Activities Affecting the Fetus
Pregnancy brings with it many fears for the future that mothers-to-be have little control over. Miscarriage and birth defects loom over expectant parents who just want that perfect first child to love and adore.
Before advances in medicine, there was no way to know whether the actions of the mother had any effect on the baby, but sometimes it was better to assume some action had caused the problem than to feel powerless.
Pregnancy and New Baby Lore (FA 01 45)
For women who commonly experience miscarriages, any advice that might help them keep a baby may seem like good advice. Activities or foods that could be avoided were preferable to a platitude regarding a higher plan. Some mothers avoided things like stretching because they feared that the movement of their bodies would strangle the baby inside. Others avoided swimming in cold water so the temperature couldn’t kill the baby while in the womb. Foods like geen skinned potatoes were thought to poison babies, so pregnant women shouldn’t eat them.
Folk stories supported these beliefs, and were told over and over again. One woman slipped on ice and rolled down her driveway while eight months pregnant. She only wanted to visit her sister, but instead she went into early labor and lost her baby. Other women have attested that attitude rubs off on the baby, so if the pregnant woman isn’t completely ecstatic about her state of being, her baby will feel unloved. One woman said her grandmother was so upset to be pregnant that her mother never felt loved.
Other activities that people think will affect the fetus are less dire. Silly tales of birthmarks being created by such activities as eating too many raspberries or being frightened by mice are told in humorous anecdotes, but rarely believed. To support the growing fetus intellectually, some older women claim that eggs are good ‘brain food’ and should be eaten at a rate of a dozen per day.
Others attest that reading to the belly causes the baby to become interested in books. Reading to the belly in another language enhances the baby’s language skills somehow, and sleeping nude produces less inhibited children. There is no direct evidence of cause and effect, however a correlation between parents who are willing to read to an unborn baby and parents who continue reading to their children throughout childhood definitely exists.
The Lore of Pregnancy (FA 01 229)
Much of the advice about unborn babies is contradictory and absolutely unsupported by any kind of fact. Things like ‘scrubbing the floor on hands and knees may cramp and kill the baby’ are directly contradicted by people saying that ‘scrubbing the floor on hands and knees is good for both mother and baby because the position alleviates pressure on internal organs.’
Other advice declares that crossing her legs while pregnant may cause a woman to miscarry, leaning over isn’t good for the baby, and reaching up with her arms could cause a woman to ‘pull something loose’ and miscarry. While the physicality of a pregnant women may affect her comfort levels, babies are a bit more resilient than all that. Other advice concerning birth defects and other hazards of poor behavior during pregnancy is more believable, though no less likely to be skewed or misrepresented.
Drinking coffee during pregnancy may increase chance of birth defect. Smoking or drinking during pregnancy increases chances of having small, stupid babies. General anesthesia can cause babies to be less intelligent. Pregnant women shouldn’t inhale fumes from fresh paint. It will coat the baby’s lungs and cause it to suffocate. None of these claims are scientifically proven, yet studies have shown that things like coffee and smoking can lead to problems, so the lore has its place as a warning system to pregnant mothers.
Instead of focusing on the safety of the baby, much of the lore focuses on the intelligence. Claims that protein increases babies’ IQ by building the brain, and reading while the baby is in the womb will make it more intelligent are peppered throughout any advice given to an expectant mother. Mobiles above cribs, breast feeding, and the amount a baby is held are also used as a vehicle for ensuring offspring’s intelligence. Musicianship and spirituality are also painted with this brush.
The best advice included in the pseudo-medical category is that pregnant women should avoid taking medication unless it is prescribed by her doctor. After that warning, many supplements are prescribed, as well as exercises meant to help with labor. Presumably, those should also be run by a competent obstetrician.
Everything You Should Know About Pregnancy??? (FA 01 456)
A traditional belief is that the things a mother sees while pregnant will leave a mark on their baby. One woman had a son who hopped around everywhere, and she was convinced that it was because a rabbit crossed her path once while she was pregnant. While that story may sound ridiculous, there is a lot of lore in the same vein. Stories about birthmarks state that the mark comes from something the pregnant woman saw during pregnancy, and will be a fully formed image, despite the fact that few people have birthmarks that look like any recognizable shape.
