12 Terrible Pieces of Advice for Pregnant Women

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When you’re pregnant, your body is in one very literal sense no longer completely your own. But in another, more uncomfortable sense, it’s become a public entity—because complete strangers think it’s absolutely fine to comment on what you’re eating, how you’re exercising (or not, in my case), even how you’re walking. We’ve compiled some of the best worst pregnancy advice through the ages. Please don't tell any pregnant women they shouldn't look at monkeys.

1. Wear a Corset!

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Women in the Victorian era were big corset-wearers. And despite explicit medical advice not to and concern that tight lacing could harm the developing fetus, not to mention all those soft lady organs in there, they often wore corsets into their pregnancies. Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Britain’s Historic Royal Palaces, in her book If Walls Could Talk, noted that, “It was hard to persuade women to take off their stays, even under the most extreme conditions.”

Manufacturers even marketed “maternity corsets,” a bit like the maternity girdles of today (Spanx even makes one). However, according to the University of Virginia’s Claude Moore Health Sciences Library page on body modification, maternal corsets were not designed to support the growing bump: “Instead, the corsets were designed to mask, even minimize, the size of the pregnant body.”

Take this with a bit of a grain of salt: Many people were born during the Victorian era (too many, if you ask Malthus), and certainly not all of them were ill-shapen monsters because their mothers wore corsets. Moreover, women who could went into “confinement” sometimes many weeks before the birth, shutting themselves away from the public eye; they probably didn’t wear corsets in those last months.

Though widespread corset use died out by the end of the Edwardian era, some women were fans of the corset in pregnancy even on into the 20th century, as the self-published manifesto of one Pat Carter, writing in the 1950s, attests. Carter, who lived in Titusville, Florida, had made something of a sensation of herself when she delivered her seventh child all by herself, aided only by a few whiskey highballs. In her manifesto on homebirthing, Come Gently, Sweet Lucinda, she recommended women wear boned corsets during pregnancy. “BONED, B-O-N-E-D,” she stressed. “This will really stop the little rascal.” From doing what, other than growing, is unclear. (Thanks to Randi Hutter Epstein, whose fabulous book, Get Me Out, is a treasure trove of birthing knowledge, for introducing me to Mrs. Carter. Other gems from Mrs. Carter include minimizing your calcium intake to soften your growing baby’s bones, making sliding out of the birth canal easier.)

2. Don't Eat!


Mrs. Carter was also a proponent of the starvation diet during pregnancy as a way to “prevent the pooch,” by which we assumed she means the growing fetus. She wasn’t alone, however, in recommending that pregnant women eat even less than they did when they were not pregnant: Randi Hutter Epstein found an article from the March 1956 McCall’s magazine advocating a strict diet for expecting mothers—to keep them thin. Of course, the 1950s weren’t exactly a time of sensible maternal advice; after all, some women were prescribed thalidomide for morning sickness, with disastrous results for the infant.

3. If You Do Eat, Avoid Hares' Heads!


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According to medieval lore, what the expecting mother ate would influence her child’s appearance. So, according to The Distaff Gospels of the 15th century, eating hares’ heads would result in a child with a split or harelip. Eating fish heads would produce a child with a trout pout, or a mouth “more turned up and pointed than normal.” And eating soft cheese would make your unborn boy’s penis small. Notably, eating soft and unpasteurized cheese is actually on the naughty list according to modern doctors, but less because of the penis-cheese link and more because of the listeria-cheese link.

The link between maternal consumption and infant characteristics persisted well into the 19th and 20th centuries; for example, women in around 1900 were told to avoid salty or sour foods, like pickles, to keep their baby from developing a “sour disposition.”

4. Avoid Cherries! (At Least When They're Thrown At You)

Don’t throw cherries at a pregnant woman. Another one from The Distaff Gospels, this claimed that “cherries, strawberries or red wine” thrown in the face of a pregnant woman would cause marks on the baby’s body. So don’t do it.

