Natalie Battaglia, who has been a non-drinker since April 2020 and runs her own recipe blog, The Mindful Mocktail, opened up about her pregnancies while appearing on the Knock-off Drinks With a Difference podcast in September. During the conversation, she said that when she was having her first child, she “cherished it like nothing else,” which included avoiding alcohol at all costs.
However, during her second pregnancy with her son, Noah, Battaglia acknowledged that she was much more relaxed. She then confessed that there were times when she drank wine during it.
“There were a few occasions with my second pregnancy where I did have a glass,” she said. “I remember there was an occasion where I had two glasses, and I definitely started to feel the effect of the alcohol.”
Battaglia explained that while the pregnancy was “healthy and normal”, as she gave birth to a “beautiful boy”, he developed a “few interesting mannerisms” by the time he was six months old. For example, she said that he found it” difficult to straighten out his arms” and would hold them out at a “right angle”.
She said that once she realised that some of her son’s mannerisms weren’t “normal”, she took him to see a paediatrician, who had asked the mother if she drank alcohol while pregnant.
“I remember I just froze,” Battaglia said. “I wasn’t expecting that question, and I lied. I was ashamed and I thought: ‘Even if it was the alcohol, there’s nothing I can do about it now anyway, so what’s the point in telling the truth?’”
Battaglia went on to recall that when another doctor stepped in to examine her child, they told her that they “suspected” that he had cerebral palsy (CP), a group of disorders that impacts one’s ability to move.
The Melbourne-based mother addressed how “devastated” she was when she heard this, before she went to a different doctor to get another opinion. She then revealed that this doctor had also asked her if she drank during her pregnancy.
However, she said that she “lied again,” as she “couldn’t bear” to go into how much she drank during pregnancy. The paediatrician also agreed that Battaglia’s child could be developing cerebral palsy.
While drinking during pregnancy isn’t a direct cause of this condition, CP is “due to damage to the developing brain during pregnancy, birth, or shortly after birth”, as noted by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s official website.
According to the National Health Service, drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause babies to develop another serious condition, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This disorder can create physical problems with a baby’s joints, bones, and muscles.
After discussing the similarities between CP and FASD, she addressed that while she got Noah to work with a physical therapist, she still questioned what his physical health could be in the future.
“All of these questions that I had. Will he be able to play with his little brother? Will he be able to walk?” she continued. “When a child is only a few months old, you don’t really know what their capabilities will be. And that was a really hard time in my life. And it made me drink more.”
She noted that while there’s no way to confirm if her son’s mannerisms was due to her having alcohol, she still encouraged women to think carefully about what they drink when pregnant.
“We’ll never actually know if what happened to Noah was because of the alcohol, but we’ll never know that it wasn’t because of the alcohol,” Battaglia added. “And I guess our role as mums, pregnant women, is to re-juice the risk of harm in any way we can.”
“And alcohol is a huge risk,” she added. “And a much bigger risk than we initially thought. And the thinking has gone now from one, being safe, to really it’s not safe.
She went on to explain that while her child wasn’t officially diagnosed with CP, she said she was “lucky” to catch his developmental issues early, as it allowed her to find different types of “intervention” to treat it.
Speaking to Insider, she doubled down her regrets about drinking when pregnant, adding: “From personal experience, I can assure you that a glass of wine or two during pregnancy is not worth the ‘what-if’s.’”
Battaglia also acknowledged how big of a risk she took by consuming alcohol while pregnant in the first place.
“One of our jobs as a parent is to mitigate risk,” she said. “And I feel like I failed my son when I was pregnant by taking that risk.”
Research has continued to find that consuming alcohol, no matter how much it may be, can impact a child’s development. According to a new study, to be presented next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, scientists found that even low to moderate amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can alter a baby’s brain structure.
The Independent has contacted Battaglia for comment.