woman’s hands on her baby bump wondering about pregnancy myths

8 Most Common Pregnancy Myths Debunked

Despite their shaky logic, pregnancy myths continue to persist. Here are 8 of the biggest, the truth behind them, and what you can or should do instead. 

Pregnancy myths have found their way into our collective consciousness, becoming the anchor points for well-meaning but flawed or inaccurate advice. But as any pregnant woman or mothers will tell you, such myths are often incredible, contradictory, and in some cases may even be mentally detrimental.

Here are 8 of the most popular pregnancy myths, debunked, and the truth behind them. 


Myth 1: You’re eating for 2

The truth: Increasing your intake of important nutrients is more important than simply eating more. 

This is perhaps the most oft-quote pregnancy myth. On the surface, it makes sense. You’re growing a person in your body, and therefore require more nutrients. 

While the reasoning is sound — pregnancy creates heightened nutritional demand, such as for folate, iodine and iron to support healthy foetal development — that doesn't mean you should be having buffets for every meal [1].

On average, pregnant women need around an extra 340 calories a day (600 if carrying twins, 900 if triplets) from the second trimester, and slightly more in the third trimester [2]. 

Overeating during pregnancy can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which in turns increases the risk of complications including gestational diabetes and high blood pressure [3].

As such, weight gain during pregnancy should be kept to healthy ranges, as seen below [3]:

BMI (at start of pregnancy)

Recommended weight gain during pregnancy (kg)

< 18.5 (underweight)

12.5kg to 18.0kg

18.5 to 24.9 (healthy)

11.5kg to 16.0kg

25.0 to 29.9 (overweight)

7.0kg to 11.5kkg

> 30 (overweight)

5.0kg to 9.0kg

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Myth 2: You can’t have caffeine

The truth: Yes, you can, but in limited amounts only.

You may have been told by many well-meaning friends and family members that coffee (and even tea or certain soft drinks) is a no-go during pregnancy, because of the caffeine it contains — but that isn’t completely true. 

Doctors say you don’t have to abstain completely. Pregnant women can have up to 200mg of caffeine a day [4]. That’s equivalent to 12oz or 350ml of coffee, which you can choose to have in 1 serving or several. 


Myth 3: One glass of wine is ok

The truth: There is no safe amount for alcohol intake during pregnancy.

While 1 or 2 small cups of coffee per day may be alright, the same cannot be said for alcoholic beverages. 

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy has been known to cause a number of developmental problems to the foetus. These include facial and physical abnormalities, low body weight, hyperactivity, and learning and intellectual disabilities [6].

It is important to note that researchers have not yet been able to determine a safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy [6]. Given the potential for serious side effects, it’s best to stop drinking altogether to be safe. 


Myth 4: You can’t have fish or seafood

The truth: You can, and should, consume certain types of seafood.

This pregnancy myth is partially true — you should stay away from certain types of fish and seafood, but there are several others that are safe to eat. 

The concern with eating seafood revolves around high mercury levels, which can affect your baby’s brain and nervous system. Additionally, raw or uncooked seafood carry the risk of food poisoning or parasites, which may be more severe due to changes to your immune system during pregnancy [7]. 

Hence, it is recommended to avoid large predator fish such as shark, king mackerel, bigeye tuna and tilefish as they contain high mercury levels. Add to the list anything served raw or uncooked, such as oysters and sashimi [9]. 

Instead, opt for safer choices such as salmon, anchovies, sardines and freshwater trout, which are good sources of omega 3 fatty acid; an important nutrient during pregnancy. Other suitable seafood choices include shrimp, cod, tilapia, catfish and pollock [8].


Myth 5: Neither can you have cheese

The truth: Cheese is safe for consumption, as long as you stay away from mould-ripened, blue, and unpasturised cheese and dairy.

This is another pregnancy myth that is only partially true. Besides raw seafood, other potential sources of food-borne illness are certain types of soft cheese and unpasteurised dairy products.

In particular, mould-ripened soft cheeses, blue soft cheese and soft ripened ghost cheese should not be consumed during pregnancy, unless cooked until steaming hot beforehand. The same goes for unpasturised cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk or cream [9]. 

Cheese lovers will be relieved to find that this leaves plenty of other cheese that are safe to eat during pregnancy, such as [9]:

  • Hard cheeses: All types of cheddar, Gruyere and parmesan
  • Pasturised semi-hard cheeses: Edam and Stilton
  • Pasturised soft cheeses: Cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta and halloumi
  • Processed cheese spreads


Myth 6: Sex during pregnancy can hurt the baby

The truth: Conventional sexual activity will not bring any harm to the baby.

