Pregnancy and Alcohol: Clearing Up Mixed Messages

Are sensational headlines about drinking while pregnant just aiming to tell women what they want to hear?

There is absolutely no known benefit from consuming alcohol during pregnancy, so why take the risk?

Despite sensational media headlines, there’s no valid reason to believe it’s safe for pregnant women to drink

Never trust a headline over a medical story.

In fact, you should also be highly skeptical about many medical stories because the people who write them (and especially the headline writers) know as much about health and wellness as Mike Duffy knows about accounting rules. This is why too many medical stories in the press, on radio, on TV and online are lacking (in Stephen Colbert’s great phrase) “truthiness.” (The one major exception to this, of course, is any medical story in TVW or on Global TV News).

Dig Deeper than the Headlines on Alcohol and Pregnancy

Here’s a recent prime example of what bothers me so much about medical headlines and stories.

A study published in the British medical journal BMJ garnered a fantastic amount of media attention mainly because, I think, it seems to tell people what they want to hear — namely, that it’s okay for a pregnant woman to drink alcohol regularly because it doesn’t result in neuro-developmental damage to her baby. But this runs completely counter, of course, to the advice most experts strongly push on pregnant women — namely, that they shouldn’t drink any alcohol at all.

Thus the headlines over this study trumpeted things like, “Pregnant women can drink moderately without harming baby, study says” (Fox News) and “For pregnant women, one glass of wine a day is fine” (NY Daily News).

But those headlines are a far leap from what the researchers actually determined. They found that at the age of 10, kids of mothers who had one glass of alcohol regularly during their pregnancy did not have any greater problems with balance than did kids of moms who had no alcohol while pregnant.

That’s it, nothing more. No measure of IQ, school performance, fine motor skills or any other neurological, psychological or emotional outcome. Just no measurable difference in balance at age 10.

So the only really accurate headline was this: “Mom’s Drinking Won’t Throw Child Off Balance” (

No Known Benefit From Consuming Alcohol During Pregnancy

But just as important in making sense of this study is that there are clear differences between women who drink wine regularly during pregnancy and those who strictly adhere to the admonitions not to drink. And there really is no way to accurately determine what, if anything, those differences mean for their kids.

So, it’s impossible to draw a useful conclusion about alcohol use during pregnancy from this study, which even the researchers noted ( “Taken together, these results do not provide strong evidence of a specific effect (either adverse or beneficial) on maternal alcohol use during pregnancy.”

Amen. The bottom line for pregnant women is simple: There is absolutely no known benefit from consuming alcohol during pregnancy, so why take even the small chance of any negative consequence?

As for pregnant men, however . . .

Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.