Congratulations, you’re pregnant — now it’s time for the information overload.
Let’s face it: There are a ton of dos and don’ts to keep track of when you’re expecting. What foods can you eat? What things do you need to avoid? What types of activities are safe for you and your growing bump?
While there’s a slew of useful information out there, unfortunately there are also plenty of myths that are misleading or just plain false.
To help you sort fact from fiction, Dr. Anna Shope, an obstetrician-gynecologist who sees patients at UW Neighborhood Shoreline Clinic, and Mary Bolles Holder, a certified nurse midwife who sees patients at the Midwives Clinic at Northwest Outpatient Medical Center, debunk some of the most prolific pregnancy myths around.
MYTH: Pregnant women need to eat for two
You know that oh-so-popular pregnancy saying that you’re eating for two? Well, in reality, you only need an extra 300 to 350 calories if you’re pregnant with one child and are following the daily recommended diet of 2,000 calories.
If that doesn’t seem like a whole lot of extra calories, that’s because it’s not.
“Those extra calories equilibrate to a scrambled egg, a piece of whole wheat toast, a half a cup of low-fat plain yogurt and a piece of fruit,” Bolles Holder says.
The other thing to keep in mind, Shope adds, is that many Americans are already consuming more than the recommended 2,000 calories each day. If that’s the case, you may not actually need to add all that much.
Rather than focusing on calories, try to pay attention to the quality of your food choices. That can help you ensure you’re gaining a healthy amount of weight throughout your pregnancy.
MYTH: It’s not safe to take a bath while pregnant
Feel free to light those candles and break out the bath bombs because this one is busted.
While raising your core body temperature above 101 degrees Fahrenheit during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, can lead to birth defects, there’s little risk if you’re simply relaxing in a warm bath, Shope and Bolles Holder say.
That’s because bath water tends to be a reasonably warm temperature instead of scalding hot like it is in a hot tub. Baths can also help relieve aches and pains that you get as your bump grows.
If you’re concerned, just be mindful of the water temperature and make sure you’re not fully submerged the entire time.
MYTH: Heartburn during pregnancy means your baby will have a full head of hair
“I just have to smile at this one,” Shope says. “It’s not true at all.”
While a small 2006 study showed that mothers who had heartburn also mostly gave birth to babies with average to above average hair growth, there was no evidence to show that the two occurrences were linked in any way.
In fact, heartburn is common when you’re expecting because all those lovely pregnancy hormones cause the lower esophageal sphincter at your stomach to stay relaxed and open.
The more likely reason behind your baby’s hair growth, Shope says, is your family history and genetic makeup.
MYTH: You shouldn’t dye your hair when you’re pregnant
While it’s a good idea to minimize your exposure to chemicals when you’re pregnant, evidence suggests that hair dye is perfectly safe when you’re expecting.
“The chemicals found in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes are not highly toxic, and it is also important to keep in mind that only a small amount is absorbed by the skin,” Bolles Holder explains.
MYTH: Exercising while pregnant can hurt the baby
“Quite the contrary,” Bolles Holder says. “Exercise in pregnancy is actually good and important for the health and well-being of both mom and baby.”
Shope recommends pregnant women get between 20 to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise four or five times a week.
That said, it’s important to avoid high-impact sports or activities in which you may fall, like skiing, horseback riding and bouldering. Also keep in mind that as your bump grows, you may find yourself becoming more accident prone as your center of balance gets thrown off-kilter.
MYTH: Morning sickness only happens in the morning
Unfortunately, the not-so-welcome nausea and vomiting that occur when you’re pregnant can happen morning, noon or night. But don’t worry — they usually fade early in the second trimester.
Why is it called morning sickness then? Well, the misleading nickname probably came about because having an empty stomach — like when you wake up in the morning — can make that nausea more pronounced.
Shope and Bolles Holder both recommend eating small, frequent meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels consistent. You can also talk to your OB-GYN or midwife for other remedies you can try.
MYTH: It’s not safe to drink coffee while pregnant
Thankfully, this is another myth that has grounds for dismissal.
“You can have 200 milligrams of caffeine a day, so enjoy your coffee,” Shope says.
