The Rules of the Game

Week 30: 3.03.08


(This is not a medically approved approach to prenatal nutrition, it's just what I've been doing!)

I came down with a stomach bug last week. First I figured it was morning sickness revisited. Then I realized it was something much more persistent and all over. Next I began to think back over my recent dietary missteps.

At our first appointment my OB gave us a little pamphlet called "Nutrition During Pregnancy" that warned that the symptoms of Listeriosis occur several weeks after exposure to the bacteria and include fever, chills, muscle aches and back pains. "There may be no symptoms at all," the pamphlet continues, and the disease "can cause serious problems for the fetus, including miscarriage or stillbirth." Choking back tears, I called my OB and described my flu-like symptoms. She said "It sounds like you have the stomach bug that's been going around." My mom said "You read too much. Eat some rice."

Do Not Pass Go

Am I paranoid? If so, am I unusual? Isn't the way society reacts to pregnancy a bit anxiety-inducing? "Congratulations! The miracle of procreation is so beautiful. Here's what you should stop doing instantly..."

And what exactly are the rules, because of course all good mothers-in-training will want to follow them. Mostly, the rule is to be more-than-careful. Stop instantly whenever anything feels "funny," avoid housecats like the plague and whatever you do WATCH OUT FOR CHEESE-COLDCUTS-ANYTHING SMOKED, CURED, RAW OR UNDERCOOKED-DIET SODA-TAP WATER-FISH AND SHELLFISH-PEANUTS-AND WE KNOW YOU'RE NOT DRINKING CAFFEINE OR ALCOHOL, RIGHT? Everyday you could learn a new no-no. Someone just informed me that I should only eat honey from a new bottle, because honey that's been sitting may contain spores. Who knew!

Why Ask Why?

Some sources explain the risks more clearly than others, so you know when you're dealing with a major risk specific to pregnant women. Undercooked eggs? Salmonella. Me, I'm buying fresh, omega-3 enhanced eggs from a reliable store and not worrying too much about it--I hate hard-cooked yolks. But I'm not going to eat a runny egg sandwich from the grimy deli on the corner.

Avoiding diet soda makes sense--I'm not dieting, nor am I interested in ingesting unpronounceable chemicals, and I believe they may be more harmful to a developing fetus. I buy organic when I can, and try to rein in my weakness for sour gummy candy. The standard caffeine allowance seems to permit me my cup of morning tea, so I haven't argued there (okay, I'm ignoring some new findings). Tap water is often found to be no less safe than bottled water, so I just run the cold for a few minutes in the morning (since water sitting in the pipes is more likely to have lead in it) and carry on.

As for that big sin: booze? Well, in America drinking is considered a major bad mommy move, but I've read a few articles that pointed out that only the effects of excessive alcohol have been found harmful to a fetus because moderate alcohol consumption has not been studied. I abstained for the first trimester and now I drink a few sips of wine or beer here and there, but avoid hard liquor.

I go for low-mercury fish varieties ( And since shellfish allergies don't run in my family, but peanut allergies do, I eat some shellfish here and there (sorry kosher family members!) but avoid peanuts as I always have. I'm an allergic person and I'd love to do what I can to help protect our baby from developing allergies.

The only thing that really scares and confuses me is Listeria. Blue cheese, raw milk cheese, any poorly handled fresh/soft cheese, smoked fish, cold cuts, you name it, if it's delicious and convenient to eat and it isn't served piping hot, it's probably suspect. I find this very annoying and would like to ignore the existence of Listeria, but obviously it has a hold of my subconscious.

In Italy, where we went for our babymoon last month, they don't seem to care about such things. So when in Rome (see photo up top), I didn't either, and let me tell you, I had some mighty tasty, guilt-free salami (see photo at right), washed down with a few sips of lovely wine.

But back in Brooklyn with a mean hankering for a turkey sandwich, I'm confused again. True, I could microwave the turkey, but, ew? I basically try not to eat things that could have been poorly processed or stored (ie I'm not shopping at the grimy deli), but otherwise, I'm inconsistent. I may nibble fancy lox, prosciutto, or a raw milk cheese, but I'm not doing it regularly, or with the gusto that I might. And I can't defend the practice, I'm just doing it.

You Gonna Eat That?

In other words, I'm allowing the shadow of paranoia to limit my diet at the same time that part of me thinks these dangers seem very unlikely and that people who warn one about these things are just making sure they will never be sued, or repeating the warnings of people who were making sure they wouldn't be sued.

To conclude: I, like most women I know, have done a little research into the panic-inducing and convoluted dietary advice given to pregnant ladies, and I'm picking and choosing, trying not to eat anything too crazy, while also trying to not go crazy not eating things. After all, the mothers of every healthy baby I know have some kind of prenatal dietary transgression to confess.

So, what's your approach? Are you playing it safe? Sneaking more than your weekly allotment of tuna sandwiches? Doing penance for a Brie you couldn't resist? Or, like me, reading too much, probably heeding too little, and occasionally panicking?