From the standpoint of popular culture, drinking during pregnancy is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with your fetus. Any woman daring to consume a single glass of wine in public risks being construed as the most unnaturally selfish of mothers. Even as recent studies suggest that science refuses to conclude the case, we cling to the prohibition in a way that precludes discussion. But perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising—our reasons may have as much to do with the distinctive morality of pregnancy as they do with science.
This month the issue was revived again. A new study out of Great Britain found that the 5-year-old children of moms who consumed up to two drinks a week appeared to do no worse on tests of behavior and cognition than the children of mothers who abstained. Indeed, in some tests— in vocabulary, for instance—the boys of light drinkers did better than the boys born to abstainers. A study published this spring out of Australia found something similar: The children of women who drank in relatively small amounts early in pregnancy appeared to demonstrate fewer behavioral problems than the children of those who abstained during the same period. The Australian researchers wondered, controversially, whether light drinking might help relax the mothers, yielding better kids.