Monday, 10 June 2013

RCOG: Baby On Board, Brain Out The Window?

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 10: Key Phrases

Pregnant women aren't stupid (ok some of them are, grab any large enough selection of the population and there will be someone who thinks dolphin midwives are a great idea, but that's got nothing to do with pregnancy hormones).  Most women are reasonably intelligent AND can still make grown up, rational decisions, even with a baby on board. So long as the advice they receive is accurate and helpful. 

Ah but there's the rub. You'd need a heck of a lot of spare time, not to mention post graduate qualifications in a variety of maths and science subjects, just to make sense of all the information out there. The media of course loves nothing better than piling guilt on parents (see my post on the Telegraphs "Too Posh To Push" story for a great example of lazy, data fiddling journalism), but even seemingly venerable medical institutions  can sometimes be really unhelpful. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynacologists (RCOG) for example. From the people who brought you a totally arbitrary C-section target rate (then withdrew it, then re-instated it) comes new advice for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on chemical exposure. A lot has already been said about this in the media so I'm not going to go into great detail, but it basically lists a huge number of everyday things that "could" contain harmful chemicals which "might" possibly be harmful, although there is currently no evidence for this, no way of testing it and they may all be perfectly safe. It suggests that women should be made aware of all this so that they can make an informed decision as to weather they want to "play it safe" and avoid these items.

Now, as I said I'm totally in favour of informed decisions (I love 'em, soooo my thing). But how is this helpful? No doubt there will be some, very anxious, women who will take on this advice and spend their entire pregnancies in paranoid fear of shower gel. It's quite likely that trying to avoid everything on the list will result in levels of stress far more harmful than any of the chemicals. But worse than that, for many women this document, and the media interest it inevitably attracted, could be the tipping point that turns them off all medical advice. Being bombarded with this sort of thing over and over again and then told some of it has no basis in evidence could diminish the credibility of important, and proven, pregnancy advice (such as stopping smoking and heavy drinking, or taking folic acid supplements) to such an extent that it all just gets ignored. 

It's great that RCOG want women to make informed choices, but throwing out panicky advice, based on little or no scientific evidence risks doing more harm than good to the reputation of the field and to the babies it aims to help. 

If there's a baby on board, there's still a brain (actually two!), but let's not make it's job too difficult please!

SB

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