05-15-09 RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Are medial experts and advice-givers unfairly picking on pregnant women? According to a recent article in the British Journal of Medical Ethics, they are. All the warnings thrown out about alcohol use, sunlight exposure, caffeine consumption, and the laundry list of other things women should or shouldn’t do while pregnant create a guilt-trip during “an already stressful time when they already feel besieged by demands to modify their behavior,” writes Colin Gavaghan, PhD, the paper’s author and a professor in medical law and ethics at the University of Glasgow’s School of Law.
THE DETAILS: Using the example of alcohol, Gavaghan cites another British study published earlier that found that children of mothers who drank no more than one to two drinks per week had no greater risks of developing behavioral or cognitive problems than children whose mothers never drank. While not advocating that pregnant women should suddenly start drinking alcohol, Gavaghan writes that this shows the risk may be overstated. Medical agencies are simply acting “patronizing and paternalistic” in telling women to completely abstain from alcohol, he says, often simply because it’s easier and more clear-cut than trying to explain the nuances between safe amounts of alcohol and mothers who may be prone to excessive drinking, he adds.
WHAT IT MEANS: In response to that study on alcohol use by pregnant women, medical groups like the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology reiterated their advice that women avoid all alcohol when pregnant or trying to conceive. But there is a need for women to feel empowered to make their own decisions, says Patricia Aikins Murphy, CNM, DrPH, FACNM, associate professor and executive director of Clinical Graduate Programs at the University of Utah College of Nursing. “Sometimes we turn into the prevention police without data that says this is really going to cause harm,” she says. “There’s this view that women aren’t responsible enough, and we have to do it for them.”
For pregnant women, placing too much reliance on outside resources rather than maternal intuition can lead to unnecessary guilt. And it has other less-obvious side effects, Murphy says. “It medicalizes something that is so much a part of the heart and soul of human beings,” she says. “We have to look at what we do to people with our white coats and stethoscopes.”
Here are a few ways to keep from succumbing to pregnancy guilt:
• Find a doctor you can trust. “It all comes down to the relationship between a health provider and a patient,” says Murphy. Your doctor should be a reliable and trustworthy source whom you can turn to for help in understanding news of another risk you’re worried about.
• Know the real risks to you as an individual. At first glance, reports in the news media may seem scary or dramatic, but read or watch them carefully and find out if the risks mentioned apply to your situation. If it’s not clear, ask your doctor about your own personal health conditions before assuming you have to make a difficult choice to lower your risk.