What's safe during pregnancy? What's not? It's a debate that will continue to rage on, I suspect, for as long as babies are born, but the answers change -- often. Or maybe I should say opinions? And those opinions do tend to stir up some serious controversy, as is the case with those contained in the new book Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong -- and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster. As you might have guessed from the name, Oster's take on what's okay/not okay during pregnancy is slightly different from what's currently considered conventional wisdom: Caffeine and alcohol -- in moderation, of course -- aren't necessarily mortal sins for mothers-to-be. Now, Oster isn't a doctor, but she is an economist. And when -- while pregnant with her first child -- she applied her expertise with numbers to relevant studies, what she found was, in her words, "surprising."
In search of real answers, I combed through hundreds of studies -- the ones that the recommendations were based on -- to get to the good data. This is where another part of my training as an economist came in: I knew enough to read the numbers correctly ... the key problem lies in separating correlation from causation. The claim that you should stop having coffee while pregnant, for instance, is based on causal reasoning: If you change nothing else, you'll be less likely to have a miscarriage if you drink less coffee. But what we see in the data is only a correlation -- the women who drink coffee are more likely to miscarry. There are also many other differences between women who drink coffee and those who don't, differences that could themselves be responsible for the differences in miscarriage rates.
This makes a lot of sense to me. My first pregnancy was something of a surprise, so I was already eight weeks along when I saw those double lines on the test stick. And let me tell ya: Insta-panic!! Those first ignorant eight weeks were filled with all sorts of activity not generally considered to be appropriate during pregnancy. Naturally I quit smoking, drinking, and guzzling Starbucks right away, but I still worried ... thankfully, my daughter was born perfectly healthy (and too smart for her own good).
More from The Stir: Drinking Coffee During Pregnancy: What Experts Are Saying Now
Still, not surprisingly, lots of people are absolutely going insane over Oster's ideas, accusing the mom and author of being "irresponsible" and even a "danger to pregnant women and their families." Is that fair? When my grandmother was pregnant with my father, her ob/gyn encouraged her to smoke cigarettes to keep her weight down -- he even prescribed Dexedrine! My mom, on the other hand, was told by her ob/gyn to eat "as much as she wanted," weight gain be damned! Maybe it's safe to say none of us has all the answers? For me, it all goes back to the common sense thing: A glass of wine is probably fine, a bottle is probably less fine. But that's just me.
Do you think drinking coffee and/or alcohol during pregnancy in moderation is okay?
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