Ah, pregnancy. It's such a glorious, if uncomfortable and often un-private time. From the moment a woman gets pregnant, everyone is asking her personal questions: "What will you have? How big? When? Will you require a cesarean section? What will you name him or her? Breast or bottle?" For every question asked, there's generally an opinion to follow because nothing brings out theories and outright assertions quite like pregnancy. Although some of the advice and sentiments are unsolicited and annoying (Don't like the baby name I picked out? Good thing it's not your child!), old wives' tales do add a lot of color and fun to any pregnancy.
Sometimes, they do turn out to be right. For instance, if you ever had heartburn while expecting, chances are good that someone proclaimed that your child would enter the world with a full head of hair. To the genuine surprise of researchers, there does appear to be a significant link between the two -- pregnancy hormones affect both heartburn and fetal hair growth [source: Costigan et al.]. Nevertheless, most women are going to suffer through at least some level of heartburn, regardless of whether their kid comes out as bald as Charlie Brown or not.
Despite that confirmation, most other pregnancy prognostications don't have any proof to back them up. Here are 10 you should take with a grain of salt.
The Ring Test
This old wives' tale operates on the theory that an unborn child can exert some sort of control over objects held outside the womb. Perhaps it's teeny-tiny telekinesis? Anyway, the "test" can be performed with a wedding ring, pin or needle tied to a string or strand of hair. Mama-to-be then lies on her back (cue dirty jokes about how that's how she got into this mess in the first place) and someone dangles the laden thread over her belly. If it swings in a circular direction, she's having a girl. If it moves side to side, it's a boy.
Herein lies my main issue with this practice. It's really easy to manipulate the string, unconsciously or not, to achieve a particular gender result. (It's called the ideomotor effect.) As hole-filled as this particular theory is, it's still a harmless way to revel in the joy of impending motherhood – and can be a fun baby shower game. Just don't go crazy buying pink or blue baby swag based on the results!
The Full Moon Phenomenon
Celestial bodies are often credited with causing a variety of earthly phenomena. Some are plausible and others are long shots, at best. The belief that more babies are born during full moons has been fiercely guarded by and perpetuated by generations of women, despite the fact that there is zero evidence to support it. In fact, many studies have been done in an effort to prove this theory, with most results either inconclusive or in direct opposition. For instance, one scientific examination of five years' worth of births and moon phases in North Carolina found "no predictable influence of the lunar cycle on deliveries or complications" [source: Arliss et al].
Since the moon is credited with everything from making people go crazy to producing full-fledged werewolves, researchers theorize that the origins of the baby labor-moon connection go back many centuries, when people thought there was a connection between women's fertility and lunar cycles [source: Duke Medicine]. But we know better now, don't we?
A lot of people maintain boundaries when it comes to sharing intimate sexual details with family and friends ... until a baby has been recently conceived, that is! Upon learning that a friend was pregnant, I expressed my joy and asked the requisite, "What do you think you're having?" question. Her husband piped up, "I know it's a boy because I was on top the whole time." TMI, right? It was just a visual that I – and probably no one else within earshot – really needed.
According to centuries-old folklore, missionary position ups your odds of conceiving a boy and woman-on-top yields more of the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice variety of babe. To date, however, research has not been able to validate this superstition. In fact, the only thing that really makes an impact on baby's gender is whether or not the sperm that crosses the finish line features an X or Y chromosome [source: Adams].
Many experts theorize that deeply penetrating positions, like the missionary position, are more likely to result in pregnancy. Why? Because the penis, and the resultant sperm, are that much closer to the cervix, so less swimming is required to reach the egg for fertilization [source: Genesis OB/GYN]. In fact, the woman-on-top position is less likely to result in pregnancy of any gender because the "boys" have to work harder when swimming upstream [source: Mann]. For the record, I have three boys and we ... wait, that's none of your darn business. Moving on!
