Dispelling Pregnancy Myths
Dr. Kristen Sharp, UW Health obstetrician gynecologist, realizes there is a lot of misinformation about pregnancy. She co-hosted a Facebook Live session recently to set the record straight on many of the common questions women have. Below are her insights, many of which also are addressed during CenteringPregnancy group prenatal care sessions.
Watch for a future post from her co-host, Dr. Jasmine Zapata, pediatrician, who covered common questions about newborn care.
Before Getting Pregnant
Q: How does consuming alcohol before you are pregnant affect the baby?
A: It’s a common scenario – you’ve been at an event and had a couple drinks and didn’t know at the time that you were pregnant. Generally, limited exposure to alcohol in that early stage isn’t likely to have a big impact on the baby. However, if you know you’re pregnant or are actively trying to get pregnant, the recommendation is to stop use of alcohol. There’s no “safe level” of alcohol that you can drink while you’re pregnant.
Q: If I get pregnant while on the birth control pill or right after going off it, will the hormones lead to birth defects in my baby?
A: No, the birth control pill has hormones that are naturally found in a woman’s body – estrogen and progesterone – and research has not shown a connection between these and an increased risk of birth defects.
Q: If my first baby had a birth defect, will my other children have birth defects too?
A: It really depends. Some birth defects are genetically inherited and could happen again. However, there are many other birth defects that are not genetic – those are less likely to occur again. If you’ve had a child with a birth defect, I’d recommend you schedule a preconception visit with an ObGyn who specializes in high-risk pregnancy to discuss your situation.
Q: Is it ok to have a manicure/pedicure or color my hair during pregnancy?
A: Yes, in moderation. Do your best to avoid directly inhaling the chemicals. But, overall, there’s no evidence manicures, pedicures or coloring your hair will be harmful to the baby.
Q: Is it safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy?
A; Yes, there is a lot of data to indicate it is safe at any time during your pregnancy to get a flu shot. When you’re pregnant your immune system is suppressed and you’re at much higher risk of getting very ill. In my career, I’ve actually seen pregnant women die from the flu. It’s really important to get a flu shot, especially if you are pregnant.
In addition, make sure you, your partner, family, friends, caregivers and anyone who will be around the baby get a flu shot and are up-to-date on other immunizations.
Q: Is it ok to eat sandwich meats during pregnancy?
A: Deli meats can contain listeria, a bacterium that may cross the placenta and harm the baby. If you do eat deli meats, you can reduce the risk by heating them first – heat the meat to the point it steams and then refrigerate (if you prefer to eat it cold).
Q: Is it ok for women to eat fish and sushi during pregnancy?
A: Women should avoid eating raw fish during pregnancy including sushi that is raw. Cooked fish, however, is a good choice as it can be very nutrient-dense. Certain types of fish can contain mercury though and should be avoided. A rule of thumb is: the bigger the fish, the more mercury it is likely to have. Shark, swordfish and tilefish are examples of fish that may contain mercury. Information about mercury in fish is also available at livestrong.com
Q: Are there other online resources you suggest?
A: Momymeds.com is one I like. It includes information about migraines and depression during pregnancy. The UW Health web page also has a nice list of over-the-counter medications that are safe to take for common conditions including colds, sore throats, insomnia, headaches, diarrhea or constipation.
Q: How much weight is “too much” or “too little” to gain during pregnancy?
A: Each woman is a little different. Recommendations will vary depending on your starting BMI. Some women lose a little weight early in pregnancy because they are nauseous and sick. Some important things to remember include: (1) stay well hydrated throughout pregnancy, (2) you only need about 300 extra calories per day during pregnancy and (3) check-in with your health care provider often to ensure your gaining the appropriate amount of weight and (4) do everything you can to achieve a healthy weight before you become pregnant.
Q: What impact does being overweight during pregnancy have on the baby?
A: If mom is overweight, she is at a higher risk for complicating conditions such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and preeclampsia. Her baby also is likely to bigger which can lead to problems during delivery and even more risk for needing a C-section.
Q: Is the baby’s heart rate or the position of the placenta an indicator of the baby’s gender?
A: No, the only way to figure out the gender of the baby in utero is through ultrasound or some very specific blood work.
Q: How soon will I feel the baby kicking? When should I worry if I don’t feel kicking?
A: Many factors come into play – whether it’s your first baby and where your placenta is positioned, for example. On average, around 20 weeks is when women start feeling the baby kick. It would be rare to not feel movement by 24 weeks.
Q: How do I know if my baby is moving too much or too little?
A: Every baby is going to be different. With that said, by the time you’re in your third trimester, you will have a feel for your baby’s usually patterns of movement. If the baby seems to be moving more or less than usual, talk to your health care provider about what you’re noticing.
Q: What are kick counts?
A: It’s a way to monitor your baby’s well-being. Around 28 weeks is when we recommend women start doing kick counts. Set aside time every day when you know your baby is usually active. Sit with your feet up or lie on your side. Time how long it takes to feel 10 movements. If you aren’t at 10 movements after two hours, or if there’s a noticeable change from your norm, talk to your health care provider about what you’re noticing.
During Labor and Deliver
Q: Can tearing during childbirth be prevented? Do oils help?
A: Vaginal tearing during delivery is pretty common. Sometimes stitches are needed. With that said, it doesn’t hurt to massage oil into the perineum, if you’d like to.
Q: Why do some women choose water birth?
A: Benefits of water births can include enhanced pain control during labor and delivery. But there also are risks to watch for. For example, we don’t recommend water birth if the baby is at risk of getting stuck in the birth canal, the pregnancy is overdue, if mom has any complications such as diabetes or if the baby’s heart rate changes during labor. If you do choose to have a water birth, be sure there are experienced professionals assisting you and the birthing tub has been cleaned and sanitized properly.
Q: Are long cords in utero a risk for stillborn?
A: Unfortunately, we don’t always know the cause of a stillbirth. However, umbilical cord accidents do cause some stillbirths. Theoretically, a really long cord could increase the risk. But, the reality is that the vast majority of women with long umbilical cords have a healthy delivery.
Q: Is it true that labor is faster and easier with your second baby?
A: Usually, but not always.
Q: What is placenta encapsulation?
A: After delivery, some women have their placenta dehydrated, ground-up into a powder and placed in capsules. There have been reports that women who took the capsules felt more energetic, had a better supply of breast milk and experienced less anemia. However, we don’t have research to back this up.
Q: What are your thoughts about postpartum placenta encapsulation?
A: Use caution. There’s not much safety data on this practice yet. If you decide to go forward, make sure the placenta is processed safely by a reputable organization. Bacteria can end up in the capsules and cause both mom and her breastfeeding baby to become very sick. And if there’s been an infection during delivery, I definitely don’t recommend proceeding with placenta encapsulation.
Q: What are your thoughts about cord blood?
A: There are companies that will bank cord blood or cord segments. The reason for banking is for potential future use if, for example, the baby develops a condition where stem cells could be beneficial (e.g., leukemia). In the state of WI, we don’t have a public cord bank so you would need to contract with a private company. It can be expensive and you’d need to be sure it’s a reputable company as some have abruptly gone out of business.