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Eating and drinking while pregnant - are we too paranoid?
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Posted 08 February 2010 - 02:54 PM
I was at a café the other day, starving as I usually am these days, yet I stood there for what seemed like an eternity trying to work out what I could actually eat from their sandwich bar options. The man behind the counter, becoming increasingly impatient with my umming and ahhing, began offering me suggestions. The conversation went like this….
Him: “Ham and salad?”
Me: “Can’t have ham”
Him: “Chicken and avocado?”
Me: “Sounds delicious, cold cooked chicken is a no no though”
Him: “How about a smoked salmon bagel?”
Me: “Definitely not”
Him (obviously irritated) “How about a prosciutto and rocket panini?”
Me: “I’d kill for a prosciutto and rocket panini, but I can’t”
Him: “Why can’t you eat any of these things?”
Me: They’re all risks for Listeria, it can harm your baby if you get it.”
Him: “Listeria? Sounds like Hysteria to me”
Feeling sorry for myself, and to get out of there as quickly as possible, I settled for a plain bread roll while the aroma of grilling prosciutto tormented me.
Welcome to the world of Listeria Hysteria.
The festive season is a particularly bad time to be suffering from Listeria Hysteria, as I’ve discovered over the last few weeks. Bowls of giant king prawns and oysters that are devoured by everyone but you. Cold chickens and store bought coleslaws that turn relaxing picnics into a game of risk. Salads that feature little minefields of feta. Soft serve ice-creams that are strictly forbidden and platters of creamy brie, pate and prosciutto that mock you with their very existence.
All of these foods, delicious as they may seem, strike fear into the heart of pregnant women, as they carry a risk to their un-born babies. But are they really a risk or are we all just too paranoid?
Many older women will remark to you that they never knew about listeria in their day and yet all carried healthy babies to term. I envy their naivety. In fact, my own obstetrician informed me that in all his years of practice he had never had a patient with listeria, so not to stress about it too much. Yet the risk is still there and I have no intention of being his first.
Having said that, I am not as paranoid as I was with my first pregnancy, when I actually spit out a bite of sandwich suspecting it had ricotta in it. Turns out it was cream cheese, which is allowed, but I refused to eat it anyway. No sandwich was going to hurt my baby, thank you very much.
Most women I know are more relaxed about it with subsequent pregnancies though, with one friend of mine deciding that her beloved sushi was a risk she was prepared to take. Yet, after suffering from miscarriages in the attempt to have this baby the threat feels more real to me now. So as much as I want to dig into those juicy prawns, I want my baby more.
Which brings me to drinking. Again, the festive season is not the easiest time to be abstaining, but we do because it’s what's best for our baby. But are pregnant women really abstaining as much as they should?
The recommendation by both the World Health Organisation and the Australian Government is that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, so abstaining is the safest approach.
Yet that message has changed over the years and most women will tell you that their own obstetrician informed them that a glass here and there will not do any harm. And most pregnant women I know take that advice on board, indulging in a glass now and then without any guilt.
With my first pregnancy I abstained completely. This was made easier when my senses rejected alcohol entirely, with even the smell of it off putting to me. However, this time around I have not been as lucky and a cold glass of wine on a warm summers night is still as tempting as ever. But I have been surprised by the attitude of others towards me drinking that wine. When I turn it down I often find people, even pregnant women, assuring me that one glass won’t hurt and encouraging me to enjoy it.
Perhaps it’s because those women are on their second and third pregnancies and are therefore more relaxed in general. Maybe they are a bit older and less influenced by big brother telling them what to do. Or perhaps they just realised that generations of women had a glass here and there while pregnant and it did their children no harm.
I should point out here that I am talking about very minimal amount of alcohol. We all know the devastating effects binge drinking can have on an unborn baby and would never condone something that can cause life long physical and mental damage to a child. But is it right to forbid all pregnant women the occasional drink because some cannot do it responsibly?
On another point, it becomes extremely evident when you’re not drinking just how much our culture revolves around the consumption of alcohol. Every social and celabatory occasion is focused on it and it’s very easy to feel left out when you are not part of that. Feel free to vent about that, all you pregnant women and non drinkers out there!
But for me, for the next 17 weeks, I’ll have the odd glass on special occasions and the rest of the time I’ll politely refuse both a drink and all those yummy but risky foods. And I will have a platter of prawns, prosciutto, goats cheese and brie with a glass of cold bubbles in the hospital!
After all, it’s not a long time to resist and a small price to pay for a healthy baby. And at least us women have strong will power, as was illustrated by my husband when he offered me a glass the other day and I reminded him, again, that I wasn’t drinking.
