The advice of strangers

By: Alison Dunn Apr 05, 2011
The advice of strangers

I did just about everything wrong when I was pregnant with my first child.

Whether it was eating soft cheeses (whoops!), dying my hair (double whoops!) or cleaning out the kitty litter, I think I did it all. It wasn’t that I was openly defying the health “rules” for pregnant women; it was really more that I was ignorant of many of these rules.

I should say I was ignorant until some busybody happened to point out what I was doing wrong. I learned the “rule” about not eating soft cheeses at the grocery store one day, when a well-meaning, grandmotherly type eyed the hunk of brie in my hand and informed me that runny cheeses were unpasteurized and therefore harmful to the baby. Ditto the hair dye, only this time it was a young mother who informed me when I was at the hair salon. (Of course, the time to tell me that wasn’t when my hair was full of foil highlights!) The kitty litter warning came courtesy of my sister-in-law, who screeched about toxoplasmosis when she caught me scooping out the box one afternoon at my house.

I took all these well-meaning words to heart, and immediately stopped whatever I was doing wrong. No more brie (or sushi for that matter), no more hair dye (after what was in there was washed out, mind you!) and no more cleaning the litter box (not that THAT one was a hardship).

But I couldn’t get rid of the guilt that went along with it. I hadn’t even given birth yet, and I was already a terrible mother, putting my baby at risk for god-knows-what kinds of birth defects just so I could eat cheese or have pretty blonde highlights.

I waited with both anxiety and anticipation for the baby’s birth. Luckily, he was born perfectly healthy, and now, eight years later, he shows no sign of any health issues because I ate some brie while I was pregnant.

I’ve since discovered that the biggest mistake I made wasn’t eating cheese or dying my hair; it was listening to the advice of strangers without verifying the information for myself. While there are many things you should and shouldn’t eat/drink/use/do when pregnant, you should never take the advice someone gives you at face value without verifying it from a credible source.

As it turns out, the well-meaning advice I got was just a wee bit misguided. As you’ll see in this week’s article “Is it safe?” some of these pregnancy myths are just that: myths. As writer Liz Bruckner found out when she interviewed someone from SickKids’ Motherisk, not all soft cheeses are unpasteurized (and therefore many are safe), and a number of studies have found hair dye really doesn’t have much of an effect on a fetus. And the litter box? Well, don’t tell my husband there were a few precautions I could have taken and been just fine cleaning out the litter box.

If you’re pregnant, sometimes the best advice is not to listen to anyone’s advice until you’ve checked it out yourself. If you are questioning whether or not something is safe to do while pregnant, call your local health department, your doctor or an organization like Motherisk to find the answer. You’ll save yourself a lot of worry and guilt – and, most importantly, give birth to a healthy baby.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.