Amid the rapid growth of the Internet and other information technologies, finding advice and facts about pregnancy and parenting is easier than ever. As a first-time parent, how can you distinguish fact from fiction? We have come to the rescue to debunk some of the most common misconceptions about pregnancy and parenting while giving real, evidence-based advice for new and expectant mothers.
Myth #1: Pregnant mothers should stay away from cats.
False. Pregnant women do not necessarily have to alienate their furry friends despite there being some truth to this myth. Cats who ingest raw meats often have the parasite Toxoplasma gonii present in their feces. While animals and humans usually remain unaffected by this parasite, it can be very harmful when a fetus is exposed to it (CDC). This could happen when, for example, a pregnant mother cleans her cat’s litter box and then fails to properly clean her hands. If this exposure takes place, the fetus could be adversely affected in many ways, resulting in eye problems, brain damage, stillbirth, an aborted fetus, or even impaired cognitive functioning which may appear following birth (Kohnle). House cats who do not eat raw meat are very unlikely to carry this parasite. Even if you do have a cat that consumes raw meat, exposure can be easily avoided by having someone else change the cat litter or simply by wearing cloves and washing your hands afterwards. Touching or playing with you cat during pregnancy is perfectly fine. While the dangers if exposure to Toxoplasma gondii during pregnancy are something women should be aware of, they are easily evaded and are no reason to avoid your feline friend.
Myth #2: Pregnant women need to eat twice as much because they are eating for two.
False. Pregnant women only need to eat around 300 extra calories per day to accommodate their growing fetus (Medline Plus). For example, a pregnant mother would only need to add one or two small snacks to her regular diet. In reality, eating large amounts of sugar-filled, fatty foods because of your pregnancy will not provide the fetus with needed nutrients. Pregnant mothers should strive for quality, not quantity of food, making sure they are eating a healthy, balanced diet that will provide both them and their developing baby with the necessary nutrients.
Myth #3: Sex during pregnancy will hurt the baby.
False. As long as everything is normal with your pregnancy and your doctor has not cautioned against it, sex is perfectly fine during pregnancy. The amniotic fluid and the strong walls of the uterus protect the baby from any potential harm (Mayo Clinic). As long as the mother is comfortable and her doctor has no concerns, go for it.
Myth #4: It is okay to drink some alcohol during pregnancy.
False. While it is clear that excessive alcohol consumption can cause severe damage to a mother’s unborn child, a recent study by the Harvard Medical School showed that women who drank alcohol starting in the first trimester did not have higher risks for complications. This was consistent over varying amounts of alcohol consumed. However, they did not study the effects after birth. Since many symptoms of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) such as cognitive deficits and attention problems are not apparent until much later, it is unclear whether there really was no effect on the children (Lewine). In addition, since the effect of alcohol consumption during pregnancy can be so drastic, causing severe facial abnormalities and intellectual disabilities in many cases, the preferred course of action remains for pregnant women or women who think they may become pregnant to avoid alcohol consumption whenever possible.
Myth #5: Picking up a baby when he cries will spoil him.
False. Attending to your child when they are born will not spoil your child. The newborn cries because they have needs, so you are not spoiling them when you pick them up. Picking your child up teaches them that they are secure, safe, and loved because you, as a parent, will respond to their cries. Experts further claim that it is not possible to spoil an infant. The newborn lacks the cognitive capacity to manipulate, so when they are crying, they actually demand the attention (What To Expect). Picking a baby up when they cry serves to develop a secure attachment between the mother and her newborn. A secure attachment is one in which the child has a high-quality relationship with their caregiver, resulting from responsive and consistent caregiving. However, this response should not last forever. At a certain point, the child’s begins to cry out of want rather than need, which is when the parent needs to set limits and begin to discipline their child.
Myth #6: Parents should not fight in front of their kids.
False. Therapists assert that disagreements in which both parties treat each other with respect and end the argument by solving the problem together is actually a positive communication exchange for their children to see (Winik). Children learn socialization indirectly by mimicking the actions of their parents. So if the argument consists of bullying and name calling, that is what the child will learn to emulate. In the end, the child must see their parents resolve the argument and reconcile.
Myth #7: Sugar makes kids hyperactive.
False. To the contrary, scientists have confirmed that sugar does not induce hyperactivity, but that it actually releases soothing neurochemicals. The infamous birthday party meltdowns occur because of insulin, a hormone that is released to push the sugar out of the bloodstream and into the body cells. The quick drop in blood sugar because of the increase in insulin causes lethargy. This reaction to sugar can be avoided by controlling the amount of sugar that a child consumes in a given period, and by eating fiber or protein in addition to the sugar (Sachs).
Myth #8: Parents should be friends with their children.
False. Parents can be warm, loving, trusting companions to their children without being friends with them. ‘Friendship’ with a child connotes a permissive or neglecting parenting style where the relationship is either indulgent with no control attempts, or neglecting and uninvolved. When a parent is permissive or neglecting, it does the child more harm than good, causing them to be impulsive, lack in self-control, have low academic performance, antisocial behaviors, and engage in high-risk behaviors. Parents should place parenting and the needs of their child as priority over their friendship with their child. While there may exist a friendship in the sense that the relationship is built on mutual respect, treating each other as individuals, and sharing thought and feelings, it is not an egalitarian one (Dewar). A parent must enforce rules and limits and put the child’s safety and well-being ahead of his or her feelings toward the parent.
First-time parents experience a large learning curve. What most parenting blogs fail to mention is that everybody messes up. There is no right or wrong way to parent, and every child is unique, requiring different methods of discipline and communication. If you are ever confused or concerned about your child’s well-being, always consult a physician. There is no tried and true formula for a perfect family, only a loving home with attentive, caring parents.
Written by: Anna Whitus and Caroline Hufford
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Jan. 10, 2013). Parasites: Toxoplasmosis.
Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/
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Lewine, H. Study: no connection between drinking alcohol early in pregnancy and birth
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