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Pregnancy can be a confusing time for Indian women, with all the advice they are bombarded with. We explore the common myths about pregnancy and whether there is any scientific truth to them.
By Nisha Salim
33 year old Jaya Prasad* laughs as she recalls the flood of well-meaning advice which she received while pregnant with her daughter. “Everyone had something to tell me. While I appreciated their concern in my well-being, I found many of their opinions uninformed, intrusive, and sometimes even downright rude,” says Jaya.
Yes, pregnancy can trigger unsolicited advice from all and sundry. While most old wives’ tales clearly come across as just that, there may be some which can worry you a little. Here, we tell you which of the myths about pregnancy have scientific basis.
“My mother-in-law used to tell me that my frequent heartburns were because of the baby’s lush hair,” says Jaya. An uncomfortable heartburn may be easier to bear if you dream about your bundle of joy with a glorious bundle of hair. But the real reason why pregnant women suffer from heart burn is because of the growing foetus pushing the stomach upwards, triggering acid reflux. When the acid moves from the stomach to the oesophagus, the delicate oesophageal lining gets irritated and causes what is commonly known as heartburn.
There is no medical evidence to suggest that sex will cause harm to the foetus in low-risk pregnancies. The baby is protected by the strong muscles of the uterus and the amniotic fluid. Normal sexual activity will not affect it. The cervix also hardens and closes up during pregnancy to keep your baby safe from any infections.
Fish is a great source of protein, zinc, iron and omega 3 fatty acids which are critical for the healthy development of your baby. But this pregnancy myth may have some truth behind it. Some types of seafood, particularly large fish such as king mackerel, may contain high levels of mercury. The mercury content in fish is not a major concern for adults; but if you’re pregnant, the build-up of mercury in your bloodstream may affect the baby’s nervous system. Before turning vegetarian, remember that eating seafood which is low in mercury such as anchovies, sardines, salmon, and Atlantic and Pacific mackerel will help the brain development of the foetus. Carefully choose your fish and cook it well before eating it.
Consuming too many calories is bad not only for you but also for your growing baby. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy will put you at a higher risk for high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, and backaches. Eating for two does not mean that you double the amount that you eat. An extra couple of servings of healthy food during the day will do the trick. Eat nutritious meals, do not diet or overeat.
It is true that chemicals normally found in hair dyes can be harmful in high doses. However, you’re exposed only to a minimal amount of chemicals when colouring your hair. Most researchers say that it is highly unlikely that using hair products before or during pregnancy will pose harm to a developing baby. If you’re worried, you always have the option of natural hair colours like henna.
The more active you are while pregnant, the easier will it be for you to deal with the labour and get back in shape after childbirth. If you have been exercising before you got pregnant, continue the program as long as you feel comfortable. However, you may need to slow down as the pregnancy progresses. Avoid strenuous or high intensity workouts because it may trigger preterm labour.
Studies show that saffron has an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect, and it also lowers blood pressure. It is believed to help with mood swings too. Skin colour is a genetic trait, and there is no scientific evidence that links saffron milk to fair complexion.
According to Ayurveda, ripe mangoes increase body heat, but modern science does not show a link between mangoes and body heat. Mangoes are nutritious and rich in vitamins. However, moderation is advised because of its high sugar content and calories. They are naturally sweeter than most other fruits, so if you have gestational diabetes, you may want to give it a miss.
The above were some common myths, but there is some wisdom in the following:
A virus known to cause toxoplasmosis, present in the faeces of cat, can be harmful for the mother and the unborn child. You don’t need to give up your pet cat while pregnant, but ensure that someone else is available to take care of it. Feed the cat only dry or canned foods. Do not get a new cat while pregnant.
Since your body is already carrying some extra weight, picking up heavy objects at this time can cause you to pull a muscle.
Some doctors recommend that you completely avoid alcohol while pregnant, while others say that an occasional glass of wine may not cause much harm. Heavy drinking during pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Researchers are still divided about the impact of small amounts of alcohol on a developing foetus. It may be safer to err on the side of caution.
The sap of unripe papaya contains an enzyme which can mimic the hormones prostaglandin and oxytocin, and cause uterine contractions. It is only the unripe papayas that need to be avoided; fully ripe ones are perfectly safe.
Pregnancy is a time of joy for you and your family. Enjoy this time without undue worries.
*Photo credit: ec-jpr (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)