Saturday, 21 September 2013

Telling pregnant women what to do

Why do people enjoy telling pregnant women what to do? Does conception immediately render us incompetent to make decisions about our own bodies?

I am around eight months pregnant now, regularly experiencing the joy of yet another unpleasant pregnancy symptom. And it's both interesting and annoying how much other people (men and women) tell pregnant women what we should and shouldn't do with our bodies.

I read this story in the Huffington Post, about a woman who continued strenuous exercise until shortly before the birth of her child, and was widely condemned for it on Facebook.

I have no idea whether it was or wasn't a good idea for her to carry on with her activities - I don't know what her body feels like, nor am I her doctor or midwife, who might understand of how her pregnancy affected her. How is it anyone else's business?

Deciding what you can and can't do in pregnancy

People have very fixed ideas about what constitutes acceptable behaviour during pregnancy. My views on alcohol in pregnancy mean I'm no exception to this. I think I'm learning to live and let live a little.

Pregnant women receive a bewildering range of contradictory advice. But we're not ill and we're not stupid. We need to make up our own minds about what's right for us.

One minute we can't drink alcohol at all, then it's OK to have the odd glass. A couple of years ago stilton was on the banned substances list, but now, apparently, it's fine. What's a girl to do? My friend Rachel Extance wrote a great article on this - 'We need facts not fears'.

My favourite pregnancy dilemma is the sun cream issue. When you're pregnant, your skin is more sensitive and so can burn more easily, therefore you are advised to use lots of sun cream. However, some research which came out this summer suggested that the chemicals in common household products, such as sun cream, are potentially harmful to the unborn child. So maybe pregnant women should just stay out of the sun? Except there's been a rise in rickets in the UK, which is caused by a deficiency in vitamin D, and where do we get our vitamin D from? Yep, sunlight!

Making my own decisions

I have no problem with medical professionals giving advice - that's what they're qualified to do, and hopefully they will take the time to understand the individual situation of the person they are dealing with. But if you're not in my body and you don't know what I'm physically capable of, then it's really none of your business what I do or do not do.

Exercise is an important part of my life, and I'm pretty fit. I stopped running and jumping some time ago, but I'm still lifting light weights in the gym. It wasn't until I was 32 weeks pregnant that I finally gave up my beloved boxercise class.

Before making my decision to continue with boxercise into pregnancy, I consulted my instructor, who has known me for several years, and seen other pregnant women do his class, and I talked to other women in my class, who have been through pregnancy.

We all agreed that I was fine to carry on, as long as I only do the things I'm comfortable with. As my pregnancy progressed I scaled down my activities - I stopped running when it no longer felt comfortable for me. That doesn't mean that someone else who was more pregnant than me should have stopped.

My body tells me pretty clearly what it does and doesn't want me to do at the moment. It was actually pretty happy with the basic punching movements I was doing. (I may be pregnant, but I've still got a mean right hook if you're thinking of messing with me), it was more my endurance that was suffering. It felt like the right time to stop, for lots of reasons. But my friend carried on boxing until just a few days before her baby rocked up, and that was fine too.

Pregnancy is hard work, and it takes its toll on women's bodies. A few months ago I was running, jumping and chucking myself around the gym, while now putting my socks on is a major workout. But it's not for other people to judge what we can do. Let us decide for ourselves.

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