By Mindy Cockeram, LCCE
In the ten years I’ve been teaching childbirth classes, couples have asked me all sorts of questions. In fact we do an activity where I read out a statement and the class decides whether the statement is "evidence based" or an "old wives tale." Here are some of the classics and the logic or evidence to prove or disprove them.
- More babies are born during a full moon. Ask any labor & delivery nurse and she’ll swear this is true, but I can find no evidence to support this myth. However, while researching pregnancy, the onset of labor, and the frequency of a full moon, I did find a study linking a sudden decrease in barometric pressure to a higher chance of the amniotic sac breaking and/or labor starting in women near, on or past their estimated due dates. In some areas prone to hurricanes and tornados, pregnant women are sometimes advised to come in to labor & delivery for the duration of the storm, just in case. So watch out for those major storms coming through!
- Rough up your nipples before you begin breastfeeding. A look of horror often washes over women when I read this statement in class! When I ask if anyone has heard this from someone "well-intentioned," usually about a third of the class raise their hands with suggestions of washcloths, toothbrushes and occasionally sandpaper (yes, sandpaper!). The nipple and areola are two of the most sensitive spots on the pregnant body and there is absolutely NO EVIDENCE to support preparing your breasts in any way.
In fact, most of the time, damaged nipples are the result of a baby’s uncorrected shallow latch. The further back the nipple (and breast) goes into the baby’s mouth, the less likely the nipple is to be damaged. It can be difficult to get a lot of the baby’s mouth onto the breast in the first few days when the breasts become engorged and sore. But most any lactation counsellor (hospital, La Leche League, IBCLC, etc.) can help you correct a shallow latch. Occasionally, babies are born with a short frenulum (aka "tongue tie"), which makes a deep latch difficult. Most health care providers can perform a quick procedure on the baby’s mouth to free up their tongue to latch easier. So please, DO NOT damage, rough up, or otherwise tamper with your nipples in preparation for breastfeeding – they are all ready to go as is!
- Heartbearn means a head full of hair for baby. This is probably the most common question couples ask in class. When I ask the mother of almost every "hairy" baby I see in the postnatal unit if they experienced heartburn, the answer is yes. But I’d also argue that about 80% of all women experience heartburn to some degree. In fact, a year ago, I had a lady in class who had severe indigestion that also caused an increase in her saliva production. She could not swallow the extra saliva without feeling nauseous (a pregnancy condition called pytalism), so she carried her own spittoon!
There does, however, appear to be a correlation between the hair growth of a newborn and indigestion. A study done at Johns Hopkins, published in the journal Birth, found that an increase in estrogen (often in the 3rd trimester) causes the esophageal sphincter to relax, leading to a potential increase in heartburn. That same estrogen appears to be responsible for hair growth in the developing baby. So while "correlation does not mean causation," a potential link exists!
- Women pregnant in the summer have taller babies. If you think this one through, the possibility of truth becomes apparent. Women pregnant in the summer (ie. exposed to more sunshine) would absorb more vitamin D into their developing baby than women pregnant in the winter where the hours of sunlight are fewer. A Bristol Univerity study of 7000 mothers found babies an average of ¼ in. longer when their mothers were pregnant in the summer. Having lived in London for 20 years before relocating to sunny California, I can anecdotally confirm that people out here seem much taller than their English counterparts!
- Babies should be bathed shortly after birth to wash the "gunk" off. Most postnatal nurses I know are happy to teach nervous parents the finer points of bathing their newborn within hours of birth. However, a study published by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG) showed a number of immune substances present on the skin of newborns (resulting from the present or absorbed vernix and amniotic fluid) to combat the growth of several infections, including Group B Strep, E Coli, and K. pneumonaie. The study went on to recommend that newborns should not be bathed for at least 24 hours. The Department of Health and the World Health Organization recommend waiting at least six. Of course, the choice is yours, but evidence suggests waiting, and for good reason. Wiping off any blood and drying the wet baby is useful but visible (or invisible) vernix and amniotic fluid should be left behind.
- Eating dates in pregnancy can speed up labor. The longer I teach childbirth, the more convinced I am that the pregnant woman’s diet directly affects many aspects of her labor. Dates are loaded with nutrition; the average date contains at least 15 minerals (including iron and potassium), 23 amino acids, protein, fiber, and much more. So, is it any wonder that the uterus (which is a muscle) would benefit from an increase in nutrients proven to improve fitness? A study published in AJOG concluded "significant" findings for eating 6 dates at day in the last four weeks of pregnancy including:
-higher likelihood of labor starting spontaneously (on its own, without induction)
-amniotic bag less likely to rupture early
-a reduction in postpartum hemmorrhage
-shorter early phase of first stage labor (average of 7 hours shorter) than those women in the study who did not eat dates.
When I weigh the benefits of dates against the downsides (cost to buy them), it’s not a hard choice for me!
- Pregnancy makes your feet grow. I often tell women that one of the best places to be in early labor is at the shoe store checking out the new season’s shoes! There are several reasons for this suggestion, including the fact that most women stimulate oxytocin when previewing potential new shoes (and we know that oxytocin gets labor going and keeps it going!), shopping can distract from the discomfort of early contractions, being upright and leaning slightly forward in labor makes contractions easier, and finally, a large percentage of pregnant women may need larger shoes after they’ve had their first baby.
Fifty percent (or more) of pregnant women will experience foot growth with their pregnancy of up to a full shoe size. The foot and bones aren’t actually growing, but rather the hormone relaxin causes the ligaments of the foot to relax. Unlike the uterus, the foot doesn’t normally regain its pre-pregnancy shape and so the foot will remain "bigger." Again, when I weigh the benefits of a larger foot, I’d list the need for new boots and shoes along with a larger landing area.
While many myths are often rooted in age-old customs and folklore, every once in a while, they prove to be true or have their foundation in evidence-based research. So, when someone tells you something that seems far-fetched, think about how the rumor could have been started and do a little digging. And start eating some dates!
Mindy Cockeram is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator teaching for a large network of hospitals in Southern California. She has a BA in Communications from Villanova University and qualified as an Antenatal Teacher through the United Kingdom’s National Childbirth Trust (NCT) in 2006. A native of the Philadelphia area, she spent 20 years in London before relocating to Redlands, CA in 2010.