One Drink Will Kill the Baby
aka: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Image courtesy of SaburoX. Used with permission.note
: According to the Surgeon General, Women should not drink alcohol during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.
—Warning Label found on all alcoholic beverages in the United States.
Alcohol can harm fetuses. The problem is, nobody is sure how much
alcohol it takes to do harm. With medical advice in a state of permanent indecision about exactly how much alcohol can safely be consumed by a pregnant woman, the only thing that's sure is that "none" is definitely less
than whatever the safe amount actually is. This leads many women (and many doctors) to advise that they play it safe and swear off the booze entirely as soon as they miss their first period.
Fair enough, but many TV shows take this to ridiculous lengths. Comedy series especially hang entire scenes on the pregnant woman desperately avoiding taking even a single sip of the wine offered, as if even a single drop of alcohol will irreparably harm the helpless little fetus.
Somehow it's always in a situation where not drinking alcohol would be suspicious or unacceptable. Somehow the woman is convinced that simply refusing a drink will cause everyone to shout, "AHA! You're pregnant!" when it's supposed to be a secret - and sometimes that is exactly how the pregnancy becomes known. This requires huge leaps of logic from the other people, instead of assuming the woman simply wants
water or a soft drink, or doesn't drink alcohol for other reasons (religion, medical, just hating the taste).
Even more ridiculous situations tend to arise when a character is Mistaken for Pregnant
and the other characters desperately try to stop her from drinking without revealing that they "know."
An example of Truth in Television
. A survey of U.S. bar workers confirms that most would refuse point blank to serve an alcoholic drink to a visibly pregnant woman, which would make for an interesting lawsuit. Ironically, the further along the pregnancy, the less
danger there is to the unborn child (at least as demonstrated, with a major caveat being that it's harder to find visibly pregnant women who drink significant amounts and hilariously unethical to give them alcohol to see what happens). The requirement for pregnant women to abstain from alcohol was based on the existence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: basically, the fetus' fragile developing brain cells and structures can be malformed or have development interrupted by prenatal alcoholism, resulting in developmental deficits including but not limited to mental retardation. You can witness the damage here◊
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- In a case of Artistic License - Biology, Greyshirt features a girl born with Down Syndrome as a result of her mother boozing while pregnant. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is one thing, but Down's Syndrome is a genetic condition and has nothing to do with the mother drinking during pregnancy.
- In the Furry comic Shanda The Panda, the major character Missy is a classic case of being a reasonably functional victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome courtesy of her cold-hearted mother, who refused to stop drinking during her pregnancy.
- Averted in the Iron Man comic 181 that had the pregnant Gretl drinking at a bar just a few hours before she gave birth to a baby. The baby seemed to be fine, and this is is actually Truth in Television, since exposure to alcohol is mostly a long-term developmental issue. In fact, before some modern drugs were invented, alcohol was used as a way to stop premature labor. If it didn't work then the kid would be born drunk (and still premature) but otherwise fine.
- In the Total Drama story, "Legacy", Duncan offers to share his lunch with Heather, but she has to find her own beverage because all Duncan has is beer. For the sake of her 8-month fetus, Heather is unwilling to drink anything alcoholic.
- In the Harry Potter fanfic "Foolish" by Tonksaholic, there is a potion called thead that "...mimics the effects of alcohol. Normally, it's not dangerous, but it interacts violently with the hormones produced during pregnancy..."
- Inverted in Robertson Davies' The Lyre Of Orpheus, where Maria drinks milk with rum in it while pregnant on the advice of her doctor (to help her sleep). The possibility of FAS is only brought up by a character who's treated as a crazy hippie by the narrative, and in fact the doctor seems more concerned that Maria might put on too much weight from drinking milk! (We now know that it is very important for pregnant women to consume plenty of calcium to help the foetus's skeleton develop.) While it's true that drinking in very small amounts is unlikely to harm a foetus, it's equally unlikely that a doctor would recommend it.
- Used straight in Brave New World to explain how slaves were created: fetuses destined to be Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are regularly administered alcohol for the sole purpose of making them shorter, weaker, and less intelligent than Alphas and Betas. A nasty rumour about the character Bernard Marx (an Alpha) claims that he is short because someone spilled alcohol in his gestation bottle, since pregnancy as we know it is nonexistent in the world of Huxley's novel and people are grown in artificial vats. And yes, alcohol introduced directly into the gestation environment is a poison. Ironically, Brave New World was written years before Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was widely understood. Huxley was even criticized for the idea that alcohol could harm a fetus.
