Parenting before Children? Parenting culture, pregnancy and the ‘pre-conception period’

Tuesday 24 May 2022
University of Kent, Canterbury Campus
12.30 to 6.30pm

This was a joint event with the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication (CRRC).

You can listen to recordings from this event here

Programme outline

Dr Patricia Lohr, Director of the Centre for Reproductive Research & Communication (CRRC) and Prof. Ellie Lee, Director the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies (CPCS) (Chair for the Day)

Roundtable: Assessing the rise of the preconception period:
Dr Kirsty Budds (Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Leeds Beckett University) and Natalie Davies (Society for the Study of Addiction), with responses from Clare Murphy (Chief Executive, British Pregnancy Advisory Service) and Dr Sue Mann (Consultant in Sexual and Reproductive Health).

Panel discussion: Fetal Disorders and Maternal Responsibilisation:
Presentations by Rachel Arkell (ESRC funded PhD Candidate, University of Kent) and Rebecca Blaylock (Research and Engagement Lead, British Pregnancy Advisory Service).

Paper presentation: “Policing the maternal mind: Prenatal care and the psychologisation of pregnancy”
Presentation by Dr Edmée Ballif (Swiss National Science Foundation Reasearch Fellow and visiting scholar at University College London and Rutgers University; Associate at the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent); Discussants: TBC.

Background reading

Fit to conceive? Representations of preconception health in the UK pressKirsty Budds Leeds Beckett University, UK

Growing better brains? Pregnancy and neuroscience discourses in English social and welfare policies, Pam Lowe, Ellie Lee and Jan Macvarish

Policing the Maternal Mind: Maternal Health, Psychological Government, and Swiss Pregnancy Politics, Edme´e Ballif, School of Health Sciences (HESAV), HES-SO University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland

The WRISK Project
WRISK was funded by the Wellcome Trust to explore women’s experiences of risk messaging in pregnancy, and develop recommendations to align public health messages with women’s needs and lived experiences. Principal Investigator Clare Murphy talks to the SSA’s Natalie Davies about the potential unintended consequences of ‘abstinence-only’ messages for pregnant women, and why public health messages for pregnant women need to be re-calibrated.
Find out more about the WRISK project.

Background to the event

Research about parenting culture has pointed to the many ways in which ‘parenting’ tends to extend backwards, to the time before the birth of a child. Scholarship has discussed how the idea that the health and abilities of a child are determined before birth is centuries old. It is found for example, in claims about how a person’s future is given ‘by the stars’, and in the notion of ‘maternal imprinting’.

In the context of modern parenting culture, what prospective parents do – and especially what pregnant women do – remains a powerful focus for accounts of what will most determine key aspects of those yet to be born. Perhaps most distinctive, according to some accounts, is the extent of scientisation. Very strong claims purporting to find support in neuroscience, epigenetics, and research about the origins of disease give power and moral urgency to the case for ‘doing more’. For example, the claim that what happens in the first ‘1001 days’ of life, defined conception as age 2, drives family policy. The power of ‘parenting’ across this time in life is said to be so great it, more than anything else, determines individual and social welfare, meaning more should and must be done.

Health policy programmes now include pregnancy as part of ‘the early years’ of a child’s life and advise accordingly. More recently, parenting has been extended backwards further still, to the so-called ‘preconception period’, with women advised about health behaviours in order to be ‘pregnancy ready’. While advocates of attention to the earliest stages of life perceive an opportunity to improve the health and life chances of future generations, others see overreach in claims about the impact of parenting before children and emphasise overbearing control of women’s reproductive lives. Not only pregnancy, but also pre-pregnancy has become more and more characterised by fear and health policing, it is argued.

This event is an opportunity to discuss the issue raised. It is organised as a collaboration between researchers from the University of Kent working with the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies and bpas’ CRRC.