Anti-ScienceGuest BloggersParentingScienceSkepticism

Guest Post: Science-Based Pregnancy

Rei Dunn contacted us about her experiences trying to take a skeptical look at the process of getting pregnant. She had such a great set of stories to tell that we asked her to contribute a guest post! Rei is a clinical psychologist in California who specializes in sexual health and behavior, severe mental illness, and incarcerated populations. For fun, she reads, goes to the beach, exercises, and exasperates her spouse. Her baby is due in December.

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A world of woo opened before my eyes when I decided that I wanted to get pregnant. Being a science-minded lady woman, I take this choice very seriously, and wanted to do it with the best information and resources possible. Fifteen minutes on the Internet, however, slammed me with what I can only call the Pregnancy Industrial Complex (PIC)- a fear-mongering, pink-and-blue, stork-trimmed tidal wave of websites with confusing, conflicting information.

Don’t dye your hair. Tap water is a government conspiracy to kill fetuses and reduce global population. Don’t eat soft cheese or fish or you will DIE! Take vitamins, but don’t get hypervitaminosis! Don’t clean out the litter box – your cat is trying to KILL YOU (I already knew that).

Seriously? What does science say about healthy pregnancy?  I am determined to wade through the hype to and find the best science available for incubating my fetus.

Hair Dye

Hair dye is commonly eschewed by the PIC based on the proposition that it’s absorbed through the skin and thereby causes fetal malformations.  Studies as recent as 2005 show a small relationship between hair dye and neuroblastoma (cancerous tumors common in children under five).  Studies of actual cosmetologists working 40 hours a week during their first trimester indicate that increased risk had many confounding factors, such as working in poorly ventilated salons and working in salons that also did nail services. Risk disappeared for women working fewer hours who did few chemical treatments. However, most studies show no correlation at all for hair dye and increased fetal malformation, low birth weight, or early onset of labor. Most general-information websites, like the American Pregnancy Association, suggest caution when applying hair dye, by following the directions carefully and rinsing it thoroughly, and waiting until after the first trimester if you want to play it super-safe.

Drinking Tap Water

Did you know that tap water (dramatic chord, cue thunder and lightning) is chlorinated? All conspiracy theories aside about chlorination being part of a government conspiracy for population control, chlorine does break down upon ingestion into trihalomethanes (THMs), one of which is chloroform.  The University of Birmingham presents a study of 396,049 infants in Taiwan and found a correlation between some birth defects and water with high levels of THMs, which they say is 20 micrograms per liter. The EPA permits 80 parts per billion of THMs in tap water, indicating that well-regulated drinking water is just fine.

One alternative to tap water is bottled water, and despite bottled water companies touting that they are held to the same standards as tap water, many independent tests show this sometimes not to be the case. To be fair, independent tests often show tap water to be outside of the EPA’s parameters.  Still, bottled water generally has just as much chlorine as tap water, maintaining the risk if the THMs are high. More, bottled water often doesn’t have fluoride, which can be helpful for pregnant women in preventing pregnancy-induced gingivitis, which can happen when your fetus re-directs the nutrition that keeps your gums and teeth healthy.

Another alternative is well water, though well water generally has far fewer regulations than tap water and can only be considered on a well-by-well basis for its safety.

For the bottom line, tap water that is well-regulated, and not stinky or discolored, is just fine.

This isn't creepy at all...
Source: Wildbox.com

Prenatal vitamins

I take prenatal vitamins. The first day I did, I was having a bear of a day at work and when I finally got a potty break, I sat down, closed my eyes to rest while I went pee… and when I opened my eyes again, the stall was visibly brighter. My pee was auto-fluorescing, making a glowing halo around my tookus. Maybe they should be called pee-natal vitamins…geeeet it?

In my pre-pregnancy exam, my ob-gyn and her intern recommended I take prenatal vitamins with folic acid, iron, and calcium, and most internet information sources substantiate this, and also recommend D, C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin E, zinc and iron. But are prenatal vitamins actually necessary? It depends.  Even if you’re a vegetarian and planning your pregnancy, anyone who is good at calculating your nutrition with the food that you eat, and are able to manage your portions of leafy greens, fruit, and protein to meet the recommended intake, you probably don’t need to take vitamins. That person is not me, though. I have a wonky work environment and schedule, I am throwing up everything I eat due to “morning sickness,” and honestly, I’m just anxious, so I do the vitamins and day-glow pee.

