We get pretty emotional about children. Sometimes, it seems we get even more emotional about fetuses. I remember back when crack was the new drug on the block and children of crack addicted mothers turned up with severe developmental problems. A “crack mother” was seen as pretty much the worst kind of person on the planet.
But after the fervor died down and scientists got to work without so much political hoo-ha, they discovered that crack wasn’t really that much of a problem for babies.
Many recall that “crack babies,” or babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time written off by many as a lost generation. They were predicted to suffer from severe, irreversible damage, including reduced intelligence and social skills. It was later found that this was a gross exaggeration.
The real problem, it turns out, is poverty. What a surprise, eh? Ask any social worker and she’ll tell you that poverty is pretty much the ultimate problem in just about every situation where a child is being harmed. Alcoholism, drug abuse, deadbeat dads, neglect, physical abuse… you name it. Poverty is one of the best predictors of severe problems.
But we as a nation have been trained well. Throw a picture of a sad child on the TV and tell us what the enemy is and we’ll start a war against it. Damn the evidence, FULL SPEED AHEAD! So when the government decided that crack was a good enemy, we rallied behind the flag.
But that’s kind of old news for a lot of folks. Crack isn’t the boogeyman anymore.
What about something a little closer to home, like alcohol and pregnancy? That’s a big bugaboo for sure. I’ve seen it firsthand. A woman having a few sips of wine while pregnant is looked at like the second coming of Stalin. But the science doesn’t back it up anymore. It’s ok to drink in moderation while you’re pregnant.
The study, which found no evidence of harm from having a couple drinks a week during pregnancy, was so well done and its findings so conclusive that it ought to become the final word in the field, said Fred Bookstein, an applied statistician who studies fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at both the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of Vienna.
“This is such a good study that it should shut down this line of research,” said Boostein, who plans to refer people to the paper when they ask him about drinking during pregnancy, and hopes that research dollars can now go towards finding the effects of other, more troublesome chemicals.
But that’s not all. It’s also pretty likely that a little bit of happy water is good for the mother and the child.
Final results of the study, published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, agreed with previous work that children born to heavy binge drinkers do worst on developmental tests, because excessive exposure to alcohol in the womb kills nerve cells and causes brain damage.
The kids of teetotalers did almost as poorly (emphasis mine –HD), however, reflecting the complicated phenomenon that people who never drink have poor outcomes on many measures of health.
How about that! We really don’t like women who drink while pregnant. We really, really don’t like it. But it’s probably better to have a little wine. And we’d have never figured that out unless we did really good, rock solid science. If emotions ruled the day, we’d continue to insist that teetotaling is the only way to be a good mother.
I’m sure a lot of people will continue to abstain completely. And their children will continue to do poorly compared to those of the mothers who drink in moderation. But there are a few folks here and there who actually trust science and will give themselves permission to be a little more relaxed during those terribly taxing nine months, and they and their children will be happier for it.
And maybe when the children grow up, they’ll trust science enough to start attacking poverty the way we’ve attacked drugs for the last 20 years. And then more people will be happier and healthier. And wouldn’t that be nice!