Pregnancy rarely follows a firm set of rules. Each woman is unique, and her experiences during those nine months can be radically different from those of her mother, sister, or closest friend. Still, doctors give pregnant women a general set of guidelines to follow. These recommendations increase the likelihood that every pregnancy achieves the healthiest possible outcome.
In the United States, women are told to avoid alcohol and cigarettes, sushi and soft cheeses, and schedule regular prenatal visits with their OB/GYN. Yet in other countries, the advice isn’t always the same. Here’s a look at a few different, and sometimes unusual, pregnancy recommendations and practices from around the world.
As soon as American women learn they’re pregnant, they’re supposed to schedule their first prenatal OB/GYN visit. They’ll revisit their doctor every three to four weeks to make sure the pregnancy is moving along smoothly and the baby is developing normally. But in some third world countries, prenatal care is a luxury women can’t afford. Only about 56 percent of pregnant women around the world get the recommended minimum of four prenatal visits, according to the World Health Organization.
In the United States, doctors recommend that women who start their pregnancy at a healthy weight gain 25 to 35 pounds during those nine months. Some experts now say this range is too high, because it encourages “eating for two.” Doctors in many other countries tell women to aim for a lower weight limit. For example, in Japan, doctors advise no more than 15 to 26 pounds of total weight gain.
Hot and Cold Foods (India)
Women in India are warned to refrain from oven-heating and microwaving their foods, especially at the start of pregnancy. The recommendation is based on the belief that hot foods are harmful to the health of the pregnancy and could possibly lead to miscarriage. Women are encouraged to start warming their meals again late in pregnancy, because hot foods are thought to ease labor.
Learning the Baby’s Gender (China)
In the United States, expectant moms usually have an ultrasound about 18 weeks into their pregnancy. The scan lets them learn their baby’s gender, if they choose to know. This is not the case in China. Parents there are forbidden from finding out whether they’re having a boy or girl. The rule is in place because of China’s strict birth limits. Most couples are allowed to have only one child. They can have a second baby if one of the parents is an only child. Boy babies are so prized that the government fears parents will abort girl babies if they learn the gender ahead of time.
During a delivery at an American hospital, chances are a doctor will be at the receiving end when your baby arrives. Not so in countries like Sweden and the Netherlands. There, midwives are the professionals managing most deliveries.
Drinking Alcohol During Pregnancy
Although most countries advise abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy, some are more lax than others about following through. In France, many women drink wine in moderation to relax them during those sometimes stressful nine months. British medical officers advise women to abstain, but they will allow a glass or two once or twice a week for women who just can’t give up their merlot or chardonnay.
Doctors in the United States tell pregnant women to steer clear of raw fish because it can harbor bacteria. But in Japan, where raw fish is a dietary staple, pregnant women still make regular trips to sushi bars. In fact, the Japanese consider raw fish to be a healthy part of a pregnancy diet.
Radiation Protection (China)
Chinese women add a unique accessory to their maternity blouses and stretchy pants —protective anti-radiation aprons. Why? Those who work at computers or regularly use microwave ovens fear that the electromagnetic radiation from these devices could lead to birth defects. Whether the aprons are necessary or effective isn’t clear.
Deli Meats and Soft Cheeses
American women are told to avoid Brie and other soft cheeses, and skip ham and other deli meats until they deliver. The reason? These foods can be tainted by Listeria, a type of bacteria that can be dangerous to both mother and baby. But in countries like France and Spain, these foods are so ingrained in the national diet that women keep eating them straight through their pregnancies.
Steam Baths (Mexico)
In Mexico, moms relax after the ardors of labor with a soothing steam bath. Often, they’re also treated to a massage. Meanwhile, American doctors tell expectant moms to avoid hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms.
No matter where you live, your goal is to have the healthiest possible pregnancy. See your OB/GYN or midwife for regular prenatal visits, and follow his or her advice about diet and weight gain. If you have any questions about your pregnancy in between visits, call your healthcare provider for additional advice.