The risks of poor nutrition are real. Folic acid prevents spina bfida, when the neural tube doesn’t close and causes paralysis and mental retardation. Calcium prevents pregnant women from losing their bone density and prevents dental problems from their fetus re-routing their nutrition when there’s not enough. You need enough iron to allow for your blood and your fetus’s blood to carry enough oxygen. Again, a well-planned diet will get you and your fetus enough of these things. Conversely, if you take too many vitamins, you can get “hypervitaminosis,” or vitamin toxicity, particularly in A, D, E and K.  In mild forms, hypervitaminosis results in nausea – think if you’ve ever taken a vitamin on an empty stomach, you ralph it back up. Toxicity is severe, and includes dizziness, drowsiness, blurred or double vision, pain and swelling in your bones, and liver damage.  Managing overdose includes being careful of extra things you’re eating in addition to your vitamins, like, if you eat several bowls of fortified cereal a day. Choosing to take vitamins really comes down to your personal dietary and planning skills, lifestyle, and managing good nutrition for your fetus.

Don’t eat….

Let’s start with fish. Everyone says “don’t eat fish,” and the issue with fish is that some kinds of mercury can cause birth defects in the nervous system of a fetus. A fish absorbs mercury through water, soil and atmosphere, and when you eat it, you absorb all of the mercury from that fish, which adds to whatever mercury you’re already harboring (this is called biomagnification). Avoiding fish high in mercury such as swordfish, mackerel, and tilefish, reduces this risk. Fishy options with less mercury are shrimp, crab, salmon, Pollock, catfish, cod and tilapia. Raw is a definite don’t, and smoked often isn’t thoroughly cooked to removed the possible presence of scary bacteria that can make you seriously sick- more on that next.

Cheese is so friendly, though!
Source: NataleeDee.Com

So cheese. I love cheese. The stinkier the better. I love cheese so much, I tell my partner “I love you more than cheese.” Hearing I couldn’t eat soft cheese while pregnant was devastating. The issue with cheese is pasteurization. Unpasteurized cheese has a risk of having listeria in it, bacteria that if you eat when you’re not pregnant, you’ll just get sick. If you contract listeria while pregnant, it is usually fatal to a fetus. Cheeses that are usually made from raw milk are brie, feta, Roquefort and gorgonzola, and queso blanco and panela. If you can find pasteurized versions, they would be safer. The FDA labels food made with pasteurized milk, so check the label.

Raw foods in general (and not just meat) require some caution due to risk of listeria, E. coli, and salmonella, which can cause premature birth, miscarriage, fever in the fetus, and meningitis in the fetus. Raw juice from the store or trendy juice bars require caution, and so do raw vegetables, particularly sprouts, clover, alfalfa, radishes, and mung beans. The bacteria from raw vegetables and fruits can give you diarrhea, but also your fetus can get diarrhea. Really. Fetal diarrhea. Diarrhea diarrhea diarrhea. How horrible is that?

Raw meat and deli meats are also happy homes for listeria. Undercooked or over-easy eggs, delicious hollandaise sauce, tiramisu, real Caesar salad dressing, all harbor salmonella risks. Cooking food thoroughly and using meat thermometers mitigate most of this risk.

Don’t Drink…

Avoiding booze may seem like a no-brainer, and the idea of giving up caffeine may seem impossible. The funny thing is, since becoming pregnant and declining alcohol at social gatherings, I’m surprised at the number of people who say “Oh, go on and have a sip!” I expected murderous glares from so much as looking at a glass of wine longingly. So.  Most pregnancy information sites on the Internet will tell you that “no amount of alcohol is safe”; however, there is less risk in consuming small amounts of alcohol in the third trimester. Recent studies suggest that the risk from occasionally drinking small amounts of alcohol is low in late-term pregnancies.  Should you drink? No.  Are you going to forever regret a taste or sip in your later months? Probably not.

Caffeine is far more difficult to give up, because it’s everywhere- coffee, soda, chocolate, tea, and energy drinks. Also when you’re pregnant, you can be easily fatigued and caffeine is tempting. Caffeine is recommended by most sources to be limited to 200 mg a day, which is about twelve ounces of coffee. Sweet.

