Have we created too many rules for pregnancy?

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© Colin Hawkins/cultura/Corbis


© Colin Hawkins/cultura/Corbis

Don’t eat cold cuts, swordfish, or “soft” cheese. Try to limit your exposure to stress and don’t drink much caffeine. And, of course, don’t drink alcohol. The list of things that women need to avoid during pregnancy seems to grow by the day, but some researchers are starting to question whether some of these rules are really necessary. As the BBC reports, next week, at what’s being called the Changing Parenting Culture conference, researchers from a variety of fields will debate the benefit — and need — for our growing tendency to police pregnancy.

Up for debate are issues such as whether or not common emotions experienced by pregnant women are being overly “medicalized” and whether recommendations against excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy — which can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome — are applicable when it comes to moderate consumption of alcohol. As Dr. Ellie Lee, who lectures in social policy at the University of Kent, which is hosting the conference, told the BBC:

“[In] advocating abstinence without an evidence base, policy makers formalise a connection between uncertainty and danger… They have decided it is preferable that pregnant women take no risk even if there is no evidence of harm. But there are dangers associated with this approach, not least that such hyper risk-aversion sits uneasily with advice to parents against ‘cotton wooling’ or worrying too much about their children’s health.”

Overprotective policies for pregnant women aren’t the only things under increasing scrutiny. Recently, there has been a growing backlash against overparenting — or smothering children with good intentions that ultimately leave them less capable of dealing with the real world. Increasingly, parents and physicians alike have debated the psychological toll of “helicopter parenting” and whether our hypervigilance about hygiene may actually be making kids too clean for their own good.