18/03/2015 5:12 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

4 Indian Pregnancy Myths Busted

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A seven month pregnant belly with a smiley face drawn on it to reflect the joyous, happy, and excited mom-to-be.

Stay inside during an eclipse...don't eat papaya... Any pregnant Indian woman has heard these advice at least once during term along with some exaggerated, gender-predicting old wives' tales. There's some appeal in a few as well — finally the valid excuse to skip gym, or fulfilling a childhood dream of eating as much ice cream as humanly possible. But when myths mislead, doctors and medical research help in debunking some of the most common Indian beliefs about pregnancy.

Myth 1: Pregnant mothers must eat for two

According to Dr Nupur Gupta, director at Well Woman Clinic, Gurgaon, "Pregnancy is not a time to pig out.. You certainly have a bit more leeway when it comes to a second helping of supper, but on average women need only about 300 extra calories a day."

Focus more on eating a balanced nutritious diet, says Dr Bandita Sinha, senior consulting gynaecologist and obstetrician, Apollo Clinic, Vashi. A 2011 study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information explored obese African-American mothers diet quality. They discovered that more often than not, mothers chose foods that were high in fats and sugars because of taste, cost, and convenience. In addition, mothers had several misconceptions about the definition of healthy (example, juice is good for baby), which led to overconsumption.

Myth 2: Raw Papaya is a natural abortive or can cause a miscarriage

According to Dr Sinha, unripe papaya is suspected to contain chymopapain which is supposed to induce abortion or early labour. Ripe papaya, on the other hand is considered to be safe, and is in fact a good source of Vitamin A and C. A 2011 study by the Centers For Disease and Prevention recommended that pregnant women eat Vitamin C-rich foods to help the body absorb non-heme iron, along with a list of dietary sources that included raw papaya. Another study showed that normal consumption of ripe papaya does not pose any significant danger, but unripe or semi-ripe papaya, which contains high concentration of the latex that produces marked uterine contractions could be unsafe in pregnancy.

Myth 3: Exercising harms the baby

If you were thinking of missing your aerobics class, think again: According to a study in the University of California published in 2014, pregnant women are encouraged to participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week or 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise on most days of the week. While Dr Gupta says that taking permission from the doctor before exercise is a good practice, working out for 30 minutes a day helps increase stamina and ease breathing during contractions.

“Any exercise regimen should be started after consulting the doctor and should be done under trained professional,” says Dr Sinha. According to her, being fit increases stamina and prepares the body for the strenuous process of childbirth. She recommends brisk walks, swimming, light weight training and aerobics as well as pelvic floor exercises. Contact sports or exercises that involve lying on your back (which reduces blood flow to you brain and uterus) should be avoided.

Myth 4: The shape of woman’s abdomen can determine the sex of the child

A fair misconception that, unfortunately, exists in many Indian homes is that the shape of a pregnant woman’s tummy can tell if you’re carrying a boy or a girl.

"This is one of the most widespread myths in India with no base," says Dr Gupta also adding that before ultrasounds and amniocentesis existed, guessing the baby's sex was elevated to an art form. "But belly shape actually has to do with the mother's build. If the mom is small and thin, her belly will look different than if she is bigger and tall." Dr Sinha supplements this further: "if a woman is carrying high, it is possibly a girl and vice versa. There is no scientific basis for this assumption: It is the woman’s muscle tone, structure and the position of the foetus.”