5. Don’t Attend Sporting Events!

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Watching sports might be too exciting for a pregnant woman, according to a pregnancy advice manual from the 1940s.

6. Don't Read!

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Sporting events weren’t the only exciting things to be avoided: Advice unearthed by Tommy’s Campaign, a UK charity that supports research on pregnancy, miscarriage and stillbirth, shows that women were told to avoid “exciting books, breathtaking pictures or family quarrels.”

7. Have A Smoke!

Doctors were aware of the ill effects maternal smoking had on the growing fetus from the 1920s; one early study noted that when the mother smoked, the fetal heartbeat rose precipitously, an effect they called “tobacco heart.” Later studies linked maternal smoking with low birth-weights, an increase in stillbirths and neonatal deaths. But the medical community tended to keep quiet about the links between adverse birth outcomes and smoking. In the 1940s and 1950s, tobacco companies ran ad campaigns where doctors endorsed their products. In fact, some advice implied that smoking was actually good for you and for the expecting mother because it was so relaxing. That’s why the indomitable Mrs. Carter recommends smoking.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that their findings on smoking and the impact on the fetus were made available to the wider public. And even then, it wasn’t until the 1980s that a nationwide campaign kicked off to get mothers to put out their cigarettes.

8. Don't Cut Your Hair!

There is a marvelous old superstition that persists to this day—ask any Russian baboushka or Southern grandma—that cutting your hair during pregnancy is a no-no. Exactly why isn’t entirely clear; some say that it’s because cutting your hair can make it drier or visiting the salon can harm your child somehow. Others, however, who are closer to the original purpose of the myth claim that you’re cutting your life-force. That’s right, Samson and Delilah style.

When women are pregnant, oftentimes their hair becomes shinier, grows faster, and is generally shampoo-commercial gorgeous (before it all falls out when the baby is about three to four months old). This is down to the hormones the pregnant body produces, which also slow your hair’s falling out; it also tallies with the notion that hair equals life force, so cutting it could harm the child. Obviously, there is no real link between the two, but it’s an old wives’ tale that’s really hung in there.

There is, however, one good non-medical reason not to cut your hair: Decisions made under the influence of pregnancy hormones may not be very good decisions. Vicki Iovine in The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy notes, “I know how simple and carefree a short, boyish bob cut can sound at about seven months, but pregnancy is not the time to try it out.”

9. Don't Have Sex With a Man With Stinky Feet!


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This advice is probably a bit barn door and escaped horse, but medieval women believed that if the baby was conceived while the man had “dirty and smelly feet,” according to The Distaff Gospels, then the child would be born with some inherited stink. If it was a boy, then “unpleasant breath,” and if it was a girl, “a stinky rear end.” Also, the first child conceived by two virgins is “bound to be simple.” Sorry.

10. Don't Raise Your Arms Above Your Head!

Even now, some women are advised by their grandmothers and other well-meaning older folk not to raise their arms over their heads, especially in the later months of pregnancy, or risk getting the baby’s umbilical cord wrapped around its neck. This is absolutely untrue, but if it does get you out of having to do things like hang clothes on a line, then by all means.

11. Don't Look At Monkeys!


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Or parrots! There was a pervasive belief from antiquity on that what a pregnant woman looked at would be somehow manifest in her child. In 1858, the Archduchess Sophia, mother-in-law to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, wrote to her son the Emperor Franz Joseph to warn him about his pregnant wife’s love of animals: “I do not think Sisi ought to spend so much time with her parrots, for if a woman is always looking at animals, specially during the earlier months, the child may grow to resemble them.”

