Pregnancy myths: busted or trusted?
My belly is shaped like a torpedo, I must be having a girl. I’m going to sit on the couch for nine months, because exercise could strangle my baby. I can’t look at an ugly animal while pregnant or my baby will be a plain Jane. I don’t like rubbing my belly, it will make my baby spoiled.
From the unusual to the weird and wacky, chatter around pregnancy myths is shared the world over. But are they the real deal or just a bit of fun?
More babies are born on full moons
A full moon is the lunar phase when the entire moon orb can be seen from Earth. Full moons are sometimes associated with crazy or odd behaviour. In some cultures, a full moon is also linked to a woman’s fertility cycle. Dr Eugen Jonas, a psychiatrist from Slovakia, devised a theory in 1956 that claimed when the moon is in the same phase as it was when a woman was born, she can spontaneously ovulate at this time.
Many midwives and doulas lay claim to the fact that a full moon sees a surge of women go into labour. Birthing doula Trudy Vains says hospitals are overflowing at that time. “Any midwife or doula will tell you we always prepare for a busy night when one is approaching; my bag is always packed and ready,” she says. The theory might be anecdotally sound, but scientists don’t necessarily agree that a full moon hastens a baby’s arrival.
If a storm is on the horizon, however, you should buckle up, because your baby might be on the way. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, MD obstetrics and gynaecology, says changes in barometric pressure can induce more women to go into labour. “Among health care professionals and labour and delivery nurses, there is a strong belief that falling barometric pressure results in an increase of spontaneous rupture of membranes and increased rates of spontaneous labour,” she says.
A baby will fix a strained relationships
Bringing a new baby home is a special time in your life, but with the beautiful moments you’ll share with your newborn, there is often sleep deprivation and the stress of trying to soothe a crying baby. Deciding to have a baby isn’t a romantic balm for a troubled relationship. Dr Nicole Highet, director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), says some couples do buy into the notion that it can be. “The ideal of sitting there together gazing at the baby you’ve created together is lovely, but the reality is having a baby introduces more stress and more challenges into a relationship,” she says.
A baby means more responsibility and less time for each other, and puts more demands on a partnership. If there are issues in your relationship that need to be addressed, work on those before bringing a child into the mix. Dr Highet says if you’re having problems, set aside times to have an honest conversation with your partner. Discover whether there are needs you both have that aren’t being met, she suggests.
Sexual positions can determine a baby’s gender
Can humans stack the deck to influence the sex of their baby? A few decades ago, Dr Landrum Shettles proposed that if you have sex on the day of ovulation, you’re more likely to have a boy, as male sperm swim faster than female sperm. But female sperm are more robust, they survive longer, so if you have sex a few days before, that ups the odds you’ll have a girl. Dr Shettles also claimed shallower penetration (missionary position) increases the odds of having a girl — as it’s more acidic near the opening of the vagina and the stronger girl sperm can forge through the acidic area.
It’s often joked about that if a man wears brief-style underwear, there is a higher chance of conceiving a boy, whereas loose boxer-style undies will lead to a girl. It’s all to do with heating up the sperm. But there’s scant research to support it.
However, some research shows what you eat has been linked to gender. Research conducted by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford looked at 740 mums and concluded that those who consumed a higher energy- and wider nutrient-dense diet produced more sons. But, the majority of experts agree, there is no sure-fire way to guarantee a boy or a girl.
Pregnancy brain drain
If you’ve ever waddled your heavily pregnant body around three laps of a car park trying to find your ride, take heart. You are not alone. It’s common among pregnant women to experience forgetfulness and a fuzzy head during the later stages of pregnancy. Deakin’s Associate Professor Linda Byrne, a psychologist and neuroscientist in the School of Psychology, says it’s a phenomenon that definitely exists. “It confirms a lot of what we hear anecdotally where women say they start forgetting things during pregnancy — they put the car keys in the fridge or miss appointments,” she says.
When you’re pregnant, your body is flooded with hormones, which may influence the changes, but no one knows definitively why this “mumnesia” occurs. And if you are concerned – don’t be. Professor Byrne says those little neurons will fire on all cylinders when the need arises: “The research also shows that as soon as pregnant women were required to focus, they behaved at normal cognitive levels of function.”
In the meantime, there are some steps you can take to help. Keep a diary, simplify your daily routine, take photos of appointments you need to remember, set timers on your phone and make sure you get plenty of shut-eye.
Eating for two
Discovering you’re pregnant is exciting news, but before you reach for a celebratory tub of macadamia caramel ice cream, take note: just because your body is making a baby doesn’t mean you can, or should, double your kilojoule intake.
