Pregnancy advice 'scaremongering'

Pregnant woman

Pregnancy is a huge, life-changing period in a woman's life and there is no shortage of advice about what is best for your unborn child. But in this week's Scrubbing Up, Linda Geddes, the author of Bumpology, argues this can sometimes be misleading and scaremongering.

Expectant parents are bombarded with advice about what they should and shouldn't be doing.

Pregnant women mustn't eat too much as it may raise the baby's risk of obesity or diabetes, but they mustn't diet as that could have a similar effect.

Neither should they exercise for fear of triggering a miscarriage, or get too stressed out because that's bad for the baby too. And if they do get stressed, they can't drink alcohol or go for a spa treatment to relax.

You might start to think that staying at home would be the sensible thing to do, only this too is ridden with potential dangers for your unborn child: from ice-cream, to pet shampoo, to hair dye. Even lying down or your back can allegedly cut off your baby's blood supply.

When I fell pregnant three years ago, I felt paralysed and somewhat patronised by all the conflicting advice out there.

I was also obsessed with the little life that was growing inside me, and desperate for more information about what it was doing in there.

Could it taste the curry I was eating; hear the songs I was singing; or sense when I took a swim in the freezing outdoor swimming pool near my home?

So I began a quest to investigate the truth behind the old wives' tales, alarming newspaper headlines and government guidelines, and to probe deeper into the inner world of the developing child. So Bumpology was born.

Booze and breastfeeding

Some of what I discovered while researching the book amused and amazed me: I learned that parents who already have a couple of boys are statistically more likely to go on having boys, though no-one really understands why; that the shape of a woman's bump provides no clues as to the gender of the baby within, but that women with severe morning sickness are slightly more likely to be carrying a girl; and that contrary to the received wisdom, babies actually can focus on objects further than 30cm away (even if they often under- or overshoot).

I also learned that much of the research underpinning medical advice on things like alcohol consumption - and even the health benefits of breastfeeding - is far from clear-cut and often aimed at the general population, rather than taking the individual into consideration.

In the case of alcohol, there's clear evidence that heavy drinking is harmful -- and even a daily glass of wine may increase the odds of a baby being born underweight, which carries additional risks to its health.

However, below this level, there is a massive grey zone where scientists simply don't yet have an answer to whether or not alcohol causes harm.

When it comes to breastfeeding, it's quite true that breast milk is best for babies, or at least better than formula milk in terms of protecting them against infections in the short term.

But when it comes to the much-touted long-term benefits of breastfeeding, such as protection against obesity, diabetes or allergy, the research is less convincing.

Certainly women who can't breastfeed for whatever reason, and who live in countries with a decent standard of health care, shouldn't waste too much time worrying that they are causing long-term damage to their baby's health.


However, what alarmed me the most was the realisation that much of what women are told about the risks of medical interventions during labour - things like induction, epidural anaesthesia and undergoing a c-section - are overblown.

At the same time, statistics about the odds of needing medical assistance or on complications like tearing during a vaginal birth are frequently not talked about.

I believe that access to this kind of information could have a big influence on women's expectations of labour and on some of the decisions they make when planning for the birth of their child.

I also think it could help women to come to terms with things if labour doesn't go according to plan and they need additional help getting their baby out.

Having a baby can be one of the greatest joys that life bestows. However, it is also hard work and new parents can do without the unnecessary guilt, anxiety and doubt that misleading pregnancy advice brings.

It is also a time of great wonder and through my research I have learned things about my own children that will never cease to amaze me. I believe it's time to push aside the scaremongering and allow parents the freedom to enjoy this precious period of their lives.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Indeed, there is a fantastic Dara O'brien sketch on the issue, about how in the name of "balance" the bbc (and others) give people who believe the craziest things airtime to speak against the proven science, and treat their opinion as a valid argument, even when it is obviously and demonstratably wrong.

