I binge drank four or more drinks one or two nights per week before discovering I was pregnant with my first child. I was about five or six weeks along when I learned I was pregnant. As soon as I found out, I completely stopped drinking for the rest of my pregnancy. My child is almost 4 years old, and every time he seems to struggle with something that seems like it’s easy for other kids, I blame myself (though he’s not showing any major developmental delays). I don’t see data about binge drinking for a few weeks early in pregnancy. Did I hurt my baby? And is there anything I can do to fix it?—Feeling Guilty
This question is so hard, in part because it gets at some of our deepest pregnancy fears — that something we do, or did, during pregnancy will be with our child forever. In light of much of the recent discussion of Tylenol and autism (more on that data in this post), I get countless emails from moms who worry that something they did has harmed their baby. Being in this mindset causes us to react to events differently. You say your child is not experiencing any developmental delays; this is a really important point. Kids will all struggle with different things – it’s typical and expected. But this mindset can mean that normal challenges that our kids face become evidence that something is wrong, something that is our fault.
These issues are especially hard when the data is uncertain. It is true that drinking four or more drinks at a time during pregnancy is associated with some developmental delays in some children. But it is challenging in the data to separate binge drinking from broader drinking behaviors. Your pattern of drinking — a few binge episodes early on, followed by no drinking — is not especially common, and it’s hard to point to anything that would be directly informative. This is on top of all of the correlation and causation issues in studying alcohol consumption.
To the extent that we do have evidence that separates out the timing of episodic heavy drinking (for example: this paper), it seems to point to the later part of the first trimester (weeks 7 to 12) as the most crucial period. This is reassuring given the timing of your drinking. And in general, the data points to more, and continuous, drinking as more dangerous. Based on what we know, it seems unlikely that the pattern you describe would be associated with delays.
In the end, though, it isn’t going to be possible to fully reject your concerns, any more than it is possible to fully reject any worries like this. But there also isn’t anything that you would do differently now even if you knew this was an issue. If your child needs support — for any reason — you are going to support him. Looking forward is good. Blaming yourself, probably without reason, for any issues that arise is not going to serve your son or yourself.