How to stave off questions about drinking while pregnant

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Gillie Easdon
Margaritas!
Perhaps one too many? Photo by Ashley.

I was at a party. I was pregnant. Someone handed me a half glass of wine, and I drank it. And there it was — the crack of the whip glare. At first I thought I was projecting (my rule was one-ish on a full stomach, with lots of water, to be totally honest) so I turned to the glarer, a friend of mine, who was already a mom.

"You didn't drink when you were pregnant, did you?"
"No," her tone was short and sharp.

I did not have another alcoholic beverage in a large social gathering again while pregnant. Not because I thought it was wrong, but because it simply was not worth the hassle. I wanted to enjoy that glass of wine or beer thoroughly, when I chose to have it. I did my research. I had made my decision.

There are many hot topics with pregnancy. Alcohol, caffeine, home births, hospitals, the placenta, epidurals, caesarians…blah blah blah. You name it — a pregnant woman's body is everybody's business. Coping with this can prove more tiring than growing a little foot, a little brain, a precious little spine.

As a rule, I don't lie. As a fact, I can't lie (head on collision poker face), so the two kind of work well together. Besides, if I am lying about what I am doing, how good could I possibly be feeling about the choice I made?

This is what I did to avoid waddling around with guns blazing all the time, so my body could focus on the real heart and meat of my pregnancy. May it serve someone else well too.

Person who is not you: How could you have a single drop of alcohol?
You: I like your sweater.
Person who is not you: Are you having caffeine?
You: Did you get your hair cut?
Person who is not you: Are you going to use a pacifier?
You: How is your little Bobby doing?
Person who is not you: Are you going to have a home or hospital birth?
You: That bracelet really suits the shape of your wrist!

Remember, people love to talk about themselves, and frankly it is nice to talk about something other than your pregnancy, so it works for everybody. Go team bebe!

  1. I am one of those people that asks really personal and probably inappropriate questions to mothers and soon to be mothers. I do it because it's a topic that I really like talking about. I've been dying to have a baby for years and probably won't start trying for another year. So in the mean time, whenever I'm around new moms or soon to be moms, I always enjoy asking them questions about how their going to raise their baby and so forth. Not because I want to judge and criticize them, but because I'm generally interested and at this moment having a baby is one of biggest things on my mind. I read Offbeat Mama almost every day and I do not even have a child, I'm just that baby crazy.

    I think it's interesting how people find questions about how your raising your child to be so personal. Maybe they are and maybe they are sick of answering questions about the baby. Maybe it's like when I first got engaged, I was really excited to talk about the wedding and being married and then about a few months before the wedding I was just so tired of talking about the wedding I started answering wedding questions with about as much enthusiasim as a snail.

    Personally I don't find it too personal to talk about baby rearing, but I guess I can see how others might. One time I asked my cousin-in-law if she plans on breastfeeding or not and she and her husband felt that the question was equivalent to asking wheather or not she douches.

    Maybe I should just stick to talking about babys via the internet to avoid personal and perhaps offensive questions.

    By the way, I enjoyed reading the "how to avoid baby questions Q & A." Maybe by the time I am pregnant I will feel so sick of answering personal baby questions that I will try using those "change of topic" responses.

    • Speaking for myself, I don't mind talking about child-rearing on principle. In fact, I enjoy sharing experiences and ideas. It's just that so many people use the information gleaned from these questions to judge and criticize the choices of others. What makes Offbeat Mama so refreshing is the effort to move away from that.

    • At least in my experience, it's really easy to tell the difference between someone asking questions because they're excited and interested, and someone asking questions because they want to find out if you're part of their club. I think wedding questions are a good example, actually–"Oo, what are you doing for desserts?" is very different than "You're not doing something trendy like cupcakes, are you?"

    • I think the reaction to your breastfeeding question might have been valid. I mean there is a lot of judgement around breastfeeding and many women feel attacked if they don't breastfeed. So I can see why some people would feel breastfeeding is personal.

      • This, and some women think "this shouldn't even be a question! They know I am going to breastfeed (or bottlefeed)!"

