Health
Leave pregnant women alone

Leave pregnant women alone

Officialdom should stop policing pregnant women’s lifestyles.

Data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey, published this week, suggests that 90 per cent of British women between the ages of 18 and 42 are not ‘nutritionally prepared’ for pregnancy.

Of the 509 women analysed, 40 per cent of those aged 26 to 30 were overweight or obese, and 91 per cent of those aged 18 to 25 were not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. And, shock horror, some young women drink and smoke!

How do the researchers suggest we should tackle this epidemic of unhealthy women? Apparently we should educate people from an early age about the benefits of healthy lifestyles. Medical professionals should ask women if and when they expect to become pregnant. And also, ‘women could be targeted during the weekly shop’, through being bombarded with health messages every time they pop to Asda.

This is sexist and patronising. Pregnant women are already subjected to myriad interventions and initiatives designed to turn them into public-health-approved mothers. They are hectored about enjoying a glass of wine, constantly advised about the dangers of smoking, told that they must breastfeed their newborn or else he or she will suffer in terms of health and even future social success. Bottles of alcohol come with warnings to pregnant women, and last year Public Health England rolled out supermarket vouchers for women who breastfed for at least six weeks. Surely pregnant women or women who might become pregnant don’t need yet more paternalistic lecturing, this time on what they eat?

If we take a common-sense approach to the new data and stats, we see that there is really nothing to worry about. There has not been a rise in deformed or unhealthy births in the UK. On the contrary, child survival rates in the UK have sky-rocketed over the past century. Clearly, British women of child-bearing age are not in dire states of fitness and health.

What we should really be concerned about is the way that data from health bodies is now so casually used to scrutinise and police women’s bodies and lifestyles. The suggestion always seems to be that without government intervention and expert lectures, women will be incapable of carrying and bringing up a child. There are already suggestions that all this panic-mongering about the ‘right’ lifestyles for pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant women causes these women unnecessary alarm and worry. Further prescriptive guidelines will likely exacerbate this.

It is no business of experts or government bodies to dictate to women what they should eat and drink when pregnant, or at any other point in their lives. Women are capable of making their own decisions and they know what’s best for their unborn child. The best thing we could do for pregnant women is not harass them with Victorian-esque guides on ‘how to be pregnant’, but rather let them know that we trust them to navigate pregnancy and motherhood by themselves with the help of their friends, families and networks.

Emily Dinsmore is a writer.

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