Mothering, Choices and Consequences

We subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, and we love it. After reading it I feel all worldly and informed and stuff. The Ethicist, in particular, floats my boat. But last week, I read an article from Nicholas D. Kristof that irked me. Called “At Risk From the Womb”, it explored how factors such as exposure to stress, disease and toxins may affect fetal development. For example, it cites a study that found children who were in utero during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967 were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia as adults. And here is a quote about the perils of eating junk food:

British scientists … fed pregnant rats junk food: doughnuts, marshmallows, potato chips and chocolate chip muffins. The offspring of those rats turned out to have a sweet tooth as well: they were more likely to choose junk food when it was offered and ended up 25 percent fatter than rats whose mothers were fed regular rodent chow.

32 week bellyKristof raises some good points in the article. I nodded my head when he suggested that studies like these should cause us to examine the chemicals we are exposed to in our daily lives. Certainly, if there are factors that we can control that will help ensure that our babies are healthy, we should try to control them. But many of these factors – like being pregnant during a time of war or famine – are outside of our control. And other factors – like what pregnant women eat – veer towards policing the actions of other adults in a way that I find inappropriate.

I have been pregnant twice. Both times I planned my pregnancies, and very much wanted my babies. I felt that there were some responsibilities that came with being pregnant. For instance, I chose to abstain from alcohol while I was pregnant, and I made my husband change the kitty litter. I realized that anything that I exposed myself to, I was also exposing my babies to, and I did my best to avoid potential risks where I could.

But there is a critical line to be drawn here. When I chose to pass up my beloved tuna sushi, that was my call. When someone else gave me the stink eye for drinking a can of Coke, that was another thing altogether. I was seriously nauseous throughout both of my pregnancies. I realized early on that I could either eat what I was craving, or I could puke. The very idea of leafy green vegetables? Highly unappetizing. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the farmer’s market, knowing that there would be piles of veggies there. So instead of eating my spinach like a good pregnant lady, I ate a lot of white bread and french fries. And I didn’t even feel all that bad about it.

Pregnant women are still people. They deserve the same basic autonomy and the freedom to make choices for themselves that everyone else does. Whether they get the flu shot or not, whether they should be eating those Doritos or not, whether they exercise are not – these things are nobody else’s business.

Our first baby picture, at 8 weeks

As I became highly indignant reading about how my consumption of french fries probably doomed my children, I started to think about the way that many mothers react to studies about the dangers of formula feeding. I see definite parallels. In both cases, women are doing the best they can for themselves and their babies. In both cases, there are a lot of complicating factors that muddy the decision-making process. As I puked out of my car door yet again, I decided to give up on my prenatal vitamin. Should I have persisted in taking it anyway? Maybe. Do I think that I made the best choice I could under the circumstances? Yes. Do I appreciate someone else weighing in on my shortcomings? No way.

I can see a lot of value in studying how our actions affect our babies. These studies arm us with information and help us make the best choices we can. But sometimes, even with that information, we fall short. And when we do, and someone tells us yet again how we failed our child, it’s hard not to take that a little personally. Even though it’s not really about us at all.

Ultrasound at 18.5 weeks

I think that sometimes we need to give people space to feel indignant and affronted when their parenting choices are called into question. And we need to try to have the grace to let go when we read scientific studies that highlight our failures. After all, there area a whole lot of factors that go into raising a child. It’s unlikely that any one action is going to doom your child forever. As long as we are generally well-meaning and thoughtful parents, that has to be enough. In any case, it’s all that we can really do.

In the meantime, you can pry my french fries from my cold, dead hands.

How do you react when a study suggests that you have in some way harmed your child? Do you think that such studies are helpful or harmful? And how can we share information with people, without casting blame for actions that are long over? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Amber, I love this post. Thank you.

    I think that studies are important- we do need information and I think it is always good to be open to the idea that there are things we can do different/better in parenting. But the main problem I have with these studies is the way they are interpreted and presented in the media- both mainstream and blog type media. What often happens is that a catch phrase, over simplification or assumption is made about the study and that is the piece of ‘information’ that everyone hears about. And then that piece of ‘information’ is used by some to ‘blame’ the mother. It drives me nuts!

    The Fearless Formula Feeder has a great post right now about a recent infant feeding study that compared formula fed infants to formula fed infants (one set being given regular formula and one being given a higher calorie formula) and the resulting higher rates of obesity for infants given the higher calorie formula. But the study is being used to promote breastfeeding, something the study didn’t even look at!

    I guess what I am saying is that I think what we need more then anything (and not just in parenting) is more responsible and honest journalism. These studies mean nothing if the ‘information’ we get out of them is misrepresentation.
    Kathleen (amoment2think)’s last post … Toddlers and Stress Relief Yes Stress ReliefMy Profile

  2. Amen – but I do think the formula situation is a little different. 1.) formula feeding is a 24/7 diet. I’d be willing to bet that you didn’t each french fries for every single meal for an entire year – I’m sure you tempered that with other food every so often. But that doesn’t happen with formula feeding. It’s one diet, which deprives the infant of so many immunological benefits that they can’t get otherwise.