Him: “So you can’t drink at all for nine months?” Incredulously, as if we’d never had this discussion before.
Me: “That's right, I’m sacrificing for the sake of our baby.”
Him, shuddering in horror: “Men could SO not be pregnant.”
Now that’s the understatement of the year!
What is your attitude towards eating and drinking while pregnant? Did you take the risk with listeria foods? Did you continue to drink and, if so, how much? Do you think the guidelines are reasonable? And do you feel left out if you can't drink at social functions? Let's have a discussion.....
Posted 08 February 2010 - 03:06 PM
I try to avoid the "risky" foods but we do eat homemade sushi, and there are times when I've taken a gamble (like yesterday when MIL thought it would be great to serve up plates upon plates of cold meat and not much else... thanks!)
I think if you eat things sensibly then the risks would have to be reduced - does anyone think women in Japan abstain from sushi for 9 months (I have it on good authority that they don't)
As for the occasional drink, I've pretty much limited it all 3 pregnancies to toasts at weddings. A single glass would likely send me to sleep so I don't really bother any other times...
Posted 08 February 2010 - 05:16 PM
I agree that the risks of a glass of wine and a piece of brie to the unborn child are negligible, and definitely over-hyped. You are taking a bigger chance by taking your baby for a car ride, and no one thinks twice about that!
HOWEVER...I don't understand why anyone would try to coax a woman out of playing it safe. I have had three pregnancies. The first ended in miscarriage. The second ended in the stillbirth of my daughter at 20 weeks. Understandably, for my third, I wasn't taking any chances. When you lose a baby, no matter what the gestation, you go through everything in your mind. You play the 'what if' game. It may be illogical, but there it is. The third time around, I didn't want to have any 'what ifs'. I wanted to be sure I had done everything possible to bring my baby to term. And I did!
Posted 09 February 2010 - 11:09 AM
The only things my doctor (who herself had a number of miscarriages and knows the score) told me to avoid were reheated rice, raw eggs, raw fish and seafood and those pre-packed sandwiches you get in service stations. She also said not to have to much big fish due to mercury concentration.
I ate soft cheese, cold meats including ham and chicken, avoided smoked salmon because it's raw, drank small amounts of wine and had a perfectly healthy pregnancy. I think the whole thing is overhyped, especially in Australia where we have pasturised milk so issues you can find with milk and dairy products in other countries don't exist.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 11:28 AM
I have heard of a few listeria scares in Australia recently......cold chicken sandwhiches on Virgin flights being infected with listeria resulted in a number of women going into labour prematurely. There was a recall on a supermarket stocked brand of feta due to listeria...not sure if there were any negative consequences from that. And in Victoria I think deli stocked semi-dried tomatoes a couple of months ago. I myself, would rather not take the risk.
As for alcohol, later in my pregnancy I would have half a glass of wine if I was out and people were drinking, but never more than once or twice a week. But like you Amity, for the first 16 weeks or so the very smell of alcohol was enough to make my stomach churn, so I avoided it completely! I also limited my caffeine intake to one cup of tea a day, banning coffee. A coffee is enough to send my heart rate soaring, and I didn't want to hype up my baby, because he barely stopped kicking as it was!
Posted 09 February 2010 - 11:37 AM
I don't drink when pregnant, just a toast at a wedding, thats it. I am not interested and don't feel like I am missing out.
On the other hand, I don't worry about food so much. I eat feta, meats, soft cheeses, seafood, soft serve!! I will steer clear of pre packed sandwiches, but I did eat sandwiches on a Virgin flight a few years back and I was okay!!!! I do drink my normal amounts of caffiene and will have take away as normal. I think the risk is so tiny I really don't think analysing everything that goes in my mouth is that important. I am happy for others to do what they want though.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 11:52 AM
I am on baby number 3 at the moment and I have found my attitude has changed with each pregnancy. I personally believe it has gone all a little far, but at least we have the knowledge and can make an educated decision these days.
I now have cold meats, ham, salami, smoked salmon, if I think it smells and looks fresh. I avoid bought salads, well I never ate them anyway, so that was easy, ready made sandwiches, sushi and that's about it. Cheeses and prawns I have eaten too this pregnancy, mostly because I couldn't stand it at Christmas this year! At all points I judged the food I was having and make a judgement call based on this.
