On Monday, August 21, there will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the United States in 38 years! It’s been quite some time since middle school science class for me, so let me allow NASA to explain what actually happens during a solar eclipse (you’re welcome). When the moon moves between the sun and earth, the positioning momentarily obstructs the sun’s light. Whoomp! There it is – a solar eclipse. Under certain conditions, this shadow can make a portion of the earth as dark as night, even at 2:00 p.m.
We all know the sun as our warm, dependable friend who provides light and life (and scorching summer days sometimes, too). However, when it doesn’t and there is a sudden daytime darkening of the sun, naturally, we tend to get suspicious.
While we are fortunate to have NASA educate us about solar eclipses now, people hundreds of years ago did not have access to this information. Other explanations attributed to these celestial events (let’s call them alternative science facts, shall we?) are derived from ancient folklore around the world: ranging from an old Chinese legend of a fire-eating dragon swallowing the sun, to a Transylvanian tale of the Sun covering herself in darkness in response to men’s bad behavior. Relatable, right?
Understandably, people back then developed their own reasoning for the solar eclipse, often concerned for the most vulnerable members of society – growing infants. Some say the solar eclipse warning for pregnant women dates all the way back to the Aztecs who believed a celestial beast was biting the Sun. They feared that a pregnant woman who witnessed an eclipse would birth a child with a cleft palate. Despite being debunked, some myths have managed to stick around and are still being practiced today.
Here are a few old wives tales that have a *Bonnie Tyler voice* total eclipse of my mind:
An article from Baby Center encourages expectant mothers to take shelter inside to avoid exposing your baby to the eclipse’s rays which supposedly cause deformities and birthmarks.
Another common belief claims that cooked food spoils when the sun is hidden and can potentially poison your baby if consumed.
Trimester Talk insists that wearing a red ribbon or red underwear wards off negative spirits from the eclipse.
In general, if you are pregnant and believe in these superstitions, you’re basically supposed to do as little as possible during a solar eclipse. One recommendation is to lie completely flat in bed until the eclipse is over. While I am not expecting, I believe and fully support anything that advocates the health benefits of being in bed.
If you’re planning to watch the solar eclipse, do it safely with the proper eye protection. Looking directly at the sun, even when it’s partially covered by the moon, can cause serious eye damage or even blindness.
What are some other superstitions you’ve heard about the effects of a solar eclipse on pregnancy?