Humans have been having babies for many thousands of years, yet there are still aspects of the process that befuddle people. Despite plenty of modern science, historical records and countless studies, people just can't figure out why certain things happen during pregnancy, labor and birth. Science is still unraveling the mysterious processes that allows people to create the next generation. Doctors usually spend the better part of a decade just in higher education—and then several more years in residency—but even that vast knowledge can't answer some fundamental questions.
It can be so frustrating to ask knowledgeable professionals important questions only to receive theories, educated guesses, or possibly even no explanation at all. Some questions have serious implications and tragic outcomes, while other unexplained mysteries surrounding pregnancy and birth are quirky and odd. One reassurance is that as technology advances and the world's collective knowledge increases, mothers might one day have all the tools and facts they need to know the why and how of all aspects of the birth process.
One day, moms might have all the answers to these burning questions, but for now, here are 20 mommy questions doctors still can't answer.
20 Babies Are A Weekday Special
Many moms are told by their own mothers and family members that babies are born at all times and on all days—and that's certainly true—but many might be surprised to learn that in the US, more babies are born on a weekday than on the weekend, as per NPR. It's not just that the five days combined beat out the two-day weekend, it's that any given weekday sees more babies born than either weekend day. Doctors may not even realize this trend is happening, and so far, experts only have some theories as to why babies are a weekday special—more data is needed.
19 When Will Delivery Really Happen?
After many hours of already physically demanding labor, women are often reassured by doctors that when they enter the even more intense second stage of labor—also misleadingly called the 'pushing stage'—that second-stage labor only lasts between 20 minutes and two hours. In fact, doctors don't have a very clear picture of just how long second-stage labor will last, and the duration varies wildly depending on a number of factors, according to Evidence Based Birth. Whether mom is a first-time mom or has had an epidural are just two of the many things that can affect the length of second-stage labor.
18 What Cravings Really Mean
Most pregnant women experience some kind of food craving during their pregnancy. In many cultures, certain food cravings are thought to indicate what gender the baby will be or other aspects, including how hairy baby will be. Most researchers think that the cravings are tied to hormonal shifts or perhaps nutritional deficiencies, but for many cravings, they just can't be sure, as per Livestrong. Emotions are also thought to come into play with cravings, and some women crave non-food items. Despite a number of theories, doctors really can't say with certainty why pregnant women crave what they do—research hasn't shown direct correlation in most cases.
17 Who Develops PPD
Doctors aren't always clear that while researchers have identified specific risk factors that increase the chances of developing postpartum depression (PPD), no one is clear on what exactly causes PPD in the first place, according to Mayo Clinic. Doctors believe that hormonal fluctuations after birth and extreme fatigue and exhaustion could contribute to the development of PPD, but even those connections are tenuous. Some women don't develop symptoms of PPD until months after the baby has arrived. Other women develop a severe form called postpartum psychosis. PPD can occur regardless of socioeconomic status, whether a support network is present and the difficulty level of the pregnancy or birth.
16 When Will The Pregnancy End?
Doctors will proclaim a mother's due date with authority, but since the likelihood that she'll actually give birth on that day is only around 5%, many moms and researchers are asking why nailing down an accurate due date is so difficult. Because so many factors influence how long a baby will actually gestate, doctors just can't say for sure when a pregnancy is going to end, as per BabyMed. Although predictions are far more accurate with IVF patients who know the exact date of fertilization, most women are getting a due date based on averages. Healthy babies can be born several weeks before or after the standard 40-week gestation timeline.
15 Discovering What Causes Cholestasis
A rare complication of pregnancy is intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), a liver disease that affects around one or two in 1000 pregnant women, according to ALF. While there is thought to be a correlation between the higher hormone levels of the third trimester, there are also striking patterns in occurrence based on geographical location. Women in South America as well as women in Scandinavian countries are more likely to develop ICP, and there also seems to be a genetic component. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with ICP during winter. It's not clear how all these risk factors work together—doctors just can't pinpoint exactly what causes it.
