Spicy Food Doesn’t Induce Labor (And Other Pregnancy Myths Busted)

When you're pregnant, everybody's got advice. But how much of it should you heed?

January 26, 2018
img Spicy Foods Don’t Induce Labor

Throughout their terms, pregnant women get overwhelmed with information. They hear advice from their doctors, of course, but also family members, friends—even people on the street will stop a pregnant woman to give them their two cents. It’s the most natural thing in the world, they say. You’re eating for two, they exclaim. So, how can mothers-to-be separate fact from fiction?

It isn’t easy. Pregnancy does have plenty of strange side effects. Did you know, for instance, that being pregnant can cause your gums to bleed? It can. Pregnancy hormones cause increased blood flow, which in turn increases your susceptibility to gingivitis. The American Pregnancy Association recommends diligent oral care during women’s terms.

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And have you heard that pregnancy actually does make your feet grow? A study in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation showed that pregnancy tends to flatten the arches of your feet, making them wider and longer, according to Medical News Today‘s review of the study. Sadly, this doesn’t go away once the baby is born: The arch is often permanently flattened. Pregnant women should wear low-heeled, soft shoes with proper arch supports to combat these changes, wrote John M. Sigle, a doctor of podiatric medicine, for Herald & Review.

So when pregnancy has so many strange and true side effects, it’s easy to see why a pregnancy rookie would accept anything their mother, or a random passerby, tells them. But there is plenty of misinformation out there. You’ll hear it from well-meaning, misinformed peers; you’ll see it in advertisements and on movie screens.

If you’re expecting, or if you’re just curious about the life of a mother-to-be, here are some pregnancy myths to pay no mind.

Myth: Spicy food—or any food—induces labor.

Though an overdue woman would love to pop a jalapeño and go into labor, it just doesn’t work that way. Eliza Ross, MD, OB-GYN, of the Cleveland Clinic said that there’s no evidence that spicy food causes labor. “It might give you heartburn,” she wrote, “but it won’t bring baby into the world any sooner.”

Still, some restaurants have gotten famous based on their supposedly labor-inducing foods—even if they aren’t spicy. In a 2007 article, fact-checking site Snopes provided six examples of eateries that, willingly or not, earned reputations for pushing babies along. Some served hot wings, others served Italian food.

In 2017, Scalini’s, an Atlanta-based Italian restaurant mentioned in the Snopes piece, claimed that their eggplant parmesan has “helped more than 1,000 women go into labor,” according to Today. Women who go into labor 48 hours after leaving the establishment get a Scalini’s gift card and a space on the wall for their baby’s photo.

But since Scalini’s, and restaurants like it, attract overdue women, the correlation is likely due to coincidence, not causation. “If you were to chart the results of a group of [overdue] women,” reads the Snopes piece, “you’d find that a great many of them would give birth to their children within a day or so no matter what they ate or did, with almost all of the rest delivering no more than two or three days after that.”

That said, it seems Robert Bogino, the owner of Scalini’s, understands that it’s all in fun. “Of course,” he told Today, “you have to believe a little bit, too.”

Myth: It’s the most natural thing in the world.

In regards to pregnancy and breastfeeding, mothers will often hear a familiar refrain: “It’s the most natural thing in the world.”

It makes sense, too. Biologically, pregnancy—during and after—is about as natural as it gets. But it turns out that the experience is anything but.

Maryann Davidson, a mother of three, says that though pregnancy may technically be a “natural” process, it feels entirely foreign for the mother-to-be.

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“I certainly wasn’t accustomed to feeling nauseous at all times of the day and night; having my moods swing wildly without warning; putting on weight which wasn’t caused by excessive overeating; having a wriggling, jumping, growing baby inside me which was part of me yet already completely independent.”

Then there’s birth itself. Many women get epidurals, are hooked up to IVs, or need to have emergency cesarean sections. There’s nothing wrong with any of that—in fact, the global maternal mortality rate has declined significantly in modern times—but it’s not what most people would call “natural.”

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Even if a mom chooses to have a natural birth (a birth without any medication or surgery), the feeling will still be completely foreign. Sure, she can read about how it will feel or ask other mothers to share their experience, but nothing can prepare her for the moment itself.

Though the process of pregnancy is completely natural, it’s one of the most unnatural, crazy experiences an individual will ever go through.

Myth: Morning sickness stops after the first trimester.

Morning sickness is very common. Most women experience it as some point early in their pregnancies, but they’re often told that it stops after the first trimester.

