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  • Writer's pictureSarah Torres

Nine Pregnancy Wives' Tales - Common Unsolicited Bits of "Wisdom"

Wives’ Tales - Common Unsolicited Bits of "Wisdom"

Maybe it’s your grandma or your mother in law, or maybe it’s your best friend’s second cousin’s boyfriend’s older sister, or maybe it’s that old man at the supermarket who wanted to “make sure you know what he knows about your baby.” Anyone who has been trying to get pregnant, has been pregnant, and/or who has had a baby has heard their fair share of wives’ tales. As a doula, I’m asked regularly if Great Aunt Susan is right about something regarding their body, their pregnancy, or their baby. Is there much truth to any of these warnings or signs or symptoms? Where did they originate? And when do we laugh about them, when do we listen to them, and when do they start to become a bit dangerous?

1. “If a pregnant mom has heartburn, her baby will born with a lot of hair.”

This is one of the most common Wives’ Tales I’ve heard. Many clients will ask me if there’s truth to this as they pull out a bottle of tums and munch on their favorite pregnancy candies. I was in doubt that there was any scientific evidence to back this one up as most pregnant women I’ve known (myself included: See photo of my youngest at three days old >) experience personal records with acid reflux during pregnancy. According to a study conducted in 2006 and published in Birth Issues in Perinatal Care, there does seem to be a fairly conclusive correlation between the severity of heartburn and the likelihood baby is to be born with hair. The thought behind these findings is that the hormones causing hair growth for baby may also cause the esophagus to relax, causing an increase heartburn.

2. “If a pregnant mother lifts her arms above her head the cord could wrap around baby’s neck.”

A quick review of human anatomy will reveal that a mother’s arms are not in any way directly connected to a baby’s umbilical cord. This means that pregnant mothers are free to move their hands over their heads without this particular matter being of any concern. Do your yoga and reach into the top cabinet for that secret stash of leftover halloween candy if you must. Meanwhile, if your mother in law insists that there is some truth to this wives’ tale, perhaps it would be the perfect way to convince her to put away clean dishes for you…

3. “If your water breaks before you go into labor you’ll have a ‘dry birth.’”

When I reached out to friends and community members and asked for them to share wives’ tales surrounding pregnancy that they had heard, this one

came up three times. I had never heard of it before and I couldn’t possibly imagine what a “dry birth” could be. In all the births I’ve attended, I can assure you that not a single one was anything even close to “dry.” After doing some more digging, I found that the belief is that the baby will not have enough amniotic fluid to be born easily and that mom and baby would be in danger. While there are many things to be considered when water breaks before labor starts, a mother’s body will continuously replenish amniotic fluid until baby is born.

4. “Being pregnant with a girl means the baby will steal her mother’s beauty.”

I did a lot of researching on this to be sure there was no scientific evidence to back it up. The only thing I found to support this wives’ tale was sexism. Reflecting back on all the pregnant mothers I’ve known and how they looked during pregnancy, there seems to be no correlation between baby’s sex and mom’s appearance. Acne, weight gain, facial features changing - all of these can be attributed to normal pregnancy hormones and are not associated with baby’s sex.

5. “Rough up your nipples before baby is born so that they’re toughened up for breastfeeding.”

***DO NOT DO THIS!!***

This is one that I hear passed around often. And this is where things start to get dangerous. With encouragement, a good latch, and proper support,

discomfort and pain while breastfeeding can be eliminated. This has NOTHING to do with “how tough” one’s nipples might be. Recommendations I’ve heard on methods of roughing up nipples have been from pumping to rubbing with washcloths to rubbing with sandpaper. Again - DO NOT DO THIS. Causing unnecessary trauma to your nipples is only ineffective in preparing for breastfeeding but it can also lead to infections and permanent damage to the nipples which can absolutely be detrimental to a positive and successful breastfeeding experience for mom and baby. Additionally, nipple stimulation can increase an oxytocin release. Mothers who are at risk for preterm labor should doubly avoid this practice.

6. “Breastfeeding will help the weight gained in pregnancy melt away.”

There is no doubt about it, breastfeeding burns calories. A mom whose baby is exclusively breastfed burns somewhere between 425-700 calories per day . While that is all fine and dandy, what is often not mentioned with this super optimistic wives’ tale is the insatiable cravings many moms experience.

Between my two kids, I’ve been breastfeeding for four and a half years without pause and in that time period I can remember exactly two moments of feeling full - both of those occurred on two different Thanksgivings and the full feeling lasted approximately 45 minutes and then I was ready for leftovers. Because so many moms have this never-ending hunger and overwhelmingly intense cravings, it can be difficult to lose the weight after baby is born. To add insult to injury, who has time for the gym when momming AND breastfeeding full time on top of whatever other responsibilities already existed for mom? (If you are one of those moms who can do it, you are a rockstar!! Teach me your time management ways!!)

7. “Morning sickness is only in the morning.”

There is some scientific basis in this theory. The idea is that while sleeping (and not eating), a pregnant woman’s blood sugar decreases while her stomach simultaneously experiences an increase in stomach acid. The combination of the two causes a reaction that can lead to some really intense nausea and vomiting, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy. That said, while 80% of pregnant women experience morning sickness, only 2% of women experience morning sickness in the morning. Many women experience it all throughout the day, some experience it worse at night when trying to sleep, and others experience it intermittently throughout the day

8. “The way mom carries her baby can predict if baby will be a boy or a girl.”

If I’m going to get really real right here, I’ll tell you that no one can predict if baby will choose to be a boy or a girl later in life. If we’re talking about baby’s sex, there is no evidence to suggest that the shape of mom’s belly or how she

carries is an indicator of what baby’s genitalia will look like . Additionally, the wives’ tales seem to differ from teller to teller. I’ll never forget the very pregnant morning I spent at Farmers’ Market in Arcata, California one summer morning, eating peaches with my similarly pregnant friend, when we were approached by two different people at different times - One was certain I was having a boy because of the way I was carrying “and my wife carried all four of our boys just like that” while the other was positive I was having a girl because that was how she carried her girl too. The odds of being correct when using this method of prediction are about 50/50.

9. “Eat pineapple to induce labor.”

After three weeks of prodromal labor with my first baby, I was ready to try anything. When I heard that eating pineapple can help induce labor

naturally, the thought of eating cold, sweet, juicy fruit to jump-start labor was highly attractive to my pregnant, overheated self. The idea is that pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which may cause cervical thinning and uterine contractions. According to Evidence Based Birth, while studies on rats have been conducted and found non-pregnant rats to experience some bladder and possible uterine contracting, there’s no evidence to prove that pineapple would have the same effect on pregnant humans. That said, pineapple is not on the list of foods to avoid during pregnancy, so as long as you are healthy and you don’t overdo it, enjoy your pineapple while you wait for baby! Just don’t hold your breath on it starting your labor (remember to breathe and give your baby oxygen!).

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