14 From Nausea To Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Everyone hears about morning sickness being a hallmark sign of pregnancy, but many women don't know that expectant mothers experience the poorly-named symptom in many different ways. Some pregnant women have nausea and vomiting so severe that they become dehydrated or lose five percent or more of their body weight, as per Rare Diseases. Doctors just don't know why one woman will feel fine while another is so severely ill she must be hospitalized. It's thought that hormones play a role in hyperemesis gravidarum, but many women with high hormone levels have little to no nausea—there is just no good explanation for how and why it develops.
13 What's Going On With Spotting
As many as one in four pregnant women experience some spotting during their pregnancy. Sometimes it can be an indication of a serious problem, but quite often, spotting is a result of some minor issue like a cervical polyp. Although rare, there are cases of women having spotting from minor up to enough to appear like a period throughout their entire pregnancy with no explanation as to why, as per Parents. Some women don't even realize they're pregnant, because they continue to have something like a period up until they go into labor. Expectant mothers can have spotting yet still deliver completely healthy babies.
12 The Real Effects Of MTHFR
Sometimes new research emerges but takes time to trickle down to doctors and become more commonly known. The many variations of the MTHFR gene are still being explored and researched, but much of the information that researchers have already uncovered hasn't yet reached the childbirth experts and doctors who inform and assist pregnant women, as per Healthline. The MTHFR gene is getting a lot of attention online, but because research is relatively new and changing often, it can be difficult for even experts to get a clear picture of what an MTHFR gene mutation can mean with regards to the pregnant mother and her baby.
11 Why More Babies Are Born In September
We only have theories to try to explain why September is the most popular birthday month. Maybe parents are full of good vibes during the winter holidays, or perhaps couples are just biologically disposed to prefer the baby-making way to stay warm during the winter, as per Reader's Digest. What's interesting is that the most popular birth month has changed over time. A decade ago, August won as the most popular birthday month, holding that title for at least 16 years, according to Live Science. While every day of the year is someone's birthday, every year does have a clear winner when it comes to the most birthdays per month.
10 How Long Will Labor Last?
The woman whose labor progresses so quickly that she can't make it to the hospital in time is just as normal as the woman who labors for days, yet doctors can't seem to explain why there's such a wide variation in labor lengths. Many attribute labor length confusion to outdated models of what the average length of labor should be, as per NPR. The overall picture of who the women are that are giving birth now versus in the 1950s when the common labor model was developed has changed. Doctors only know some factors that can influence labor length, but don't fully understand why the process can vary so much.
9 Fertility Foes
For some couples trying to conceive, the only thing more frustrating than being unable to do so is to be given the diagnosis of unexplained infertility. As many as a quarter of all couples diagnosed with infertility are given this explanation, according to Verywell Family. Unexplained infertility is often simply the answer that's left after the doctor has explored and eliminated all the other known causes of infertility. When couples receive that diagnosis, however, most experts recommend checking in with a fertility specialist to determine whether the first doctor missed something, but sometimes there is just no clear reason why conception won't happen.
8 Why Moms Get HELLP
HELLP syndrome was named in 1982 yet remains difficult to diagnose and treat. Not all signs of HELLP syndrome are present in every pregnant patient, and many symptoms are easily mistaken as other, less serious conditions, as per Preeclampsia. The fastest and often safest way to treat a mother who has developed HELLP is for her to deliver her baby before the syndrome has progressed. HELLP syndrome is considered to be a variant of preeclampsia, but doctors don't understand what causes some women to develop HELLP and not others. HELLP syndrome is extremely dangerous because it can't be prevented, only treated.
7 The Causes And Cure For Colic
The only things nearly as numerous as the babies diagnosed with colic are the theories as to why it happens. The causes of colic are still unknown, despite the huge number of incredibly frustrated parents trying to deal with the gut-wrenching and exhausting cries of colicky babies. Part of the difficulty in pinpointing a cause could be because colic is a 'catch-all' term, according to Parenting Science. Another complicating problem is that newborns cry to indicate when there's a problem, which can encompass a very large number of issues. Allergies, hormones and even gut bacteria growth have all been studied in the effort to solve the colic conundrum.