Certain Foods Cause Labor
It's tough enough to navigate during the requisite nine months, so one minute past a woman's due date can turn even the happiest of mothers-to-be into the angry, get-this-baby-out-of-me-now sort. When such a level of desperation sets in, many women turn to so-called "labor-inducing" foods. Spicy selections tend to top the list of popular options. In fact, a research found that 10.9 percent of women surveyed turned to piquante cuisine in an effort to induce labor [source: Chaudhry et al]. Although this approach typically can't hurt, there's little evidence other than hearsay to back it up. In fact, experts believe that labor is probably initiated when the fetus itself starts to produce specific hormones, over which mama has no control [source: Caldwell].
Still, once a particular food gains a reputation for bringing on birth, it tends to catch on like wildfire. One legendary dish is eggplant parmesan produced by Scalini's Italian Restaurant in Smyrna, Georgia. Women swear by the dish's ability to kick off labor, even though scientific evidence is lacking to prove that eggplant smothered in cheese and sauce has any influence over the induction process. "I was late with my second pregnancy with no signs of labor," recalls my friend Cristy Daly. "I decided to try the dish and successfully went into labor a few hours later with contractions that were one minute apart. We now have a Scalini's baby."
Stay Away From Funerals
No one really wants to go to funerals, but some cultures have traditionally encouraged their pregnant women to stay as far away as possible from funerals, wakes or pretty much anything else directly related to death, for fear of causing harm to mother and/or child. People of the Jewish faith, among others, have long been told by their elders to mind this centuries-old belief ... or else [source: Abusch-Magder]. It's such an engrained part of these cultures that many people abide by it, despite all signs pointing to it being totally outdated. You know, just in case.
Rationally speaking, many traditionalists believe less in the prospect of some earthbound ghost causing harm than of the trauma of a sad scenario on the baby. Funerals and related events are simply seen as too stressful and emotionally jarring for pregnant women, which is probably the true reason why this unofficial edict was made popular so long ago. (For the record, pregnant women attending funerals is not forbidden by Jewish law [source: Moss].) So, rather than miss a loved ones' memorial or burial out of fear of the unknown, it's probably best to consult your doctor to determine if the subsequent stress is manageable enough to keep you and your baby safe and snug.
Super Sick? Break Out The Pink
Ye olde tale would have us believe that women who experience extreme nausea are carrying a babe of the sugar-and-spice variety [source: Saltiel]. With my first pregnancy, I was a tiny bit nauseated. Boy No.1 was born. With my second child, the sickness ramped up significantly for the first trimester. Boy No. 2 came some time later, to the great surprise of the women all around me. My third pregnancy was trademarked by nearly nine months of hideous nausea, throughout which I was besieged by well-meaning people who exclaimed over the certainty of an impending daughter. Kenny was born in all his male glory, and we haven't looked back since.
For everyone who shares a similar story, there's someone who vehemently believes the opposite, which is all part of the fun. Interestingly, some research has indicated that a severe version of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum is more commonly experienced by mothers carrying girls, but it is still very possible to have serious nausea while expecting a boy [source: Watson]. For the record, hyperemesis gravidarum is the same condition that the Duchess of Cambridge was hospitalized for during her first pregnancy, and she subsequently gave birth to the future King of England [source: Campbell].
Whether you have a big bulbous belly or an itsy-bitsy pooch, someone is bound to offer their interpretation about how you are "carrying" as it relates to gender. This innocuous belief dates back to old English folklore [source: McCoy]. However, the details are fuzzy and often contradictory. For example, some women will swear up and down that girls are carried high and boys low, with many others claiming just the opposite. The same inconsistency goes for whether you carry in one big bump like a basketball, or evenly all around.
Curious researchers put 104 pregnant women to the test and asked them to guess their child's gender based on these and other beliefs, with the result being that women are not "good predictors" of their baby's sex. The researchers also found that the "fetal sex was not systematically related to the shape of the women's abdomen" [source: Perry et al]. 50/50 odds are still pretty good, though, so guess away!