With regards to the drinking issue. I think anyone should only ever do what is right for them. I personally do have a drink every now and again, in fact in 17 weeks I can think of 4 occasions where I have to date. I did it with no guilt and limited my drink to 1. It felt nice to be free from the shackles of pregnancy. I don't agree with someone binge drinking heavily, or drinking all the time in pregnancy, but I do this there is a time and a way to do it, if you absolutely feel like it. I feel the same about someone who does not want to at all! More power to them I say. I think what I mainly want to say here is we should try not to judge other people just because they are pregnant. Let other people be, and worry about yourself if you must worry!
Anyway, it's an interesting debate, which I think will be argued for many years to come!
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:02 PM
I'm trying very hard to avoid every single thing that someone somewhere says might be bad for baby - but then this is my first pregnancy I'm generally doing OK, although early in the pregnancy went to a family event where all the food was buffet style (and we weren't telling the news yet), so had to have something. Just made sure I ate the hottest/freshest hot things.
I never did drink so that hasn't been a sacrifice for me
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:15 PM
when preg with #1 (10 years ago), i knew not to eat seafood.
when preg with #2 (7 years ago), i knew not to eat seafood and soft cheeses.
now preg with #3, good lord things have changed. Im pretty sure im going to starve this pregnancy.
I feel your pain OP i realised that NOTHING i felt like eating when out last weekend was on the OK list, so sat there feeling sorry for myself while DH, #1 and #2 sat there hoeing into a lovely big lunch. I sipped on a bottle of water.
I think it is total hysteria, HOWEVER i still dont eat the things on the no-no list and feel rediculous at the same time, as i ate nearly everything 1st and 2nd time around and the kids turned out fine.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:19 PM
I don't think any alcohol is a good idea, but then I have been turned off drinking since my first pregnancy so hardly a sacrifice.
The food thing has gone way over board. I don't pay much attention and just use common sense.
If things are improperly stored or could have been sitting out the back for an hour after delivery without refrigeration I don't eat it.
I worked with someone who did everything, she avoided prepacked salads and opted to make her own, washed everything etc. Still ended up in hospital on a drip.
I guess its the same thing as washing bottles and the whole do or don't sterilise thing. If you tell people to wash they will wash, if you tell them to sterilise some won't wash as common sense is not all that common.
So if you tell people to avoid prepackaged this or that, cold meat etc, you are effectively telling them to watch what they eat and make sure it is stored properly. It's not hard.
For me, because I do make sure things are fresh and stored correctly the risk is fairly low. Still possible of course but I think no amount of banned foods will prevent it 100% of the time.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:27 PM
I wasn't prepared to take the risk ~ no matter how small it was. It's 9 months of my life, I could live without brie & smoked salmon. I didn't drink either.
If I'm lucky enough to have any subsequent pregnancies, I won't be any different. For me, it's a very small price to pay for peace of mind & a healthy baby.
What anyone else chooses to do is their own business though.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:37 PM
I personally feel if you cant go 8 months without alchohol just to keep your child safe, then its very sad!
SIL kept refusing coke "because the caffeine is bad for the baby" and sat there saying that while sipping wine...
I'm still undecided about the level of the food thing. Having said that wouldnt want to loose a bub because I had to have that piece of ham
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:45 PM
I have given up alcohol, coffee, cola's and most tea's. (I still drink a non caffeinated variety).
I was expecting to hit caffeine withdrawal pretty hard, but it never eventuated, I don't really miss alcohol either, although my dad was devastated, he had brought all these fine wines back from his trip across the country to drink with me, and he has to wait now!
I also don't eat any of the no-no foods, although I did forget several weeks ago and had a poached egg at a cafe, oh well!
The thing with listeria is, it's a bit of a lottery. Most of the time the foods will be safe and no problems will be had, but somewhere, sometime a women is going to draw the short straw. I guess we all give up the foods, cos none of us want that short straw.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 12:45 PM
What is your attitude towards eating and drinking while pregnant? Ate what I felt like eating but tried to avoid the ever-growing list of "bad foods". I had HG so it was basically whatever I could keep down. Helps that I don't eat sushi, fish, most processed meats e.t.c normally anyway.
Did you take the risk with listeria foods? Just avoided a few things like soft serve icea cream e.t.c
Did you continue to drink and, if so, how much? Didn't drink any alcohol at all while trying to fall pregnant or while pregnant.
Do you think the guidelines are reasonable? Yes but I think they are just that, GUIDELINES - not rules. I think with most of these guidelines - the risk is very minimal. However, I do no want to be the 1 in a million where something goes wrong.
