17 Old Wives’ Tales about Pregnancy, Birth and Breastfeeding
What pregnancy and breastfeeding myths should you believe? We’re separating fact from fiction.
We’ve all heard some of the folklore surrounding pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding—like carrying your baby high means it’s a boy (this one is a myth!). While pregnancy and breastfeeding old wives’ tales are fun to talk about, they are not always based on fact. That’s why we rounded up 17 popular beliefs about new motherhood and did some digging to find which ones are actually true and which aren’t.
1. Baby’s heart rate during pregnancy indicates its sex.
So many old wives’ tales center on predicting a baby’s gender. One that seems based on science is the belief that baby girls have faster heart rates than baby boys. The belief states that a heartbeat over 140 beats per minute (bpm) means you’re having a girl, while under 140 bpm indicates you’re having a boy. (You’re supposed to wait until after the first trimester, as many baby boys will have a higher heart rate early on.) While one 1993 study proved this method could predict the sex accurately for 91 percent of boys and 74 percent of girls, later studies disagree, sending this one to the myths category.
2. Heartburn while pregnant? Your baby will have a lot of hair.
Surprisingly, there’s some truth to this pregnancy myth. A small study from Johns Hopkins Medicine found an association between the severity of a mother’s heartburn and the amount of hair her newborn has. Pregnant women who reported moderate or severe heartburn had babies with an average to above-average amount of hair, while those who did not experience heartburn had babies with less than average or no hair. Why would this be? While heartburn itself doesn’t cause a baby to have more hair at birth, increased levels of estrogen and progesterone—the hormones that relax the esophageal sphincter, leading to heartburn—may also contribute to fetal hair growth.
3. A full moon can put you into labor.
We like to blame the moon’s phases for weird happenings, personality and behavior changes, good luck and bad and even babies deciding to be born. Culturally, many tie the changing phases of the moon to a woman’s menstrual cycle, and anecdotally, doctors and nurses note an uptick in births during a full moon. However, while the moon can affect the ocean’s tide, it doesn’t cause moms to go into labor. What could have an effect? Changing barometric pressure before a storm—though it’s pretty hard to directly track weather-related events, so research here is inconclusive.
4. Your cravings indicate the baby’s sex.
According to this piece of folk knowledge, pregnancy cravings for salty and sour foods or proteins and savory foods mean you’re having a boy, while craving fruits, sweets or citrus means you’re having a girl. While doctors aren’t completely sure why cravings develop during pregnancy (though they suspect fluctuating hormones play a role), there is no link between pregnancy cravings and a baby’s gender. It’s important to note that food cravings during pregnancy also don’t seem related to mom lacking specific nutrients, either. However, some non-food cravings can indicate mineral deficiency or anemia, so if you’re craving something not-edible, be sure to reach out to your doctor.
5. First babies are usually late—or early.
The truth behind both of these pregnancy myths is… maybe. Based on the data available, first babies are only 5 percent more likely to be born after 40 weeks than other babies. And, first babies are 2 percent more likely than other babies to be born preterm or before 37 weeks. There are so many factors that potentially contribute to when a woman gives birth. And while due dates are most accurate when based on a woman’s last menstrual period and early ultrasound measurements, that date is still only an estimate. So, if you’re nearing your due date, just know that there’s no way to predict exactly when you’ll go into labor. Your baby’s birthday is coming soon!
6. Every mom poops during delivery.
OK, it doesn’t happen to every mom, but we’ll give it to you straight: there’s a good chance you’ll poop while pushing. Just know it’s no big deal for doctors and nurses—they’ve seen it all and will quickly clean it up—so you’ll likely not even know it happened. Look, it’s totally normal to be a little nervous about delivery. Take it one step at a time, talk through things with your doctor and trust your body. Focus on the best part of giving birth: Meeting your baby!
7. Skin-to-skin contact after birth helps breastfeeding.
This is absolutely not a myth. That first hour after birth is often referred to as “the golden hour”—and for good reason. During this time, a mom is encouraged to place her baby unclothed or in only a diaper on her bare chest. Early skin-to-skin contact causes a release of oxytocin and provides unrestricted access to your breasts, which is key for milk stimulation, production and transfer. Skin-to-skin care is one of the most effective methods for promoting exclusive breastfeeding.
8. Breastfeeding comes easily.
This common misconception can cause a lot of frustration for new moms. While breastfeeding is certainly a natural act, it’s not always easy. From getting a good latch to finding the best position to overcoming challenges like clogged milk ducts, there is a lot to learn. Your best bet is to educate yourself, connect with a lactation expert in a one-on-one consultation and know that you’ll be able to navigate any ups and downs on your breastfeeding journey.
9. Eating oatmeal will increase your milk supply.
Though some moms swear it helps their milk supply, there’s no scientific evidence that oatmeal boosts milk production. So we’re calling it a good old pregnancy myth. If anything, a bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts on a cool morning makes a healthy breakfast—and you need good-for-you nutrients so you can make milk for your baby.
If you’re concerned about a low or fluctuating breast milk supply, it helps to know what’s normal and when to reach out to a lactation consultant for support. Remember: Your supply will fluctuate naturally and the amount of milk you produce won’t be the same as what another mom produces.
