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bpas comment on new study published in September edition of Social Science and Medicine

The full article, “It's the mother!: How assumptions about the causal primacy of maternal effects influence research on the developmental origins of health and disease” (authors: Gemma C. Sharp, Deborah A. Lawlor and Sarah S. Richardson) can be accessed here

This article explores the problems associated with the growing trend for research into the origins of health and disease to focus narrowly on the characteristics and behaviours of mothers around the time of, and during pregnancy. It argues that this may exclude other important factors, such as the characteristics of fathers, the social environment and exposures after birth, and stresses the importance of researchers collecting more data on fathers, scrutinising social conditions and acknowledging that health behaviours are often influenced by systems and social inequalities. The authors caution that complex research findings are being rushed into simplified, direct advice to pregnant women and public health policy, and they call for greater attention to be paid to how public health advice is constructed and conveyed. Such advice, they argue, should communicate the level of risk in a way that empowers individuals to assess the evidence and form their own opinion.

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said:

“This is an important, immaculately researched article which explores some of the problems with the growing focus on women’s behaviour in pregnancy and how it affects long-term outcomes for their children. We are increasingly concerned by how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy. From the age at which they conceive to how much they weigh in pregnancy – women are increasingly being held accountable for all manner of negative longer term outcomes in their children on the basis of very little evidence at all, and told to adjust their behaviour accordingly – sometimes in dramatic ways. One Scottish health board recently said women should only drink alcohol if they were using an effective form of contraception, while England’s own Chief Medical Officer suggested that women with higher BMIs were compromising the health of not just their children but their grandchildren as a result of their weight, through the environment of their own wombs. While having a high BMI in pregnancy does increase certain risks, concerns about long term outcomes for children – and their children in turn – are not substantiated. Women need good, evidence-based information on which to make their own choices in and about pregnancy. At a time when there is increased focus on women’s mental health in pregnancy and concerns about the high levels of anxiety experienced by some women, it is all the more important we make sure the advice women receive is solid – not scare-mongering.”


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Notes to Editors:

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.