Baby on board: the battle over pregnancy

Saturday 19 October, 5.30pm until 6.45pm, Frobisher Auditorium 2 Private or public morality?

Transport for London’s ‘baby on board’ badges have become a hit, designed to prompt other passengers to give up their seats for pregnant women. This transformation of pregnancy into a public literal badge of honour indicates a very different attitude to pregnancy than in the past. There was a time when pregnancy was considered a private phase that would-be parents would only share with close friends and family, and when even maternity fashions were designed to disguise. Now, baby bumps themselves seem to be fashion accessories. The trend perhaps started with actress Demi Moore, but has taken off, with greater numbers sharing every intimate moment of their pregnancy, including pregnant bump pics, on social networking sites. 

Perhaps such developments should be welcomed as liberating, certainly progress from women being ‘confined’ for nine months, a step forward from any embarrassment about pregnancy. But this public demonstration of women embracing their pregnant identity also has its reflection in a greater public policy focus on the fetus, perhaps at the expense of the mother’s freedom. The pregnant may be out and proud, but the intense policy focus on the potential harm of women’s lifestyle choices on the health of future citizens can make pregnancy a burden. The discussion on alcohol in pregnancy is telling: despite there not being a single piece of scientific evidence to support the advice, women are constantly told not to drink at all during their pregnancy. And many feel obliged to submit to overstated official advice on this and other matters as a display of virtue to accompany the ‘baby on board’ badge.

Should pregnant women be left to make their own lifestyle decisions without policy interference? Or should there be strict guidelines from government and the medical profession to direct women to be better safe than sorry? What does autonomy mean when there is a life other than your own to consider? If today’s pregnant women are willingly prepared to give up everything for the sake of their unborn child, is this a modern version of confinement?

Debra Bick
professor of evidence based midwifery practice. King's College London; editor-in-chief, Midwifery

Jennie Bristow
senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges and Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict; co-author, Parenting Culture Studies

Linda Geddes
reporter, New Scientist; author, Bumpology: the myth-busting pregnancy book for curious parents-to-be

Yvonne Roberts
chief leader writer, the Observer

Jane Sandeman
convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre

Produced by
Jane Sandeman convenor, IoI Parents Forum; contributor, Standing up to Supernanny; director of finance and central services, Cardinal Hume Centre
Recommended readings
The Social Worlds of the Unborn

In the contemporary world, the unborn - human embryos and foetuses - are highly public and contested figures. Their visual images appear across a wide range of forums, from YouTube videos to pregnancy handbooks. They have become commercial commodities as part of the IVF industry, reproductive tourism and stem cell research and regenerative medicine.

Deborah Lupton, Palgrave Macmillan, 13 June 2013

Stop messing with mothers-to-be

The mountain of scary ‘advice’ facing pregnant women is built on risk inflation and utterly junk science.

Dr. Ellie Lee, spiked, 10 June 2013

Pregnant women aren't incubators - so why does medical advice treat them as though they are?

The idea has been encouraged that the fetus and the women are two separate individuals whose needs are at odds with one another

Jennie Bristow, Independent, 5 June 2013

Let's celebrate the miracle of birth but be honest about hard choices

The Turner quadruplets remind us both of the wonders of science and the need to determine our priorities

Yvonne Roberts, Guardian, 28 April 2013

Review of Maternity Services in the UK- Interview with Debra Bick

Clare Dolman speaks to Debra Bick, Professor of Evidence Based Midwifery Practice at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College London, about how the services are working – or not working – for women with mental health problems.

Clare Dolman, The UK Postpartum Psychosis Netwok, 19 February 2013

Telling pregnant women to drink no alcohol is counterproductive

There is no strong evidence low levels of drinking in pregnancy are harmful, and to say so risks stigmatising responsible drinkers

Linda Geddes, Guardian, 19 February 2013

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