    2.) Often women aren’t even being given the choice whether or not to breastfeed – and they may not even realize they weren’t given a choice. If you lived in a country with ONLY potato chips to eat, which made healthy food barely accessible, then eating those chips isn’t a choice anymore. That’s what living in the US is like in terms of formula feeding for many women. Hospitals/doctors/insurance companies peddle formula (see my post today for some shocking proof) and hardly support a woman’s choice to breastfeed (or to offer her baby human donor milk.) That’s akin to giving her only french fries, and not caring whether she actually craves vegetables.

    The studies about breastfeeding are designed to help the government and the public understand that this is a public health issue. I recently read an article by a public health professional (which I can’t find now) which explained the difference between private “choices” and public health issues. It essentially stated that Yes, we know that certain fishes contain mercury, and we tell women not to eat mercury, and it’s her personal choice if she chooses to eat fish. However, it’s a public health issue that we’re not providing her with enough choices in fish that she can’t choose to eat fish without also eating mercury. We can’t tell people to eat healthy if we live in a society that offers them no healthy food. So, that’s a loose analogy to the breastfeeding/public health thing too, and that’s why I see it as a different issue than eating junk food.

    In any case – any study about any food just makes me think to myself “yeah, that’s a reminder to do better, when I can.”

    • For sure, I totally agree that we need to work hard to make sure that women have the support and information to make good choices. In fact, that is how I see my role as a lactivist. Scientific studies are one important way to provide that information.

      But I still think there are some parallels. If you weren’t able to meet your goals, whatever those goals are and for whatever reason, you can feel kind of crappy about it. And there’s not a whole lot you can do about it, looking back, to change things. I guess that all I’m saying is I can understand why you would feel defensive about it, if you felt you’d done your best.

      • I dunno – for me personally, I didn’t meet my breastfeeding goals with my first, but I never felt defensive about lactivism. I saw studies and thought “I knew it!” – not “why are they picking on me?!” But that was my personal feeling, and I really think it came from knowing that I really did do the best I could at the time. What’s their to feel guilty about? I think just get more mad at the system that wouldn’t even provide me with a choice to feed my kid donor milk – formula was THE only option, and that pissed me off… not the studies.

  3. Before I was pregnant I had this vision of me being all “om”, stroking my belly, going for waddling walk and being all glowy and stuff. Reality couldn’t have been any further from the truth. I lost 3 stone by the time I gave birthand was hence almost 4 stone lighter after pregnancy because I was sick day and night, for months the only thing that I fancied were McDonalds fries and their bbq sauce (mainly the bbq sauce the fries were just the delivery method) and tzatziki on ryvita. Neither stayed down most of the time. I ended up in hospital to get rehydrated. I drank gallons of lemonade because the fizz of it made me feel less sick. I had my car valeted twice because I was sick during driving.

    Of course, I was worried about the effect this lack of nutrition would have on my unborn child, but since the GP refused to give me anti sick meds there was really nothing I could do. Somewhere around month 7 I stopped caring about effects, I just needed to get through this.

    Studies are all well and good. Necessary, important stuff, yet, I often find the way the media delivers them is guilt inducing on us mothers who are all to often guilt ridden beyond belief ANYWAY!

    There just seems to be so much stuff that you can do WRONG as a mother and so little that you can do RIGHT.
    Mel’s last post … The Jewelry Quarter revisitedMy Profile

  4. How do you react when a study suggests that you have in some way harmed your child? Do you think that such studies are helpful or harmful?

    I recognize that I didn’t have that information when I made the decision and I don’t beat myself up for it. I do think such studies are helpful because they allow those who come after them to make better decisions than those who came before them. My mom played beer baseball (and won) while pregnant with me. I turned out okay, but I could very well not have turned out okay. They didn’t know better at the time, so there is no point in pointing fingers. But I am glad I had better information than she did so I could make better choices.

    I also recognize that I am not perfect and AM OKAY WITH THAT. I think if more people were okay with not being perfect (and if more people were willing to let others be not perfect), then it would be easier to share information without it turning into a blame/guilt game.
    Annie @ PhD in Parenting’s last post … 10 Photos for 10-10-10My Profile

  5. I have always been a healthy eater, although I of course have the occasional “sweet treat” or can of Coke every once in a while too.

    During my current pregnancy (I’m 29 weeks) I find it interesting that I am extra cautious of what I consume in public since I know there are others looking – and judging – even though it’s really no one’s business but my own.

    I also find it interesting that I’m – overall – less critical of my choices and have managed to keep my weight down compared to my previous pregnancy where I gained too much and regulated what I ate more stringently.

