Fact or Fiction? Stories About Pregnancy

Old Wives Tales Blog Pregnant couple

Most of us have heard tall tales and legends from our parents or grandparents. These stories are passed down through generations, and they’re shared again and again. By the time we hear them, they might be mostly true, partly true or completely false. The details vary a bit depending on where you live, your cultural heritage and your family origins, but many of the most popular old wives’ tales have some common themes — and one of them is pregnancy.

Almost as soon as a couple finds out they are expecting, the first question they hear is, “Is it a boy or a girl?” And then as her due date approaches, the mom-to-be often asks everyone she knows for home remedies on how to naturally jumpstart the birthing process and get that baby out!

Advances in science have provided us with tests, such as an ultrasound, that definitively show a baby’s sex, as well as medications that can safely induce labor. While bringing a life into the world can be a serious and sobering decision, pregnancy is also a time of joy. Old wives’ tales about having babies are still around today for a reason, right? That’s because they can bring comfort and a lighthearted distraction to anxious parents.

Here are some of our favorites. (Please note the purpose of this list is harmless fun. It’s not to be taken as facts or medical advice!)

Gender Reveal

Once a woman shares that she’s pregnant — and especially after she starts to “show” — her friends and family will likely be eager to offer their thoughts on whether it’s a boy or a girl. Some may even have contradictory opinions.

Which of these old wives’ tales have you heard before?

  • Dangle a ring on a necklace (or threaded needle on a long string) over the mother-to-be’s pregnant belly. It’s a girl if it swings side to side. It’s a boy if it goes in a circle.
  • If mom craves citrus fruits or sweet foods, she is having a girl.
  • If her cravings are meat, cheese and salty foods, it is a boy.
  • If she gets terrible morning sickness, she’s having a boy.
  • If the mom carries the baby high, it is a girl. If she carries the baby low, it is a boy.
  • If the mom gains weight mainly in her belly, it is a girl. If she seems to gain weight all over her hips, thighs and buttocks, it’s a boy.
  • Or, if the mom’s weight gain is on the front of her body like a basketball, it is a boy. If her baby weight is low and spread out, it is a girl.
  • If both the expectant mother and father gain weight, they will have a boy.
  • If the mother’s breast size increases, she’s having a girl.
  • If the mother face gets rounder or her cheeks get rosy, it means she is having a girl.
  • A mom with extra soft skin is having a girl.
  • If a mom’s skin is glowing and radiant, that means it’s a boy.
  • If the mother experiences major mood swings, she’s having a girl.
  • If the mother’s nose widens by the end of her pregnancy, she is having a boy.
  • If the mother does not sleep soundly or has frequent headaches throughout her pregnancy, it is a boy.

One possible predictor that’s slightly more scientific has to do with the baby’s heart rate, which should be anywhere between 120-160 beats per minute, depending where the woman is in her pregnancy. The most popular old wives’ tale says that 120-140 beats per minute means it’s a boy. A heart rate greater than 140 means it’s a girl. Just like with all the other claims we listed above, there’s no scientific evidence to support this theory. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked on occasion!

A Labor of Love

Some of the most popular old wives’ tales associated with delivering a baby deal with forces beyond our control. Severe storms have been blamed for premature labor. Monsoon season causes preeclampsia. When the sun sets, a woman’s contractions get more intense. The moon controls the tides, so why not the “tide” of labor? These stories persist, but studies have yet to prove that any of them are true.

So, what do legends of years past tell us about inducing labor? Popular but not proven ideas include eating spicy foods or taking castor oil. While those are more likely to upset your stomach than bring on labor, the following notions have some data to back them up:

  • Exercise: Pregnant mothers who want to initiate labor naturally can take a brisk walk around the block or carefully go up and down the stairs in their home. The motion and gravity of gentle exercise like this could help the baby drop, which then may help dilate the cervix.
  • Sexual intercourse: When the male partner ejaculates, prostaglandin in the semen can cause the woman’s body to produce oxytocin, which stimulates labor. Oxytocin is also released when the woman has an orgasm.
  • Stimulation: Scientific research shows that massaging or rolling the mom-to-be’s nipples also releases oxytocin in her body, which can bring on labor.

This is just a sample of old wives’ tales about pregnancy; there are many more. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our list as much as we enjoyed putting it together. If any of them have worked for you, please let us know!

*This article was inspired by “Pregnancy: Old Wives’ Tales and Other Musings,” by Charles Oberst, MD, in the October 2020 issue of Louisville Medicine magazine.

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