10 Biggest Pregnancy Myths, Debunked

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

Medically reviewed in June 2022

Updated on June 27, 2022

pregnant person dressed in a light gray shirt and cream colored sweater, sitting down and holding their belly
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If you’re thinking of becoming pregnant—or you’re already pregnant—you may have Googled, read, or talked to friends about what to do and what not to do. Between new studies, ever-changing health guidelines, and lots of popular myths, things can get pretty confusing, pretty fast.

To find out what’s really safe for you and baby, we spoke with Daniel A. Berger, DO, Medical Director of OBGYN at Capital Health in Hopewell, New Jersey.

cup of coffee in a black cup against a blue background
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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, most healthcare providers (HCPs) recommend that you keep your daily caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams or less. That’s about one or two cups of coffee per day, depending on how strongly it’s brewed.

Beware of excess sugar and cream. From a nutritional standpoint, overdoing these extras can quickly add empty calories.

someone petting the head of a gray cat
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Myth: You Have to Avoid Cats

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

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. You can get it by eating undercooked meat or shellfish, or drinking contaminated water. Your cat can catch toxoplasma from rodents, birds, or other animals, and it can shed the parasite in its feces. Over 40 million people in the U.S. carry the parasite and don’t have any symptoms because their immune systems keep it at bay. But if you catch Toxoplasma for the first time shortly before or while you’re pregnant—say, from cleaning the litter box or gardening if you have an outdoor cat—the parasite can be dangerous to a growing fetus and can cause eye damage (including blindness) or mental disabilities.

It's hard to know whether you already carry Toxoplasma and whether you may catch it for the first time while pregnant. Here are some ways to stay 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.
  • Wear gloves while gardening or handling soil
pregnant person sitting in an airplane seat
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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, air travel is safe for most pregnant people through 36 weeks, especially those who are low risk. After 36 weeks, most airlines limit travel to reduce risks of pregnancy complications.

If your pregnancy is high-risk—for example, if you have an increased risk of preeclampsia, premature rupturing of membranes, preterm labor, or you’re having twins—you should avoid air travel after week 12, during the second and third trimester.

And regardless of your health, stay aware of certain conditions that can develop as a result of air travel. Deep vein thrombosis, for example, is a blood clot that can develop in larger veins of the body , particularly in the legs. When you’re pregnant, the change in cabin pressure can impact how you clot. "What's more, flying can be dehydrating, which also ups your chances of developing clots,” 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-fitting 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, too.

red wine being poured into a glass
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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 many experts, including Berger and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) discourage drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy. "There is no amount of alcohol that is safe for the fetus,” Berger says.

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 potential 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, seek out non-alcoholic options. A simple mix of seltzer, citrus wedges, and muddled fresh herbs like mint or basil is refreshing and can offer the flavor of your favorite cocktail.

someone holding a white pill in one hand and a glass of water in another
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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 these types of drugs and autism. Unfortunately, the relationship is hard to tease out. While a number of studies have been conducted, results are inconsistent, says 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.”

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. It’s common to experience changes in your emotions during pregnancy, such as changes in mood, loss of energy or appetite (or overeating), irritability, problems concentrating, difficulty sleeping, as well as sadness, anxiety, or loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. These symptoms can be related to hormonal changes of pregnancy, although they can also be signs of depression. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your HCP to see if treatment may help you.

Left untreated, depression can lead to excessive maternal weight gain and unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, or using illegal drugs. It can also cause problems for your baby, such as reduced birth weight, developmental issues, and premature birth.

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

pregnant person shopping in the produce section of a super market
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Myth: You Can Eat Whatever You Want

Pregnant women are often encouraged by well-meaning loved ones and friends to chow down. You're eating for two, after all, right? But multiple studies link maternal eating habits and excessive maternal weight gain or obesity to delivery complications, as well as risk to your child for obesity and chronic conditions like allergies, asthma and high blood pressure later on.

The bottom line is that eating healthy before, during, and after pregnancy may improve your child’s health and prevent overweight or obesity.

Regular, safe physical activity can help you burn calories, too. Other things that might help include breastfeeding exclusively for about six months, plus some additional nursing while introducing solid foods through the rest of the first year. While not everyone can do it, breastfeeding can decrease the risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and other health conditions in your child. And when you breastfeed, it can decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast or ovarian cancer.    

Whatever your diet, all pregnant people 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 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.

pregnant person applying lotion to the belly
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Myth: Cocoa Butter Can Prevent Stretch Marks

While dermatologists and OBGYNs would love a magic potion to prevent stretch marks it just doesn’t exist, says 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 a 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:

  • Wear sunscreen.
  • 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 fruits.
someone with brown hair getting their hair dyed
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Myth: You Have to Forgo Hair Color and Manicures

If you dye or perm your hair, skipping one appointment—let alone nine months’ worth—can feel like a big deal. And if you’re a nail salon regular, a few months without manicures may sound like a sacrifice. 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 Berger

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

It’s always safest to talk to your HCP about hair and nail treatments when you're pregnant. Some may suggest you wait until the second and third trimesters to continue your normal routines.

Black pregnant person wearing a red dress, lying down on a sofa and resting their hands above and below their belly
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Myth: You Have To Sleep On Your Back

Married to your sleep position? You may have to change it when you’re pregnant because getting comfortable in bed often proves harder. Your growing abdomen can cause back pain, heartburn, shortness of breath, or insomnia.

What sleep position is best? For most pregnant people, side-sleeping is the most comfortable position. Sleeping this way may also alleviate pressure and improve blood circulation. If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk with your HCP about the best sleep position for your stage of pregnancy.

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

red peppers sitting on a dark brown wood table
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Myth: Spicy Food Can Help Kick Start Labor

During the last couple of weeks of your pregnancy, particularly if you’re feeling uncomfortable, it may be tempting to try out a trick to try to get labor going. But your favorite curry dishes—or any spicy foods—aren’t going to send you into labor.

“There are a lot of different popular beliefs, but when it comes down to it, spicy foods are not going to cause any sort of labor induction,” says Berger. Excessive amounts of spice in your foods, though, can cause diarrhea or stomach upset.

Always talk with an HCP before trying any natural induction technique to make sure it is appropriate for you.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites-- Toxoplasmosis. Last reviewed August 29, 2018.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Toxoplasmosis & Pregnancy. Last updated September 4, 2020.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Alcohol and Women. Last updated December 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression During and After Pregnancy. Last updated April 29, 2022.
Rastogi S, Rastogi D. The Epidemiology and Mechanisms of Lifetime Cardiopulmonary Morbidities Associated With Pre-Pregnancy Obesity and Excessive Gestational Weight Gain. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022 Mar 22;9:844905.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding. Last updated July 9, 2021.

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