Comment: New mums deserve a break from judgement and scrutiny

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Are expectant mothers eating appropriately during pregnancy? Are they fulfilling all dietary recommendations and requirements? When is it right, or not right, to breast feed babies in a public place? Should mothers-to-be avoid alcohol at all during pregnancy?

Today the scrutiny and judgement faced by mothers-to-be these days is colossal. Expectations put on women before and after pregnancy by themselves and others threaten to turn a life enhancing event into an unendurable ordeal. Everything they eat and do is the subject of scrutiny and advice on the impact it will have on the child. There is a danger here that too much well-intended advice can become counterproductive, taking its toll on the mother’s confidence and/or mental health.

Researchers from Cardiff University interviewed mother and grandmother pairs and found that community surveillance of pregnant women and infant feeding had significantly increased between the generations. Many of the mothers reported feeling watched and evaluated by family, friends and strangers. Some spoke of being questioned by strangers about their choices. Interviewees described how this intrusive policing impacted on their everyday lives. Constant scrutiny “can result in pregnant women and new mothers performing public motherhood in ways that are highly self-aware and self-conscious, which makes it difficult to follow advice from health professionals.”

It is natural for close family members and women who have had children to offer advice. But on top of greater scrutiny by health professionals it can lead to stress and confusion. We should allow mothers a greater appreciation of their own intuition and judgement.

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