Pregnant Women: Smoking And Drinking

In a scene from a recent film depicting the 60’s, a very pregnant woman was sitting at a bar smoking a cigarette and drinking a martini; in the new television series set in the 60’s (Mad Men) there was another scene of a pregnant woman drinking and smoking at a party. I think there are even scenes in I Love Lucy with her smoking while she was pregnant. That was simply the way of life back then and nobody thought a thing about it.

I would imagine that many of us on this board were born in age when women did the same thing. I know that my mother smoked and drank (moderately) while she was pregnant with all three of her children. We all turned out OK.

Now, it is considered reckless and irresponsible for a pregnant woman to even be within 100 yards of smoke, let alone light one up, and a sip of wine seems to be a sin that will most certainly cause fetal alcohol syndrome.

While I don’t doubt that chain smoking and drinking into a stupor is probably not the healthiest of habits for a pregnant woman, I wonder if research has shown a marked decrease in infant mortality and/or illnesses since these activities have reached the stigma of moral (and partially legal) taboo?

Don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting turning back the clock and have pregnant women turn into barflies and go through a pack of Kools in an evening! There are enough problems with childbirth that every step in the right direction towards the health of a baby should indeed be taken into consideration.

I am just wondering aloud if this rather huge change in public perception of good and bad habits for pregnant women has actually paid off in the long run?

Also, how many women here on the boards have stopped smoking and drinking cold turkey when they discovered they were pregnant - assuming you smoked and/or drank prior to the news?

I don’t know much about smoking while pregnant but not drinking while pregnant is mostly an American thing. Rather then trying to explain drinking during pregnancy in moderation is OK, Doctors went with a blanket don’t drink while pregnant. The amount of unhealthy babies in Europe is no higher do to drinking during pregnancy then in America.

Just a personal anecdote, my mom smoked when she was pregnant with my brother and I, and we came out OK.

I think the attitude toward drinking while pregnant is starting to change here in the U.S. as well. IANAD, but there is no harm in a pregnant woman drinking a beer now and then. Recently pregnant friends of mine didn’t abstain from the occasional beer and there were no ill effects.

I too don’t know about smoking. It doesn’t seem like a good idea. Don’t think it will kill them, (although if you’re a chain smoker, well you have to consider where the fetus is getting their oxygen. They don’t have your lungs yet.)

But as far as alchol it’s occured to me that the overwelming majority of humanity for at least for the past 10,000 years have been born to woman who drank while they were pregnant. And most of us…well some of us are jerks, but most of us worked out ok. Built a civilisation, whatnot.

It’s all a matter of extremes.

My mother got the drunkest she’s ever been (on sangria while on vacation in Spain) while pregnant with me. And I turned out fine - apart from being a stunted alcoholic.

I think the main risk is a pregnant woman who drinks very early on in the pregnancy.
Edit: Also found this on wiki:

My understanding is this: Every pregnancy is different, and there is no way of telling how alcohol will affect the fetus. One beer in the sixteenth week is likely to cause no harm, but in a handful of women, it is possible that it can impair cognitive development. Essentially, it’s “Better safe than sorry”. The more recent term FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) was created because it was observed that moderate drinking during pregnancy was having negative effects on children’s “reasoning and judgement skills”. Hmm. It would explain some of my peers behaviour.

As for smoking, there is a theory that us Westerners are already exposed to so much crap via air pollution and other toxins that are turning up in breast milk and whatnot, that smoking is just the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This explains why it wasn’t as much a concern thirty years ago - did they have such a thing as smog advisories, where they would have to warn asthmatics and the elderly to stay inside?

Sounds like I’m in the mainstream here.

Smoking sounds like a bad idea, as it restricts oxygen supply to the fetus. Still, the dose makes the poison, and I don’t think one cigarette will have an appreciable effect. The question is, who smokes just one cigarette?

Alcohol: I have the distinct impression the advice to abstain springs from the same well as the ubiquitous warning labels on products in the U.S. TPTB think (perhaps accurately) that most people can’t use their brains, and allowing one drop of alcohol will “give permission” to women to get hammered all the time. They base the warnings on fetal alcohol syndrome, and say we don’t know how little alcohol can cause it, but I really think a glass of wine with dinner, even on a regular basis, would be well below the threshold. I would worry about actually getting intoxicated, though.

I’ve never smoked, and rarely drink. Usually I will get a glass of cabernet sauvignon when I go to a steakhouse, and I haven’t stopped doing that since getting pregnant.

ETA: kfl, I wasn’t aware there were studies on moderate drinking - will have to check it out.

As for asthma and previous generations, I offer a darker flipside - babies who were susceptible were more likely to die, without modern interventions, so there were much fewer people to be worried about smog.

Babies of mothers who are regular smokers go through nicotine withdrawal after birth. They can be very unhappy and irritable for days to (possibly) a few weeks.

I smoked throughout my pregnancies. I have since apologized to my children for that. Even my doctor didn’t make a big thing out of it at the time. Alcohol was a different story, I was warned strongly about using alcohol and did not drink at all.

When my mother was pregnant (late 50’s) some doctors recommended smoking to help minimize weight gain during pregnancy.

I don’t know if anyone could say “yes” or “no” to the question of whether it has paid off. I have seen two children born to an alcoholic mother who exhibited fetal alcohol syndrome. IIRC both children were two years old before they could walk; and each child’s mind was affected - they were quite impaired. (I can’t believe after that happened with the first one that the woman had another while drinking heavily!) If the admonition to refrain from drinking during pregnancy prevents other children from being born in such a state, I think it’s worth it.

RE: your last question - I did. I quit for 7 years, actually. The day I found out I was expecting I threw my smokes away and did not touch a drink for 7 years.

