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The Truth About Drinking and Pregnancy

The last week has been incredibly eye opening. Over 200 of you took my survey about pregnancy and drinking and not only answered the questions, but came back with some incredibly insightful feedback. I included many of your comments (arguing both sides) below. I also reached out to doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, and some of my favorite mamas to get a full picture of how people are thinking and talking about it these days. Sadly, out of the three doctors I asked to participate, two said they didn’t feel comfortable being quoted on this subject. Many of my friends said the same thing. I guess that goes to show just how controversial it can be.

While nobody advocated heavy drinking (obviously), it was pretty much down the middle on whether it’s ok to drink in moderation or not. The biggest lesson that I learned in this exercise is that people are very opinionated on this topic, no matter which way they lean. When I brought it up last week, I’ve never in my life received more hateful emails and comments. I honestly had no idea what a stir it would cause, and for that I’m sorry. I’m sorry to anyone that I offended and I’m sorry that I did this to myself because it’s caused me excruciating anxiety and many tears over the last week. I decided to pick myself up, and put that energy into this post, so that more people can be informed.

Since then, I’ve read countless articles that scared the crap out of me and made me feel like I’m going to be the worst mother in the world for the handful of glasses of wine I’ve had over the last few months, and some others that made me relax about it a little.

After all of the research I’ve done, I think I’m going to stick to a few sips of my husband’s wine only on special occasions. This exercise changed my view, and I’m grateful for your help with this! That being said, please remember that I’m a first time mom who is trying my best to do everything right, but it can be hard when you get conflicting advice from people that you trust and respect.

I want to be very clear that this post isn’t about giving advice or swaying you one way or the other. It’s just to share what I learned. Every woman’s decision is her own and it should be talked about with her doctor.

So let’s jump right in…

First, let’s review the survey results:

Note: The totals might not always add up to 100% because some of you selected “other” as an answer.

How often is it ok for a pregnant woman to drink wine?
42%- Once in a while
33%- Never
15%- One glass per week
4%- One glass per day

How often is it ok for a pregnant woman to drink beer?
43%- Never
36%- Once in a while
14%- One glass per week
3%- One glass per day

How often is it ok for a pregnant woman to drink hard liquor?
83%- Never
7%- Once in a while
4%- One glass per week

Did you drink when you were pregnant (if applicable)?
64%- No
36%- Yes

Now, let’s read some articles:

You can find hundreds of articles that argue both sides of the story, so I’m posting a few that I found interesting from each camp.

Slate looks into What the Experts Don’t Tell You
Harvard Health Publications posted an article: Drinking a Little Alcohol in Early Pregnancy May be Ok in 2013.
March of Dimes strongly disagrees.
The Huffington Post also argues that no amount of alcohol is worth it in this piece: Is It Ok to Drink Alcohol While Pregnant? 10 Things You Should Know.
One woman wrote Why I Drank While I Was Pregnant for Cosmopolitan.
The Scientific American asks How Much Alcohol is Safe for Expectant Mothers?

Let’s hear what the experts and mamas have to say:

I asked a lot of friends and acquaintances to participate, and the majority didn’t feel comfortable being quoted on this topic. Thank you to everyone who shared your honest opinion!

“Patients often ask me about alcohol consumption during pregnancy. They say thing like “my mom drank when she was pregnant with me” or “my friend’s doctor in France lets her drink wine with dinner.” The answer I always give is that there is no amount of alcohol that is known to be safe. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe form of what is more broadly known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These can include growth problems, mental and behavioral problems, learning disabilities and abnormal facial features and these effects are for life. While FAS most commonly occurs in women who drink heavily (this is considered 3 drinks in one occasion or 7 or more drinks per week), these effects can also occur with smaller amounts of alcohol. My general advice to patients is that if they want to taste their partner’s wine or cocktail, have a glass of champagne at a wedding or a glass of wine here and there during the pregnancy on special occasions that’s ok but that anything more than the occasional drink or small taste just isn’t worth a lifetime of raising a child affected by FAS.” – Dr. Jamie Kramer, OB/GYN, 36 weeks pregnant

