Women hear a lot of misconceptions from family and friends regarding their pregnancies, especially with the rise of social media and the internet. As a result, many women ask us during prenatal visits whether the information they’ve read or been told is true. Let’s discuss some common myths we hear from patients – and why they’re inaccurate.
Common pregnancy myths
1. Pregnancy is a time when you are eating for two, so go for it.
While it’s true that pregnancy requires women to increase their nutrition, it never should be to the extent that they’re meeting the caloric needs for two people. To avoid health problems such as diabetes, heart health concerns, and obesity following pregnancy, moms should plan to gain only five pounds in the first half of pregnancy and one pound per week thereafter.
Women unfortunately don’t always follow this recommendation; according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all pregnant women gain too much weight during pregnancy.
Related reading: Eating for two? How to maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy
2. Eating spicy foods while pregnant can cause birth defects or harm the baby
There is no evidence to suggest spicy foods are harmful to a developing fetus. However, there are things that people consume, such as marijuana-laced brownies or alcoholic beverages, that do reach the fetus and have the potential for harm. What eating spicy foods can do is worsen heartburn, which already can be a problem during pregnancy. However, if that’s not a problem (or pregnant women are willing to tolerate the discomfort now and then) we say go ahead and enjoy your nachos with jalapenos – but skip the margarita.
3. The fetal heart rate can predict the fetal sex
I often hear this when women visit for their anatomy scan ultrasound, which usually is done around 20 weeks and when most parents find out the sex of their baby. Close attention has been paid to the baby’s heart rate measured by a fetal Doppler during the previous prenatal visits and now want to see if their prediction is correct. However, it’s not true. In a study of almost 500 pregnant women, the heart rate recorded during a first trimester ultrasound was compared to the gender determined at the second trimester ultrasound. The average rate for female fetuses was 152 beats per minute while that for males was 155 bpm, which was not significantly different.
4. It’s harmful to the baby when women sleep on their back
Women typically ask this question after they’ve experienced nights in which they woke up on their back after falling asleep on their side, and I reassure them that this is nothing to worry about. The reason this myth is out there is because as the uterus grows it puts more pressure on the inferior vena cava (a large vein that carries deoxygenated blood into the heart) when you lie on your back. When this vessel is compressed, the heart doesn’t have as much blood to pump to the body – including the uterus. In my experience, women will get lightheaded, sweaty, or even nauseous if this happens. But if patients aren’t experiencing these symptoms, they know it’s nothing worry about.
Related reading: How pregnant moms can get better sleep
5. Women can cause the umbilical cord to become wrapped around the baby’s neck by raising their arms over their head
Not true – and I’m not sure how this even came to be. My guess is that, similar to the spicy food myth, women thought back to what activities they might have done prior to a suboptimal pregnancy and recalled frequently raising their arms.
It’s not so different than retrospective studies in which pregnant women are asked to recall events during pregnancy and an analysis looks to determine whether there are any common findings in groups who had the outcome. What I don’t like about this myth is the underlying implication that if a pregnant woman hadn’t done something, her pregnancy would have been normal. It places unfair blame on women for outcomes out of their control.
If you’ve been regaled with things that you shouldn’t do during pregnancy, please ask your provider about them and never worry that any question is too silly or unimportant. There is a lot of information out there, and it’s important you understand what’s right – and what’s not.