New guidelines for pregnant women set by the Indian government recently caused a furor in the international medical and health community, with experts saying that India’s own government is advocating for measures that can harm expectant mothers. India released a government booklet titled Mother and Child Care, which spoke against the consumption of protein-rich meats and eggs and prohibited sexual contact for expecting women.
The book, which was touted as containing “wisdom accumulated over many centuries” by the government-owned Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, also encouraged pregnant women to veer away from “impure thoughts” and instead spend their time looking at pictures of beautiful babies, for doing so will benefit the fetus in their womb, it said.
Doctors warned that the measures proposed by the Indian government are ludicrous and even dangerous. The country is already notorious for its poor maternal health.
Physician and health care advocate with the Delhi Science Forum, Amit Sengupta, said the recommendations propagate “backward thinking” and mistrust of evidence-based science, noting, “This kind of advice is detrimental to women’s health.” (Related: ‘Drink beer while breastfeeding’, feed raw eggs to infants’ and other antiquated tips show how much we’ve learned in 50 years)
“Married by their families while still in their teens, these girls become pregnant by the time they are 17 or 18, when their bodies have not matured enough to safely deliver a child,” Sengupta added.
Indian gynecologist Arun Gadre has this to say: “If the calories of expectant mothers are further reduced by asking them to shun meat and eggs, this situation will only worsen,” referring to reports that 48 percent of Indian children under five are underweight and are small for their age.
According to data from the United Nations Children’s Fund, 174 out of every 100,000 women perish during childbirth in India, which is significantly higher than the 14 out of every 100,000 women who die during the same procedure in the United States. India’s death rate for pregnant women has steadily been improving in the five years until the year 2015, when the death rate boomed to 205 per 100,000 women.
For her part, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists spokesperson Dr. Vanessa McKay said in an interview with DailyMail.co.uk that it is essential for pregnant women to get the proper nutrients needed for their babies’ growth, noting, “Women are advised to eat some protein foods, such as meat and eggs, every day. Eggs and meat are also rich in vitamin D, which can improve a baby’s growth during his or her first year of life, and can reduce their risk of developing rickets. While a vegetarian and vegan diet is safe for women during pregnancy, they need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamins B12 and D.”
“Government does not advise against sex”
In efforts to quash the growing media uproar regarding the contents of the controversial book, the Ministry of Ayurveda Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) released a statement that denied the advice that basically ordered pregnant women to become celibate for the entire duration of their pregnancy.
“This is far from the truth. In fact, the words ‘no sex’ do not feature at all in the booklet,” the ministry said.
Anthony Costello, director of the World Health Organization‘s department of maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health, said India takes a problematic stance when it comes to accepting medical practices of the Western world. The country’s culture and system of beliefs vary greatly from that of the West, which is nowadays considered as the fount of “evidence-based approaches to medicine”.