9 common pregnancy myths busted

Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times in a woman’s life. Every pregnancy is truly a miracle. Though women have been having babies for centuries, there are still many myths and old wives’ tales about pregnancy which modern obstetrics is just starting to dispel.

Myth 1. Pregnancy care starts after you get pregnant

Most women register with their obstetrician for medical care after they get pregnant. We are all familiar with the adage: ‘Be good to your baby before it is born’. However, in reality, the best time to start taking care of your unborn baby is even before you conceive! Such care is called pre-pregnancy or pre-conception care.

Why is this care so important? Remember – the foetal organs are actively developing during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (this crucial period is called organogenesis). The embryo is highly susceptible to external insults during this time, so any damage can lead to crippling birth defects.

The best thing about pre-pregnancy care is that it is so simple – All that is involved is visiting your doctor before you are planning to get pregnant, rather than after you’ve missed your menstrual period! The doctor normally undertakes the following procedures: (1) Takes a medical history; (2) Carries out a physical examination; and (3) Performs some simple laboratory tests. These procedures are inexpensive and easy to conduct and signify examples of preventive medicine at its best!

Pre-pregnancy care also leads to other benefits. For instance, it allows the doctor (duly assisted by you) to identify problems and rectify them. If, on the other hand, these problems were to be spotted only after you became pregnant, detailed testing can become very difficult, because the very presence of the delicate embryo, can impede testing. The harsh reality is that not all problems are preventable, but you can, nevertheless, increase your chances of having a healthy baby by identifying the risks you face and trying to eliminate them, if possible.

After all, most doctors go in for a battery of tests before performing any major surgery, to make sure that the patient is healthy enough to withstand the stress generated by the operation and the anesthesia. Pregnancy can also stress the body, and it is important to screen the woman for potential problems before she embarks on one of the most important journeys she will ever make!

A simple precaution you can take is to ensure a regular intake of a vitamin called folic acid. Folic acid greatly reduces the chances of your baby being born with birth defects such as spina bifida or anencephaly if taken before you become pregnant and during the first six weeks of pregnancy.

Myth 2. Modern medical care is essential if you want to have a healthy baby

While modern obstetric care can ensure that pregnancy and childbirth are very safe for both mother and baby, unfortunately, today doctors have ‘medicalized’ pregnancy to such an extent that what is otherwise a normal event has been converted to one which needs rigorous and frequent medical assistance.

Every mother naturally wants a normal baby, and technology can be very useful in reassuring her that all is well. However, it’s easy to misuse technology.

One particularly disturbing trend stems from the fact that many obstetricians nowadays overuse medical technology; such overuse can often prove detrimental to both the mother and the baby. Common tests, which are misused, include: blood tests for TORCH infections; ultrasound scans; and foetal monitoring.

Another area of misuse relates to the tests available for screening the baby for a possible birth defect. Many doctors routinely subject their patients to a ‘triple test’ during the pregnancy to screen for birth defects.

While this is an easy test (it’s a simple blood test which measures the levels of 3 hormones in the blood) to carry out, unfortunately, it has still not been standardized for Indian women. Such a drawback leads to a large number of tests yielding abnormal results, even though the babies are completely normal.

An ‘abnormal’ result creates a lot of anxiety – and then the doctor needs to perform a battery of other tests to confirm that the baby is, in fact, normal to reassure the mother.

The second tier of tests can be expensive, and risky as well, because some of them can cause the mother to miscarry. Thus, it is not uncommon for a mother to lose a healthy baby because of a test, which was not really required in the first place!

Myth 3. More is better

A lot of medical technology during pregnancy is overused and misused. Foetal monitoring to document fetal well-being is a good example. While this procedure was initially designed to serve as a tool to monitor the well-being of the foetus and to help reduce the need for medical intervention, today it is often used to justify an LSCS (Caesarean section) in order to forcibly take out a baby ‘in foetal distress’!

