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If there’s one question that should teach you to stop googling for parenting advice, it’s “Can I drink while pregnant?”


Visit any of the big medical publications, and you’ll see the oft-repeated assertion that while a drink or two is “probably” fine, “no amount has been proven safe for baby.”

Visit any of the big-name baby sites, and you’ll likely find breathless articles about celebrities caught with a drink in hand while pregnant.

Visit a parenting forum and you’ll see scores of people excoriating posters for even asking the question, with just as many fervently asserting how mamas-to-be should just calm down and have a drink already.

This article will not add to this chaos by trying to convince you one way or the other about drinking while pregnant. Instead, it discusses how one pregnant economist upended conventional wisdom on the topic of drinking while pregnant, making us rethink the long-range consequences of relying on poor data.

A pregnant economist walks into a bar

In “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know”, Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, analyzes the existing medical literature on many controversial pregnancy topics. She weaves her own pregnancy experiences with her data analysis to show readers how she applied the findings to her own life.

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The result is an unusual and refreshing parenting book that presents evidence without advice. Parents-to-be are instructed to weigh that evidence themselves and use it to make their own thoughtful decisions.

The most controversial chapter in the book is certainly the one covering alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco. About alcohol consumption during pregnancy, Oster concludes, “there is no good evidence that light drinking during pregnancy negatively impacts your baby,” and that expectant mothers “should be comfortable with up to one drink a day in the second and third trimesters” and “one to two drinks a week in the first trimester.”

Given the way alcohol is metabolized, Oster argues, the rate of consumption is as important as the frequency. Drink at a slow pace and most harmful bi-products of alcohol won’t make it to the baby.

To talk about the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, Oster asserts, we also have to talk about how alcohol consumption in pregnancy is studied. Given that the safety of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a controversial topic, and because alcohol consumption in even moderate amounts is suspected to do harm, it would be unethical to randomly group women and have one group abstain from alcohol, while assigning other groups to one drink a day, two drinks a day, and so on.

Instead of randomized controlled trials, then, physicians and other researchers have had to rely on survey data to draw conclusions about alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Oster sifts through the available literature, choosing those studies that best controlled for confounding factors, and finds that alcohol consumed in small quantities has no negative consequences for children.

One of the criticisms of Oster’s work is that she cherry-picked data. But as an economist, Oster is especially well-suited to identifying how a study that initially seems well-constructed might be flawed. She looks, for example, at a paper published in Pediatrics in 2001, in which researchers concluded that light drinking during pregnancy impacts children’s future behavior.

Oster summarizes the authors’ conclusion: “When the authors compared women who didn’t drink during pregnancy to those who had one drink or less per day, they found more evidence of aggressive behavior (although not of other behavior problems) among the children of women who drank.”

That sounds like damning evidence for the danger of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. One drink a day and your child will be the school bully.

What’s missing from the researchers’ conclusions, Oster notes, is that nearly half of the study’s drinking mothers were also using cocaine, while only 18 percent of the non-drinking mothers were. Oster posits that perhaps it’s the difference in cocaine use that made the impact on childhood behavior.

Furthermore, the very fact that “only 18 percent” of the non-drinking group used cocaine suggests that the population in this study may not be representative of the population as a whole. Because cocaine sometimes correlates with other issues that may be considered risk factors for childhood development, it’s not possible to draw strong conclusions about drinking more broadly from this single study.

But she’s not even a doctor!

Given her bold assertions about alcohol consumption, let alone other pregnancy bogeymen, such as sushi and deli meat, it’s not surprising that Oster’s work received a lot of negative attention. It is surprising, however, that her book received so many one-star reviews on Amazon before its publication date.

Most of those reviews, which Amazon has since deleted, appeared to stem from NOFAS, a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome advocacy group, who advised its supporters to review the book. Many of those reviewers openly admitted they would never read the book, so their reviews were eventually deleted in accordance with Amazon’s review policies.

