That old Johnson & Johnson ad campaign said it best: Having a baby changes everything. And that's one of many reasons why pregnancy is such a big deal. The changes to your body, mind, bank account and job status are stressful enough. Add the countless restrictions about what you should or shouldn't eat, what you can or can't do, and now (thanks to the Zika virus) where you should or shouldn't go, and the stress increases exponentially. Let's not even get into how much weight you should or shouldn't gain.
It seems like pregnant women are discouraged from doing just about everything lately. A new study making headlines this week says expecting moms should even think twice about taking Tylenol.
(Tylenol?! He only plays a doctor on TV, but here's what Dr. Cox from "Scrubs" would say about that:)
The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, says taking acetaminophen while pregnant may cause behavioral issues in children as they grow. So even though your head is throbbing from the lack of caffeine and you have pelvic pain so bad you can't walk, don't pop one of those gentle-on-your-morning-sickness-filled-stomach pills because it could cause your child to act out one day. (Which they will do anyway, I guarantee it.)
Yes, there's scientific evidence to back up the study, which isn't the first to show a connection between acetaminophen and behavioral issues. But if you read beyond the headline, you will find the number of affected children isn't that large. While researchers Evie Stergiakouli and George Davey Smith at the University of Bristol in the U.K. studied about 7,800 women and children over seven years, and half of those women admitted to taking acetaminophen at some point during their pregnancy, only 5 percent of those children displayed behavior problems by age 7.
The study failed to take into account some pretty important details, as NPR reports:
The researchers didn't ask women how much of the drug they took, and they didn't ask why they took it. The women who took acetaminophen were somewhat more likely to report that they smoked during their pregnancies, that they drank alcohol and that they suffered from psychiatric illness. When the researchers mathematically factored out those confounding observations, the effect disappeared entirely for some subgroups and was diminished in the others.
(And that story is worth a full read if you want to understand this issue more completely — especially the dynamics of study percentages.)
Recently, another terrifying new warning for pregnant women made headlines — this one about air pollution. Researchers at the University of Oulu in Finland found that women living in areas where air pollution is high are at greater risk of stillbirth. While scientists called for tighter regulations for car exhaust and industrial waste to help solve the problem, they also said pregnant women should consider relocating to greener areas. While we know air pollution is deadly, causing more than 3 million deaths a year, I can't help but wonder just how feasible it is to expect a pregnant woman to move to a new home (or a new city or state) during her pregnancy. And what about pregnant women in places like China and India, which have some of the most polluted air in the world? Do medical professionals expect them to get out of dodge en masse?
The list of restrictions is endless (or at least it seems that way to your baby brain). Pregnant women are advised against traveling to the Rio Olympics and other parts of the world (including Miami) due to the Zika virus and the risk of microcephaly in unborn babies. New Zealand scientists are now warning pregnant women not to take fish oil — a supplement many expecting moms take because it's supposedly good for a baby's brain development. Scientists gave fish oil to rats and were shocked when this happened:
"By the second day of life, almost a third of the baby rats had died," lead researcher Professor Wayne Cutfield from the Liggins Institute told NewsHub New Zealand. "This was an unexpected and fairly dramatic finding. In addition we found that the mothers, after they'd stopped taking the fish oil, three weeks after delivery, they were more insulin-resistant which makes them more diabetes-prone."
However, if you continue reading that story, there's this gem: "Obviously, rats are not humans. Also, it's important to note that the fish oil dose we gave to the rats was higher than doses humans take." In other words, the results of the study don't translate to humans. Now doesn't that take the wind out of those scary sails?
You do you
When I was newly pregnant with my first daughter, I remember having dinner at a French restaurant with my mother-in-law, who is Japanese. As the waiter poured a beautiful Bordeaux, I glumly declined and ticked off other culinary delights no longer allowed on my plate, like sushi and soft cheeses. My mother-in-law scoffed at what she perceived as unnecessary restrictions. Expecting mothers in Japan eat raw fish all the time, she said. And pregnant women in Europe don't consider an occasional small glass of wine off-limits. So why do American women hold themselves to such strict standards, she wondered. It's a good question.
Look, I'm not a doctor nor a scientist. By no means am I offering any medical advice. I'm someone who was fortunate to have had two healthy pregnancies and hasn't completely ruled out the possibility of one more (though it's not likely), so stories like these grab my attention. My only point is this: Read past the headlines, because as the examples above demonstrate, learning the details can change your perspective, if not the entire meaning of the story. The media (of which I'm admittedly a member) likes to use grabby headlines so you'll click, but reading deep into the text can offer key details the headline alone doesn't delve into. And of course, exercise common sense, talk with your doctor and do what you feel is best for you and your baby.