by Kathy Moren RN, BSN, IBCLC
One of the greatest things about having adult children is that every once in a while, you learn something from them. This happens often with my oldest son, who is intricately involved in my business. He is often suggesting podcasts he thinks I might be interested in. He has turned me on to Tim Ferriss for business and life advice, and Vox, a media group known for explanatory journalism. One day, I listened to a Vox podcast that actually intersected with my passion: dissecting the conflicting advice that my patients, all new parents, get bombarded with.
Ezra Klien had a fascinating conversation with an economist that was promoting a new book. The anxiety in Ezra’s voice was apparent as he discussed his exhaustion and concern about sleep training his new baby (another passion of mine!) The book was Cribsheet, A Data Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth to Preschool. The economist’s name is Emily Oster. Imagine my surprise to find out she teaches at Brown! She also wrote a book Expecting Better: Why Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong-And What You Really Need to Know. Coincidentally, one of my patients recommended that book to me a few days ago. I just returned from vacation, and happily devoured Cribsheet while away. I would like to encourage all new/expecting parents to read both of them.
Dr. Oster’s premise is that data doesn’t always support the common mandates provided to parents regarding what is best for their children. And what I most found most refreshing, is her proclamation that you have a choice in how you parent, which of course, you do. She confesses to being a new Mommy, going down the internet rabbit hole looking for advice about a multitude of subjects, only to be more confused and worried. Haven’t we all done that? And doesn’t the conflicting advice only leave us more stressed out?
The book starts by addressing all the things that no one talks about after having a baby. I vividly remember my three younger sisters, who all gave birth to their first child weeks from each other, looking at me and saying “Why doesn’t anyone tell you about this?” I don’t know, but now someone has! Anticipatory guidance is a beautiful thing, and I try to provide it all the time. Everything is much easier to deal with when you have an idea of what to expect and understand what is normal.
Dr. Oster then tackles the most important parenting topics and addresses the data relevant to each one. My favorites of course are breastfeeding, the current SIDs recommendations, sleep training and vaccinations. But every topic you are concerned about is in there, with a deep dive on the data, analyzed by someone who knows how to do it, and is not currently sleep deprived and emotional. I am looking forward to incorporating her data and recommendations into my presentations. I want to validate what I have been professing all along, but anecdotally, and without the data to prove it.
Some of her key assessments: Breastfeeding support in the home after birth increases breastfeeding success. And of course, breastfeeding is not always easy and/or the right choice for everyone. This is blasphemy when acknowledged by me, I know! But some of you have looked at me with profound relief when I have asked you to consider that it might not be the best option for your family. I consider it an important part of my work to give you options based on my honest assessment of your entire situation and I strive to do that daily.
Other gems are that sleep training and crying it out work, with both parents and babies much happier while sleeping longer. Vaccines don’t cause autism. And my all time favorite realization, that parents need to “put the sleep risks (relative to SIDS) in the context of the risks that we are implicitly accepting every day.” And to realize that “sleep choices have real quality of life impacts.”
I would like to encourage all new families to use this book to make educated decisions about how to parent. My hope is that it will be liberating for you, decrease your stress and give you the confidence you need to be the best parent you can be. And if you are local, consider hearing Dr. Oster speak at the Providence Children’s Museum on July 19th at noon. I will be there and am looking forward to what she has to say!