Diet and Birthmarks
Birthmarks run the gamut: big, little, practically hidden or prominently placed. One of the most popular birthmark-related old wives' tales lends practically magical powers to the foods that a mother-to-be eats, or even those she simply craves. Legend has it that eating too many of a certain type of food, such as strawberries, will cause a similarly-shaped birthmark to pop up on your infant. Other, even more far-fetched versions of this lore insist that if a mother simply craves a food and then touches a part of her body, her child will be born with a mark of that shape on said body part [source: SanFillipo]. If that were at all true, each of my kids would be sporting huge pizza and chocolate cake-shaped marks smack on their faces.
Although babies can have several types of birthmarks, they all tend to appear for scientific, rather than superstitious reasons. Hemangiomas are the most common, and happen when a cluster of blood vessels grow beneath the skin. As a result, they are typically red or purple in color and fade over time. The source of the strawberry claim is likely related to the fact that superficial hemangiomas are often raised and bright red in color, giving them a similar appearance to the beloved fruit [source: KidsHealth].
Like Mother, Like Daughter
I'm as guilty as the next gal of spouting this commonly held myth. In essence, the belief is that daughters will deliver babies similar to the way their mothers did before them. In other words, there is genetic influence over whether or not a woman delivers early, late or on time, how large the baby's weight will be and how long labor can be expected to last. Although I did seem to follow my mom's storied path, I know plenty of other women who didn't, and there's no solid scientific evidence to support generational similarities.
In fact, a child's size can be estimated based on the expectant woman's weight gain, as well as the size of both parents [source: Adams]. Also, due date prediction methods and labor processes have thankfully improved a lot over the past few decades. So, even if you and your mama did both deliver early, it's quite possible that she didn't have the correct due date in the first place!
Hands Over Head
The womb is a surprisingly noisy but protective environment for your little miss or mister. So why do myths persist that claim potential fetal injury based on the harmless movements of the mother? I'm talking of course, of the tale that mother raising her arms in the air will cause the umbilical cord to become wrapped around baby's neck. You might be a great knitter, basketball dribbler or painter, but no matter how talented your hands and arms are, they're simply not connected to your child's umbilical cord, and therefore unable to manipulate baby's feeding tube.
Experts insist that umbilical cord issues, which happen in roughly one-third of all pregnancies, are the result of baby's womb acrobatics while still relatively small, since they can't move around all that much once they grow large and in charge [source: BabiesOnline]. Even if your child does experience this complication, it's typically identified and handled with great success thanks to advanced imaging and other diagnostic tools. So throw your hands in the air, and wave 'em like you just don't care – you won't be the cause of an umbilical issue.
HowStuffWorks finds out about the Hawaiian legend of the night marchers, ghostly warriors striding through the jungles.
Author's Note: 10 Pregnancy Superstitions That Are Old Wives' Tales
When it comes to old wives' tales, I'm a good sport as long as it's all in good fun. I don't find legends of doom and paranoia to be as amusing, since they can unnecessarily place stress on an already worried expectant mother. So predict gender all you want and hypothesize about birthmarks with abandon. That stuff won't hurt anyone!
- Adams, Janey. "Old Wives' Tales, Debunked." NPR. Aug. 2, 2011 (Dec. 16, 2014) http://www.npr.org/blogs/babyproject/2011/08/02/138549731/old-wives-tales-debunked
- Arliss, JM; Kaplan, EN; Galvin, SL. "The effect of the lunar cycle on the frequency of births and birth complications." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. May 2005 (Jan. 6, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15902138
- BabiesOnline. "Pregnancy and Old Wives Tales." 2008 (Dec. 18, 2014) http://www.babiesonline.com/articles/pregnancy/oldwivestales.asp
- Caldwell, Emily. "Walking, Sex and Spicy Food Are Favored Unprescribed Methods to Bring on Labor." Research News. 2014 (Dec. 17, 2014) http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/inducelabor.htm
- Chaudhry BS, Zaid, Jane Fisher, MSN, RN, ACCE, Jonathan Schaffir, MD. "Women's Use of Nonprescribed Methods to Induce Labor: A Brief Report." Birth. March 10, 2011 (Dec. 15, 2014) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-536X.2010.00465.x/abstract
- Costigan, KA, Sipsma HL, DiPietro JA. "Pregnancy folklore revisited: the case of heartburn and hair." Birth. Dec. 2006 (Dec. 16, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17150070
- Campbell, Denis. "Duchess Kate Middleton Has Extreme Form of Morning Sickness." The Guardian. Dec. 3, 2012 (Dec. 16, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/dec/03/duchess-cambridge-extreme-morning-sickness
- Crabtree, Annemarie. Interview via e-mail. Dec. 17, 2014.
