to avoid alcohol altogether (a really stupid piece of advice – if you’re trying to conceive and are depressingly, life-sappingly dependent on charts and thermometers and fertility kits, I would imagine that getting tiddly and having spontaneous, unscheduled sex might be rather a good idea. It certainly worked for two couples I know where course after course of IVF failed). The department’s previous advice, now revoked, had been that two units of alcohol a week were fine. Confused? You will be.
Earlier this month the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which is the government’s standards setting body, produced draft guidelines that said it was perfectly all right for pregnant women past their first trimester to drink 1½ units of alcohol a day (a glass of wine or one and a bit measure of spirits), saying there was no “consistent evidence” to show that this small amount of alcohol damaged the unborn child.
There are two problems here: a) the advice offered by the health department and Nice is contradictory and b) quite a lot of pregnant women don’t know they’re pregnant the moment they conceive, which means that if they like a drink after work, they continue having one until the penny drops, which in most cases is several weeks later.
A large number of pregnant women, once they realise they are pregnant, look up “alcohol in the first trimester” in the index of their hastily acquired How To Be Pregnant book (that’s another thing – since when did we need to be told how to gestate?) and, in many cases, freak out.
This is what is so incredibly irritating: where the health department should be offering support and sensible advice to women who want it – one in 20 women smokes during pregnancy and one in 25 drinks injudiciously, according to a poll last month by Tommy’s, the baby charity, which also revealed that 90% of women feel stressed during pregnancy (I wonder why?) – it just frightens everybody and makes them feel as if they’ve failed when they are only a few weeks pregnant. This is not what anyone might call a result.
It’s not just pregnancy, though. What really gets on my nerves is the desperate need to get everything right all the time – usually at the expense of any kind of fun or any real sense of being alive. Don’t eat that, don’t drink that, don’t light that up, don’t be out after dark, don’t let that man give you a drink in case he spikes it, don’t give him your phone number in case he’s a dangerous perv, don’t, don’t, don’t . . .
When did we stop being allowed to make mistakes or just to bumble through taking risks if we felt like it? Do we seriously believe that avoiding alcopops is going to make us immortal? Because, sorry, but you’re born, you muddle through and then something kills you and you die – even if you’ve lived a sinless, organic, exercise-loving life.
So what if people want to smoke? It’s their problem, not yours. Perhaps they don’t mind contemplating the possibility, which may or may not come to pass, of dying hideously 10 years before they should. Maybe they just really like smoking. You can question the wisdom or unwisdom of this as much as you like, but it’s really got nothing to do with anybody else or with, for heaven’s sake, legislation.
And so what if people want to run about town every now and then drinking to excess? Is it really so life-shatteringly terrible? Hardly. I had an eight-hour lunch last week, lavishly alcohol and nicotine assisted, and I haven’t had as much fun for weeks. Maybe my liver took a battering or maybe it could cope. Either way it’s my liver (although I find it pretty curious that I can court cirrhosis freely from dawn to dusk should I so choose, but have to stand on pavements if I want to light up in case I give instant lung cancer to Mr and Mrs Smug, who are sitting at dinner not exchanging a single word and looking as if they want to kill themselves).
It’s no wonder that people are so anxious and stressed out all the time. Nothing is allowed and everything is frowned upon and it’s making everyone miserable.
So here’s a little plea for embracing the wisdom of taking things in your stride, from pregnancy – which is a joyous state and not the danger-fraught illness it is once again being portrayed as – to having a drink.
Nothing terrible is going to happen. Your baby is extremely unlikely to be born with foetal alcohol syndrome because you overdid it one Saturday night. The world isn’t going to end if you eat a doughnut or if your tomatoes come from a less than impeccable source. Do what makes you happy, within reason, and chances are you will be.
Last 15 posts in Pregnancy
- Weight Gain During Pregnancy - June 29th, 2008
- Using mobile phone during pregnancy? Beware! - June 8th, 2008
- Importance of pre-pregnancy weight - February 6th, 2008
- Ditziness, sobbing, lack of spatial awareness - yes, pregnant women's brains DO shrink - January 27th, 2008
- Statistically Insignificant Study Shows Caffeine/Miscarriage Correlation - January 22nd, 2008
- At-Home Fertility Test - January 22nd, 2008
- Baby Naming Help - January 10th, 2008
- The pre-baby blues - December 4th, 2007
- Losing weight after pregnancy - diet and exercise better than diet alone - November 26th, 2007
- Plan today for pregnancy tomorrow - November 23rd, 2007
- Older moms not the norm - November 23rd, 2007
- Eat right during pregnancy for a better baby - November 18th, 2007
- Your Stress May Affect Your Unborn Child - November 18th, 2007
- Waiting two minutes to cut cord 'can give babies health boost' - November 16th, 2007
- When the mother's and baby's blood differs - November 16th, 2007