Old Wives Tales About Pregnancy (Including some that may be true!)

Last Updated: September 28, 2023
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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There are thousands of sites and about a million rumors about what we can learn from old wives tales about pregnancy. To sort through them all can be a difficult (and sometimes laughable) process. 

Because some of these old wives tales MAY ring true (they need a bit more research first), I wanted to take some time to sort through what we think we know and what has actually been studied.

As always, mama, listen to your body above all else. These ladies of days gone by had some great insight, but ultimately you are more closely connected to that little bundle than any bone rattler or tight-mouthed spinster from days of yore.

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Old wives tales that are actually true (or at least could be true)

When it comes to the list of old wives tales about pregnancy that are actually true, some fall pretty close to expectations. I mean, why wouldn’t boys be more work than girls? You know?

But beyond that, there are some old wives tales about pregnancy that will seriously blow your socks off. Studies are limited, especially considering that some of this simply can’t be studied directly without a bajillion other factors throwing the scientific method out with the bathwater.

Long labor may the sign of a baby boy

As I mentioned, boys can be a lot of trouble (I’m sort of kidding). They are restless and act without thinking sometimes. They have extra parts that move around while they pee and never seem to have trouble missing the toilet.

Beyond that, they are one of the greatest things you can ever have in your life. Boys are brave and determined and can sometimes be the sweetest little beings on the planet–when they stop to think.

When it comes to old wives tales about pregnancy and labor, one thing that could be true is that you may have a higher chance of needing a c-section (sorry). Not only that, but you may experience longer and more difficult labor (although your risk of baby having serious complications is the same regardless of sex).

I DO want to make it clear that STUDIES ARE LIMITED – but we have seen these outcomes in some studies that have been performed. Although the reasoning for this is not entirely understood – it could be in part because boys (on average) have a larger head circumference at birth than their female counterpart, making getting through the birthing canal trickier.

Related Reading: Should You Have an Early Pregnancy Scan?

Heartburn means hair

A study that took place at Johns Hopkins University established that there MIGHT to be a correlation between heartburn and giving birth to a baby with a full set of hair! This study was only completed with 64 mama’s so there’s quite a bit more research that would need to be done to confirm this as fact (because let’s be real – there’s already around a 50% chance you’re right which is pretty good odds).

While this might not be earth shattering news, it’s amazing to know that your body is so connected with that of your child that this uncomfortable symptom of pregnancy may be an indicator as to what you can expect on their birthday!

Hot baths may influence male fertility

If you’re worried about this from a long list of old wives tales, it’s probably because you aren’t pregnant yet. Regardless, it’s an important thing that some of you expectant mamas out there might need to know.

The long and short is that the University of California performed a study and identified that male fertility improved greatly (by 45%) when men avoided hot tubs and hot baths for three or more months.

If you’re trying and having trouble, ladies, this may be a quick and easy way to get him firing on.

Debunking old wives tales about pregnancy

While there are those old wives tales about pregnancy that MAY be true, there are certainly those tales that have to be taken with a grain of salt. 

Clever wordplay intended.

Don’t get me wrong–not all of these have been explicitly disproven. You have to consider that there are far too many factors and variables. Sometimes there’s literally nothing that could answer these questions short of popping the hatch and asking the baby.

Regardless, these are fun to hear about but ultimately seem least likely to be true. If you find otherwise, comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts or facts.

Related Reading: Pregnancy Announcements (and the coolest way to do it)

Spicy foods burn the infant’s eyes

Naturally, this one’s difficult to prove or disprove. Maybe with today’s technology, we could get an ultra-sensitive MRI going and have some face-burning barbecue or tongue-melting Korean food.

The reality is, this is about as unlikely as a pig being born with wings. The ingestion of food doesn’t flood the placenta with hot sauce and masticated bits of food.

Food is digested and enters the placenta through the bloodstream. So unless your food is hot enough to make your veins burn, the chances of it bothering baby are pretty negligible.

Thanks science!

The full moon increases frequency of birth

We all know stuff gets crazy during a full moon. Data has proven that crime goes up, which indicates that there’s a correlation (which DOESN’T mean causation). The reality is more likely that we THINK the moon makes us crazy, so we loosen our ties a little and act on impulse.

