Myth: You can’t eat Brie.
Fact: Soft French cheeses rank high on the list of things pregnant women are told to avoid. It’s also kind of true: Mould-ripened cheeses, such as camembert and brie, do carry a risk of food-borne infection such as listeriosis. This bacterial infection can cause miscarriage and birth defects, and leave a newborn vulnerable to jaundice and eye infections.
The good news is that it’s easy to avoid. Brie and camembert sold in supermarkets will have been pasteurised, making them safe and this should be stated clearly on the label. If it’s not marked clearly, just avoid them.
These soft cheeses are generally safe: Feta, ricotta, mascarpone, cream cheese, mozzarella and cottage cheese, although you should check that these, too, are pasteurised before you eat them. Other foods with a high risk of bacteria include pâté and smoked meats like Parma ham. These should definitely be avoided until after you’ve finished breastfeeding your baby.
Myth: You need to put your feet up for nine months.
Fact: While pregnancy is definitely time to abandon risky activities like go-karting and kickboxing, doing light, regular exercise carries more benefits than it does risks. Research from the University of Vermont in the US found that women who stay active tend to have shorter labours, regain their pre-pregnancy shape, have less chance of postnatal depression and sleep better than those who don’t exercise. Obviously, the first thing to do is to verify with your gynaecologist what you can do.
And what kind of light exercise do we mean? Aerobic exercise — the kind that leaves you slightly out of breath — will keep your heart and lungs healthy, just remember the talk test: If you cannot chat with your friend while doing the exercise, it’s too intense, dial it down. If your legs or joints complain, think about doing aqua aerobics and swimming — perfect forms of prenatal exercise.
Myth: If your belly’s pointed, it’s a boy.
Fact: No aspect of pregnancy has more old wives’ tales about it than “predicting” the baby’s gender. The most common fallacy is that boys make neat, pointy bumps while girl babies cause the weight to spread more evenly around your abdomen - something that sounds plausible but is in fact, nonsense. The bump shape is more likely to reflect your own body type and state of health.
Some of these tales can even be dangerous: The Internet is awash with “theories” that light bleeding during pregnancy means you’re carrying a boy, while extreme morning sickness means it’s a girl. Bleeding, while common, should always be checked out by your doctor.
Your best bet is through an ultrasound scan at your gynae clinic. But even scans aren’t 100 per cent accurate as your baby’s position might make it hard for your gynae to tell for sure. The only foolproof way to find out the sex is to meet your baby!
Myth: You need to eat for two.
Fact: Yes, you are eating for two, but remember that one of you is extremely small, pregnancy doesn’t give you the perfect excuse to double your calorie intake! Note that halfway through your second trimester, your foetus is barely more than 300g. WebMd has a handy guide to the development of an average baby, and it recommends that you eat an extra 200 to 300 calories a day. Overeating — or eating the wrong kinds of food, that are too fatty or not high enough in nutrients — can lead to complications, such as gestational diabetes and excessive weight gain.
Eating well rather than calorie counting is the key during your pregnancy and means ensuring you eat good-quality protein, such as eggs, meat, fish, beans and pulses. Fish and nuts contain omega-3 and omega-6 respectively, both of which are important for the development of your baby’s brain.
Vegetables and unrefined carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholemeal breads, which have more nutrients than their white processed counterparts, are good basics for your meals. And you might want to prepare some good snacks: Fruit, nuts (other than peanuts) and seeds, oatmeal biscuits and vegetable sticks. Limit tuna intake to once a week because of its possible mercury content.
Myth: You shouldn’t have sex when you’re pregnant.
Fact: Not true! Making love will not hurt your baby or your husband. In fact, modern experts actively encourage lovemaking during pregnancy so that you continue to feel loved and loving, and bonding with your partner in preparation for your baby’s arrival.
That said, there are a few medical conditions for which sex is not advised. Avoid sex if placenta praevia is suspected (your gynae will have told you. Furthermore, sex in the last trimester may not be recommended, if you have a multiple pregnancy, if you have a history of premature labour or if your waters have broken. Prostoglandins - the hormones doctors use to induce labour if you’re overdue - are present in semen. So, some believe sex can induce labour, but there is no evidence to support this.
Myth: You shouldn’t dye your hair when pregnant.
Fact: There is no conclusive proof that using hair dye can harm your unborn baby. But equally, there is no evidence that it doesn’t, either. Modern hair dyes are less harsh than those that were in use before 1980, but most doctors still advise caution. Until research clarifies things one way or the other, most women prefer to wait until the second trimester before colouring their hair, or choose natural, organic colourants. There is also the problem that some chemicals can trigger an allergic reaction. Don’t risk it.
Myth: You can’t have hot baths.
Fact: A steaming hot bath or jacuzzi is not recommended. An increase in maternal temperature is associated with problems in the unborn baby, especially in the early months when your baby is still developing. In the first trimester, overheating can increase the risk of neural-tube defects, such as spina bifida.
Pregnancy also increases the risk of dehydration and dizziness (caused by the lowering of your blood pressure), which can be made worse by using a sauna or jacuzzi. A good rule of thumb would be that if you can’t get into the water and sit down straight away, then it’s too hot!