Drinking During Pregnancy

I didn’t intend to blog about pregnancy, because nothing is more boring than a pregnancy blog. Yet since the cat is out of the bag I might as well discuss drinking during pregnancy. For all my previous pregnancies I took to heart the party line that any amount of alcohol– even a single glass– could irreparably harm the fetus. I avoided all kinds of alcohol, including alcohol based herbal tinctures, alcohol based mouthwash, and wouldn’t even cook with wine.

But when I started drinking wine earlier this year, I read everything I could about the safety and risks of drinking, including during pregnancy. I was surprised by what I found. Current thought seems to be shifting– though not officially– toward the notion that light to moderate drinking has no proven ill effects on the fetus. While there is a great deal of contradictory information out there, even the Wall Street Journal is proclaiming the safety of pregnant women heading to the winery.

I was surprised too in reading about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to discover that the diagnostic criteria are vague, that the cause of FAS by ethanol exposure is not understood, and that a woman would have to drink a huge amount on a daily basis (more than 2 bottles of wine, or the hard liquor equivalent) to have even a 30% chance of producing a child with FAS. Symptoms of FAS include behavioral traits like impulsivity, learning difficulties, hyperactivity, as well as certain facial features like low set ears and small eyes. The behavioral symptoms can appear any time over the span of childhood– so for instance, a child could seem normal during his younger years, but if he turns out to be a highly impulsive teen, he could be considered to have FAS if his mother drank during pregnancy.

It dawned on me in reading these criteria that two of my children could fit the criteria for FAS– only I didn’t drink while pregnant with them. My 8 year old, who is a year behind in 2nd grade, has global developmental delays which were severe as a toddler. She didn’t even respond to her own name until she was 4, didn’t say words until she was 5, and spent a lot of time curled up in corners (she especially liked curling up under the bathroom sink). But unlike my late talking son who turned out to be something of a brainiac, she struggles with basic academic concepts. She even has some facial features associated with FAS.

My five year old, while not cognitively impaired, has tremendous impulsivity and is wild and defiant. She’s even had violent outbursts in school, steals things, and hoards food (let the ashamed mommy in me point out that none of my other kids are like this). She too has some facial features of FAS including very low set ears. In fact when she was born, my first thought was wow– you look like a baby with FAS! But with her too I was an absolute purist during pregnancy, and other than some advil before I knew I was pregnant, didn’t even take OTC meds.

Had I drunk alcohol during the pregnancy of either child, I’d be absolutely certain I caused their problems. And most clinicians probably would too.

So my point is that the impairments and behavioral traits attributed to maternal alcohol consumption might simply have appeared organically. It’s also possible that the kind of person who drinks heavily through her entire pregnancy probably has behavioral issues of her own, which she then passes down genetically to her children. Personality is in large part genetic (which makes me wonder where my five year old came from, lol).

I’ve combed through my memory of my pregnancy with my 8 year old trying to figure out what I might have been exposed to, to cause her problems. But it was an uneventful pregnancy. I ate healthy, gained a normal amount of weight, her birth was quick and effortless. But had I drunk alcohol I’d be blaming myself, and can only imagine the guilt and shame. So perhaps this alone is good reason to avoid alcohol during pregnancy: if your child is born with problems they would have had anyway, at least you’ll be spared a lifetime of crushing guilt.

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Eating Like a Liberal

On more than one occasion I’ve had people assume I’m a liberal hipster because of the way I eat.  My nouveau hippie friend, who fled to New Jersey when her children were school aged so that they could attend an environmental charter school, assumed I was a liberal because I was a strict vegan at the time we met.  She was shocked beyond speech when she learned I’d sprayed RAID ant and roach spray in my kitchen, and when I told her I thought “organic” was a marketing scam she looked like her heart stopped beating.

Having successfully half starved myself for six weeks, I’m now in the interesting position of figuring out how I should be eating, now that I’m actually eating normal amounts of food.  Do I go back to being vegan (I have two tubs of plain yogurt in the fridge that I don’t want to waste); do I eat eggs and chicken? Or do I go lacto-vegetarian, and at what specific level (will I just eat yogurt, or can milk and cheese go down the hatch)?  Should I follow “Eat to Live?”  Or could I possibly go raw, which is something I’ve always wanted to try?  I did, in fact, try going raw some time ago, but the sprouts tasted disgusting, the raw nuts tasted rancid, and the raw cookbook I picked up called for outrageous amounts of raw nut flour which is both fattening and expensive (indeed, when I looked up the author online, I saw she looked much plumper in current photos than the cover shot of her book).  So if I do go raw it will have to be with a measured amount of nuts.

