Drinking and Pregnancy: A Revelation

This is the first in a series of posts on “Our Little Project”

ourfishyhumanIn the 1980s and early 1990s, there was great concern in the American wine industry over a phenomenon referred to a “Neo- Prohibitionism” or “Neo- Temperance”. It seemed to many that a variety of forces were combining to demonize the consumption of alcohol and alcohol itself. Bad for business!

One of the regular topics of discussion at that time was the degree to which consumption of alcohol, even in extreme moderation, might impact a developing fetus in the womb. In fact the moral crusade against drinking alcohol during pregnancy (and a now acknowledged over-hyped concern about drinking during pregnancy) led he U.S. to become the only country in the world that required wording placed on all alcohol containers warning against drinking alcohol during pregnancy. We still are the only country that requires this. A very good study of the “moral panic” surrounding alcohol and pregnancy is Elizabeth Armstrong and Ernst Abel’s paper “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Origins of a Moral Panic”.

I mention this outbreak of over-concern of drinking during pregnancy that occurred some twenty to thirty years ago because my wife, Kathy, and I had the occasion to confront the issue yesterday.

As I sat in the chair in the examination room looking with shock, amazement and excitement at some very fuzzy but miraculous black and white photos, my Kathy looked at her OB-GYN and ask, “Can I drink wine?”

Our doctor very quickly and sternly said, “No, not while you’re pregnant!”

When I heard this reply, it took a moment for the doctor’s meaning to register with me. (Those grainy photos of our half human, half fish offspring are pretty compelling.) But I did look up finally at the doctor, then at my wife…and said nothing. Though, I couldn’t help but wonder how it is that new mothers, having just gone through nine months of pretty weird and unusual circumstance and without any recourse to a drink during that time, don’t all of a sudden start celebrating with gusto, and with just about any kind of drink they can find, once the experience is over.

I’m sure I’ll have an answer to that question in a little more than six months from now.

Despite the Neo-Prohibitionist movement having largely gone away, one thing that remains is women generally abstain altogether from drinking while pregnant, despite there being no evidence that a couple of drinks a week have any impact on the developing child. Kathy has decided to not to drink for the next few months.

I, on the other hand, probably will. The odds are very good that our fishy-looking human swimming about inside Kathy’s belly right now is going to arrive right on time. That realization is definitely cause to celebrate.


27 Responses

  1. Egmont Labadie - October 25, 2013

    here in Europe there is no wording on the bottles but a pictogram looking like a road sign and forbidding pregnant women to drink wines. You’re not alone in the US to live under this general belief that not a single drop of alcohol must be consumed during pregnancy. But there are some physicians who are not so sure about this, like shown in this British study : http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2010/09/13/jech.2009.103002

  2. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Remembering Bize - October 25, 2013

    […] evidence that a couple of drinks a week have any impact on the developing child.” Tom Wark starts a new blog series about “Our Little […]

  3. Thomas Pellechia - October 25, 2013

    Congratulations, Tom, and buona fortuna, too.

    As to the issue at hand, keep this in mind: My mother gave birth successfully to ten babies. Being an Italian from Naples, and married to an Italian from Brooklyn, she had some wine throughout every pregnancy. Not one of the ten of us showed brain damage–at least not in the clinical sense 😉

    It’s all about moderation, and I would have challenged the doctor to show me the evidence, which I do when my doctor tries to persuade me to do or not do something for my health that I happen not to agree on. If the evidence is there, I relent; if it isn’t, I tell him he should stop giving advice on flimsy evidence.

    I find it interesting that even the most vociferous among us grow mute in the doctor’s office, as of these people are omnipotent seers. They are not. They barely know as much as the regular guy who reads a lot. I learned this when dealing with my own prostate cancer and after having a long conversation with an ex-NIH chief.

  4. Tom Wark - October 25, 2013

    Turns out I rarely am quiet in the doctor’s office or elsewhere. However, I was a bit stunned at the time. you see a fish-human that looks like you every day. However, it might become a topic of conversation later on. Thanks so much!!!


