Given how prevalent it is in the movies, on TV, in books and magazines, in my workplace, and within my (large) extended family, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about pregnancy when I found out I was expecting. Being the scholarly type, however, I decided to get a few (read – two dozen) books so that I could learn more about the process my body was undergoing and what I could do to facilitate the development of my child. Through those books and my own experience, I came up with the following list of top pregnancy myths (these do not include childbirth or new baby myths, which I will lay out in upcoming posts). Anyone who has had a child is likely already familiar with these, but I hope they may be useful to others:
- Pregnancy lasts 9 months – True, a fetus gestates for approximately 9 months, but a “due date” is set 40 weeks (or 10 months) from mom’s last menstrual period, for a total of 9.5 months (or more if the baby is late) of symptoms. It really annoyed me whether I’d tell people I was eight months pregnant and they’d respond gleefully – “only a month to go!” when I actually had two more full months to wait to meet my child.
- Pregnant women are tired and throw up all the time – I know this is true for some women, but it is not as common as public perception would have you believe. I was queasy whenever I had an empty stomach during my first trimester, but after that, I felt really great right up until the day before I gave birth. And I never threw up once. In fact, many of the ailments that have plagued me for most of my adult life (insomnia, lactose intolerance, headaches, muscle pains, etc.) actually went away or got better while I was pregnant (most have since returned).
- Old wives’ tales are baloney – Maybe not. My husband and I decided to be surprised about the sex of our baby, so we were constantly bombarded with theories. An aunt told me she was sure I was going to have a girl because I was carrying low; a colleague said I must be having a boy because “girls steal your beauty and you still look great.” My parents kept asking if I’d had any dreams about my baby that might reveal its sex. I thought the whole thing was a bunch of nonsense. It turns out, some of the old wives’ tales have truth to them. A few studies have shown that women who have severe morning sickness are more likely to have girls; women who have a big appetite while pregnant are in fact more likely to be carrying boys. Additionally, women who rely on a dream or a “feeling” have a surprisingly good chance of being right. Also, those who suffer heartburn during pregnancy may really be more likely to have babies born with hair, since the same hormone causes both. Fascinating …
- While pregnant you can “eat for two” – Lie! A pregnant woman is advised to eat “300 healthy calories” more per day, and when you figure how much ketchup it takes to force down veggies while pregnant (see #5), those extra calories are consumed without thinking. I actually am much more conscious of what I eat now, because I don’t want our baby addicted to candy corn (like me!) or hungry in the middle of the night (which still happens on a regular basis).
- Strangers are extra-friendly and helpful to pregnant women – Not to me! Maybe it’s because I live in Washington, D.C., but when I was pregnant, cars were no more likely to let me cross the street and it was rare for someone to give up their seat on a crowded subway train for me. That said, I will gladly take “benign neglect” over well-intentioned curiosity. I felt lucky that no one ever tried to touch my belly!
- No flying during the third trimester – I had resigned myself to missing my family’s holiday reunion in Puerto Rico, since I would be 38 weeks pregnant by then. But as the trip grew closer (and I grew rounder), I was feeling great and didn’t want to be left out. I was surprised when, contrary to what I’d been told, the airline (they all have different policies) said I was
welcome to fly up to the week of my due date. My doctor was also extremely supportive, giving me names of local obstetricians I could go to if I had any complications and promising to be available by phone. The flights were easy and I was so glad I made the trip.
- A pregnant women should not lay on her back/go jogging/lift her hands over her head – All false, unless you have a specific medical condition and your doctor warns you against it or if it makes you feel bad. During the later stages of pregnancy, the uterus and baby may be large enough to press on the large vein in the mom’s back, and reduce flow of blood from the lower body (and uterus) back to the heart. But this tends to matter only in certain circumstances such as prolonged labor, if blood pressure is high, if the kidneys are not functioning properly, or if there is a problem with fetal development. The same is true for exercise – obviously, you don’t want to do anything that hurts or causes dizziness. But as long as you stay hydrated, being active makes pregnancy much more manageable. Plus, being in good shape is helpful during labor, and when you find yourself carting around a 15-pound carseat. My mother in law actually warned me about not putting my hands over my head (which is rumored to cause the umbilical cord to get wrapped around the baby’s neck), but although almost 25% of babies are born with the cord at least partially around their necks, that is the result of the baby’s activity in the womb, not the mom’s activity. In other words, the body protects the baby pretty well during pregnancy, so just live your life.
- Pregnant women should “sleep now” before the baby arrives – This was the most-common and least-welcome advice I received while pregnant. Sure, it sounds great in theory that a pregnant woman should rest up before her baby comes, but it’s easier said than done what with the leg cramps, stomach aches, ninja kicks from the baby, hunger pangs, headaches, heartburn, frequent peeing, crazy nightmares, and random bouts of insomnia. At least that left me with plenty of time to read my pregnancy books.
Pregnancy provokes strange food cravings – We’ve all read about celebrities who sent their hubbies out for Thai food at 2am or downed bowls of ice cream with pickles. Some believe cravings are the body’s way of signaling a nutritional deficiency in a palatable form (so pickles with ice cream may mean the woman needs more sodium), but they may also be responses to changes in taste and smell associated with the hormonal elements of pregnancy. Or it may be that pregnant women are simply more likely to eat what they want. In any event, I had never eaten red meat before I was pregnant, and there was a six-week period when I was consuming a package of beef jerky every day! Weird, yes, but not quite pickles and ice cream. On the other hand, despite being mostly vegetarian my whole life, I could not even look at certain vegetables while pregnant. I literally made my husband throw out all the carrots and broccoli in our house (raw, frozen, canned …) since the sight of them made me queasy.
- As one of the most universal human experiences, we know a lot about pregnancy – I could not wait to learn about this biological right of passage, so as soon as my pregnancy was confirmed, I bought a dozen books on the subject and checked out many more from my local library. I read them all and you know what I learned? There is a lot of unknowns and disagreement out there. One book says a glass of wine now and then is fine, another says that amounts to poisoning your unborn child. The best lesson was to do what worked for me, within reason. I loved being pregnant!