Pregnancy and birth myths and facts

Becoming a parent is a life changing experience, and it can sometimes feel like you need a degree in parenthood to get to grips with all the new information you have to take on board as you prepare for your new arrival.

From old wives’ tales to new medical research, many mums-to-be find themselves overloaded with information and advice about what they should and shouldn’t do during pregnancy, and it can be hard to know exactly which advice to follow and which to take with a pinch of salt!

Obviously it is important to follow the right advice both for your health and that of your unborn baby. Maternity expert Dr Gwyneth Lewis sorts the myths from the facts to help you make the right choices to ensure your pregnancy and birth go as smoothly as possible giving your baby the best start in life.

You can’t drink ANY alcohol throughout your pregnancy
When you’re pregnant, it’s best to stop drinking alcohol altogether. But if you do drink, have no more than one or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week, and don’t get drunk.

A unit is half a pint of standard strength beer, lager or cider, or a pub measure of spirit. A glass of wine is about two units and alcopops are about 1.5 units.

You shouldn’t lift anything mildly heavy
True – you should not do any heavy lifting while you are pregnant. The pregnancy hormone relaxin makes your ligaments more pliable, so they are more prone to strains. If you have to lift something, keep your back straight and bend your hips and knees. When you go shopping, divide what you buy into two equal loads and carry one bag in each hand.

You cannot take Paracetamol during pregnancy
False – Paracetamol has been used routinely during all stages of pregnancy to reduce high temperatures and for pain relief for mild symptoms such as headaches. Overall, there is no clear evidence of harmful effects on the baby, but, as with any medicine taken during pregnancy, Paracetamol should be taken at the lowest effective dose, for the shortest possible time.

If you are unwell during pregnancy, or want further advice about which medicines are safe, you should always talk to your midwife or GP before taking anything. You can also get advice from your local pharmacy, or by calling NHS Direct on 0845 4647.

You can’t eat fish during pregnancy
False – fish is good for your health and therefore good for your growing baby so try to eat at least two portions a week, including one portion of oily fish. It is safe to eat most types of fish while pregnant, however you should avoid eating any swordfish and marlin and make sure you limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than two tuna steaks a week. This is because of the levels of mercury in these fish, which can, at high levels, harm a baby’s developing nervous system.

You should also avoid eating raw shellfish when you are pregnant. This is purely because there is a high risk of food poisoning which can be particularly unpleasant when you’re pregnant.

You can tell the sex of your baby by the type of food cravings you have, the shape of your bump and by swinging a gold pendant above your bump or over your palm to see which direction it moves in
False – there have been many popular theories over the years to determine the sex of an unborn baby, but unfortunately there’s no substantial evidence to support any of them. However, it is not essential at all to know the sex before the baby is born and most of these methods are just harmless fun. The most reliable way to tell the sex of your baby is an ultra sound scan. You should have regular scans throughout your pregnancy, and at the second scan at 18-22 weeks, the sonographer will be able to confirm the sex of your baby.

You can’t exercise while you’re pregnant
False – It is actually recommended that you carry on doing some exercise, providing that you’re not undertaking a strenuous new regime. However, you should check with your GP, or midwife, that exercising won’t pose a risk for your specific medical situation.

You won’t get pregnant if you have sex during your period or after day 14 in your cycle
False – These myths date from times before contraception was invented and people had to rely on guess work to limit their chances of becoming pregnant. If you have sex without using contraception at any time of the month, you could get pregnant. Sperm can live inside you for up to seven days – so even if you have sex during your period, sperm can hang around long enough to get you pregnant. Talk to your GP or sexual health clinic about the best method of contraception to suit you.

Having sex or eating hot curry brings on labour
False – there’s no evidence to support that having sex or eating a hot curry brings on labour, although many women swear by it. It can be very frustrating to be overdue and some women will try all sorts to bring on their labour. If you go 10 days to two weeks past your due date, your midwife may decide to medically induce you to help things along. Rest assured, your midwife will fully explain the process should your pregnancy require it.

Smoking during pregnancy makes your baby smaller and therefore your birth much easier
False – when you smoke, carbon monoxide and other poisons pass into your lungs. This means that your baby gets less oxygen and cannot grow as well as it should, and the nicotine makes your baby’s heart beat faster. Breathing in other people’s smoke makes the baby more likely to suffer from asthma attacks, chest infections, coughs and colds, and to be admitted to hospital.

If you stop smoking, you will have less morning sickness and fewer complications in pregnancy. You are more likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby and you will reduce the risk of stillbirth.

It’s never too late to stop. The sooner you stop, the better. But stopping even in the last few weeks of pregnancy can be beneficial.

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Pregnant women need to take extra folic acid during pregnancy
True – folic acid is a B vitamin that is vital during pregnancy to prevent conditions such as spina bifida. It can be found in a variety of foods including green vegetables and brown rice, however it is recommended that pregnant women supplement their diet with 400mg of folic acid up to week 12 of pregnancy. Ideally you should start taking Folic acid as soon as you decide you want a baby so that you are taking it before you actually become pregnant.

You shouldn’t drink coffee during pregnancy
False – it is safe to drink coffee but you should limit your intake of caffeine to no more than 200mg (approximately two mugs) per day or better still, switch to de-caffeinated. Too much caffeine can increase risk of low birth weight and miscarriage.

You should eat for two while pregnant
False – Most pregnant women require between 1,800 and 2,100 calories a day – the same as non-pregnant women. However, in the last three months of pregnancy you need around an extra 200 calories a day

Women with small breasts can’t breast-feed
False – the size of your breasts will not affect your ability to breastfeed. Large or small, breasts go through changes during pregnancy to prepare you for breastfeeding and will start to get bigger from week eight onwards, increasing as much as two cup sizes for some women. It is advisable to try and breastfeed for the first six months to help provide your baby with the best nutrients and immunity. It can take time and patience to get used to it so if you’re having trouble ask you health visitor for advice.

You should avoid animals while pregnant
False – Most animals pose no risk at all for pregnant women, however, if you have a cat, you do need to take extra caution when handling their faeces. Cats’ faeces may contain an organism that causes toxoplasmosis, a disease which can damage your baby. You should avoid emptying their litter tray while pregnant or at least wear rubber gloves. You should also wear gloves while gardening in case you come into contact with buried faeces. If you do come into contact with cat faeces, don’t panic – just wash your hands thoroughly. You should also avoid contact with lambs and nursing ewes while pregnant as they carry potentially harmful Toxoplasma and Chlamdia psittaci.

Where to get the right advice
If you have any questions throughout your pregnancy, you should talk to your midwife. They will be able to tell you the most up-to-date advice, help you find a solution and put your mind at rest to ensure you and your baby remain happy and healthy so you can look forward to the big day!

For further information about maternity choices and services, you should:

  • Contact your GP or midwife
  • Ask your midwife about your choices
  • Go to for more information

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