A much simpler alternative would be to opt for “ kick counts” in which the mother acts as her own foetal monitor, by counting how many times her baby moves. A baby which moves actively is sure to be healthy!

Myth 4. Hospitals are the best places to have a baby

Despite tremendous advances in medical science, it’s a sad fact that the rituals associated with childbirth in hospitals have unfortunately been designed for the doctor’s convenience, rather than the patients’!

Harmful practises include: forced induction of labour; routine use of enemas and intravenous drips, foetal monitoring, making the patient lie down (rather than allowing her to walk about) — it’s a long list! Don’t let the hospital/clinic staff patronize you — you need to assert your rights! It’s very useful to draw up a birth plan (which includes things you will allow and those you won’t) and make sure your doctor agrees with the procedures.

The presence of a doula has been proven to be very helpful for women in labour. Also, you should encourage your husband to participate in this adventure as actively as possible!

A significant recent development is that many women in the West are turning back to natural childbirth once again, often either at home or what are known as ‘birthing centres’. In other words, they would like to keep as far away from a hospital as possible!

Despite the fact many doctors scare women into believing that the hospital is the safest place to deliver a baby, recent international studies have shown that the home is often much safer and much more congenial for normal births. For example, Holland, where over 60 per cent of births occur at home, under the supervision of midwives, can justifiably boast of having one of the world’s lowest neonatal mortality rates!

The midwifery model seeks to remind women that childbirth is a natural process for healthy women and women need to learn (or rather, relearn!) to trust their bodies!

Myth 5. Mothers need anesthesia to cope with the pain of labour and childbirth

Yet another minus point pertains to the application of anaesthesia for pain relief, which has become the norm nowadays. Epiduran analgesia has become a status symbol in most hospitals. We have mindlessly aped this Western ‘advance’, much to the detriment of both the mother and the child. While techniques for pain relief are a valuable resource, they should be used only when absolutely necessary. Simple techniques such as yoga and meditation can help you manage the pain of labour very effectively.

Myth 6. A caesarean section is safer for the baby than normal vaginal birth

We are witnessing a virtual epidemic of Caesarean sections today. Whereas a CS once used to be the method of last resort to deliver the baby, it has at present, tragically, become the norm in some hospitals, accounting for 50 per cent of all births.

The reason, of course, is obvious: a CS is financially much more lucrative to the doctor than a normal delivery. As a senior obstetrician wryly put it: ‘The only indication for a normal delivery today seems to be if a patient delivers before the doctor reaches the hospital!’ The alarming spurt in CS has taken on the dimensions of a major scandal today, which needs to be tackled actively.

What steps can you take if you don’t want to end up as another statistic? It would be a prudent idea to find out the rates your doctor charges for a CS and for a normal birth. You can also ask him what proportion of his patients successfully delivers normally. Other patients in the clinic, as well as the hospital nursing staff, can prove to be valuable sources of information, which you should effectively tap to alert you to a “knife-happy” obstetrician, from whom you need to stay away!

Myth 7. It’s not safe to have sex during pregnancy, as this can hurt the baby

This is not true. The baby is safe inside its own private swimming pool in the uterus, and sex will not affect it. In fact, many women find that their libidio increases dramatically during the first few weeks of pregnancy, and it’s safe to have sex if you so desire.

Myth 8. It’s not safe for pregnant women to fly

Modern aircraft cabins are pressurized, which means that it’s safe for women to fly in the first 32 weeks of their pregnancy. After this time, most airlines will not allow you to fly; because they are worried you may go into labour in the plane.

Myth 9. You can tell your baby’s gender by the way you are carrying

How you carry your baby depends upon many variables, including your build; the baby’s size; and whether the baby’s head has entered the pelvis or not. This has nothing to do with the baby’s gender – but you always have a 50% chance of being right!

Dr Aniruddha Malpani, MD

The author is an IVF specialist practising at Malpani Infertility Clinic, Bombay. He can be reached at 91-22-22151065.