And do you feel left out if you can't drink at social functions? Awkward. I don't drink much, might have the occasional drink here or there but I find our culture is ridiculously saturated in excessive consumption of alcohol.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 01:02 PM
People are way too food obsessed. Many people can't handle the thought of giving up a food. My wife has severe allergies that cause her to require urgent treatment lest she stop breathing if she eats even trace amounts of a wide variety of foods(anaphylaxis. She carries an epi-pen and before we met had to use one quite often. Proud to say she hasn't had a reaction in years!). We're talking anything in the onion and garlic family. Other stuff includes chilli, and many if not most spices. So that I don't stop her breathing if I kiss her, I also do not eat these foods any time we're in contact (I strive to be wife friendly for 24 hours before she comes back if she goes away). People act like I'm some sort of weirdo or saint. It's strange to think that many people are willing to outright say they would not give up foods they like for anyone. (And you wonder why marriage fails). It can become tiresome to continually give up foods I love, but I love my wife more and I don't want to be poisonous to her!
Just a few days ago I had an extreme reaction to something. I'd never shown any sign of such severe food allergy. We think it was banana prawn - perhaps being spiked as I cleared away shells. Ironically my wife had cooked those because they're the only ones she could cook from raw to avoid Listeria as she's about 20 weeks pregnant. But I digress. Thanks to my quick thinking wife we were able to turn the reaction around without me making a trip to the emergency room. I only started to worry when my face, ears, lips and tongue started to swell. By that stage I'd already taken some over the counter anti-histamine my wife has handy. We suspect if I hadn't my breathing might have been compromised very shortly after.
That's what families are suppose to do. Protect each other. Food is just food. If you can give up certain foods for under 9 months to protect your child, just do it. It only takes a little planning to be able to eat well despite it.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 01:21 PM
I have to say its all gone a bit overboard. With my first pregnancy I was pretty careful, although didn't stick to the guidelines 100%. My task was made easy by the fact that I worked in an inner city suburb with access to lots of reasonably priced fresh or freshly cooked food.
I am now pregnant again and finding it much harder. I work 3 days a week in a very small hovel outside the city. Everything here seems to be deep fried, which just sends me retching. the only thing reasonably healthy that I can actually physically eat is Subway. To further complicate matters, my workplace has neither a fridge nor a microwave. I have tried to bring lunches from home, but I have to say that vegemite sandwiches every single day aren't really the bee's knees. A lot of people say its not that hard to stick to the guidelines for the limited time of pregnancy, but I now actually disagree with this. It can be very hard, depending on what you actually have access to during the day.
As for alcohol, I drank the occasional glass of wine in the second half of my first pregnancy (we're talking a small glass once every 3 weeks or so). This time around I cut out alcohol as soon as we started trying and I haven't been able to go anywhere near it for the first 12 weeks. Last week I really craved some cider. After days of procrastinating I caved in and had one bottle of cider - the first drink I've had in 5 months.
I did cut out coffee and tea as soon as I fell pregnant by necessity, as the smell and taste of it just made me sick. Last weekend I had the first cup of coffee in a very long time and it tasted like heaven.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 01:33 PM
Listeria outbreaks do happen. If you are pregant and became infected with Listeriosis your baby could be born prematurely or die.
Alcohol can have devastating consequences on the developing brain. Researchers do not know at what level permanent damage occurs, some research has suggested that even low levels of alcohol consumption might be linked to behavioural problems in later life.
I dont know who you are if you think it was worth risking your babies life and brain development for the sake of a drink and a sandwich!
Posted 09 February 2010 - 01:39 PM
The risk of getting listeriosis in unpasteurised dairy products is also extremely low, mainly because listeria like most known pathogens, cannot grow in raw milk.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 01:41 PM
What is your attitude towards eating and drinking while pregnant? assess food on a case by case basis, if it's fresh I'll eat it. I think common sense is best, I believe there is listeria hysteria for sure. I must admit I have gotten less concerned with eating 'bad' foods with each pregnancy. I rarely drink coffee (makes my heart rate race) but I really enjoy an iced coffee (home made) which I have every few days. The other day I was asked if I was alright to have coffee when I ordered an iced coffee at the shop? That's really my decision. And I was refused an ice coffee at an ice cream shop because it was made with softserve, they wouldn't sell me one?!?
Did you take the risk with listeria foods?If I don't know how long it's been there for I won't take the risk. I have generally steered clear of most no-no foods but indulged every now and again. I generally don't eat soft cheeses unless it's cooked, cold meats I avoid (I'm not too worried about them anyway). Over Christmas I ate seafood as long as it hadn't been sitting out too long. I don't avoid softserve icecream (but don't have it that much anyway). I don't avoid takeaway food either, I just make sure it's relatively hot, not luke warm.
