Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden

Gamla Stan in Stockholm  |  Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden on afeathery*nest  |

Soon after we realized that I was pregnant, I began to notice a rather frequent occurrence: R and I began disagreeing about what I can and cannot do and eat while pregnant. After a few of these "disagreements" happened one after the other, it finally dawned on me why.

I grew up in the United States.

He, in Italy (with a Swedish mom).

Turns out that despite science allegedly being the basis of pregnancy guidelines, three different countries interpreted that science in three (mostly) different ways.

Sweden is the most liberal by far, while Italy is the most conservative, and the United States fits somewhere in between. To illustrate, here are a few questions I've either Googled and asked friends and family about, or just come across by chance, with each country's response:

Gamla Stan in Stockholm  |  Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden on afeathery*nest  |

Can I exercise?
  • America: It's better for you and the baby if you do. Do whatever you did before, but modified.
  • Sweden: Of course. You're pregnant, not handicapped. 
  • Italy: Yes, but take it very, very easy.

Can I eat spicy food?
  • America: Sure, but of course refrain if you get heartburn.
  • Sweden: Sure, but of course refrain if you get heartburn.
  • Italy: It's better if you avoid it completely, as it can cause heartburn.

Can I eat soft cheeses?
  • America: Nope—unless they're fully cooked.
  • Sweden: Nope—unless they're fully cooked.
  • Italy: Nope.

Can I eat sushi?
  • America: Very, very carefully and only the low-mercury kind.
  • Sweden: Sure, but only low-mercury fish. 

Can I eat shellfish?
  • America: Sure, as long as it's cooked.
  • Sweden: Sure, as long as it's cooked. 
  • Italy: Absolutely not, even when cooked.

Can I eat deli meats (or, any type of smoked or cured meat or fish)?

  • America: It's best to avoid completely, unless cooked (like on a pizza or in a baked dish), but don't touch salami.
  • Sweden: Yes, if frozen for 72 hours or cooked (but never salami).
  • Italy: No way.

Can I eat red meat (i.e., steak)?
  • America: If cooked completely. Though if eating high quality, local, organic meat, cooking until all the meat is hot (not necessarily well done or medium well) is completely fine. 
  • Sweden: If cooked until all of the meat is hot (not necessarily well done or medium well). 
  • Italy: Well done, only.

Can I eat fresh vegetables?*
  • America: Absolutely, as much as possible.
  • Sweden: Absolutely, as much as possible. 
  • Italy: Only if thoroughly cooked—as in, steamed, braised, baked, boiled, etc..

Can I touch the earth (i.e., garden or put my bare feet onto soil)?*
  • America: Why is this a question?
  • Sweden: No, seriously, who's asking this?
  • Italy: No—parasites and bacteria on the ground could leach into your skin.

Can I go into a sauna?
  • America: If you're very, very careful.
  • Sweden: Yes, if you're used to it and don't stay longer than 10 minutes at a time. (Did you know our pregnant neighbors in Finland do it every day and used to give birth there?)
  • Italy: Are you insane?! ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Can I drink wine or beer?
  • America: A glass or two a week are okay.
  • Italy: ABSOLUTELY. You'd be crazy to try to get through 40 weeks of pregnancy without a glass of wine a day.

*Note, these may be Sicilian peculiarities, and not true of the rest of Italy.

Stockholm's subway, Statshuset, Riddarholmen  |  Conflicting pregnancy rules: U.S. vs. Italy vs. Sweden on afeathery*nest  |

While I was ready to insist on having things my way (meaning: following Swedish rules for everything, except drinking, in which case I'd be pro-Italian—which wouldn't actually be a big deal since I have had zero desire for wine so far and despite never really drinking beer until moving to Sweden, turns out Sweden sells some exceptionally tasty alcohol-free beer that we've been buying for me), I didn't—at least not for long.

Given how long our journey was to get to this point and because I knew deep down (deep deep down, beyond my feminist indignation) that this was a decision we both have a stake in and thus a right to make together, I've mostly followed the American rules, as even R found some of the Italian ones a bit insane.

  • Not eating sushi (except for that one time immediately after we left our first midwife appointment and were told that I could eat it without worry).
  • Exercising after I survived my incapacitating first trimester, but not as frequently nor with as much effort as I used to, but only because of my low energy levels.
  • Eating all the spicy food I want.
  • Only eating soft cheeses that have been cooked (like, a grilled brie sandwich).
  • Not eating any deli meats.
  • Not eating any dishes made with shellfish.
  • Essentially avoiding steaks and the like as medium-cooked meat is just not worth it to me, but when we have had it at home there's only the faintest trace of pinkness on mine (so, somewhere between medium-rare and medium, something I did have to fight for and won...a little).
  • Eating all the fresh vegetables I want.
  • Putting my bare feet on the ground every chance I get.
  • Not going into a sauna (I fought hard for this one, but clearly to no avail).
  • Not actually drinking anything alcoholic yet except for a heavily diluted glass of Aperol and a few sips of wine and beer

Given the above, there may or may not have been a (however ineffective) threat made in R's general direction that the next time I'm pregnant he will have to follow the same guidelines as I am. In the name of solidarity and support, of course...not punishment.

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More on Swedish healthcare, prenatal care and giving birth in Sweden:

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One year ago: Urban natured in Stockholm & The much-celebrated arrival of fall
Two years ago: Shut eye & The Delilah & Egg custard & Arancini Taorminesi

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