Pregnancy is an incredible time in a woman’s life. It’s also one of the most confusing. It doesn’t help that so many pregnancy myths abound. I’m here to debunk them.
When I found out I was pregnant, I felt like everyone had a question for me. Are you tired? Can you still go to yoga? Are you allowed to fly on a plane? What prenatal are you taking? What are you eating? They were asking because they wanted to know about me, but they also wanted straight talk from an actual doctor about how she handled her own pregnancy, largely because pregnancy myths are common.
I soon learned just how much misinformation is out there about being pregnant. It gets spread by word of mouth and by a pregnant woman’s worst enemy—Google. Much of it is even perpetuated by well-meaning experts, even doctors, who are schooled in the old ways of thinking.
I want to cut through a lot of these pregnancy myths, because pregnant women and women who are trying to get pregnant deserve the truth.
Six pregnancy myths debunked
Myth #1: You need to rest
You might be more tired than usual when you’re pregnant, especially in the first trimester. But pregnancy is not a disease. What you need to do is listen to your body, not force yourself to rest. Women all over the world work in the fields until the day they give birth. We were designed to do this.
I found that the more I exercised and the more I relied on a healthy diet free from sugar and carbs to keep me energized, the better I felt. In other words, you might have to push through a little fatigue, but the reward is feeling that much more productive and energized.
Another patient of mine was in a yoga teacher training program when she found out she was pregnant. She wanted to finish the certification, which required her to go to yoga class four days a week. Yes, she was tired, but she told me that pushing through it helped her combat nausea and fatigue and made her feel strong going into her second trimester.
The truth: Exercising during pregnancy will give you more energy and help you bounce back faster.
Myth #2: You need to work out less
The stronger you are going into pregnancy and during pregnancy, the faster you’ll recover afterwards, and you’ll need that energy as a new mom. In addition, exercise will help with better sleep and more balanced blood sugar.
There are certain types of exercise to avoid during pregnancy, though. This includes anything first trimester that could lead to destabilizing the placenta, such as skiing or outdoor cycling, where hard falls are more likely. You also want to avoid doing core strengthening work like sit-ups, crunches, and plank pose. These exercises harden the rectus abdominus muscles instead of letting them stretch. During pregnancy, the belly needs to stretch slowly, not harden. Otherwise, you may get worse diastasis recti, the separating of the rectus abdominal muscles, which has been linked to back pain and incontinence.
The truth: Generally, more exercise than less is a good thing. If you’re confident in yoga, keep doing it, modifying as needed. If you lift weights, get a trainer experienced in prenatal exercise to guide you on how to avoid overusing your core. If you enjoy running or spinning, keep doing them as long as it feels comfortable.
Regardless of the activity, keep in mind that you need to stay well hydrated, as your blood volume has expanded and is redirected toward your uterus.
Myth #3. You can’t drink any alcohol or coffee
You should not drink alcohol daily, have more than one drink in a day, or drink to excess (i.e. never get drunk). These behaviors can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. But there is no evidence that light alcohol consumption is unhealthy during pregnancy.
I know plenty of women, including myself, who had a glass of wine or two a week or an occasional beer throughout pregnancy.
On caffeine, it’s OK to have one serving of coffee a day, but stick to under 200mg of caffeine daily. If you can, go for the organic beans.
I had a double espresso containing about 100mg of caffeine each morning during my pregnancy. The trick is, I never had a second coffee or drank soda, tea, or other caffeinated beverages.
The truth: Set a limit around alcohol and caffeine during pregnancy and be smart about what you’re sipping.
Myth #4. You need to eat more
You actually don’t. I see too many women using pregnancy as an excuse to overeat, eat more carbs and sugar, and to let the guardrails down around food guidelines they would normally follow. Meanwhile, their obstetricians give little to no guidance on what to eat to grow a healthy baby—they just tell them what to avoid, like alcohol, unpasteurized dairy products, and raw fish, further perpetuating one of the biggest pregnancy myths.
In reality, you only need about 200-300 extra calories a day starting in the second trimester, on top of a 1600 or 1700 calorie a day diet, to grow a healthy baby. That’s equivalent to a handful of raw organic almonds (about ¼ a cup or 23 almonds) and an apple. If you’re already eating over 2000 calories a day, which most people are, you don’t need any additional calories.
The truth: What’s most important to eating for a healthy pregnancy is balancing blood sugar and avoiding processed foods with additive dyes, trans fats, and preservatives. Focus on the Parsley Health eating philosophy: protein, greens, healthy fats, and real food. If it comes in a bag you have to pop open, is vacuum sealed, or is a color that doesn’t grow naturally in the ground, it’s not real food.
Myth #5. All prenatal Vitamins are the same
Many of the prenatal vitamins on the market contain preservatives, additives, dyes, sugar, and have poorly formulated nutrients.