What does 200 milligrams of caffeine look like exactly? It’s about an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee, two shots of espresso or two cups of tea.
MYTH: Pregnant women should avoid chocolate
Although chocolate does contain caffeine in small amounts, as with coffee and other caffeinated beverages, it’s perfectly fine in moderation.
“What is important to keep in mind is that chocolate is high in calories and should be used judiciously to maintain healthy weight gain and optimal wellness for women over the course of their pregnancy,” Bolles Holder notes.
In other words, if you’re craving chocolate, go for it — just remember to enjoy it in moderation.
MYTH: One glass of wine while pregnant is OK
While it’s tempting to have just one glass of wine or a couple of sips of alcohol during your pregnancy, multiple organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that no amount of alcohol is safe when you’re expecting.
That’s because drinking alcohol while pregnant is the leading cause of birth defects, and it can also lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.
If you didn’t know you were pregnant and were still drinking up until you found out, though, don’t worry. As long as you stop consuming alcohol immediately, your baby’s risk of harm is likely low.
“When you usually find out you’re pregnant, you’re about four weeks along at that point, but you’ve only been chemically pregnant for two weeks,” Shope explains. “Often the embryo hasn’t even implanted yet. I tell patients they should let that worry go but avoid alcohol the remainder of the pregnancy.”
MYTH: Having sex during pregnancy can hurt the baby
If you’re experiencing a complication-free pregnancy, there’s no reason you should abstain from sex while you’re expecting.
“Sexual intercourse and orgasm are not associated with any increased risk of pregnancy complications or preterm birth,” Shope notes.
That said, there are some pregnancy complications like placenta previa that may affect how long you can safely enjoy sex. If you have any questions or concerns about this, talk to your OB-GYN or midwife for guidance.
MYTH: It’s not safe to eat fish while pregnant
Maybe you’ve heard about the dangers of mercury-contaminated seafood, but many types of fish are safe to eat and also good for your baby’s development.
“Eating fish prevents preterm birth and improves neurological development,” Shope says.
“This is particularly true for salmon, a wonderfully healthy fish to eat while pregnant as it is high in omega-3 fatty acids,” Bolles Holder adds.
Shope recommends eating two to three servings of fish each week. If you’re still concerned, stick to the list of approved fish published by the Washington State Department of Health.
MYTH: What you eat during pregnancy can affect your baby’s food allergies
If you avoid eating peanuts, will that protect your baby from having a peanut allergy? Or if you’re craving strawberries, does that mean your baby will love the fruit, too?
Unfortunately, your pregnancy palate doesn’t hold quite that much power.
“Currently there is no conclusive evidence to validate the reduction of allergies or food aversions by reducing or eliminating these foods in women’s diets,” Bolles Holder says.
If you think about it in terms of nutrients, Shope notes, any food you eat has already been broken down into amino acids, glucose and fats by the time it crosses the placenta and reaches your baby. That’s hardly enough to affect your little one’s tastes.
MYTH: Flying while pregnant can cause a miscarriage
In general, airline travel is safe if you’re expecting, but there are things to keep in mind.
For one, you’re at higher risk of developing blood clots when you’re seated for long periods of time. To prevent this from happening, make sure you stand up and walk the aisle every couple of hours. You can also wear compression stockings to help maintain blood flow.
MYTH: Pregnant women shouldn’t pet cats
If you’re horrified at the thought of not being able to cuddle with Mr. Whiskers for the duration of your pregnancy, here’s something to purr about: Petting a cat is perfectly safe when you’re expecting.
“It’s not the cat — it’s the cat feces,” Shope explains.
The issue is something called toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite that can be found in cat feces. If you’re infected, you’ll feel like you have the flu, but your baby is at risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, brain damage and vision loss.
What’s the workaround for kitty owners? If you can, ask someone else in your household to clean the litter box while you’re pregnant. If that’s not possible, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after the task.
The bottom line
With so much information (and misinformation) out there, it’s no wonder you have so many pregnancy questions. So don’t be afraid to talk to your OB-GYN or midwife — they can help you figure out what works for your unique situation.
Armed with as much information as possible, you can get back to enjoying the next several months with your growing bump.