Don’t clean the litter box (or, Your cat is trying to kill you)

This cat wants you and your family dead
Source: American Humane Society

It’s probably true that your cat is trying to kill you. As for the litter box, when I heard that pregnant women shouldn’t change the litter box, I was stoked.  The risk is from toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that animals pick up from catching rodents outside. Indoor cats have a much lower risk, but still can get it from eating undercooked meat given to it as a treat.  You can get toxoplasmosis independent of a cat, if you eat undercooked meat, or hunt rodents with your bare hands and teeth. Anyway. If cats ingest toxoplasmosis, the toxoplasmosis eggs come out in the cat’s poop and hatch after five days, making that when the risk to a pregnant person the highest.  If your cat gets in the litter box and then scratches you, or you somehow you get cat poop in your mouth after hatching time (which is a whole other issue, because why are you touching your mouth when changing the litter box!? But anyway), it’s fatal to your fetus and will make you very, very sick.

The most important thing is that during pregnancy, the litter has to be changed LESS THAN EVERY FIVE DAYS to avoid this rare but lethal risk. My beau still insists on changing it for me, and I’m very appreciative. If you know a pregnant woman who lives alone and has a cat, changing their litter box would be a very nice thing to do to help out and keep her safe.

Sources:

It was hard to find sources that are consumers of research. The following sources are the ones I use, after fishing through a sea of woo:

www.MayoClinic.Com

www.americanpregnancy.org

www.otispregnancy.org/

www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/pregnancy_gateway/index.html

http://health.nih.gov/topic/Pregnancy

 

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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51 Comments

  1. This was a great article. When my mother got pregnant with my little brother I was enlightened to the entire world of woo that goes with conceiving a child (she swears that she couldn’t have gotten pregnant without acupuncture and that she chose the sex of the child by eating “male” foods).

  2. After you have the baby there will be another sea of woo, complete with competing schools of thought. You’ll find the attachment parenting and the sleep training schools at odds. You will be urged to teach your child a foreign language and sign language. Swim lessons and music lessons are available for children as early as 3 months. So much woo!

    1. I’m not really seeing the woo in all of that. The period when children learn their first language is the best time for them to learn any language, so exposing them to a foreign language is certainly a legitimate thing to do. As far as sign language, that allows (albeit limited) communication with children before they’re able to speak. Swim lessons for children at 3 months definitely not woo either- at that age, they teach the child to roll onto their back and float should they fall into water in order to prevent them from drowning. I don’t know anything about the music lessons, apart from hearing briefly that classical music is supposed to enhance children’s learning, but I’ve never heard reason for this and there’s a possibility that it is woo. Everything else though, unless there’s something to all of them that I’ve never heard about, no. They may(may) be cases of parents attempting to turn their children into overly high achievers, but that doesn’t make these things woo.

      Anyways, as far as the article, I was sort of expecting to see more false myths disproved along with the true ones explained, but for what it covered it was good.

      Oh, and thanks for giving me more reasons to avoid having children! No brie or hair dye OR cat parasites? I think I’ll stick with my cat. And her parasites.

      1. I was surprised about that too. I thought SURELY, most of these were ridiculous. I especially wanted the cheese to be ridiculous. Unfortunately, almost anything carries some amount of risk, though often really REALLY small — like with tap water.

  3. My wife and I are planning on trying to get her pregnant pretty soon, so having an article come out at this time is very much appreciated. I’m not very familiar with places to look for pregnancy info beyond our OB-GYN, so having a starting place for science based information is a godsend (as it were).

  4. As I’m due in a few weeks, I appreciate the post.

    A note about cheese. Most of the raw milk cheeses are required to be aged 60 days or longer, which really reduces the risk of catching something bad from eating cheese.

    Full disclosure: I’m biased towards research that supports me eating hard cheeses in pregnancy. As in I have a STAMP that says “I love you more than cheese!”

    1. In the US, it is actually illegal to import or sell raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days, so any brie or feta you find will always be pasteurized unless you’re buying on the black market.

      Even in (civilized) countries where young raw milk cheeses are available, they are getting increasingly hard to find and it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be eating one by accident. Most of the big brie/camembert manufacturers in France, for example, have been backing away from raw milk because it is very difficult to maintain the necessary sanitation at high production levels.

      Though he is a biased source, Jeffrey Steingarten noted in The Man Who Ate Everything that there is only one known incident of food poisoning from raw milk cheese, which was caused by some black market queso blanco in Southern California. It is likely that the resultant salmonella was more due to a lack of sanitation (since it was produced illegaly) than it was due to being raw milk cheese per se.