    What I’ve learned is that no matter what, if mom’s happy and healthy, the baby will be too, regardless of what was on the menu.
    Hip_M0M’s last post … The Kids Are All RightMy Profile

  6. I thought a lot of the same things as I read the TIME article on the fetus and development. It’s the classic rock and a hard place– it’s important and good to know these things, to be educated about the effects we have on ourselves and our children, so we can make positive changes. At the same time, it’s almost impossible not to induce guilt and even blame in these sorts of findings, as there’s always something the mother could/should have “done better.”

    “I think that sometimes we need to give people space to feel indignant and affronted when their parenting choices are called into question. And we need to try to have the grace to let go when we read scientific studies that highlight our failures.” <— THIS, this is beautiful, and so, so true. We can't not study the effects of the uterine environment on the fetus, or the benefits of breastmilk, etc, for fear of making mothers feel bad. But we should be respectful, and still allow for informed personal choice (and realizing that sometimes certain things are outside an individual's control).
    Marcy’s last post … The Pizza CompanyMy Profile

  7. Amber, I think studies like this are important. If you have not been puking, you would have eaten more veggies. But you were, so you couldn’t. But if we didn’t see studies like this, we wouldn’t be aware of how very, very important it is. It’s not just an option to try to eat healthy when pregnant. It’s a responsibility that comes with pregnancy, and we should try to fulfill it AS BEST WE CAN. And if white bread is the best way you can fulfill it, eat white bread. But if you can handle spinach (which I couldn’t), eat that. And if you crave tomatoes (which I did), count yourself lucky.
    Emily R’s last post … Politics and ProseMy Profile

  8. Amber, I appreciate this open minded and very pro-mother post. Almost all of the time, I believe that mothers are doing the best they can given their situation. Their situations may differ, and each woman’s “best” may look different. I gained an enormous amount of weight during my first pregnancy and had pre-eclampsia. Was that due to the weight gain? Maybe? My mother had pre-eclampsia as well, so maybe not. But let me tell you, there were people who thought that my weight gain endangered the life of my child and also my own life. So there’s that.

    I breastfed my son but had massive struggles, went on drugs, he lost weight, pumped and pumped, he lost weight, breastfed around the clock, he lost weight, finally supplemented with formula, he gained weight, still breastfed and supplemented, he thrived, eventually suffered from exhaustion and ppd and weaned him earlier than I would have liked. He thrived and is a happy healthy six year old. Do I feel guilty about weaning him early and formula feeding? Yes. Should I? No.
    Nicole’s last post … I guess they were deprived- after allMy Profile

  9. YES YES YES YES!!!!!
    “Pregnant women are still people. They deserve the same basic autonomy and the freedom to make choices for themselves that everyone else does. Whether they get the flu shot or not, whether they should be eating those Doritos or not, whether they exercise are not – these things are nobody else’s business.”

    This goes to the heart of the WHOLE healthy eating/food debate. Not just for pregnant women but with everyone. I have the absolute RIGHT to choose what foods my family and I eat, what medicines we take, or any thing else we put in their bodies.

    We cannot go on a crusade to keep everyone eating carrot sticks!

    Thank you for this post! I will be sharing it for sure.

  10. Thank you so much for such a great post! I missed this article, but would have been just as uncomfortable reading that article.

    When I was pregnant I devoured every piece of info I could about how to best prepare my child for the world and eat the right things. I also feel into the same category of morning sickness (I could only stomach baked good and white bread).

    My daughter is now starting to eat solids and seems to LOVE carrots and squash, so I guess those donuts I ate while pregnant didn’t hurt her too bad after all. 🙂

  11. quazydellasue says:

    This is such a timely post for me, as I have been contemplating these same issues for the past week!

    With my last pregnancy, I thought I was doing everything right. I knew my mom had cancer (likely terminal), so my husband and I decided to conceive a few years earlier than planned, to make sure that she would still be around and feeling well when the baby was born. (She was doing quite well at the time we conceived.) Then, not even 3 months into the pregnancy, my mom suffered a bilateral pulmonary embolism, putting her in the hospital for weeks and severely compromising her overall health. She never fully recovered and her cancer started to get worse, quickly. She died when I was 33 weeks pregnant.

    As she was my best friend and we did EVERYTHING together and talked on the phone five times a day, the stress of seeing her very ill and possibly dying was the worst I have ever known. It was the kind of anxiety that makes eating and sleeping impossible, and even made it hard for me to breathe sometimes. I don’t suppose I could have been MORE stressed. And there I was, pregnant, and surrounded by studies showing the effects of stress on a fetus. Which only made me feel WORSE. As you noted, most people who are under stress while pregnant aren’t choosing it, so I don’t know what good those studies do. Sure, tell us to avoid stress, but don’t we all try to do that, anyway? If you have no choice, as I did, you just feel guilt on top of stress.

    As it turned out, my daughter was fine, and still seems to be at 2.5. She’s actually been the opposite of what “stress babies” are supposed to be – as an infant, for example, she almost never cried, never had a trace of colic, and started sleeping in 6-hr stretches at 3 wks old. Her development has been normal and she’s extremely health, happy, and loving. So I really did NOT need to be terrified by the studies I kept reading.

