10 Common Pregnancy Myths

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Pregnant woman looking at ultrasound photo

When you’re pregnant, you want to do what’s best for both you and your baby. When it comes to the do’s and don’t of pregnancy, there are many legitimate, evidence-based recommendations, but some “advice” you can safely ignore.

University Hospitals certified nurse midwife Pamela Hetrick, CNM, helps separate fact from fiction when it comes to the most persistent pregnancy myths.

Myth #1: You can accurately predict the baby’s gender.

There are many old wives’ tales that claim you can predict a baby’s sex based on certain observations during pregnancy. These may include whether you are carrying the baby low or high, if you are craving sweet versus salty foods, or how fast the baby’s heart rate is.

But none of these have any basis in science and they are not reliable predictors of sex or gender, says Hetrick.

The only sure way to predict the sex of your baby is through ultrasound or certain blood tests. An ultrasound can determine sex around 19–20 weeks, and blood tests such as non-invasive prenatal testing can determine the sex of a baby beginning around 10 weeks.

Hetrick says you should look at gender predictions as a fun way for loved ones to stay connected with your pregnancy. People are just excited about the new baby and looking for ways to stay involved.

Myth #2: You shouldn’t exercise during pregnancy.

Exercise is a healthy part of pregnancy for most women. Hetrick says the most important advice is to listen to your body. You should be able to maintain your pre-pregnancy exercise routines, but don’t start any unusual or strenuous exercise if your body is not used to it, and always check with your provider to make sure you are exercising safely.

Myth #3: You shouldn’t have sex during pregnancy.

As long as your medical provider doesn't recommend any restrictions, Hetrick says it is perfectly safe to have sex while pregnant.

“Sex is a healthy part of pregnancy, if that's what makes you happy,” Hetrick says.

Sex with a male partner can also be beneficial because sperm contains the hormone prostaglandin, which helps the cervix soften to stimulate labor. As long as your water isn’t broken or your provider hasn’t told you that it is unsafe to have sex, you can safely have sex right up until the end of your pregnancy.

Myth #4. You shouldn’t dye or color your hair while pregnant.

Hetrick says it’s fine to color your hair during pregnancy, though she recommends waiting until after the first trimester to be completely safe.

Myth #5: You should avoid hot tubs during pregnancy.

There is some truth to this one. If the temperature of a bath or hot tub is over 101 degrees Fahrenheit, you should avoid it. Hetrick says some studies show an increased risk of neural tube defects in babies whose mothers submerged themselves in water over 101 degrees. As long as the temperature is cool enough and you make sure you are staying hydrated, you can continue to take warm baths or enjoy soaking.

Myth #6: It’s unsafe to reach your arms over your head when pregnant.

This myth claims that if you reach your arms over your head, the umbilical cord could get wrapped around the baby’s neck. Hetrick says that while it’s true that the cord can get wrapped around the baby’s neck, especially after 20 weeks when the baby starts getting very active, it rarely causes any harm to the baby.

“The reassuring thing is that four out of every 10 babies are born with the cord wrapped around their neck, and it usually doesn't pose any problems,” Hetrick says.

Myth #7: You are eating for two.

As much as many pregnant women would like to believe that they are “eating for two” – this is not a good goal for a healthy pregnancy diet.

“You should not have the mentality of eating for two, because we know from literature and research that too much weight gain can affect pregnancy and increase the risk of a C-section, diabetes and hypertension,” says Hetrick.

While eating for two does not mean eating twice as much food, you do need to increase your caloric intake during pregnancy. Experts usually recommend eating about 300 calories extra every day.

Myth #8: You should cut out all caffeine when pregnant.

Caffeine does not need to be cut out completely. The recommended upper limit of caffeine is about 220 milligrams a day. This is the amount in about one to two cups of coffee. But remember, there is caffeine in other things as well, including soda, black tea and chocolate.

Myth #9: You shouldn’t eat seafood, soft cheese, deli meat or rare steak.

Hetrick says fish such as tilefish, swordfish and mackerel should be avoided due to the high concentration of mercury, but other fish are fine in moderation. Some fish such as salmon, sardines and anchovies are especially good choices because they are both low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

As far as sushi goes, as long as it is from a reputable source, it’s probably ok to eat occasionally.

Hetrick says that soft cheeses such as brie, chevre and blue cheese should be avoided during pregnancy unless they are heated first. This is because of the risk of listeria, a foodborne bacteria that can be harmful to your baby. The same applies to deli/lunch meats – they should be heated to steaming before consuming.

You want to be sure to cook beef to at least medium, and pork and chicken should be cooked thoroughly before eating.

Myth #10: Heartburn during pregnancy means your baby will be born with a lot of hair.

Hetrick says she’s not sure where this myth comes from, but there is no truth to this old wives’ tale. Heartburn is a very common pregnancy complaint and it has no correlation with how much hair your baby has.

The Bottom Line

Hetrick advises new and expectant moms not to believe everything they’re told or that they read. Go to trusted sources – your provider or science-backed books or websites – for your pregnancy information.

Related Links

Looking for more evidence-based advice for a healthy pregnancy? Our healthy pregnancy handbook provides detailed information on pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum care, including a trimester-by-trimester guide, do’s and don’ts, pregnancy diet, prenatal tests and more.
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