Science is pretty sure this one’s false. But those impulses certainly might have an effect on conception. The fuller moon, the wilder the animals. Wink, nudge.

As a labor and delivery nurse….I CAN tell you that for some reason we are busier on full moon days-WHO KNOWS!

If you look at an ugly animal, your child will resemble that animal

This one would be really unfortunate for anyone with an ugly pet. Try to go nine months without looking at that woe-begotten little chihuahua with the weird tufts of hair.

If it’s true, we’re sadly going to see a rash of babies this generation who look like screaming goats.

It’s almost charming to think about. But no, I’m not seeing the science in this one, sorry. 

Rubbing tummy will spoil baby

I’m not sure how much I honestly need to say here.

You. Can’t. Spoil. A. Baby.

Even if they felt ANY of the sensation, this old wives tale about pregnancy would require that the act of touching someone leaves them with a profound emotional or intellectual entitlement.

Yeah. Nope. Not with you on this one, old wives.

Touching your body after eating a craving will give baby a birthmark in the shape of that food

Here’s another one that makes pretty huge assumptions about what’s happening to the bricks outside baby’s house.

Let’s just say that birthmarks are the result of improperly forming blood vessels in the womb. So basically, you’re eating a banana, it’s being broken down into composite particles and imbibed by littles.

Then, miraculously,  you touch a part of your body and the baby’s developing organs suddenly start drawing bananas with vascular tissue.


Related: Podcast: A Vaginal/Breach Twin Delivery with Emma!

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Old wives tales pregnancy tests

Nothing got these old ladies nattering and speculating quite so well as the possibility of little Mary Marjory Elizabeth being pregnant. The SCANDAL!

As you can imagine, there’s plenty of science they probably ran across by accident. We know that chemical detection of pregnancy is totally a thing, so it isn’t a huge leap to assume that someone accidentally peed on the world’s first litmus paper (IE, moldy cotton), and noted with wonder that two blue lines had appeared.

Joking, obviously, but there are plenty of potential truths in the things that old wives had to say about testing for early pregnancy.

Homemade pregnancy tests

Here I’ve put together some of the most popular and common homemade pregnancy tests. But why stop here? Head on over to the complete list of DIY pregnancy tests for more at-home, sciency fun.

Homemade pregnancy test with sugar

This one’s generally pretty painless if a bit gross. Put a few spoonfuls of sugar into a clean (sterile, if possible) bowl. Lovingly pour your morning pee right into the bowl.

Wait and watch. If the pee dissolves, not pregnant. If it clumps, start thinking about baby names.

Whether this one has bits of truth in it is unclear. Chemically, there could be a few legit reasons this could work (maybe). We can certainly agree that the first pee of the day is the most concentrated sample if nothing else.

Regardless, it’s not recommended by medical professionals (because it’s not taken seriously) and has never been the subject of an expert study.

I’ll leave the speculation to you.

Check out: Natural Birth Course

Homemade pregnancy test with shampoo

Add a few drops of shampoo to a half a bowl of clean water. Be sure not to stir it and inspect to make sure the water hasn’t frothed up at all.

Add that lovely first morning evacuation to the bowl, and see what happens! Exciting, isn’t it?

If the hormone hCG reacts with the shampoo, it’ll start fizzing and it’s time to start stockpiling diapers.

Is it accurate? #sciencesaysnope

Homemade pregnancy test with salt

This one’s nice and easy (and one of the most popular!) Catch the pee first thing again, and add some salt to the sample.

Some sources say to wait a few minutes, others say to wait for two hours before trying to read the test. What’re the results you’re looking for? Either you’ll see the combination become a milky cheesy color with a bit of foaminess, or the pee will decompose in the salt water.

Be sure to throw that stuff out. It’s not dangerous. Just gross. Wash your hands too? Thanks.

Related Reading: Signs You Need to Call Your OBGYN

Homemade pregnancy test with toothpaste

Get some plain white toothpaste. Colgate is my fave. Squeeze a bit into a dish and add a few drops of urine. Give it a few hours and then check back, heart in your throat.