  2. I wish I had figured this out about 7 years ago as a pregnant teenager. Not only are your body and it's functions the business of everyone else you know, but people like to assume that a pregnant teenager is incapable of using sense and reading books to figure out what's going on and what she needs to do.

    Thank you for such good advice. I swear to god I will use that bracelet line every time someone asks me about my fetus in the future. Can't use the sweater one– I already utilize it when I'm asked about graduation.

    • I got a lot of this, too. I was 21 but I looked much younger, and I could see the difference in demeanor when people talked to older pregnant women vs. me. With other women it was THEIR baby, THEIR body, and they were given the benefit of the doubt that they could take care of it for themselves. With me, it was always a tone of "Oh sweeeeeeetie-pie, let me educate you with old-school baby knowledge that is outdated and borderline scary, but must be better than whatever you were going to do with your kid!"

    • That happened to me with my first pregnancy too, I was 18-19 with fire engine red hair, so obviously I was incapable of looking after myself, and *gasp a baby too! I was 25 with my second, and it was a completely different ball game, but not so many questions were asked seeing as how first baby was 5-6 at the time and a lot of times he'd actually answer them (want more dirty looks from know-it alls? Have your opinionated kid that talks like an adult answer heh heh heh)

  3. People are weird when it comes to raising children. Honestly, I've been open about the fact I have had a few swallows of wine here and there (Hell, I went to France while pregnant, how could I not at least taste it?) but that's gotten pretty much NO flak. I have gotten way more crap about cloth diapering, etc and so forth than I have about my occasional swallow of wine. And people don't go 'oh, cloth diapering/breastfeeding/natural birth is bad' they go 'Sure, you say that now'. I really want to punch the next person who says that to me. Just because you didn't do it, doesn't mean I'm not capable of doing it.

  4. Hi there! I am pregnant currently and have never felt so physically vulnerable and open to unsolicited comments, peering, touching and really ignorant "advice." Congrats on finding a way to talk with people who cross those boundaries, you sound hilariously diplomatic, I admire your style. Best of luck to you and thank you for your post!

  5. "You'll seeeee…"

    I get that one too. It's funny…I already have a 16 year old so I've been there and done that when it comes to being pregnant and a parent. Still, people act like my 8 month old is my first child.

    I didn't drink during pregnancy, it was my choice. I don't see the harm in a glass of wine. I'd rather see that than see a pregnant woman smoking.

  6. I had a glass of wine every now and then starting in the middle of my second trimester. I also ate sushi. And deli meat that I didn't nuke. And coffee. I also got my heartrate up to "unacceptable" levels, and did yoga inversions when I was pretty dang pregnant and pilates until I almost gave birth. But I did all this in moderation, and I also made informed choices about it. Just like you, I did *not* drink in public, because it just wasn't worth it to deal with the mean looks, etc. Here in Berkeley, people are SO EXCITED to come up to you and tell you exactly what you're doing wrong with your baby. Don't use that carrier, it'll hurt his hips! Don't put your baby in a stroller, it's bad attachment parenting! Don't keep your baby in your bed, he might fall out! Don't put your baby in that highchair, he's too young! On and on and on and on. It's amazing. And exhausting. And makes me want to punch know-it-alls all the dang time.

  7. I had a glass..ok a few glasses of wine at my baby shower. The shower was a week before I gave birth, I figured hey my kids formed, he'll be fine. And guess what? He was fine! Shocking, I know. I thought my Mother's jaw was going to fall off from hanging open the entire shower in shock because I was having a drink. Good thing she didn't know about the marijauna I used to combat morning sickness. Her head would have exploded.

  8. I dont think you should avoid talking about it. If you believe that what you are doing is okay, say so. A well informed opinion should stand on its own.

  9. A male coworker butted in to a conversation I was having with someone else to tell them that I wasn't allowed to have strawberries while I was pregnant. Apparently he'd heard it would give the baby allergies. It didn't. My grandmother told me how proud she was that I had "given up" caffeine while I was pregnant. If she had known how nauseous coffee made me during my first trimester, she might not have been quite so ready to throw a parade.

