You are here

Pregnancy myths and the solar eclipse

Pregnancy myths and the solar eclipse

With all the excitement surrounding the upcoming solar eclipse, many people have heard old wives’ tales regarding how the eclipse might impact pregnant women. 

One theory is that the eclipse might make a pregnant woman go into labor.

That theory is probably false. We haven’t been recording birth data around the time of solar eclipses for long enough to say with confidence, but there are large numbers of data looking at rates of birth and different birth complications around the eight lunar phases. In fact, even as recently as 10 years ago, a study grouped 500,000 births over a four-year period according to the different lunar phases, and there were no differences from one phase to another in rates of birth, rates of vaginal deliveries or rates of a host of possible birth complications. The lunar phase is an important component of the solar eclipse, so although we don’t have a lot of direct data around what happens around the solar eclipse, based on large amounts of data about what happens during lunar phases, there’s no reason to think that the solar eclipse could cause a pregnant woman to go into labor. 

Another theory is that a full moon could induce labor.

A full moon is one of the eight lunar phases that were looked at in the study of 500,000 births previously mentioned. Although this is one of the most commonly believed old wives’ tales in obstetrics, it has been disproved by not only that study, but a few other smaller studies with similar designs. 

One old wives’ tales we’ve been asked about is that pregnant women shouldn’t do certain things during the eclipse, like going outside, eating, cooking, or using metal objects or magnets. Some such tales state that such activity could result in the baby having a cleft lip, birthmarks, or other congenital anomalies.

Technically we’ve never studied the rates of these things around the time of solar eclipses, so we don’t have the data to say definitively, but none of these phenomena have been suggested or supported by data we do have available. 

As to whether it’s OK for a pregnant woman to travel to watch the eclipse: as long as a pregnant woman takes the standard precautions for viewing the solar eclipse, it can be perfectly safe for them to do so. The main dangers a pregnant woman would face in going to view the solar eclipse, especially if she were to travel to the path of totality, would be the dangers inherent to travel or being in crowded places, and the risk of solar retinopathy. This can occur if she were to look directly at the sun, either without the glasses outside the time of the eclipse or if she were to take the glasses off during the eclipse but forget to put them back on as it was ending. The rays of the sun could get to the eye before you really notice the difference as the eclipse is ending, so it would be important to keep an eye on the time and either look away or put the glasses back on as the eclipse ends.

The other risk that pregnant women would face in traveling to the path of totality, is the inherent danger of going to crowded places or busy roads. Certain cities and certain roads along the path of totality are estimating an influx of anywhere from half a million to a million additional visitors on that day. Anytime that happens you can have the risk of being caught in traffic or in a large crowd where you can be at risk for trauma, which is known to cause pregnancy complications.  

Other than an eclipse’s ability to draw large crowds of people who may become distracted, the eclipse itself should not be considered dangerous for pregnant women.  As long as pregnant women take the standard precautions that are recommended both for pregnancy and the solar eclipse, they should be free to enjoy this rare event.

About Jonathan Scrafford MD

I am an OB/GYN with Ascension Medical Group in Wichita, Kansas.