The notion that expectant mothers can’t do pretty much anything, from lifting semi-heavy boxes to drinking lightly caffeinated tea, is a huge pillar of contemporary mommying culture. The list of things pregnant women can’t consume seems to just keeping getting longer and longer, with only a few vocal women willing to break from recommendations. But the “paranoia and mixed messages” of North American parenting are being called out by one mom who says we don’t have the data to back up our fears.
Denise Balkissoon writes in The Globe and Mail that when she was pregnant, she received mixed suggestions from her midwife (who said a few cups of tea a week were fine), from her friend (watch that caffeine) to her own mother (who drank wine while expecting). She elaborates, when describing her friend:
His tone wasn’t judgmental, just matter of fact. The idea that pregnant women (and our unborn offspring) are delicate flowers holds fast in the North American psyche, matched by a conviction to share opinions on their delicacy with the women themselves. I’ve been advised against lifting things, climbing stairs or riding a bicycle. I’ve been told not to eat seafood, whether raw or cooked, mayonnaise (either fresh or jarred), fruits with thin skins that absorb pesticides or, um, rice (the last according to a friendly taxi driver). When I remarked to my mom that a very pregnant woman in my yoga class did a perfect handstand, she replied “You’d better not think of doing anything like that!” Never mind that I didn’t have the co-ordination in the first place.
Denise adds that upon looking into the data behind these assertions, she found a laundry list of flaws:
These concerns come out of a desire that every baby be born perfectly healthy. But many of them don’t have evidence to back them up. Too often, studies of a small sample of specific women morph into draconian recommendations for all pregnant women, everywhere. Recently, an American economist, Emily Oster, and a British science journalist, Linda Geddes, performed similar studies, compiling information from multiple experiments to try and turn tiny, untrustworthy data points into big, reliable ones. Each came to the same conclusion – there is very little airtight information on the risks of many activities pregnant women might be interested in. Ms. Geddes smashes a well-circulated stat that says home births are three times as likely to end in death than hospital births. Prof. Oster found no good evidence on the risks of sushi, and ate it herself while pregnant.
But in her personal research, Denise found the no alcohol rule for pregnant women to be particularly “overblown.” The science behind pregnant women abstaining from ALL alcohol is slowly being chipped away it, with albeit newer, smaller studies that have yet to acquire the magnanimous seal of approval (seriously, talk with your doctor). Nevertheless, some women are taking up that occasional hot toddy not just because they’re brazen, but because the data doesn’t add up:
Ms. Oster ends up advising that women have “no more than one drink a day,” while Ms. Geddes is ok with “one or two units, once or twice a week.” Both found that the subjects of most studies on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder are alcoholics, binge drinkers or also using drugs, making them irrelevant to most women. Meanwhile, one Danish team proclaimed that the five-year-old kids of well-educated moms who drank lightly (up to four drinks a week) were actually less likely to have behavioural problems, hyperactivity, peer problems and emotional difficulty than the children of mothers who abstained entirely. Cheers to that.
This isn’t a suggestion that extreme caution give way to extreme abandon – I won’t be sitting in a hot tub eating oysters and drinking champagne anytime soon, alas. It’s merely a request to treat pregnant women like human beings. Most of us are cautious, well-informed adults and we care about the wellbeing of our children far more than you ever could.
Well-informed adults who understand MODERATION. Key word.