Josie Balfour: Delivering you safely from motherhood misinformation

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As new research suggests a varied diet for pregnant women will stop their child becoming a fussy eater, expectant mum Josie Balfour attempts to separate the myths from the pregnancy must-dos

Misinformation is rife in pregnancy. The moment that little plastic stick shows an extra blue line, prospective parents are bombarded with endless lists of all the things they should and shouldn’t do to ensure their baby will be born a super-fit super genius. Ranging from the somewhat bizarre “no basil or oregano” to the downright dangerous “all baby bottle teats are toxic”, many books claiming to be “expert” in the subject of pregnancy and birth can be baffling at best and at worst misleading.

The latest piece of advice from a research project at the University of Bourgogne, Dijon, France, is that having as varied a diet as possible while pregnant can stop your child from being a fussy eater. Is this really a new breakthrough? Or just another stick for guilt-ridden morning sickness sufferers subsisting on Rice Krispies and banana milkshakes to beat themselves with?

Simpsons midwife and hypnobirthing teacher Lynne Fox for one is concerned about the amount of unscientific advice published about pregnancy and birth. She says: “There’s so much rubbish out there. I was in Waterstone’s the other day and the pregnancy books are either hippy, hippy or Gina Ford, which is very strict. Anybody can write a book about pregnancy and labour, and they do.”

Discussing the Bourgogne University findings Lynne uses her own children as an example. “Of course a varied, well-balanced diet in pregnancy is vitally important to the wellbeing of mother and child. As for influencing how they will grow up, I’m not so sure. I have two boys who have both been raised the exact same way and one of them eats nothing and the other eats everything, he even asks for more brussels sprouts at dinner. I spent years beating myself up about it but it’s just another way we make mothers feel guilty about things.”

So how do you cut through the mountain of advice and research and what really will make a difference in pregnancy?

Omega 3 fish oils for a brighter baby

Lynne is keen to promote the benefits of fish oil in pregnancy but advises moderation. She says: “It does actually help your baby but three servings of oily fish a week are just as good as taking a supplement. Oily fish has a high level of vitamin A which can be harmful in large quantities so you do have to be careful.

“At the NHS we’re not taught to tell people to take a multi-vitamin. They’re also an expensive item and can make people feel really bad if they can’t afford them or guilty of they miss one. The baby is, essentially, a parasite in your body and will take all the nutrients it needs from your body.

“I know one young woman whose teeth have been destroyed by being pregnant but that’s an extreme case.”

Stimulating your baby in the womb

Some parents are so keen to ensure a good night’s sleep when their newborn arrives that they will shine a bright torch at their bump in the evenings to get their baby into a bedtime routine.

While there is evidence to suggest that unborn babies will react to light in the womb, Lynne scoffs at the idea that it will affect the baby’s nap times.

“That’s absolutely ridiculous. A baby is not born to your schedule. It’s an awful idea, I think I’d call the social work if I heard about that.”

The sound of a mother’s voice and music, however, does have a proven influence, Lynne having seen the effects for herself.

“With a hypnobirthing pack you get a rainbow relaxation CD to listen to up until the birth. Playing that can calm a colicky baby for up to three or four months after the birth. It can really help others feel like they’re doing something for their baby.”

Touch is also important, Lynne advises parents to spend time touching their burgeoning baby bumps, not necessarily to stimulate the baby but to help people come to terms with the reality that they will have a new addition to their family.

Preventing Allergies and Asthma

A friend with a newborn tells you to avoid your cats because of Toxoplasmosis, then you read that having pets while pregnant reduces the chance of allergies in children.

Lynne says: “There doesn’t seem to be much hard evidence to give proper advice. Other than advising people who have a family history of eczema to put absolutely nothing in their baby’s bath water for the first few months.”

As for Toxoplasmosis, “You have to be very careful of not eating raw meat and if you can have someone else change the cat litter while you’re pregnant it is advisable.

“But you don’t have to avoid the cat, just be careful with a small baby in the house.”

THE LAST TABOO?

The infamous theory that eating placenta will help your breast milk? For some it’s a panacea of all that’s good and others a filter that contains not only nutrients but the baby’s waste products.

Lynne doesn’t think it’s a trend that will catch on. “In all my years as a midwife, I have only ever once been asked for the placenta to take home.”

For her the most important aspects of pregnancy are preparation for the birth and taking time out to appreciate the gift you have.

She says: “Most people are fortunate to fall pregnant only two or three times in their lives. It’s a special time. Enjoy your pregnancy.”