The Internet: a help or hindrance to high-risk pregnancies?

96242390(1)A normal pregnancy throws up endless questions. About what’s safe, about what’s advisable to eat or drink, what activities you can do, and what (if any) medicines you can take – and many other things too.

So where do women turn? Less than a generation ago, pregnant women, and would-be pregnant women, typically turned to their mothers, close female relatives and friends for advice about pregnancy. Yes, they would ask their doctor too – but a sense that “Mom knows best” prevailed.

But those were the days when the words “search” and “engine” were never seen in the same sentence. Now women can find out all of the good (and even more of the bad) sides of pregnancy online. Suddenly, those obscure conditions affecting a fraction of the population become material for coffee shop chatter – with pregnant mothers jumping online to self-diagnose. This online community is very quick to tell us what we can, and can’t do; and it is quick to criticize pregnant women too. Information overload means it’s not as easy for pregnant women to work out what’s genuinely good advice, and what’s not.

So where do mothers-to-be go if they have a chronic condition or take regular medicine and their pregnancy falls into a high-risk category? Most of the time they head to these same forums. And as they trawl through the Internet, they often end up making decisions based on information that’s hazy at best – and confusing the rest of the time.

The problem with pregnancy forums and specialist “mothers-to-be” websites is that two rarely share the same opinion on any one topic. The US-based Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked into what the web is telling pregnant women about drug use in pregnancy, and the results are alarming. It found that – for example – out of 25 pregnancy websites investigated, 22 products were listed as safe in pregnancy on one site, but risky on another.

Conflicting advice does no one any favors, and certainly not pregnant women with a chronic disease. So perhaps its time to give these women a place with information that’s based on fact, not on anecdotes or one person’s experience, where they can actually get some answers to their questions.

In your experience as a healthcare professional, what reliable websites or forums would you feel confident to recommend to your pregnant patients?

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