Pregnancy remains mysterious despite a wealth of scientific knowledge about the gestational process. That’s not particularly surprising. After all, very few wombs come with windows and children are notoriously unreliable sources when it comes to recalling their own fetal experiences. There’s also this: Pregnancy is an emotional as well as a physical experience. Understanding cell division and organogenesis doesn’t necessarily mean understanding what’s going down. Given that, it’s no small wonder the myths and questionable folk wisdom about pregnancy have retained mass appeal.
Happily, modern research can handily debunk many of the myths that cause stress and anxiety for parents-to-be. Here are the common misconceptions about pregnancy that parents don’t actually need to worry about. (Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of other stuff to worry about.)
Advanced Maternal Age
One of the biggest pregnancy myths is that having children past the age of 35 suddenly becomes incredibly risky. While it’s true that the risk of birth defects for the babies of women in their mid-to-late 30s increases, that increased risk is a matter of a couple percent. That’s not insignificant in either statistical or practical terms, but it’s also not necessarily a reason for profound concern.
What’s more, research shows that women in their 30s are actually more effective mothers. They’re well into their career and more likely to be able to provide. Also, their brains and bodies benefit more from the beneficial hormonal effects of pregnancy, which can help their health later in life. Younger moms largely miss out on those benefits.
There are some late-occurring pregnancy concerns like high blood pressure or gestational diabetes that might prompt a doctor to suggest that a pregnant woman stay in bed at all times for the remainder of her pregnancy. The problem is that a 2013 study found that bedrest can cause more harm than good.
While lying down can increase the flow of blood to the placenta, which is why bedrest is prescribed, there is no indication that it can actually stop preterm labor. That said, the stress of isolation, lost wages, and feelings of hopelessness could actually increase the likelihood of preterm labor. It’s enough of a risk that the even the Mayo clinic urges caution.
Pregnant Women Can’t Eat Fish
The popular wisdom is that seafood is full of lead, which could cause damage to the developing fetus. While it’s true that some apex predators like shark or swordfish may contain higher than normal concentration of lead in their flesh, the risk of lead is extremely small in fish like shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
Fish are also an important source of naturally occurring Omega-3 fatty acids that help a growing fetus build nerve cell membranes. Two 6-oz. servings of fish per week provide the 200mg per day recommended by the Federal Department of Agriculture.
Third Trimester Sex is Unsafe
If parents to be want to get it on during the third trimester they absolutely should. In fact, studies show, many pregnant women see an increase in sexual pleasure and desire in the third trimester after a noticeable dip in the first trimester. Yes, there may need to be some consideration as to the position, but the sex will not be harmful to the fetus. There is also no indication that semen can actually induce labor, which is something people who didn’t know what they were talking about used to say.
Caffeine Should be Avoided
Pregnancy is already a very tough slog. Why make it worse by going through it sans caffeine. Currently there are no studies to suggest that moderate caffeine intake will harm a fetus. That said, the March of Dimes recommends limiting caffeine to one standard 12-oz. cup of joe per day.
Pregnancies Require Multiple Ultrasounds
The only ultrasound that is actually necessary during a typical low-risk pregnancy is the second-trimester “anatomy scan.” Any additional ultrasounds aren’t really necessary to protect or support the development of the fetus.
It’s important to note that ultrasounds, like any medical procedure, do come with a small amount of risk. And getting the procedure for reasons of vanity, or just in case, may put a growing baby at unnecessary risk. Plus, it’s incredibly wasteful.
Parents Can Predict a Baby’s Gender
There are a bunch of weird ways that are said to help a parent predict the gender of a child sans ultrasound. But even the incredibly odd suggesting of peeing into a bottle of Drano can’t help parents figure out if they’re having a boy or a girl. So regardless of if a woman is carrying her child high or low, or if she happened to eat some kind of girl or boy-making food, parents who want to know will either have to be surprised or ask their ultrasound tech at the second-trimester screening.