Old wives' tales

GENDER GUESSING: Plenty of old wives' tales focus on how to guess whether you're having a boy or a girl.
GENDER GUESSING: Plenty of old wives' tales focus on how to guess whether you're having a boy or a girl.

There are plenty of old wives' tales floating around when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. We take a look at where they came from.

In the Middle Ages there was an incredibly high infant and mother mortality rate. With no epidural, anaesthetic, or even a basic understanding of bacteria and the importance of hygiene, caring for a woman giving birth in the Middle Ages involved little more than herbal remedies, folk remedies and devout prayer.

Invoking the name of Saint Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth, was believed to ease labour pains and assure a safe delivery.

Potions believed to help childbirth included rubbing a woman's stomach with rose oil, giving her vinegar and sugar to drink, or even applying eagle's dung on the woman ( the later obviously not a good idea in terms of hygiene).

Gemstones, coral and magnets were thought to ease labour pain.

While mothers around the developed world can breathe a sigh of relief that they gave birth in the modern era of medical science, much of the ill-informed folklore from yesteryear is still around from centuries ago in the form of old wives' tales.

While some old wives tales, handed down over millennia may have had some truth to them, some of them go from the funny and peculiar to the completely nonsensical.

The most important thing to remember when a well meaning great-great aunt says:

"Don't raise your hands over your head and roll over in bed without sitting up first, because the umbilical cord will become wrapped around your baby's neck,"  is that these tales came about as a way to explain something that was mysterious or didn't make sense.

Fortunately, we are a part of the information age and while it's never a good idea to get all your information from Dr Google, you are able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to urban legends (in case you were worried, your actions and body movements have no affect whatsoever on a baby's umbilical cord).

Heartburn is not a sign that your baby will be born with a head full of hair, eating spicy food, a pineapple, drinking castor oil and having sex are highly unlikely to bring on labour and how you carry isn't an indication of the sex of your baby.

What's in a story?

Old wives' tales originated in the oral tradition of storytelling. They were generally propagated by illiterate women, telling stories to each other or to children.

Often these stories were constructed to try make sense out of concepts like death or coming of age in a way children could understand.

Perhaps really believing the eagle dung would stop the labour pains would lead to a psychosomatic change and the woman might have experienced less pain (for example, if you really believe something works, it might just make a difference).

Some old wives' tales about health and sickness have some basis in fact, but there are many that are completely untrue (so don't worry - you don't need to run out and find eagle dung.)

It's a.....

Of all the old wives tales out there, perhaps the most prevalent is how to identify the sex of your baby.

There are hundred of old wives tales about this. If one looks at our history and sees how valuable a son was in terms of carrying on the family name, it makes sense that parents were anxious to know the sex of their baby.

As funny and bizarre as these old wives tales are, there is no other way (besides an ultrasound or amnio) to accurately determine the sex of your baby.

Of course these all have a 50 per cent chance of being true, so it makes sense that they were perpetuated over the course of time.

Tale: If a pregnant woman experiences heartburn throughout her pregnancy she will have a baby born with a full head of hair.

Verdict: False - and thank goodness for Gaviscon.

Tale: If a pregnant woman sees something ugly, she will have an ugly baby.

Verdict: If this were true, we would have monsters on the planet.

Tale: A full moon was believed to cause a woman to go into labour and give birth.

Verdict: False, if it were true, a doctor wouldn't induce labour, he would make you go howl outside in the moon shine.

Tale: Using a string, hang your wedding ring over your pregnant belly.  You are having a girl if the ring swings back and forth and it's a boy if it swings in a circle.

Verdict: False, there are also very many variations and contradictory variations of this tale.

Tale: When your face gets fuller and rounder when pregnant, it means you're going to have a girl.  If your face is long and narrow, it's a boy.  

Verdict: False and what happens if you have a square face?

Tale: If you pick up a key at the top (the roundest part), you are going to have a boy.  If you pick up the key at the bottom (smallest part), you are going to have a girl.  If you happen to grab the key in the middle, congrats, it's twins!  

Verdict: False and this test is a wee bit confusing to me?

Tale: The Mayan tale adds the mother's age at conception and the year of conception.  If the result is an even number then mum is having a girl.  If the result is an odd number then a boy is on the way.

Verdict: False. The Mayans were also wrong about the world ending on December 21 2012, so as a rule of thumb I would take whatever they have to say with a heap of salt.

Tale: If you have acne while pregnant, it's a girl.

Verdict: False. Come on.

Tale: If you are craving salty foods while pregnant, you can count on having a boy.  If you crave sweets, fruit, and orange juice, you are having a little girl.  

Verdict: False. I wonder what it means if you crave sour food?

Tale: If a pregnant woman eats a clove of garlic and the smell does not come out of her pores, it's a girl.  If the smell seeps out of her pores, it's a boy.   

Verdict: False. I do wonder how many women have eaten loads of garlic to try find out.

Tale: If you see a "V" or "branches" in the white part of your eye when you pull your lid down, you're having a girl.

Verdict: False. Stop poking your poor eye.

Tale: The person that is most aggressive in bed at the time of conception is the opposite of what the baby will be.  

Verdict: False. And too much information!

Tale: If your legs get really big, you're having a boy.  If your legs stay in shape and lean, it's a girl.  

Verdict: False.

Tale: If you are having a girl if your beauty disappears during pregnancy.  It is said that the girl "steals" the mother's beauty.  If you think that pregnancy has never made you look more beautiful, you might just be having a little boy.

Verdict: False, and it sounds like a baby girl is a beauty vampire, which is scary.  

Tale: If you have dreams that you are having a boy, you will have a girl.  If you dream about having a girl, it will be a boy.  Dreams show the opposite of what you are having.  

Verdict: False and stop going to bed on a full stomach, because you will have weird dreams.

Tale: If the pregnant woman is graceful throughout her pregnancy, she's having a girl.  If she becomes clumsy, she's having a boy.  

Verdict: False, your centre of gravity is affected during pregnancy too, so not a fair playing field here.


Tell us: what are some of the strangest old wives tales you have been told?

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