12. Use These Home Remedies to Avoid A Difficult Birth!


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“Difficult” labor was often fatal labor well into the 19th and 20th centuries, and still is in some parts of the world. To help women along before the advent of the C-section, the epidural, and the Ventouse, or even forceps, chloroform, and doctors who washed their hands, midwives had a number of tricks. According to the Trotula, a manual of women’s health of the 11th century, a woman in a difficult or not-progressing labor should be given an herbal bath, her “sides, belly, hips, and vagina be anointed with oil of violets or rose oil,” and rubbed vigorously; she should be encouraged to sneeze, usually with the judicious application of pepper, or taken on a slow walk through the house (that one is actually helpful). If that didn’t help, then there was always the good old tying a snakeskin around your hips or eating some butter with special, baby-producing words carved into it. Obviously, medieval birthing was a horrible crapshoot.
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If you've given birth, what's the silliest advice you received? I've found people cannot resist telling cat-owning pregnant ladies that their feline companion is a toxoplasmosis-carrying assassin.

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

14 Things You Might Not Have Known About James K. Polk

Matthew Brady/Getty Images
Matthew Brady/Getty Images

James K. Polk may have served just one term, but he was one of history’s most consequential U.S. presidents. Polish up on Young Hickory, America's 11th Commander in Chief.

1. James K. Polk had surgery to remove urinary bladder stones when he was 16.

Born on November 2, 1795, James Knox Polk was the oldest of 10 children born to Samuel Polk, a farmer and surveyor, and his wife, Jane. When James was 10, the family moved to Tennessee and settled on a farm in Maury County. As a child, James was too ill to attend formal school; just before he turned 17, he had urinary bladder stones surgically removed by Ephraim McDowell, a prominent Kentucky surgeon. Anesthesia wasn’t available at that time, so the future president reportedly dulled the pain with brandy. The surgery allowed the formerly ill Polk to attend formal schooling for the first time. He entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore after just 2.5 years of formal schooling. According to Britannica, "as a graduating senior in 1818 he was the Latin salutatorian of his class—a preeminent scholar in both the classics and mathematics." After graduation, he returned to Tennessee to study law and eventually opened up his own practice.

2. James K. Polk won a seat on the Tennessee Legislature at 27, and the U.S. House of Representatives at 29.

During his time in the state legislature, he met—and befriended—future president Andrew Jackson. He also began courting his future wife, Sarah Childress. The daughter of a prominent planter, she had been educated at the prestigious Moravian Female Academy in Salem, North Carolina, and was an eager and active participant in his political campaigns. Polk and Sarah married in 1824. In 1825, Polk was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; he was speaker of the House from 1835 until he left in 1839 to become governor of Tennessee.

3. James K. Polk's nomination for president surprised everyone—including himself.

Months before the democratic national convention of 1844, Polk was at a low point. He had just lost his bid to be re-elected governor of Tennessee (he had been voted out of office in 1841 and tried—and failed—to be elected again in 1843). But when the delegates at the convention couldn’t agree on a nominee—the party was deadlocked between Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass—they eventually decided to compromise by picking a “dark horse” candidate: Polk.

4. Everyone thought James K. Polk would lose his bid for the presidency.

Despite being a seven-time congressman, a former Speaker of the House, and an ex-governor, Polk was a relative nobody. His opponent Henry Clay lamented that Democrats had failed to choose someone “more worthy of a contest.” Despite the doubts, Polk won the popular vote by nearly 40,000 and the Electoral College 170-105.

5. During James K. Polk's White House "office hours," any American could stop by.

During Polk’s day, anybody was permitted to visit the White House for “office hours.” For two days every week, concerned citizens and lobbyists could drop by to vouch for a cause or ask for political favors. “Job seekers were the worst, in Polk’s view, and he found their incessant interruptions far more annoying than his Whig opponents in Congress,” writes Walter R. Borneman in his book Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America.

6. James K. Polk was remarkably boring.

Polk had as much charisma as a puddle of mud. He was straight-laced, somber, and humorless. As Speaker, an editor in Washington called him the "most unpretending man, for his talents, this, or perhaps any country, has ever seen." Some attributed Polk’s boringness to his refusal to drink socially. The politician Sam Houston supposedly called him “a victim of the use of water as a beverage.” (Sarah banned hard liquor—and dancing—from the White House.)