Did you continue to drink and, if so, how much?I wasn't much of a drinker before being pregnant so it wasn't a sacrifice. I enjoy the occasional baileys (when I say occasional I mean maybe every six months). I think I've had 1 drink during this pregnancy when we were on holidays.
Do you think the guidelines are reasonable? Yes, I agree with the previous post, they are just guidlines. They highlight the potential risks.
And do you feel left out if you can't drink at social functions? No I rarely drink at social functions anyway. I think our society drinks too much. I think it's sad that alot of people need a few drinks to have a good time. Our kids rarely see us drinking. But that's a whole other issue.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 01:47 PM
If you are pregnant and are in a car accident (far more likely) you and/or your baby could die. So, no car journeys?
There is not a skerrick of evidence that a glass of wine during a pregnancy has had any ill effects whatsoever on anyone, ever.
It is all about relative risks. How do we know that it is safe to eat potatoes during pregnancy? After all, women who ate potatoes while pregnant have had bad outcomes, for reasons we don't understand. So, how do we know it wasn't the potatoes? You cannot prove a negative - ie that something is 100% safe in all circumstances, that nothing bad will ever happen.
Depriving pregnant women of healthy foods like seafood, some dairy products, salads, chicken and the like not prepared by them, etc because of a risk which is far less than many things they do every day (like travelling in cars) is absurd. Of course, all the normal precautions with regard to food handling and storage apply, as they would to someone who is not pregnant. But making women feel anxious, and restricting them from eating healthy foods, has gone way OTT.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 02:02 PM
With my first I knew nothing about what food could harm your baby and pretty much ate everything in sight.
With #2 I never ate any of the foods they say not to and was very careful how everything was prepared etc.
Now we are preg with #3 I am no different I will not risk my babies life just because I feel like a prawn or a bit or cold meat so I don't feel left out of the festive season.
Who cares if others don't understand why you would sacrifice everything for a tiny bundle of joy whats more important exceptance and feeling part of a group or your baby to me it's my baby.
I did not and will not drink through all # pregnancies I'm not a big drinker anyway.
I also think its pretty sad if you can't go 9 months without alcohol.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 02:03 PM
Total paranoia re: food seems the order of the day for pregnant women. I have avoided soft serve, food from the deli case and cold cooked chicken, but soft cheese (particularly Australian) is not a listeria risk in general due to Australian laws around pasteurisation. On occasion, I've had bacon, pepperoni, coffee, Coke, and no doubt other 'taboo' things while pregnant and haven't yet suffered any ill effects. I think that some of these lists of foods we're told to avoid while pregnant are based on the medical equivalent of old wives' tales and not actual evidence.
I have stopped drinking alcohol altogether, which is a personal choice for me (I'm not a big drinker anyway.)
Amity, don't avoid the cheese! Good source of dairy and unlikely to cause you any harm.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 02:23 PM
I've avoided alot of the no no foods so far. I won't eat... soft cheeses, eggs unless they are hard boiled or scrambled, salads that I don't make myself, Take away foods, coffee or tea, cold meats/chicken and I'm sure there is more.
I have eaten on occasion... cooked bacon, half a glass of coke twice during 11 weeks, and stuffed up and ate half a chicken schnitzel then realized it's processed chicken so gave it to the dogs.
I personally wouldn't drink any alcohol at all.
Posted 09 February 2010 - 02:59 PM
I sympathise with you after being pregnant with number 2 baby last festive season. It was sooo nice to be able to go out for lunch after the baby was born and not have to spend ages trying to work out what I could eat.
What used to annoy me was the people who said "I ate such and such all the time back in the 60s/70s or whenever and my 5 kids turned out fine", as if you were being overly paranoid and protective by not eating whatever it was. People used to drive around without seatbelts or ride without bike helmets and most of them survived too - but that doesn't mean I am going to ignore advice and expose myself/children to avoidable risks. (I know the risk is much lower for listeria but still if you can further decrease it by avoiding some foods - why not)
Posted 09 February 2010 - 03:09 PM
It really annoys me that people call women who follow the guidelines as being "over the top" or lysteria hysterical.
Despite the risk being really small, it does happen and how would you feel if you lost your baby or had an extremely premature baby because you contracted listeria poisoning from eating something that should have been avoided?
There are enough risks we do have to take that we can't avoid (like driving in a car), so why not avoid the risks we can?
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