I was having lunch with a colleague who, like me, hails from Southeast Asia and thus has the happy conundrum of being saddled with two versions of everything. And when it comes to pregnancy superstition and “do-this-or-else…”, the East has always excelled in scaring the daylights out of poor hapless n00b moms… but the West can hold their own in this department, too.

There are heaps, HEAPS out there and I’m sure it depends on generation and upbringing, but here’s a choice pick from both my worlds.

1. Avoid soft cheeses because of the risk of listeria

Two things seem to be linked to the harbouring of listeria in soft cheeses: pasteurisation and how the cheese is ripened. White mould cheese, such as brie and camembert (yum), are surface ripened, and their near neutral PH value and high moisture content make them that extra conducive for the listeria bacteria to grow.

The thing is, Australian law likes its milk and cheese pasteurised. And listeria, like love, is all around us anyway. We are already exposed to the bacteria whether we like it or not because it’s in the environment. Yes, pregnant women are at risk – but the risk is low, especially in Australia. In 2006, only 61 cases of listeriosis were registered with the Department of Health and only 8 were cases where a mother and baby were infected. And we don’t know that soft cheese was the culprit either, since there are many ways you can get exposed to listeria

BTW, if you’re suffering from leg cramps (especially with your calf muscles), it’s likely due to a lack of calcium. And that’s far more common a symptom in pregnant women than listeria.

So get some perspective, and if you’re still wiggy about it, nuke the little buggers by having your soft cheese piping hot and runny. Yummm… 

2. Don’t bathe or wash your hair during your confinement

The logic goes that if you bathe or wash your hair during confinement, ‘wind’ will enter your body and you can get rheumatism, among other ills.

You have GOT to grow up in a Chinese household to understand the concept of “heat”, “cool” and “wind” to not look at me like I’m talking about breathing in someone else’s farts.

BTW, I’m not talking a couple of days after the birth, or even a week. Some households have the no-hairwash limit at 12 days, and the no-bath limit at 40!

Fact: if you want to be a yummy mummy, then smell like one. And let’s not even get into stating the obvious, like good personal hygiene and the reduced risk of skin and wound infection.

3. If you eat sushi, you are basically a baby killer

Okay, first of all, sushi ≠sashimi. And fat, happy, pregnant Japanese women still have sashimi because man, the fish oil is great for baby. If you believe Dr Phil, Omega 3 fats

enhance the development of the baby’s brain, improve the baby’s IQ, make the baby a better sleeper after birth, prevent premature contractions and premature labor, prevent high blood pressure during pregnancy, and act as an anti-inflammatory that prevent infection.

But yes, we also have to think about mercury levels and other contaminants. So do a bit of sleuthing and figure out which fish is safer. The rule of thumb seems to be young, fresh white fish and canned light tuna. Basically, young white fish good, big old sea-going fish bad.

As for me, because I can’t attest to the refrigeration standards of soi disant local sushi chefs, I’ve decided to avoid the raw anything – mostly because it’d be horrible to deal with pregnancy AND salmonella at the same time. But I miss it like a fat kid misses cake.

4. Don’t watch scary movies when you’re pregnant

Another Eastern gem. Basically, stay clear of horror flicks as you might scare the baby witless.

And just to prove how deeply embedded this superstition is among certain folks, apparently some Chinese horror flicks place the following disclaimer before running:

Important to NOTE: this movie is not suitable for expecting mothers.

I think the myth speaks for itself, but I just had to add this one in because the movie bit was priceless. I say this with much affection for Chinese ghost stories. They are usually funnier than they are scary. Except for Ring. That was just insiduously freaky. But then again, it was Japanese.  

BTW, Tony and I have been completely blowing this one as we’ve been catching up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the last 3 weeks. It’s our stay-home dinner date and I wouldn’t miss the excuse to snuggle up with him even for Blob.

5. Don’t eat spicy foods as you will induce premature childbirth

Pffft. My comeback to that: India and China’s populations. ‘Nuff said.

6. Ginger and liquor keep the body’s vigour

Again with the wind. And please don’t take this as evidence of my knocking the “wind” theory in Asia. It does sometimes work and besides – the food that forms part of the remedy can be SO yum.

Basically, Singapore Chinese confinement foods include lots of ginger and sesame oil to deal with excess gas, and alcohol to promote better blood circulation. I’ve actually tasted confinement food, and some of it is just sublime. Possibly because some dishes are fattening beyond belief. But I digress.

However, the bit about the liquor especially flies in the fact of Western thinking and I have to agree with my Western counterparts on this one. If you’re breastfeeding, then getting liquored up isn’t great for bub. Then again, alcohol burns up when heated in foods, so I’m not sure cooking with it is so terrible after all.

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Heaps more to talk about of course, but I’ll stop here. I’m not a nutritionist or some pregnancy guru, so check these out for yourself and form your own opinion. I wanted to do this exercise so that I could know my own mind. After this, whether I choose to comply with the myths “just in case”, or to keep the peace with the older generation for my own sanity, remains a subject entirely separate.

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