Maternity mythology has been probably been around since we all lived in caves and hunted mammoths, but it still persists. There are no shortage of what we refer to as “Old Wives Tales” . Most are so thoroughly outdated they prompt laughter. But with the normalisation of technological birth, more myths have settled in our collective consciousness. Let’s debunk some Modern Maternity Mythology!
Measuring ahead / behind: It’s really important to ensure that a baby is developing well in the uterus, but the measurements given to women often leave them fearful, and they’re not all that accurate. Women are often told their baby is measuring three, four, or even five weeks ahead of the gestation they are. This scares the pants of them, because it gives them the idea that they’re expecting an elephant calf rather than a tiny wee pink human. Babies all sit differently in the uterus. They are all different sizes at birth. Their mother’s pelvises are all different shapes. The mother’s bladder may be full, half full, or empty. The idea that each baby will be the exact same measurement at a certain gestation is garbage! If they’re not all exactly 3.5kg at birth, why would they all be the same size at 38 weeks gestation? Why do care providers use this measurement? You should ask them!
You need to be tall and have a large pelvis to give birth easily: How many women are given caesareans firmly believing that it was because their pelvis is too small, and their baby was too large? A huge number! If women needed to be large to give birth though, wouldn’t women be the larger of the human species? Why are men the largest? They don’t need to give birth, so there must be a design flaw in that. Or maybe there’s no design flaw at all, and women give birth perfectly well, even to large babies, under the right circumstances. Ultrasounds that estimate a baby’s size prior to birth are frequently inaccurate, and unfortunately women aren’t aware of that. Women believe that the use of technology such as ultrasound is an exact science. This makes them easy prey to a care provider with a high intervention rate. Interventions such as induction or caesarean to prevent complications from a large baby cause more problems than they solve whenever we examine the evidence. One study even found that in order to prevent one baby from suffering nerve damage at birth, there would need to be 2,345 caesareans on women with suspected large babies.
Your cervix should be dilated before forty weeks: Why? Isn’t the purpose of labour to dilate the cervix? Why do you need to be dilated before you are even expected to give birth? Sure the idea that there’s some movement at the station is encouraging. Who wants to waddle like a penguin forever? No one! Who wants to meet their baby soon? Everyone! But how dilated your cervix is doesn’t actually tell you that you’re a long way from labour, or close to it. You could be totally closed and not dilated at all, and be holding a baby the next day, or you could be four cm dilated, and still pregnant next week. Our bodies are not robotic, they all work differently.
You have a due date: Recently there’s been a shift towards calling it a guess date, but really it’s still one date. Fewer than 5% of babies come on the day their mother hits 40 weeks pregnant. The due date was invented by a man called Naegele, in 1812. How did he come up with the 40 week pregnancy? Did he ask his mother? Did he track the length of his wife’s pregnancies? Oh no, not him! He read the bible. Actually, he didn’t even do that. He based the 40 week pregnancy on what someone else had read in the bible. That someone else happened to be a botanist. Since the dawn of time, women calculated expectancy based on how many moons passed. They determined that it was 10 moon phases (29 days each or as we now know 29.5) which would be 295 days. Unfortunately by the time a woman is 295 days pregnant she has passed the window of her “due date” (at around 41 weeks and a couple of days) and is subject to induction pressure. When thinking about the length of pregnancy it helps to remember that just as all babies walk, talk, and get their teeth at different ages, they are ready to be born on different days. Sources are now recommending a longer gestation, to reduce inductions (which carry multiple risks to both mothers and babies) and they are suggesting that pregnancy length could vary by up to five weeks.
Want to calculate like your great great great grandmother?
Take your LMP and add 295 days!
Stop saying Due Date. Drop the Guess Dates. Instead, have a start to wait date, and a completely irrelevant 40 week date. Base your decisions on HEALTH, instead of on the calendar and demand that your care provider does the same.
You can’t eat or drink when you are in labour: If you feel up to eating, you should eat! Especially in the early stages of labour. You should drink water all the way through. A well nourished, properly hydrated body will labour more effectively. Drinking water is a far more effective way to maintain hydration than an IV cannula, and it’s also far more convenient to a mobile, labouring woman. Owing to the safety of anaesthesia techniques in 2016, the maternity myth of fasting during labour, is now thoroughly debunked!
Once A Caesarean, Always A Caesarean: This one isn’t so much Modern Maternity Mythology, as it is lasting Maternity Mythology. This classic saying that everyone recognises was first coined in 1916. What other medical practices from 1916 do we still abide by? I’m pushed to think of one! Once a woman has a caesarean, it is believed that giving birth vaginally becomes extremely risky. It’s true that after a caesarean, there’s a small chance of a uterine rupture, and that uterine rupture can kill the woman and her baby. However, repeat caesareans can also kill women and babies, and the more you have, the more your risks increase. The risk of uterine rupture after one caesarean is 0.2% (1 in 1000) or 0.5% (1 in 200) depending on the source you choose. However, only 6% of women who experience a rupture will lose their baby. So 6% of the 1 in 1000, or 1 in 200 will experience what is known as a catastrophic rupture. Compare that with other risks, like the risk of cord prolapse which occurs somewhere between 1.4% of all births (14 in 1000) and 6.2% of births (62 in 1000) and has a 95% chance of foetal death. We have to wonder why they aren’t all telling us to have caesareans for that! (see here for more about where these figures came from)
Birth is the most dangerous thing a woman can ever do: Are you in Sierra Leone? If you are, your risk of death is 1,360 in 100,000 births. Sierra Leone is a war torn country where access to health care, fresh water and quality nutrition are hard to come by. Birth is pretty dangerous there. In the United States it is 14 per 100,000. But the US is an interesting place, because they are currently spending more on maternity care than any other country in the world. Despite this the maternal death rate is actually rising. It is the only industrialised country where that is happening. According to Amnesty International, it’s a crisis in maternity care.
Here are some figures from around the world for your perusal
|Country||Death rate per 100k|
|United Arab Emirates||6|
You Need To Dilate 1cm Per Hour: One of our all time favourite bits of Modern Maternity Mythology, the 1cm per hour mandatory dilation. This one causes countless caesareans. Determined by one study that was conducted by a fellow named Friedman in the 50s, countless women have undergone a caesarean for labouring slowly, while being perfectly healthy. To debunk this myth is pretty simple. Women are smart! We need to demand that our care providers focus on our health, and not on the clock. If you’re in labour for a long time and you’re not healthy, have a caesarean! Modern maternity care is brilliant for those. If you’ve been labouring for a long time and you’re perfectly healthy, and so is your baby? Labour some more. You can ask for a caesarean if you want, or maybe an epidural, maybe some food and a shower, but you don’t need a caesarean.
There is so much Modern Maternity Mythology today, that it would take hours to debunk them all, but these are some of the most common ones. If you think there’s one that really needs to be added please leave a comment and let us know!
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