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With medical advice in a state of permanent indecision about exactly how much alcohol can safely be consumed by a pregnant woman, many women (and many doctors) 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.

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.

Examples of Alcohol Is Poison include:


Comic Books

  • In a clear case of Did Not Do the Research, 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.


Film

  • Parodied at the beginning of Die Hard: Holly's heavily pregnant secretary is leaving to go to the staff Christmas party, and wonders if a sip of alcohol will harm the baby. Wryly, Holly says "I think that baby's ready to tend bar."
  • Subverted in While You Were Sleeping, when Jack points out - loudly, in front of all her friends - that the glass of champagne that Lucy is intending on having at a New Year's Eve party will be 'unhealthy for the baby'. Unfortunately for both, this is a case of Mistaken for Pregnant, and thus results in a very humiliating New Year's Eve for Lucy and a lot of apologizing required from Jack.
  • In Juno, the title character shocks the prospective adoptive parents of her child by requesting bourbon whiskey at their first meeting, even more so since she's also 16.

  "Ah, yes, the classic sense of humor. Just one of Juno's many genetic gifts."

  • Parodied in the 2007 Hairspray adaptation. When Tracy and Edna are on their way to the clothing store, they pass a bar where a group of visibly pregnant women are smoking and making a toast "to the future" (it's set in The Sixties, when people presumably didn't know the effect smoking and drinking had on fetuses).
  • Played very straight in Italian for Beginners. Two long lost sisters discover each other at the funeral of their father, soon after their alcoholic mother died (or was it the other way round?). The younger sister is so clumsy she can't hold down a job. The older sisters' nurse friend says this may well be fetal alcohol poisoning. Justified in that the mother is treated for alcohol related disease during the movie. The trope is more about an excessive reaction to mild to moderate consumption, not alcoholism.
  • In the film In Her Shoes, Maggie gets her sisters boyfriend to turn up for a reconciliation by pretending the sister is pregnant. He finds her with a drink in her hands. Maggie delays the inevitable denouement by grabbing the drink and pretending it's hers.
  • The Way We Were averted this. Values Dissonance hits the movie hard when we see the visibly pregnant Katie holding a cigarette in one hand, and a glass of liquor in the other.
  • In Lajja, Janki drinks to ease her stage fright, despite being 2 months pregnant, and laughs it off when Vaidehi gives her a What the Hell, Hero?.


Literature

  • Used straight in Brave New World to explain how less intelligent people 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 the effects of alcohol on a fetus were 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 of Eric Flint. A doctor who (along with an entire 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 of course, 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.


