Pregnancy in North America comes with a hefty rule book. There are rules about your diet, how much you should exercise, or even when you should tell the people you love that a baby is on the way. There are the ones everyone knows, like those concerning alcohol and caffeine, and the ones you are often confused about when you first hear them, like the issue concerning kitty litter. These rules are plentiful and varied, and can easily make a soon-to-be mother's head spin. Not only that, but in case you forget one of the rules, you can count on a stranger on the street or you morning barista to quite suddenly become the pregnancy police, and remind you that anything you are doing is going to hurt your baby.
While many of these recommendations are based on studies and time-tested practices that have examined the effects of various activities on the health of the fetus, they also are based on the tenets of western medicine, and the rest of the world does not completely rely on western medicine. For years, women around the world have engaged in traditional customs and local health and diet practices, and still give birth to beautiful, healthy babies.
Cultural differences play a huge role in how we conceive, grow and give birth to our children. While some of these practices can be quite liberating ideas to consider, others are even more restricting of a soon-to-be mom's behaviour. There are as many ways to live through a pregnancy as there are women in the world, so your best is always to work with you health professional and trust your gut when making health decisions for you and your family.
15 Wine A Day Keeps The Doctor Away
The embargo while drinking during pregnancy is so well known that walking into any liquor establishment when you are far enough along to be obviously showing will most likely earn you more than one sideways look. To be fair, there are several studies that show that any amount of alcohol consumption, both small and large, can lead to fetal-alcohol syndrome (FAS), which causes a variety of physical and cognitive disabilities. However, while there aren't really any studies that examine what the safe amount of alcohol consumption is, if any, to avoid the risk of FAS.
Italy has been advising it’s pregnant women for years that a little red wine isn’t going to hurt anyone. Doctors in this country suggest women limit their intake to one glass of red wine per day, which is still leagues beyond what North American women are advised, which is essentially zero.
14 Pearly Pregnant Smile
We are advised to keep excellent dental health while pregnant, which, really, isn’t that bad of a thing. Pregnant women can be more sensitive to the bacteria cause by plaque build up, and poor oral hygiene can lead to a condition called pregnancy gingivitis, which is pretty much like regular gingivitis, but means you're dealing with swollen and bleeding gums while also carrying around a few extra pounds of life in your belly. Besides, regular flossing and brushing, along with regular dental checkups, are a good way to maintain self-care and keep your pearly smile. While not all countries have the same degree of dental care as North America, other cultures put restrictions on what kind of cleaning products you can use in and on your body, including toothpaste and mouthwash.
Vietnamese women are very strict about what kind of substances they use when expecting, and limit toothbrushing to salt-water only. The salt-water helps control the bacteria that exist in the mouth, and manual brushing still removes plaque buildup throughout the day.
While the Omega 3 Fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna are recommended as part of a well balanced diet, pregnant women are cautioned to avoid fatty fish due to the presence of mercury in the fat stores. Too much consumption of mercury can effect the development of your baby's nervous system. Sushi and Sashimi are also on the no-fly list, as food borne pathogens like Shigella and Norovirus are more likely in uncooked fish products.
However, on islands like Japan, fish and seafood comprise a major part of regular diet, including raw offerings like sashimi. Japanese women regularly consume fish, cooked or not, on a daily basis. In fact, Japanese women typically do not alter their diet and all, and maintain the same eating habits throughout their pregnancy.
12 Say Cheese!
As if pregnancy didn’t have enough rules, now they want to take away the cheese too?! Not to worry, not all cheese is off limits, just the kind that is made with raw, unpasteurized milk, or cheese with reintroduced bacteria, like blue cheese. Pasteurization is part of most dairy and dairy products in the US. The process involves heating milk to a specified temperature and then cooling it down before consumption and in cheese so that any harmful bacteria are killed off. This means that hard cheeses, like cheddar or parmesan, are safe to eat.
In France, where cheese was practically invented, this recommendation does not fly. Fresh milk and soft cheeses are prized for their taste and and are a staple part of the french diet. Pregnant women often continue to eat soft cheeses throughout their pregnancy, though in moderation, as with all other rich foods.