Mothers of children with confirmed Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) wrote the overwhelming majority of the negative reviews. There were two significant problems with their claims (aside, of course, from the fact they were reviewing a book they hadn’t read and never planned to read, based on what they thought Oster argued in one section of one chapter).

The first was the claim that Oster was telling women to go drink. As she makes quite clear in her introduction, Oster’s aim is not to instruct women how to act, but to provide them with the data they need to make strong risk calculations.

The second problematic claim – which has been even stickier than Oster’s claim about alcohol – is that she should not be dispensing medical advice because she is not a doctor. The problem with these critiques is that Oster is a doctor. Although she’s not a medical doctor, Oster holds a PhD, and it’s her PhD that makes her so good at sifting through the various studies published on maternal alcohol consumption.

One of the defining features of a PhD is thinking (it is a Doctorate of Philosophy, after all). It’s precisely Oster’s training to evaluate large data sets with lots of confounding variables that makes her ideally suited to looking at all of the available data on a medical topic and selecting only the best-performed research.

Before returning to the question of Oster’s qualifications, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider how medical literature gets made. If you are a physician-researcher or scientist working at an academic institution, you’re generally expected to publish in your field, often multiple times each year. This is especially important for faculty members seeking tenure, as many institutions have a publication threshold for tenure review.

That’s where the phrase “publish or perish” comes from. It refers to the need to publish in order to keep your job. For researchers whose salaries are completely dependent on the grants they bring into their universities, publications earn and retain funding for their work.

The pressure to publish early and often does not mean that researchers will publish “bad” data. There are many checks in place to ensure that scientific papers are of reasonable quality. But a “true” finding is not necessarily a useful finding. The “Pediatrics” paper Oster references in her book is one good example. The data was bad, but, Oster argues, not significant to populations of pregnant women not abusing cocaine.

Why take the risk?

In response to the review-bombing she received on Amazon in the wake of her book release, Oster wrote a piece for Slate describing the criticisms she’d received and reiterating the purpose of her book: “The value of the data is not that it leads us all to the same choice, just that it introduces a concrete way to make that choice.”

The comments section of that article is, perhaps unsurprisingly, full of women criticizing other women’s lack of self-control. There are women quoting FAS statistics (some of which Oster refutes in her book). There are women arguing that Oster’s writing is irresponsible because people might misinterpret it and drink unsafe amounts. There are also women discussing grandmothers and great-grandmothers who drank during their pregnancies, only to have healthy, well-adjusted children.

All of these commenters have missed the point. Oster titled the piece “I Wrote That It’s OK to Drink While Pregnant. Everyone Freaked Out. Here’s Why I’m Right.” What makes Oster “right” is not that she weighed the data and found that alcohol consumption is likely unharmful to fetuses when consumed in small amounts.

She’s not “right” because she drank during her pregnancy, any more than her critics were “right” for not drinking during their pregnancies.

What makes Oster “right” – what makes her someone we should want to emulate – is that she approached the entirety of conventional pregnancy wisdom and asked “Why?”

Many of the milder criticisms of Oster’s book include a judgement posing as question: “Why take the risk?” Why not just avoid alcohol for nine months, and, just to be safe, during breastfeeding? Why not skip the deli sandwiches? Why not swap out sashimi for California rolls?

Setting up unreasonably high standards for mothers such that they have failed before they ever see their babies also carries risk. These mothers have failed because they painted the new nursery even though the fumes were considered dangerous. They have failed because they didn’t eat all the right foods during pregnancy. They failed because they changed the litter box.

The value of a few glasses of wine during a pregnancy is not that the mom-to-be gets to relax, or even that the she just enjoys the taste of wine – although these are nice side benefits. The true value rests in the type of analytical thinking she can then rely on throughout the early parenting years to combat the slew of messages telling her she’s doing it wrong.

There’s no reason to suspect that drinking while pregnant will actually make you a better parent, just as not drinking while pregnant won’t make you a better parent. But the type of thinking Oster exhibits in her book can make us better parents, who are less susceptible to the advice du jour, more confident in our choices, and less fearful of the world.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

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Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

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News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

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The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

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