7. James K. Polk worked 12 hour days and didn't take much time off from the presidency.

Polk regularly spent 12 hours a day at the office. He rarely left Washington, took advice, or delegated. When he wanted to lobby for policy, he’d visit Congress and do it himself. Over the course of his single term, Polk took a total of just 27 days off. “No President who performs his duty faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure,” Polk wrote.

8. James K. Polk acquired America's first patch of Pacific coastline.

In the early 19th century, the Pacific Northwest was jointly occupied by British and American settlers. But as the century progressed, Americans began to outnumber the British, and they increasingly felt like the rightful owners of the “Oregon Country.” Thankfully, neither country was interested in battling over the land. In 1846, Polk and the British drew a border at the 49th parallel (with some adjustment for Vancouver Island)—what is now Washington State’s boundary with Canada. With that, the United States obtained its first uncontested patch of Pacific coastline.

9. James K. Polk waged a controversial—and consequential—war with Mexico.

In the 1840s, Mexico’s border encompassed California, the American southwest, and even parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Polk wanted this land. In 1845, he offered to buy some disputed territory near the Texas-Mexico border, as well as land in California; when Mexico refused, Polk sent troops into the disputed territory. Mexico retaliated. Polk then requested Congress to declare war. His critics (including a young Abraham Lincoln) complained that Polk had deliberately provoked Mexico. Whatever Polk’s motivations, the United States lost 13,000 men and approximately $100 million in the ensuing war—but succeeded in taking one-third of Mexico’s land.

10. James K. Polk is the reason the United States stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

In the course of just one term, Polk oversaw one of the greatest territorial expansions of any president—an increase of 1.2 million square miles. His administration extended the United States boundary to the Pacific Ocean and laid the groundwork for states such as California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.

11. James K. Polk's ambivalence toward the issue of slavery may have sparked the Civil War.

When Polk’s administration began pushing westward, debate raged over how these new territories could alter the power balance between free and slave states. Polk, who considered slavery a side issue, refused to give the rancor much time or attention. (No doubt because of his own relationship with slavery. He owned more than 20 enslaved people and brought them to the White House.) Polk’s ambivalence helped sow so much discord that historians now consider his rapid expansion westward as the first steps toward the Civil War.

12. James K. Polk signed bills that reshaped Washington, D.C.

Polk accomplished a lot in just four years. During his tenure, he signed the Smithsonian Institution into law. He was instrumental to the construction of the Washington Monument and helped establish the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He also re-established an independent U.S. Treasury, which was partly intended to reduce the role of speculation in the economy.

13. James K. Polk's administration introduced Americans to the postage stamp.

One of Polk’s unofficial campaign managers was a Nosferatu-lookalike named Cave Johnson, who Polk rewarded with a job as Postmaster General. It was a tough gig. The post office’s budget was swimming in red ink. (At the time, mail recipients paid postage: If a mail carrier failed to find a recipient, no money was made. This happened a lot.) Johnson fixed the financial problem by introducing the prepaid postage stamp, which flipped the responsibility of paying to senders. According to historian C. L. Grant, in 1845, Johnson estimated that the department would have a deficit of over a million dollars. By the time he left that was down to $30,000.

14. The location of James K. Polk's grave is causing a stir in Tennessee.

Polk died, likely of cholera, in 1849, just months after leaving office. Because he died of an infectious disease, the president was hastily buried in a city cemetery near the outskirts of Nashville. Months later, he was re-interred near his Nashville mansion, Polk Place. In 1893, his tomb was moved again to the state Capitol grounds. Today, Tennessee legislators are actively debating whether to move Polk’s bones a fourth time, this time to his old family home in Columbia, Tennessee.

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