Monday 18 July 2011

Pregnancy Police - Do We Need Them

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.


  1. I have a drink pretty regularly and I went the whole nine months withour a drink... I only had a drink when I went to 41 weeks and it was suggested a couple of glasses of red might encourage him out.... I had one in a restaurant, big mistake one woman looked at me as though I was injecting poison into my baby.... 2 glasses in nine months is not bad!!!! Everybody has an opinion when your pregnant and that gets tough your hormonal and nervous and scared and excited... Worst thing that happened to me was I had awful morning sickness, I ended up hospitalized. The Dr gave me some medicine to help it because I wa so ill. We knew people who had had the same meds and their son was born with birth defects. Our Dr had discussed and explained these risks but he felt that I was so sick the baby and I were at more risk not taking it. Anyway this woman sat me down for 45minutes and lectured me about her horrible pregnancy. I know she was trying to help but I was a nervous wreck after it. I had people tell me I was going to get arrested for indecent exposure if I breast fed, that breast feeding was not natural, cloth diapering was "gross" all sorts not just to do with what I ate you know... It was also tough and I dont know if you found this, being in the US as opposed to England. The natural way most epoel give birth in England is just not done here. I felt like a fish out of water. Everyone thought I was mental for not wanting to know the sex (they were actually very nasty about that) and I was told oh yeah youll be begging for an epidural, I was "weird" for not wanting any interventions and "Id learn", etc etc. It was heartening that the nurse and Dr were excited about the surprise of the sex ( I even got a cheer from the nurses) and the nurse told me she wished that people got more in touch with their labour here like they do in Europe... ANyway may have got off point a little but all these things reminded me of the pregnancy police I encountered... Great post as always love x

  2. I have had one well meaning but unqualified lady tell me how I should absolutely 100% not be taking aspirin and codeine. This is despite my assurances that I was prescribed them for bloody good reason, by a consultant, dispensed them by a pharmacist and have since had them re-prescribed by a GP and had another pharmacist happy to dispense them. It's not as if I'm pumping my body full of illegal drugs, or drinking myself stupid every night! Im not particularly thrilled to be taking them myself, but keeping my blood pressure low and my pain well controlled is essential for the health and wellbeing of myself and my baby!
    People need to realise that just because we are pregnant, we are not rendered incapable of making informed decisions and weighing risks against benefits!

  3. That's just ridiculous, the level of ignorance is annoying. In subsequent pregnancies, mums at risk of pre eclampsia are prescribed aspirin to prevent a recurrence. It is essential to look after those things, your baby is at much higher risk if your BP is not controlled, ask me how I know!

  4. Far out she ra, arrested for public exposure for breastfeeding, are you serious? People are twits.

    Now that I'm breastfeeding an 8 month old (slightly more predictable than demand feeding a newie) I have the very occasional glass of wine, straight after a feed so the alcohol has time to go through my system. They've started putting a warning on wine bottles here, something along the lines of "as there is no known safe amount of alcohol for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive it is recommended that drinking alcohol be avoided" (the wording might be slightly different but that's the gist). It would bug me less if they put the same warning on for 18-25 year old men, probably a much bigger problem user of alcohol than most mothers.

  5. I've found that the biggest member of the PP is your own mother! Anyone else?

  6. Cure for that, have your mum on the other side of the world! However when I announced my pregnancy she did say "how did that happen" Um mother, 36 and married! My mother in law is a practising midwife so she was great!

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