“Hate to be a buzzkill here, but all the major health organizations, including the CDC, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes and others recommend against drinking any amount of alcohol at any point during a pregnancy–and even while trying to conceive. Alcohol is a known neurotoxin that can cross through the placenta and potentially harm a growing baby. While we probably all know a mom-to-be who has enjoyed an occasional glass of wine, there really is no established safe limit or window for drinking when pregnant, so my personal advice is to abstain. In fact, it’s way better to save that glass of vino to celebrate the arrival of your beautiful bundle of joy! In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite mocktails: Combine bubbly seltzer with pomegranate juice and some seeds in a pretty champagne glass. Cheers!” – Joy Bauer, Nutritionist for NBC’s The TODAY Show

“To drink or not to drink during pregnancy, that is the question. Since we cannot quantify how much alcohol is safe, the official stance of health care professionals and what we learn in medical school is that abstinence for the entire duration of the pregnancy is best. This completely eliminates the risk of any cognitive, behavioral, or physical deficits. But this is a controversial topic and the ultimate decision is up to the pregnant patient. It is important to be completely honest with your health care provider. Also, many pregnancies are not planned and many women have reported alcohol intake and even binge drinking in the early stages of pregnancy prior to knowing they were pregnant. This is absolutely OK! The body is an amazing vessel and data suggests that this does not negatively affect the baby if these habits are stopped as soon as the pregnancy is realized.” – Jessica, 4th year medical student at the University of California Irvine

“Alcohol should be mostly avoided in pregnancy. However, having a glass of wine on occasion (say once or twice a month) is fine. However, I would always recommend that it be organic wine and again that it be in moderation-no more than one full glass 2 times a month. The research for or against drinking during pregnancy is inconclusive, but for sure women should avoid binge drinking or even having more than 1-2 glasses of wine per week. When I was pregnant, I enjoyed ordering a glass of wine if we were out to dinner or pouring myself a glass at home, but truthfully, I never finished the glass. I had a few sips and then my husband finished it. Most women, if they’re really tuned into their bodies, don’t have a real taste for alcohol during their pregnancy’s.” Aimee Raupp, Fertility & Pregnancy Expert, Acupuncturist, Mama of James.

“From a Chinese medical perspective, alcohol warms and moves the blood. In small amounts this might be helpful, such as in the case that a pregnant woman has a lot of cold symptoms or has blocked qi, or energy. However, it differs from physiological warmth and invigoration of the blood and therefore can be harmful, especially in larger amounts. Introducing too much heat or invigorating substance can cause “reckless” movement of blood, which can lead to bleeding. Bleeding and improper circulation of blood can lead to an insufficient supply of blood and nutrients to certain areas of both the mother’s and baby’s bodies. Needless to say, there can be devastating results in extreme cases such as fetal alcohol syndrome or miscarriage.

The timing of alcohol consumption can determine what effect it will have on the baby. Early stages are significant in that there are very important developmental milestones such as brain and spinal cord development in the first trimester. In comparison, the third trimester is relatively safer to consume alcohol when the baby is still developing but the emphasis is on weight gain. While it can be okay to have an occasional alcoholic drink during pregnancy, it’s important to understand the risks and dangers of its consumption. I personally believe that it’s better to err on the side of safety and avoid drinking during pregnancy, which also removes the worry and anxiety of wondering about any potential detrimental effects.” Ailin Kojima, Acupuncturist, Masters of Science of Traditional Oriental Medicine

“During my first pregnancy, I had an OB in Los Angeles who was fabulously relaxed about everything. He told me that I could have one or two glasses of wine a week- something that surprised me given how “non-drinking fanatical” lots of people are in regards to pregnancy. I didn’t have those two glasses every week, but just knowing I could if I wanted to made me feel less stressed about all of the things I “wasn’t allowed” during those ten months. I also grew up between Italy and the United States, so it was normal for me my entire life to see pregnant women having a glass of wine every now and then- maybe that’s also why it also feels really safe to me. In any case, my kids are totally normal (as far as we can tell…ha!)”Eva Amurri Martino, Lifestyle Blogger, Mama of Marlowe and Major.

