Pregnancy and Old Wives’ Tales

Photo by: Flickr
Photo by: Flickr

Old wive’s tales are oral traditions passed down through generations, offering advice about experiences we all share.  Some have basis in fact, but many have been proven false by modern science and medicine.  Pregnancy has no shortage of these old wives’ tales, often passed from grandmother to mother to daughter.

The baby’s heart rate will tell you the gender of your baby.

The baby’s heart rate changes during different stages of pregnancy, with no discernable difference until labor.  The heartbeat at eight to 10 weeks is 170-200 beats per minute, and mid-pregnancy is about 120-160.  If the baby moves the heart rate goes up just as ours does when we move around.  During labor the female baby’s heart rate is significantly faster than the male’s, but by that point if you haven’t already been told the sex of your baby after an ultrasound, you are more concerned about getting through the delivery than what sex your little bundle of joy will be!

If you reach above your head the umbilical cord will wrap around your baby’s neck.

The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck on about one-third of all births.  It is the movement of the baby during the early part of pregnancy that results in the cord being wrapped around the neck, arm, or leg, or creates knots in the cord.  The movement of your arms has no physical effect on the position of the umbilical cord withing the amniotic sac.  This old wives’ tale can have some benefit for the mother, however.  If the people around you believe it, you may be relieved of some heavy work!

Photo by: Flickr
Photo by: Flickr

Pregnant women shouldn’t take baths.

This tale arises from the mistaken belief that germs may travel up the birth canal and infect the baby.  This is not possible since the baby is protected by a mucous plug and amniotic sac.  An expectant mother whose water has broken should not take a bath, however.  Warm baths can be a wonderful way to relieve some of the pressure on her back, soak away aches and pains, and just relax.  The pregnant woman should avoid hot tubs and hot baths (over 100 degrees F) that may cause neurological problems for the developing baby, especially during the first trimester.

If you have heartburn during pregnancy, your baby will be born with a full head of hair.

Heartburn during pregnancy is extremely common as the baby grows and pushes against the stomach, no matter how much (or little) hair he/she has!

You must drink eight glasses of water a day or the baby will get “dirty.”

Staying well-hydrated during pregnancy is important, but the baby won’t get dirty if you don’t get your eight glasses a day.  The amniotic fluid refreshed itself every three hours, giving baby a clean environment to float in.

Many of the tales tell you how to determine the sex of your baby either before conception or while still carrying him/her.  With ultrasound technology, we don’t have to resort to old wives’ tales anymore, but these tales are still entertaining.

The mother-to-be can tell the gender of her baby by mixing a little Drano with her urine.

The tales goes that the color change in the solution determines whether the baby is a boy or girl.  The truth is that there is nothing in Drano or urine that can determine the sex of an unborn baby.  Many women who have used this method swear that it works, but the evidence is coincidental and has no basis in fact.  Drano has toxic fumes and mixing the two may cause an explosion!

Carrying the baby high means it’s a girl, and carrying the baby low means it’s a boy.

Women who are having their first pregnancy will usually carry the baby higher, with subsequent pregnancies carried a bit lower because the muscle have become more elastic.  And results that support this one are purely coincidental.

If you can’t tell the woman is pregnant from behind, it is a girl.

A woman with along torso has more room for the baby, and her belly won’t bulge out as much.  A woman with a short torso will grow out, and a wide belly may just mean the baby is laying sideways.

 A pregnant woman with a round, rosy face is carrying a girl.

Every woman experiences pregnancy differently, and each pregnancy she has is different, including weight gain and skin changes.

Photo by: Flickr
Photo by: Flickr

Sleeping on your back may hurt your baby.

Pregnantwomen may sleep however they are comfortable, but in the last stages of pregnancy and during labor, this old wives’ tale does have some merit.  The vena cava (a major blood vessel underlying the uterus) may be compressed if the mother-to-be lies on her back for an extended period of time or during labor.  Many midwives will advise the mother to sleep slightly on one side, propped by a pillow, and to sit or walk during labor.

A husband who refuses to satisfy his wife’s cravings for a particular food will get a sty in his eye.

Not true, but some other harm might come to him for his lack of compliance!

There are many other old wives’ tales that are supposed to determine the sex of your baby.  Many women offer anecdotal evidence that they work, but none have any real basis in scientific fact.  They make fun games at baby showers, though, and if you want to try a few out, here are some safe (but not foolproof) old wives’ tales:

Have the other-to-be pick up a single key.  If she picks it up by the wide end she’s having a girl.  If she picks it up by the narrow end she’s having a boy.

Take a poll among five-year-old children.

Tie a ring on a string and hold it over the pregnant woman’s body.  If it swings side-to-side it’s a girl and if it swings around in a circle it’s a boy.

The mother’s previous child determines the gender of the next baby.  If the child’s first word was “mama” it will be a girl, and if the child’s first word was “dada” the next one will be a boy.

If a toddler boy shows interest in a pregnant woman she is carrying a girl.  If he ignores the woman, she is carrying a boy.

Ask the mother-to-be to show you her hands.  If she shows them to you palms up she’s having a girl, and if she shows them to you palms down she is having a boy.

The Mayans determined the sex of the baby by taking the mother’s age when she conceived and the year of conception.  If both numbers are odd or even she’s carrying a girl.  If one is odd and one even she is carrying a boy.