10. Drink beer, milk or anything else to make more milk.
While a healthy diet and hydration are important for new moms, what you drink probably doesn’t have much of an effect on your milk production. Despite this old wives’ tale, there’s no research-based connection between drinking cows’ milk and making breast milk. In fact, if your baby has an allergy or intolerance to dairy, drinking milk may cause an uncomfortable reaction. And while a polysaccharide in the barley used to make beer can stimulate prolactin, a hormone that contributes to milk production, the alcohol may have the opposite effect on your supply.
If you’re looking to boost your milk supply, the tried-and-true way to do it is to nurse or pump more often. Eating a healthy, balanced diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains and proteins and taking prenatal vitamins will make for a well-balanced breastfeeding diet. You can also get a good dose of calcium from yogurt, cheese or non dairy foods such as dark green vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans and fish.
11. You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.
Mom, trust us here: This one is not true. Yes, breastfeeding can delay menstruation, and if you’re exclusively breastfeeding around the clock, your baby is under six months old and you haven’t had a period (also known as lactational amenorrhea method), your likelihood of getting pregnant is low. But a lot of factors can affect your fertility, plus you will ovulate before your first postpartum period and it’s hard to know when that’s happening—unless you’re monitoring your temperature and cervical mucus very closely. Also, there are a lot of factors that make this method less effective, including pumping instead of nursing, your baby sleeping for longer stretches and introducing solid food to name a few.
The bottom line: You can get pregnant while breastfeeding. If you’re not ready for another little one, be sure to talk to your doctor about your birth control options.
12. You can’t eat spicy foods while breastfeeding.
This one’s a pregnancy myth—eat what you want! Most babies are not bothered by what their moms choose to eat. After all, think of all the healthy babies breastfeeding in countries where spicy food is ubiquitous. Eating lots of different foods has the benefit of exposing your baby to new flavors, which can prepare them to eat a healthier, more varied diet when they’re bigger. Sure, if your baby is extra fussy, having a hard time sleeping, breaking out in a rash or having some funky poop, take note of the foods you’ve eaten. But without these symptoms, you’re fine to eat as you please. No need to stick to a bland breastfeeding diet.
13. You can’t drink alcohol while breastfeeding.
Pop that cork! Very little alcohol makes its way into breast milk, so an occasional drink or two is A-OK. Of course, everyone reacts to alcohol differently. Keep in mind your baby’s age and weight, your weight, how your body responds to alcohol, the amount of alcohol you’re drinking and other factors such as whether you’re eating food, how quickly you’re drinking and your personal comfort level. A popular rule of thumb: If you’re safe to drive, then you’re probably safe to nurse or pump. Alcohol passes freely into and out of your milk. Your milk alcohol level is like your blood alcohol level, so if it’s gone from your blood, it’s gone from your milk.
Do remember, though, that with drinking comes sleepiness. Falling asleep while nursing or co-sleeping after drinking is a bigger danger than alcohol passing through to your milk.
14. Breastfeeding will make your breasts bigger or saggier.
Every body is different. While many moms experience larger, fuller breasts while breastfeeding, their breast size and shape may change once they wean. The reason you may see a little sagging? It’s a combination of the heavier weight of your boobs when they’re full of milk, the inevitable passage of time and good old gravity. Your body mass index, number of pregnancies, pre-pregnancy breast size, age and history of smoking also factor in. Remember: Your body is nurturing and nourishing a little human being. Some changes are necessary to make that happen. All in all, it’s pretty amazing stuff.
15. Exercise will make your milk sour.
Total myth! Research shows there is no significant amount of lactic acid found in breast milk after moderate exercise (50 to 75 percent intensity) and only a small increase in lactic acid for up to 90 minutes after exhaustive exercise (100 percent intensity). Regardless, there are no harmful effects for babies and no indications that babies will refuse post-workout milk. If your little one doesn’t like to nurse after you hit the gym, it could stem from something more simple, like him not liking the salty taste of sweat on your skin. We all know the benefits of exercise, so get your sweat on, stay hydrated and enjoy those endorphins.
16. You can’t take any medication while breastfeeding.
Don’t believe this old wives’ tale about breastfeeding, but do talk to your doctor, call Infant Risk or download the Mommy Meds app to see how your specific medications stack up. While most meds will make their way into your milk, many are safe to take while breastfeeding. Remember: That liquid gold is precious, so if you have to take meds, do your research before dumping milk you may not need to waste. Be aware that some medications can also affect your supply, such as those containing pseudoephedrine, so always double-check the ingredients.
17. Stress, fatigue and dehydration reduce milk supply.
While it’s important to keep your stress levels low, get enough rest and stay hydrated as a person, those factors don’t actually affect your milk supply as much as many people think. It’s true that stress can cause a temporary dip because of oxytocin inhibition affecting letdown, but your supply will typically adapt and it shouldn’t affect the amount of milk you produce long term. Plus, breastfeeding can actually help you relax.
And think about it—if lack of sleep truly hurt your milk production, any mom with a newborn baby would be in trouble. Our bodies have evolved to survive tough times. Even if you feel like you’re dragging, your milk will keep flowing. The best way to make sure you’re producing steadily? Keeping up a regular nursing and/or pumping routine.
When it comes to pregnancy, breastfeeding and old wives’ tales, we can’t always take them as truth. As with anything, be sure to consult credible resources. Turn to the experts, do your research and don’t forget to trust your gut. Our team is here to help you sort out fact from fiction by sharing helpful resources—and connect you with the breastfeeding resources, including the insurance-covered breast pumps, accessories and lactation support that you need to stay on track with your breastfeeding goals.
Updated October 2020