10 Biggest Pregnancy Myths, Debunked

Can you drink coffee? Should you avoid your cat? An OBGYN weighs in. 

1 / 11

By Olivia DeLong

If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant—or you’re already pregnant—you’ve probably Googled, read and talked to friends about what to do while you’re carrying a child. And between new studies, ever-changing health guidelines and lots of old wives' tales, it probably gets pretty confusing, pretty fast.

So, what’s really safe for you and the baby? We wanted to find out the truth behind some of the most common pregnancy myths, plus what you need to know about this exciting time in your life. Here’s what OBGYN Daniel A. Berger, DO, of Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, New Jersey, had to say. 

Myth: You can’t drink coffee

2 / 11 Myth: You can’t drink coffee

You may have heard that your daily latte is a no-go when you’re carrying a little one. But really, you just need to limit your caffeine consumption. “There have been a lot of studies, with mixed results,” says Dr. Berger. "What it really comes down to is that you should moderate the amount that you take in."

During pregnancy, doctors recommend that you keep your caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams or less. To put it in perspective, that’s about one or two cups of coffee per day.

But beware of excess sugar and cream; from a nutritional standpoint, overdoing these extras can quickly add up in empty calories.

Myth: You have to avoid cats

3 / 11 Myth: You have to avoid cats

Have you been told to steer clear of your beloved felines during pregnancy? Well, it’s actually contact with their feces you need to avoid. “You can still love your cat when you're pregnant, but avoid the kitty litter to reduce your risk of getting toxoplasmosis,” says Dr. Berger.

You can contract toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, by eating undercooked food or drinking contaminated water. If your cat catches toxoplasma from rodents or other animals, you can be exposed by cleaning the litter box or gardening (if she's an outdoor cat). The parasite is dangerous to the growing fetus, and can cause blindness or mental disabilities.

Here are some ways you can keep you and your baby safe if you have a cat:

  • Have someone else change the litter box daily.
  • Keep your cats indoors.
  • Do not adopt or approach stray cats.
  • Avoid feeding your cat raw or undercooked meats and foods.
  • Keep any outdoor sandboxes covered.
Myth: You cannot travel by plane

4 / 11 Myth: You cannot travel by plane

You’ve probably wondered whether you can fly during certain trimesters, especially if you had travel plans booked when you got pregnant.

Overall, flight travel is safe for most pregnant women through 36 weeks, especially those who are low risk. After 36 weeks, most airlines limit flight travel to reduce complication risks for pregnant women.

But if your pregnancy is high-risk—you have an increased risk of preeclampsia, premature rupturing of membranes, preterm labor or you’re having twins—it's best to refrain from flying during pregnancy. And regardless of your health, you should be careful about certain conditions that can develop as a result of air travel. Deep vein thrombosis, for example, is a clotting of large blood vessels, primarily in the legs. When you’re pregnant, the change in cabin pressure can significantly impact how you clot. "What's more, flying can be dehydrating, which also ups your chances of developing clots, Dr. Berger says. Ultimately, it’s best to talk to your OBGYN before you make any travel plans.

When you do travel during pregnancy, get up to move every two hours, stay hydrated, wear loose-fit clothing and stretch every so often. And when booking travel, always make sure you’re able to change your plans if need be. Keep a copy of your prenatal records handy, as well.

Myth: You can have alcohol

5 / 11 Myth: You can have alcohol

Someone may have told you that a glass of red wine is okay once you reach your third trimester, but both Dr. Berger and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discourage drinking alcohol during pregnancy. "There is no amount of alcohol that is safe for the fetus."

Alcohol passes through a mother’s blood and to the baby via the umbilical cord. Drinking while pregnant may lead to facial abnormalities, miscarriages, stillbirths and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Some other issues include:

  • Small head size
  • Low body weight
  • Coordination problems
  • Hyperactive behavior
  • Short attention span or poor memory
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech and language delays
  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Sleeping and sucking problems as an infant
  • Heart, kidney or bone issues

During pregnancy, sip on “mocktails” instead. A simple mix of seltzer, citrus wedges, and muddled fresh herbs like mint or basil is refreshing and flavorful.

Myth: Antidepressants can increase your child’s risk of autism.

6 / 11 Myth: Antidepressants can increase your child’s risk of autism.

If you’re taking antidepressants—or even if you’re not—you may have heard about studies linking drugs and autism. Unfortunately, it is a really hard thing to tease out. In reality, there are a number of studies, but the results are inconsistent, says Dr. Berger. "First of all, there are many types of antidepressants, and second, it’s not clear whether the antidepressants increase risk, or if depression itself does.”

So, what do you need to know? Dr. Berger says it’s extremely important to take depression seriously, especially during pregnancy. "Pregnancy can be a stressful time when anxiety and depression can worsen," he adds. Between 14 and 23 percent of women are likely to experience changes in mood, energy levels, appetite and reasoning, as well as sadness, anxiety or loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy.

