Sunday 28 December 2014

In the Queen's day, doctors gave cigs to expectant mums

Published 06/12/2012 | 06:00

Every generation of pregnant women gets different advice and Kate would be shocked at some of the suggestions from her mother's era, says Caitriona Palmer

She may be a royal duchess, shielded from other mere mortals by a phalanx of protection officers and the luxurious trappings of the crown of England. But even the gilded surroundings of the Palace of St James cannot protect Kate Middleton from the one true downside to every first pregnancy and foray into parenthood: the slew of unwanted advice.

Within minutes of the announcement on Monday that the 30-year-old wife of Prince William was expecting a baby, the Twitter stream was alive with tweets advising the young princess on how she could deal with the crippling pregnancy condition, hyperemesis gravidarum – an extreme form of morning sickness that has rendered Kate weak and hospitalised in London.

"Kate Middleton is in a London hospital with severe morning sickness," tweeted the Washington Post's Health and Science section. "What are your tips?"

Within seconds the advice was rolling in. "Suck on fresh ginger. Eat a few crackers before getting out of bed. Get out slowly," tweeted Emily.

"Slow, deep breaths," replied another morning sickness veteran by the name of Cynthia. "Ginger drops. But mostly #mindovermatter."

Putting mind over matter may be welcome advice for the young duchess as she settles in for the long haul of what has now become a frenzied global countdown to Great Britain's Most Eagerly Anticipated Baby.

Pregnancy is one thing – take it from me, I am a veteran of three – but pregnancy lived out in the public spotlight must be an experience with its own unique complications.

Kate can take comfort in the fact that she is preceded by a long line of royal wives who have deftly navigated pregnancy and parenting while living in a palace. But time has passed since the last batch of regal babies, and the advice doled out when Queen Elizabeth and Kate's mother-in-law, Princess Diana, were carrying heirs in line to the throne has changed dramatically over the generations.

As Kate will discover – once she is actually able to keep food and water down – the subject of what a pregnant women can and cannot eat is a minefield of epic proportions. I still remember the moment in 2007 when, pregnant with my second child and sitting with my toddler son in a local Starbucks, I was stopped by an older man in a suit who lectured me about the dangers of drinking caffeine while pregnant.

Back in 1948 when the 22-year-old future Queen of England was carrying her first child, Prince Charles, women were positively encouraged to smoke while pregnant for relaxation. In fact, many women would be offered a light for their cigarettes by the very doctor who was delivering the happy news that they were pregnant.

Pregnancies were confirmed in a laboratory by injecting the woman's urine into the ovaries of a rabbit – if the animal's ovaries enlarged, the test was positive.

But once confirmed, 'pregnancy' was a term that was rarely used. When Buckingham palace announced Elizabeth's first pregnancy, there was no mention of a baby – Britons were simply told that the princess would "undertake no public engagements until the end of June."

In the 1950s, the old adage that children should be "seen and not heard" was the parenting maxim of the day. Forget Doctor Spock. The parenting guru of the time was Truby King, a New Zealand doctor whose baby care philosophy lasted well into the late 1950s.

Truby King preached to keep baby at a distance. A strict routine was encouraged – four-hour feeds, mandatory naps, plenty of fresh air with "sun baths" and little or no cuddling. Cuddling equalled spoiling and crying was considered "good exercise" for babies.

For crying royal babies, King had this advice: check the nappy to make sure it was clean and dry and that the pin was not sticking into the baby; then put the baby on its stomach, shut the door and walk away.

By the time Princess Diana gave birth to William in 1982, pregnancy advice and parenting styles had evolved dramatically – as had public interest in royal pregnancies. Gestating a royal heir, the Princess of Wales discovered to her horror, was suddenly everyone's business.

"I felt that the whole world was in labour with me," she told Panorama in 1995.

At just 12 weeks, Diana suffered a serious scare when she fell down a staircase at Sandringham and suffered severe bruising. However, a speedily taken sonogram – a relatively new development by 1981 – assured the princess that all was well.

By her own admission at that time, the 20-year-old princess was already locked in a battle with the eating disorder Bulimia nervosa, a condition that caused her weight to plummet during and after her pregnancy.

Back in the early 1980s pregnant women like Diana were free to eat most of what they wanted, including liver, soft-boiled eggs, unpasteurised cheeses, pate. Nowadays, given the harmful effects of salmonella and listeria pregnant women are heavily encouraged to stay away from these foods, including all alcohol and cigarettes.

Kate's doctors will undoubtedly recommend that she stick to a daily diet of approximately 2,000 calories – 2,200 in the third trimester – that she eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and fibre, and take at least 440mcg of folic acid every day in the first trimester.

There will be no shortage of parenting advice or manuals for Kate and Wills as they navigate life with a royal newborn. When Diana gave birth to Harry, new studies were showing that the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was drastically reduced by placing infants to sleep on their backs – a routine the new couple will surely follow.

William has repeatedly said that he wishes that his future royal children to have a "normal" family upbringing. Despite their extraordinary privilege, Diana did try to inject some semblance of normality into her young boy's lives, once standing in a queue with them outside the London department store, Selfridges, in order to visit the store Santa.

Unlike Charles, who only saw his mother for a half-hour in the morning and evening, including a brief look in at lunchtime, Diana broke with royal convention by dropping off her kids at school, playing with them in the nursery and giving them their evening baths. "It's terribly important that parents should do this," she once said in 1988.

Taking day-to-day care of her kids is one modern parenting tip that Kate is sure to follow. As is drowning out the deluge of well-intentioned but persistent advice that is now sure to come her way.

While pregnant with my three children I chose to follow the simple advice of a trusted midwife, Marsha Stalcup, the woman who delivered my third child earlier this year and who shepherded me safely – with wisdom and good humour – through all three pregnancies. It is advice that I would urge Kate Middleton to follow.

"The simplest advice is often the best: Eat healthy, exercise, get the rest you need, and surround yourself with the people who bring you happiness," said Marsha, a nurse midwife in clinical practice in Washington, DC. "I tell women to pick the person or persons they trust the most and listen to them."

"Just enjoy the wonder of pregnancy," she said.

Irish Independent

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