DID YOU KNOW?
- If you eat bananas during pregnancy then the fetus becomes fat.
- If you have too much curd then that goes and accumulates on the fetus.
- Drinking tea during pregnancy darkens the skin tone of the child.
- Bael (a fruit, also called Bengal quince) should be avoided because that causes ear infection in the newborn child.
- Having too much sour food during pregnancy might result in miscarriage.
- After delivery, for 6 days, women should not be given salt or any solid food including rice or roti, because the mother cannot digest these food items.
I was bombarded with these statements when I asked the women, who had gathered for the Mahila Mandal, about myths regarding food habits during pregnancy. The topic of discussion for the day was ‘Healthy food habits for pregnant women’.
In India, 40% women are underweight during pregnancy. There are many causes for poor maternal health in India. A major reason is that pregnant women and their unborn child suffer the consequences of living in a deeply patriarchal society. The health of women is seldom given priority. In most households, even during pregnancy the women have their meal towards the end, after serving the entire family. This also means that many a times, adequate food is not left for them. Babies born to undernourished mothers are more likely to be underweight, a characteristic that influences height, cognition and productivity across a lifetime. Through discussions in Mahila Mandals, we try to ensure that healthy food habits are inculcated in these women so that risks for the mother and child can be minimized.
During interactions with the women, I realized that unavailability of food is not the major problem faced by them. There are healthy food items which are locally available but not consumed due to certain myths or unawareness of its nutrition content. For example, bananas are grown locally and are easily available at affordable rates. But the myths regarding eating bananas and that making the child fat stops women from consuming it. Vegetable like red spinach is locally grown in many areas but not largely consumed since people are unaware of its nutrient value. When asked, most of them cannot state the exact reason for not consuming some of these items during pregnancy. They keep complaining that they cannot afford healthier food items. We try to make them understand that instead of running after what is available in the market, they should first start consuming the healthy food which is affordable and locally available.
In our meetings we ask the women their general food habits and whether there is any change in it during their pregnancy. Few of them say that they increase their food intake when they are pregnant. Proper nutrition before, during and after pregnancy is crucial to the health of both mother and baby. The difficulty lies in convincing people to change some of their food habits which are adversely affecting their health. Making these women realize this fact is quite a difficult task, especially because their entire life they are taught to sacrifice and let others have a larger share. We know that this is a gradual process as people cannot change their habits or beliefs so easily. But discussions, audio visual sources and peer sharing in Mahila Mandals are helping in promoting better practices in the society.
Dyuti is so immersed in her training with pregnant women and their nutrition, that some times she scolds them for not eating healthy… Very mother-like, you would think.