Lucy is having a major craving. At this moment, there would be nothing more satisfying than a triple-decker, bacon cheeseburger from Patty’s Paddies down the street. She puts on a ball cap, sun glasses and a long black trench coat and heads out to walk the two-blocks to the fast food joint. Why the disguise? Lucy is five months pregnant and chooses to go incognito for fear of running into members of the pregnancy police: friends, family, even strangers – usually female – who run up to touch an expectant mother’s belly. The bliss on their face and in their voice is gradually followed by internal scrutiny or an external lecture of what said pregnant woman should and should not be doing. Members of the pregnancy police often have good intentions. But is their forced advice legit or a tad over the top?
In a crowded coffee shop, a visibly pregnant woman orders a hot drink at the counter. An older woman approaches her and says, “I hope you’re ordering decaf dear”. It is true that caffeine is considered taboo for expectant mothers to ingest, but actually the FDA states that limited caffeine is still safe during pregnancy. While it’s probably not a good idea to order Grande-sized coffees anymore, the American Pregnancy Association states that generally one 12 oz. cup of coffee (less than 200 mg of caffeine) a day should have no ill effects on pregnancy. The APA does recommend avoiding sources of caffeine during the first trimester, however, due to increased risk of miscarriage.
It goes without saying that illegal drugs, smoking and alcohol are no-no’s during pregnancy, but does this mean an expectant mother should be barred from stepping into a drink establishment or going to a party where alcohol is served? Michelle Lee from Denver faced the ultimate form of pregnancy police arrest when she set foot in a bar outside Chicago with some friends. Her plans were to simply order water and some food. But before she had the chance, the Coach House’s bouncer asked her if she was pregnant; when she responded yes, she was asked to leave since the bar feared liability if she was injured while on their premises.
There are several foods that expert organizations, like the APA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, say to shy away from while pregnant. These include raw meat and fish, deli meats, fish that contains high levels of mercury (like swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish), soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk, egg salad and pate. It probably is better to be safe rather than sorry, but a blogger mom on WhattoExpect.com points out that pregnancy rules have certainly increased compared to previous generations. She writes, “When my mom was pregnant with me, she ate cold bologna sandwiches with reckless abandon and let my dad rub her feet and ankles. These are certainly things that were okay when she was pregnant that are most certainly not okay today… Yet, my two brothers and I turned out healthy, and she was just as concerned about her baby’s safety than I was”. Each expectant mother, without the intrusion of meddling, busybodies, should perform their own research and only rely on advice from medical professionals when planning their meals during pregnancy.
The pregnancy police will tell you that you should avoid saunas and hot tubs, pedicures and manicures and chemical beauty products, like hair dyes, make-up and even deodorants! Journalist Marie C. Baca decided to rebel and went into her hairdresser’s to have her hair dyed. She wrote about the experience in Salon magazine: “I considered explaining to them that I had researched the topic thoroughly and found that modern hair dye chemicals likely pose little risk to a fetus in the third trimester…Instead, I buried myself in a copy of Us Weekly and tried to ignore the whispers of the other patrons”. While Baca sees the value in providing the healthiest environment possible for babies growing inside the womb, she worries that the ever-increasing list of pregnancy no-no’s causes women to lose their identity.
Once a woman gives birth, she has a new force to reckon with – the Baby Police – those who either feel they know what’s best for a growing child or feel they are the best mothers ever. “What’s next? Being jailed for formula feeding? … A hundred hours of community service for using disposable diapers?” wrote Amy L. Hatch (chambanamoms.com) on the matter. “Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time. There are still some places where it’s perfectly acceptable to pop a squat in the woods and go right back to your daily business,” Hatch adds.
It is probably best to avoid the pregnancy police at all costs. Stress can be a major factor in fetal development. It also affects a new mom’s ability to be the best parent she can be. There’s nothing more stressful than trying to live up to countless expectations that are impossible to completely meet. So what if you douched, had a sip of coffee or cleaned the litterbox that one and only time during the nine-months you were carrying?
If you are an expectant mother or just gave birth, talk to someone you trust and who might have a little more experience. Most of all, don’t give into the pressure to conform to every piece of literature you read or to what all the mothers in your mommy-and-me class are doing. You have the intelligence and the heart to find out what is best for you and your baby and you will be a wonderful mom. You ARE a wonderful mom, already!