“Is it? Is it?” asks Davidson. “Well, my body must not have read that particular instruction, as I continued to suffer from this particular affliction well into the second trimester.”

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She’s not alone. Though most women see their morning sickness symptoms subside after 12 weeks, the American Pregnancy Association says that up to 20 percent of women experience it throughout their pregnancy—this severe form of the illness is called hyperemesis gravidarum, which can require hospitalization.

To combat average, first-trimester morning sickness, pregnant women can eat frequent, small meals and sip on fluids throughout the day, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Even hyperemesis gravidarum is treatable—the Hyperemesis Education and Research Foundation lists medication and nutritional treatment as effective options—and usually doesn’t cause much of a risk to the baby. But it’s surely unpleasant for the mom.

Myth: You can’t eat seafood.

Most women think that all seafood is completely off limits during their pregnancy, but according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you can enjoy specific sea treats even when you’re with child.

The warning does have some truth to it. The FDA urges women to avoid fish with high mercury contents—bigeye tuna, shark, marlin, and king mackerel, for instance. They recommend against sushi, too, because of uncooked fish’s higher chance of carrying parasites.

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U.S. Food and Drug Administration

But other fish? Eat up! Salmon, shrimp, tilapia, and cod are among the 30-plus fish that the FDA recommends pregnant women eat two to three servings of weekly. There are nearly 20 fish they recommend pregnant women have one serving of weekly.

Myth: You’re eating for two!

Want an extra slice of pizza or four? Well, eat up, say purveyors of this myth, because you’ve got to get in all those extra calories to help the baby grow.

Sadly, this isn’t entirely true. OB-GYN nurse practitioner Emily Silver recommends that women only need around 300 extra calories a day to support their pregnancy. “To put it in perspective, that’s about equivalent to a bowl of cereal,” says Silver. (According to MyFitnessPal, a bowl of Cheerios with whole milk is 203 calories, so let’s say you have a second helping.)

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She’s not far off from The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics‘ recommendation, which says women in their second trimester should eat 340 extra calories, and women in their third trimester should eat about 450 extra calories. More, sure, but not double.

Though it’s totally okay to want to pig out when you’re pregnant (pregnancy cravings are not a myth), you don’t actually need another human’s worth to keep your baby safe. What’s most important is what you eat: Pregnant women should eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy protein, and drink low-fat, calcium and vitamin D rich liquids, recommends the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. So if you think that pint of ice cream will help the baby, you might want to think again.

Myth: You’ll know when you’re going into labor.

Shauna Armitage has three kids and a special hatred for this myth. Over and over again, she heard people tell new moms to “listen to your body” or “you’ll know what to do” when it came to labor…but Armitage found the opposite to be true.

Armitage says that everything hurts, especially late in pregnancy, and it’s hard to discern your pain’s meaning. Is that pain the beginning of labor, or is it just some random pain from having a growing baby inside of you? You almost never know.

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Labor comes in two stages: early and active. According to health care organization Kaiser Permanente, you shouldn’t go to the hospital until you’re in active labor.

Early labor has inconsistent contractions, and they’re typically less painful. Also, early labor can last for days! So if you go to the hospital too early, you could be asked to go home and wait it out.

Active labor doesn’t start until your contractions are three to four minutes apart and last for about a minute a piece. That’s when they go from moderately painful to insanely painful.

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Still, as a pregnancy rookie, it can be hard to judge how painful your contractions are. Often, moms confuse their ordinary “a child is growing in my belly” pain for contraction pain, which makes labor even more confounding.

In the end, it’s all confusing, and Armitage insists that you almost never “just know” when it’s time to have the baby.

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Of course, if you’re experiencing extreme pain—and if it’s extreme to you, it is extreme—contact your doctor. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Myth: Birth involves lots of screaming.

If you’ve seen any movie with a birth scene, you’ve probably heard the mom-to-be comically screaming as she pushes the baby out. Think Knocked Up or The Back-up Plan. But according to birth doula Darby Morris, screaming is actually discouraged during the birth itself.

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“Knocked Up” (2007)/Universal Pictures

This isn’t because doctors don’t want damaged ear drums or that ladies are too shy to scream—yelling just makes it harder to push.

Morris compares the feeling of pushing during labor to pushing when you’re constipated. Imagine trying to push and scream at the same time in the bathroom—it’s almost impossible. Morris says that women are usually quiet: One, so they can focus on pushing, and two, because they’re exhausted from the lengthy process of labor.

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