Pregnancy myths under the microscope

Pressured ... Dominique Broomfield with her children, Gabriella, 3, and Jasper, 10 months.
Pressured ... Dominique Broomfield with her children, Gabriella, 3, and Jasper, 10 months. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Once Dominique Broomfield had decided she was ready to become a parent, she fell pregnant easily and had a positive experience - at least physically.

After the birth, however, the Manly mother of two discovered how fraught the emotional side of parenthood can be. Her baby girl had trouble settling to sleep and Broomfield quickly felt overwhelmed with advice.

"I asked family, friends and I read the so-called parenting bibles desperately from cover to cover trying to find a solution," the 36-year-old blogger says. "But rather than reassuring me, I felt more pressure. Everyone had an opinion and they were all different."

Dealing with that information overload is a problem the British science writer Linda Geddes knows well. Her new book, Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-be, aims to cut through the glut of research to equip expecting parents with the necessary knowledge to make their own decisions.

"[The] book doesn't treat women like children," Geddes says. "It treats them like adults able to understand the evidence ... I think there is too much preaching to women. [I'm] trusting women to make decisions for themselves."

The idea for the book came from Geddes's own experience as a mum-to-be; with parenthood looming, she was driven by frustration at the lack of reliable material to draw upon, as well as her own sense of scientific curiosity.

From whether some pregnant women really eat coal to how stress during pregnancy can affect a developing baby, the book tests the accuracy of dozens of common beliefs. And Geddes found that some of the most widespread opinions aren't backed by much evidence.

"One thing that struck me was there was this really common myth that babies can only focus on things 30cm in front of their face," she says. "Actually, babies can see - they can focus at any distance, they're just not very good at it, so they tend to over- or under-shoot, which is why sometimes babies look a bit cross-eyed."

Geddes also discovered doubts about some of the information women are given about childbirth. Many are told, for example, that certain forms of pain relief increase the risks of medical interventions such as C-section or instrumental delivery.


In fact, the odds of this happening are nil to very low. "That made me really angry because women make decisions based on things like this," she says.

In other cases, Geddes found ample evidence to support the accepted wisdom. Immediate skin-to-skin contact with newborns, for instance, is now widely practised - and for good reason. "There's some quite strong research that ... it does promote breastfeeding, and also seems to massively relax the baby and cut off the stress response after birth."

But not every topic had a clear-cut answer. One of the challenges for Geddes was to weigh up conflicting evidence or, in some cases, find any research at all.

Despite the prevalence of morning sickness, for instance, little is known about its causes. "There's no real research," she says. "There are various theories around it ... but no one really knows for sure."

Overall, Geddes hopes the book will allow parents-to-be to focus on the few things - such as avoiding large doses of alcohol - that really matter.

"So much of what we're told we need to worry about during pregnancy and becoming a mother isn't really supported by that much evidence," she says. "We just need to worry less and focus on what a wonderful time it is and just enjoy it."

In Broomfield's case, she eventually took a step back from the self-help books and well-meaning advice.

"In my opinion we are in a lucky place to have all this information at hand [from] the internet, books, friends or family," she says.

"But a good mother is someone who asks for advice but then decides what advice to take on board and what to reject based on instinct and values."

It ain't necessarily so

Can the shape of my bump predict the gender of my child? Women who carry high and all upfront are expecting boys, while a low, wide bump is a sign of a girl - or so says the folklore. But Janet DiPietro of Johns Hopkins University has investigated and found no correlation between the shape of a woman's bump and the sex of the child developing inside it.

Can pineapple help trigger labour? Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which could theoretically help to soften the cervix - although whether it would survive the harsh conditions of the digestive system and get into the blood in high enough amounts to have any effect seems unlikely. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of pineapple in inducing labour.

Why do some belly buttons become 'outies'? Belly buttons are the shrivelled remnant of the umbilical cord, but just why some of them end up sticking out when others form a deep hole remains a mystery. There's no way of predicting whether your baby will have an outie. About 20 per cent of newborns have them, but many will turn into 'innies' as the babies age.

Source: Bumpology: The Myth-Busting Pregnancy Book for Curious Parents-to-be 

This article first appeared on Daily Life.