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London - Another week, another lecture for the hapless pregnant woman. You can’t eat pâté. You can’t eat blue cheese. And now you can’t have a glass of wine – not even a small one. Coming to a laboratory soon: urgent tests on the barmaid’s apron. Heaven forbid moms-to-be get a whiff of that.
According to new research, if you drink even just one unit of alcohol a week, you will affect the IQ of your baby.
“Even moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can have an effect on future child intelligence,” says Dr Ron Gray, one of the report’s authors.
NHS guidelines stay untouched: if you’re pregnant, avoid drinking completely if you can. Never get drunk. And if you must drink, drink one or two units a week.
But that’s what people are already doing. These endless scare stories serve only to make pregnancy into a neurotic nightmare of guilt and self-loathing. Which I suppose is at least good preparation for parenthood.
No pregnant woman can avoid the constant warnings. No smoked fish, liver products, raw shellfish or homemade mayonnaise.
“Take particular care with sausages and minced meat,” says the NHS website. You wouldn’t eat loads of these things anyway, especially if you had morning sickness. But still.
The list goes on. No more than 200mg of caffeine daily – two cups of instant coffee or tea.
“Caffeine is found naturally in some foods and is added to some soft drinks.”
After the stress of all this, you might feel in need of a stiff drink. Now you may not have that either. In fact, don’t even sniff it. See barmaid’s apron, above.
The new study, by the Universities of Bristol and Oxford, found “a single unit of alcohol resulted in less intelligent babies”.
But let’s look at the small print. The study was of 4,000 women who were pregnant in 1991 and 1992. I’m no mathematician but that is 20 years ago. I suspect if you surveyed drinking levels in pregnant women now, you would find they’re lower. Because women have been scared out of their wits. So this concern is already two decades out of date.
Second, the data shows the IQ of a child aged eight whose mother drank one to six units a week was 1.8 points lower than that of a child whose mother drank no alcohol at all. The average IQ at eight is between 90 and 110. Dropping 1.8 points is scarcely earth shattering. It’s hardly conclusive scientific evidence of “lesser intelligence”.
And what of the huge difference between drinking one or two units a week and five or six? I would hazard a guess that if you think it’s a good idea to drink six units a week while pregnant, possibly you are not hugely intelligent and so your children are also likely to be lacking in a few IQ points. There’s a massive difference between drinking every day religiously and an occasional small glass of wine.
The truth is, most pregnant women use their common sense to look after themselves and their babies. A minority does not. One in 100 babies – 6,000 a year – are born with foetal alcohol syndrome. Surely it’s them and their mothers who deserve care, help and investment. Not the IQ-obsessed middle classes on a now-forbidden weekly glass of Pinot Grigio.
This extensive survey did not look at alcohol consumption among pregnant mothers with addiction problems. In fact, it ruled out anyone who consumed more than four units at a time.
Yet again, the focus is on non-existent problems of the privileged, paranoid many, while ignoring the real problems of the under-privileged, desperate few.
In any case, I would rather my children had a marginally lower IQ than a mother plagued by unnecessary anxiety and incapable of thinking for herself.
Let’s stop infantilising the majority of pregnant women and focus on the minority who need help.
I’m not pregnant right now (I hope). So I’ll drink to that. - Mail On Sunday