A pregnant woman I know gave me a recipe for pizza, but added, "I can't eat it any more. I can't have feta cheese while I'm pregnant."
Feta, she explained, is unpasteurized and therefore dangerous. This sounded a little fishy to me.
Speaking of fish, Health Canada tells pregnant women to stay away from fresh or frozen tuna, and enviros insist this mercury warning should extend to the canned kind, too.
I can't help but feel that some attitudes toward pregnancy are getting out of hand.
My friend tells me she admitted to her nurse that she had had a pint and a half of Guinness in the past few weeks and was told absolutely to stop drinking any alcohol at all. This despite the fact that doctors in the UK prescribe a pint to expectant mothers because of its iron content. Good grief.
Up until not too long ago, women were free to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time during pregnancy without being treated like monsters.
"And they told me, 'No natural remedies,'" my friend went on, "'at all.'" Hmm, interesting. Sure, you want to quit smoking and hang up your crack pipe, but what about the other stuff? Who can you believe?
What the experts say
"The general feeling is that we really don't know much about the developing fetus, so when in doubt, don't. It's a simple weighing of whether the benefit merits the risk. It's absolutely clear it doesn't for some things, the foremost being alcohol. We also know that if you dose a pregnant mouse with methamphetamine, that mouse's offspring will have brain defects. Most people think of birth defects as structural, like cleft lips or heart abnormalities or missing arms or legs, but it turns out that, with many drugs, function is affected at lower doses than those that cause gross morphological defects. So more and more people are looking at function. Does the immune system work properly? Is the IQ a little lower? Functional defects, at least in animals, are occurring at lower doses than morphological defects."
PETER G. WELLS, professor of toxicology, University of Toronto
"When a woman is pregnant, she becomes public domain. Her mother-in-law, the guy who sweeps the floor, people who have no knowledge on the subject are telling her what to do. Some women are ready to terminate a pregnancy because of things they did when they didn't know they were pregnant. There's a general fear that there will be another Thalidomide, but the actual list of things that are dangerous is very short. Many women don't take medications they really need because of alarmism. The saddest examples are the antidepressants. I know a case of a woman who stopped her asthma medication and died. Yes, there are drugs that should not be used, but women should have correct information. The most common cause of mental retardation is [the mother's consumption of] alcohol. If you plan a pregnancy, do not drink. If a woman calls Motherisk and says she had a couple of drinks and that's when she conceived, we tell her there's no proof this will cause a problem. However, if she asks, 'Can I drink?' we say no. England is backwards. I don't want to generalize, but some people there don't even recognize fetal alcohol syndrome.'
GIDEON KOREN, director, Motherisk program, Sick Kids Hospital, University of Toronto
"Our culture has become fear-based, combined with an expectation of perfection. That's slightly unrealistic when dealing with Mother Nature. I find people are more alarmist when it comes to breast-feeding. Women are told not to eat chocolate or broccoli. I don't believe any of that. I do recommend that pregnant women avoid non-pasteurized soft cheeses, which can carry bacteria causing a little-known condition called listeriosis. Avoid changing the litter box or coming in contact with any pet feces. Avoid raw fish, and eat fish in moderation, according to Health Canada."
JUDY ROGERS, midwife, Toronto
"The herbs to avoid at any cost are blue cohosh, rue, yarrow, wormwood, southernwood and mugwort. All of these are uterine stimulants that stimulate menstrual flow. Others to avoid are chaste tree berry, red clover blossoms. Don't take anything at all in the first trimester. If you feel the need for something, stinging nettle is considered safe. Red raspberry leaf tea can be used during the second and third trimester in healthy mothers."
CELINA AINSWORTH, Herbalist, Toronto
"Some morning sickness can be due to the iron in multivitamin pills, which is in a form that makes you nauseous. You can get a liquid iron supplement from the health food store that is better-absorbed. I tell women to eat their vegetables and get all their nutrients, of course, but then some of them beat themselves up because they have morning sickness and all they can eat is crackers. One theory is that morning sickness is an evolutionary safeguard. When you have it, you eat things that are very bland: rice, crackers, toast. Those have fewer mutagenic substances that affect cell reproduction during the early developmental stages. Beyond the obvious stuff about alcohol and drugs, I tell women they are their own best doctors and to listen to their cravings. Don't just walk into the health food store and buy something because it's the latest thing."
KALEB MONTGOMERY, Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto