Pregnant? Don’t Miss ‘Expecting Better’ by Author ‘Emily Oster’

Today, a new book comes out that pregnant women won’t want to miss. Prolific writer and Harvard-educated economist Emily Oster has released Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong–and What You Really Need to KnowShe’s such a brilliant researcher and wordsmith that I’m just going to let her explain it in her own words:

“Making the right decisions during pregnancy and birth isn’t easy. Like many pregnant women I wanted to be sure I was doing the right thing, but I struggled to get good information about what that was. My doctor had a lot of rules about what I could and couldn’t do, but rarely was able to back those rules up with any evidence. In the end, I found I had to use my training in economics and statistics to sort through the data and find the real facts. Because you can’t make a good decision with bad information.

When I got the real facts, I found that sometimes I agreed with my doctor’s rules and recommendations, but not always. By getting the real facts – going back to the original medical studies and learning what the data really has to tell us – I was able to be more confident in my choices. And when friends came to ask about their own pregnancies, the data was able to help them be more confident, too.”

Thanks, Emily! Now read her thoughtful answers to my questions–including what she thinks is the most important advice for preggers people to take:

KK: Why did you think it was important to write this book?
EO: For many women — myself included — pregnancy brings on tremendous anxiety and confusion, along with the joy. There are an enormous number of decisions to be made –from the little ones like whether to have a ham sandwich to the big ones like what kind of prenatal testing to have. We all want to do the right thing, and yet I think it can be hard to know what that is. I wrote the book in the hopes that it would help women take control of their pregnancy, by outlining the details of these decisions, and getting into the data on real risks. The book isn’t a substitute for your doctor — not by any means — but it is a way for women to be more informed and less anxious.

KK: Can you explain how you’re a numbers expert, and how your advice about everything from bed rest to alcohol and caffeine consumption is based on data?
EO: My training is in economics and statistics. Much of what I do in my job is think about whether relationships we see in data are causal, as opposed to just reflecting correlations. It’s exactly these issues which come up in evaluating studies in public health. And a key thing to recognize is that medical recommendations are based on these studies and data. Conclusions about how much caffeine is safe to drink in pregnancy depends on looking at studies that compare women who drink caffeine to those who do not. In the book, I go through these studies, I try to identify the good ones (and the not so good ones) and help women think about how to make their own decisions based on the evidence.

KK: What is your advice on alcohol?
EO: Heavy or binge drinking should be avoided. Even one or two episodes of binge drinking at the wrong time in pregnancy can lead to serious consequences. However, when I looked at the data I found that there is a lot of very high quality evidence showing that these complications do not seem to extend to occasional drinking in pregnancy. The evidence shows that children of women who drink lightly in pregnancy — no more than a couple of drinks a week in the first trimester and no more than a drink a day in later trimesters — do as well as children of women who abstain.

KK: What do you think is the most surprising information readers might get from your book?
EO: The one my friends seem to have found the most surprising and useful is the strong recommendation to get a doula (someone to help during the birth). Even if you are planning a birth with an epidural, the evidence suggests that a doula can help make things go much more smoothly.

Not everyone agrees with Oster’s advice, of course. Click over to Parents blogger Melanie Abrahams criticism of Expecting Better.

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