Govt's absurd advice to pregnant women

The Ministry of Ayush’s recent tips to pregnant women is not just ridiculous and unscientific but, more worryingly, dangerous. Among other things, the Mother and Child Care booklet advises pregnant women to “detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred and lust” and also “avoid bad company, be with good people in stable and peaceful condition always,” as if this will contribute to their giving birth to healthy babies. Among the more absurd advice it doles out to pregnant women is that they should read the biographies of great personalities. Certainly, freeing oneself from anger and hatred should be encouraged, indeed for all people, not just pregnant women. Keeping stress down too is good for everyone. And reading life histories too would expand one’s thinking. But these are unlikely to contribute to the health of the mother, the foetus or the newborn. What is more, the booklet proffers advice that is unscientific. It advises women to avoid sex during pregnancy. Research has revealed that sex during pregnancy protects the cervix from infection. The booklet appears to be promoting the Sangh Parivar’s agenda. Consider this: it advises pregnant women to avoid meat and eggs.

The booklet could have been dismissed as outdated and irrational, even entertaining, and ignored, had its advice been unlikely to threaten maternal and child health. Malnutrition and anaemia are serious problems among expectant mothers in India. Malnourished women give birth to underweight babies who are in danger of being stunted. The Unicef reports as well as NHS surveys have repeatedly drawn attention to the severity of the malnutrition problem in India; 47% of India’s children under the age of 5 are considered stunted. The problem can be addressed by improving maternal nutrition and meat and eggs are known to be rich sources of protein. By advising pregnant women to avoid meat and eggs, the Ayush Ministry is doing their health and that of their children grave harm.

The ministry’s advice is irresponsible and the government—the Ministry for Women and Child Development and the Ministry for Health and Family Welfare in particular— should have stepped in to call for the booklet’s withdrawal. That they have remained silent even as BJP spokespersons have justified the contents of the booklet is worrying. The Ministry of Ayush is known to pass off traditional wisdom as scien­tific fact. The Ministry of Health’s silence on the Ayush booklet lays bare its unscientific outlook too. Over the decades, India has made remarkable progress in bringing down maternal, neonatal and infant mortality. The government must withdraw the booklet on maternal care.

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