How responsible are doctors or midwives for the health of the babies delivered by women consulted by them? That will always remain a contentious issue because of a variety of factors.
But at the very minimum they are supposed to warn the pregnant women against consuming foods that could lead to miscarriage. Apparently many in Australia don't.
For recent research conducted at the University of Wollongong has found that women are putting their babies at risk by eating dangerous foods during pregnancy because many doctors and midwives fail to tell them it may lead to miscarriage.
The study, conducted by Dolly Bondarianzadeh in collaboration with Associate Professor Heather Yeatman and Dr Deanne Condon-Paoloni from the School of Health Sciences, has found that pregnant women are not being properly warned about avoiding soft cheeses, smallgoods, raw seafood and pre-prepared vegetable salads such as coleslaw because of their potential to contain the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.
Listeria is rare in Australia, but is considered a serious public health issue because of its potential to cause blood poisoning, meningitis, miscarriage and stillbirth.
Besides hormonal changes in pregnant women diminish the ability of the immune system to defend their bodies against the disease, making them 20 times more likely to catch it.
Listeriosis, has recently been recognized as an important public health problem the world over. The disease affects primarily pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems.
The Australian research involved a survey of 586 women attending antenatal clinics in one private and two major public hospitals in New South Wales between April and November 2006.
Results revealed that more than half the women had received no information on preventing Listeria, and others knew of only some of the risky foods.
About half of the women had received their information about safe and unsafe foods from friends, instead of health professionals. It was also found that first-time mothers and women in their third (or more) pregnancy had the least information about the disease.
"In my experience, food was not high on the list of health risk topics for doctors, nurses and midwives to discuss with clients," Ms Bondarianzadeh said. "Our results show that when it comes to food, women who have enough information and knowledge from a trusted source will change their eating behaviour.
"Health professionals who deal with pregnant women should all be raising the importance of educating women about food safety in pregnancy."
Each year, about 60 Australians are infected with Listeria, including about 10 pregnant women.