Left untreated, depression can lead to excessive maternal weight gain, smoking or the use of other medications or illegal drugs. It can also cause problems for your baby—like reduced birth weight, development issues and premature birth, to name a few.

So, if you’re on antidepressants and pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, Dr. Berger says it's important you speak with your OBGYN and psychiatrist. And if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and haven’t received treatment, see your doctor as soon as you can.

Myth: You can eat whatever you want

7 / 11 Myth: You can eat whatever you want

Pregnant women are often encouraged by well-meaning family and friends to chow down; you're eating for two, after all, right? But multiple studies link maternal eating habits and weight gain to your child’s risk for obesity and chronic diseases later on. One study from the National Institutes of Health concluded children who were born to mothers with gestational diabetes, whose mom’s diets consisted of high amounts of refined grains, may have a higher risk of obesity by the time they are seven years old. 

The bottom line is that eating healthy before, during and after pregnancy can help prevent your child from becoming overweight or obese. Regular, safe physical activity can help you burn calories, too. Other things that might help: breastfeeding exclusively for four to six months, plus some additional nursing through the rest of the first year. Also? Make sure your baby is sleeping enough.

Whatever your diet, all pregnant women should avoid these foods, since they may contain harmful chemicals or risk contamination with bacteria like salmonella:

  • Cold deli meat
  • Cold processed meats such as hot dogs
  • Unpasteurized dairy products such as soft cheese 
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables  
  • Uncooked fish, shellfish and raw meat   
  • Fish with high levels of mercury such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel 
  • Cold smoked seafood such as lox 
  • Raw eggs 
  • Pâté or other refrigerated meat spreads 

Deli meat and processed meats like hot dogs are okay as long as they’ve been heated. And Dr. Berger says that no matter what you eat, it’s important to clean your food, keep it separated from foods that could have bacteria, cook it well and keep leftovers cold.

Myth: Cocoa butter can prevent stretch marks

8 / 11 Myth: Cocoa butter can prevent stretch marks

Sorry, ladies. While dermatologists and OBGYNs would love a magic potion to prevent stretch marks—the reddish lines many women get during pregnancy—it just doesn’t exist, says Dr. Berger.

Heavy moisturizers like cocoa butter can keep the skin moisturized, but they won’t prevent or get rid of stretch marks. Most lines will diminish after the baby is born, though some will never go away completely. If they don’t, or you’re uncomfortable with the way they look post-birth, talk to your dermatologist about treatments like microdermabrasion and laser surgeries. They can help blend your stretch marks into the skin, or reduce their size and appearance.

It’s important to practice healthy skin habits if you’re pregnant, and even if you’re not. Here are some easy ways to take care of your skin and in turn, help prevent stretch marks:

  • Stay hydrated.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat foods rich in zinc, like nuts and fish, and those that have a good amount of vitamin C, like citrus.
Myth: You have to forgo hair color and manicures

9 / 11 Myth: You have to forgo hair color and manicures

If you dye or perm your hair, you know that skipping one appointment—let alone nine months of them—can be a really big deal for your locks. And if you’re a nail salon regular, a few months without gel manicures may sound pretty tough. But, good news: as long as your salons are well ventilated, it should be fine. “When we talk about toxic exposure, things that are on your nail or in your hair don’t really get into your body or pose a significant threat," says Dr. Berger

When you get your hair done, there’s a very small chance your skin will absorb a large amount of the dye. It's such a small amount that it likely wouldn't reach the fetus, so many OBGYNs will give you permission to color while pregnant.

It’s always best to talk to your doctor about hair and nail treatments when you're having a baby. Some may suggest you wait until the second and third trimesters to continue your normal pampering.

Myth: You have to sleep on your back

10 / 11 Myth: You have to sleep on your back

Married to your sleep position? Well, you may have to change it up when you’re pregnant. Getting comfortable in bed often proves harder, since your abdomen is growing and you can have back pain, heartburn, shortness of breath or insomnia.

So, what position is best? For most women, sleeping on their side is the most comfortable. Sleeping this way may also alleviate pressure and improve blood circulation.

You may want to stock up on pillows, too. Some women find that placing pillows behind their backs or between their knees can help them get a good night’s rest.

Myth: Spicy food can help kick start labor

11 / 11 Myth: Spicy food can help kick start labor

During the last couple of weeks of your pregnancy, it may be tempting to try out a labor induction trick. After all, you’re uncomfortable and the baby has already fully developed. But your favorite curry dishes aren’t going to send you into labor. The fact of the matter is, eating certain foods just won’t do that.

“There are a lot of different old wives’ tales per se, but when it comes down to it, spicy foods like peppers are not going to cause any sort of labor induction,” says Dr. Berger. Rather, eating too many spicy foods can cause diarrhea or GI upset.

One thing that might help initiate labor is nipple stimulation. “Those women who are low risk, and who already have a ripe cervix, may try nipple stimulation," says Berger. "Rubbing your nipples with a wet cloth may help the body release oxytocin on its own. This can lead to stronger and more frequent contractions.” Always talk with your OBGYN before trying any natural induction technique to make sure it is appropriate for you.

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