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The Top 7 Pregnancy Myths

Can you color your hair? Get a flu shot? Have sex? Experts clear up your biggest concerns.
WebMD Feature

When you're pregnant, you're likely to hear a lot of old wives' tales -- some of which can be amusing. You've probably heard this one: Carry high, it's a girl. Carry low, it's a boy. (Sure, it's silly, but our foremothers didn't have ultrasound.)

Not all pregnancy myths are entertaining though. Some prompt unnecessary worry while others can pose real health complications for mother or baby.

Myth: Skip the Flu Shot

Just the opposite. "Flu vaccination is very important," Nancy Chescheir, a clinical professor of maternal/fetal medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says.

Some pregnant women worry the vaccine might give them the flu. Others fret that preservatives in the vaccine may hurt their unborn baby. But a flu injection won't give women the flu, Chescheir says, nor is there any evidence that flu vaccine harms fetuses.

Instead, a flu shot can be a lifesaver for mother and baby. Pregnancy alters a woman's immune system, heart, and lungs, making her more vulnerable to getting a severe case of flu. "Women who are pregnant and come down with the flu do not tolerate it well and have a much higher risk of becoming extremely sick and a higher risk of dying from the flu than the general population," Chescheir says.

But get the flu shot (containing killed virus), not the nasal spray vaccine (containing weakened, live virus). And seek out a thimerosal-free flu shot if you’re worried about preservatives. 

Myth: You're Eating for Two

Helping yourself to double servings of potato salad or ice cream? Not so fast. Yes, you're eating for two -- but that doesn't mean two adult-sized servings are necessary.

The average woman with a normal weight pre-pregnancy needs only about 300 extra calories per day to promote her baby's growth, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). That's roughly the number of calories in a glass of skim milk and half a sandwich. A woman of normal weight should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy -- less if she's overweight.

It’s difficult to drop extra pregnancy pounds after birth, Chescheir says. And with each subsequent pregnancy, a woman might become even heavier. 

Also, women who gain more than 50 pounds when they're carrying just one child have a higher risk of a cesarean section or a difficult vaginal birth, Chescheir says. And babies who are "overgrown" at birth, she says, are more likely to be obese when they're adults.

Myth: Avoid Hair Dyes

No need to sport dark roots with your maternity wardrobe. Chemicals from hair dye, permanents, and relaxers are absorbed through the skin only in minimal amounts that aren't harmful.

"We don't believe there's any fetal risk from hair dyes and such," Chescheir says. But strong odors from hair treatment products make some pregnant women feel nauseous. So use them, she says, in a well-ventilated space with a fan.

You can hold off on hair treatments until you've passed your first trimester if you’re really worried. You can also avoid dyes with ammonia, which has strong fumes. "Hair changes a lot during pregnancy," Chescheir says. Products that worked well before pregnancy might not give the same results.  

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