How Do You Decide What's Best for You During Pregnancy?
When it comes to your health and safety during pregnancy, who should you listen to?
Science shows that drinking coffee while pregnant is bad for you, but it’s also good for you. You should also avoid wine during pregnancy, except maybe a glass or two might not be so bad. Sushi is bad, except when it isn’t and you know how you need to avoid lunch meat? Well, you should do that, except in cases when it’s OK.
Wading through the sometimes contradictory advice and news stories is stressful enough, add in pregnancy and what you should eat or not eat becomes a quagmire of self-doubt and worry. When Emily Oster was pregnant with her daughter she decided to get to the bottom of all the science and research behind pregnancy and try to find some answers. Oster is a Harvard-educated economist and associate professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School, so you could say sussing out the nuance between correlation and causality is her profession.
She wrote a book on her findings titled Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong and in it she details how she got to the bottom of those contradictory studies. But for those of us pregnant ladies who aren’t economist at the top of our game, how do we analyze the science behind the headlines and make the best decisions for ourselves and our families?
I spoke to Oster and asked her to give us some insight on which studies to listen to and which to ignore. “First,” Oster explains, “look to see if these studies are peer-reviewed or published. And even if it is in a journal, keep in mind that [the findings] might not be so great. One thing to think about is how big is the study. Another thing to keep in mind is what might people who, for example, eat donuts and have miscarriages have in common and how good is the study at adjusting for that?”
And when the data is overwhelming, it’s human nature to just ask our friends and family for their insight. But Oster also warns against relying solely on the experience of others. “Anecdote is very compelling to people. Much more in a lot of ways than data…and it’s very hard to fight anecdote with data. But there are times when you need to step up and think very clearly about the information being presented to you and fight our natural inclination to just ask three people what they did or listen to what someone is yelling about.”
But what about your doctor? Surely you can trust her, right? Oster said that in her research she found that most of the doctors she spoke to were very informed on the latest science and studies regarding pregnancies, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to find two separate opinions on issues. “If you find that your doctor’s advice is contradicting what you are reading or what you are hearing from other doctors, ask your doctor why they think that? Simply listening to their explanation can help clear up some confusion,” Oster advises.
But even with your doctor and the world of research readily available through the internet, it’s still possible to find gray areas of research. Oster brought up the example of sleeping on your back during pregnancy, which some doctors warn is risky to the baby. And the research on the issue is inconclusive. In that case, Oster said “if you can sleep on your side than do. But that’s the downside of relying on research to make your decisions. Sometimes research is inconclusive and you have to make a decision.”
But in those cases, Oster recommends learning all you can about the risks and benefits and just moving forward. In the end, Oster notes, “A lot of what happens in pregnancy is beyond our control; but the more information you have, the more you can allay the fears you have and make the best decision for you and your baby.”
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