The Ayush Ministry in India governed by Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, recently released a 16-page booklet, which outlines several measures that pregnant women should follow including the specific yoga poses they should practice and the types of food they should ideally consume.

The guidelines also include several anomalous pieces of advice including the fact that pregnant women should ideally engage with good company and should surround themselves with pleasant pictures that evoke good thoughts.

However, doctors have advised that these guidelines are not corroborated by reliable scientific research and therefore cannot be accepted without questioning.

Booklet has pieces of unusual advice

This booklet was released as part of the preparation for International Yoga Day, which is celebrated on the 21st of June. Whilst the booklet purports age-old wisdom which still holds true in the present day, such as the importance of consuming a balanced diet and maintaining an active lifestyle, it occasionally presents pieces of unusual advice such as the fact that pregnant women should only interact with “good” company.

An abstract from the booklet is quoted as saying that pregnant women should “detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred and lust”.

Whilst this may have some psychological basis as women are likely to be more optimistic in the presence of affable individuals, it has not been tested practically. This means that the implementation of these guidelines on a global scale is not pragmatic as pregnant women may be unwilling to adhere to this advice if it is not based on robust scientific evidence.

Health experts say advice is unfounded

Health professionals in India can only confirm the veracity of a small proportion of the advice issued by the Ayush Ministry and advise that individuals exercise discretion whilst abiding by the guidelines produced.

The Ayush Ministry have been quoted as saying, “The said booklet puts together relevant and useful information culled out from many years of clinical practice in the fields of Yoga and Naturopathy. It aims to take the well-known health benefits of Yoga and Naturopathy to expecting mothers and new mothers in a simple booklet format.”

For generations in India, the practice of complementary medicine such as homeopathy, naturopathy and Ayurvedic Medicine has been prevalent despite not being utilised in routine clinical scenarios. Despite this, several health professionals have expressed disagreement with the guidelines stating that “the dietary advice is not scientific at all”.

These guidelines also seem to condone a wealth of clinical wisdom which suggests that pregnant women can benefit from the consumption of meat as it tends to be a rich source of protein and iron. During pregnancy, sexual intercourse is also deemed to be safe but this is also discouraged in the guidelines.

Healthcare professionals are also concerned that these guidelines may exacerbate the current issue of malnourishment. This is particularly critical in pregnant women as if they are deprived of appropriate nutrition, they may give birth to underweight children who are stunted, have poor mental development and may not be able to grow to a healthy weight.

Advice may be detrimental to women

The advice to consume a diet devoid of eggs and meat has attracted significant attention from healthcare professionals, as these foods are potent sources of protein. Protein rich foods are essential for pregnant women in order to sustain the rapid physiological transformations that occur during gestation and to support the nutritional requirements of the growing foetus.

“Advising to stay away from non-vegetarian food is ridiculous since malnutrition and anaemia are the biggest problems in our country,” states Sharmila Lal, a gynaecologist.

On the whole, the guidelines have faced serious criticism from healthcare professionals as they also advise pregnant women to stay away from feelings of “desire and lust”.

In accordance with statistics published by the World Health Organisation, India has a considerable burden of maternal mortality with approximately “45,000 maternal deaths in 2015.”

Proponents of these guidelines state that this advice will help individuals give birth to children with specific characteristics such as fairer complexion and higher cognitive aptitudes.

Whilst the validity of these proposed benefits is still a point of contention, the verdict will only be clear in the near future based on whether healthcare professionals choose to accept this advice or reject it completely on the basis of a lack of supporting evidence. MIMS

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