Do do this. Don't do that. With all the pregnancy advice out there, it's hard to keep track of what’s safe and what not—and what you should really believe. Here, with the help of experts, we break down the top 10 myths surrounding pregnancy so you can enjoy (many) of your favorite things guilt-free. Of course, every pregnancy is different, so follow your doctor's orders above anything else.
Myth 1: Eat Three Healthy Meals a Day
Surprise! You should actually be eating six or seven small, healthy meals throughout the day (every two to three hours). "Eating frequently and from various food groups will keep your blood sugar in a constant range, which is healthy for you and your baby," says Stuart Fischbein, MD, coauthor of Fearless Pregnancy. Now is not the time to diet, but don't stress too much about food. What was good for you pre-pregnancy is good for you now. Need a refresher? Here are some healthy items to add to your grocery list.
Myth 2: It's Okay to Have a Drink
Choosing to have a few sips during a champagne toast or abstaining from alcohol completely is ultimately a personal decision, but know that numerous studies have linked drinking during pregnancy with an increased risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) say pregnant woman should completely avoid alcohol during pregnancy. “The birth defects associated with alcohol during pregnancy are completely preventable,” says ACOG president Mark S. DeFrancesco. “It is essential that all healthcare providers, especially ob-gyns, make clear to their patients that there is no amount of alcohol use that is safe during pregnancy.”
Myth 3: Stick to Decaf Only
It’s true that caffeine crosses the placenta, meaning when you load up on lattes, both you and baby feel a buzz. But a small cup of coffee or tea a day is perfectly fine—in fact, the ACOG says having up to 200 milligrams of caffeine a day is considered safe. So how much coffee or tea does that buy you? It all depends on the type of drink and its caffeine content. Caffeine levels in coffee can vary widely based on the type of bean, how long it was roasted and how it was brewed. For instance, a French blend served black is much stronger than a weak cup of American coffee mixed with milk. Curious how much caffeine is in various types of coffees and teas? Check out The Bump Caffeine Chart for Pregnant Women.
Myth 4: Cut Out the Cheese
Rejoice, ladies—you don't have to avoid all cheeses. Some kinds, like cheddar and Swiss, are totally fine because they’ve been pasteurized. It's the soft, unpasteurized products like Brie, feta and goat cheese that might carry food-borne illnesses. If you're lucky, your grocery store will carry pasteurized versions—just check the label. And then you can still enjoy your crackers with cheese.
Myth 5: You're Eating for Two
Yes, the food cravings are real, but pregnancy isn’t a time to pig out. You certainly have a bit more leeway when it comes to a second helping of dinner, but on average women need only about 300 extra calories a day. While it’s important to keep your body well-nourished—after all, it’s working hard to grow a baby!—you should aim for a healthy pregnancy weight gain of about 25 to 35 pounds, according to the ACOG.
Myth 6: Say ‘So Long’ to Seafood
Eating seafood is actually super-healthy during pregnancy! Fish is packed with protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which have major developmental benefits for baby. But not all fish are created equal. The FDA encourages moms-to-be to eat two to three servings of low-mercury seafood every week, so when perusing a menu, go with choices like salmon, shrimp and tilapia. Unfortunately, swordfish, bigeye tuna, tilefish, marlin, King mackerel, orange roughy and shark have the highest levels of mercury and should be skipped entirely. As for sushi, the FDA urges pregnant women to steer clear of anything uncooked: Raw fish can contain parasites and bacteria that may lead to infections and foodborne illnesses, so your best bet is to stick with cooked sushi rolls, like tempura.
Myth 7: You Have to Suffer Through Pain and Sickness
Many over-the-counter medications are safe during pregnancy, but somehow women believe they need to put up with migraines and suffer through colds. Not so. You should consult your ob-gyn before you take anything, but many experts give the following drugs the green light: Tylenol for headaches and fever; Tums or Mylanta for heartburn; Robitussin for colds; and Benadryl for allergies. Many prescription drugs are also okay to continue with during pregnancy, but again, follow your doctor's orders. Herbal supplements and teas are up in the air—not much research has been done on their effects on fetuses. The kinds you buy in the grocery store are probably safe, but check with your doctor first. If you need to soothe your nerves and want to take the natural route, meditate or eat a piece of chocolate. We prefer the latter.
Myth 8: Skip the Gym
Actually, many experts say that in most cases, low-impact workouts can be a great way to control your weight and prep your body for baby’s arrival. The ACOG recommends that pregnant women get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity in every week—“moderate” meaning your heart rate is raised and you’re starting to sweat, but you can still talk normally. Just avoid contact sports or exercises that involve lying on your back (which reduces blood flow to your brain and uterus). Talk to your OB about pregnancy-safe workouts you can incorporate into your routine.
Myth 9: Ditch the Hair Dye
Being pregnant doesn’t have to compromise your appearance, but you do need to be smart. While there is a theoretical risk associated with coloring your hair (as chemicals are absorbed through the scalp), Fischbein says, studies haven’t shown anything conclusive. He recommends avoiding dye for at least the first trimester, when baby's organs are forming. Candice Wood, MD, an ob-gyn at the Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, suggests opting for a natural vegetable dye over a permanent product (tomato juice, anyone?), or go for something semipermanent and don't leave the treatment on for longer than necessary. Whether you're at a hair salon or at home, make sure the space is well ventilated.
Myth 10: Manicures Are Out
You don't need to forego weekly manis just because you want to be a mommy. "You would need massive and long-term exposure to the products before there was a chance of problems," Fischbein says. Still freaked out about what's in the nail polish itself? Look for brands that are 3-free, meaning they don’t contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene or formaldehyde, like Butter London, Scotch Naturals and Zoya. To avoid breathing in fumes, choose places that are well ventilated (you might even want to make your appointment for less crowded times of the day). Most importantly, make sure the salon sterilizes all their tools. "If you were ever going to get an infection from a manicure, it would be when you’re pregnant," Wood says. Wondering if you can indulge in other pampering services? Brush up on spa safety.
Updated January 2018