- Daly, Cristy. Interview via e-mail. Dec. 16, 2014.
- Deam, Jenny. "7 Pregnancy Superstitions." American Baby. 2014 (Dec. 17, 2014) http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-life/pregnancy-superstitions/#page=6
- Duke Medicine. "Myth or fact: more women go into labor during a full moon." Aug. 27, 2013 (Dec. 17, 2014) http://www.dukemedicine.org/blog/myth-or-fact-more-women-go-labor-during-full-moon
- Genesis OB/GYN, PC. "A Conversation About Fertility, Birth Control and Pregnancy." Women's Health News. Nov. 2010 (Jan. 6, 2015) http://www.genesisobgyn.org/nov-newsletter.html
- KidsHealth. "Rooted In Oral Traditions." 2014 (Dec. 16, 2014) http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/aches/old_wives_tales.html
- KidsHealth. "What's a Birthmark?" 2014 (Dec. 18, 2014) http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/birthmark.html
- Losben-Ostrov, Rabbi Emily Ilana. "Serious or Silly: Making Meaning from Jewish Superstitions." Hebrew Union College. Aug. 6, 2012 (Dec. 17, 2014) http://elearning.huc.edu/wordpress/continuinged/?p=1637
- Mann, Denise. "The Truth About Sexual Positions and Getting Pregnant." March 17, 2009. (Dec. 15, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/features/truth-about-sexual-positions-getting-pregnant
- McCoy MS, Krisha. "True or False: You Can Predict Your Baby's Gender by How You Carry the Pregnancy." Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. 2008 (Dec. 30, 2014) http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/Holistic-Health/Health-Myths-Center.aspx?ChunkID=156969
- Nystrom, Charlotte Louise. "The Ring Gender Test Is a Pregnancy Superstition That Really Works." What to Expect. Feb. 25, 2013 (Dec. 16, 2014) http://www.whattoexpect.com/wom/pregnancy/the-ring-gender-test-is-a-pregnancy-superstition-that-really-works.aspx
- Perry MA, Deborah F., Janet DiPietro, PhD and Kathleen Costigan, RN, MPH. "Are Women Carrying 'Basketballs' Really Having Boys? Testing Pregnancy Folklore." Birth. Dec. 24, 2001 (Dec. 17, 2014 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1523-536x.1999.00172.x/abstract
- Roach, John. "Can the Moon Cause Earthquakes?" National Geographic News. May 23, 2005 (Dec. 16, 2014) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/05/0523_050523_moonquake.html
- Saltiel, Jenny and Lexi Walters. "What the Old Wives' Tales Say About Whether You'll Have a Boy or a Girl." American Baby. 2014 (Dec. 18, 2014) http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-baby/gender-prediction/wives-tales/#page=3
- SanFilippo, Elizabeth. "10 Best Pregnancy Old Wives' Tales." Care. 2014 (Dec. 29, 2014) https://www.care.com/a/10-best-pregnancy-old-wives-tales-1309121029
- Scalini's. "Eggplant Babies." 2014 (Dec. 15, 2014) http://www.scalinis.com/main-babies.html
- Watson, Stephanie. "Can You Guess Your Baby's Sex?" WebMD. 2014 (Dec. 17, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/predicting-baby-gender