“I’ve never really been a huge drinker so when I got pregnant, it wasn’t really an issue for me. I did, however, crave wine a few times when I was out and about at dinner so I would have a sip or two or three and it would satiate my craving. I never regretted it and my baby turned out well:)” Arielle Haspel, Wellness Expert, Cooking Show Host, Mama of Gemma

“I think women get way too stressed during pregnancy, and worry a lot more than they need to. That being said, I ate as healthy as I could, continued to exercise (because I think movement is one of the most important things you can do while pregnant), and I enjoyed an occasional small glass of wine, if it sounded good. To be honest though during both of my pregnancies with my son Timothy and my twin boys Robert and William, I never had a craving for wine or coffee. Could be nature’s way of letting me know what my body needed and wanted. On my babymoon in my first pregnancy I went to Jamaica with my husband and there it was nice to have a few sips of a crisp Pinot Grigio. At the very end I had a few glasses in the summertime as well when it was super hot out. My dad said drinking a glass of wine or spirits later in pregnancy can actually help prevent preterm labor and my OB/GYN agreed. My doctor is Italian and told me to have some red wine later in my pregnancy with the twins and I went 38 weeks! Also, when I did my CVS test, my doctor told me to go home and have a glass of wine to relax and mellow the pain at 13 weeks. So I truly think a glass of wine occasionally during pregnancy is the least of our worries!” Kristin McGee, Celebrity Yoga and Pilates Instructor, Mama of Timothy, Robert, and William

“Overall I was a pretty anxious pregnant woman, worrying about everything under the sun for the first two trimesters (by the 3rd something changed I was much more at ease). By nature I’m a worrier so being pregnant only amplified everything for me. But I also read a lot of articles and books and talked to countless mom friends that all said a glass of wine from time to time was ok. So I did have a few (small) glasses throughout my pregnancy.” Caitlin Kruse, Mommy Blogger, Mama of Piper

“I have three healthy and happy kids, and have never dealt with any delays, behavioral issues, or health problems. They all scored 9s on the APGAR tests and have consistently met their milestones long before the average age. I drank moderately during all three pregnancies. As a person who values data, I became comfortable to do so after reading Emily Oster’s literature review in Expecting Better. It was really compelling to understand how the media and liability-averse medical community have portrayed pregnancy data, committing the causation/correlation fallacy, and ignoring confounding factors (like cocaine use, for crying out loud!)

Not everyone can be moderate, so it makes sense to set an overall agenda of total abstinence. But for me, I did a lot of research, got very comfortable with the data, risks and risk rates, and made the decision that moderate consumption was fine. For me, that meant I could have a drink when I wanted one. Rarely did I ever have more than one, and I always drank very slowly and with food to avoid a high BAC. It was also important to me that my husband was okay with this choice, so we discussed it at length and were in agreement. This is what worked for us, but I believe each couple should make their own decision, and that moderation is key.” – Anonymous, Mama of Three (I want to note that I’m making this anonymous because it’s such a heated issue, and I don’t want to open myself up for attack. However, I really wish that people would be kinder and more respectful of each others’ parenting decisions. Being a mom is really tough; we shouldn’t make it harder on each other by being mean and judgmental. You do you, I’m gonna do me.)

Comments from Survey Takers:

I tried to include many comments that took different viewpoints. I did not include any that were mean or hateful, as I refuse to spread that kind of attitude on Lemon Stripes.

“I’m a big believer that every woman do what’s right for her when it comes to alcohol and pregnancy, especially since there’s a lack of definitive evidence either way on the topic. Given my love for wine, I thought I would enjoy a glass every now and then during my pregnancy, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it! It’s funny how cultural stigmas affect us; I envy pregnant women in other countries!”

“I agree with the stigma against it. Based on my research I couldn’t find anything to say that the occasional glass of wine (or beer) was detrimental. But the guilt that is imposed by the faulty science that only zero alcohol is acceptable makes it a struggle!”

“I read everything I could get my hands on to see what was safe/not safe, and while deep down I didn’t feel as though one glass of wine here or there was dangerous, there was still this tiny voice that told me to just hold off. I LOVE my nightly glass of wine, but the worry of an occasional pregnancy glass and potential negative ramifications on the baby just wasn’t worth it to me. That was a LONG wine-free year and a half (for breastfeeding) though! Every day when I see his smiling face now, 2 years later, I don’t regret my choice one bit, but I don’t judge the moms who have a glass here and there.”