    This was all brought up for me again last week, at my prenatal appointment. I’m 19 wks pregnant and have only been able to eat with enjoyment for a few weeks (and not every day, at that). My appetite is pretty big and I do have a sweet tooth and a love of the fried. I eat a pretty healthy diet, but I also indulge in desserts without a second thought. And my midwife reprimanded me for this, citing all the recent studies about how prenatal nutrition affects a child’s lifelong metabolism. I was seriously upset with her for telling me this – I’ve seen the studies myself. And I still make the choices I feel are right for me, at the end of the day. I ate MUCH more poorly with my daughter, and she is not only the healthiest child I know, but she adores fruit and vegetables. (Ok, she has a wicked sweet tooth, but is that really the worst thing in the world?) I’m doing the best I can as a preggo and if I want an extra piece of cake, I’m an informed adult and I’m going to have it. Besides, studies aren’t gospel. Who knows what they’ll discover next year?

  12. I think the information should be given as a study and not a fact. One day they might turn around and say, “Oops we were wrong!” Though I do think the studies should be out there otherwise how are we to make our own judgments on the studies? I don’t ever think they should make a woman take pills and so on, but advising through true studies and letting the woman decide is the best for everyone – I believe!

  13. Amber, I have the honor of being the mother of 5 beautiful and heathy children. During my first pregnacy I found if I cut my prenatal vitamins in half I didn’t throw up as much. However with my last I found that if I woke up and eat between 1 and 2 in the morning I was not as sick. So that is what I did. What worked for me might work for another mom but it won’t work for everyone because we are all different. For example, I have been blessed with the ability to nurse all 5 of my children. My oldest is 9 years old and my youngest right now is 6 weeks old. I have been tired for 10 years and I love it. I have a sister who has 7 beautiful and heathy children. Her oldest is 12 years old and her youngest is almost 3 months. She however cannot nurse. And it wasn’t until she had kids that I learned that for some mothers it is impossible for them to do so. Yes I am pro nursing but I also believe that mom’s have the right to choose what is best for their child and for them.

  14. I heard a quote recently that your post made me think of. “mothers do what they can, not what they want”. We all want what is best for our children and we do what we can to make that happen. Sometimes we fall short but hey we are human and as such are bound to make mistakes. Great post! Really shows the human side of mothering.

  15. Hi, my name’s Nicole and I didn’t quit smoking until I got a positive pregnancy test at 5 1/2 weeks. The night before I took the test, I also consumed most of a bottle of wine by myself.

    I quit smoking cold turkey and drank coffee, coke zero, diet coke, sandwich meat and even had sushi a couple of times, although I don’t like the raw fish so it was usually some sort of cooked maki, throughout my pregnancy. I also had a few sips of wine at one point, but it gave me such bad hearburn, I never did it again. I was lucky that I didn’t puke (except for once when I had a cold and triggered my gag reflex with coughing) so I could eat most things, except bbq sauce and beef jerky (and ew, anyways).

    And I look at my 17 month old, who is the size of a 24+ month old and is thriving, and (I like to think) way ahead of the curve (two-word sentences FTW!).

    And I think, you know, I did it my way. I made reasonable choices and my kid is thriving. And anyone one who tells me I made the wrong choices can tell me otherwise, but I’ll probably ignore them.

  16. right after i feel personally attacked by this study or that study i try to remind myself that a. it’s not personal, b. studies of this nature in man are rarely empirical and mostly epidemiological where a population trend is associated with an event and a conclusion formed, and c. we all try our best with whatever we have at hand.

    information is important for informing decisions though ‘the next time around’ – remember thalidomide? remember the anti-emesis oestrogen supplements? now those mums must have felt destroyed when the causative link was shown, but they also did their best with what was to hand. they then had to pull themselves back upright and mother their damaged kids.

    i try not to dwell on how much i potentially fuck up my kid’s life – all mothers manage this anyway 🙂
    pomomama’s last post … thanksgivingMy Profile

  17. Ashley Poland says:


    I had a whole pile of tl;dr going on her, but I think it’s best to say: as mothers, we should support the choices of other mothers, while still being aware of the studies and information that’s available to us. I think lactivism should be less about, “Let me tell you about all the things I bet you didn’t know about formula!” to mothers who have already chosen to formula feed and do not want the information, and much more about reaching out/offering support to women who are expecting or having trouble breastfeeding because of the way that society undermines their efforts.

    And no point do I think any family using formula should be made to feel bad about it.

  18. I think the studies are helpful, even if they make me feel like a heel. After all, I don’t believe we should hide valuable information from people in order to protect our feelings and egos. And I say this as a formerly-pregnant lady who basically lived off of Skittles and chocolate donuts.

    You said — it’s hard not to take that a little personally. Even though it’s not really about us at all. — and that’s the problem we need to work on. I think it’s natural to take everything we read, learn, and encounter and apply it back to our own experiences. It’s how we understand the world.

