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Old Wives' Tales for Babies: What's True and What's Not?

Published September 12, 2012        by Sarah

There are remarkable transformations that take place when you are expecting a child; one of the most marked, especially as your belly grows, is the need that people feel to share their “wisdom.”  Besides your family and friends, people in stores, people you’ve never met before, complete strangers who pass you on the street, suddenly have all this advice to give out!  You will hear more old wives’ tales than you ever knew existed: do you have heartburn? Oh, your baby is going to have lots of hair!  You’re carrying high; you’re going to have a boy!  Where do these “truisms” come from?  What’s true and what’s not?

Like any wives’ tale, there is often a basis in truth – sort of!  One “myth,” for instance, says that pregnant women should not take baths.  Oh my!  It was thought that bacteria could enter the womb and hurt the baby.  That’s not true; what is true is that overly hot water can be harmful because it raises the mother’s blood pressure, which can be dangerous for the baby.

Another old wives’ tale that is semi-truthful, in a roundabout way, is the adage that you must drink a lot of water or the baby will get dirty.  The thought was that if you do not hydrate yourself, the baby would be left in its own waste, and since he/she drinks the amniotic fluid, this would be very, very bad.  That’s not true; your amniotic fluid replenishes itself every three hours, so your baby is always fresh and clean.  Drinking water is important, though, so mom doesn’t get dehydrated, lightheaded, or overly swollen in the feet or hands.

Other old wives’ tales about babies may have survived the test of time but they did so with no scientific evidence to back them up.  For instance, it is said that if an expectant mother wears a lei, then her baby will be born with its umbilical cord enfolded around his neck.  Now, it probably happened that a mother put a lei on and soon thereafter her baby was born with his umbilical cord around his neck – but that doesn’t mean the lei caused it.  There is absolutely no connection, and in fact, the umbilical cord is enveloped about the neck in 1/3 of births.

Another baseless tale is that heartburn indicates that your baby will be born with a full head of hair. Again, your baby could be born with a lot of hair and you could have a lot of heartburn, but that doesn’t mean the two are related.  As the baby gets bigger, there is less room for him to grow and stretch. He puts more pressure on the stomach, and heartburn is very common.  Your baby may be born as bald as Mr. Clean while you suffer nightly from heartburn!

Here is another great one: if your partner does not give you the foods you crave during pregnancy, he will get a sty in his eye.  You can certainly tell your partner that this is true, especially if you are craving baby cookies at three in the morning – but chances are that he won’t come down with a sty.  This one probably evolved to scare fathers-to-be into getting mom snacks, and that’s a perfectly fine tradition to stick to!

There are some old wives’ tales that are true: clean, healthy teeth indicate a lower risk of preterm birth; studies show that women who eat breakfast cereal each day months before conceiving are more likely to have a boy; and having sex can help bring on labor because it encourages the cervix to open and releases hormones similar to medications that induce labor.  Some doctors say the connection is somewhat tenuous – but advise their patients to go for it anyway.

Most wives’ tales are just that; things people say to pregnant women because they were told, and because whoever told them was told…it goes on and on.  While they may not be true, they do give us a great glimpse into how people viewed pregnancy and birth in the past.

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