Mother who had a few glasses of wine during her pregnancy says she regrets it

  • Natalie Battaglia had a few drinks while pregnant and her son had some unusual mannerisms.
  • Battaglia doesn’t know if alcohol led to her son’s problems, which doctors initially suspected was cerebral palsy.
  • Mounting evidence shows that even light drinking during pregnancy can affect the foetus.

When Natalie Battaglia finally got pregnant with her first child after more than a year of trying, she “cherished it like nothing else.” That meant avoiding anything that could harm the baby, including alcohol, except for the occasional half glass of champagne.

However, with her second child, Battaglia was more relaxed – including with alcohol. That time, “when people said to me, ‘Why don’t you just have one?’ or “One can do no harm,” I listened more closely,” said Battaglia, who at the time ran a rack business with her husband in Melbourne, Australia, in a recent episode of the “Knockoff Drinks with a Difference” podcast.

During that pregnancy, Battaglia drank a full glass of wine a few times. At least once she had two. It was “definitely enough to feel the effects,” she said.

Still, she carried the pregnancy to term and gave birth to a healthy baby boy in 2017. It wasn’t until about six months after giving birth that she noticed unusual behavior in her son that doctors suggested could be related to alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Natalie Battaglia pregnant with her second child

Natalie Battaglia stopped drinking when her son was a toddler.

Natalie Battaglia

Battaglia, who has been a non-drinker since April 2020 and now runs the recipe blog The Mindful Mocktail, shared her story with fellow sober influencer and podcaster Amy Armstrong of Dry But Wet to raise awareness of the potential dangers of even a small drink a little during pregnancy.

This week’s research reinforces her rallying cry, suggesting that less than one drink per week during pregnancy can have a significant impact on fetal brain development.

“We’ll never know if it was the alcohol that caused my son’s problems, but we’ll never know if it wasn’t,” the now 39-year-old Battaglia told Insider in an email. “From personal experience, I can assure you that a glass or two of wine during pregnancy is not worth the ‘what-if’.”

Pediatricians wondered if Battaglia drank during pregnancy

Battaglia’s son would “scissor” his legs instead of holding them straight, and hold his arms up as if he had just won a race.

“I thought that was cute and so funny and so cute,” she said on the podcast. “And that was it – until I realized there was a problem, that this wasn’t normal.”

Battaglia took him to the pediatrician, who assessed him and then asked Battaglia some questions. One of the first was whether she had consumed alcohol during pregnancy.

“I just froze. I didn’t expect that question and I lied,” said Battaglia. “I was ashamed and thought, ‘Even if it was the alcohol, there’s nothing I can do about it now, so what’s the point of telling the truth?'”

The doctor then consulted another pediatrician and the couple said they believed Battaglia’s son had cerebral palsy, which describes a group of conditions that affect a person’s mobility. “I was just devastated,” she said.

A post shared by 🍸 Mocktail Recipes & Sober Curious Inspo 🍸 (@themindfulmocktail)

While alcohol consumption during pregnancy is not a direct cause of CP, the disorders arise from damage to the brain before or shortly after pregnancy. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can damage the developing brain, although there is debate about how much of an effect this has.

Drinking during pregnancy can also lead to a low birth weight baby, which is a risk factor for cerebral palsy. Fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD), or the range of physical and mental disorders caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy, can also have similar features to cerebral palsy, such as coordination problems.

One study suggested that about 8% of children with FASD have CP.

Since there is no single test for FASD, the most serious of which is fetal alcohol syndrome, it can be difficult to diagnose, especially in mothers who do not disclose their drinking during pregnancy. So even though FASDs are estimated to affect 1 in 20 children, you rarely hear of people with that diagnosis, Battaglia said.

“That means there are people and kids out there who probably have FASD, but they haven’t been diagnosed, they’re not getting the treatment they need,” said Battaglia, who is now an ambassador for the nonprofit Proof Alliance.

A second doctor asked Battaglia if she drank alcohol during pregnancy

Battaglia took her son to another doctor for a second opinion. He also examined her son and then asked if she had been drinking during pregnancy. Again, she lied. Again, the doctor said he suspected cerebral palsy, although Battaglia’s son was never formally diagnosed.

Battaglia did not tell anyone about the doctors’ questions. “I just pushed it away, ‘No, it can’t possibly be the alcohol. Stop being hard on yourself,'” she said on the podcast. “I’m one of those people who tend to catastrophize, and I thought I was just overreacting. And so I just pushed that thought away.”

Battaglia took her son to a physiotherapist every other week for a year and religiously practiced the prescribed exercises with him every day. She wondered if her son would ever play with his older brother or even walk. “That was a very dark time in my life, and it made me drink more,” she said.

But the therapy worked to help his brain communicate properly with his extremities. He is now developing normally and is not considered to have CP.

There is increasing evidence that drinking during pregnancy is linked to brain changes in the foetus

All major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Pediatric Association, claim that there is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy.

If you drink while pregnant, the alcohol in the bloodstream travels through the umbilical cord to the fetus, which is ill-equipped to metabolize alcohol. That can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

In a recent study, the first to use MRI to measure the effects of alcohol on fetal brain structure and growth in real time, doctors found that less than one alcoholic drink per week altered the developing brain in a way that could lead to problems such as language delays.

But rules to ban alcohol during pregnancy have been criticized by some doctors and parenting experts as paternalistic, and some pregnant patients say their health care providers have told them that an occasional drink is okay.

The mixed coverage is related to the fact that there isn’t much high-quality evidence on the harms of light alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

In addition, there are studies that find no association between light or moderate alcohol consumption and developmental problems in children. Parenting expert and economist Emily Oster pointed to a Danish study suggesting that up to eight drinks a week during pregnancy has no effect on children’s intelligence or attention levels.

Natalie Battaglia headshot with mocktail

Natalie Battaglia now creates non-alcoholic drink recipes and has over 60,000 followers on Instagram.

Natalie Battaglia

But that study and other similar studies also have flaws, and anecdotes of “success” stories don’t guarantee that someone else who drinks during pregnancy will have the same outcome.

Previous research has shown that of the 10% of pregnant women who drink any amount during pregnancy, one in 13 of their children will have FAS and one in 67 will have FAS.

“One of our jobs as a parent is to mitigate risk,” Battaglia said, “and I feel like I let my son down when I was pregnant by taking that risk.”

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