    But I wouldn’t want to censor scientific studies or information in defense of my ego. I can take it. We all should be able to. After all, we are all just doing the best we can. What more can we ask?
    Jo’s last post … With a little help from my friendsMy Profile

  19. I have a friend who is 47 and has never eaten fruits and vegetables. Her lunches are always small amounts of junk food and her one conession during pregnancy was one-diet coke a day. Of course she gave birth easily to 2 stunningly healthy children, now both stunningly healthy teenages.

    Not everything applies to everyone and every situation. There are far too many variables. As my computer friend likes to say – it’s a highly complex alogrithm of factors.

    Sidenote: We really have no idea what Theo’s birthmom ate during pregnancy and you know I bottle fed.

    Next point: There are too many studies and too many opinions out there. Sometimes, you have to trust yourself and plow head.
    harriet Fancott’s last post … Giving ThanksMy Profile

  20. Amber, I’ve said it before and I will say it again – you’re one of those people who lactivists should listen to and aspire to be like, if they truly care about women and want to make a difference. You have the uncanny ability to be both empathetic and impartially analytical, and it’s a rare and truly special gift.

    This post is BEAUTIFUL. I also saw that article and immediately drew parallels. It’s funny, b/c I always think of myself as someone who did pregnancy so “right” the first time around – after a few miscarriages, I was really paranoid and did everything by the books. And I still ended up with a growth-restricted baby and barely any fluid left by the time I had an emergency induction (when I was aiming for a “natural” birth, no interventions) at 38 weeks. Plus. then I find out after the fact that all the anxiety and worry and stress I felt could have caused him more harm than anything. Lovely.

    So, this time around, I had a different mentality. I drank coffee. I worked out. I jumped on trampolines with my son while my daughter was cooking in my womb. I refused to worry or feel stress, just wanted to enjoy the pregnancy and chillax. And it turns out I have a condition called HUA which strikes – wait for it – .03% of all pregnancies. Like a totally freak thing. And a few other placental/cord abnormalities, most often associated with smokers/drinkers/drug addicts. Again, lovely. Just lovely. And of course I read that article and think, holy crap, my kids are both gonna have heart disease, b/c while I wasn’t undernourished, my stupid body can’t keep them properly sustained in utero, so it probably has the same outcome, where all the nutrients that are getting to them go to the brain… sigh.

    Anyway. That was kind of a rant, but the main point I want to make is that I agree that these studies are interesting and I’m in favor of them being done for the sake of scientific progress, but as a few PPs have mentioned, I worry that most of lay-society doesn’t understand enough about science and research to really “get” what these findings actually mean in a relative risk sense, or to fully comprehend correlation vs causation. And when researchers overstate their findings to get media attention, things can get out of control. I think our role as mothers and activists is to do what you’ve done here – step back, take a moment, and really think how we would feel if it were us in that particular “risk group”, and see how we can use the research in a responsible, accurate way to support fellow moms.
    Fearless Formula Feeder’s last post … Hark! The most blatantly misinterpreted formula feeding study- ever!My Profile

  21. There is a new study out every single day ….thanks to the PR machines of the Universities. It doesn’t give us a big picture makes us mostly reactionary…a ‘oh my god’ reaction instead of looking at ourselves, our lifestyles etc.

    Big picture for breeding and raising a healthy child is based on genes and then environment, diet and lifestyle.

    So yes…education and income levels AND where you are in the world..that all comes into play.

    But I think those of us at the top of the heap so to speak…ie we are lucky enough to have the PRIVILEGE of worrying about diet and lifestyle end up perhaps worrying TOO much about it all.

    Hence then the guilt and the pressure.

    Hence the defensiveness. Most educated women don’t like the implication that we are less mothers than others due to our choice to drink coffee while pregnant or formula feed.

    All of us need to be able to look at the big picture….are we living healthy active lives that allow us to raise healthy active children?

    If we breast feed…are we eating the right foods?
    If we formula feed are we using the right one and pressuring the companies to ensure THEY are making a healthy and safe product for us to use.

    For those passionate about their dislike of formula…are we looking at why and what areas of women are uncomfortable with bfing…..? Is it a social thing is it a work thing is it a trust in the product or lack of support with the REALITY of breast feeding.

    Because honestly….if I with a huge support group, midwives providing all sorts of help with my breast milk and feeding STILL could not hack it…how is a say a single mom on a fixed income with only the worry about getting the rent paid going to manage?

    Yes…we are all supposed to breast feed and if there was no choice a lot of us would probably be breastfeeding to this day….but the choice is there… we just have to manage the quality of the product and how it is managed and NOT be all judgy and not make moms defensive.

    For all the moms who felt judged for bfing in public…. I can guarantee there are double those who felt judged for bringing out a bottle. …specially here in Canada.
    Crunchy’s last post … Q &amp A with Proctor &amp Gamble Canada on Sustainability and the FutureMy Profile

    • “But I think those of us at the top of the heap so to speak…ie we are lucky enough to have the PRIVILEGE of worrying about diet and lifestyle end up perhaps worrying TOO much about it all.”

