Drinking Wine While Pregnant
Forget the Real Housewives -- comparing differences between American and French culture is real entertainment. Wine drinking during pregnancy is one of the more hot-button issues with legions of cultural polarization.
The stakes are high; no one wants to subject their baby to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the mental and physical complications that arise when a fetus is exposed to alcohol. But how can it be that French women avoid these complications without abstaining?
To begin with, wine is heavily integrated into dining culture in France. Wine has been produced in France since at least the 6th century, over 1000 years before the Mayflower delivered passengers to America. Walk the streets of Paris and nary will you find a bistro table without a glass or bottle of vin rouge.
Wine also has a place on the French family dining table and young people are introduced to it earlier. Little Pierre may have a sip of wine at dinner but poor Peter better not even eyeball the stuff. Consider the puritanical baggage with which American children are raised and its no wonder so many hit the ground running in college.
In the United States, sobering up during pregnancy has only been advised for the last 40 years. Who could forget those scenes in Mad Men with pregnant characters drinking and smoking heavily? In the 1970s research linked birth defects and growth problems with alcoholic mothers, and in 1988 Congress passed legislation requiring all alcoholic beverage containers to carry warnings of potential birth defects.
Back across the pond, there were no pregnancy health warnings on alcohol containers in France until 2007. After several women gave birth to babies with FAS, they took legal action against the government asserting there was no warning that alcohol affected the fetus. Now the French government promotes a campaign for “zero alcohol during pregnancy” and awareness has increased.
That’s not to say that behaviors have changed. In a country where the Academie Francaise has spent 350 years fiercely protecting the French language, changing consumer identity surrounding one of the country’s oldest cultural artifacts is unimaginable.
But if French women are evolving to drink less wine when bebe is on board they will keep such action quietly to themselves. French people are noticeably more private than Americans and would not externalize judgment. That scene we can all conjure of one woman snootily berating a pregnant woman for her choices is a decidedly American tableau. If French strangers have a problem with the personal choices you exhibit publicly, they would never be so uncouth as to remark on it --quelle horreur!
Few life events are more stress-inducing than the prospect of parenthood. Few physical events are as demanding as growing another human inside of you. Depriving yourself of the ritualistic pleasures of a glass of wine or a cup of coffee can feel more like a punishment than a blessing. Not only are you dealing with raging hormones and body image issues, but now you have to abstain from habits that were commonplace in your pre-plus sign life.
At the end of the day, with the help of your doctor or midwife, only you can decide what’s best for your body, your baby, and your life.