Pregnancy Myths: How peas and an ironing board helped my baby
Recently my husband walked into our living room to find his wife in an uncompromising position.
Lying upside down on an ironing board that was propped against our couch and clutching a bag of frozen peas over my heavily pregnant stomach, Dan stopped to ponder the situation: "Caitriona," he asked in a reasonable tone, "what in God's name are you doing?"
To my credit, I was following medical advice. Following my most recent pre-natal appointment, my midwife had confirmed that my baby was in the breech position and had suggested home remedies to encourage my unco-operative foetal passenger to turn.
One was the 'ironing board trick' that my husband had happened upon. The bag of frozen vegetables was to be placed on the baby's head -- while I hung upside down -- urging it to move towards my pelvis to the correct vertex position.
Another suggestion was a 'pelvic tilt' exercise: to lie on the ground with my pelvis tilted towards the ceiling and to shine a torch at the base of the stomach to urge the baby to move towards the light.
Some may categorise my efforts to turn my baby as a pregnancy myth, but one thing is clear: from the moment a pregnant woman's bump becomes visible, she should brace herself for the barrage of pregnancy myths and unsolicited advice from family, friends and complete strangers that will be offered freely for the duration of her pregnancy.
"People love to talk about pregnancy and pregnant women and they just want to keep myths alive and going. There is something about being pregnant that allows people to cross regular social barriers in a way that no other time in life has," said Whitney Pinger, director of Wisdom Midwifery at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.
"When women have this big belly, other women feel like they can give them unsolicited advice or volunteer information.
"If someone had a big zit on their face, you wouldn't be having an open conversation about it. 'Oh, do you think it will pop? What have you been eating to make your zit so big?'" she told the Irish Independent.
Given the risks in conducting scientific studies on pregnant women and newborns, pregnancy and childbirth still remains one of the great medical unknowns. This lack of research is one reason why pregnancy myths continue to flourish and persist, experts say.
For Pinger and her group of midwives, each day brings an encounter with a newly pregnant woman who has just heard the latest myth: that a full moon will induce labour; that women need to take pre-natal vitamins during pregnancy; and that a pregnant woman mustn't sleep on her back.
"I find the perception that you cannot lie on your back during pregnancy is universally pervasive. It comes up often in prenatal visits," said Marsha Stalcup, a Washington DC-based midwife.
"Some segments of our society still wonder if the umbilical cord will get tangled if you reach over your head. One of my favourites is that you can't take a bath if your water has broken."
For medical professionals like Pinger and Stalcup, debunking these myths is critically important because doing so empowers women who are otherwise confused or unsure of what approach to take.
"I think that the myths perpetuate women's fears. Pregnancy is such a vulnerable time. Using these myths to perpetuate fear is something that undermines a pregnant woman's power, strength and confidence," Pinger said.
Having disclosed my ironing board technique to a couple of friends on the school playground, my efforts to turn my breech baby soon became the talk of the Mommy circles. Many embraced the notion. Others could not hide their scepticism.
"That's all very well that your midwife has prescribed that," a fellow school parent said a few days after hearing about my upside down antics, "but what does your doctor think?"
But in my case, the myth won out. I soon tired of the ironing board exercise -- it's hard to hang out at a 45-degree angle -- but I did persevere with the pelvic tilt floor exercise. Each night, I lay on the living room floor, my pelvis elevated underneath some cushions, while my husband shone a bright torch at the base of my stomach.
My husband and I laughed a lot at the incongruity of it all, but deep down I hoped it would work. And at my next prenatal check-up, the baby was in the correct position, head down.
"The breech tilt exercises are based on theory -- that a foetus wants to be in the vertex position for birth," said Stalcup. "If it is breech, non-invasive interventions cause no harm and do seem to result in the baby turning in a certain percentage of cases."
Who knows whether my midwife's advice paid off? Medical science says that babies can flip their positions multiple times in the weeks leading up to the birth and it could be that my little person decided to change entirely of their own volition.
But if you ask me, I believe it was the exercises. And deep down, if you ask the sceptics, I think they do too.
A cynical male friend, who had scoffed when informed of the ironing board trick, seemed impressed when informed that the baby had somersaulted into the correct position.
"I guess no more jokes about midwives and their ironing boards," he said.