  5. Heidi - October 25, 2013

    Hi – I found this when I was doing some initial research. I thought it was quite interesting. It’s very comprehensive and give you details to make the decision on your own instead of the American abstinence approach (which of course has always worked well in high school sex ed classes). – http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a3542/alcohol-during-pregnancy

  6. William Allen, Palate Shepherd - October 25, 2013

    Congrats Tom and Kathy. Its always an interesting debate and decision point.

    I appreciate the more European approach and school of thought, than the typical American Puritanical one. But then I side with the Euros on many philosophical items.

    Alder did a nice article on this earlier this year, may have seen. The comments were also interesting.


    • Thomas Pellechia - October 25, 2013


      You might want to check out what’s going on in France, Italy, and England (and even Germany) regarding changing official attitudes toward alcohol. It is not pretty.

  7. Samantha Dugan - October 25, 2013

    Could not be more excited for the two of you. All my love to you both…totally teared up when I read this. Big hugs to Kathy from me.

  8. Morrie Berez - October 25, 2013

    Hey Tom: Loved your article about drinking during pregnancy. All I can say is that we, Beckie of course being the “we” here, while I only being the “adjunct” in the matter of her pregnancy (3 times resulting in the miracles called Christopher, Anna & Micah) have since so appreciated her caution as well in never touching a drop during all 3 pregnancies enabling me to embrace the joy, magic, wonder, anguish, & frustrations of being the dad—well the outcome was worth supporting my wonderful wife in her choice of NOT to imbibe during her pregnancy with those 3 great kids….as will you when the wonder and magic happens on becoming a dad, and appreciating Kathy’s choice to protect her/your baby…a choice you both will so wonderfully celebrate with the best damn wine you can enjoy when your little miracle emerges into your arms 6-months from now. I am so very happy for you both, and know that you will never regret the choice that your Kathy has made, both in you as her husband and as the wonderful mom she now is. Love to you both, Morrie

  9. Tom Wark - October 25, 2013

    Morrie, despite what I know AND knowing that I am in fact the adjunct in Our Little Project, Kathy will have all my support. But I will spend time carefully planning which wine is the first we consume together when our Little Project is firmly in hand. Thanks so much for yours and Becky’s love and support.

  10. Tom Wark - October 25, 2013


    Cry baby!!! LOL…Thanks, sweety.

  11. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka - October 25, 2013

    Love to both of you! Let me know if I can ever be of help.

    Warm congratulations!

  12. Ron Washam, HMW - October 25, 2013

    You fathered the wine blog world, now you’ve fathered something of actual value. I’m assuming the child is Natural and Authentic!

    Congratulations to both of you, and to your unborn child, who is lucky enough to have won the birth lottery.

    And remind Kathy that, now that she’s quit drinking, it’s OK to operate heavy machinery.

  13. Marcia Macomber - October 25, 2013

    Congratulations, Tom and Kathy! How very thrilling and exciting to hear. Wishing you all the best. You’re off on a new adventure!

  14. Chris O'Shea - October 25, 2013

    Congratulations! We are glad we are not alone in our thinking as we just recently went through the same internal struggle. Our GP however was totally on board with “a glass of wine every now and then”. Our OB/GYN not so much. Shannon decided on the old adage that better safe than sorry and abstained for 99.99% of the pregnancy. She had maybe one whole glass in sips of wine combined throughout the 9 months. It’s tough because we know too much of a good thing is bad for baby but she would have loved a celebratory glass of wine here and there. At the end of the day our son is happy and healthy and she’ll be back to her normal wine drinking soon. Great discussion and kudos for sharing what is a common concern.



  15. Jack Irby - October 25, 2013

    Congratulations Tom and Kathy. You’ll enjoy the ride and the beverage service along the way. All our best,

    Jack and Lori and Josh

  16. 1winedude - October 26, 2013


  17. Carol - October 26, 2013

    When I asked my super-star Alta Bates OBGYN about drinking wine during my pregnancies she said, “No Western doctor is going to give you the green light to drink alcohol during pregnancy but all of the data suggests that wine in moderation is not going to harm your baby”. She said that she couldn’t understand all of the “absolutely do not ingest” commands around so many things like deli meet, nail polish, etc. and told me to only worry about avoiding raw cheeses, raw eggs and raw fish. Two healthy and beautiful boys later, I’m glad I got to enjoy some coffee and wine along the way!

