Debunking Old Wives’ Tales
Over-the-top myths about making babies
By Lisa Fields

When you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, everyone has opinions and advice. The only problem (if you don’t mind the meddling) is some of the suggestions are actually nothing more than old wives’ tales from a time when competent medical care didn’t exist.

“Advice that’s been passed along through the generations gets passed along further by well-meaning people who don’t mean any harm, but who haven’t done any investigating to see if they’re passing on accurate information,” says Louis Manara, DO, medical director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine & Fertility in Voorhees.

Expectant mamas: You aren’t immune to old wives’ tales if you seek medical information online.

“The old wives have been now replaced by the Internet,” says George Taliadouros, MD, founder and director of the Delaware Valley Institute of Fertility & Genetics in Marlton. “People tend to believe what they see online, on TV, in a forwarded email. Even if it’s fabricated, they believe it’s true.”

If you read or hear advice that seems questionable, ask your healthcare provider before acting on it, medical professionals say.

“Part of prenatal care is getting a chance to ask any questions,” says Monica Agar, MD, of Pinelands OB/GYN in Medford and Lumberton. “Any healthcare provider would be supportive answering these questions. We would rather people have accurate information for their care.”

Read on for some of the most commonly repeated old wives’ tales about pregnancy and fertility. Our experts weigh in about the validity of the advice:

Old wives say: Missionary position is ideal for getting pregnant.

Doctors say: There’s no best position to achieve pregnancy.

Some couples prefer a variety of positions during intercourse, but they may worry that some positions could backfire when trying to get pregnant; they fear that gravity will keep the sperm from reaching the egg. Rest assured, any sexual position can result in pregnancy.

“Missionary position might be a preference for some people, but there is no truth that any position is better than any other one,” Taliadouros says. “During intercourse, the ejaculate gels up against the woman’s cervix, [which is covered with] cervical mucus. The transfer of the sperm from the gel ejaculate to the mucus is very fast; so don’t worry about the ejaculate staying in. Being in the missionary position is not an important thing. Forget about that. Have fun and get pregnant.”

Old wives say: Boxers are better than briefs when you’re trying to make a baby.

Doctors say: Boxers can be helpful, but only up to a point.

Some men wonder if they should switch underwear styles when they’re trying to have a baby. They’ve heard that loose-fitting boxers are more sperm-friendly than form-fitting briefs. There’s some truth to this, but a wardrobe swap won’t work for everyone.

“Subtle changes in sperm counts have been noted in men who make that transition,” Manara says. “For sperm production, the best physiological condition is a temperature slightly below body temperature. That’s why the scrotum is outside the body. When you wear briefs, you push the testicles up to the perineum. You’re getting the testicles closer to the body temperature, which slows down sperm production.”

But baggy boxers won’t help men with extremely low sperm counts; they need help from a fertility specialist.

Old wives say: If you don’t get morning sickness, there’s a problem with your pregnancy.

Doctors say: That’s simply not true.

The majority of women feel nauseous or vomit during the first trimester of pregnancy – up to 75 percent of patients, according to Agar. Many people consider this unpleasant rite of passage, known as morning sickness, to be a good thing and a sign that pregnancy is progressing normally.

But the 25 percent of women who don’t experience morning sickness shouldn’t worry because they’ve somehow avoided the unpleasant side effects.

“Those women should just feel fortunate they don’t have the symptoms,” Agar says.

Although no one knows the exact cause of morning sickness, experts believe it’s likely caused by the increase in hormone levels that women experience during pregnancy. “Hormones tend to heighten the senses,” Agar says. “It can intensify smells and influence taste. Some people suffer from nausea and vomiting for those reasons alone.”

Old wives say: People can tell if you’re having a boy or a girl by the shape of your “bump.”

Doctors say: There’s no way to guess a baby’s sex.

Some family members – even strangers – may eye your belly and make proclamations about your future child. You’re carrying high? Must be a girl. And if your bump is low, well, everyone knows that’s a boy.

But doctors say other, more reliable factors influence the shape of a pregnant woman’s belly.

“A lot can depend on the baby’s size, whether it’s your first baby or second baby, whether you’re petite, whether you have a wider or narrower pelvis – that can influence how someone carries,” Agar says. “People just like trying to guess.”

Old wives say: You shouldn’t exercise when you’re pregnant.

Doctors say: Exercise is healthy during pregnancy for nearly everyone.

People used to worry being too active during pregnancy could harm the baby. Today, exercise is encouraged unless there are medical complications.

“Years ago, there was the notion that exercise would lead to miscarriage,” Agar says. “For most healthy women today, exercise is actually recommended during pregnancy. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise on a daily basis is acceptable.”

Walking and swimming are ideal. Certain sports should be avoided.

“Avoid activities where there’s a high risk of trauma,” Agar says, “like horseback riding, downhill skiing and scuba diving.”

Old wives say: If you’ve had one baby, you won’t have trouble having another.

Doctors say: That’s not always the case.

You’re thinking about growing your family and expect to get pregnant again without a hitch, but this time around, things are taking too long. Why?

“It’s a very difficult question to answer,” Taliadouros says. “It’s a game of chances. You may have a problem, but it won’t completely obstruct the possibility of getting you pregnant. Some women will become pregnant by chance.”

Age also plays a role. If it’s been a few years since you were pregnant and you’re now over 35 or 40, you’ll have a tougher time as the quality of your eggs decreases.

“Try for six or eight months, then see a fertility specialist,” Taliadouros says.

“The cost and inconvenience of a fertility workup is minimal. The tests we have are very simple. You don’t want to waste any time.”

Old wives say: Adopt, and then you’ll get pregnant.

Doctors say: Adoption doesn’t cause pregnancy.

If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for months or years, the process can be very stressful. And because too much stress may make it harder to have a baby, some people believe they’ll have better luck getting pregnant if they can eliminate stress from their lives. How? For some couples, de-stressing means putting their pregnancy plans on hold and adopting. Sometimes, people try this because they know someone who adopted, then got pregnant, and they want to do the same. But there’s no direct connection between the two actions.

“If there’s any change in fertility levels among infertile patients once an adoption has been achieved, there’s no statistically significant difference,” Manara says. “Some of this has been subjected to scientific scrutiny; they’ve studied it.”

If you’re experiencing infertility issues, don’t rely upon adoption as your primary strategy for getting pregnant.

“It’s very reasonable to do things simultaneously,” Manara says. “It’s fine to pursue things that are nontraditional, but also pursue what science has to offer. What we can do is nothing short of miraculous in this day and age.”

April 2015
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