Patronising pregnancy

Via Yoz comes this great article: Zoe Williams: Being pregnant and receiving unscientific advice go hand in hand. Here’s a sample:

Listeria has been my particular bugbear ever since a midwife – that is, a trained prenatal professional who, unless I develop complications, represents the highest medical authority I can expect to deal with throughout my pregnancy – told me that I could get listeriosis, thereby brain-damaging my foetus, without knowing about it. Now, listeriosis is an incredibly serious disease, with extremely serious symptoms, taken extremely seriously by epidemiologists nationwide. Get it without noticing it? If I got listeriosis, the national papers would know about it. It would be the third outbreak that has occurred in [the UK] in the past 20 years.

Here are some other things that are wantonly untrue: pasteurisation, in fact, has nothing to do with a cheese’s ability to harbour the listeria bacteria. The bacteria that characterise different cheeses are introduced after the pasteurisation process anyway. Listeria flourishes in moist environments, so parmesan is safe where camembert isn’t, but even rinded and soft cheeses are safe once they have been cooked. But food hygiene is a much more important factor than moisture – raw fish does not come out of the sea carrying listeria, but contracts the bacteria from contact with dirty hands. Of the past two outbreaks of listeria in Britain, one was from butter and the other from lettuce (there have been other instances of product recalls, but no human contamination).

In fact the three worst recorded cases of listeria since 1992 have all been in France, and were all from pork tongue in jelly, which nobody in their right mind would ever eat. Of the past 10 listeriosis outbreaks in America, only two were from cheese, and one of those was a Mexican homemade cheese. The notion that there are pregnant people out there whipping themselves into a frenzy of guilt because they have eaten some gorgonzola is just infuriating.

This patronising “pregnant women mustn’t do X” paranoia is C’s pet hate of the moment; being a (pregnant) scientist, she’s been checking them against Medline, looking into the extent of the real research these claims are based on, and generally writing them off one by one. I’ve been trying to persuade her to write a blog post about this for, so far with no luck though…

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  1. nishad
    Posted June 5, 2007 at 18:38 | Permalink

    Get her to write it up in any form at all, and you can do the blogification of it. The state of medical (esp. food-related) info is horrible, especially here in America. Anyone capable of reading the research really needs to post this sort of thinking. Think of the, ah, children? :-)


  2. Posted June 5, 2007 at 23:11 | Permalink

    I’d love to see a definitive post on this. There is a long running thread on my blog regarding goat’s cheese and pregnancy. No-one seems to be able to give anything other than links to contradictory sites. The number of petrified women who have posted comments after eating “the wrong cheese” is terrible. I wish there was something “bullet proof” I could say to them apart from “the chances of you or your baby catching anything are miniscule”.

  3. Conor Delaney
    Posted June 6, 2007 at 13:15 | Permalink

    Here though is something that is true and pregnant women & partners should be aware of …(not aimed at C, being the expert on such things that she is)

  4. Posted June 9, 2007 at 11:59 | Permalink

    damn, she refuses to write it up. Says it’s too much like work! Can’t argue with that…

    Conor: yep, as you guessed, we’re only too aware of toxoplasmosis. Guess who gets the job of dealing with animal poos around here!