“I think this is one of the many situations during pregnancy where you’ll hear tons of conflicting opinions and have to decide what makes the most sense for yourself. In theory I think it’s fine if people want to have a glass of wine or beer when they’re pregnant every now and then, but for me it just wasn’t worth the anxiety. Occasionally during my pregnancy I would want a glass of wine, so I’d pour myself a small one, but then I couldn’t even enjoy it because I was so anxious about how it *might* hurt the baby. I just didn’t think it was worth the worry for me, but if others decide to imbibe then I fully support their decision. Hope that makes sense!”

“Giving up alcohol for nine short months was a no-brainer for me, to ensure that my baby was as healthy as possible. I can think of only about a million times I would have loved a glass of wine during my pregnancy, but if I’m trying to provide the best possible environment for my baby to grow and thrive while in the womb, and she doesn’t need alcohol for that to happen, then why put it in my body?”

“There are periods of time during pregnancy where the fetus is more sensitive to things like alcohol, smoke, etc. Doctors don’t know when these periods are exactly, so it is much safer to not drink. We just don’t know enough about how smaller amounts of alcohol affects fetal development, so it is much safer not to. I did a project on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder for a class a few years ago. It has gotten me interested in how things that happen during pregnancy (flu, rubella, colds even, smoke, etc.) affect development (getting ADHD, schizophrenia, etc.)”

“I had two glasses of wine per week during both of my pregnancies. I have two healthy and beautiful girls.”

“Currently pregnant with #2. I always picture how big a glass of wine is, and how little my growing baby is… and imagine pouring it over my baby. I know that’s crazy, but for me… I just don’t see the need for one glass of wine! Who wants just one anyway?”

“Spend one day with a fetal alcohol baby and you will change your mind on alcohol! Best wishes throughout your pregnancy. My sister did drink occasionally with her fourth pregnancy (mostly to cope with four under age 5) and her baby was just fine!”

“It’s 9 months. If you can’t go without for 9 months then there’s a problem. It’s like asking how many cigarettes is OK.”

If you weren’t able to participate in my survey, I’d love to hear your thoughts below. Please keep in mind when writing them, that I value all opinions, but appreciate when things are said in a way that doesn’t put anyone else down.

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  1. Anne [A Squared]

    Kudos for approaching a very touchy subject here!

    In my own experience, as soon as I found out I was pregnant I cut out alcohol entirely with the exception of a sip or two at weddings– and at a work function when I was still hiding it! Truth be told though, my pregnancy came as a bit of a surprise so I was drinking wine as I normally would have in those first few weeks before it was confirmed. I freaked out, but my doctor assured me that it would be fine– and it was! I would mention though that my doctor was super liberal about drinking coffee, eating soft cheese, sushi, etc… but regularly drinking alcohol was where she drew the line for me.

  2. I am very glad you posted about this and that so many people have referenced “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster, which really shows how much conventional wisdom is based on complete nonsense. During my pregnancy, I have opted to have small sips of my husband’s beer once in a while if he gets something I love like a sour, and leave it at that. However, I think that drinking a glass of wine regularly (that is, ONE glass) while eating especially is no big deal and think it’s fine for women to do so. The reason most women are told not to at all is because people would misunderstand the advice and have either 3 glasses or a giant “single” glass. A good friend of mine is Italian and very prone to anxiety, and told me that her Neapolitan MIL was told by her doctor to have a glass of wine every night in order to relax. Stress is more dangerous to your body and a growing fetus than one glass of wine. I find wine very unappealing right now and feel uneasy about it myself, but drink coffee every day. After quitting it initially, my midwife recommended I have small amounts per day, and it’s helped in numerous ways. The point is, everyone is different and can make their own choices. There are so many potentially hazardous things to do while pregnant, and it’s up to each woman to make the best decisions for herself. if more people could give themselves a break and relax, they’d feel less of a need to judge others.

  3. It’s super interesting to me that there was such a big difference between the results for drinking wine/beer vs hard liquor. If you’re drinking a properly measured mixed drink, it should have basically the same amount of alcohol in it as a glass of wine or a serving of beer. So a paloma with 1.5 oz of tequila, a 5 oz glass of wine and a 12 oz glass of beer all have the same alcohol content. To my mind, that means that if you’re gonna have a sip of wine, it’s a-okay to have a sip of that paloma too/instead.

