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Pregnancy Rules Around the World

Since my first pregnancy seven years ago, I have come to relax … a lot.

But first a disclaimer: The information included in this article is not directly supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (acog.org). Please consult your health care provider for complete individualized recommendations. So, while, I offer you encouragement in your pregnancy journey, please take my words with a grain of salt. 

As probably many of you also can attest, I am in way too many ‘closed’ groups on Facebook, three of them related to being either pregnant or a mom. I decided to write this article about the rules that I have thrown to the curb and the things I have taken with me to other countries because I have read way too many terrified posts from expecting moms lately.

This is what I’ve been seeing in these Facebook groups:

“Ladies, I am so worried about the holidays. Can I safely have the baked brie this year?”

“AHHH! I just realized I have eaten deli meat three times this week. I am so worried I have caused a problem by over ingesting it! What do you ladies think?”

“I would really like to toast with everyone at Christmas, do you think having a sip of wine at Christmas dinner will be OK?”

The answer to all of these questions is yes. Just take a deep breath. 

We have lived in three countries, and I have been pregnant in each of them. The first time I was pregnant in Texas with a move to Arizona at 33 weeks, thanks to the dear military. I experienced the traditional American pregnancy. Like any good student, I studied the pregnancy books and followed all the rules.

You know the rules — the anxiety inducing ones.

There’s the no soft cheeses, no deli meat, no alcohol of any kind, less than 300 mg of caffeine a day, no sushi (at least not unless the fish has been cooked), not too much tuna due to the increase in potential consumption of mercury, and the list goes on and on.

When we moved to Argentina almost a year and a half ago, we received many unsolicited comments like, “Wow, well, hope you’re not planning on any more kids, that’s like Zikaland down there.”

The thing was, we were ready for more kids and couldn’t wait to start trying, and those comments started making us really nervous. After we made a few friends in Argentina, we tiptoed into children territory. When we asked our friends what they thought about Zika or if there was a concern here in Buenos Aires, they looked seriously confused. My husband and I explained the sentiment in the United States regarding this topic and their response made me audibly laugh.

I will never forget when I heard, “Oh my! America and their scare tactics, they can just scare you into anything!” While I do think Zika is a very serious issue and shouldn’t be taken lightly, her comment got me thinking.

Pregnancy in the United States is actually really stressful. This is the second time this realization hit me, the first being in Italy for my second pregnancy.

As I mentioned before, my first pregnancy was in the USA and was exactly as you think any first pregnancy would go including me reading ALL the books and following all the rules. I even pan-heated any deli meat that I ingested.  My second pregnancy, in Italy, was a whole new ballgame. I was pregnant with our second when our first was only 11 months old, so the recent rules were all too fresh in my head to forget. Being the person that I am, I wondered how I was to survive without so many of the delicious goat cheeses and the wine, but knew that it was only temporary and somehow I would pull through.

Then it happened. We were out at a restaurant at the top of a vineyard with a bunch of other couples having a fairy tale Italian afternoon like the ones you dream about. I told the waiter “no thank you” to the glass of wine as he was setting a glass in front of me. He acted shocked, seeing as we were are at the top of a vineyard and asked me why. I gently rubbed my stomach and informed him that I was pregnant. He then congratulated me and told me that, of course, I would need this glass of wine more than the rest of the group. Thinking he was kidding, I laughed. Then he enthusiastically poured me a glass and stood there smiling at me, waiting for me to take a sip.

What did I do? I got really uncomfortable and awkwardly smiled as I took the world’s tiniest sip. He rubbed my back and beamed at me and told me to spend the rest of the day relaxing with my feet up.

As he walked away, we all had a good chuckle and went on with our lunch. But, it got me thinking. At this point we were really only friends with four locals. I decided the next day that I would ask if this was the common sentiment in our host country.

When I broached the topic with our friends who owned the trattoria across the street from our house, Tamalia smiled and said, “Of course pregnant women need wine. Wine helps you relax and stress is much harder on your body than a glass of wine. A couple glasses a day.” And you know what, science has proven how terrible stress is for your body and I started thinking she could be right.

And the cheeses, don’t get me started on the cheeses. An Italian might just crawl into a hole and never come out if you tried to tell her that she couldn’t eat soft cheeses or have her raw milk directly from the farm or her café three times a day. And the prosciutto, so much prosciutto.

In the US, doctors have reasons for advising against these foods, for good reasons. I’m not advising you to eat them all, but don’t be afraid of a bite now and then.

What did I do in Italy? I relaxed. I had the wine (could never go with the two glasses a day, more like two a week) and the cheeses, the coffee and the prosciutto. And I loved it and baby girl number two is perfectly fine.

Here we are in the present day in Argentina and baby No. 3 is on the way. The funniest part? Pretty much the only thing my OBGYN is concerned about is if I am taking my folic acid and putting cream on my stomach every day to keep my skin moisturized. Argentina is more similar to the US in its belief on no wine and limited caffeine, but as far as food, no one has said a word about avoiding anything.

The biggest difference that I have found is the exercise habits. I have still been running a few times a week and am obviously pregnant to anyone that has eyes. Multiple mom friends have given me the shocked looks and asked if it was OK with my doctor.

Just last week as I was running my regular loop around a beautiful lake and rose garden, the popular spot for all things cardio (including the ever amazing rollerblading), a man screamed at me, “Sos loca! Corriendo cuando estas embarazada! Ay Dios, por favor!” Translation: You’re crazy! Running when you are pregnant, my God, please! This sums up the general sentiment.

The American vision of exercising when pregnant is something I will take with me to every country. The summary of which can be stated, “If you did it before you were pregnant than it is OK unless it starts causing you adverse problems or discomforts. In other words, just listen to your body.”

But, this is about all I will be taking with me to each country. Every country has its own set of rules and beliefs and every country manages to have babies.

So I say, just relax and a break a few ‘rules.’ They are most likely not even rules in other countries. Just as the saying goes, everything in moderation. It makes for a much more pleasant pregnancy experience.

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