I guess I could try going raw for six weeks as an experiment of sorts, then I can report back here with my findings, in case there is anyone out there who’s wanted to go raw but is just too afraid to try.

Step one will be to buy some proper sprouting supplies, for which I’ll have to head on over to the local health food store, which is always filled with sickly looking hipsters stumbling around like zombies.

Nutritionally speaking I can see great benefit to going mostly raw, but I’m not convinced it’s necessary to go completely raw.  At a certain point it’s probably more ideological than scientifically sound for raw foodists.  There is no doubt that raw greens and fruit have tremendous nutritional value, but heat actually turns certain plant foods, like eggplant or potatoes, into edible substances, not to mention that heat is more effective at extracting medicinal properties from herbs (i.e. tea) than just letting the stuff soak at room temperature.

Some time ago my husband read that raw nuts are good for you, so he placed a huge order of raw nuts from nuts.com.  We had boxes of nuts arriving at our house daily (this is how we learned Dea is severely allergic to nuts, when she decided to feast on recently arrived macadamias). But then he read somewhere else that nuts are bad for your teeth, so he hardly ate any of them.  So I have a huge cache of raw nuts in my cupboard that are serving no purpose.  I guess I could turn them into nut butter, if I hadn’t dropped my food processor cover on the floor– in addition to the health food store I need to order a replacement part today– in the meantime I could give them another shot as snacks. But there’s really no comparison to a nicely roasted, salted nut, versus a bland, unadulterated raw nut. Maybe I could dump the raw nuts on a cookie sheet, slather them with salt and oil and roast them up, but that would spoil my current nutritional endeavor.

I didn’t start eating healthy until ten years ago.  I got very ill after my dreadful homebirth and in desperation started reading websites like vegsource, which then led me to “Eat to Live.”  Over those years I’ve cycled in and out of strict veganism, and occasionally struggled with a great love of desserts, but after the aforementioned 6 weeks of partial fasting I’ve completely lost the desire for sugar.  So before I wreck things I might as well try going raw, just so that I can say I did, and buy myself a t-shirt saying I survived.

Eat Less, Live Longer?

Since the 1930s, scientists have hypothesized that a daily calorie restriction of up to 30% might have beneficial effects on longevity in humans.  This has been based on studies involving rats, mice, and rhesus monkeys. However, a recent study on rhesus monkeys did not indicate significant benefits to calorie restriction.  Calorie restricted male monkeys had lower cholesterol, and both genders had somewhat lower rates of cancer, but the hungry monkeys lived no longer than the satiated ones.

Calorie Restriction Society International has issued a response to the study, criticizing it on the following points.

1) The monkeys used for the study were of an aggressive variety.  Because of their hot tempers, the monkeys had shorter lifespans.

2) The monkeys arrived to the study already sick.  Indeed, 20 of 26 monkeys obtained from a military facility died of causes unrelated to calorie restriction, and their data was not included in the study.  (Out of all the criticisms, this one is probably the most valid.)

3) Upon the untimely death of their laboratory friends, the surviving monkeys grew depressed, and died earlier deaths than they would have otherwise.

4) The monkeys were kept in cages, which made them depressed.

5) The diet in the NIA study was high in sucrose; both fat and hungry monkeys ate this sugar-laden diet.  A large percentage of the satiated monkeys developed diabetes, but the restricted monkeys did not.

Calorie restriction does have measurable benefits to people, though the studies have been small.  Restricted individuals tend to have better cholesterol levels and lower fasting glucose levels.  But the balance between restricted eating and malnourishment is a delicate one, and the alleged benefits of calorie restriction are contradicted by studies correlating low BMI with mortality (even when confounding factors are considered). Perhaps the samples of very thin people in the western world are so few, that it’s difficult to tabulate accurately.

I’m going to hazard a guess that what we eat is more important than how much we eat, at least within reasonable parameters.  Physical activity probably plays a large part as well. So if these monkeys were indeed just eating pellet food while sitting glumly in cages, it’s no wonder that both groups suffered a spate of health woes and shortened mortality.  If the monkeys had been fed organic termites and dark leafy greens, while being made to run marathons against their laboratory cohorts, perhaps we might have seen longevity differences between the plumper team versus the lithe one.