The human body is a pretty incredible thing — and regardless as to whether or not you want children yourself, the fact that the human body is capable of creating other humans is probably the most incredible thing about it. Like, that’s amazing. You know what isn’t amazing, though? The many myths about pregnancy that persist, even though science definitely knows better by this point. So, hey, let’s take a minute to bust a couple of those myths, shall we? Because in the immortal words of April Ludgate, time is money, money is power, power is pizza, and pizza is knowledge. Let’s go!
Weird childbirth myths aren’t, of course, a new phenomenon; some of the weirdest ones date all the way back to ancient history. I’m particularly fond of this one from ancient Egypt meant to “test” whether someone was fertile, which Bustle’s J.R. Thorpe once delightfully described as follows:
How’s this for fertility testing: A woman sits on a mound of dirt that's been soaked in old beer, and possibly mixed with fruit and dates. For every time she throws up while sitting there, that's one child she'll have in the future. If she's got a strong stomach, though, no kids for her (which seems to fly in the face of everything we know about motherhood now, i.e. that having a strong stomach is a pretty great asset).
But even though we’re not really questioning what a pile of dirt can tell us about our fertility these days, there are still a number of old wive’s tales that somehow keep on keepin’ on, despite boatloads of evidence to the contrary. Good news, though: The next time someone starts to have Opinions about you if you go for a run when you’re expecting, you can just send ‘em here.
1. MYTH: You Can’t Work Out While Pregnant
The concern has long been that working out while you’re pregnant can cause harm to the fetus, or will cause you to go into preterm labor, or that it will destroy your own joints, or cause all kinds of other horror stories. The reality, though, is that working out while pregnant can actually be beneficial for both you and the fetus.
Indeed, said Laura Riley, MD, an expert in high-risk pregnancies and spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), to WebMD, “You need to be physically active during pregnancy. It has terrific benefits that are associated with a better pregnancy outcome and even shorter labors. It's a win-win for baby and for mom.” According to the Mayo Clinic, exercising during pregnancy can help reduce backaches, improve your mood and energy levels, and even help you sleep better.
What’s more, another longstanding belief — that if you didn’t already work out on a regular basis, it’s a bad idea to start doing do during a pregnancy — has also started to shift: According to an NPR report from earlier in 2017, the evidence actually suggests pregnancy is an excellent time to start being more physically active. The ACOG recommends that pregnant people get at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day, but it’s OK to build up to that 20 to 30 minutes if you’re just starting out.
You’ll want to talk to your doctor about the specifics, of course, but generally speaking, but exercises like wall pushing, swimming, and just walking are considered pregnancy-friendly exercises. (And, I mean, hey, if you’re Serena Williams, you can even win the Australian Open while pregnant.)
2. MYTH: You Should Avoid Eating Seafood While Pregnant
There’s actually some truth to this one, but it’s ultimately not as black-and-white as, “SEAFOOD IS BAD FOR YOUR FETUS, DON’T EAT IT, STAY AWAAAAAY.” Here’s the deal:
Yes, some seafood can have mercury in it, and yes, mercury in high quantities isn’t great for developing fetuses. A study conducted in 2000 lead researchers to this conclusion; however, as Slate pointed out back in May, that study actually has a problem: It was conducted in an area of the world (the Faroe Islands, which are located between Iceland and Norway) in which people eat pilot whale, which can have a lot more mercury compared to fish that are more commonly consumed elsewhere. Since this likely skewed the results of the study, we probably shouldn’t be leaning on it quite as hard as we have been as a justification for why pregnant people shouldn’t eat fish.
In fact, eating certain kinds of fish while pregnant can actually be quite beneficial. As the Mayo Clinic notes, fish is often high in protein, iron, and zinc, all of which are crucial for developing fetuses. What’s more, omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to promote brain development in fetuses.
In 2014, the FDA began overhauling their recommendations for pregnant people and fish, noting that most of the seafood consumed in the United States doesn’t contain enough mercury for it to be a problem. The recommendations were finalized in January of 2017; under the new guidelines, between eight and 12 ounces of low-mercury fish a week are A-OK for those who are pregnant. There’s even a chart that breaks down what the best options are; good low-mercury picks include salmon, shrimp, cod, tilapia, and loads more. Yum.
3. MYTH: Getting A Flu Vaccine While Pregnant Is A Bad Idea
The misinformation surrounding what happens when you get a flu vaccine is astonishing: “It will make you miscarry!” “It will cause birth defects!” “It will cause complications or premature birth!”