  10. I don't believe in a lot of what we are told to not do while pregnant. I never really drank alcohol before getting pregnant so I just don't now that I am pregnant. However, I think that with all the studies there are saying how alcohol harms a fetus it's best not too but we always need to listen to our bodies, and I think most of us would only have one [perhaps two] glasses of wine and realize that getting "shit faced" in unacceptable.
    I couldn't imagine drinking in a public setting. I had a cup of coffee the other day at work [I work at a restaurant] and three of the ladies I work with decided to start a debate about how caffeine is harmful of fetuses.
    The strawberry thing that Amy mentioned is really weird… although I've heard the same thing about nuts.

  11. It's amazing how critical of mothers/pregnant women some people are. I must give off a "don't fuck with me vibe" or something, because I never once had a stranger rub my belly or tell me I shouldn't be doing whatever it was I happened to be doing. 🙂

    As for the alcohol thing, I think I had a half a glass here and there in my 3rd trimester. (It's hard to remember now, over 3 years later, eek!!)

    It drives me nuts how judgemental people are when it comes to women and parenting. It's really misogynistic.

  12. I read a great article when I was pregnant wherein the author theorized that all the ridiculous OMG DON'T DO THIS WHEN YOU'RE PREGNANT!!! warnings were just one more way a patriarchal society tries to exert control over women. I wish I could find it now … the point was excellently stated.

    • Oh, I totally agree with that. It's all an extension of society's belief that women, and PARTICULARLY pregnant women, and mothers are public property, and therefore should be told what they can and cannot do. And if they deviate…well, we'll just shame them back into line.

  13. While I don't doubt that copious amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can't be good for unborn babies, I find it interesting that during the middle ages alcohol would have been all that most women drank for the duration of pregnancy … smoked meats would have been the norm, as with a variety of cheese. They would have been working hard all day long, and doing all sorts of things we're told to avoid these days! We really are a bit of a cotton wool society.

    • Of course, in the middle ages, stillbirths and maternal and infant mortality rates were far higher, and average life expectancy was 30. Personally, I'll take cotton wool over a life that is nasty, brutish and short.

  14. It's funny I always thought when I got pregnant I would be happily have a glass of wine every once and a while. I'd done the research and made an informed decision on the matter. There are some studies that even suggest a glass of wine a day can be beneficial.

    BUT now that I am 6 wks pregnant I feel differently about it. Maybe its because its early in the pregnancy and I'm paranoid but atm the thought of having alcohol seems absurd. I dont judge anyone else's choice to do it since I still logically think its fine, but my emotions are now saying no.

    Very weird how pregnancy changes you quite suddenly without you even understanding it!

    Anyway, all this being said, if i do later decide to have a drink, I sure wont be doing it in public. Pregnancy is going to be stressful enough without adding more judgement on top from busy bodies.

    • On a related note, my kids will totally be drinking watered-down wine from a youngish age, and full strength by teen years, under supervision and with dinner, of course. I started occasionally drinking with my parents at age 15. By the summer before college I was drinking a glass or two every night, always in a convivial atmosphere. Guess who was the only freshman to not get shit-faced as often as possible? The only one who'd been partaking of the forbidden fruit for years, in pleasant company, which is a helluva lot nicer than keg stands at frat parties. It also taught me moderation in a lot of other areas of life. So yes, my kids are going to grow up learning how to respect potentially dangerous but highly enjoyable things. Possibly from utero 🙂

      • I always drank with my parents. That first sentence sounds really bad. What I mean is that we always had wine on special occasions, and I had sips of their alcohol of other kinds growing up as well. I am married, considering kids, have a university degree and then some, live a happy life, and I have never, not even once, been drunk.

        So yeah, parents who let their kids drink before the age of majority (which is 18 where I am), are not evil. I will be doing the same thing with my kid(s) so I totally see where you are coming from.

        I remember I had a prof in university who went on and on about how allowing kids to drink before it was legal was teaching them to break the law and they would be more likely to be criminals lol. I would have been angry, but the fact I haven't even tried pot and I live in a city where cops wouldn't say anything to me if I was smoking it right in front of them pretty much proves that prof wrong.