11 Salty Clay
There is nothing worse than the nausea and vomiting that can sometimes accompany those first few months of pregnancy. In fact, morning sickness is kind of misleading - it can hit you anytime. If the nausea and vomiting become too severe, including inability to keep down liquids, you definitely want to speak to someone about it, especially your doctor. At this level you could be dealing with hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that could require a short stay in a hospital. Discussing it with friends and family will often bring up a slew of home remedies to help manage the symptoms, including eating ginger or soda crackers, or treatments like acupressure.
Sudanese women, however, have their own approach - eating a salty clay that is supposed to help them increase their appetite and suppress any nausea.
10 Hormones Got Me Like
This is entirely a personal decision, and a women’s libido can vary greatly during a pregnancy. Some women find their, appetite, can really increase as your hormones change throughout the pregnancy, while others find that the fatigue, weight gain and other symptoms can also kill the mood. Doctor’s typically recommend listening to your body and go with what feels good. As for the baby, as long as your pregnancy is uncomplicated there is no harm to the fetus as the amniotic sac and mucous plug protects the baby from any outside factors. You can even find recommendations on the best positions to use while pregnant! If you find yourself in the mood, having sex can also be stress-relieving activity for mom, and can even help you bring on labour once your baby has reached full-term.
However, Vietnamese women would find these ideas completely useless: they believe sex during pregnancy can cause cause disease to both mom and baby and avoid the act altogether.
9 Not Even Shopping
Physical activity is something that is recommended no matter what your age or reproductive condition, but pregnant women are especially encouraged to maintain regular exercise to help with the sleep, mood, weight gain, and other changes that can occur during pregnancy. Thirty minutes of moderate activity on an almost daily basis is recommend for those with uncomplicated pregnancies, but women are advised to avoid carrying heavy loads or engage in any contact sports like soccer or basketball. Exercises like walking, swimming or cycling on a stationary bike are good choices as they are low impact and easier on joints that are already bearing the load of the new person growing inside.
Women in cultures outside of North America have differing opinions: Chinese women often take on a lot of rest during pregnancy, including abstaining from even mild activities like grocery shopping or housework. On the other hand, working-class woman in India usually keep on with their regular activities up until the day give birth, even carrying heavy loads.
8 Prenatal Care
Scheduled visits to your OB/GYN during your pregnancy to chart the progress of the fetus and to monitor health is a hallmark of a North American pregnancy. Doctor’s visits allow you to see ultrasounds of your growing baby, and allow for the early detection and treatment of conditions that can arise during pregnancy, including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.
However, not all cultures adopt a medicalized approach to pregnancy, and may not visit doctors at all unless an incident occurs during their pregnancy. This is not just restricted to access to medical services - women with full ability to visit a doctor and/or hospital simply don’t unless something feels wrong. Indian culture views pregnancy not as a particularly special condition but as a natural stage in women’s life, and so any care is usually provided by family or community members at home.
Women are encouraged to eat a balanced diet during their pregnancy, and to get enough calories to sustain themselves along with the 150-200 or so calories a day that a growing fetus will use. There are copious amounts of information about how to eat nutrient packed meals, along with the numerous stories of the funny cravings and subsequent mini-binges of foods that can accompany pregnancy. But little attention is paid to cutting out food altogether, such as fasting, for short periods of time. The only time you'll hear fasting mentioned by your doctor is during the couple of hours you'll have to keep away from food during a routine glucose test to monitor for gestational diabetes.
For Muslim women who are pregnant during fasting periods, fasting is part of the observance of Ramadan. While fasting is not absolutely required if maternal or fetal health could be in jeopardy, devout, healthy muslim women do fast during the month from sunrise to sunset. Those who who cannot fasting during their pregnancy will usually make up the fast later after giving birth.
Every woman has heard about the peculiar cravings she might get during a pregnancy. Ice cream and pickles anyone? Some women even begin to develop a taste for non-food items, a condition known as pica, which should definitely be discussed with your doctor. Science has yet to come up with a definite reason for cravings, and doctors recommend that you should continue a healthy diet throughout pregnancy, and try to find healthy alternatives to any unhealthy cravings. However, some nutritionists believe that cravings are a way of your body telling you that you may need more of a certain mineral or vitamin, so that chocolate craving may be a cry out for more magnesium, or that ice-cream need is just your body wanting more calcium. Filipino women follow this idea by giving into cravings, believing that denying your body the foods it wants will negatively affect the baby.
