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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) Less Likely Than You'd Think

The Sociological Images blog BLEW MY MIND this morning when I read their post about the relative dangers of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).  To sum up, FAS is actually very rare, and is only weakly correlated with alcohol consumption by pregnant women.  "only about 5% of alcoholic women give birth to babies who are later diagnosed with FAS."

However, we are led to believe - by the most well meaning people - that a single sip of wine during pregnancy will corrupt your baby, and lead to the birth of a monster.  This, despite the evidence before us in other countries and in our own past.  It turns out that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is much more of a PERCEIVED health risk than an ACTUAL health risk.  Even if you are a raging alcoholic who spends her entire pregnancy sloshed, your baby has only a 5% chance of developing FAS.

I have never even been pregnant, but even I "knew" that pregnant women shouldn't drink.  However, just yesterday I read about how pregnant mothers in France continue smoking and drinking throughout their pregnancies.  Doctors in France advise women to limit their intake to only one or two glasses of wine per day.  And they advise pregnant women to stop smoking only so far as smoking kills - not with specific regard to the fetus per se.

Nevertheless, the list of things that pregnant American women "should" avoid is long, and getting longer.  It started with alcohol and cigarettes.  Then it was caffeine.  (This American mommy blogger living in France describes a time when she was eight months pregnant and wanted to order a Coke, but opted not to because she was worried that the pregnant woman at the table next to her might judge her for drinking caffeine.  Then watched as that woman "pushed away her plate and lit up a cigarette.")

This is part of a two-pronged attack on pregnant women.  The first elicits public approval for shaming them.  If a visibly pregnant woman tried to order a glass of wine, there would be horrified gasps aplenty.  Even though most pregnant women have parents whose own parents drank like crazy throughout their pregnancy.  (You've seen "Mad Men," right?)  We are a nation of busybodies, and we love nothing more than getting self-righteous about babies.

The second point of the attack seeks to frighten expectant mothers.  We are also a culture of fear, and the fear quotient soars exponentially when it comes to babies.  Pregnant women are now advised to avoid eating eggs, fish, sushi, unpasteurized juice, caffeine, hot dogs, bacon, sausage, diet soda, deli meat, honey, soft cheeses, mousse, tiramisu, shellfish - and that's just what I found with a bit of quick Googling.

If you look closely, there is always a disclaimer.  "Studies are inconclusive about the damage X can cause, but why take the risk?"  Why take the risk, indeed.  Unfortunately, pregnancy is just risky, and there is nothing that can be done about that.  Until someone invents the Pregnancy Bubble, so that pregnant women can live in a perfectly germ-free environment, in which they will consume nothing but nutrition bars.  

I mean, why take the risk, right?

Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user davhor