Hands Off My Belly! - The Explorer: El Sol

Hands Off My Belly!

NW physicians write a book to examine myths about pregnancy

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Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:26 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Pregnancy and myths seem to go together.

If you have wide hips, you're inclined to have a son.

If you're carrying the baby low, it means a boy.

If you're pregnant during an eclipse, you need to wear a piece of metal, like a paper clip, across your belly.

Nearly every day, Drs. Shawn Tassone and Kathryn Landherr, a husband and wife OB/GYN team with a practice in the Northwest, have to dispel one of those or other myths about pregnancy. They've faced such superstitions so many times that they wrote a book on the subject, Hands Off My Belly! A Pregnant Woman's Survival Guide to Myths, Mothers and Moods, published by Prometheus Publishing. (www.handsoffmybellyguide.com.)

The authors combined their 20 years of work in a clinic, as well as their experiences parenting four children, to review the anecdotes and beliefs about pregnancy — from the slightly unusual to those that are stranger than fiction — and compare them with the scientific evidence.

"The book is less medically oriented and more about the frequently-asked questions we get in clinics, but which have no basis in medicine," said Landherr. "These are beliefs such as 'My baby will have a lot of hair because I have heartburn,' or 'You shouldn't lift your arms over your head while pregnant because the umbilical cord will wrap around the baby.'"

Landherr pointed out the majority of pregnant women learn such myths from family and friends, and because they may be grounded in the person's culture, should be embraced for what they are.

"It's fun to talk about these things and get reassurance through a pregnancy," she said, "yet it's also important not to take them too seriously."

Tassone said he often sees young pregnant women in the clinic with paper clips on the front of their pants.

"In some Hispanic and Indian cultures, there's a belief that if a pregnant woman goes out during an eclipse, the baby will be born with a cleft lip," he said. "Scientifically that's not true, but with verbal history like this, the mythology may be rooted at some time when people were fearful of their sun god."

After he had seen a number of women wearing the paper clip, a pregnant nurse explained the myth to Tassone.

"I asked her what she thought of the myth," Tassone said. "She lifted her shirt and showed me a paper clip over her belly and asked, 'Do you think one is enough?'"

Other pregnancy myths debunked by the book include:

• If the fetal heart rate is 140 or higher, it's a girl.

• While holding a ring on a chain over a pregnant woman's belly, if the ring rotates to the right, it's a boy; to the left, a girl.

• If you crack an egg on a pregnant woman's belly and it slides off to the right, she'll have a boy; to the left, it will be a girl.

"They're all untrue," Tassone says. "So our goal with the book was to come at these myths from the aspect of scientists, to show there's no science to support these belief systems."

At the same time, Tassone cautioned, it's important to recognize that the myths are deeply embedded in some cultures.

"Superstitions are powerful and people might still believe in them, even after reading the book, especially if the myths were told by grandma," he said. "As a physician, I learned long ago that you never argue with grandma, because you'll lose every time."

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