In her Jpost column Uncommon Sense, Geulah responded to readers’ letters.
I am in the second month of my first pregnancy. My husband has agreed to my desire to keep my condition secret until the fetus begins to move around. In the meantime, we have a weird problem. My father-in-law, an amateur wine-maker, holds ceremonious wine-tastings every time we come for a weekend, and keenly observes each taster’s reactions. However, my gynecologist has strictly forbidden any alcohol. What excuse can I use? My husband says that I am blowing this issue out of proportion, and nothing will happen if I sip a bit of wine. All his married sisters imbibed a bit while pregnant, and their kids are fine. He thinks the doctor has taken an extreme stance, to protect herself from malpractice suits by parents of children with birth defects who would blame (and extort money from) physicians instead accepting the blows of fate. He also says: “If you insist on not drinking — OK. Let’s just tell the truth. What’s so terrible about telling the family something they’ll hear about soon anyway? Let’s give them another reason to say ‘L’Chaim!”.
— Mother-to-be —
Your gynecologist is 200% right! Any pregnant or nursing woman should stay away from alcohol. Although warnings against excess alcohol have appeared in medical literature, until recently most doctors saw no harm in the occasional drink; some even recommended its calming effects on mother and baby. However, during the past 30 years, medical advances (ultrasound, CT, MRI, epidemiological techniques, etc.) have produced new information about the effects of alcohol on fetal and infant development.
The cells of the brain and other organs form and grow according to a very exact timetable. Therefore, theoretically, drinking alcohol might be harmless on one day and catastrophic on another, when critical cells happen to be developing. Think about it: Would you bathe a one-month old infant in a bucket of alcohol (similar to the amniotic fluid of a woman who drank an hour ago)? Would you let a baby guzzle a martini? If even imagining this gives you the shivers, how can you consider pouring alcohol into the fetal environment?
Because a fetus’s liver is immature, alcohol lingers in his body longer that in the mother’s, increasing risk. Fetuses exposed to large amounts may die, or develop fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition which can include serious forms of retardation or learning disabilities, small skulls, deformed faces and joints, low birth weight, heart defects, and delayed growth. Relatively low exposure may lead to fetal alcohol effects, a partial or less severe form of the syndrome.
Regarding your father-in-law, you have a number of options. You have the right to turn down his wine, without explanation. However, if you believe that he will be hurt (even though all the other guests others are enthusiastically sampling his wares), ask your yourself what is more important to you, in your personal scale of values: keeping your sweet secret a few months longer, or the feelings of someone you love? A third possibility is to evade the issue gracefully, by “happening” to be in another room when the cork is popped and the glasses poured. Less elegant, but more reliable, is a white lie about an intestinal bug. Of course, this sort of cover story will probably require your abstaining from other Shabbat goodies as well (definitely no cholent!), but the family will undoubtedly compensate you another time, when you give them good news to celebrate.