6 What A Newborn Remembers
Despite a few stories here and there of people who claim to remember even their earliest moments outside of the womb, most experts believe we can't access our newborn memories but aren't sure why that is. This inability to remember our earliest moments is called infantile amnesia, as per Live Science. One prevailing theory is that these memories can't be accessed because we had no available language at the time, but other experts point out that humans aren't the only animals who seem to have a block on birth memories. An alternative suggestion is that the rapid development of new neuron connections disrupts those earliest memories.
5 How We Think Ourselves Into Pregnancy
Many of us don't realize how powerful the mind can be. Literature alluding to pseudocyesis—phantom pregnancy—goes back thousands of years, yet experts and doctors can't explain how the mind can cause the body to exhibit many of the physiological symptoms associated with pregnancy, according to Encyclopedia Of Mental Disorders. While a psychological link is clear and doctors often document an association of the affected woman with trauma, the way in which the mind can send clear signals to the body to prepare for pregnancy without an actual fertilized embryo is still mystifying. Cases of pseudocyesis have gone down in countries where women have easy access to pregnancy tests.
4 What Starts The Labor
When labor will start appears to be linked to when there has been a sufficient buildup of a particular lung surfactant protein. It seems to activate macrophages—which fight lung infections—and those macrophages move to the uterine wall and begin a chemical reaction, as per Belly Belly. Most babies start to produce the protein needed to begin the process at around 32 weeks, but it's not clear why some babies are born before this happens, why some babies produce this protein much later, and how antibodies impact or impede the protein's prevalence. The whole procedure is so intricate that researchers are still discovering new steps in the process.
3 Pondering The Premature
Depending on the researcher, country or population group, the number of premature births that are considered unexplained can vary widely. Often at least a third of premature births are unable to be explained by attending doctors or researchers and are spontaneous, according to Patient. An unexplained premature birth happens when all known factors—including infection, diabetes, or cervical incompetence—have been eliminated. Sometimes a premature birth is unexplained but is attended by risk factors. It's not clear how some factors prompt spontaneous premature birth. Sometimes a pregnant woman can experience unexplained premature labor with no known cause, but delivery can be stalled to allow the baby to continue to develop.
2 Fine Today, Prolapse Tomorrow
It's not clear why doctors don't seem to understand or place importance on pelvic organ prolapse, which can affect up to four percent of women who give birth naturally and often doesn't show up until middle age, as per Mother Jones. Women often experience serious complications from prolapse—including urinary stress incompetence—and sometimes even need surgical procedures to correct the issues. The issue is common enough that whole websites are dedicated to exercises meant to help alleviate the symptoms, but when women do find the confidence to discuss their symptoms with the doctor, more often the solution is to perform a hysterectomy rather than determining what can be done to prevent prolapse.
1 The Unexplainable Loss
Why some babies seem to be thriving one day and have passed on the next is an incredibly painful and heart-wrenching mystery. When a mom has such a profound loss, sometimes the hardest part is never knowing why. While some infant loss can be attributed to the onset of infection, previously undiscovered genetic problems or even knotting of the umbilical cord, many times, doctors can't explain why it happened, according to Mama Natural. Often there is no warning when it happens—no cramping or hemorrhaging—just the cessation of movement. Counting kicks several times a day can sometimes alert mom to an issue in time to prevent a tragedy.
References: Mama Natural, NPR, Evidence Based Birth, Livestrong, Mayo Clinic, BabyMed, ALF, Rare Diseases, Parents, Healthline, Reader's Digest, Live Science, NPR, Verywell Family, Preeclampsia, Parenting Science, Live Science, Encyclopedia Of Mental Disorders, Belly Belly, Patient, Mother Jones