When newly pregnant, you suddenly become aware that your life, suddenly, is not your own. You are hosting another life inside you. It took me a while to get my head around it. The week before I found out we were pregnant, I had been to the amazing Good Food Show at the NEC. I'd had champagne and oysters. I'd had lovely Blackstick Blue cheese. We had a fantastic day and came home with lots of bags of lovely things, including sloe gin.
A few days later, I did a pregnancy test. I immediately felt a sense of responsibility. I knew that the developing foetus was well protected, but from now, I intended to be very careful.
I listened to this blog post being read out at Cybermummy by the lovely Muddling Along Mummy, a plea to be left the eff alone by the pregnancy police.
I am torn about the guidelines in pregnancy and what I believe. I believe that we all should take responsibility for the developing life inside us and take care of it, as we would if the baby was here with us now. Does that mean not having an alcoholic drink in your entire pregnancy? I'm not sure. In the US there are now laws in over 20 states that can cause you to be charged with child endangerment, even murder, if you do something in pregnancy that results in a death or a malformation to a child. Now that, I feel, is going just a bit too far. In some states in the US it is advised that from the moment you commence menstruation until you enter menopause, you act at all times as if you are pregnant, taking folic acid, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and following the food guidelines. That, clearly, is mental.
I do feel the guidelines, such as they are, are not presented clearly enough. I know people who think they have to avoid Philadelphia cream cheese (of course other brands are available) and that is simply not the case. The guideline "soft cheese" is in fact, soft ripened cheese. That is, cheese with a mould, like Camembert or Brie. And there are sound, clinical reasons for avoiding these sort of cheeses (and blue mould as well), and that is listeria. Listeria can cause the placenta to fail, and the baby to die. A good reason to forgo Brie and Camembert I think. There is some debate about whether you can, in fact, eat these hot, because Listeria is killed by cooking, however, I chose to avoid them entirely.
And what about alcohol? The confusion with alcohol is that there is no stipulated and tested safe level. So I think alcohol needs to be treated with a degree of caution and respect. I do think that if you "normally" have a glass of wine of two a couple of times a week, then to continue this, I think, is reasonable. If, however, like me, you are not a seasoned drinker, it seems sensible to avoid it. I am your typical social drinker, I'll drink if out with friends, and with a nice meal occasionally, but I don't drink every day. So in pregnancy I chose not to drink at all, it was no hardship for me, and I was happy with this. Giving up nice cheese was much harder!
Caffeine is another tricky one. Excessive caffeine consumption has been linked with miscarriage. As I had had two miscarriages, I chose to decrease my caffeine consumption to once cup a day, but I didn't cut it out completely. It made me laugh, as I had not come clean at work, and my friend Maddie used to get me coffee every morning. I'd had my one cup a day by then, so when her back was turned, I'd tip it out. Once my pregnancy had become public knowledge, she came to me, quite upset, and said I had had too much coffee in pregnancy and she was concerned. I confessed as to what I had been doing, and we laughed hysterically!
Ironically caffeine is given to pre-term infants, for several weeks whilst in special care. It's used to help lung development. I found it funny that we were giving Joseph pipettes of caffeine when I had been so careful!
So much about pregnancy and the relationship between the placenta and the baby is still an unknown. Scientists know some things, but others are still an unknown. It is clear that too much alcohol consumption in pregnancy is bad, but it is also clear that some alcohol consumption is fine. I think on those things that are not qualified or quantified, its a matter of determining what your own tolerance of risk is, and to make your own decision. Caffeine is another which I think falls into this category.
I think the pregnancy police, those unqualified, well-meaning but misguided individuals that lurk behind cheese counters, sit beside you in cafes or serve you in pubs, are not needed, and should, as Muddling Along Mummy suggests, piss off. However, good, quantified, qualified advice surely should be welcomed.
If you need more advice about what to eat in pregnancy and what to avoid please see the official UK Government website for further advice. The other good source of information on food safetly and pregnancy is Tommy's, which has extensive information as well as a midwife helpline.