pregnant woman having backache

A couple of weeks ago it was reported that a study had found that pregnant women often feel stressed and judged. There was pressure to conform to some “ideal” behaviour in pregnancy and that any deviation from this made you a “bad mother (to be)”.

In the 1950’s a large percentage of the population smoked. This was not a good thing but somehow we are all here today. Alcohol consumption per capita is decreasing, notwithstanding that some in society drink too much. The paranoia about what foods are “safe” has reached ridiculous levels. It is seriously a wonder that the human race has gotten to the 21st century through the mortal hazards of salami or brie.

It is of course not good for the developing baby to smoke whilst pregnant. Only a small percentage of women still do. It is also not good to drink excess alcohol. This is where the pious health zealots go too far on preaching and judgment.

Repeated studies have shown that less than 1% of women drink at a level, which may harm their baby. Over a ten-year period the official guidelines changed from total abstinence to less than six standard drinks per week back to total abstinence. During that time the behaviour of women was consistent with 99% consuming less than six standard drinks per week.

This means that if a woman has an odd glass of wine they are not harming the baby and also not being a bad mother. The stress of needless worry is more likely to do harm.

Previous work has not shown any correlation with minimal alcohol consumption and problems in childhood. A new major study, which I discussed on my regular segment with Paul Murray on 6PR last week, confirms this.

The children of 10,500 women were followed through to age 7 and assessed for behavioral, learning and other problems. There was no difference between those where no alcohol was consumed and those where up to one drink per day was consumed. The study gained little publicity. Had the result shown a difference it would have been widely publicized.

Contrast a study showing a “link” between male alcohol consumption and the development of rare childhood cancers. The study was on 690 families but was hailed as being significant and having an important message. Interestingly the same study showed a reduced rate of some other cancers but this was dismissed as not being relevant.

Both findings are nonsense.

I could do a study and show a link between cancers and the star sign you were born under or what your favourite color is. All that is needed is a statistical correlation. Small numbers make this even easier.

The only mechanism whereby paternal alcohol consumption can affect a child is if it causes mutations in the sperm DNA. This would be fairly easy to demonstrate. It wasn’t. Furthermore the cancers looked at do not have a genetic causation.

Am I making a case to drink in pregnancy? Of course not!

I am making a case for getting off the backs of women who want to enjoy an occasional drink whilst pregnant without being hectored. Especially when there is absolutely NO basis to do so.

As I wrote previously the problems caused by excess alcohol in western societies dwarves that of all illicit drugs combined. Collectively we drink too much. Individually the majority consume responsibly.

People who are responsible anyway tend to worry the most whereas those who don’t care worry little. Hence hectoring health messages completely miss the intended target whilst making those who do the right thing worry that they are not being “right enough”. This is wrong.

Useful messages are also undermined when nonsense “statistical link” studies with conflicting results are hailed as being important because they confirm bias whilst useful large studies are ignored, as they do not conform.

Science is supposed to be about questioning beliefs and ideas not just confirming our current ideas. This example with alcohol is not the only one where inconvenient facts are ignored when they conflict with “conventional thinking”.

Medical science and its publicly funded cheerleaders need to lift their game. In the meantime can we give women a break from judgment and hectoring?