Old Wives' Tales

I’m seven months pregnant, sitting in a café. “Hoping for a redhead?” asks a stranger, winking at me. I look puzzled. “Chamomile tea,” she says, pointing to my cup. “No better way to guarantee a ginger-haired baby!” This was a new one on me. But it was a comment in a long line of surreal, charming and sometimes plain crackers myths that were bestowed on me by friends and strangers alike during my pregnancy. I had ordered herbal tea because I had remembered that a cappuccino would mean my baby’s growth would be severely stunted, and almond milk would inflict a lifelong nut allergy on my unborn child. I hadn’t ordered a snack because I was sure I’d read something somewhere about smoked salmon making babies go blind, or was that tuna? A cup of weak chamomile tea seemed innocuous enough. But, no. There is no other time in your life that myths, superstitions and old wives’ tales surface as regularly as when you’re trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or are about to have a baby. They range from the eccentric-but-harmless through to the utterly bonkers. Are any of them actually based in fact?


Unless you’re one of the lucky ones and your partner just has to look at you for you to get pregnant, you are bound to be susceptible to the myriad of myths surrounding fertility. if plain old sex isn’t working, it makes sense to try every trick in the book even if they do seem pretty potty. What have you got to lose? 

Old Wives’ Tale No. 1

Have sex on a full moon it’s surrounded by a ‘ring of fire’. Visualise the moon during sex and never think of pointy or sharp things during intercourse.

VERDICT: Possibly True

The full moon–fertility connection is as old as time but it’s a link that even scientists don’t fully understand. all midwives will
tell you labour wards are busier than usual when it’s a full moon, which suggests the lunar calendar should affect fertility too. but really, if you’re trying to get pregnant, experts say you should be having sex every other day throughout your cycle (yes, even during your period, sorry); full moon, half moon or no moon. As to thinking of round things during lovemaking, well, whatever floats your boat...

Old Wives’ Tale No. 2

Men should eat a bag of brazil nuts, wear loose cotton underwear and drink a double espresso 20 minutes before sex to make sperm swim faster.

VERDICT: Both true and false

Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, a mineral that is proven to boost sperm production and improve their swimming ability, and there’s also research that suggests that tight underwear is associated with lower sperm counts. There is no research that coffee speeds up sperm but if it perks him up, go for it!


Old Wives’ Tale No. 3

Women should stop exercising, take a dose of cough syrup before sex and stand on their head after sex.


It’s been suggested that guaifenesin, found in some cough syrups, can thin cervical fluid, enabling the sperm to travel more easily
but there’s no clinical evidence to support it. exercising – unless it’s excessive – doesn’t damage your chances of getting pregnant. There is no evidence that standing on your head has any effect on how the sperm travels. It does have the effect of making you look and feel ridiculous.


Second and subsequent pregnancies generally involve less (literal) naval gazing on the part of mothers but most women during their first pregnancy will, understandably, worry about things they may or may not be doing that could damage their precious unborn baby. i remember calling my sister to ask, in all seriousness, whether i could continue to wear make-up during pregnancy as it might “seep into my skin and poison him”. She patiently reassured me i could safely continue to wear mascara.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 4

Eating dark-coloured foods (soya sauce, coffee, beetroot) will darken your unborn baby’s skin and chilli peppers will give your baby a full head of hair. Your baby will have a birthmark in the shape of the food it’s denied in the womb.


Doctors in this country are pretty united about what the food no-nos are during pregnancy and the list is surprisingly short. but stories abound about how foods affect your unborn baby. DOn’T eat grapefruit, it gives them eczema! DO eat grapefruit, it’s full of Vitamin c! birthmarks are not in the shape of bananas or strawberries or Haribo Tangfastics because you didn’t eat enough of them but I don’t think you needed me to tell you that.

Old Wives’ Tale No. 5

Never raise your arms above your head when you’re pregnant because this will cause the umbilical cord to get tangled around your baby’s neck.


No, you may raise your arms. Just don’t have 50kg dumbbells in your hands when you’re doing it.



The gold ring test is the most well- known gender prediction technique: when you dangle a ring on a thread above your belly and wait to see which way it swings (circular motions for a girl, back and forth for a boy) but there could be an entire book written on the so-called signs that prove you’re having a boy or a girl. our favourites (none of which are based on any scientific findings, of course):

It's a GIRL if:

Your left breast is larger than your right breast
Your hair develops red highlights
You are craving oranges
You refuse to eat the crust of a loaf of bread
Your pillow faces south when
you sleep
When handed a key, you pick it up
from the thin end

It's a BOY if:

The father puts on weight during your pregnancy
Your areolas have darkened considerably
You are craving sour foods
The hair on your legs has grown
faster during pregnancy
Your pillow faces north when
you sleep
Your nose is spreading

Your hands are dry and your
feet are cold


The friendly advice i was given when my second child was two weeks overdue included drinking herbal tea, walking five miles, stamping my feet, squatting, getting a shock, going on a bumpy car drive, drinking castor oil, using a laxative and getting an enema. Being overdue can feel quite desperate (i’ve done it in a heatwave, in a small upstairs flat – i know) so it stands to reason women scour the internet looking for ever-more wacky ways to chivvy the process along.



Old Wives’ Tale No. 6

Having sex brings on labour

Sex, in fact, is the only non-clinical method for bringing on labour with any scientific evidence to back
it up. research suggests it may induce contractions because semen contains prostaglandins and orgasm releases oxytocin, two hormones that promote contractions.


by Hannah Shuckburgh. illustrations by Charlotte Cleveland