Why was mother told to drink stout yet today pregnant women are ordered to avoid wine?

Ellen Widdup

Ellen Widdup - Credit: Archant

When we found out we were expecting our third child, my husband cracked open a bottle of champagne we had been saving for such a celebration.

He poured himself a large glass but as I tipped my own flute for some bubbles he whisked it away.

“I’ll get you a fizzy water,” he said firmly as I muttered a weak protest.

During your life, you are given plenty of well-meaning advice – from doctors, experts, newspapers, scientists, friends, family, strangers.

You learn to filter it – tending to accept anything that dovetails nicely with what you have already decided to do.


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But then you get pregnant and suddenly there is a 100 times more of this advice and it is 100 times more militant.

Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t eat blue cheese, unpasturised cheese, rinded cheese, goat’s cheese. Basically steer clear of cheese.

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Don’t eat soft scoop ice cream, runny eggs, coleslaw, rice salad.

Nuke your beef steak, lamb cutlets, pork sausages and chicken breasts.

Forget coffee, tea and dark chocolate and forgo pâté, terrines, sliced meat, sushi, sashimi and smoked fish.

Adhere to other fish injunctions too, which tend to be about mercury - oh, and avoid bagged salad.

You need to follow these strict instructions because, quite frankly, nobody trusts you to take care of yourself.

And why should they? After all you are a ridiculous shape and an emotional wreck.

Last month a study claimed that drinking in pregnancy was common in the UK, labeling it a “significant public health concern”.

The authors of the report pointed out that in Ireland, New Zealand and Australia doctors recommended no alcohol for the entire pregnancy, while in the UK there is no official government guidance on the issue.

Most British doctors say one to two units once or twice a week will do no harm after the first three months.

All agree that drinking excessively is bad news and can lead to foetal alcohol syndrome. But the most recent research into drinking in pregnancy says there is no evidence whatsoever that the odd alcoholic beverage harms a baby’s neurodevelopment.

My midwife told me that one or two drinks a week was “probably fine.”

But what does that even mean?

“Probably fine” sounds downright wishy washy.

Which seems to be true about a lot of advice given to pregnant women.

This time around I have suffered with chronic migraines.

My doctor prescribed paracetamol but when I went to the pharmacist with my prescription she tutted.

“Haven’t you seen the latest research?” she admonished.

Apparently some scientists reckon popping painkillers can impact the reproductive system of unborn males.

Now I don’t know if I’m having a boy or a girl but gee whizz, I don’t want to risk jeopardising my chances of becoming a grandparent.

So I’ve been lying in a darkened room with an ice pack for the last 48 hours thinking about how terribly difficult it is to sift out the sensibility from the scaremongering.

Especially when the messages change so frequently.

Around 37 years ago when I was conceived, a glass of stout a day was considered a decent way to proceed. Full of iron, apparently.

But while this may not be very scientific either, the lack of alcohol-related brain damage in our generation should militate against blank credulity when you are told not to touch a drop.

Which is what has happened in the last few years “although there is no new scientific evidence” to back this up, as one recent report admitted.

You can see my frustration surely?

Isn’t everyone just being over cautious?

“Don’t come crying to us if it all goes wrong. We have already warned you to be perfect.”

Which leads me to listeria hysteria.

I struggle massively with this one, mainly because when I am not pregnant I live on sushi and Brie. Not together obviously. That would be repulsive.

The reason pregnant women are told not to eat these things – and many others besides – is that they have an increased risk of listeria, a nasty bacteria that can result in listeriosis, a very serious disease.

But if I got listeriosis, the national papers would know about it. It would be the fourth outbreak that has occurred in this country in the past 20 years, the last of which, ironically, occurred in a hospital.

Of course pregnant women should “err on the side of caution” but it’s so easy to become neurotic.

A few weeks ago a barrister at a well-known coffee chain suggested I have a decaf latte instead of my usual fare because “caffeine has been linked to a low birthweight”.

He looked about 18 and I was tempted to question where he received his information but instead I slinked off to Google it and nurse my mug of pointlessness (coffee’s very reason for existence is the legal buzz isn’t it? That and it helps with bowel movements – a medical necessity when pregnant one might think).

But annoyingly the spotty teen was right.

According to some, to order a double espresso is almost on the same scale of taboo as buying a pack of fags. But again, there isn’t any evidence to suggest the odd slurp does any damage.

Now obviously I don’t smoke. And although I have the odd cup, I’m not much of a coffee drinker either. I eat a well-balanced diet and am not some sort of lush.

But I am also rather sick of being told what not to do all the time – especially when recommendations are often contradictory.

Believe it or not, us pregnant women are still in possession of adult judgment and are still allowed to use it.

And treating our bodies like temples in the quest to create a perfect child is tricky when we are expected to follow a largely arbitrary script without question.

To be brutally honest the rules and regulations just make me want to reach for a small glass of red.

In the privacy of my own home of course. With the blinds down, curtains drawn, and TV turned up loud, lest anyone hear the telltale sound of a cork popping and beat down the door to enforce their opinion.

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