It seems that whatever you do when you’re pregnant, someone, somewhere in the world has done a study on it! Your friends and relatives – and even strangers – all seem to have heard some piece of advice that you simply must adhere to. We’ve listened to the professors and examined the recent evidence to find out which little nuggets of wisdom hold true and which well-meaning morsels of info you can actually do away with. This guide will help you navigate your way through your pregnancy so you can relax and enjoy it as much as possible. Read on to separate the pregnancy facts from fictions…
FACT: Giving up smoking when you learn you’re expecting can dramatically improve bub’s health
The ill-effects of smoking on unborn bubs is clear. Puffing away while pregnant decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients that the baby receives, increasing the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and issues with brain size. Fresh from Southampton in the UK, though, comes a study which finds women who give up smoking at the time of conception or when their pregnancy is confirmed have babies with a similar weight, gestational age and head circumference to those born to mothers who have never smoked, making the ‘better late than never’ message clear.
Anne Jones, CEO of Action on Smoking and Health Australia, says it’s also very important that doing away with cigarettes is maintained. “Even if they do give up during pregnancy, a lot of women resume smoking afterwards, not being fully aware of the harm to their baby from second-hand smoke and the increased risk of SIDS,” Anne says. “Children of smokers have double the hospitalisation rates of children from non-smoking households.”
FICTION: Depression in pregnancy is just down to your hormones
Mood swings are all part and parcel of being pregnant, but a new study of 50,000 women from Norway shows that when it comes to antenatal depression, it’s the level of support you get from your partner that’s the biggest risk factor.
“The hormones associated with pregnancy do not equate with developing anxiety and depression,” confirms Dr Nicole Highet, Deputy CEO at Australia’s Beyond Blue, who adds, “if you’re not getting support at a time when you’re about to become a family, or expand it, it can certainly exacerbate [these things].”
Around 12 per cent of pregnant women experience antenatal depression and there are many risk factors, including a history of depression, past child abuse, drug and alcohol use, financial problems, illness, pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving. Keeping the lines of communication open with your partner can be important if times are tough.
PERHAPS: Sleeping on your left side decreases the chance of stillbirth
In a small-scale study, researchers from the University of Auckland found that when mums-to-be in late pregnancy slept on their back or right side, rather than the left, the risk of stillbirth was doubled (but only to nearly four in 1000). While no-one is certain, it’s thought that sleeping on your back or right side may lead to the compression of a major vein that carries blood from the body to the heart, in turn reducing blood flow to the uterus. The researchers say their findings should prompt further studies and Jonathan Morris, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at The University of Sydney and a director of the Stillbirth Foundation, agrees. “The findings are interesting and if the association is confirmed it could raise the possibility of interventions and a reduction in stillbirths,” Professor Morris comments. “However, because the study was retrospective, there are aspects that are perhaps open to bias and a firm conclusion is probably premature. Although this study holds promise, it would be unprofessional to suggest the link is proven,” he says, adding that “validating people’s actual sleeping position is difficult, plus you need to interview people as close to the event as possible.” Professor Morris is optimistic we’ll get more answers soon, though. “I’d hope that within the next three years we’ll be clearer about the association with sleep position,” he says.
FACT: Staying fit in pregnancy helps bub’s heart health after birth
Pregnancy is a good excuse to be able to put your feet up now and then, but it’s still important to remain active! A few years ago, a study led by Dr Linda E. May, a US exercise physiologist and anatomist at Kansas City University, revealed that pregnant women who exercised regularly had foetuses with lower (meaning healthier) heart rates. Her team’s latest research shows this improved heart control is maintained at least one month after birth, with babies of exercising mums having an average heart rate of about 145 beats per minute, compared to the 155 beats of bubs whose mothers didn’t get moving while carrying them. “These findings show lots of promise, but more research needs to be done and we are following up on it,” says Dr May.
Belinda Parmenter, an accredited exercise physiologist with ESSA (Exercise and Sports Science Australia), welcomes the study but agrees that more robust research is needed. “The women in this study who exercised were already doing so before pregnancy,” she points out. “What we do know is exercise is brilliant for mums-to-be. If you already keep fit and become pregnant, you can continue what you normally do, just modify it over time – for instance don’t do high-intensity exercise or contact sports. If you’re normally sedentary, start slowly – with walking, for instance – and build up to moderate intensity. Get clearance from your GP or obstetrician before starting, just to be safe. But generally speaking, do not exercise in pregnancy.”
FICTION: If your labour is induced, you’re more likely to need a Caesarean
Lots of women worry that having an induction will trigger the start of a so-called‘ cascade of intervention’ ending in a Caesarean delivery, but a recent Danish study has all but quashed this idea. The researchers collected data from more than 230,000 women, finding that inducing labour in the weeks around term (from weeks 39 to 41) wasn’t linked to higher rates of Caesareans compared with the experiences of women waiting for spontaneous or later-induced labours. “It’s a good and very interesting study,” says Dr Gino Pecoraro, a Brisbane-based obstetrician and gynaecologist. “Women should be reassured that there is no greater chance that they’ll need a Caesarean if they’re induced within that time frame.
Most doctors won’t let a pregnant woman go beyond 10 days overdue, so if your doctor thinks you need an induction for a medical reason, the evidence continues to emerge that it’s not a bad thing,” he reassures.
FACT: Women with gum disease take longer to fall pregnant
Yep, brushing your gnashers regularly really might help you on the journey to parenthood. Roger Hart is a professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Western Australia in Perth and medical director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia. He recently led a study showing that on average it takes a woman with gum disease just over seven months to fall pregnant, compared with the five months before baby-making success for women with healthy gums. Professor Hart says if you don’t brush and floss regularly it can lead to inflammation around the tooth and infection. One in four pregnant women participating in Professor Hart’s study had gum disease, he says, but many wouldn’t have even realised it. “Symptoms are jaw ache when you clench your teeth and teeth that bleed regularly when you clean them, but it’s easily fixed [with visits] to the dentist,” he says.
It is not known exactly how gum disease negatively impacts on fertility, so more studies need to be carried out, but the condition is also associated with heart disease, kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, chest infections and perhaps even pregnancy problems such as preterm birth – so grab that toothbrush and get to it!
FICTION: Taking fish oil in pregnancy will boost your baby’s vision
If you’re taking fish oil capsules solely in the hope of improving your unborn bub’s eyesight, we might have some bad news for you. Dr Maria Makrides of the Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute in North Adelaide recently led a study finding that DHA (that’s docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil) doesn’t do much for promoting vision. Despite benefits for premature babies given supplements of DHA after birth, her study found there was no improvement to the vision of full-term babies whose mums had taken DHA-rich fish oil capsules while pregnant.
“As long as you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet there’s no need for fish oil supplements,” says Pip Golley, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians’ Association of Australia. “There are recommendations for omega-3s in pregnancy, but we can generally meet them through our diet. Aim for 200mg of DHA per day. It’s found in oily fish, walnuts, linseed and yoghurt and eggs enriched with omega-3.”
Supplement-wise, her advice is to take 400mcg of folic acid per day if you’re trying to conceive and in the first trimester. “There’s strong evidence it reduces the number of babies born with neural tube defects.” Throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding, Pip also advises women to take 150mcg a day of iodine, either as a single nutrient supplement or as part of a specially formulated pregnancy and lactation multivitamin.