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Myths, facts about pregnancy

You've probably heard them: the time-honored advice that mothers-to-be get from well-meaning friends and relatives. No caffeine. Don't dye your hair. If you're carrying low, it's a boy; if high, it's a girl.

Most of the myths are old wives' tales and have little or no scientific basis, said Dr. Robert Beattie, chairman of family and community medicine at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences. But some "may have a grain of truth."

We turned to Jenny Senti, perinatal clinical nurse specialist with Altru Health System in Grand Forks, to sort fact from fiction.

Don't dye your hair.

Probably OK, but use caution.

Some doctors say dying hair once each trimester is OK; but use with caution. Chemicals in hair-dying products can be absorbed through the skin, and may be unhealthy. Don't let it sit on the scalp a long time. Wear rubber gloves.

Instead of dying your hair, consider highlighting, using a product that doesn't make contact with the scalp.

It's probably OK to dye your hair, but there's not enough scientific proof to confirm. To be 100 percent sure, avoid it or talk to your doctor.

No caffeine:

Limit your intake.

Limit your intake of caffeine to 200 milligrams or less per day (again, read labels).

Watch serving size: an eight-ounce cup of coffee usually provides 150 milligrams of caffeine, so grabbing that 12-ounce size could put you over the limit. A 12-ounce soft drink generally has 50 milligrams of caffeine, and there's 40 milligrams in 8 ounces of tea.

High doses of caffeine present a risk of birth defects or fetal death, although research is not conclusive. With excessive caffeine, there's more concern about miscarriage than birth defects.

A birthmark on a newborn is due to Mom drinking too much coffee:

No basis in fact.

"I don't believe it," Senti said. "From a developmental standpoint, coffee wouldn't affect pigment in the skin." By the way, eating strawberries will not cause a strawberry-shaped birthmark on baby either.

Don't take a bath (water may get into uterus):

Bathing is OK; nature protects womb.

It's fine to take a warm (not hot) bath, as long as your water has not broken. Water can't enter the uterus (a mucous plug seals the cervix opening; a bag of amniotic fluid encasing the fetus provides another layer of protection). This myth may stem from worries that a woman could get an infection, which might hurt the baby, if the bath water was contaminated.

Holding your hands over your head could cause strangulation by umbilical cord:

No scientific evidence for it.

Definitely not true; no scientific evidence supports this idea. The worry may have arisen from the fact that some babies are born with the cord wrapped around the neck.

Intense sex causes pre-term labor:

Sex is OK, in normal cases.

In a normal pregnancy, sexual activity is OK. Sometimes, after sex, a woman may have a contraction; these are OK, it's not labor. But if the woman is at risk for pre-term labor or the placenta is over the cervix, she should talk with her doctor.

Exercise is bad for the baby:

Continue as before pregnancy, within reason.

Whatever the woman was doing before pregnancy is OK to continue. Stick to normal activity; this is no time to go cliff-diving or mountain-climbing. Walking or doing yoga is fine.

Women should be aware that their center-of-gravity has shifted and they may be at risk for falling; be careful.

Reading will improve the baby's intelligence:

Wishful thinking.

No, the brain's development is not affected by the mother's reading habits.

Don't get too warm:

Yes, do avoid getting overheated.

Avoid anything that causes the core body temperature to become elevated. Stay away from tanning booths, saunas and hot tubs. Don't get overheated. This is true throughout pregnancy, but especially early on due to the risk of birth defects, including neural tube defect, in the developing baby.

Don't eat bleu cheese:

Yes, do avoid unpasteurized foods.

During pregnancy, avoid anything that's not pasteurized (read labels to confirm). They may contain some bacteria that make pregnant women very sick with listeriosis, an infection that can cause a blood infection, meningitis and other serious and potentially life-threatening complications.

Pregnant women should stay away from soft cheeses -- brie, feta, camembert and some types of Mexican-style cheese -- that are not pasteurized.

You can't see your doctor until you're 11 weeks along:

No, see your doctor when you know you're pregnant.

When you know you're pregnant (with at-home tests, that can be early). If you're a high-risk patient, see a doctor as soon as possible.

In early pregnancy, the body is pretty self-sufficient. Start prenatal vitamins right away (better yet, ahead of when you're planning to get pregnant).

Good nutrition is essential since there's rapid cell development in early pregnancy and tissues and organs are formed.

Of course, take no alcohol or drugs. Talk with you doctor about medications you're taking, and if it's wise to take them while pregnant.

"You just want to do all those things we know are good for us, and make sure you're doing those things consistently," Senti said. "Early on, education is important. We usually see the patient at 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy."

You should warm your lunchmeat:

Best to avoid any meats that have been sitting out.

Don't eat any meats, like deli meats, that have been sitting out, say, on a meat-and-cheese tray, as they can harbor bacteria that may make pregnant women very sick. Make sure all meats are handled properly; keep cold meats cold and hot meats hot.

Gender-related tips:

Popular, but not proven.

Although she's heard most of these, Senti said, "I don't know that anything has scientifically proven them."

She said, in nearly 30 years in clinical nursing practice, she's never heard the idea that urine color-intensity predicts gender. Anyway, she doubts its validity, noting that dark urine could indicate dehydration and cloudy may suggest a urinary tract infection.

But "that one about craving salty versus sweet foods (predicting baby's gender), I've heard that rumor from a lot of women," she said, as well as opposite claims.

She said she heard the myth, surprisingly, from a native Chinese woman who moved to this area.

"I thought it was interesting to hear it from someone who was from China," she said.

"Who knows? Maybe someday we'll eventually find that some of these myths are true."

Reach Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to