Indian ministry denies advising pregnant women to avoid sex

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The Indian government has pushed back against what it calls “inaccurate” media reports that focused on its recent advice to expectant mothers, denying that it recommended pregnant women abstain from sex.

The Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy, or AYUSH, released a statement to clarify the controversial advice it issued to pregnant women last week.

A booklet titled “Mother and Child Care” was put together by India’s Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, a body that falls under AYUSH. It offered a range of advice that included avoiding foods such as tea, coffee, oily foods and white flour, as well as avoiding non-vegetables — meaning meat.

The ministry confirmed that the latter recommendation was made because a vegetarian diet is central to yoga and naturopathy, and it reiterated the advice about avoiding other foods.

Early local media reports claimed that the government had recommended that women avoid sex for the duration of their pregnancies.

“This is far from the truth,” the ministry said. “In fact, the words ‘no sex’ do not feature at all in the booklet.

“The booklet contains general guidelines for pregnant women, which are based on the principles and concepts of Yoga & Naturopathy. … It is now widely accepted across the world that practice of Yoga under expert supervision can be immensely beneficial to the expecting mother.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known for his love of yoga, and in recent years, the government has pushed to raise the practice’s prominence.

“In India, there’s always a tension between traditional and evidence-based approaches to medicine,” said Dr. Anthony Costello, director of the World Health Organization’s Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health.

“The WHO strongly advise a healthy, balanced diet. That doesn’t necessarily exclude meat,” he said. “In India, many millions of women are malnourished and anemic; India really should focus more on the calorie consumption of these women.”

On the Indian government’s yoga advice, however, Costello was more encouraging.

“Growing numbers of studies show its benefits in many areas, particularly for lower back pain, which is quite common in pregnancy,” he said. “I think, given that exercise is a good thing, recommending yoga is a good thing.”