Old wives tales about pregnancy are remarkably persistent. Any expecting mother who’s had her belly eyeballed to divine her baby’s gender can tell you that. But just because pregnancy myths have stood the test of time does not mean they’re any more true today than when they were first dreamed up. In fact, old wives tales about pregnancy, whether they be about the gender of the baby or its health outcomes, wither under the gaze of science.
More than simply being scientifically inaccurate, many old wives tales are firmly grounded in prejudice. It’s not just that they’re wrong, but they’re wrong for the worst reasons. So while it might be fun to consider the following pregnancy old wives tales, it’s probably best to leave the superstition in the past and love your baby for whoever they turn out to be.
Old Wives Tales About a Baby’s Gender
Revealing a baby’s sex is such a big deal that it’s spawned its own party-based industry and inadvertently killed several people. In hindsight, maybe we were better off making wild guess based on folk wisdom.
1. Belly Shape Can Reveal the Baby’s Sex
The story goes that the way a pregnant person carries their baby in the womb is revelatory. A pregnant belly that is round and carried up front is a sign that a boy is due. When the weight is distributed across the midsection, you can expect to have a girl.
These tales are unsupported by science. In fact, the shape of a pregnant person’s belly is directly related to the positioning of the fetus. A belly with weight distributed across the abdomen is due the baby positioned with its back pointing towards the mother’s back. A protruding baby belly indicates the opposite orientation.
There is some truth to the idea that baby boys will generally be born larger than baby girls. But the differences in size is incredibly small and unlikely to be detected by an outside observer. There is no correlation between a baby’s sex and its preferred position in utero.
2. Girls “Steal” a Pregnant Woman’s Beauty
Talk about baggage. This old wives tale suggests that if a woman is gestating a daughter, then a portion of her beauty will be supernaturally sucked up by the fetus. This myth basically says an ugly pregnant lady will have a pretty girl, while a beautiful mom-to-be will have a boy.
This myth is likely grounded in the idea that girls have long been considered duplicitous and competitively shallow. It presumes that girls are set to replace their mothers, and that process begins at birth. Of course, none of that is true.
The fact is that pregnancy can be super gross. There is discharge, and sweating, and overactive glands that result in pimples. Not to mention morning sickness. Who has the time to be beautiful?
3. Salty Cravings Mean a Boy Is On the Way
Food cravings of all types are natural during pregnancy. Some women even crave the inedible, particularly potting soil — a condition known as geophagia. These cravings are possibly linked to anemia, but there’s no solid scientific explanation for this weird craving.
One thing that is clear is that specific food cravings have nothing to do with the sex of a fetus. More likely, this folk wisdom is based on gender bias. Because boys are more “salt of the earth” and fiery, gestating a boy would supposedly result in salty and spicy cravings. On the other hand, candy cravings would be due to growing a metaphorically sweet girl.
Old Wives Tales About a Baby’s Health and Appearance
Everyone wants a beautiful baby. And every baby is, indeed, beautiful. But what happens when a baby is born with unique characteristics that diverge from the norm? The old wives tend to have a simple solution: Blame the mother’s behavior during pregnancy.
1. Pregnant People Exposed to Ugly Things Will Have “Ugly” Children
This old wives tale is less transparent than it was in the 18th century, but there are still hints of its power. The original folklore suggested that babies born with dwarfism, or who were affected by other disabilities, most likely looked at ugliness or had ugly thoughts during pregnancy. It was ableism and mom-shaming, pure and simple. But even today, some mothers feel tremendous guilt if their child is born with a disability.
The truth is that genetics, far more often than behavior, is what determines birth outcomes for children. And an emotional pregnancy, an errant glass of wine, or a few cups of coffee have little to do with it.
2. Haircuts During Pregnancy Will Cause Issues with Infant Vision
There is very little a person could possibly do to their hair during pregnancy that would cause any issues with their baby. Although the haircut and bad vision connection seems obviously suspect, there are other pregnancy hair myths that persist.
For instance, many pregnant people might hesitate to get their hair colored during pregnancy. The fear is the chemicals in hair dye could be absorbed through the scalp and eventually reach the fetus, causing a disability. However, according to the nonprofit American Pregnancy Association, the amount of toxic chemicals in hair dye is minimal, as is the amount that could possibly be absorbed by the scalp.
3. Raising Your Arms During Pregnancy Will Cause Nuchal Cord
A nuchal cord is an umbilical cord that has become wrapped around the neck of the fetus at birth. The unfortunate condition has been enough of a pregnancy nightmare that at one time women were advised to not step over ropes (or later, electrical cords) while pregnant lest they magically curse their fetus with a cord-wrapped neck.
The sticky old wives tale that has persisted into modern times says that mothers-to-be should keep from raising their arms above their heads to avoid a nuchal cord. The supposed logic is that reaching creates undue and dangerous intrauterine movement. But this idea is false. Nuchal cord is primarily caused by the random movements of the fetus. Excessive amniotic fluid or longer than normal umbilical cords can also play a factor.
4. Frequent Heartburn During Pregnancy Equals a Hairy Baby
There’s always one exception that seems to prove the rule. In a 2020 study published in the Southeastern European Medical Journal that surveyed 350 new mothers, researchers found a correlation between increased heartburn and having a hairy baby.
The researchers wrote, “We found that women who describe their infant as having “a lot of hair” reported severe heartburn in 45.9% of cases and those with “scarce or no hair” reported severe heartburn in 34.5% of cases.”
So, fair warning.