- Averted in Empire Of Ivory, book 4 of the Temeraire series, with Harcourt. The character still avoids drinking wine, claiming that it upsets her stomach. This skirts implausibility, as the novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars, a time period when drinking plain unboiled water (which was always contaminated with bacteria, including Listeria) was immensely more dangerous to mother and fetus than drinking wine could ever be.
- Referenced in the 1632 series, by Eric Flint. A doctor who (along with a modern small American town) had been forcibly sent into the 1600s explained that while drinking alcohol was a bad idea, the lack of sanitation made drinking potentially contaminated water a greater threat to the baby. She suggested well-watered wine and boiled water when possible.
- In Dan Savage's The Kid, an autobiographical novella telling the story of his and his partner's attempt to adopt a child, they were at first worried when they found out that the young woman who was going to give up her child for them to adopt had not known she was pregnant for the first several weeks and had a lifestyle that was heavy in drinking beer (as well as smoking and the occasional joint), though she'd stopped immediately upon finding out. He and his partner nearly work themselves into a frenzy researching the possibility that they could get a kid with fetal alcohol syndrome... until they notice how some FAS information websites list restlessness and moodiness in teenagers, among other perfectly normal behavior for children of all ages, as "symptoms"—and that some of them could easily apply to ADHD. They come to the conclusion that if the child does have FAS, they'll deal, but that the risk is probably less than advertised.
- A Farewell to Arms had Catherine argue for drinking when she's pregnant, on the grounds that she's petite and alcohol will make the baby smaller, easing the birth. Since this was written in 1929 (and set in World War I) Values Dissonance/Science Marches On is no doubt in effect. (Though both Catherine and the baby suffer Death by Childbirth, so maybe Hemingway was ahead of his time?)
- Appears in Barrayar of the Vorkosigan Saga where Cordelia passes up some wine, noting internally that she's sworn off "all metabolic poisons" while pregnant. Although, given Barrayar has only recently regained full contact with galactic civilization, it may be that she's wise in her decisions. Also, as a Betan, she's unfamiliar with in vivo pregnancy and may have some superstitious fear of the state.
- Used in The Number of the Beast. About two months into their pregnancies, Deety and Hilda wonder if a single drink would harm their fetuses (they've just had an I Need a Freaking Drink moment). The agreement is that they're probably safe.
- In Colby Rodowsky's Lucy Peale the pregnant runaway teenage title character asked another character for a beer because she couldn't stomach milk and he replied "I remember from my sister that beer's not—that you're not supposed to have it. I mean, if there's a baby and all."
- In Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley novel Just One Evil Act, Angelina Upman is on Italian TV with her former and current boyfriends pleading for information on her missing daughter, and initially does not partake when her current boyfriend offers wine to the police and media there. Then her former boyfriend (who is a Muslim and doesn't drink anyway) asks if she wants some, but as she reaches for it her current boyfriend yells that she shouldn't "during this time especially" and everyone nearby instantly figures out that this means she's pregnant. In an earlier scene when Lynley met with her he observed that she had water while the rest of them had wine, but didn't think much of it until her boyfriend's outburst. In the end this trope ends up double subverted since technically that one drink did kill the baby — and the mother, since it turned out it had been laced with E. Coli by the current boyfriend, who didn't realize that the former boyfriend didn't drink and intended it for him to get him out of the way.
Live Action TV
- Amusingly averted in the Harvest Moon games, where one of the women whom the player can marry will mistake morning sickness for a bad hangover.
- Not only that, but in HM 64, one of the requirements for marrying her is beating her in a drinking contest, requiring you to build up your tolerance with repeated alcohol purchases.
- In many of the Distaff Counterpart games, your player character herself can drink as much alcohol as you wish while pregnant, without any harm whatsoever. There is at least one game where your husband will insist that, in your case, there's no way that a little alcohol is any danger to you or the baby. This is because, by that point, you are heavily pregnant and have still managed to keep the farm running practically single-handed, all without the slightest hint of ill-health.