Moving on from food-related pregnancy myths, another popular myth is that sex should be avoided at all cost during pregnancy, for fear of hurting the baby.

Well, this myth is completely baseless, so if you’re feeling up for it, go ahead and get busy with your partner [11]. Indeed, it is common to experience an increase in libido when pregnant, especially around the late first trimester and the second [10]. 

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s examine why it’s impossible that having sex can hurt the baby. To wit: The foetus is floating inside a fluid-filled placenta, which is, in turn, surrounded by the thick, muscular walls of the uterus. It is therefore highly unlikely that conventional sexual activity will bring any harm to your baby at all [11]. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.


Myth 7: Exercise may strangle your baby

The truth: Maintaining normal activity levels and exercises that strengthen the stomach and pelvic muscles is beneficial.

This is another baseless myth that is actually causing more harm than good. 

Pregnant women are told not to engage in vigorous activity or exercise, lest the baby somehow gets entangled in a life-threatening position. However, this is not likely, because — as mentioned above — the baby is floating in a fortified giant balloon of water [11]. As a result, mums-to-be often eschew any form of exercise at all, unknowingly to their detriment.

You see, moderate exercise during pregnancy is helpful for managing weight gain and in coping with labour. Therefore, pregnant women are encouraged to participate in physical exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing and yoga — for as long as they feel comfortable doing so [12].

In particular, stomach-strengthening exercises, pelvic tilt and pelvic floor exercises, may also be beneficial to pregnancy, improving muscular and joint strength, improve circulation, ease backache and confer a sense of well-being [12].


Myth 8: Your belly reveals the baby’s gender

The truth: There is no correlation between the size and shape of your belly, and the gender of your baby.  

You may have heard that the gender of your baby influences the shape of your belly. A sharper and more pronounced bump means you’re carrying a boy, while a rounder belly means it’s a girl. 

Another version says that a higher belly bump means it’s a girl, while a lower belly bump means it’s a boy. And there’s the cravings clue (salty cravings – boy, sweet cravings – girl), the hair hypothesis (thicker, shinier hair – boy, limp, dull locks – girl), and the heart rate myth (higher heart rate – boy, lower heart rate – girl, or vice versa). 

While this myth is harmless and can certainly make for some fun bets around the office, it is completely untrue. There is simply no scientific basis for it [13].

The only way to tell a baby’s gender is with an ultrasound between Week 18 to 20 [14]. Blood tests that screen for chromosomal abnormalities can also reveal your baby’s gender, based on whether the Y chromosome is present or absent [15].


Take all pregnancy myths with a grain of salt

Despite being thoroughly debunked time and time again, these 8 pregnancy myths remain amongst the most prevalent and widely believed. 

There are certainly many more myths than the ones we have covered so far, and all of them should be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism. Remember, if you’re unsure about what you can or cannot do during your pregnancy, your best option is to check with your healthcare provider.

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[1] Healthline, Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy, https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/nutrition
[2] American College Of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Nutrition During Pregnancy, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/nutrition-during-pregnancy
[3] Better Health Channel, Pregnancy And Diet, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/pregnancy-and-diet
[4] Cleveland Health Clinic, How Much Caffeine Is Safe During Pregnancy?, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/caffeine-and-pregnancy-how-does-caffeine-affect-my-baby/
[5] Healthhub, Alcohol And Pregnancy, https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/851/dont-toast-to-your-babys-health
[6] Centres For Disease Control And Prevention, Alcohol Use During Pregnancy, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html
[7] WebMD, Is It Safe To Eat Crab Or Lobster While Pregnant?, https://www.webmd.com/baby/is-it-safe-to-eat-crab-or-lobster-while-pregnant
[8] Mayo Clinic, Pregnancy And Fish: What’s Safe To Eat? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-fish/art-20044185
[9] NHS, Foods To Avoid In Pregnancy, https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/foods-to-avoid/
[10] Healthline, Sex Drive During Pregnancy,  https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/sex-drive
[11] Insider, Doctors Debunk The 25 Biggest Pregnancy Myths, https://www.businessinsider.com/ob-gyn-doctors-biggest-pregnancy-myths-debunked-2019-10
[12] NHS, Exercise In Pregnancy, https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/exercise/
[13] Healthline, Can You Tell You’re Having A Baby Boy By The Shape Or Size Of Your Belly,  https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/baby-boy-pregnancy-belly
[14] WebMD, Can You Predict Your Baby’s Sex?, https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/predicting-your-babys-sex
[15] National Human Genome Research Institute, Y Chromosome Infographic, https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Y-Chromosome-facts