Newborn baby boy sucking milk from mothers breast. Portrait of mom and breastfeeding baby. Concept of healthy and natural baby breastfeeding nutrition.

Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication at Fairleigh Dickinson University, writes about issues affecting women and social media. Her book “Over the Influence: Why Social Media Is Toxic for Women and Girls — And How We Can Take It Back” will be published by Alcove Press in 2024. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

I was only a few weeks pregnant with my first child when I went out to dinner at a tony Los Angeles restaurant and asked my server whether the cheese in a salad on the menu had been pasteurized.

Kara  Alaimo

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns that foods made with unpasteurized milk can contain listeria, a bacteria which can cause miscarriages and other serious problems in pregnancy. The server responded by saying “oh, so you’re expecting!”— right in front of the two men I happened to be dining with.

Thankfully, those two men were my husband and brother-in-law, who we’d already told I was pregnant because I had been feeling very ill. But I was still thrown – what if I had been out to dinner with work colleagues, prospective employers or even friends who I didn’t want to tell I was expecting so early? That server would have outed me.

Many women prefer to wait until they’re further along to announce they’re pregnant, since there is a significant risk of miscarriages in the first trimester and pregnancy discrimination is commonplace in US workplaces.

There’s a simple solution to avoid situations like mine. Restaurant menus should list the answers pregnant women often need in order to determine whether foods are safe for them. They can work off the Mayo Clinic’s guidelines which explain the things many expecting moms want to know. For example: are certain foods pasteurized? And are they being served raw or cooked?

These accommodations should be common practice. But my experience was also a reminder that restaurants are just one of the many places where our society judges and demands perfection from mothers, while at the same time making motherhood far more difficult than it needs to be.

If I had been visibly pregnant and ordered a glass of wine at that dinner, for example, I can only imagine the social approbation I would have faced, since alcohol isn’t safe for unborn babies.

But when I asked the questions to which I needed answers while I was expecting, I not only had to risk giving away that I was pregnant with telltale questions. I also got plenty of unfriendly reactions from restaurant employees, who made clear they thought I was being high maintenance (a judgment that seems to be mostly reserved for women in our society) and/or crazy. Often, servers didn’t seem to know the answers to questions I asked, and I frequently wasn’t confident that the responses they gave me were accurate.

And the rest of society only piles on. That posh LA restaurant recently sent my husband an email suggesting he make Mother’s Day reservations. I wouldn’t dream of taking our young kids to a place like that because I know I’d get eye rolls if my toddler acted like a toddler.

In fact, the majority of American mothers said they’d been “mom shamed” in a 2017 nationwide poll. We’re judged and criticized by others for everything from how we discipline our kids to, of course, whether we breastfeed or bottle feed.

This isn’t just about menus. It’s about acknowledging – as so many of us consider whether to treat moms to brunch or a bouquet of flowers – that American life is stacked against mothers 365 days a year, and we need to do more to change that.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The US has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized, wealthy country – and Black and Native American women in the United States have especially appalling rates of death as the result of pregnancy and childbirth. We’re also the only large, rich country not to provide universal health care.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US is the only one of 41 countries that doesn’t ensure parents receive paid leave from work after they have a child. This means many moms have to go back to work soon after giving birth – but struggle to find affordable childcare.

Rich countries spend an average of $14,000 per toddler in public funds on childcare each year. The US spends $500.

And, unlike moms in other countries, we have drills to teach our preschoolers what to do if someone arrives at their school and tries to murder them and their friends. That’s because the number one killer of American kids is guns.

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So I think it’s fair to say life is pretty tough for American moms.

American mothers are quite literally up against the motherload of challenges. Some of these problems have to be solved by government. But others – the smaller, more easily fixable moments – can be addressed with common sense.

What if in addition to planning prix fixe meals for Mother’s Day brunch, more restaurants took a hard look at how they could adapt their menus to make eating out while pregnant a little easier? And next time you’re out in public and tempted to judge or shame a mother for her choices, think about all she’s up against – and consider cheering her on instead.

And next time you’re out in public and tempted to judge or shame a mother for her choices, think about all she’s up against – and consider instead cheering her on.