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 45.

    "This article falls into the exact same trap it's claiming to address, opinion without specific reference to fact."
    I'm the author of this article and the author of Bumpology. If you read my book you'll find plenty of specific references to facts, and a complete references section. Alas, this column has a limited word count, so I couldn't include them all in this article. Thanks for reading though

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    39. mscracker "I smell a whiff of eugenics"

    Not really. I could have typed 'illiterate, ignorant and misguided'.
    You could have ,but instead chose the poor for your illustration which stereotyped them in an unfortunate way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    39. mscracker "I smell a whiff of eugenics"

    Not really. I could have typed 'illiterate, ignorant and misguided'.
    My point was about people who do not have access to glossy magazines or the writer's book, yet manage to breed without difficulty.
    Pregnancy is not wonderful or beautiful - it is just a natural function. For many it is at best an inconvenience while necessary to perpetuate the species.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42. i guess i'm saying that in this information age everyone has choices, accept that pregnancy and birth rarely go as 'planned', you are not in control, rather nature is with medical intervention if needed. Research the latest science, be sceptical of opinions, expectations and marketing of baby products you don't need and keep your mind open. And yes, you can do most things simply.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41. discovers facts about brain and body development all the time, we know very little. Only this week in the national geographic there was a chart showing how a newborn acquires significant amounts of beneficial bacteria from it's mother during a vaginal birth, contrastingly it acquires very little during a c-section. So our evolution has taken care of more things than we yet understand.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    This article falls into the exact same trap it's claiming to address, opinion without specific reference to fact. There is plenty of conflicting parenting information, opinion and science, parents think they know best because they have the 'experience' of one or more children, but obviously you can't try different approaches with the same child, so claiming anything other than opinion is foolish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    "the poverty stricken mindless can drop sprogs like a battery hen laying eggs yet half of them cannot even read the advice, or the book being touted in the article."
    I smell a whiff of eugenics here ...Beyond that 'tho, women need to be more responsible for their own health&reject the concept of pregnancy being a sort of disease best treated by professionals.It's a normal process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Oh dear how did all the women throughout the hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution cope squirting out sprogs without all this 'useful' information, surely the human race must be nearing extinction........nope wait it's a normal biologial function that just happens. Next useless topic for HYS please BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Being pregnant is a blessing as well as beautiful. Women and their partners should enjoy it (apart from emotions due to hormonal changes). A few cautions though due to body changes. Stay away from published articles. Any info required can be gotten from midwife & gynaecologist. Just try to be your regular self without the excesses and you'll celebrate the birth when it happens

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    It is funny how the poverty stricken mindless can drop sprogs like a battery hen laying eggs yet half of them cannot even read the advice, or the book being touted in the article.
    However do they cope? Oh they do what all species of animals do - just give birth in the normal way.
    My mother used to say that giving birth was like having a good s**t ... though hopefully not from the same orifice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Ignore all advice! Pregnant women should listen to their bodies. The body knows best. Listening to and trying to follow advice only leads to stress, which is not good for the baby.

    Having fended off my gynocologist´s plentiful warnings regarding the risks related to bearing twins, I had a great pregnancy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    If it scares you that much, try adopting one of the countless children in the country that don't have stable homes instead of squeezing another needy mouth into society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Quote: "Even lying down or your back can allegedly cut off your baby's blood supply!"

    I don't know about affect on blood supply, but its best to avoid to lying on your back or slouching back in a chair, if you want to get the baby the right way round (and to stay the right way round) for delivery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    One more thing on this.

    Can the bbc please stop treating Mumsnet like it's some sort of authoratitive source on this? It is not! It is mostly full of outdated tosh, but in some cases (pre-making formula for example) the "advice" is downright dangerous!

    If a piece requires a medical opinion get a gyno or midwife on the flippin show!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I was a midwife for many years before having my first child, closely followed by a set of twins. Many people ask me if becoming a mother made me a better midwife and I always say "I hope not" because my advice is based on research not my experience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Too much advice comes from women simply on the basis that they have become mothers. This is a sure recipe for misinformation, and potentially dangerously so. There appears to be no other area of medicine where advice is published purley on teh basis that the author or commentator has or has had, a particular medical condition.

    Leave the advice to the gynaecologists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    You've made a lot of statements there about evidence but not actually pointed to any. Completely irresponsible article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This article is really just an advert for a book.

    A woman's body knows what to do when it's pregnant without any outside interference. Women have been doing it quite happily for thousands of years despite all the conflicting advice that's out there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    To hear all the so called advice you wonder how the human race has survived for mellenia. My advice is relax and carry on as normal. That is what we all used to do and seemed to manage alright.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    It seems quite simple to me; if you're unsure what to do, ask a doctor or another person with trained medical knowledge.
    Don't get your advice from either the Daily Mail or people wearing sandals and selling dream catchers.


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