Live Action TV

  • Played with in Babylon 5: alcohol is, in fact, poisonous to Minbari, inducing violent mental breakdowns.
  • Friends - when Rachel is pregnant with Emma.
  • Scrubs - inverted, as the only person who doesn't know Carla is pregnant is Carla herself and she is trying to drink a glass of wine. JD and Turk are constantly "spilling" it, distracting her and generally attempting to prevent even a single sip from passing her lips.
    • Averted with Kim, who mentions that she's allowed to have a half-glass of wine every night while pregnant.
  • Played with in an episode of Titus. Titus's sister is pregnant, but he doesn't know that yet. When she turns down a drink, he assumes it's because she has an alcohol problem.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Barney sees Robin drinking water at a wedding reception, and jumps to the conclusion that she must be pregnant. Hijinks Ensue. It turns out she's not pregnant, and just happened to be drinking water.
    • Played straight with Lily in the season 7 opener.
    • Subverted with Lily later. Her doctor says she can drink and eat all sorts of things typically frowned upon during pregnancy as long as it's "just a little bit". Ted and Marshall frown at this but Lily gladly continues to drink.
  • Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip included a variation in which a character's pregnancy was revealed when she refused a voluntary vaccination because the vaccine had a chance to harm her child.
  • On Desperate Housewives, pregnant Susan takes a tiny sip of her daughters drink to see if it's alcohol (it's not) and no big deal was made of it on the show. The forumers, however, seemed to think this was a tremendous and insane risk, probably because they see this trope so much on tv.
    • Likewise on Glee, even though it was half a glass of champagne to celebrate! And she wasn't even pregnant!
    • Desperate Housewives later plays this straight with Lynette trying to hide her pregnancy by having her husband quickly down her glass of wine when the others are looking away. Naturally, they assume she really likes it and keep pouring her more until Tom is completely drunk.
  • In an episode of Law & Order: SVU, a man seeks to have his estranged, pregnant wife incarcerated or committed to stop her from drinking. Benson initially sides with her, but as the story develops it becomes clear the woman really is an alcoholic and earlier had a daughter, given up for adoption, who is mentally retarded from fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • On Mad About You, shortly after Jamie and Paul realize she is pregnant, she almost drinks a sip of wine in a toast, and stops, looking as though she narrowly avoided drinking cyanide. Her OB/Gyn is there, and excuses Jamie's behavior by saying she is taking antibiotics.
    • Jamie also acts this way about a sip of caffeinated coffee, which she is desperate to spit out, which is an even more exaggerated variation of this trope--while a pregnant woman (or anyone else) shouldn't drink caffeine in excess, the most restrictive medical guideline is that she can get away with 200mg a day, or slightly less than three shots of espresso.
  • Played with in the American version of Men Behaving Badly, where Rob Schneider's character helps women give birth quickly by bragging while they're in labor about being able to drink .
  • Referenced in an episode of Stark Raving Mad. Tess (who narrates the episode) makes this remark when Jake does a ridiculous dance: "Jake Donovan. His mother insists there was nothing wrong with chain smoking, drinking whiskey and riding roller coasters while pregnant. You be the judge."
  • The first revival of The Twilight Zone had this in two episodes. One followed a sailor who gets drunk and wakes up in an empty bar. The other, much darker, followed a man who decides to give up the alcohol and begin a cure that could destroy his life.
  • Inverted in the pilot episode of Quantum Leap. A woman goes into early labor and, in 1956, the only available treatment is essentially to get her drunk. It stopped the labor and saved the lives of mother and child.
  • Averted on Dallas. Sue Ellen drank to excess during her entire pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
  • Averted on Mad Men: Betty Draper definitely drinks (and smokes!) while pregnant with her son Eugene (seasons 2-3), and Peggy Olson's drinking isn't mentioned to have done anything to her son (although she didn't know she was pregnant, and the baby has been more or less out of the picture for two seasons).
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Coupling. Susan, Sally and Jane all take pregnancy tests, with Susan and Jane showing solidarity with Sally; however, one of them turns up positive, but they get mixed up ( it's Susan). The ladies return to their table, pour a glass of wine, raise it... and put it down right before it touches their lips, just in case.
    • Subverted a second later. Susan, the one who turns out to be pregnant, takes a drink and says it can't be her because she's been trying to conceive a child for a while, and her doctor had told her she'd 'need a miracle'.
  • Kari Byron was banned from taking part in a hangover myth test during her third trimester. But considering that this test involved drinking enough to get hungover twice, that's definitely enough booze to cause problems.
  • Parodied in a late 80s Saturday Night Live sketch with Victoria Jackson as a pregnant housewife, Phil Hartman as her overprotective husband, and Woody Harrelson as the permissive neighbour. The neighbour offers her Irish coffee, but she swears off based on this trope. He convinces her because it's Irish coffee, the effects of the caffeine and alcohol should cancel each other out, whereupon she gulps down three cups. She then proceeds to irradiate her stomach with the microwave and fall down a flight of stairs. At the end, Jon Lovitz claims the previous bit was a true story about his mother, and offers a PSA on the importance of pre-natal care before shamelessly plugging The Critic.
  • The Office (American version) does this at Pam and Jim's wedding, where it is (!) Played for Drama as follows: Pam was already pregnant (as you might have guessed), but they avoided telling her very-conservative grandmother about this fact. When the toast is called the night before the actual wedding, Jim invites everyone "except Pam of course" to raise their wine in a toast. Everybody catches on the way he phrased that, and though he tries to cover it up, they quickly figure out what's going on and Grandma is not amused.
  • Subverted and Played for Drama on Smallville, in which Lana faints after having some white wine and loses her baby. However, she was never really pregnant; Lex had slipped her hormones to make her think she was. The wine was drugged in order to remove the evidence after they had been married.
  • Played straight once on Mercy when Veronica, a known heavy drinker, takes a break from drinking on the advice of a therapist. Veronica's mother, upon the daughter's refusal of an offered glass of wine, assumes she is pregnant.
  • In Para Pencari Tuhan, Baha The Alcoholic put some alcohol into kecap (soy sauce) bottles. Asrul's family accidentally consumes it and the newborn baby died almost instantly.
  • In Bones Booth finds out that Angela is pregnant because she slips that she can't drink wine anymore.
  • In LA Law Roxanne is pregnant, and requests a drink from the young waitstaff. They refuse to serve her, and chide her on endangering her baby. Her date blows up and calls them 'sanctimonious pisspots' for refusing to serve one drink to an adult woman. Rosanne ends up re-marrying this man that stood up for her.
  • Averted in Doctor Who: Amy Pond has no trouble sipping a glass of red wine at a picnic early enough in her pregnancy that she hasn't even started to show. Certain elements of the fandom, however, practically went ballistic over it, sure that it had to be either a clue that she wasn't really pregnant, or a sign that she was bound to be a terrible, negligent mother (and a terrible human being to boot). Of course, she didn't think she was pregnant at the time, which turned out to be sort of correct, since she'd been swapped out with a mind-linked copy earlier that had been programmed to not show any signs of pregnancy so as to not alert her companions to her capture and the possible uberchild she carried. Needless to say, that didn't work out as planned...
  • Averted in Weeds Season 4 finale, Nancy goes on a bender drinking anything she wants before she sees Esteban to possibly be be killed. She later admits shes pregnant.
  • While the trope's title is defended literally by the Women's Temperance League in Boardwalk Empire, the trope itself is avoided by Lucy who smokes and drinks while in her third trimestre because of Deliberate Values Dissonance.
  • Averted (or avoided) in Fringe. The alternate Olivia Dunham greets her partner on his return home with a glass of wine for him and a similar glass of water for herself. That would be a dead giveaway in most other shows, but we've already seen that she doesn't like alcohol. The episode later reveals that she is pregnant, making the water a kind of anti-red herring.
  • Parodied on Roseanne.

 Jackie: I can't believe Mom drank while she was pregnant with us.

Roseanne: Eh, after being inside Mom for a few months we probably needed a good drink.

    • Mentioned (without resolution) in Freaks and Geeks, in the Episode where Bill accidentally eats a peanut. He's severely allergic. In the waiting room, Bill's mother mentions she blames herself for his allergies, because she drank and popped pills during her pregnancy.


Video Games

  • 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.


Web Original

  • 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.


Western Animation

  • Parodied in The Simpsons twentieth season episode "Double, Double, Boy in Trouble," where a Flash Back 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 chuckling Bart.
  • 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.


Web Comics

  • 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.


Real Life

  • 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.
  • 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 they would not serve alcohol to women who appeared to be pregnant. Some fear lawsuits, because with America 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.
    • Bartenders just can't win on this though, because women can sue for discrimination on the basis of sex if bartenders refuse to serve them while they are pregnant. The most bars legally can do is post huge warnings about the danger of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
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