        This whole comment is making me sound like a goody-goody. Really, I am not that boring.

        • My parents never drank at all, which somehow made me not drink till I was about 20-21. But then once I discovered how great booze was I went overboard and got drunk too often.

          By not having good role models "teaching" me how to drink responsibly I didnt learn moderation in that area.

          I will be letting my teens have small amounts in a family supervised environment.

  15. It's interesting how humongous a stigma we have in the US about alcohol during pregnancy. In Europe (from what I've read) it's not considered a big deal if a woman has a glass of wine or two regularly during pregnancy. In fact, sometimes it's encouraged.

    I think we're so lawsuit-happy in the US that organizations/doctors/the-powers-that-be would rather say "don't do anything" than say one thing is okay and then something bad happen. When you get down to it, about the only thing we can control is what goes into our mouth, so we grip that control with all our might!

    (And why can't I spell "humongous" today???)

  16. I just love "That bracelet really suits the shape of your wrist!" I hope to inject that into a conversation at some point today. 🙂 I'm not pregnant, but I still like its randomness.

  17. I asked my doctor about alcohol while pregnant, and was assured that a glass of wine on special occasions was fine. AWESOME! I probably had… 5 glasses? through my entire pregnancy. And then in the hospital, having delivered a lovely and healthy baby… the woman who took the information for the birth certificate asked if I drank while pregnant. Holy crap! Lied through my teeth there – no way am I giving that kind of controversial information out where it can be attached to my kid for life! If I'd been approached with that question in a controlled (anonymous/confidential) scientific study, sure. ain't got nothing to do with no birth certificate, tho!

    For the record, I did have some of those 5 glasses in public. My mom just asked what the rules were this year (my brother the bartender was the most surprised family member), and no one ever said anything "out."

  18. I've abstained from alcohol so far, despite the fact that the pregnancy-related issues make me want booze more than I ever have in my life.

    The reason? I'm the world's biggest lightweight. Two drinks, even two girlie drinks, can knock me on my ass. *Wine* makes me woozy if I haven't eaten anything. Bottom line, my body *sucks* at handling alcohol, so I'm just not going to risk it.

    (I cut out the caffeine too, but that was mostly an iron thing. When I was on a vegetarian diet, I had to take a lot of iron supplements. Then I cut caffeine out of my diet and bang! great iron levels, no pills or diet changes necessary. Now that I know I need even more iron, I'm staying off the coffee.)

  19. The unfortunate thing is that it doesn't end with the birth of your child; then you get the "is it ok to have a drink when you're breastfeeding?" question. And unlike the pregnancy one where people give you the evil glares, without asking you to explain it, I find I have to tell everyone that yes, it is OK to have a drink, that I feel it is okay to have one or two or even three (depending on the drink and situation and time between), and I have to tell this to pretty much anyone I am with. OK so it's actually not that bad, I think it is a way grey-er area than during pregnancy and I think people are just curious… but totally annoying.
    Everything in moderation, right? As soon as I announced our pregnancy, my inlaws stopped offering me wine with dinner. Not a thing was discussed. With my own parents at Christmas dinner, my mom decided to open up the debate in front of the family, when I had a nice glass of rich red Syrah. I stood my ground and thoroughly enjoyed both the glass and the controversy. And my baby is perfect in every way 🙂 Those cats in Europe know what they are doing.

  20. Thanks for this. I still don't know what it is about pregnancy that suddenly makes people comfortable offering unsolicited opinions on things they would consider off-limits any other time. I drank occasionally while pregnant and disliked the disgusted looks more than any comments. At least with comments, I could have a discussion about it. I honestly don't mind questions that come from a place of interest or curiosity; I am curious myself and love to have discussions with people who have made choices other than my own. It is when opinions are treated as undeniable fact – re: pregnancy, child-rearing or otherwise – or when one is judged or otherwise treated differently because of their decision, that I have a serious problem.

