Debunking the most common pregnancy myths

From epidurals to postpartum depression, Dr. Sheila busts the biggest pregnancy myths.
October 4, 2019 2:39 p.m. EST
October 4, 2019 2:39 p.m. EST
The information provided on the show is for general information purposes only. If you have a health problem, medical emergency, or a general health question, you should contact a physician or other qualified health care provider for consultation, diagnosis and/or treatment. Under no circumstances should you attempt self-diagnosis or treatment based on anything you have seen on the show.Becoming a new mom is an exciting but also nerve-wracking experience, especially when there are so many opinions telling you what you should or should not do. Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe, a family doctor in Toronto with an interest in women’s health and prenatal care, stopped by The Social to bust some common pregnancy myths. Get her advice below, and watch the video above for our chat with her!

Travelling on planes

Some worry about plane travel while pregnant, but Dr. Sheila reassures that it’s absolutely safe. That being said, pregnant women should be familiar with infection exposures, along with available medical care for any specific destination. There is no exact gestational age in which women must stop travelling, although some airlines have limits in place after 32-36 weeks into the pregnancy.With longer flights, it’s also a good idea to get up frequently and use compression socks. As the end of the pregnancy approaches along with the increased risk of complications, it’s ultimately the woman’s choice of when to stop travelling.

Food myths

There are also a number of food myths of what’s okay or not okay to eat during pregnancy. Here are some of the most common:


Cooked fish is healthy and recommended to eat, but pregnant woman should avoid fish with high mercury like tuna. In terms of sushi, undercooked fish is not recommended for pregnant women. However, sushi that was prepared in a clean and reputable establishment is unlikely to pose a risk to the pregnancy.


Hostile outcomes during pregnancy don’t seem to be associated when it comes to low to moderate caffeine intake. Though caffeine is okay for pregnant women, it should probably be limited to less than 330 mg per day, with a typical cup of coffee containing approximately 130 mg.

Birth plan

Birth plans can be helpful as they allow for open dialogue between the patient and their healthcare team to reflect on things prior to the birth. The challenge is there is not model or “right” way to give birth - it's  an unpredictable experience. There are a number of things to include in the plan like pain management and who you would like to have in the room with you, however use caution - if birth does not go as planned, there can be feelings of guilt or disappointment.

Important foods to eat

There are some people who tell an expectant mother to eat for two, but is this really true? Dr. Sheila says that pregnant women should eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. It isn’t necessary to add extra calories in the first or second trimester, but in the third trimester, approximately 350 extra calories a day can be included. Recommended weight gain during pregnancy all depends on how much you weighed before - if not enough weight is gained, the baby can have a low birth weight, but if too much is gained, it can lead to a high birth weight that can create a more difficult delivery and increased risk of gestational diabetes. On average, it is recommended to gain between 15-35 pounds overall.

Folic acid and nutrients

Women’s bodies change during pregnancy, and it’s a beautiful thing as they are caring for two humans. However, folic acid seems to be something all women start taking once they get pregnant - why can't their bodies create enough of it, and why is it important?Folate is found in foods like whole grain breads, cereals, vegetables, and beans. However, it can sometimes be difficult to get enough folic acid just from this diet. Health Canada and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) recommend that that all healthy women take a folic acid supplement of 400 mcg (0.4 mg) each; typically starting 3 months before pregnancy.Folate helps the development of a developing a baby’s spine, skull, and brain. It can also decrease the risk of other problems like cleft lip and palate or heart and urinary tract defects.There are some women who may need a higher daily supplement, such as those who:
  • have a family history of neural tube defects (NTD) (sibling, parent, cousin)
  • have had a previous live born or stillborn infant with a NTD
  • have diabetes, epilepsy, advanced liver disease or inflammatory bowel disease
  • have had gastric by-pass surgery
  • have a history of alcohol over-use
However, there is no “best” prenatal vitamin, but often, the generic forms are cheaper and have sufficient coverage. Vitamins are just a supplement to a regular diet.

Bleeding during pregnancy

Vaginal bleeding in pregnancy can be scary when it happens, and the significance of it depends on when it happens, how much and the underlying cause. If bleeding occurs, wear a pad/liner to be able to quantify how much you are bleeding. See your doctor if an abnormal bleeding occurs to get checked out to ensure it is not a serious cause or threatening to mother/fetus.


Vaccines are an important part of a healthy pregnancy, as they help protect you and your baby against serious diseases. Some diseases are particularly harmful for pregnant women and their babies and can cause birth defects, premature birth, miscarriage and death. Many of these diseases can be prevented through vaccination. It’s important to know which vaccines you need before, during, and after pregnancy.


There are pros and cons to epidurals and pain treatment during labour. Epidurals provide excellent pain relief, and for labor and delivery they are superior and safer than any medication that can be given as a shot, by intravenous, or inhaled. Untreated severe pain in labor is linked with postpartum depression and post traumatic stress disorder.However, epidurals do lengthen the 2nd stage of labor (the time between being dilated and having the baby) by an average of 15-30 minutes . They can increase the risk of intervention of vacuum or forceps delivery – likely due to freezing impacts the descent of baby or the mom may not know how to push. This can be reduced by turning down the epidural.

Postpartum depression

Despite postpartum depression affecting 10-15% of new parents, it can be incredibly difficult to know how or when to ask for help. Baby blues are common, affecting approximately 70% of new moms, but while they can share symptoms with postpartum depression, the blues usually go away within a few weeks. Postpartum depression persists (or can start up to a year after delivery) with more severe symptoms- low mood, poor sleep, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, negative thoughts about ones self or baby, and withdrawal from others and activities that you previously enjoyed.These symptoms can affect bonding + the ability to care for yourself and baby. In more serious cases, there can be negative intrusive thoughts and thoughts of harm to self or baby. If you are experiencing these symptoms or notice that your loved one or friend may be - ask for help.  Your family doctor can offer support, refer to postpartum support groups or a psychiatrist with experience working with new parents.

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