Expecting Better by Emily Oster

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Expecting Better
I'm not crazy about the implication that pregnant women are incapable of deciding for themselves- that you have to manipulate our belief so we do the right thing. That feels, again, like pregnant women are not given any more credit than children would be in making important decisions.

Ever since Aarti and Nomadreader reviewed this book, I knew I had to read it too, but only after I got pregnant. Since then, it's been on my TBR and I finally listened to this book a few months back.

Unlike most books about pregnancy, Expecting Better is less about what to expect while pregnant and more about how to navigate through the tons of information out there about pregnancy and make a wise decision without living to regret it. The author, Emily Oster, and her husband were economists used to looking at quantifiable data and statistics - rarely did they make a decision without looking at some supporting numbers. So when she got pregnant, Oster was disappointed that there was so much information around and about pregnancy, but doctors rarely quoted or shared any numbers to support all that information. (They usually used words like "little", "much", "some", "lot", etc.) For instance, a little coffee is fine, but Oster wanted to know how much is a little, and that what happened if she had a little more.

Personally, if I heard that something was bad for the baby, I didn't care too much to question it. Not because I was lazy or too frightened by everything that could go wrong, but rather the sacrifice was just for 9 months - that's doable. Plus, I barely cared much about almost everything that was considered a big no-no, the sole exception being tuna. Oh boy, what I wouldn't do for a tuna sandwich right now!

But Oster is obviously completely my opposite, but thanks to her, I learned a little more about how many of those no-nos were legit. Right from the day she started trying for a baby, Oster has been researching. She starts off with how to increase the chance of conception and different ways to track the ideal time for uhhh... sex. And then she moves on to the dos and don'ts while pregnant. Should you abstain from coffee completely? If a little coffee is okay, how much of it is okay? What about alcohol? Or wine? Oster goes through plenty of researches and studies done on women who had varying amounts of coffee (or alcohol or drugs) while pregnant and looked at their babies after birth and also the miscarriage rates. (If you're curious, 2-4 cups of coffee a day is okay, drinking a tiny glass of wine slowly is also fine, but smoking and drugs are absolute no-nos.)

Some good takeaways from this book:

1. Not all research is good research. But we already knew that, right? Oster shared some great strategies on how to identify good research from the bad ones. Good research had to be truly random - the candidates being studied need to span across age, habits (whether they smoked or drank), lifestyles (shouldn't limit to just upper class or lower class people), education level (you don't want to study just well-educated people), and so on. This way, you can get a true random pool where there is maybe only constant (say, they all drank coffee or they all smoked).

2. You can show the same information to two different people and they may choose to do two opposite things. Again, nothing new, but I liked how Oster was able to demonstrate this. Many times, she and her friends took entirely opposite decisions based on the same information.

3. Reading through research papers can be fun! I cannot begin to explain how much I dreaded reading all the tons of papers I had to read in grad school and draw conclusions from them. If I had read this book sooner, I may have had a lot more success with all that researching. Since listening to this book, I have had to read through several papers, and I had a lot more success with them than I ever did in the past. Plus, it has made so much of my decision making easier - especially those that banked on other people's experiences.

Not only does Oster talk about some of the much debated aspects of pregnancy like coffee or which side to sleep on or exercising or what foods to not eat. She also questions several less-questioned practices like episiotomy, prescribed bed-rest to avoid pre-term labor, to bank cord blood or not, induction vs waiting it out, and when a c-section makes sense. I took plenty of notes while listening to this book - some of these had to be mental notes because most of the time I listened to this book, I was driving.

If you are pregnant or planning to have a baby (whether it is your first or otherwise) or if you are just plain interested, you should check this book out. Although I was bothered by Oster's frequent mentions about how economics is super important (I agree) and how you have to look at everything and analyze it well before taking a decision (sometimes impulsive decisions are a-okay, according to me), overall, the benefits I obtained from this book definitely outweigh some of that nagging.


Oh and if you were wondering as I was before I started this book, Oster staunchly recommends staying away from tuna. I guess I'll just have to wait a couple more months.


This audiobook is from my personal library.

4 comments:

iliana said...

I don't have children but I can only imagine how nutty I would be researching what is ok or not. Well, maybe not like this couple but I'm sure a book like this would be invaluable! Glad to hear you found a book that was helpful!

Aarti said...

I have never been pregnant and don't have any plans to become so in the near future, but I read this book last year since almost all my friends have had/are having children. And it has caused them so much stress! In a way, I hope Oster does a follow-up on rules for the first year - breast feeding, sleep training, tummy time, etc., because that seems to cause lots of stress, too.

Athira / Aths said...

Yeah, Unless it's my thesis, I don't think I would research so much, but on the other hand, this book helps! Rather than vague "do this, not that" advices, evidence and numbers helped me feel more inclined to trust something.

Athira / Aths said...

Totally with you on that one - I would love to see her write books about the first couple of years with the kid. I found her book so much more valuable than the much recommended What to Expect When You're Expecting.