  21. I love this article. Too often we judge other moms/moms-to-be about things that are frankly no one's business. I remember having breakfast at a local diner with a friend. At this particular restaurant the server leaves the coffee carafe on the table if you order coffee. I jokingly said "gee thanks now I'm going to drink it all." The next time the waitress came back my friend asked her to take the carafe away! Didn't she know I was joking?? Ugh…I hate that crap. Now that I've had my baby it's worse too. I couldn't get my 8 month old to take a bath. She was scared to death so it was recommended to me to take a bath with her and show her it wasn't scary. I told my SIL this and she acted like I was some kind of weirdo. Ugh…I get sick of it…

  22. Gosh, I really hope I remember this article when I'm pregnant! My husband and I aren't planning on it for another few years (if we can make it that long), but I know that as much as I want to have a child I am going to be the Bitchiest pregnant lady ever when it comes to the "You'll See's" and ignorant advice mostly because I spent my undergrad studying Early Childhood Development and Education. Yup, that's right all you "You'll See's"… I'm probably more prepared for my baby NOW than you are now that your child it grown!

  23. A former therapist taught me how to shut down unwanted confrontation/judgement by saying this:

    "Your opinion on this matter means nothing to me."

    Harsh but works every time!

    • "Your opinion on this matter means nothing to me."
      I really need to get over my Seattle passivity so that I can pull this one out at some point. BRiLLIANT!

  24. I'm only 8 wks pregnant with my 1st child, and thankfully the people in my life who know about my pregnancy are super supportive and "know better":P than to compete with my stubborness. I come from the "You are entitled to have an opinion as long as you don't force it upon me" school of thought.

    As for the alcohol thing, right now, the idea of drinking makes me feel like vommiting…I work in a bar and unfortunately sometimes just smelling alcohol on people's breath makes me queezy. So even though I'm not against it(in moderation), at this point I don't think I'll be drinking at all while pregnant.

  25. It has only been very recent that I have allowed a single drop of alcohol, I am about 6mos along and this is my first child. I think if you are to have any sort of alcoholic beverage that it should be organic. I have had a two glasses of wine and a literal cup of beer. For the beer I was just more curious than anything. I read an few articles that linked beer to breast milk and it's production. Before I was waking up with just a little dried up milk but actually after having this single cup of beer (It's been a week) my breast milk has started to flow a lot more leaving a soppy bra. Now that I slightly regret my decision I am also find it interesting that beer possibly can cause milk production.

    Before doing this I must add I did speak to my midwife and a few folks that are in the health care industry. Alcohol even a little may not be for everyone but for me once in a while a little organic glass of wine or a actual literal cup of beer is nice.

  26. I've been craving a beer during my pregnancy. Although my friends have been saying it's okay to have a glass of wine or a beer once a week, I haven't been able to bring myself to do it. I guess I'm being super paranoid. I know if something is wrong with the baby, I would beat myself up over that one beer, even though I know it truly wasn't the cause.
    I haven't scoffed at women who have chosen to have a drink. Although, I have to admit, I did get a little concerned once watching a very pregnant woman drink several mixed drinks in a smokey bar, but to each their own, right?

  27. I am making no comments about anyone involved in this article, or anyone who has relayed there personal similar experience. I just felt I had to express my shock. I honestly had no idea that people still were choosing to drink while pregnant after doing research and being informed. I was completely floored.
    I am not pregnant. I never plan on being pregnant. Part of the reason why I never plan being pregnant is because I spend my professional life taking care of children who cannot be taken care of by their parents. Many of these children have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/fasd-etcaf/faq-eng.php) FASD is real, its not a made up, its not an oppressive notion, its not a theory. It's a devastatingly horrible disorder that cannot be cured and the only way to get it is if the mother consumes alcohol during her pregnancy. One glass ever, or a bottle a day, it does not matter.
    It may be that the chances seem slim to none that someone who has a glass of wine may cause their baby to be born with FASD, but there is still a chance. I encourage anyone who wants to be informed about what can happen from drinking while they are pregnant to go and volunteer with an agency that helps to treat/support/house people with FASD.
    FASD is heartbreaking. I cannot even express to you how heartbreaking. Anyone who would like to contact me about what I have said, I encourage it.

