Pregnancy Myths Exposed

Do genes determine everything? Can you really eat for two? Find out the truth behind the tales and what you can do to have a healthy baby.

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There's no shortage of advice and information about pregnancy - some of it may be good, but much of it is a bunch of hooey that gets passed down from generation to generation. Knowing a few important facts can help you have a happier and healthier pregnancy. Here's the real deal.

Myth #1: You CAN'T Control Genes

What we know While some features such as eye color and receding hairlines are immutable results of your DNA, experts are discovering that other traits, like waist size or intelligence, are not. A new field of science called epigenetics is finding that what happens in the womb can influence which genes are turned on and off.

As DNA, the blueprint of your body, is rolled out during development, it gets copied. And while that copying occurs, the things you are experiencing - what you eat, the toxins you are exposed to - can stop that copy machine from working properly. This basic principal of epigenetics means that, while we can't control what genes we pass on to our children, we may be able to control which genes get turned on or turned off.

What you can do Staying fit and healthy during pregnancy may dramatically influence how your child's genes function throughout life. Unfortunately, because 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, many women lose the opportunity to set a healthy stage for those early weeks of embryonic and fetal development. Even if you don't have plans to get pregnant, you can take simple steps now to improve your health so that, if and when you do conceive, you give your future child the best start possible.

Expecting moms should also limit their exposure to the following toxins. 

  • BPA A chemical compound used to make hard plastics, BPA can be found in food containers, baby bottles, and the lining of cans, it may cause changes in the way hormones work in our bodies. Developing fetuses and young children are the most vulnerable to it. Four easy ways to reduce your exposure to BPA include breastfeeding to avoid using baby bottles, choosing BPA-free bottles when you do use them, not microwaving food in plastic containers (heat can cause BPA to be released), and limiting your use of canned foods.
  • Mercury Everyday in the US, over 600,000 babies are born with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. The chemical element is associated with developmental delays, so it is important for pregnant women to steer clear. One of the easiest ways to do so is to limit your intake of tuna to less than 6 ounces per week.
  • Radiation Ionizing radiation, such as that produced by X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans can potentially harm a developing fetus, particularly in the early weeks of pregnancy. Though many diagnostic tests will not cause a problem, doctors usually try to limit exposure to unnecessary radiation during pregnancy or take important precautions, such as using a lead apron, during medically necessary scans.

Myth #2: You're Eating for Two

What we know Gaining too much weight during pregnancy, particularly for women who begin their pregnancies overweight, puts moms-to-be at risk for complications such as gestational diabetes, which in turn can threaten the health of a developing fetus.

What you can do Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet that gives you slightly more calories than usual and supplement with several important vitamins and minerals.

  • Calorie counting guidelines In the first trimester, add an extra 100 calories daily to your normal diet. That's the equivalent of one extra glass of skim milk. In the second trimester, you can bump that to 250 calories, or a handful of walnuts. In your third trimester, you can consume an extra 300 calories daily, or 2 pieces of fruit.
  • Make time for a multi Take a multivitamin that contains both folic acid and iron. Folic acid prevents spina bifida, a congenital disorder in which the spinal cord does not completely close, and it can also reduce cancer in kids by 50-60%. Iron is a critical building block for red blood cells, and the baby will take what it needs from you, leaving you iron deficient.
  • Bone up on calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D While these are all building blocks for strong bones, scientists are discovering that vitamin D (link to daily dose) plays a critical role in supporting your immune system. During pregnancy, when your immune system has to tolerate a foreign body living within you, it actually weakens a little to do so, which makes vitamin D a critical nutrient to help you fight infection while you're expecting.   
  • Go for Omega-3s Getting enough Omega-3 fats is one of the most important steps you can take to help your growing baby, because they directly affect brain development. Research also indicates that they can decrease your risk of depression. Some prenatal vitamins now include Omega-3s and they can be found in wild Alaskan salmon and walnuts. 

Myth #3 Sexual Positions Can Determine the Sex of Your Baby

What we know While it is true that female sperm tend to swim slower and live longer and male sperm are more vigorous but short-lived, there's no proven way to have sex that will produce a boy or a girl.

What you can do OBs generally agree that the one position that may help you conceive is the one you get into after sex - elevating the pelvis for 30 minutes to allow gravity to help deposit a lot of sperm as close to the uterus as possible.

Myth #4: You Can Tell the Sex of Your Baby by the Shape of Your Belly

What we know How a woman carries a developing fetus is actually influenced by the tone in her abdominal wall and uterus, the position the fetus is in, as well as her natural frame. Women who have a lot of space between the lowest rib and the top of the pelvic bone will carry differently than women who have a short space. 

What you can do Explain this kindly to the stranger on the bus who adamantly declares you are having a boy when you have the ultrasound snaps to prove it's a girl.

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