  18. Courtney Holmes - October 27, 2013

    Congratulations! What a wonderful miracle. Yes, I am wondering the same thing about wine. How will I stop drinking wine for 9 months+. Don’t forget nursing! I actually have been researching the hell on this subject and I keep hearing conflicting advice about even drinking during TTC (trying to conceive). All in all, we love wine, but for the sake of our own peace of mind it might just make sense to abstain even if the research is conflicting. Right?

  19. gabe - October 27, 2013

    My wife is a midwife, and I am a winemaker, so we have had many conversations about this topic.

    What we do know for a fact is that an average of 5 drinks per day will almost certainly lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, while 1 drink per week will not. Since it would be immoral to experiment on pregnant women, everything in between is and will forever be a gray area. Most doctors will recommend abstinence for liability reasons.

    Oh yeah, and cogratulations!

  20. John Tummon - October 28, 2013

    I operate a premium winery in Ontario, Canada. In our tasting area, we are required to prominently display a poster of a pregnant woman with the wording, “Warning: Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects and brain damage to your baby”. Failure to comply can result in loss of my license to make and sell wine.

  21. Rob McMillan - October 28, 2013

    Congratulations Tom! I’m not sure how you are going to break the news to L.B. Shrimperton III. He’s not going to like not being top dog. He might get into the habit of flying away if you aren’t careful with managing his expectations.

    • Rob McMillan - October 28, 2013

      ………and for what its worth, my wife didn’t drink during pregnancy either (I did of course) – but we got her Ariel sparkling wine (0% alc.). The sparkles and CO2 made the wine taste a little like alcohol and that got her through.

  22. Michael De Loach - October 29, 2013


    First of all, congratulations! An abundance of caution is always in order for pregnancies later in life. When my first daughter was born we were almost 40. Our doctor advised not only abstaining from alcohol, but from fish, shellfish, caffeine, and most over-the-counter drugs. When we were pregnant again four years later, the same doctor let us know, based on the last pregnancy, that it was okay to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and the fish, shellfish, caffeine, etc. was fine too. This time, however, we were to AVOID CLEANING THE CATBOX. I am not kidding.

    That being said, high-consumption “maintenance” alcoholism most definitely complicates pregnancy, increases the risk of birth defects, and hampers fetal development. Also, many of these pregnancies, mostly among younger women, are further complicated by poor nutrition, lack of access to health care, and the use of other drugs associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices, in general.

    I don’t think you guys have anything to worry about, and folks with common sense and the vaguest notions of history realize that “authorities” tend to over-react, and then apply these reactions to everyone on the planet.

    Mazel Tov!

  23. Nova C. - October 29, 2013

    Hi Tom,
    First off congrats! It is an amazing thing, bringing a life into the world. My son just turned one year. I am a winemaker and I continued to make wine while pregant. That means I continued to taste wine while pregnant however I did abstain from drinking wine, eating sushi, heavy metal fish, and taking most over the counter meds while I was pregnant and breastfeeding. I, like you, had read all the studies and heard both sides of the arguments. Being in the industry, I got a lot of lectures on why I shouldn’t be worried about drinking while pregnant because of this study or that study. I never could get comfortable with it. I had this one chance to set my son up to be healthy in life and I didn’t want to ever look back and think what if. For me, it was just easier to not worry about it. Once we got close to delivery I did take a couple of sips from my husband every now and then though. Everyone has to take their own road regardless of the general populace. I was also going to mention the EU pregnant woman sillouette that goes on each bottle but someone beat me to it.

    Congrats again!

  24. Denise - October 29, 2013

    I love looking through wine and food blogs. My friend just told me about yours and also “Cooking With Mr. C.” on Facebook. I just “Liked” his page and came to see your site. I’m glad when people share blogs with each other. Denise

  25. Maureen Muoneke MD - March 10, 2014

    Alcohol enters your blood and can cross the placenta to your developing baby. Your baby’s liver does not mature until late in the pregnancy. Your baby can’t process alcohol as well as you, and may experience higher levels of blood alcohol than you. Too much exposure to alcohol can harm your baby’s development, so experts advise women to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.

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