“A mother does not become pregnant in order to provide employment to medical people. Giving birth is an ecstatic jubilant adventure not available to males. It is a woman’s crowning creative experience of a lifetime.”
― John Stevenson
This is post has been long overdue; I got the idea for the first time about a year ago when I had a lot of pregnant patients who bombarded my office and my phones with questions about things they could or could not do in pregnancy. They had been told by someone – usually a relative, but even total strangers in some instances – that there were some things that pregnant women were not supposed to do because of the effect those things could have on their unborn children.
As a physician, I must say that it is indeed true that pregnancy (which is not a disease, by the way) requires a certain degree of care that helps it end normally with the delivery of a healthy baby (or babies) to a healthy mother. The restrictions that doctors place on the pregnant bother on scientifically proven, precisely reproducible and evidence-based effects of drugs and illnesses on the pregnancy. The kinds of restrictions I want to talk about and being peddled around range from the simply harmless to the most absolutely ludicrous, they are passed down from one generation to another and interestingly, ladies aren’t told these things until they get pregnant then all sorts of restrictions begin to come from the strangest of places.
They are ‘pregnancy myths’ and I am going to enumerate them here even though I know I cannot exhaust the list because different cultures have their own specific restrictions they place on the pregnant woman, as if the pregnancy itself is not a huge one by itself.
1. The PIN
If I forget every one of these myths, I certainly wouldn’t forget this: THE PIN. Are you a guy or an unmarried lady who wonders why almost every pregnant woman has a ‘safety pin’ somewhere in front of their clothing, right around the pregnancy bump? Worry no longer, it is not there as a fashion appendage, neither is it there because they are trying to hold clothing together, this reason is this: they have been told that the ‘pin’ repels evil spirits because it ‘flashes’ into the demonic eyes and ‘blind’ them. Yeah, that’s it. It is myth number one.
2. Food Restrictions
These are the funniest. The pregnant woman is denied access to certain foods because the foods can cause certain abnormalities in the child after delivery. For example, she should not eat okra because it can make the child slur while talking (or literarily daft), same thing for ogbono; plantain because it can make the child have ‘caput’ (the temporary distortion of the skull at the back due to stress of delivery); she is told not to eat snails because it will make the child ‘slow’. Most foods are safe in pregnancy, this myth has no truth whatsoever.
3. Taking Photographs
The pregnant woman is told not to take pictures because it can give the child epilepsy or something like that. Really, epilepsy just like that? Who invents these myths? At which point in our history did cameras enter our culture? Hasn’t epilepsy been since time immemorial?
4. Lifting Things
Oh yes, this particular myth has a true ring to it in that a pregnant woman should not lift heavy things but isn’t that common sense? Except you are a weight-lifter, don’t indulge in lifting heavy things (you may develop spondylosis later on in life) so it makes sense that expecting mothers (especially as the day draws close) should do less of this, but to say that lifting heavy things causes Placenta Praevia beats my imagination. The placenta gets laid down in the first trimester and if it is praevia, it must have been praevia since that time. Very far from the truth.
5. Bending Down
This is one of the most recent myths I came across; my patient (in early second trimester) told me she was sweeping her home when an elderly woman cautioned her that she could fracture her baby’s bones by bending down. What? Fracture a bone that just still cartilage? Why didn’t she just go ahead and say she can crush her baby by bending down? What would this woman have said if she saw world-renowned Kaffy doing her rigorous dance on stage at 7 months gestational age? No truth in this at all.
6. Ultrasound Scans
One would have thought that ultrasound scans that helps monitor foetal well-being would be exempted from the list of myths; nah, these ‘mythologists’ have no boundaries when it comes to peddling unfounded neo-logical pseudo-philosophical acerebral concoctions. They said doing a lot of scans can make the baby abnormal. It can’t be further from the truth. I had a patient who did scan more than 30 times (no exaggeration) throughout her pregnancy. She just always wanted to ‘see’ her baby and when she delivered, oh, what a beautiful baby boy it was. Ultrasound scans, as opposed to x-rays are very safe in pregnancy.
7. Cold Water
I almost forgot this. Pregnant women are denied access to cold water because the cold water is said to cause either epilepsy (again?) or something of that nature. If you’ve ever lived in a village and drank water from the big pot behind the door, you’d agree with me that the water was always cold and refreshing. So where did this myth emanate from?
8. Walking During The Day
While it is important for women to protect themselves from the harshness of the heat of the Sun during the day, there is however another myth attached to this. It is said that a pregnant woman should not walk during the day because that is when ‘ogbanje’ spirits enter into the pregnancy and make her have children that die early and then re-incarnate into the same woman (aka abiku). Now, that’s a typical diabolical myth right there. Anyways, from science, we know that these children had either haemophilia or sickle cell disease. Myth busted!
The above-mentioned have all been established to be lacking in facts or evidence but if you go into some of these tribes, you will find belief in these myths really high and they will almost convince you by telling you of someone who ‘contravened’ the rules and now has a child who is suffering the consequences.
Interestingly, the myths associated with pregnancy is not an African phenomenon alone, doctors abroad share in the headaches of pregnant patients who pester them with calls concerning a certain myth or another.
Medically, we advise pregnant woman to abstain from taking ANY drug not authorised by a doctor, if a woman has been on some prescribed medicines for a pre-existing condition, she should still check with her doctor to know if she can continue them in pregnancy. They should take the routine folic acid, iron tablets and other necessary ante-natal drugs and attend ante-natal care regularly.
I wonder if all these myths would have been concocted if men were the ones that got pregnant. I doubt it though. Anyways, I always get a good laugh when my patients fill me in with these stories and I wouldn’t mind if anyone wants to share more.