Rido/Fotolia

Can Lifting Your Arms Above Your Head Really Strangle Your Baby? Superstitions Abound

By
Share
Ad failed to load

Picture it: Massillon, Ohio, 1989. I'm but a wee thing visiting my grandmother at the single remaining five-and-dime shop where she worked. She and her friends allowed me to sit on the countertop eating lollipops and drinking fountain cola. A hugely pregnant woman reaches to grab something off the top shelf. Quick as you like, my tiny grandmother goes for her while yelling, "Don't reach that high, you'll strangle your baby!" I was confused at the time, but it turns out, that's a popular superstition. But can lifting your arms above your head really strangle your baby?

Historians of superstition, (yes, such a thing exists) cannot pinpoint exactly where this myth began, but there are similar myths dating back to the premodern era from Shetland to Slovakia and beyond. The hypothesis behind the theory is that when you raise your arms above your head, your baby is able to stretch out a bit more than usual, giving them room to do the gymnastics required to strangle themselves fully while in utero. Fortunately, there is no scientific connection between maternal arm position and cord strangulation.

However, this myth has sailed through time and remained a popular bit of superstition. There are pages and pages of answers to this question on the Snopes boards.

Ad failed to load

When a baby's cord is wrapped around its neck, it's called a "nuchal cord." It's actually incredibly common and not generally a cause for concern, according to BioMed Central Pregnancy and Childbirth. Most of the time it happens and self-corrects before anyone knows that it does, or it's present at birth with no ill effects observed. According to the article, it happens in up to 37 percent of pregnancies. While there are times, researchers noted, that it is dangerous and does cut off blood flow to the brain, this is rare.

So why has this superstition stuck the way it has? Why is it that one of my only truly clear memories of my grandmother from that time revolve around her chasing down a pregnant woman twice her size with a retractable hook like a Vaudevillian stage manager? (Other than the fact that it was freaking hilarious in hindsight.) Probably because all of her co-workers, mostly immigrants from Eastern Europe in their mid to late 60s, were all in agreement. They nodded their highly coiffed hair and pursed their overly made-up lips. (Allow for hyperbole in my recollection. I was very young, and they wore a lot of perfume. The fumes may have gotten to me.)

Ad failed to load

As it turns out, there's a whole psychology surrounding superstitions that I was unaware of. Jane Risen, a University of Chicago Booth School of Business psychologist told Vox, “Even smart, educated, emotionally stable adults believe superstitions that they recognize are not rational." It has to do with our ever-evolving minds and the way they process information.

Menachem Hobromowitz, PhD and professor of theology and the Midrash tells Romper, "We have to be able to look at something and have some idea why it happened. If you step on a crack... you get the point. It's not logical, but at least it's not unexplained." He says it's not so different from religion, and may actually be religion's predecessor. "Before we believed, we suspected," he says.

Ad failed to load

This actually makes a lot of sense. Somewhere, some midwife of a mother had a baby born with a fatal nuchal cord, and she (or he, could be the father), rolled it around in their brain a while and came up with this response that lifting your arms can really strangle your baby — however untrue it may be. It gave them something to point to as a reason, as a blame. As for you? You can spend all day reaching up and down and just end up tired. Your baby will be fine.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Ad failed to load

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

6 Early Signs You're Going To Have A Short Labor, According To Experts

As far as I'm concerned, a short labor is right up there with winning the lottery in terms of lucky life events. (And when I was actually in labor, I would absolutely have traded a bucketful of lottery winnings for a speedier birth.) While some women…
By Kelly Mullen-McWilliams

Kids Will Love These TV Shows & Movies Coming To Netflix In March

You can always count on Netflix to keep it fresh: though there are already so many movies and shows to choose from, every month there's an influx of new content to keep your entire family entertained. As February enters its final weeks, it's time to …
By Megan Walsh

Here Are 10 Ways To Boost Your Baby's Immunity To The Flu

As I'm sure you've read in the thousands upon thousands of articles written about it this winter, the flu is spreading like wildfire and it's bad. Really bad. This strand of flu is the worst we've had in a very long time and it's the most widespread,…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Khloé Kardashian Asked Twitter About Her Bump, & Moms Totally Delivered

Like her younger sister Kylie Jenner, Khloé Kardashian managed to keep most of her pregnancy a sort-of secret. But unlike Jenner, Kardashian chose to publicly announce her pregnancy several months before the baby's due date. While there's no wrong wa…
By Sophie Hirsh

21 Moms Share The Most Surprising Part About Having A C-Section

Honestly, I don't think we, as a culture, talk about C-sections nearly enough, especially considering so many mothers experience them. And because of a number of factors, the little we do talk about it always seems to be a familiar narrative: "It's n…
By Jamie Kenney

13 Yummy Instant Pot Recipes To Make Under 30 Minutes

An Instant Pot seems to be the must-have appliance in every kitchen these days. If you are anything like me and never knew the beauty of a Instant Pot, you are about to have your life changed. Basically, you put some ingredients into a pot, set the t…
By Kristin Manna

9 Things The First Six Months Of Motherhood Will Teach You About Your Baby

Personally, the first six months of motherhood was a mixed bag. I learned some harsh lessons about myself that made taking care of my baby seem overwhelming. For example, I was clueless, and no amount of research could help me feel like anything but …
By Steph Montgomery

11 Photos You *Must* Take During The Last Days Of Your Pregnancy

During my first pregnancy, I took a photo each week to document my growing belly. I stopped around 36 weeks, though. I hated how I looked in those pictures, and didn't think I'd want to relive those moments. I was wrong. My second pregnancy was a dum…
By Steph Montgomery

6 Red Flags To Definitely Look Out For After Your Baby Falls

The first time my infant son tried to take a few steps, he tumbled and bumped his head on the coffee table. My blood turned to ice in my veins and I froze. There truly isn't anything quite like the feeling a parent gets when their little one gets hur…
By Sarah Bunton

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack