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Pregnancy Myth Busters!

Now that you're expecting, you may have noticed that everyone around you seems to be a medical expert. You've likely been bombarded with tips from your friends, sister, mother-in-law, and even perfect strangers about what is and isn't safe for you to be doing as your bump grows. While those around you mean well, all the advice you end up getting can be conflicting, confusing, and downright wrong. Fear not: We've sorted through the flood of information and spoken to top experts to debunk some of the most commonly shared myths.

Pregnancy Myths: What Should You Believe?
Pregnancy Myths: What Should You Believe?
The Myth: You shouldn't get your heart rate above 140.
pregnant woman eating

Alexandra Grablewski

When it comes to getting exercise, even your physician may have advised you to keep your heart rate at or below 140 -- but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) abolished this edict years ago. "There isn't a hard-and-fast rule for heart rate anymore because it's not always a good indicator of how hard you're working," says Annette Lang, a New York City fitness expert specializing in pre- and postnatal training.

If you're very fit, you may find that getting your heart rate above 140 isn't particularly taxing -- but if you're an exercise newbie, that number might be far too high. The bottom line, according to Lang: Pregnant women should work out at a moderate level. How to know when you're there? Use the talk test as a measure of exertion; you should be slightly breathless but still able to carry on a conversation, says Jon Snyder, M.D., associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University School of Medicine. If you're panting, slow things down, and if you're able to chat easily, ramp your effort up. As long as you feel okay, it's probably safe to continue with the activities you were doing prior to pregnancy, including running and spinning, says Lang. You might just need to take the intensity down a notch as you get bigger.

The Myth: It's safest to travel during your first trimester.

It might seem natural that the best time to fly or go on a road trip during pregnancy is during your first three months, when you're smallest and getting around is still relatively easy. However, according to a new ACOG report, this can actually be among the riskiest of times for you to take off. "The incidence of miscarriage is highest during the first 14 weeks, and the farther away from home you are, the harder it will be to get to your doctor," explains Savita Khosla, M.D., an ob-gyn at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. Plus, while harmless to the baby, "air jolts and road travel can bring on or increase feelings of nausea," she notes.

The good news: Unless you're considered high risk by your doc, the second trimester is prime for getting away: Not only will increased blood flow give your energy level a major boost, but your belly shouldn't yet have grown large enough to be a hindrance. Still, it's important to take extra care of yourself when you do fly, says Dr. Khosla, so make the trip more comfortable by drinking eight ounces of water every two hours, walking a few laps up and down the aisles every 60 minutes to keep your blood flowing to the uterus, and limiting salty snacks like chips, peanuts, and pretzels, which can make you bloated.

Also worth noting: While most commercial airlines allow pregnant women to fly up to 36 weeks, you may find that travel becomes more uncomfortable after seven and a half months. Moreover, that's when chances of premature labor and other complications spike, Dr. Khosla notes, so she recommends sticking to road travel as close to home as possible.

The Myth: You can't eat foods like goat cheese or seafood.

Thought you'd have to pass on your favorite soft cheeses and seafoods for all of pregnancy? Not so, says Rose Ann Hudson, R.D., coauthor of Eating for Pregnancy. "You can have any cheese as long as it's pasteurized, which is clearly indicated on the label," she says. (In the past, most soft cheeses were made from unpasteurized milk, which made them a pregnancy no-no.) In addition, most cooked seafood is also safe -- and even recommended by experts. While you should avoid king mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tilefish (all of which pose too high a risk of mercury poisoning), you can safely eat up to 12 ounces a week of most other fish and seafood, including canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish. One major reason to indulge: DHA. This fatty acid, which is essential for the baby's brain and eye development during pregnancy, is found naturally in many types of fish but is especially prevalent in cod, salmon, and haddock. Fish with more fat (such as salmon and mackerel) also contain especially high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, so they're considered healthy choices too.

The Myth: 25 to 35 pounds is the right amount of weight for women to gain.

Forget these commonly touted numbers; there's no one-size-fits-all rule anymore when it comes to pregnancy pounds. Most women can safely gain between 25 and 35 pounds, though it really depends on what you weighed before becoming pregnant, according to ACOG. Women with a pre-pregnancy BMI of under 18 should aim for the top end of that range, while those with a BMI over 25 should limit weight gain to about 20 pounds. And, if your BMI is over 30, you might only need to gain 15 pounds. Even for women having twins, Dr. Snyder advises gaining no more than 40 pounds, since excess weight can lead to back pain and could mean a more difficult delivery. The plus side of not putting on more than you need? It'll be easier to get back down to something roughly approximating your pre-pregnancy weight after the baby is born. So talk to your physician to figure out the safe amount for you to gain.

Not all pregnancy lore is false. Some conventional wisdom you shouldn't ignore:

Eating sushi can be dangerous. Raw fish comes with a risk of parasites. If you're affected, vomiting and diarrhea could cause dehydration for you and your baby.

Say sayonara to the hot tub and sauna. It might feel good, but sitting in a sauna or hot tub raises your body's core temperature, which can lead to fetal abnormalities, according to some studies.

Avoid contact sports. Kickboxing, martial arts, and downhill skiing have a high risk of contact -- as do team games like soccer or basketball. If you fall or are hit, the excess force on the abdomen can be extremely dangerous for your baby.

Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

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