For example, while you know you need folic acid during pregnancy, most over the counter prenatals do not have the right kinds of folate. What you really need is the natural form of vitamin B9, folate. Before pregnancy, it’s best to supplement with 800-1000mcg of THF (tetrahydrofolate) daily and 600-800mcg once you are pregnant. Or, if you have a MTHFR genetic variation, like I do, you need methylated folate, known as 5-MTHF, and also methyl-B12, or methylcobalamin. A Parsley Health doctor can test you and recommend the right supplements.
In addition, while your baby’s brain depends on high-quality fish oil for development you need to be sure that the fish oil your prenatal is tested and safe, as fish oil can be contaminated with mercury.
When I got to my third trimester I actually stopped taking my prenatal and instead took calcium malate (since I don’t eat dairy), fish oil derived DHA for building baby’s brain, and one of my Rebuild protein shakes just three or four days per week, which has plenty of extra iron, 5-MTHF, and methyl-B12, in it to supplement my diet.
The Truth: Not all prenatals are created equal. You also do not need high quantities of supplemental nutrients throughout pregnancy—just enough—and if you are eating the right diet filled with greens, healthy fats, and a bit of lean protein you are getting these nutrients through food as well.
Myth #6. Over the counter drugs are safe in pregnancy
You should avoid all unnecessary medications—prescribed or over the counter—while pregnant.
According to the CDC, only 2 of the 54 over the counter medications most used by women in the first trimester have been studied in pregnancy, and hundreds of industrial chemicals have come to market, hiding in your average drugstore product, that have not been studied and are not regulated. In a world where as many as 1 in 20 baby boys will be diagnosed with Autism Disorder by 2025 and more and more children are being diagnosed with ADD and prescribed drugs like ritalin at a young age, how these chemicals affect our pregnancies and our children’s brains is in question.
The Truth: Don’t assume that if it’s over the counter it’s safe. Steer clear of any medications you don’t truly need.
Myth #7: Running is bad for your pregnancy
Running is no different than any other form of exercise when it comes to pregnancy. For so many women, running is a great mental outlet and continuing the things that make you feel like yourself during pregnancy is extremely important. Studies show that even a single bout of exercise can improve mood in pregnant women.
Besides improving your mental health, running can offer health benefits for your baby. Research has found that aerobic exercise can improve the strength of the fetal cardiac system.
The Truth: The idea that exercising while pregnant is dangerous is antiquated and missguided, so you should feel confident in continuing your normal running routine as long as it feels comfortable. Especially if you were active before your pregnancy, continuing with your routine is a great thing for you and your baby.
Myth #8: Sex during pregnancy will hurt your baby
Whether you’re unsure of the impact of sex on your pregnancy or even just feel too tired and bloated to have sex, many people see it take a back seat during these months. But sex is an important part of pregnancy, boasting significant health and labor benefits.
If you’re concerned for the safety of your baby, you should be assured there’s nothing to worry about. The baby is protected by your abdomen, uterus’ muscular walls, and amniotic sac, so as long as you have not had complications during your pregnancy that would permit you from having sex, it is completely safe. It’s even been shown to reduce your risk of developing preeclampsia, ease your labor, and strengthen your relationship with your partner.
The Truth: Sex is a completely natural part of pregnancy and is actually really important to having a healthy birth. And while research has not proven sex can induce labor, many doctors recommend it when you’re overdue because the prostaglandins released make the cervix softer for delivery and can sometimes increase the likelihood of labor.
Myth #9: You should avoid spicy food
Age old myths have told mothers that spicy food can do anything from induce labor to cause your baby to be bad-tempered. In reality, spicy foods are completely safe to eat during pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association recommends avoiding foods like undercooked seafood and meat, fish high in mercury, and unpasteurized dairy products, but there’s no scientific research that shows negative effects of eating spicy foods while pregnant.
The Truth: Spicy food won’t cause you to go into labor. If you’re a fan of spicy meals, pregnancy is no reason to change that. However, if you usually experience discomfort or heartburn after eating spicy foods, it’s probably best to steer clear during your pregnancy.
Myth #10: You have to stay away from seafood
Certain types of seafood like swordfish and tuna can contain high levels of mercury. While this is fine for normal adults, excessive amounts of mercury could potentially damage a baby’s development. But this doesn’t mean you need to cut out all seafood. We recommend wild caught smaller fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies as a pregnancy superfood and important source of DHA for the baby. Try shooting for two servings per week.
The Truth: Fish and shellfish can be a great source of protein, iron, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids— all extremely important to your baby’s growth and development. Consuming small amounts of mercury are safe even while your pregnant, so just make sure you’re aware of the amount you’re having in a given week.