Handy research for talking to the pregnancy police

Like every other woman I know, when I was pregnant I was subject to all sorts of instructions, from all sorts of people, about what I should and shouldn’t do. Top of the list was not drinking alcohol. Then there was not drinking coffee, and making sure that I put on enough weight, but of course not too much weight. On it and on went. I was infantalised, and control was taken away from me.

I especially resented the advice about alcohol. The pregnancy police took “We don’t what level of alcohol is safe during pregnancy” and turned it into, “Therefore, pregnant women must never ever touch the demon drink” despite clear evidence that one or two alcoholic drinks a week don’t harm the fetus. Here’s a classic of the genre:

However, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that its advice would remain unchanged.

“We are continually taking account of evidence and welcome this further report.

“However, the research does not lead to any change in the current UK wide advice that pregnant women and those trying to conceive should, as a precautionary measure, avoid alcohol.”

Additional advice from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence urges women to avoid alcohol, particularly in the first three months of pregnancy. (Source)

But here’s an article from economist Emily Oster, who spent quite a bit of time digging through research papers when she was pregnant.

Take back your pregnancy: Modern pregnancy comes with a long list of strict rules, but does it have to? An economist examines the data and finds room for choice amid the familiar limits.

Her findings?

  • An occasional glass of wine is fine.
  • Most soft cheeses are fine.
  • Most deli meat is fine.
  • Having a low birthweight baby is worrying, so you do need to gain a fair amount of weight during pregnancy, but gaining “too much” weight is not really an issue.
  • Drinking coffee is fine.
  • Her concluding paragraph nails it:

    Pregnant women are clamoring for better information about everything from exercise to hair dye to bed rest and delivery. They don’t want categorical limits based on fuzzy science and half-baked research. They want to assess risks for themselves and make their own best decisions.

    Just so. Stop with the infantalising and policing and controlling women, and trust us to make our own decisions.

    Other posts on pregnancy policing:
    Because it’s always better to police women
    Another opportunity for body policing lost

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    2 comments on “Handy research for talking to the pregnancy police

    1. Gae says:

      It was ever so much simpler back in the 60’s — we mothers were all very suspicious of ANY drug, thanks to thalidomide, and the Obs/Gyn was inclined to fuss about weight (he would have rolled if you pushed him). Nobody mentioned alcohol, nobody even worried much about smoking (I didn’t, and never have). Nobody worried about chicken, soft cheeses, deli meats, or anything much at all. Apart from the aforementioned and infamous thalidomide. I KNOW that I ate Steak Tartare several times during both pregnancies, and we were all perfectly fine. Oh, and by the way the clinic nurses advised us to put our bubs to sleep ON THEIR TUMMIES.

      Gae, in Callala Bay

    2. Jane says:

      “Gaining “too much” weight is not really an issue.” I take it this advice is for “normal” women? Keeping an eye on weight gain is important for many of us, for me not gaining weight during pregnancy meant the difference between a vaginal delivery and a caesarian.

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