Indian government: pregnant women should shun meat, eggs and lustful thinks of sexuality

Mother and Child Care leaflet also recommends expectant moms detach themselves from passion, rage, attachment

Indias government is advising pregnant women to avoid all meat, eggs and lustful thoughts.

Doctors say the advice is preposterous, and even dangerous, considering Indias already poor record with maternal health. Women are often the last to feed or receive health care in traditionally patriarchal Indian households.

Malnutrition and anaemia, or iron deficiency, are key factors behind India having one of the worlds highest rates of maternal mortality, with 174 of every 100,000 pregnancies resulting in the mothers demise in 2015. Thats better than five years earlier, when the maternal mortality rate was 205 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, but still far worse than Chinas 27 per 100,000 or the United States 14 per 100,000, according to Unicef.

The government is doling out unscientific and irrational advice, instead of ensuring that poor pregnant women get to eat a nutritious, high-protein diet, said gynaecologist Arun Gadre, who is based in the western Indian city of Pune but works in rural areas.

The government booklet, titled Mother and Child Care, smacked of religion tenet and dismissed widely accepted medical evidence that pregnant women is beneficial for eating protein-rich meat and can safely engage in sex, doctors said.

It says pregnant women should also shun impure thoughts and look at pictures of beautiful newborns to benefit the foetus.

Pregnant women should detach themselves from passion, indignation, attachment, hatred and lust, reads the booklet, released last week by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, a part of the governments ministry that promotes traditional and alternative medicine.

The traditional medication minister defended the booklet as containing wisdom amassed over many centuries and said it did not advise specifically against sexuality, only against all thinks of longing or lust.

The booklet puts together relevant facts culled out from clinical practice in the fields of yoga and naturopathy, Minister Shripad Naik said.

It is the latest push for vegetarianism by prime minister Narendra Modis Hindu-nationalist government, which already advocates avoiding beef and strictly limits the transportation and carnage of cows, which are considered sacred by Hindus.

But the latest homily to pregnant women has outraged the medical community.

This is a national shame. If the calories of expectant mothers are further reduced by asking them to shun meat and eggs, this situation will only worsen, Gadre said. This is absurd advice to be giving to pregnant women in countries around the world like India.

About a third of Indias 1.3 billion people live on less than$ 2 a day. Many are luck to eat more than one full meal a day, and women often give their portions up to their hungry children or husbands.

Malnourished women are more likely to give birth to underweight babies, who then are in danger of being stunted or not growing to their full height and weight. A full 48% of all Indian children under the age of five are considered stunted, according to a 2015 report by Unicef.

Undernourished girls grow into undernourished females. Married by their families while still in their teens, these girls become pregnant by the time they are 17 or 18, when their bodies have not matured enough to safely deliver a child, said Amit Sengupta, a physician and health care activist with the Delhi Science Forum, a public advocacy organisation.

He said the governments advice to pregnant women betrayed backward thinking and hostility toward evidence-based science.

This kind of advice is detrimental to womens health, he said.

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