    The only exception seems to be climate change. Where now no other view is permitted

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Yes, thankfully, most pregnancies turn out fine. But not all of them. I lost my first, long awaited baby Conor at 32 weeks because of food poisoning (listeriosis). I was careful to avoid the well know risky foods, but had eaten others that were equally high risk, but not publicised. If i had been told about them, my baby would have lived. We should be given clear information, then it's up to us.

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    This headline could easily be written for any health-related issue, from pregnancy to weight loss to heart disease or cancer. The simple truth is that an entire industry as arisen out of these issues, including magazines websites and middle-class fad self help groups. Whilst people buy into these products and services there will always be scaremongering and science with no basis

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    the only advice I would give any new parents is 'listen to your body' and when baby comes along to your heart-you cant go far wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The only item I would like to add is that I feel babies are more & more being scheduled: Need that baby sooner = caesarian. Need that baby later, there's medications for that. Baby being stubborn, epidural; baby just won't get out = episiotomy.
    What we may need is more "natural" birth - on the mother's and the baby's schedule, which will require less intrusion and more TLC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    #18 Spot on! Modern science has turned giving birth from russian roulette with the mothers life, to somthing very safe for all concerned.

    What is needed is to distinguish the science, from the pseudo science and the shoddy advice people get from their parents "well 30 years ago we were told this and you turned out ok" which is the most dubious of all advice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Oops, hit the post key by mistake!

    Whilst it's very true to say that women have been giving birth for thousands of years you also have to recognize that infant (and mother) mortality has been falling thanks to modern medicine/science.
    I do agree that there is far too much conflicting information out there though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I'm currently expecting our first child and was shocked how everyone and anyone suddenly thinks its OK to tell you what to do and not do or think it's perfectly fine to make mumbo-jumbo predictions as though they're fact. I just stick to what medical professionals have advised me and use my common sense with everything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Best advice, be sensible, be adult and be aware. It is a child you are carrying, not a status symbol or a toy.
    For some it is not easy to have a child and for some it is sheer folly, so be aware that to have one you are very lucky, value that child and care for it with love from the very moment of conception!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Whilst it's very true to say that women have been giving birt

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    When you read the amount of spurious nonsense that is constantly bombarding us what we should and shouldn`t be doing and when we should or shouldn`t be doing it, it is a wonder the human race has survived at all. Women have been giving birth to babies for thousands of years and they are rather good at it and don`t need lecturing by anyone they haven`t asked for advice

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    As a man who watch his wife struggle with all the "advice" you get both offically and unoffically while pregnat, I can say that the vast majority of it is conflicting, and vastly pressurising, the castigation people get for not "living" the right way when pregnant by some people is disgraceful, especially when that way changes and is so contradictorary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Women have been having babies for millions of years. They don't need advice from anyone but those around them.

    Its just another lifestyle selling opportunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    A wise friend used to say it's not difficult to create a pregnancy;any ploughboy can do it. Any one of his female equivalents can carry a child; it requires no education, intelligence or knowledge. Far too much moneyis wasted on, and nonsense talked in advising pregnant women and those wishing to become so, where given the problem of overpopulation the only advice should be "Don't do it"

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Well, what a surprise. All the fuss about what to eat, what not to eat, how to excercise etc has lined the pockets of too many so-called experts. It's good to see that a little common sense is being restored to a perfectly natural function, and it makes one wonder just how millions of pregnancies went smoothly with no ill effects for centuries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @ 7.penguin337

    How was MMR government scaremongering? Don't get me wrong scares where deffinately mongered, but the goverment was more or less consistent in saying that it was nonsense (which it was).

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    My children are 4 years apart in age, and I was given different advice for my first to my second! Just ignore passing fads, eat heathily, don't drink, smoke or take drugs and you should be fine.......... until the baby is born and the Nipple Nazis of the Breastfeeding Stasi make you feel like a totally inadequate mother!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    No mention of the massive government scaremongering exercise with MMR and various other baby vaccinations?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Ah, I see, 'the author of Bumpology'. Or, put amother way,an opprtunity to use this article as a free BBC book promotion.


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