      Anyone with contrary evidence is welcome to present it, of course, but as far as I can tell the dangers of raw milk cheese are a mythology perpetuated by overzealous food regulators. Perhaps they are confused by the very real dangers of drinking raw milk?

  5. I remember, back when I was trying to get pregnant (before I entered into the crazy woo that comes with an infertility diagnosis) learning about folic acid. Apparently the benefit of folic acid in greatly reducing the risks of neural tube defects occurs in extremely early pregnancy,typically before the woman knows she is pregnant. The doctor recommended taking folic acid for all women of childbearing age who might become pregnant. Just thought I would throw that out there.

    1. That’s a good point. However, if you are planning a pregnancy, you start taking prenatal vitamins and the such during the “getting pregnant” phase, making it relevant.

      I’ve heard the same thing, that doctors throw out folic acid for all women just in case of pregnancy, however, I couldn’t find any rates for such recommendation. Almost all of the articles, like this one (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(01)07104-5/fulltext) indicate that the folic acid intake would be for planned or unplanned pregnancy.

        1. This is why in some countries they fortify (or are trying to fortify) more foods, such as bread, with folilc acid. The health care costs and morbidity+mortality costs would Be HUGE!

          But then you get into arguments about “nanny states” and some scientists are worried about increased cancer growth speed. This data is not super strong though, and some cost-benefit arguments show reducing neural tube defects (there are a couple of defects, not just spina bifida) would outweigh the maybe slight increased risk of increased cancer growth.

          Interesting issue, was one of the better ethics and epidemiology/nutrition discussions at med school. (although this is all memory so feel free to call me out if things are wrong/have changed.)

  6. My wife is pregnant, and my alarming (to her) love of not science and general knowledge led me to look up a lot of this stuff for her too. As far as caffeine goes, the only research I could find raised the warning flag around 200mg/day, or basically a small cup of coffee is the cut off. That means my wife can reasonable enjoy the occasional cup of tea, or even a cola without too much guilt.

    A decent read, especially for light reading is Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies. I haven’t double checked everything, but the few studies I looked up seem alright. And a lot better then a lot of preganancy books out there.

  7. The foreign language thing is woo in this way: for a child to become bilingual, she must be raised with two languages in large doses, such as having one language at home and one in the community or parents who speak different languages. Also, the use of both languages must continue on a regular basis into adulthood. Learning a foreign language is easiest before puberty, but doesn’t necessarily have to happen in infancy. So, adding in the occasional “es una vaca” during playtime makes little or no difference.

    I guess my issue is that not teaching children sign language, French, etc is seen as negligent these days. I find it hard to locate information about child rearing that doesn’t have an agenda or a product to sell. Maybe I’m just crap at being a parent and am thus overreacting to advice and seeing it as overwhelming rather than as helpful for people who are good at parenting already.

    On a related note: what are your thoughts on cord-blood banking? Is it a scam or a reasonable practice?

    1. I wouldn’t say so. I’m half-heartedly (yes, I admit it) teaching my kids English alongside their native language. Although don’t actually speak “English”, the older one happily “chats in English”, which means that she mimicks sound patterns and rythm perfectly.

    2. Cord blood banking is a scam- unless you have a prior child with a condition that necessitates banking. Otherwise, the incidence of diseases requiring cord blood for treatment is so low that it almost always results in a waste of money. And purely selfishly, they’re a pain to collect ;)

    3. I’ll agree. True bilingualism occurs when a child uses two different language as yo describe — one at home and one outside the home, for instance, or some combination like that.

      THat said, my own mother was very insistent that I learn French as a child. French, in fact, was the first language I learned (we were living in Paris then, when I was a baby/toddler). That did give me a leg up later on learning stuff in class, even though I “forgot” French entirely. And it did give me the ability to spot patterns and learn foreign languages more easily generally, I think.

      But it’s true, the younger you start the better.

    4. Insisting that parents do certain things is a dick move, yes, but teaching babies sign language is pretty helpful, even just from a practical stand point. They can more easily communicate with you from an earlier age, and that’s proven, I think. But I think it’s up to the parents to decide if they want or need that. And it’s not like you have to teach them fluent sign language to get benefits; just teaching them to indicate when they are hungry, or thirsty, or tired, or whatever, could be very helpful.

