April 24, 2014

Baby stuff filters over here

Oster, Emily. Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong--and What You Really Need to Know. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013.

Sorry, loyal reader (and the singular may well be true by this point), I've been a little preoccupied. Not with anything particularly useful--mostly watching Scandal, but also working on my other new blog, burning cookies (or maybe that was just tonight), and other assorted things that kept me from reading.

Now, however, worlds have collided, and I've finally finished a book. Even better, it's one that I enjoyed cover to (virtual) cover. As I've made quite obvious on the other blog, if not here, I love research, data, graphs, and generally feeling like I know what's going on, even on topics like babies where you generally have no idea. Therefore, I pretty much raced to buy this book after I saw it recommended on a chat last week, and then I plowed through it at a speed belied by my most-recent-post date.

Expecting Better is written in a clear-headed, witty, and accessible fashion by a youngish economist who's been trained all her life to look at the evidence that informs our decisions. When she started thinking about getting pregnant, and even more through all those interminable doctor's visits and baby books, however, she was frustrated by the dearth of data. Don't drink alcohol. Don't eat deli meat. Your risk of something is pretty low. But why not? And how low is your definition of low, Doctor? So, Oster went off to get her own answers, scouring through the medical studies that back up all these claims and bans to determine what's serious and what's unsupported, first for her own benefit, then for her lucky friends, then for all of us in book form.

One of the key points of the book is that once you have the evidence, you can place it alongside your values and make the decision that's right for you. Maybe a 1 in 1000 chance seems high to you and you'd rather stay away from item Y; maybe you think that's a pretty slim risk and not worth worrying about. Therefore, I'm not going to try to present much of what Oster found and what I thought about it. Instead, here are some of the topics that I highlighted for future reference:
  • A great reminder on correlation and causation, with the key point (which I remember Michael Pollan observing about vitamins) being that sometimes just being the kind of person who would do X has the same observable effect as actually bothering to do said X.
  • A passage on weight gain during pregnancy, for all those feeling oppressed at the scales in the doctor's office.
  • Tips for charting if you want to become pregnant.
  • The evidence related to alcohol and caffeine consumption while pregnant (an example of applying personal weights to the evidence--I read it and decided, eh, I don't need either even if they're probably no biggie in small amounts).
  • Which drugs are safer than others, and why.
  • Which of the banned foods you really need to stay away from.
  • The pros and cons of screening tests.
  • And, generally, when to chill out and do what feels right (like sleeping position).
If any of those pique your interest, I encourage you to get the book, devour it as I did, and make your own judgments. I feel smarter and more calm for having done it.

Rating: ***1/2

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