But none of these myths are true; indeed, as Café Mom pointed out in 2013, there are studies that directly disprove each and every one of them. Indeed, flu shots can often be life-saving, since pregnancy can make your immune system more susceptible to things like the flu. “Women who are pregnant and come down with the flu do not tolerate it well and have a much higher risk of becoming extremely sick and a higher risk of dying from the flu than the general population,” clinical professor of maternal/fetal medicine Nancy Chescheir of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told WebMD.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend pregnant people get flu shots during any trimester of pregnancy. They don’t recommend nasal sprays, so maybe avoid that — but do get an actual shot. It could make a huge difference.
4. MYTH: No Caffeine, At All, Ever
This is less a case of the myth being totally wrong and more a case of it just not being totally accurate. It’s worth noting that one study out of McGill University published way back in 1993 did link high caffeine intake (one and a half to three cups of coffee a day) to an increased risk of miscarriage; however, as The Bump points out, the study didn’t take into account the type of coffee and the brewing method, both of which can have a pretty considerable effect on how much caffeine any single cup has. (Also, it's from 1993, which means it's kind of out of date now.) What’s more, according to the ACOG, moderate caffeine intake doesn’t generally appear to be a “major contributing factor in miscarriage or preterm birth.”
The ACOG considers it safe to consume caffeine during pregnancy as long you keep it to under 200 mg (about one 12-ounce cup of coffee) a day. So, y’know, if you’re a four-cups-a-day kind of person, you might want to cutback a bit if you're expecting — but you don’t necessarily have to stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks all together.
5. MYTH: You Should Only Sleep On Your Left Side
The rationale behind this myth is that lying supine while pregnant can decrease blood flow to the heart, possibly resulting in faintness or other health issues. But, as a delightfully salty study from 2007 found, only a very small minority of people feel faint when lying supine while pregnant; indeed, as the study authors pointed out in their introduction, “if lying prone had been detrimental to a normal pregnancy, the species would long ago have ceased to exist."
The researchers noted that it’s incredibly easy to discover if you happen to be in this minority, and that if you lie down and do find you feel faint, then it’s an easy fix to adjust your sleeping position accordingly. They concluded, “advising women to sleep or lie exclusively on the left side is not practical and is irrelevant to the vast majority of patients. … and since finding a comfortable position in bed in late pregnancy is not easy, physicians should refrain from providing impractical advice.”
Also, this study is the greatest thing I have ever read. I aspire to be able to dish out this amount of salt on command. It is magnificent.
6. MYTH: Hair Dye = Hair Don’t
This one ultimately comes down to what you’re comfortable with, because while we don’t have any conclusive evidence that dyeing your hair while pregnant can harm the fetus, there’s still a possible risk that it could. But, the point is that the issue isn't cut-and-dry.
“Theoretically, your skin only absorbs a limited amount of hair dye and other hair grooming and styling products,” wrote Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D. at the Mayo Clinic. “However, if your skin is infected or irritated, or if there is a break in your skin, you may absorb more of the chemicals in hair dye than usual. Still, research on the use of hair dye during pregnancy is limited.” Tobah noted that these chemicals “aren’t generally thought to pose harm to a developing baby” — but also observed that, “given the lack of available evidence, you might consider postponing any chemical hair treatments until after you deliver.”
So: If you do decide to dye your hair while pregnant, at what point is it safe to do so? Again, there isn’t a cut-and-dry answer, but the general consensus is that if you’re going to do it, wait until you’re in the second trimester. Whenever you do it, though, make sure you patch test first. Allergic reactions can happen (here is a horror story), and they’re not good news for you or the fetus.
7. MYTH: Sex During Pregnancy Is A No-No
Many, many sub-myths are associated with the bigger myth of having to avoid sex while you’re pregnant: The beliefs that it will hurt the fetus, that it will hurt you, that it can cause a miscarriage, that it can cause you to go into labor, that the fetus will remember it… The list goes on (although the thing about the fetus remembering it is about as absurd as it gets, so at least it doesn’t get even more bananas the farther down the list you go).
But hey, guess what? Nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. As Parenting.com notes, the cervix is clamped shut when you’re pregnant, so anything that penetrates your vagina isn’t going to get anywhere near the fetus and therefore can’t hurt it. If you choose the right positions, sex while pregnant won’t hurt you, either — and there are plenty of options to pick from. What’s more, although you might feel some muscle cramps after having an orgasm, OB-GYN KaLee Ahlin, MD assured The Bump that these cramps will not induce labor; they’re totally normal. And no, orgasms probably won’t induce labor, either, although you might experience a contraction or two.
And as for the fetus “remembering” it? Not going to happen. Kids don’t even start to retain memories until they’re around three years old. You’re not going to scar your child for life while it’s still a developing fetus in your womb — and while we’re at it, if we don’t treat sex like it is something that should scar them for life, then they’ll probably have a healthier relationship with it later on down the line anyway.