Fueling Modern Pregnancy Myths

One study shows how new research can create modern pregnancy myths.

ByABC News
January 13, 2009, 4:45 PM

Jan. 14, 2009— -- Last April, researchers in Britain reported that women who ate more breakfast cereal were more likely to conceive sons. Today, a team of scientists cried "hooey."

"In statistical terms, it's a false positive," said Stanley Young, a co-author of a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B and a statistician trained in genetics with the National Institute of Statistical Sciences Research, Triangle Park, N.C.

Young's team had several reasons to question the cereal-eating moms study, but one major red flag was that the researchers asked too many questions in their 133-option diet questionnaire. Put enough variables into a study, Young said, and meaningless statistical flukes can arise.

"If you just ran these studies over and over and over again, you'd always find a food that predicted boys and girls, but it would be a different food every time," said Young. "The gender of humans is determined by the x, y chromosomes of the sperm -- the woman has nothing to do with it."

Modern day pregnancy myths abound among patients with high school sex education classes and some Google researching under their belt.

"The reason we picked up the paper is that there are a lot of claims that appear in the newspapers that just don't look right," said Young.

Doctors said most of these myths, whether they're adapted from news or thought up at home, fall into distinct categories: what people want and what people fear.

"The biggest myths about pregnancy are all the ways you can or cannot get pregnant," said Dr. Donnica Moore, a women's health expert and advocate, and founder of drdonnica.com.

"Then there are all the myths of how you can ensure that you have a boy or ensure that you have a girl," she said.

Dr. Richard J. Paulson, chief of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said he hears the same myths about gender selection year after year.