      I’m less inclined to believe that teaching another type of foreign language is as helpful or practical, though. But some parents might think so, and I don’t see it as harmful, so whatever.

      Insisting that others do these things Or Else is still shitty.

  8. It seems like part of the problem for finding evidence-based answers is simply a lack of research. This paper, (“The second wave: Toward responsible inclusion of pregnant women in research” by Lyerly, Little, and Faden http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2747530/) covers current problems with knowing what medications are safe for use in pregnancy. Clinical researchers are reluctant to include pregnant women in studies out of concern for a risk of fetal harm, to the point that very few medications are FDA-approved for use during pregnancy. Yet pregnant women don’t stop having conditions that would normally be treated with medications, or as the paper puts it: “Pregnancy is not a prophylaxis against medical illness.”

    They specifically call out depression and asthma as conditions that are often undertreated out of fear of harming the fetus, even though both conditions can cause significant harm to both the woman and the fetus when not controlled properly. In other words, a doctor may tell a woman to discontinue use of her inhaler during her pregnancy fearing that it could hurt the fetus, when the asthma itself may actually pose the larger risk if it’s not being controlled.

    These are complicated issues, and I can’t blame researchers and doctors for being cautious, whether we’re talking about medications, food, or cleaning the litter box. But at a certain point, “better safe than sorry” starts to interfere with living your life and in some cases, could be a harmful attitude by itself. We need to do more research in these areas so we can really have evidence-based answers.

    1. ^ Speaking of, I remember reading that it’s been found to be more risky to the fetus for a pregnant person with asthma to stop taking medication while pregnant than to continue with their prescribed meds.

      This issue is relevant to me as, since I have moderate persitant asthma, I likely will never not need at least some of the five daily meds I currently take to keep my breathing under control (including 3 inhaled meds and two pills – six meds if you count my birth control, but really the lack-of-PMS-flaring that causes is more of a happy side-effect than the point of it). And having experienced how horrible my breathing is unmedicated, I have zero intention of ever stopping my meds again.

    2. Exactly. It really speaks to how much risk is there, and if there is risk, what does it entail so that I can make an educated decision about accommodation of a pregnancy. I can live without highlights, and surprisingly, I can live without soft cheese.

      A lot of this comes with being a cultural Rorscach when you become pregnant for all of other people’s anxieties and phobias (and, my own). Being knowledgeable abotu issues like hair dye or tap water is useful to combat all of the woo people throw at you, usually in an attempt to be considerate and helpful and keep you safe.

    3. In my experience, it’s usually non-OB physicians who are nervous about prescribing meds in pregnancy. If your OB is not willing to rx an albuteral inhaler you should think about a second opinion. Additionally, there are great resources out there to get accurate data about prescription drugs in pregnancy. States tend to have their own state sponsored programs that will completely research a medication and send patients and their doctors complete studies and summaries regarding safety in pregnancy. I’m mainly familiar with my state’s services but they are affiliated with the national site OTIS: http://www.otispregnancy.org/

      It’s a good starting point and a quick glance through the site seems like good info is offered.

  9. I just had a baby girl and encountered my fair share of woo during pregnancy as well. Some of it is too embarrassing to repeat. I also have an advanced degree in child development which has armed me pretty well against all the mis-information out there. What’s difficult is that some of the woo is rooted in science but poorly interpreted. For example, the idea that teaching baby signs increases your baby’s IQ is rooted in a study showing a correlation between them, but the correlation is most likely explained by a self-selecting group of parents who use baby signs with their infants. It also doesn’t accelerate language learning. Nevertheless, signing with your baby can help them communicate with you sooner and what’s cuter than a little baby signing “milk!”? Babies do have a reflex that makes them hold their breath when they’re pulled underwater. I’m not sure that means they need swim lessons though. And the reflex disappears after a few months.

    Is that belly picture photoshopped?

    1. I took our oldest to “baby-swimming” and it was great fun. It was not about teaching them “swimming”, but to have fun together in the water.
      Of course it trained their movement and muscles and coordination, but so does every kind of playing with them.
      So, if you strip it of “must-do-woo” I think it’s a great thing for parents and babies

  10. I’m a little disappointed, I was hoping for actual citations for specific points, so that I could assess the validity of the original research (you know, to be skeptical).

    For example, toxoplasmosis: What are the effects if one becomes infected? (My understanding is it’s unknown).

