Pregnant women in India are being advised by the government to stop thinking about sex and to avoid certain foods, in a move that has been strongly criticised by doctors.
The controversial advice was contained in a government pamphlet titled Mother and Child Care, copies of which have been handed out to expectant mothers. The booklet was released by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, part of the government’s ministry that promotes traditional and alternative medicine, and “smacked of religious dogma”, according to a report by the Guardian.
It recommended that women shun meat and eggs as well as “impure thoughts” during pregnancy.
“Pregnant women should detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred and lust,” reads the pamphlet. Instead of these negative thoughts, it suggests that women should look at pictures of beautiful babies to benefit the foetus.
There is no evidence that sex – let alone thoughts of sex – while pregnant is harmful to the foetus, and doctors in India have reacted angrily to the government’s recommendation that pregnant women avoid certain foods.
Maternal health in India is already a major problem, with women often being the last to eat or receive healthcare in traditional patriarchal Indian households. Malnutrition and anaemia (iron deficiency, which can be helped by eating meat) are key factors behind India’s poor maternal mortality rates.
In addition, eggs and meat are both high in protein – which is an essential nutrient for pregnant women. According to Livestrong, protein supports the development of foetal cell growth, brain development and blood production, and vegetarians and women who consume little meat should pay close attention to their diet to make sure they’re getting all the protein they need.
Indian gynaecologist Arun Gadre slammed the government’s advice in an interview with the Guardian. “The government is doling out unscientific and irrational advice, instead of ensuring that poor pregnant women get to eat a nutritious, high-protein diet,” he said.
“This is a national shame,” Gadre continued. “If the calories of expectant mothers are further reduced by asking them to shun meat and eggs, this situation will only worsen.
“This is absurd advice to be giving to pregnant women in a country like India.”
The booklet has been attributed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for vegetarianism across the country, in which almost a third of people live on less than £1.60 ($2) a day. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government already advocates that people not eat meat and limit the transportation and slaughter of cows, which are sacred to Hindus.
Shripad Naik, India’s traditional medicine minister, defended the pamphlet, saying that it contained “wisdom accumulated over many centuries”.
“The booklet puts together relevant facts culled out from clinical practice in the fields of yoga and naturopathy,” he said.
However, Amit Sengupta, a physician at public advocacy organisation the Delhi Science Forum, argued that the government was displaying “backward thinking” in opposition to evidence-based science. He said that encouraging women to restrict their diets while pregnant could lead to malnourished babies – thus creating a vicious cycle where women’s lives were put at risk by and during pregnancy.
“Undernourished girls grow into undernourished women,” said Sengupta. “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.
“This kind of advice is detrimental to women’s health.”
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