If the toothpaste has frothed up (and maybe tinted a little blue), you have begun to create a small human in your netherland.

Homemade pregnancy test with bleach

The human growth hormone reacts to bleach by foaming. Add a few drops of pee to a cup of bleach and watch out.

If the bleach fizzles a little but doesn’t foam, you aren’t baby-making. If it foams up like a nice brown ale, the belief is you have a positive pregnancy test! Keep in mind you need to be careful with this because bleach can be pretty dangerous.

Old wives tales gender prediction

In the grand scheme of mind-bending old wives tales about pregnancy, this list of old wives tales really takes the cake. If it actually works, you’ll basically have a homemade old wives baby predictor that makes that pesky 20 week appointment seem pointless.

In fact, YOU can tell your OB what gender the baby is, and challenge them to prove otherwise. Take that power back, sister!

Related Reading: Best Gifts for Moms to Be!

Old wives tales gender predictions

How to tell if you’re having a boy

If that little bundle of joy is packing junk, there are some specific old wives tales that indicate this without ever having to lift a finger. You can even sleep while you do it.

Signs of having a boy:

  • Baby’s heartbeat is averaging less than 140 BPM
  • Sleeping on your left left side instead of your right side
  • Often have dry hands
  • You feel uncommonly clumsy
  • Carrying your baby very low
  • You find that you’re often cold
  • Craving sour and salty things
  • Hair is full and shiny when you gaze at your beautiful self in the mirror
  • Experiencing an excessive amount of headaches
  • Your pillow faces north (presumably by some random act of bedroom weather or the interference of gremlins?)
  • When asked to present your hands you hold them out with your palms down

Signs of having a girl:

  • Your belly appears full and round
  • You’re carrying high
  • A heartrate over 140
  • You suffer from an increase in zits and blemishes (because girls “steal” your beauty)
  • Your face appears rounder and fuller
  • You generally find that you are looking bad
  • You suffer from excessive vomiting
  • Your partner puts on some “baby weight”
  • Your left breast swells to a larger size than your right
  • You have an uncommonly high craving for sweets (read: sugar and spice and everything nice… that you can buy in the candy isle)
  • You suffer from extreme mood swings outside of your normal baseline
  • You’re hot and sweaty
  • Your hair is thinner and duller than usual
  • Boys are drawn to your belly (creepy, I know)
  • You have excessive and very taxing morning sickness

All of that sounds fun, don’t get me wrong. If I were using these as a directive on whether I was carrying a boy or a girl, I’d probably try to check them all off before making any big decisions about paint or announcements. 

Pregnancy ring test to predict gender

If you want to take it a step further and drive the definitive nail in the gender dispute, here’s the tried and tested old wives tale gender prediction method that has endured the ages.

Lay on the floor while a partner or friend suspends a ring on a string over your tummy. The assistant should do their best not to influence the movement of the ring.

If the ring naturally starts to sway back and forth like the pendulum on a clock, start buying blue paint and arguing on whether or not to circumcise. It’s a boy! Well, it might be.

If the ring naturally tends to turn in circles, it’s time to start building that dollhouse, because you are carrying a girl. Supposedly.

This is a fun little experiment. The fact of the matter is that the closest thing to studies done to validate the ring test proved that it was about 55% accurate.

Have you ever tracked a coin toss? Guess how accurate that is.

Related Reading: Gender Reveal Ideas

The bottom line regarding old wives tales about pregnancy

Some of the items from this list of old wives tales about pregnancy may ring true (no pun intended there). Some of these old wives tales even make obvious sense.

Consider these old wives fondly, and with a smile. They were operating on word of mouth statistics and inherited knowledge. That their methods might fall a little short of the line against modern science is understandable and endearing.

When you look back at the past, remember this: that we think something is true will always be the most powerful confirmation that it is. If you think something’s going to happen and then it does, that doesn’t usually feel like the law of averages. That usually feels like YOU HAVE SUPERPOWERS.

And you do, mama. You are amazing, and these old wives tales about pregnancy can widen your smile as easily as they broaden your outlook. 

Have an old wives tale I missed? Comment below! I would love love love to hear them!

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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