      I love this point. That is all. 🙂

  22. First of all, it’s funny the article was written by a male writer. I haven’t read the article yet, so I don’t know how the tone was, but my first impression was that even though it was mostly facts, there was some of his own opinion. Am I wrong?

    I do feel my choices are/were my decisions, and I stand by them. If anyone close to me had a different approach to their parenting styles, that’s great, and they’re entitled to it. But I do my best and just because someone tells me, well I do it this way and we’re fine… blah blah blah… I get so annoyed with those comments. I chose not to drink. I don’t smoke, but I chose to steer clear of smokers (or at least away from the smoke clouds), and even after labor, I chose to live my life for my baby. Not me.

    I think people make decisions for many different reasons. It’s an interesting theory about what you eat and what you or your child become. But like you, I did not crave veggies. In fact, I lived off of bagels and cream cheese for just about 3-4 months. Then near the end of my pregnancy I ate cereal, at least 3 times a day. Large bowls too.

    I don’t know how someone could make you feel anyone could have harmed their baby, although I do feel that if a mother isn’t concerned about their babies health, I’d questioned that mothers decisions.

    I don’t consider myself the type of person who judges. But maybe I do. Just a little. Or maybe I judge myself too much and I try to view myself through other peoples eyes and it comes off as if I am judging them? I think studies are just that. People judging other people, and then it lets us debate and judge them. Or not. =)
    Sara’s last post … Doing the GauntletMy Profile

  23. I completely sympathize. You gotta do what you gotta do! Especially if you have puking involved! Your children look happy and healthy to me!

    I read a book on ADHD that got me very upset. It targetted stress during pregnancy as possibly causing “delayed development” of the impulse-manager areas of the brain. Well don’t that make ME feel fan-stinkin-tastic as a mom of an ADHD boy?! Yes I had a stressful pregnancy, but it couldn’t be helped. I was laid off from work way before the mat leave should have started, and we were really struggling to make ends meet. And with my second pregnancy I was in a boring job and ended up leaving early for pregnancy complications reasons. The second is less hyper but also ADD. I got turned inside out reading the book. Did I doom my child to a dificult life?! It felt like I had jabbed sharp objects into my womb or something!

    My doctor said the trauma of quitting caffeine cold-turkey was likely more stressful on the babies than the caffeine itself (but to keep it realistic at about 2 cups a day). And I was thankful for that being a happy coffee drinker and chocolate lover. I beleive that my body was able to tell me what it needed during pregnancy. I ate a LOT of mince meat and hot pickled peppers (not together) and steered clear of oysters florentine. I craved things that I don’t usually even think about, and shyed away from some regular favourites. It was beyond my control… I can’t feel guilty about that, and I don’t think you should either.

    *** I should clarify that ADHD does run in my husband’s family, so the stress during pregnancy may have been completely irrelevant, but it was still a kick in the teeth to read that.
    *pol’s last post … A Wonderful BreakMy Profile

  24. I agree with much of what Crunchy said above.

    In my field (Speech-Language Pathology), there is a lot of research flying around about the causes of disorders and why some of them seem to be on the rise. (Autism would be an example, and with that I’ve probably opened up a huge can of worms, but there you go…) Research points to a child having a certain genetic predisposition for a particular disorder, but then there may be an environmental toxin (or several) that helps “switch on” the characteristics. But what counts as an “environmental toxin?” In my opinion, it could be virtually anything. Junk food consumed by the mother while pregnant? Possibly. But there are so many other things we don’t know about – air quality, microwaves from cell phones, chemicals in our shampoo… who knows? So many factors probably come together – there is just no way we can control these things.

    I’m not saying this to be all scary and paranoid. My point is that studies look at a few variables at most, in a very controlled way. But that’s not real life. Life is a million different variables interacting with each other. And we just have to take what we know, apply it, and do what we can to raise healthy, happy kids.

    I do get a little upset when I read that a choice that I have made (like sleep training, for example) has been shown to have adverse effects. It makes me feel terrible. At first. And then I think, “well, I made that choice consciously and with the best interests of my family in mind.” And then I realize that I probably would have made the same choice even if I HAD read that article, because, at the time, it was the best choice for us. Another example: I know that “back is best” when it comes to young babies and avoiding SIDS. But my daughter refused to sleep that way. So we let her sleep on her side/tummy. Because then we actually all got SOME sleep. As opposed to none.

    It’s great to be armed with information, but not if it makes you feel inadequate, guilty, or paranoid.
    Amanda’s last post … Happy Thanksgiving!My Profile

  25. When I first decided to try to get pregnant, I tried to do everything right. A year before trying to conceive, I quit smoking, lost a lot of weight, started exercising, started eating really healthily. When I conceived, I kept everything up, drank a lot of water, ate the “right” amount of protein and dark leafy greens, was stress-free, blah, blah, blah. Four years and four miscarriages later, I’ve gotten a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Nothing guarantees that you’ll harm your baby, nothing guarantees that you’ll have a healthy baby, nothing guarantees that you can have a baby at all. It turns out I have various medical issues (that are 0% my “fault”) that make it hard for me to keep a pregnancy, and as I continue to try in the midst of that, it doesn’t make sense for me to also beat myself up for my love of Coca-Cola.