    “Undercooked or over-easy eggs … harbor salmonella risks”: My understanding is that only a small proportion (hearsay, hearsay)of eggs harbour salmonella in the first place. What is the risk you are citing? What are the risks from lunch meat, soft cheeses, etc.?

    Alcohol: Dan Savage, in The Kid considered not adopting a specific child because the mother drank moderately until she discovered she was pregnant (5 months). He claimed to have done some research and discovered that the risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Spectrum Disorders, is significantly reduced if the mother is not binge drinking, and that the abstinence message was promulgated for public health reasons: that some women would drink more than they intended, and cross a threshold. This article seems to corroborate that (though I can’t find the original source). However sites like this contradict this with no direct citation: “The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure occur on a continuum. Rather than an issue of a threshold, an amount that women can safely consume with zero risk, alcohol during pregnancy is an issue of dose-response.”

    I have had difficulty finding quantitative, well-cited resources which address this laundry list of common-knowledge pregnancy risks. Your hair-dye and water sections give me exactly the information I seek, but the rest might as well be a list from the grocery store checkout. I need to continue looking for some real sources to understand what I can trust.

    Also most of your links at the bottom are broken.

    1. Timmyson,

      Toxoplasmosis infection effects: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001661/ and in a fetus: http://www.webmd.com/baby/toxoplasmosis

      While a “small” percentage of eggs, vegetables, and meats and cheeses do carry listeria, salmonella, and e coli, it’s an issue of risk-benefit and informed choice- the application of skepticism. As I stated,
      listeria infection is usually fatal to a fetus, and e coli can cause a fetus to have severe diarrhea, so it comes to one’s choice about how much the are okay with the risk, and how much cheese/meat/raw stuff they eat, versus just cooking it.

      Similarly with alcohol and caffiene. It’s on a continuum. It’s about a woman being educated and comfortable on that continuum if you choose to drink. I can’t think of an ethical way to do a study on humans with enough participants to get a good sample of the dose-dependant effects of alcohol.

  11. This is a very minor point, but when you discuss the risks of tap water, aren’t micrograms per litre and parts per billion equivalent units (since 1 litre weighs a kilogram)? I don’t think this affects your argument though. Sorry to be pedantic ;)

    1. While we always appreciate constructive criticism, I’m not sure this counts. Any specifics? I know that others have mentioned that a little more detail on the alcohol & cheese section and I’ve asked Rei if she has any specific citations. We may do a follow up on this. Thanks!

  12. Ahh, the woo-woes of pregnancy.
    Thankfully I’m done with all of this, but I remember it too well.
    I miscarried my first regnancy which made me kind of paranoid during the two following ones (which ended well). Of course I wanted to do everything “right”, but I finally had to accept that I would relax or starve to death.
    I had smoked salmon waiting on my table in the maternity ward :)

    1. If you read the correction for that study the confidence intervals all cross 1 (ie not statistically significant). Even in the original uncorrected numbers, the results aren’t consistently significant when you look at the adjusted odds ratio (especially significant because smoking is known to cause growth restriction and you want that controlled for in a study measuring growth restriction).

  13. Regarding Day-Glo / Mountain-Dew colored pee… that’s almost certainly the riboflavin (B2). I had to take just that for about two weeks some time back and that’s the single most common side-effect. Since B2’s pretty harmless and OD’ing on it is almost impossible, spiking someone’s drink with B2 when they’re not looking makes for an interesting practical joke…

      1. To the best of our knowledge, no case of anaphylaxis to riboflavin (vitamin B2) has thus far been reported in the literature.

        Other places report it as exceedingly rare, and B2 is an ingredient in many common soft drinks.

        However, it *is* possible that you might slip B2 to someone who’s allergic. In that case… I did specifically say it was an interesting practical joke. And that’s pretty interesting.

        1. Well you do have a point, that would be interesting.

          I don’t want you to think I was scolding you, just that tampering with another person’s food or drink can be dangerous and possibly illegal.

          I have a friend who thought it would be funny to do the Visine in the drink “joke” from The Wedding Crashers to see if it would really give someone diarrhea. Luckily she asked me first and I happened to hear that it could cause extreme low blood pressure and possible death. Seemed harmless until I heard that and looked into it. Scary.

  14. I thought this was a good review and pretty much in line with my own take on the situation particularly vis a vis vitamins, on which I have a little bit of specialist knowhow.

