Myth-busting baby birth theories

Even doctors admit there's still a lot we need to learn about pregnancy. But before science, there was myth.
February 24, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Even doctors admit there's still a lot we need to learn about pregnancy. But before science, there was myth.

Most cultures have their own beliefs, theories, and rituals to help explain the "unexplainable."

One would think that some of those beliefs would have disappeared in our technological society. But throughout her pregnancy, Stephanie learned that everyone has an opinion about the miracle of life. There's still so much we don't know - which means a lot of those myths are not only used, they're considered fact.

Jennifer Oneto wasn't far into her pregnancy before she knew she was having a boy. The Sanger native called it mother's instinct, but her own mother had a better explanation. "As a woman, if you carry a boy you're out, if you carry a girl you're spread."

To prove her point, Jen's mom also did the "ring on a string" trick. "She held it over my belly and it either moves in a circle or sways side to side he was a boy-so it moved in a circle, girls sway side to side."

The beliefs don't stop at gender prediction. Oneto's biggest problem during her pregnancy was heartburn. "My mom especially kept telling me he's gonna come out with a lot of hair because you have really bad heartburn".

Sure enough little Nathan came out with a head full of hair.

Dr. Ian MacAgy, an Assistant Clinical Professor at UCSF Fresno and member of the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency program said, "They believe a full, woolly head of hair on a baby will tickle the digestive track. That would be scientifically improbable."

MacAgy says there's no science behind "the way you carry" or other such predictions of the sex of a child, unless you do early genetic testing or an ultrasound. "Almost any association you can come up with is going to have a high rate of accuracy since you have a 50/50 chance of having a boy or a girl."

In his twenty years of practice and after delivering some 1500 babies Dr. MacAgy thought he'd heard it all. But then we told him about the "evil eye" or "ojo" in Spanish.

Oneto said, "Maybe when I was 14 she taught me about ojo, and how we are always to touch the baby if we are admiring them so the baby doesn't get sick."

In many Hispanic cultures, to rid the child of any sickness or bad spirits derived from an evil eye, there's a distinct ritual involving a raw egg. Jen says her mom cured Nathan when he was sick by rubbing an egg all over the naked child. She then cracked that same egg, and left it on a windowsill to cook overnight, essentially cooking the negativity away from the baby.

Oneto said, "She didn't know if I was going to believe her so when I went to pick him up she showed me the cooked egg, why wouldn't you believe it."

Fresno State Sociologist Deborah Helsel says these sorts of rituals and beliefs span the length of time. "How can you say it's not? There's no way to prove or disprove this, that's the thing about beliefs you can't prove or not prove them they're beliefs because you believe them."

Helsel was a labor and delivery nurse before she moved into the classroom and says traditions developed because people needed a reason to predict the unpredictable. Birth and death remain two of life's biggest mysteries. "It makes you think that there's somebody so wise that they can just look at you and tell this, and isn't that comforting? Yah, on some level, it's comforting."

Oneto is not ready to throw out the stories she grew up believing. "It's fun to look back and it makes you even more of a believer in it."

While science may not support many of the myths, tricks, and pregnancy predictions, sociologists admit they don't have all the answers which means these stories are likely to be told to the next generation of expecting parents.


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