One woman’s aunt had a bright red birth mark all over her face, and her mother claimed that it came from the time she had watched the Chicago Fire, and been so overcome that she threw her hands to her face. The baby’s facial markings were in the same place she had touched her own face.
Some believe that emotions factor hugely into the growth and development of the baby, to the point where they blame their own emotions for any miscarriages they have. Because of this, pregnant women are advised against attending funerals, because their babies will be negatively impacted.
One woman had a miscarriage of twins when she was six months pregnant, and became pregnant very shortly afterwards. She didn’t want to be pregnant again, and was very despondent about it. The baby ended up with one leg shorter than the other and a toe that stuck straight out the side. The woman felt that this was punishment for not wanting the child.
Other actions of the mother are said to similarly affect unborn children, though their results are less dire in nature. One woman really wanted a musical child, so she religiously studied music through the nine months of her pregnancy. The child was never talented in music, but it was very stubborn. Eating certain foods may affect the baby in various ways, though the most common beliefs are that eating burnt toast during pregnancy can cause the baby’s hair to curl, and that things that the mother craves during pregnancy will be hated by the child after birth.
Folklore of Pregnancy and Birth (FA 01 510)
From experience, several mothers have concluded that having an early baby shower will cause the baby to come early. It is unclear as to whether they considered this a benefit or deterrent to an early baby shower. Another seemingly unconnected action that’s said to have an absurd amount of control over is a woman’s choice in sweeteners. According to some, eating honey instead of sugar will allow a baby to be born with hair that doesn’t fall out.
A bit more sensible a concern is that riding a horse while pregnant will cause miscarriage or difficult birth. While riding itself may not be the direct cause of such difficulties, there is a bit of truth. Horses are always a danger to the rider. At any moment, they may decide to throw their rider or the rider may just fall off. Either of those things can be very damaging to a precious new life. Much jostling may also cause displacement of the fetus, especially after twelve weeks. Experienced riders may be able to handle a bit more than amateur riders, but the loss of energy most women experience causes even experienced riders to be at higher risk for accidents.
Pregnancy and Birth Folklore (FA 01 1283)
A woman and her husband went for a walk in the woods while the wife was seven months pregnant. The husband left his young wife for a few minutes while he relieved himself in the bushes, and she had an encounter with a bear. She was so terrified by the snarling, looming bear that she fainted. The bear wandered away, uninterested. Her husband found her and rushed her to the hospital to make sure she was okay. The doctor told her she and the baby would be fine, but not to be surprised if the incident had left a ‘mark’ on the baby. When she finally had the baby, the doctor delivered it and exclaimed ‘Oh my! Your baby has bear feet!!’
“Whipping Cream Makes Men More Fertile” And Other Folk Beliefs of Pregnancy (FA 01 1479)
In Madagascar, a common belief is that women who eat fish during pregnancy will have scaly skinned babies. This might be a reference to children with eczema though.
Pregnancy Lore: Exposed and Explored (FA 01 1501)
Like many bits of lore designed to give parents a false sense of control of their unborn child, there is a prevalent idea that listening to classical music during pregnancy will guarantee a sophisticated, intelligent child.
Pregnancy Folklore (FA 01 1807)
Some of the lore for pregnant women is designed to control the behavior of women. Instead of being based in concern for the mother, the warnings seem to have been made up on the spot with less than benign intent. Some claim that women who gossip a lot during pregnancy will have deformed babies. Though perhaps a woman who believes such a tale should be gossiping less and reading more.
Other tales are a bit sillier, such as the claim that women who hear dogs barking and don’t cover their ears will suffer miscarriage. While it is completely inappropriate to joke about something so serious, the action that would result in an expectant mother following this advice wouldn’t actually harm her or force her to make major life changes.
Red Raspberries and Drano: Pregnancy Beliefs and the Influence of the Family (FA 01 1881)
Cats carry a bit of a stigma for being dangerous to pregnant women. Stray cats may carry a disease called Toxoplasmosis that can harm pre-birthed children if their pregnant mothers handle the cat’s litter. The disease comes from a parasite in contaminated rodent meat. House cats rarely eat fresh meat, let alone the infected kind.