    Regarding water imputities, why not just buy an activated charcoal tap filter? That takes care of most nasties and the water tastes heaps better.

    My own city is renowned for the poor quality of its water and just about everybody has a filter. Adelaide is supposed to be one of about two ports in the world where ships do not take on water.

  15. Thanks for the article. I’m in the early weeks of my first pregnancy, so I have done the same reading. My skeptical conslusion is not to worry too much about listeria and toxoplasma; the risks are microscopic (har har)… I looked into the statistiscs from the federal food agency in my country and the risk of getting toxoplasmosis from eating high-risk food was, like, less than one in a million. I couldn’t cross a street with that kind of risk threshold!

    So, then, do I enjoy my parma ham? No. Because all my friends are aware that you shouldn’t eat this when pregnant, and I wouldn’t want them to think that I am selfish and irresponsible. (They don’t know that I’m pregnant though, but they will. :))

    Something else that I acually am worried about, even though there are no official guidelines that I know of, is bisphenol A. I tried to read up on this, and it was not so easy but I came to the conclusion that BPA might very well be more dangerous than what was previously thought, so I actually avoid canned foods now (when pregnant).

  16. Ah those silly westerners and their overblown worries about the smallest of things.

    When I was a foetus, my mom ate mostly potatoes, pork and buckwheat, and drank water from a well where people would occasionally find frogs and fish. After I was born, I was bottle-fed with unpasteurised milk. If you listen to westerners too much, you’d think you’d drop dead the moment that stuff reached your mouth, but I’m still alive.

    1. Yes, but the question is how many from your town or area didn’t make it because of these things.

      One death seems inconsequential until you think about one death from food poisoning in this town this month and twelve deaths from an outbreak in a neighboring town the next month and a few more each year from each town and it starts to add up.

      I sometimes think that we are too cautious today, especially with things that may not really help, but we do have a longer and better quality of life for a reason, these things aren’t just made up.

      You have to remember you are coming at this from the biased position of being here to say that these things didn’t kill you; those who didn’t make it aren’t here to state their stories. So in this case living is your privilege.

  17. Yeah I agree with the point of this post, caution to avoid real scientifically proven harms == common sense.

    However your use of the world “privilege” //So in this case living is your privilege.// is ridiculous. Learn what the word means before you throw it around aimlessly just to invalidate someone else’s point.

    Privilege means: “the principle or condition of enjoying special rights or immunities”

    People in countries where the living standard isn’t always so high aren’t privileged to survive. Most people in the world *can’t* avoid all of the especially nasty prenatal risks, so they’re not enjoying privilege when they survive, they’re enjoying LUCK.

    Use the word privilege properly next time please..

    1. I know what the word privilege means and I wasn’t using it incorrectly or to invalidate anyone’s point. It is easy to say that it didn’t kill me so it’s not a big deal but that comes from the condition of being alive, it’s a form of the sharpshooter fallacy.

      I wasn’t being hostile, though I guess it may have come across that way, I was simply pointing out that these things are good even if society exists or even thrives without them.

      As for privilege, it is used (around here anyway) to point out a condition that one is in that affords them advantages over another group without reason beyond the condition itself. I think being alive would qualify though I wouldn’t put it in the same category as those of race, wealth, gender, etc. I was using it as common language but perhaps a better way to put it would be to say who advocates for the dead?

      1. Thing is, I don’t live in a country with high infant mortality. Life expectancy here is 73 years, which, while behind western countries, is still above world average. And the biggest killers around here are cancer and heart disease, not pregnant mothers eating cheese.

        There is healthy caution, and then there is freaking out about things that have a ridiculously tiny chance of ever happening.

  18. Ah, pregnancy woo. So happy to be past all that. And it turns out that with two kids to chase around, I don’t have any time left for baby woo.

    (Baby woo, to me, means antivax, amber necklaces, Baby Einstein, and homeopathic teething tablets. Mommy-and-me baby swim lessons are merely a waste of money – I can turn around in a circle singing “Pop Goes The Weasel” to my daughter at the public pool for free.)

  19. I’m pregnant right now and experiencing all the woo. The babycenter is possibly the worst place on the internet. I remember feeling guilty several times after reading some of the reader comments. Apparently i’m poisoning my baby because I don’t make my own soap, shampoo, and clothing. I think people there believe everything that they read or are told.

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