Detach from lust. Do not eat non-vegetarian food and please harbour spiritual thoughts. That's the advice the country's AYUSH Ministry, set up in 2014 to promote 'Indian' systems of medicine, has doled out to pregnant women. As if pregnant women do not get enough bizarre instructions already.
Medical experts have rebutted the advice, pointing out that it has no scientific backing. In fact, non veg food is high in Vitamin B12 which is essential for healthy babies and a nutritional deficiency in pregnant women can lead to low birth weight babies who are at higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular diseases later in life.
Further, states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the majority of the population is non-vegetarian have much lower maternal and infant mortality rates when compared to states like Rajasthan which have a high percentage of vegetarians.
The Ministry, however, doesn't seem to be interested in any of these scientific studies or data. The lofty and pious booklet says that pregnant women should read life histories of great personalities, stay calm, and avoid anger or lust. To quiote from the booklet:
"Pregnant women should detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred, and lust."
"Hang some good and beautiful pictures in bedroom, which will have an effect on the (unborn) child also... during pregnancy, women have to do self-study, should have spiritual thoughts, should read the life histories of great personalities and should keep themselves in peace."
‚ÄúThe booklet does not contain any advice on abstaining from sex,‚ÄĚ Ayush Minister Shripad Yesso Naik said.
Sex without lust then? The AYUSH Ministry will have to come up with guidelines on how to achieve that next!
The medical fratenity has been quick to call out the claims of the booklet, published by a government in a country where 59% of women are anemic as this 2015 study says.
Professor Alka Kriplani, Gynaecology Department Head at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, said that unless there is a specific reason, a pregnant woman should continue with all activities she routinely indulges in, including sex, "unless there is a high-risk factor".
Regarding consumption of non-veg food, she said fish and chicken are good for health while (red) meat increases cholesterol levels.
"But there is no such thing that one should avoid meat during pregnancy. It is a good source of protein and those who consume it can continue to do so," she told IANS.
"Also, protein intake should be higher during pregnancy. While I'm not saying that those who are vegetarians should start consuming non-vegetarian protein, but those who usually consume it should continue to do so to fulfil their protein intake," Dr Kriplani added.
Prof. Suneeta Mittal, Director and Head of Gynaecology at Fortis Research Institute, agreed and said expectant women should continue to follow the same dietary pattern that they follow otherwise.
"However, during the first trimester, we ask pregnant women to avoid drinking and smoking. In terms of dietary advice, we tell them not to consume too much fried food."
"But we don't give them any specific advice regarding non-vegetarian food. Whatever is their dietary pattern, they should continue with the same," she told IANS.
However, Mittal added, there may be some allergies which they need to be careful.
Regarding sexual intercourse during pregnancy, she said it is best avoided during the first three months.
"After that, unless it is medically indicated, there is no need to avoid it during normal pregnancy."
It's true that the booklet only offers guidelines and doesn' force the advice on anyone but it's a matter of concernt that a government body, funded by public money, should go around propagating misinformation to the people.
(With inputs from IANS)