    Anyway, that was just my non-pregnant-person observation! 馃檪 I’m a firm believer in the you-do-you school of thought, and you’re clearly putting so much research, thought, and love into this pregnancy. So excited for you!

    xx Hannah //

  4. Bravoaddict

    P.S.- Ignore Gomi

  5. Kellie | The B Hive

    Also, I think you’ve been handling these posts really, really well.

  6. Kellie | The B Hive

    There is nothing like pregnancy or motherhood to get the judgmental side of people out! Honestly you do what you feel comfortable with and with what your doctor advises. Everyone else should keep their medical opinions to themselves.

    If you can go all 9 months and not have a sip of alcohol? Awesome for you. Me, I wanted a glass of wine at my best friend’s bachelorette. My doctor said it was okay. My kid is just fine and I’m good with all of that. Others may choose differently but that’s okay!

    Zika, alcohol…. welcome to parenting, where everyone has an opinion and feels the need to tell you what to do!

  7. This is a very interesting post. I’m a pre-med student and have always heard/learned that pregnant women should avoid alcohol entirely for the duration of their pregnancy + breastfeeding. I was not aware that there were so many people who argued that a few glasses of wine here and there doesn’t hurt, and I totally respect that opinion. In my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I don’t think that I could risk the possible detrimental effects to the baby just for a glass of wine (indulge in some dark chocolate instead)!

  8. I am so glad you did a post on this topic! I am a physician and definitely had a few glasses of wine here and there during my pregnancy, and my baby is just fine. I think that personally, my taste for wine diminished SIGNIFICANTLY during my pregnancy (thank god or else I really would have been in trouble! 馃槉) There isn’t great research on this topic (for obvious reasons) which is probably why everyone feels like they can be so opinionated. I think a few sips of your hubbys wine is a perfect compromise. Congrats 馃懚馃徎Xoxo Sarah

  9. It makes me so sad to see how critical women can of one another, especially when it comes to navigating topics like this. I was sad to read that you received so much backlash for simply trying to explore a topic. I really applaud you being so open to gathering different ideas and perspectives – you really do it in such a thoughtful and intentional way.
    Thank you for continuing to share your own experiences and mixing in different perspectives. You’re going to be such a great mom!

  10. I am so impressed by your handling of this-and other-sensitive subjects. It makes me so sad that people are reacting in hurtful ways, and therefore increases my respect for your continuing to do all that you can for yourself while still sharing with us. Sending good wishes and health your way <3

  11. Bravoaddict

    Talk to your ob. When I was pregnant 23 years ago any drinking was a no-no. I’m not a drinker so it was no big deal for me. I also cut out caffeine and artificial sweetner- now cutting those two was hard!

  12. Welcome to the world of motherhood, where women are opinionated and love to put other mamas in their place! I’ve been a mom for 22 years and I’ve had my children all over the world – literally (one even in Boston at the Brigham — Harvard trained docs). My humble opinion is that you talk to your doctor and take your doctor’s advice. I would be very relunctant to follow the advice of anyone other than my OB/GYN, period. Everyone has their stories and anecdotes; however, not everyone is you, with your body and your genetic make up. With each of my pregnancies, I always reminded myself that I was growing a human and whatever I exposed myself to I was also exposing a developing brain, etc. Good luck to you and your husband. I hope you enjoy your pregnancy — it is a miracle and a gift like no other!

  13. It’s definitely a personal decision. I am currently 35 weeks pregnant with my first- and throughout this whole journey I think I’ve had like two sips of wine- mostly out I just wanted a little but my heartburn has been so bad I’m worried more than a sip would send me into a tailspin. I’ve had momma friends who have indulged in a glass here and there- but again it’s all personal preference. I think you’re right, there’s no definitive stance on it- and momma’s in countries like Italy and France indulge in it more often than we do in the states, not sure if there’s a higher rate of FAS over there as a direct result. In any event, I’ve also had sushi and I had a turkey sub yesterday- everything in moderation. When our moms and grandmothers were pregnant they were limited to smoking one pack a day and laying off the whiskey- now there’s so many rules (like you’re only supposed to sleep on your left side allegedly)- everything in moderation. Which is what I always tell myself when I reach for my nightly bowl of ice cream. Best wishes to you and your husband on a healthy pregnancy and don’t let the haters get you down!