5 Hot and Cold Foods
While most of us have leaned towards preferences of hot or cold foods at one time or another, the concept of cold/hot foods takes on new meaning in different cultures during pregnancy. North american medicine doesn’t really distinguish between the two, but Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean cultures all have different classifications of "hot" and "cold" foods, and women will often follow rules about what kinds of food to eat while pregnant.
For example, Vietnamese women consider each trimester a different state. The first stage, during which many pregnancy symptoms are at their fiercest, is considered a "cold" stage, and women are encouraged to eat hot foods, like chilies, while avoiding cold foods, like melons and leafy greens. The second trimester is considered neutral, and pretty much all foods are allowed. By the third semester women transition into a "hot" stage, and begin avoiding hot foods and consuming more cold foods in preparation for labour and birth.
4 Clothing and Jewellery
There are no official recommendations by doctors about your clothes or jewellery during pregnancy. As with most things during this time in your life, it really is best to go with what is comfortable. That said, putting on a great looking outfit with bling to match can often bring on the all the good feelings that come along with knowing you look good. However, most doctors would advise against getting any piercings done while pregnant, as even the most careful and clean piercing carries a small risk of infection. But if your ears, belly button or anything else is already pierced, there’s no reason not to wear your favourite jewellery, unless you happen to be from Samoa. Women in Samoa tend to avoid wearing any kind of jewellery, as they believe that wearing things like earrings can cause deformities in the fetus, or wearing a necklace risks the umbilical cord being tangled around the baby’s neck.
3 Catching Zzzz's
The way you sleep is mostly a matter of personal preference, that is until you become pregnant. It’s difficult to find any comfortable position once you get into the third trimester, but most doctors recommend sleeping on your side, preferable your left. Sleeping on your stomach just gets too uncomfortable once your belly develops, and sleeping on your back comes with another issue - maternal and fetal circulation. Once your fetus reaches a certain size, it can put pressure on the major vein that carries blood from your lower body back to your heart. This can cause dizziness for mom, or circulation issues for blood that carries nutrients to the placenta.
However, Indian women are encouraged to sleep in whatever position they feel comfortable and to get as much sleep as they can. They think that if your vein does receive pressure, the discomfort you would experience would encourage your body to change positions on it’s own.
Prenatal vitamins are recommended before you even conceive to promote optimal maternal and early fetal health, especially folic acid, calcium and iron. Once you do become pregnant, these vitamins play an even bigger role. Folic Acid is a B vitamin that helps the healthy development of neural tubes - the structures that create your brain and spine. Iron is also important in your baby's development, as well as support your red blood cells production to prevent anemia, a condition that can leave you feeling really fatigued. There are other vitamins that also contribute to your and your baby's overall health, but the best way to get these nutrients is through a balanced diet. Still, a good prenatal vitamin can help fill in the gaps in your regular eating.
That is, unless you are of Latin American origin. Latina women are hesitant to take any kind of drug while pregnant, including vitamins, and instead focus on fulfilling all those pregnancy cravings to provide the nutrients their babies need.
1 Avoid Certain Outings
If you are having a normal, uncomplicated pregnancy, there is no reason that your daily routines or outings need to be affected. You can go grocery shopping, meet friends for lunch, go to work, and even attend concerts without causing any harm to your baby. In fact, the more time you spend with friends and family the more likely you will be able to manage the emotional changes that are borne out of the huge hormonal changes happening in your body. Not all cultures take this some opinion, however, and there are a wide variety of activities that pregnant are encouraged to avoid.
Buddhists are told to avoid funerals out of fear that passing spirits can harm the baby. Chinese women are encouraged to avoid any event where emotions may run high, which includes funerals and weddings, as extreme emotions are thought have a negative effect on a growing fetus. And if you're Guatemalan, you might end up staying home through the entirety of your pregnancy.