    Sorry if anyone thinks I am being preachy, it was not my intent. This is my personal experience on a professional level as a social, worker working with FASD. I can only hope that lack of FASD education is the cause of people choosing to drink while pregnant, and not that people are dismissing FASD as serious disorder.

    • Christie, I totally appreciate you providing this perspective — and I certainly don't think anyone's denying the serious issues surrounding FASD. I think it's hard to be a pregnant woman in the US and *not* be keenly aware of FASD, something I hope this post recognizes. No one's advocating heavy drinking during pregnancy — but I think there is a strong response against the culture of "all or nothing" recommendations around health issues in the US.

    • Thanks for posting this Christie – I feel the same way. My (adopted) step brother has FASD; he's 40 years old and will never hold a steady job, and has been living below the poverty line since moving out on his own. He has learning disabilities and social issues that make it difficult for him to function even within the circle of family.

      I think the key point you're making here is that one drink IS too much, and DOES potentially put someone at risk for having a baby with FASD.

      I struggle with this in Canada because my first thought is "If you go ahead and drink, don't expect us to pay for the social programs your baby will need growing up!" But who can deny a baby, a child, or even an adult the care needed due to something entirely out of their control?

    • FASD is certainly a VERY serious matter, and I don't think anyone is attempting to diminish the seriousness of it. However, my research shows that there have been no incidences of FASD found in babies whose mothers consumed no more than one drink a day.

      The American Medical Association recommends that pregnant women comsume absolutely no alcohol during pregnancy. However, the research doesn't really bear out that absolute abstinence is necessary.

  28. I've been having so much angst over the drinking thing, though I refuse to hide my choice from anyone that I'm not abstaining from all drops of anything related to booze. I'm in month 6, I have had maybe a third-of-an-ounce or less of wine or beer on occasions, mayyyybe totaling 4-6 oz over the course of the whole pregnancy. Mostly it comes in tiny tiny sips of other people's drinks, because I miss the flavor.

    I'm an engineer, I've done the research, and yet, despite all this, I still find myself running mental circles over the paranoia that I could be doing something BAD to my child, despite all knowledge to the contrary. I'm not so worried about the social stigma itself, people can be like that and one deals; it's more that the debate is so heated, so vehement, that intelligent, well-informed people can be made to second-guess their best judgments in such an extreme fashion. Logic and research indicate that I'm WAY under the safety line on this issue, and yet, I get so stressed that I stop after the third or fourth tiny sip.

    I've gotten a few people asking what I was drinking at parties (um, water, with lime in it, or *gasp* with some mostly-frozen fruit from the sangria bowl), and I look at them funny. I respond "Vodka, obviously!" But everyone knows I'm taking minuscule sips of things here and there, so it's not all that surprising that some are willing to ask. I appreciate their concern to a certain extent; I didn't think about tonic water being bad, and might still be drinking it if someone hadn't pointed out that quinine is not good for fetuses.

    Why is it that regular binge drinking(~1,000-10,000 oz over 9mo), a glass a week (~320 oz over 9mo), and tiny sips here and there (~9 oz over 9mo) amount to the same thing for so many people, despite up to 1000x variance in volume? Orders of magnitude of paranoia are available to each and every one of us, AND everyone who knows we're knocked up. As long as everyone treats everyone else's decisions with respect, variation is probably good for the species.

  29. I'm pretty sure this comment will get deleted but I'm going to say it anyway.

    wow, hold up. There is a difference between doing something like, eating strawberries and smoking or *drinking*. The fact remains that alcohol can and *does* cause major problems for developing babies; problems that last for the rest of their lives.

    Maybe a glass doesn't hurt; but why risk it? Fetal alcohol Syndrome isn't some made up scare tactic; it's real and very damaging.

    I think it's really funny that everyone claims they don't judge anyone. I'm calling your collective bluffs.

    And if we're telling the truth here; I totally judge women who drink while pregnant and I judge parents who smoke while pregnant and around their children period and I also judge those parents who sit on the bus for an hour and never look up from texting on their phones and totally ignore their kids.

    I hope that people judge me if they think I'm doing something to harm my future children too. I'd rather people *care* about children than be polite.

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