STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now we have the latest advice for women who are pregnant. The advice is. don't drink. Now, this is not a question of whether you drink a lot. People have known for decades that's a bad idea. They've known about fetal alcohol syndrome. The real question is whether a pregnant woman can drink a little. To that question, the American Academy of Pediatrics says no, absolutely not, no alcohol at all. This zero-tolerance policy is getting a surprising amount of pushback. Here's NPR's Nancy Shute.
NANCY SHUTE, BYLINE: I thought we all agreed that women shouldn't drink while pregnant. Boy, was I wrong. When we posted a story about the pediatricians' report on NPR's Shots blog, the comments exploded. There were hundreds of people arguing over whether moderate drinking in pregnancy is safe. One person wrote...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) I've seen repeated studies that have shown zero effects for those who had one to two drinks or less a week.
SHUTE: And then there's this.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) It makes you feel good and relaxed. Feeling good is good for you and your baby.
SHUTE: Now, 8 to 10 percent of women say they drank alcohol at some point in pregnancy. And we're not seeing big problems in 8 to 10 percent of children. So why zero? To find out, I called Janet Williams, the lead author of the report.
JANET WILLIAMS: Not finding something is not necessarily the same as it being safe. It could be that our tests are not sensitive enough to detect it.
SHUTE: That's not the case with severe birth defects linked to fetal alcohol syndrome.
WILLIAMS: At high levels of alcohol exposure, it's definitive. There's no question that this is a toxin. And it's considered the leading preventable cause of birth defects and neurodevelopmental disabilities.
SHUTE: But scientists also know that drinking in pregnancy is related to more subtle problems, like learning disabilities. And we don't know how much alcohol causes that or who's most at risk.
WILLIAMS: Some people - we can't predict who - are more sensitive to alcohol effects, whether you're pregnant or not.
SHUTE: Which may mean some babies do face more risk.
WILLIAMS: To say something is safe is a whole leap in faith.
SHUTE: Some of our commenters say doctors are being way too hard on women. But Janet Williams says if you're pregnant, it's just not worth it.
WILLIAMS: The choice is really between your desire to have a desirable effect from alcohol versus the risk of lifetime harm to the baby. That's the choice.
SHUTE: So maybe indulge in a massage or a bowl of ice cream instead. Nancy Shute, NPR News.
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