    I enjoy reading studies. I think information is great. I rarely like the news reports that come after interesting studies, because they are more likely to cross over into moral sermonizing. As you say, “Pregnant women are still people,” and I think most people have the ability to hear the available information and make the best decisions for themselves.

  26. I disagree a little with the people who say that studies are helpful and necessary whether or not we adjust our lives accordingly, simply because there never seems to be enough information about who is doing the study and what their agenda might be. When it comes to pregnant women, there seems more often than not to be definite agenda which usually has something to do with telling pregnant women what they should or should not do. I had a length conversation with my pharmacist sister about this yesterday; she mentioned a female doctor she knew who, when she became pregnant, started doing extensive research into drug safety during pregnancy and found that many drugs are deemed unsafe in Canada which are deemed safe elsewhere — not because people in Australia love their children less, but because some places just seem to go with an attitude that women should just suck up a whole lot of stuff rather than ever contemplate doing anything that has the smallest risk of hurting the fetus. Sorry this is a bit of a tirade, but I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head, Amber. And amen to the prying my french fries out of your cold dead hands.
    allison’s last post … Something to be Said for Skipping MondaysMy Profile

  27. This hits home with me. I have tons of guilt about my pregnancy choices sometimes, even though I probably did way better than average. I still feel guilty about every non-organic bite of food I put into my mouth, every bowl of ramen I consume between breastfeeding sessions, and the diet sodas and energy drinks I sure as hell am not going to go years without. It’s hard not to take studies personally, even though the perfect food/drink/etc choices are next to impossible in our imperfect, artificially-flavored world.

    I’m also with Nicole – I look at my son, and it’s hard to think I did anything wrong at all. (I also polished off a bottle of wine or two just before finding out I was pregnant.)
    Janine’s last post … Labor story- Baby SebastianMy Profile

  28. There are two things that bother me about these types of studies;
    1. Innocent mice are used as test subjects.
    2. The experiemtns are basically pointless, and paid for using government subsidies (waste of tax dollars)

  29. I love Kathleen’s take on it – that these studies are useful for the informational aspect, but that the media spins them to blame someone, because don’t we *always* need to blame someone for something?!
    The fact of the matter is, no one can do everything perfectly. We will all have shortcomings, and is it healthier to recognize them, make steps to change and/or move on, or to blame ourselves and feel guilty about it for years on end? Like you said Amber, no one parenting is going to ruin our children forever. As long as we’re trying to make thoughtful decisions, chances are everything will turn out fine.
    Dionna @ Code Name: Mama’s last post … Introducing the Natural Parents NetworkMy Profile

  30. The one study that made me feel guilty was the one that says you should room with your baby after he/she is born and have lots of skin-to-skin time. I didn’t know this after the birth of my first baby and while I wanted to have her with me I was also exhausted from not sleeping for 2 days straight and I thought “If I can get sleep while I’m in the hospital then I’ll be good to go when we get home.” Then my daughter ended up having signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder at a very young age and some of her behaviours fit the “symptoms” (for the lack of a better word) of not having lots of skin-to-skin in the first couple days. And I had a somewhat stressful pregnancy, which also made me feel bad for contributing to any cause of my daughter’s behavioural and social challenges. But while these findings made me feel awful and I still feel guilty to this day! they also empowered me with knowledge that I used the second time around. And I think all the advocacy work I do for breastfeeding, co-sleeping and home birthing is all about getting the parent’s attention for the second or third child. Because who reads parenting blogs before they have kids? I sure didn’t. Some awesome pro-active women do but I think they are in the minority.
    Melodie’s last post … Finding Balance Amidst ChangeMy Profile

  31. We just have to do the best we can, with the best information we have. I was a 100% formula fed baby myself, which was common at the time. It was supposed to be healthier, more nutritious. I never had a childhood ear infection, rarely got sick, no childhood food allergies – all those troubles that breast milk are supposed to protect you from. Some of it is just luck. With different information available today, I choose to breastfeed my own babies – not for as long as you did, but it worked out for us and the kids have been healthy so far.
    Lady M’s last post … Wuv- True WuvMy Profile

  32. Well… I’m 31 weeks pregnant and highly stressed. Some of it was already going to happen (like finishing my dissertation while caring for a toddler and my daughter’s health emergencies and hospitalization), but much came as a result of this unexpected pregnancy (buying a larger house that turned into a fixer-upper nightmare, moving, and trying to rent out/sell our old house). That’s all I need now is to add to my stress by worrying about how stressed I am and how my poor baby is going to be messed up for life…

    Sometimes my mom may be right–less information is actually easier.

