Can you ever throw the pregnancy rule book out of the window? Discover the latest thinking about just what should and shouldn't do when pregnant
I was seven months pregnant when I decided to get on a plane and travel to a land where rum punches are drunk like cups of tea and water sports are just how people get around.
My boyfriend needed convincing, my mother thought I was mad, and even the air hostess checking my boarding pass wouldn’t let me on the flight until I produced a doctor’s letter declaring
me fit to travel. But our trip to Barbados was a great success, without a hint of bump-related drama.
As I slipped (OK, struggled) into my none-too-flattering flight socks and looked forward to snorkelling and seafood, I felt a sense of relief. Because, after two trimesters of being mollycoddled and tiptoed around as if I might break like glass – I’d had enough. I needed to break free. I needed to be me.
One of a growing number of expectant women committing small acts of rebellion – a recent US survey showed around 30% of us occasionally drink alcohol during pregnancy – I wanted to break the ‘rules’. I went on an exotic holiday. I lounged around in a bump-exposing bikini. Hell, I even went snorkelling and, er, got stung on my belly by a jellyfish. And do you know what? I was fine. My daughter Edie, now seven months, is more than fine. As I write, she’s guzzling sweet potato purée as if starring in an episode of Baby Vs Food.
The challenge is to work out which rules you should follow and which you can make up your own mind about
But I’m not a total idiot. I took all my maternity notes, checked my insurance and did research into healthcare in the Caribbean. Because, while all the official regulations that surround you when you’re creating a new life can be oppressive, they are important. The challenge is to work out which you should follow and which you can make up your own mind about.
On one hand, there’s Zara Phillips horse riding while three months pregnant, and bodybuilder Lea-Ann Ellison lifting weights two weeks before she gave birth – the photos created an online storm, with many criticising her for ‘not looking after herself’. These women are true pregnancy rebels and, while I admire them, I wouldn’t take things this far (on the exercise front anyway). I, on the other hand, was a slightly less radical version. Yes, I wanted everyone to know I was pregnant, not ill. And no, I didn’t need your seat on the bus to go two stops, thank you anyway. But I did check out NHS guidelines. And, while I was happy to eat seaside-fresh prawns, I didn’t get drunk or smoke.
Don’t Believe the hype
Emily Oster, a Harvard-educated economist, became so fed up with ‘infantalising’ prenatal guidelines, she conducted research into all the dietary restrictions and found many are ‘overblown’. In her book Expecting Better: Why The Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong – And What You Really Need To Know (£15, Penguin), a sort of anti-What To Expect, she writes that alcohol and caffeine consumption in moderation will not affect the IQ or behaviour of your child (we’re talking a glass here and there, rather than downing a bottle, obvs). Even the NHS now advises pregnant women not to drink more than one or two units once or twice a week, as opposed to the blanket ban it suggested only a few years ago.
What’s more, it’s important to remember to filter advice. Yes, if it’s from your GP or a reliable medical website (such as nhs.uk), it’s worth paying attention to. But all the hearsay – the rumours that long car journeys make women go into labour early or that you shouldn’t wear heels or have a hot bath – causes unnecessary stress.
go Your Own Way
Even some experts are now agreeing that you can take pregnancy rules too far. Midwife and fertility guru Zita West has noticed a real change in how people are approaching having a baby. ‘There is so much information around now – this can be empowering, but it can also be quite frightening,’ she says. Clients call her asking if it’s OK to use their normal toothpaste (it is) and their usual face creams or shampoos (yep).
‘I think age often has a big impact on how people treat their pregnancy – some of the women I’ve worked with who are say, in their late thirties, tend to analyse things and worry a little more than the younger women,’ she says. ‘It’s often because they’ve tried to get pregnant for longer, or they’re already worried about the increased risks of health issues, such as autism, which are associated with age.’
Of course, there are some NHS guidelines regarding what you should and shouldn’t do that you need to stick to. And Zita suggests using your intuition, too – if you don’t feel comfortable about doing something, don’t do it. ‘There’s no point eating something you’re unsure of, then spending the rest of the day Googling pregnancy health advice and stressing about it,’ she says. ‘But the French eat soft cheeses, the Spanish are mad for Parma ham and a bit of smoked salmon every now and then isn’t going to do you any harm, either.’
Even some experts are now agreeing that you can take pregnancy rules too far
Looking back, it’s almost laughable how differently people treated me when I was pregnant. It wasn’t just that they expected me to steer clear of certain foods, but that my behaviour was supposed to change too. Suddenly, I was expected to only care about my growing baby. Conversations revolved entirely around morning
sickness and due dates. It drove me mad and I struck out. I even started
to swear like Liam Gallagher after eight pints of lager (his, not mine).
Partly, I’ll admit, it was my way of proving that I hadn’t automatically transformed into a mum-to-be robot. And, in some ways, I can see it was a little childish, like wearing your skirt hitched up for school. Now my baby’s here, I’m navigating my way through something much more complicated – parenthood. And it’s not just what to eat and whether to exercise, but how to bring up a whole new person.
But, as with being pregnant, what matters most is not whether you play it safe or revert to your schoolgirl self, but that you listen, trust your instincts and draw your own conclusions about each piece of hearsay you’re given. Otherwise, you’ll never find your way.