It makes me think of Gone With the Wind when Scarlett drank a fair amount of whiskey while pregnant with her second child. Her physician never told her not to drink while pregnant, because Ladies simply didn’t drink anything stronger than “scuppernong wine”. And yes, her daughter had some symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.

As to smoking, my Mom smoked like hell when pregnant in the 60’s and 70’s because she wanted small babies. Actually, everybody smoked anyway back then. And people had no notion that bigger babies were healthier.

How does it?
The baby feeds off oxygen in blood, it doesn’t have a little straw which it pops into moms lungs with.
The baby extracts oxygen at the rate it needs and mom has to compensate.
Otherwise pregnant women would also be warned against holding their breath.

I have my mother’s old baby book–from the '40s–in which pregnant women were counseled not to have more than a couple of drinks a day, and to restrict cigarettes to under a pack a day. But: No swimming, and no driving, and no long walks in the later months.

When I had my children: in the '60s, everything was okay. Delivery was a completely doped-up affair, however long it took. Exercise was thought to send you into early labor (although it didn’t).

In the '70s: Glass of wine prescribed at night to aid in sleeping. “moderate” smoking not even mentioned as a concern. Recommendation of NO drugs for labor & delivery.

In the '80s: Smoking beginning to be a concern. Moderate drinking okay according to my doctor, absolutely prohibited by the dr. of a friend pregnant at the same time. Unmedicated labor still highly recommended. (Why? Our mothers were doped to the gills, don’t even REMEMBER labor, and we were okay.)

In the '90s: Quit drinking, quit smoking, keep exercising, don’t get in a hot tub. (Rather willfully, I negotiated to be allowed to go into the steam room for no more than 7 minutes.) L&D drug of choice was epidural.

For what it’s worth, I smoked during the first 3 pregnancies, quit immediately upon learning I was pregnant for the last. Guess which kid has asthma. Must have been those 7-minute sessions in the steam room.

The doctor I had in the '90s explained why drinking is a no-no. It’s known that drinking causes fetal alcohol syndrome. What’s not known is exactly how much alcohol it takes to threaten the fetus. Since we’re humans, researchers cannot dose this woman with four drinks a day and another woman with two and a control group with none, in fact all that is known about the drinking habits of women whose babies have FAS is self-reported after the fact, i.e., “How much did you drink?” And anybody knows that when you self-report, the results are going to vary a whole lot. Somebody who said she never had more than one drink a day could be lying…people who think about these things don’t actually believe that a moderate level of alcohol consumption causes bad things, but they just don’t know.

For whoever asked, there was smog 30 years ago, there was smog 50 years ago, but there were not as many people living in the smog as there are today.

I’m pregnant now and, while I’ve cut back drastically, I do admit to smoking up to 3 or 4 a day. My doctor made a note in the file but made no attempt to preach against this. On the other hand, she was strongly anti-alcohol in her original “how to take care of yourself” lecture. There’s a new public service campaign around here called “Not a single drop” or some such. I’m not a drinker at all, so it’s all academic to me, but my experience has not at all led me to believe that attitudes toward drinking during pregnancy are changing, at least around here.

Just going by what the March of Dimes says. Though I believe in addition to compromising oxygen exchange in the lungs, smoking constricts blood vessels, so that may be a factor too.

I realize this may be joking, but it’s my hobby horse, so let me climb on briefly. Medicated labor, including epidurals, increases the risks to mother and baby. It’s each woman’s decision whether the benefits outweigh those risks, but the research showing increased risk is clear.

Boy, you’re in for it now! Somebody’s gonna come in here and yell “I’ll have my baby however I want” or “my mom was doped up and I turned out fine” and all that.

Even given the evidence of increased risks and the “slippery slope” of medical intervention, 90-something percent of women around here have epidurals. Certainly, some have certain factors that require them to do so, some end up getting one if they’re having back labor/excessively long labor or something.

My wife had all three of our children naturally (the third at home); I’m very proud of her determination…

When pregnant with me, my mother burned through a box of Tiparillos and a fifth of rye every day of her sainted life. Also liked to huff paint (she was partial to Dutch Boy brand, as the legend goes) in the parking lot during her break from the donkey show where she continued to headline, every night, right up until the blessed event. A born competitor, she entered and won a “punch me in the gut as hard as you can” contest on the eve of my arrival, as evidenced by the tin trophy still displayed proudly on her mantel.

All that and I turned out just fine, except that my brain has the appearance and consistency of warm aspic, and whenever I hear a bassoon I smell hair burning.

Screw that. I ate a load of soft cheese and drank as much coffee as I could to make up for the months I had my head down the toilet.

Not that there would be a next time but if there were, I would take up smoking, a pack a day. Smoking = small baby = less complications.

My big objection to smoking during pregnancy, which cub mistress already touched on, is that the baby then has to go through nicotine withdrawal; so you are condemning your baby to suffer through what you yourself will not. Of course, it’s easy for me to take this view, because I’ve never been a smoker. My other objection is that if you smoke during pregnancy, you’re much more likely to smoke around the baby when it’s very young. I don’t think anyone here would argue that any kinds of drugs, chemicals, etc. have more impact on smaller people (like babies) than larger people. Also, if you’re smoking when you’re holding a baby, you’re more likely to burn the baby. Yeah, the baby will get over it, but it would still hurt at the time it happens.

As for drinking, as has been mentioned, no one can say for sure how much is “safe”, so many doctors weigh in on the side of caution by saying “the only safe amount is none at all”. I understand the attitude, but drank moderately (maybe two glasses of wine a month) during all three of my pregnancies.

The one habit I really did curb sharply was my caffeine habit. Until about a year ago, I routinely drank a pot of coffee a day. But I cut it back to two cups a day while I was pregnant (and I do mean 2 six-ounce cups; not two coffee mugs).