Melanie McGrice, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says pregnant women should be eating more nutrient-dense foods, not unhealthy treats. “Growing babies need lots of micronutrients — their requirements are high, but babies are so tiny you don’t need too much extra food at all.”
McGrice adds that how much weight you might need to gain in pregnancy depends on your BMI when you conceive. “If your BMI is over 40, you may not need to gain any weight at all during your pregnancy,” she says.
Nourish your body with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy and healthy fats. McGrice recommends every woman have at least one consult with a prenatal dietitian during pregnancy. “Not only do your dietary requirements change so much, it allows us to explore and share information,” she says. “The first 1000 days from conception shapes a range of factors, including the immune system, cognitive abilities and predisposition to certain health conditions.”
Avoiding peanuts and tree nuts
Nuts are nutritional powerhouses, chock full of protein and key nutrients to help a growing baby. But two decades ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised allergy-prone mums to avoid peanuts and tree nuts while pregnant to help prevent babies from getting nut allergies. So nuts were off the menu.
More recent research has seen experts do a backflip. Dr Michael Young, an associate clinical professor of paediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues collected data on more than 8200 children. They found that mothers who ate the most peanuts or tree nuts, five times a week or more, had the lowest risk of their child developing an allergy to these nuts.
While snacking on nuts is OK, according to the NSW Food Authority there are other foods that definitely should be avoided. These include processed meats, raw meat, pâté, soft cheeses, soft serve ice cream, rockmelon and sprouts.
For more foods to avoid, check foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/consumer/life-events-and-food/pregnancy/foods-to-eat-or-avoid-when-pregnant.
Pregnancy is a time when mums-to-be are bombarded with information: eat this, do that, don’t do this, never ever do this. In the past, avoiding cats was firmly on the “do” list for pregnant mums. When a woman fell pregnant, feline family members were often told to pack up their cat bowls and scratching posts and find another home.
Veterinarian Dr Alex Hynes, who is also expecting, says it’s not true. “I’m pregnant and I have a beautiful cat; I’d be heartbroken if I had to give her up,” she says. Concerns for the pregnant mum come from exposure to a parasite called toxoplasma, which may lead to toxoplasmosis, a disease with flu-like symptoms. A cat can get toxoplasma by eating infected rodents or birds.
To reduce your risk of exposure there are some simple precautions. Dr Hynes says the risk of transmission is mainly around cat faeces, so avoid changing the cat litter if you can, but if you can’t, have fresh litter daily. “With the toxoplasma lifecycle, the parasite doesn’t become infectious until one to five days after it is shed in a cat’s faeces; change the litter every day, and your risk is virtually reduced to nil,” she says.
Dr Hynes also suggests wearing gloves to change litter, disposing of them afterwards and washing your hands well with soap and water. If you have an outdoor cat, be careful around sandpits and when gardening wear gloves. And if you have a dog, take care. “Some dogs will eat cat faeces, so avoid dog poo as well,” says Dr Hynes.
I’m breastfeeding, so I don’t need contraception
Yes, you might. Find a harried wild-eyed looking mum running around with two toddlers in tow, and you may find she was told that little gem.
Obstetrician and author of 9 Months: the Essential Australian Guide to Pregnancy, Dr David Addenbrooke, says while breastfeeding does suppress a period, it’s more complex than that. “When you’re breastfeeding, a hormone called prolactin is released and that stops ovulation, but it’s variable in all women,” he says. It also depends on how well you breastfeed, and if you are breastfeeding exclusively.
Dr Addenbrooke adds that some women can breastfeed constantly and still have a period after two months, whereas others can breastfeed once a day and not have a period for over a year. “I always explain to women when you get a period, you ovulated two weeks before that,” he says. “So if you are waiting for a period to know you are fertile again, you’re going to miss the boat by two weeks. Many women fall pregnant again without ever getting a period.” Dr Addenbrooke adds that if you do happen to fall pregnant while breastfeeding, it’s safe to continue feeding throughout the next pregnancy.
More myths …
Some myths stretch the truth a little and some a whole lot, but some just might be true.
- Bad heartburn means my baby will have a lot of hair. A small study at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore showed those who suffered from severe heartburn had babies born with thick hair.
- Spicy food can induce labour. Spicy food can irritate your intestines, but there’s no concrete scientific research to support this old wives’ tale.
- I shouldn’t dye my hair while pregnant. Many hair dyes contain chemicals, but they are at low levels. Vegetable dyes are safer and some suggest avoiding dyeing your hair for the first trimester if you are concerned.
- I can’t have a bath while pregnant. Fill up the tub with suds, light a candle and indulge yourself. This one is false. But don’t have the bathwater scalding hot, which can increase your core body temperature to an unsafe level for your baby.
So many myths abound. If you are concerned check with your obstetrician — they’ll set you straight.