    Most moms I know are doing the best they can (myself included) and deserve a break. Hopefully this article and posting can help us realize this. And I still love an occasional cherry Coke or piece of chocolate. 🙂

  33. thank you so much for this post-I am SO OVER all the mommy guilt for everything I do-we really are trying the best that we can, the majority of us anyway :), without these silly articles stressing us out even more!
    Jenn’s last post … Remembering to BreatheMy Profile

  34. I’m not indignant about the latest finds of medical research. It’s research, and it should be taken for just that. Thank goodness for countries that still invest money and resources in research! The rights of unborn children are a complex issue.
    Francesca’s last post … Corner View greenMy Profile

  35. >>How do you react when a study suggests that you have in some way harmed your child?

    Nearly everything I read after my first c-section pointed to all the things I did “wrong” to cause the cascade of interventions leading to the c-section. I read women who felt guilty about their c-section and wondered if I too should feel guilty or like I failed. When I was pregnant the second time, I decided, however, to stop reading the studies, blog posts, and message boards and take from them what I did wrong, but instead to take from them what I could try to do BETTER the next time. I focused on all I did “right” and all that was good with my birth, and what would be good with my 2nd birth.

    Of course, turns out I had another c-section, even though I’d prepared even MORE for a natural birth the second time around…

    Such is life.

    The good thing is that I felt, with all the reseach I’d done, even that which made me feel… guilty?…. helped me to take ownership of my choices, and helped me heal. What could have been guilting was empowering. Yes, I had many interventions both times, but I did the best I could at the time with the information I had at the time.

    And just because I had two intervention-laden medicalized c-section births doesn’t mean I didn’t birth, but also doesn’t mean I didn’t strive for and now advocate for natural births. In fact, I feel the places I’ve been help me to speak even more strongly for natural birthing, at the same time being able to be empathetic and understanding when things don’t go “as planned”.

    >>how can we share information with people, without casting blame for actions that are long over?

    Speak in “I” sentences.

    And then realize that no matter what you say or write (or don’t), you only have control over your own self, not how someone else feels or inteprets what you’ve said.
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … Have a Magical DayMy Profile

  36. Fearless Formula Feeder said: “you’re one of those people who lactivists should listen to and aspire to be like, if they truly care about women and want to make a difference. You have the uncanny ability to be both empathetic and impartially analytical, and it’s a rare and truly special gift.”

    And this is precisely how I feel about your writing as well. It’s a gift.

    But to your question, how do I feel about reading these kinds of studies … I try to be objective: who undertook this study? when? what was the study size? how was the study conducted? etc. I know it sounds skeptical of me, but every day there’s a new study and one can turn almost any numbers around to prove a point. When it comes right down to it, most things cannot be proven absolutely. At least when it comes to maternal health and prenatal health — it’s not like they do double-blind studies on pregnant women. Rats are no substitute for humans and it’s impossible to control a large enough sample size of humans to really have hard solid data. Genetics and environment will always play major roles, not one single solitary factor in a child’s development.

    As my mother has advised me before (and she’s a research scientist), one needs to take the information and then make the best choice for the whole family based on it. It’s more of an art than a science, I’d say.

  37. I’m with you on the kitty litter. Almost worth getting pregnant to have my husband do it for another 9 months. Yeah, we do the best we can with the information we have at that time. I try not to feel guilt for things I didn’t even know. Not that I didn’t know eating poptarts wasn’t the healthiest choice during pregnancy, but it was healthier than not eating anything. So there.
    AmberDusick’s last post … bread &amp butterMy Profile

  38. This is off topic, kinda, but I would be interested to see if our own kids, when they become parents, are better at sifting the information given to them because they are used to getting bombarded with information. Will they trust themselves more, both because we have raised them to and because they don’t believe in “experts” – because their world is made up of billions of people with blogs who claim to know the truth and the kids themselves are experts at navigating it.

    I refuse to feel guilt about anything I have done w/r/t childbearing & the early years (I’m up to 4 years so far!) because I did make the best decisions I could at the time. And I trust myself. And I have people around me who support me and my decisions. So I guess that’s how I would recommend helping people accept information without taking it personally. Support their decisions, help them trust themselves and their own ability to parent their own children. Which you already do, with this blog. There should be more like you.

  39. this image could be the fantastic! swift sterling payday loans
    sterling loans’s last post … sterling loansMy Profile

I love comments! If yours doesn't appear immediately, it was caught by my spam filter. Drop me a line and I'll rescue it.


  1. […] general: If your child is healthy, and it’s working for you, that’s all that matters. No further explanation is required. If you have the sort of kid who likes to sleep in a crib, that’s all right. If you have the […]

  2. […] computer, sputtering and vaguely ill, I thought that this must be what a mother feels like when her decisions around breastfeeding or childbirth are called into question. Especially because, so often, when other people pass judgment […]

  3. […] true that when you’re pregnant the choices you make can impact your baby. This is why I made some lifestyle changes when I was pregnant myself. For instance, I stopped […]

Share Your Thoughts


Subscribe to followup comments

CommentLuv badge