- In Sims 2, a pregnant woman can make and serve drinks, but not have one herself.note
- Averted in Dwarf Fortress, where all dwarves, including the children, have to drink booze, or else they'll go insane. In fact, no special treatment is given to pregnant females there at all; they'll work on and just casually give birth without missing a beat. Doesn't matter if they were in the middle of digging, or hauling something, or even if they were in the middle of fighting an invading goblin horde.
- Averted in Chrono Trigger, in part because the character didn't know at the time. Ayla gets completely smashed at the welcome party she throws for Crono, and despite waking up much the worse for wear, manages to go on a dungeon raid with him the next day before finally losing it and throwing up. Only at the very end of the game is it alluded to that it might have been morning sickness rather than a hangover, and Ayla certainly doesn't act like she's about to dial it back any.
- Failblog once featured a scan of a picture from a newspaper article. The caption stated that the pictured woman was pregnant and concerned about the effect of jackhammers used in roadwork outside her home on her unborn baby. She was also smoking a cigarette. A later article revealed she had actually cut her smoking from two packs a day to half a pack and was told that quitting completely while pregnant would put stress on her unborn baby, but the internet did not fail to notice the cognitive dissonance.
- Parodied in The Simpsons twentieth season episode "Double, Double, Boy in Trouble," where a Flashback shows a single drop of sprayed alcohol going down Marge's throat by accident, whereupon it changes the nondescript baby boy inside her into a wickedly smirking Bart.
- Also used for Black Comedy, when Brandine in one episode sips whiskey to stop the fetus from kicking.
- Meanwhile, on Family Guy, after Meg claims to be pregnant, Lois advises her that if she's going to dose herself on drugs and alcohol to induce a miscarriage to be committed to it, otherwise she'd end up giving birth to something like Chris.
- In another episode, Lois has a dream where she finds out that Stewie's evil and bent on world domination. After she realizes this she cries, "Why!? Why did I have to smoke pot when I was pregnant with you!?"
- On the rare occasions Beavis And Butthead's parents are mentioned, their mothers are usually said to be heavy drinkers, which definitely explains a lot.
- In the season 4 finale of Archer, Lana vehemently refuses alcohol; at the end of the episode, she reveals her pregnancy. This carries over into the next season, with her hard drinking coworkers often trying to offer her alcohol and Lana pointing out that she couldn't possibly have any since she's pregnant.
- In one strip of Muertitos, Angel-Pie Hova complains at one point that her mom didn't drink enough during the pregnancy that produced her, because she could really have used a third arm at the time.
- As recently as the early 1980s, an old wives' tale in many cultures, including some Catholic cultures (such as some Irish and Italian cultures), stereotyped as having lots of healthy children due to birth control restrictions while also using wine in their Mass, held that a pregnant woman drinking a small amount of wine or a small amount of beer was actually beneficial to a fetus. Recent scientific studies have suggested some Italian grandmothers are right, as always, on this issue.
- In the 1940s, doctors sometimes advised new mothers to drink Guinness stout because the yeast in the brew was supposed to promote milk production.
- While current National Institute for Clinical Excellency guidelines advise teetotalism during the first three months of pregnancy the guidelines also state that consuming no more than two units of alcohol up to twice week has not been shown as harmful to foetuses and that consumption of more than 7.5 units is proven to increase the risk of birth defects and other problems.
- A survey of bartenders showed that most would not serve alcohol to women who appeared to be pregnant. Some fear lawsuits, because with the US being such a litigious society, a mom could come back years later and attempt to sue the bartender for every problem her child ever had. (No one has ever tried it, and it's unlikely she would win, but who wants to take the chance?)
- This is why on January 2011, a woman was kicked out of a bar just for being pregnant, despite the fact that she wasn't, and had no plans to be, drinking alcohol.
- On the other hand, a sex-discrimination case could be made against the bar for refusing service, especially if the woman was not pregnant and the bartender just assumed. TIPPS classes actually subvert this trope and tell you that against your first instinct, you should serve the woman, because it would be much harder to prove yours was the One Drink that killed the baby than that you turned a customer away.
- Somewhat adverted when it comes to Nicotine and tobacco. While it can harm the baby, the stress from suddenly going cold turkey from nicotine can have a much greater effect on the baby. However talk to a obstetrician before you try this. Don't blindly follow medical advice from the internet.