Pregnant women and new mothers feel watched and judged, according to a study by Cardiff University. Several mother-grandmother pairs were interviewed by researchers, who found that ‘community surveillance of pregnant women and infant feeding had significantly increased between the generations’.
This isn’t surprising. Intervention in pregnant women’s lives is now the norm. From their ultrasound to the delivery room, pregnant women are advised and cajoled over what lifestyle choices they ought to make during their pregnancy. Though the Cardiff survey was based on a very small number of women, its findings reflect a feeling common among many expectant and new mums – that once they decide to have a child, their lives are no longer free and private.
The Cardiff insight comes at the same time as MPs are calling on the government to put pregnant-women warnings on all cigarette packets. Conservative MP for Colchester Will Quince said: ‘I do not believe it unreasonable or unrealistic for all tobacco products to carry a similar warning so that it can be seen in the same way that it is on every alcohol product.’ Quince insists this is ‘not in any way about criticising or demonising women, or their partners, who smoke during pregnancy’. However, he continued, ‘we want the message to go out loud and clear that no matter what stage you are in your pregnancy, it is never too late to stop smoking’.
Intrusions into women’s lifestyles always get couched in these terms – ‘we’re not saying women are stupid, we just think they need constant advice…’. But what Quince and other campaigners for cigarette pregnancy warnings really think is that if women are not told how to conduct themselves during pregnancy, they will harm their future child. In other words, we can’t really trust women. But the truth is that all smokers, including pregnant women, know the risks of their habit.
Quince thinks the government should make pregnancy health warnings on cigarette packets similar to those on alcohol labels. Currently, all alcohol sold in the UK must have a warning sign for pregnant women consisting of a picture of a woman with a bump necking a glass of wine with a red diagonal line running through it. In short: ‘Warning! Do not do this.’ Recent changes to UK guidelines on ‘low risk’ drinking say all alcohol containers must either have this label or a big box that says: ‘It is safest not to drink alcohol when pregnant.’