Pregnancy Myths a Cultural Phenomenon: What Do You Believe About Pregnancy?

If you're craving pickles during pregnancy, it may be because of cultural expectations. Image by npclark2k

If you’re not craving pickles during pregnancy, don’t worry – although we see food cravings as a stereotypical part of being pregnant, it’s just a cultural expectation, not a biological necessity. Image by npclark2k

Pregnancy is primarily a biological phenomenon, but one sociologist’s research reveals that culture programs women to look at pregnancy through glasses tinted by culture. Cultural mythologies, or stories and beliefs about gestation, impact how women experience their pregnancies – and sometimes, the myths and reality don’t quite match up.

In other words – you may have expectations about pregnancy that aren’t realistic, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t start craving pickles and M&Ms.

Cultural Mythologies about Pregnancy: Sociologist Bessette Researches

Sociologist Danielle Bessette, PhD, from the University of Cincinnati, presented her work, titled “Expecting Embodiment: Pregnancy Symptoms and the Cultural Mythologies of Pregnancy,” at the 108th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

During the course of her research, Dr. Bessette interviewed a multi-racial, economically diverse group of 64 pregnant women enrolled in prenatal care in the New York metropolitan area. The women completed two to three interviews with the researcher, and all participants completed at least one interview before the birth, and another afterward.

In an exclusive interview with Decoded Pregnancy, Dr. Bessette explained her findings, telling us, “I use the term mythologies to capture the fragmentary knowledge about ‘what happens’ in pregnancy that goes unrecognized by most pregnant women. This shouldn’t imply that the mythologies were false or untrue, but rather that they informed women’s expectations without their being aware of it.”

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Dr. Bessette contrasts mythologies about pregnancy with what she terms “information” about pregnancy, which is more specific and often more purposefully sought out by women. Mythologies, on the other hand, are “understandings of pregnancy built incrementally through a succession of ephemeral encounters over our lifetimes.”

Pregnancy Myths: Food Cravings and Morning Sickess

Some women who relied on cultural myths about pregnancy found these myths failed to reflect what actually happened to them.  Women who did not experience morning sickness, for instance, may worry that something was wrong with their baby. Women who expected to crave odd foods may have been concerned when they did not start eating chocolate with their pickles.

In fact, Dr. Bessette reported in her interview, “some (though not all) expressed the disappointment when they didn’t have cravings – that seemed like a ritual that they missed out on.” In the ASA press release, however, Dr. Bessette said, “Whether pleasurable, inconvenient or debilitating, pregnancy symptoms are not simply treated as pregnancy side-effects in our culture, but rather as a significant connection to fetus and fetal subjectivity.

We see this connection pregnant moms feel to their babies in the way they talk about their actions in relation to their unborn child. For instance, a woman who craved fried chicken said that it was because her baby “liked it.”  Women also associated vomiting with the baby disliking certain foods.

Click to Read Page Two: The Rosy Tint of Pregnancy Mythology

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