Pregnancy and you blog

Old wives' tales about pregnancy: Any merit?

By Mary M. Murry, R.N., C.N.M. March 27, 2012

When you're pregnant, you're sure to hear many old wives' tales. People often share these tales with authority and surety, even though they originated ages ago simply as a way to explain something that was mysterious or didn't make sense. I guess the old wives were coincidentally right often enough to make believers of others.

Maybe you've heard this old wives' tale about pregnancy — if you raise your hands over your head or roll over in bed without first sitting up, the umbilical cord will become wrapped around the baby's neck. I can assure you, however, that your actions or body movements have no effect on the baby's umbilical cord. The baby is in his or her own separate little world.

Or maybe you've been told that your pregnancy heartburn is a sure sign that your baby will be born with a full head of hair. This one isn't likely to be accurate, either. I once had a patient who struggled with terrible heartburn. Sure enough, the baby was born bald. The grandmother said that the heartburn was so bad it must have burned off the baby's hair.

Then there are the old wives' tales for predicting the sex of the baby. There are so many of these that I couldn't begin to list them all. It seems that women have wanted to know the sex of their unborn children since the beginning of time. Here's one of my favorites — it'll be a girl if the woman is the aggressor during conception sex, and it'll be a boy if the man works the hardest. What's funny to me is that every one of these tales has a 50/50 chance of being correct. Flipping a coin would give you the same odds.

Of course, that brings me to all of the tales about how to jump-start labor. Eat spicy food, drink castor oil, eat a whole pineapple, have sex. Are any of these likely to work? Probably not. You might get contractions — since any of these activities can expose you to the hormone prostaglandin — but whether the contractions will turn into labor is doubtful.

Despite advances in science, various aspects of pregnancy and childbirth remain mysterious. Sometimes there are more questions than answers. Just like the old wives, we'll continue to seek explanations for things we don't understand. Faith in a few old wives tales isn't likely to hurt anything — but if you keep rolling your eyes at me, your eyes are sure to fall out!

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Mar. 27, 2012