  14. curateher

    Julia, I love your posts that open the discussion on more controversial topics, and I think you do a great job of presenting info from both sides, respecting views that may differ from your own, and remaining diplomatic when conversing with those who hold differing views. I have a 1 yr old and drank a glass of wine or beer occasionally during my pregnancy. I really enjoyed the book Expecting Better by Emily Oster. It looks at this (and other) controversial topics, the research, and lack thereof, that drives the recommendations given to pregnant women. The author (and all around girl-boss) was featured on NPR’s Planet Money discussing the book, her research, and personal takeaway. Links below!

    Link to book:

    Link to interview:

  15. Elizabeth

    Thank you for compiling all of this info, Julia. At the end of the day everyone has to do what they decide is best for them, but I do think it’s helpful to hear other people’s opinions when voiced in a non-accusatory way. I am also pregnant and have been judged on practically everything I do – “don’t tell me that cup of coffee you just poured is regular!” (random person at work); “why do you need spandex pants, you shouldn’t be working out while you’re pregnant!” (older lady store clerk); “omg your belly is enormous!” (my secretary at work). I imagine she wouldn’t think it’s cute if I told her she looks like she’s gained a few lbs since the holidays!

  16. Paola Blanc

    Julia, sorry for the messages you received, I just want to tell you that I discover my pregnancy at the third month (before I always had monthly spotting like mestruation flow). So during the first three months of my pregnancy I have drunk wine with moderation and my daughter (now she’s 12 years old) is healthy and strong. So don’t worry

  17. Lauren Carfora

    I’m sorry that you received so many judgemental messages. There are a lot of conflicting messages out there, but ultimately you have to do what you and Anel are comfortable with. I have decided not to drink, but I have had sips of my husband’s glasses when he’s drinking something I really want to try! But, I haven’t been good with caffeine and worry that I’m taking in too much. We will all worry about this and that during our pregnancies. Ultimately, don’t let the negativity affect you and your little baby girl.

  18. Julia Dzafic

    Thank you for your comment, Beth. I’m so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I know how that can feel and just want you to know that my thoughts are with you in this time xo

  19. I appreciate your honesty on this topics. When I was pregnant earlier this year I abstained after I got that positive test. My pregnancy ended in miscarriage, but honestly I didn’t even want wine in that short time I was pregnant. I’m sure my thinking would have evolved as the pregnancy went on. I say I appreciate your honesty because I feel like a lot of people can be preachy and possibly dishonest about their pregnancy habits. It is another area where women act like it is a competition, instead of being honest.

  20. Classic Catherine

    Thanks for compiling all this information! For me, abstinence is just easiest, especially since there’s no real evidence that alcohol would be GOOD for the baby, so I know it certainly can’t hurt to pass. I don’t have any issue with other people feeling differently though, and I went downhill skiing twice in my first trimester. We all have different levels of comfortability with different pregnancy no-nos. At the moment the wine isn’t too tempting to me, but I should really lay off the ice cream! 馃檪
    Classic Catherine

  21. Wow. That last comment in your post 鈥淚t鈥檚 9 months. If you can鈥檛 go without for 9 months then there鈥檚 a problem” is incredibly judgemental and offensive. I’m surprised you included it.

  22. My only addition to this post is that my cousin had a glass of read wine with dinner all the time when she was pregnant and her son was multilingual by kindergarten. Just something I always mention when this topic comes up. I;m not much of a drinker myself unless it’s brunch, so I’ll probably abstain when the time comes.
    x0x0 Caro

  23. Great post. I think a lot of people are confused and scared to ask on this subject. I CAN’T believe people were sending you hate emails and comments. Tell them not to read this blog then. It gets me so upset to hear about these internet bullies LET ALONE to a pregnant woman. Go away trolls!

  24. Love your blog and style, but confused by this post and why you feel it’s your responsibility to keep people informed on this sensitive topic. I can understand why both doctors did not want to be quoted. I come here for fashion and style inspiration not this type of advice. Personally, I feel the decision to drink during pregnancy is a personal one and one that should stay between the woman and her doctor and not be influenced otherwise.

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