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Neural Tube Defects: Systemic Problems and Individualised Answers.

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Yesterday in the Irish Times, Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital, had something to say about folic acid. Up till now, you see, women people planning to become pregnant have been advised to take folic acid supplements daily. Ireland has a high rate of neural tube defects– which cause everything from spina bifida to anencephaly- the majority of which can be prevented with folic acid.

As of yesterday, this advice has changed:

“Up to 50 per cent of all pregnancies are unplanned, but a baby’s crucial neural tube develops in the first few weeks of pregnancy when many women may be unaware they are pregnant,” Dr Mahony said. …“Women who are sexually active should start taking the vitamin daily even if a baby is the last thing on their mind”

Taken at face value, this seems like good advice. If you’re at risk of getting pregnant, then taking a simple step to prevent painful or fatal birth defects seems sensible. And from a purely medical standpoint, I can see her point. Unplanned pregnancies happen! If I were at risk of getting pregnant and thought there was a reasonable chance I’d keep any pregnancy that resulted, I would seriously consider adding some folic acid to my daily routine. And I’m sure that, as a medical practitioner, Dr Mahony sees more of the suffering that neural tube defects can cause than most.

However, this doesn’t mean that Dr Mahony’s perspective- while important- is complete, or that she fully understands the context in which she speaks. Because medical advice is never given in a vacuum, and in this context Dr Mahony’s well-intentioned advice is ill thought-out, ignorant of context and in certain cases may be actively harmful.

Let me explain. Let’s go to the beginning.

Check out the rest, over at the original post in the Tea Cosy

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About Aoife

Nitpicker extraordinaire, wielder of the Eyebrow of Scepticism, and world-class consumer of tea. I write about skepticism, feminism, pro-choice issues, LGBTQ stuff, cooking, knitting, roller skating and whatever takes my fancy, from an Irish perspective.

2 responses »

  1. I tried to read the linked article. Early on, there is this:

    “Not everyone who can get pregnant is a woman.”

    Now it may be obvious to you what this means, but it’s not at all clear to me. To get pregnant ovaries and tubes are needed; pregnancy can occur outside a uterus, but this is rare.

    If this is a reference to transgendered people, it’s really confusing. Who other than a “woman” gets pregnant. Specifically, what percentage of people who are not women get pregnant? I suspect that the answer to this is a very small percentage, so that some of the thrust of the thoughts are lost in obfuscation.

    I really got lost reading further. I know that greens are the answer and that greens are expensive, but I can’t make much of an argument for a healthy diet for us all.

    I did try to comment on the blog; I was unable to log on to achieve this.

    Reply

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