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As of early June, Minnesota’s measles outbreak has led to more confirmed cases than in all of the United States in 2016.


Minneapolis’s Somali population, in which vaccination rates have sharply decreased throughout the last decade, has seen the majority of the measles cases. In 2014, their vaccination rate was just 42 percent, significantly less than the 95 percent needed to ensure herd immunity.

Part of the reason for that decrease, experts suggest, is the lectures Andrew Wakefield gave to Minneapolis’s Somali community in 2010 and 2011 about the dangers of vaccination.

You may not be familiar with Wakefield’s name, but you’re likely familiar with his most impactful work: linking vaccines and autism. For vaccine skeptics, that work makes him a hero. For vaccine proponents, that makes him a villain.

This article is not another contribution to the larger debate nor is it a judgment of people on either side. Yelling at each other on the Internet is not going to solve the “problem” of vaccines, whether you view the problem as an increasingly unvaccinated population or an increasingly vaccinated one.

Instead, this article focuses on how a single scientific study had such an outsized impact on how the world understands vaccines and autism, and draws out five research lessons all parents can learn from that study.

The link between vaccines and autism

In February 1998 the British medical journal, The Lancet, published Wakefield’s article, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children.” You wouldn’t expect a paper with that title to generate decades of impassioned fighting over vaccine policy. You probably wouldn’t even expect that of its main finding: that children’s bowel disorders, which might be causing autism, were “generally associated in time with environmental triggers.”

However, if you’d listened to the press conference about that paper, you would have heard Wakefield asserting his belief that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was causing autism.

Retraction and disbarment

Even without the fraudulent behavior that led to the paper’s eventual retraction, Wakefield’s work would not have been considered very strong science. First, the study enrolled 12 children. That is an impossibly small size from which to draw any conclusions. The study mostly relied on parents’ narration of events, which is not generally considered strong evidence.

In an editorial that also ran in that February 1998 issue of The Lancet, Robert Chen and Frank DeStefano critiqued Wakefield’s reasoning. They pointed to the millions of vaccinated children around the world who had not experienced gastrointestinal problems. They raised concerns with Wakefield’s data collection, which relied heavily on parents’ memories of events. They warned that correlation of an autism diagnosis with the timing of the MMR vaccine did not mean that one caused the other.

The last paragraph of Chen and DeStefano’s critique is eerily prescient. They feared that without a careful system of rigorous measurement, the vaccine-safety fears stoked by papers like Wakefield’s “may snowball into societal tragedies when the media and the public confuse association with causality and shun immunisation.”

Chen and DeStefano’s concerns were echoed by other researchers and physicians at the time Wakefield’s article was published. Even greater concerns emerged once The Lancet’s editorial staff began investigating ethical claims about Wakefield’s research. By 2010, when Wakefield was giving those lectures targeted at the Somali population of Minneapolis, his article was being retracted and he was being banned from practicing medicine in the U.K.

The Lancet’s editorial staff retracted the article for two main reasons. First, Wakefield and co-authors claimed that the children who participated in the study were “consecutively referred,” meaning that they were chosen as they came and that no eligible participants were selected. That turned out not to be true. Second, Wakefield and co-authors claimed that they had received permission from local ethics boards to conduct the study when they had not.

After the retraction, other investigators found even more serious issues, such as Wakefield’s undisclosed role in a lawsuit against MMR vaccine manufacturers and his falsification of data in each of the 12 cases included in his study.

The aftermath

Wakefield’s disbarment doesn’t appear to have slowed him down. In 2016, he released “Vaxxed: From Coverup to Catastrophe.” The promotional website describes him as “an academic gastroenterologist” before listing his degrees, accolades, and publications.

Despite that description, Andrew Wakefield is not an academic gastroenterologist. He is a disbarred gastroenterologist, disallowed from practicing medicine in both his home country and unlicensed to practice medicine in the United States. He is not employed by an academic medical center. Those details don’t appear until six paragraphs later, so only the most thorough readers are likely to see that information.

In the documentary (and basically to whatever journalist will interview him), Wakefield defends his research and his integrity, noting that he never said that he’d proven a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. But, as Susan Dominus puts it in the New York Times, “his concerns, not his caveats, ricocheted around the world.”

So now here we are in June 201 with a measles outbreak in Minnesota. In an interview for The Washington Post, Wakefield claimed that the Somali community of Minneapolis “had decided themselves that they were particularly concerned” about vaccines. “I was responding to that,” he states. In its coverage of the outbreak, Vox’s Julia Belluz explains what Wakefield imagines himself to be doing: “he’s just giving concerned parents information they want.”

Maybe concerned parents shouldn’t always get what they want.

Five research traps to avoid

You don’t have to look hard for “evidence” that vaccines cause autism, because Wakefield will pop up right at the top of your search results. If you want to build a case that vaccines are dangerous, you can get what you want.

Your child isn’t likely to suffer from this choice, at least not directly. The reason that Minneapolis’s measles cases now outnumber the entire U.S.’s measles cases from 2016 is that, overall, the rate of measles is incredibly low. Even if you choose not to vaccinate, your child isn’t likely to contract any of the diseases that those vaccinations have been designed to ward off, because many other parents will be picking up the slack in establishing herd immunity.

What suffers is science and reason. In a world where the accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are feverishly lobbed at those who disagree with us, it’s more important than ever for parents to model good scientific literacy and critical thinking. It is our obligation as parents to educate ourselves, not about a specific issue like vaccines, but about how to do high-quality research. That education will help us make sense of the seemingly contradictory results in our Google searches.

Trap #1: Googling a yes or no question

Wakefield’s Lancet paper appears to have been built on a yes or no question he already “knew” the answer to. He looked for evidence that a vaccine caused a bowel issue that caused autism, and guess what? He “found” it.

The same basic principle applies to your own research. If you’re asking a yes or no question, you probably already have an answer in mind. If you Google that yes or no question, you will find whichever answer you’re looking for, because it’s incredibly difficult to consider contradictory evidence if you’ve already answered your question.

Of course, it’s impossible to be completely open-minded about the question you’re researching, especially if you’re researching about your own child’s illness. But you can open up your research question by phrasing it in terms of “how” or “why.”

Trap #2: Mistaking correlation for causation

Wakefield’s subjects may very well have had diagnosable autism and diagnosable bowel disorders. They may also have had MMR vaccines near the timing of those other symptoms.

Even if this was the case, the correlation of those conditions is not proof of causation.

Humans are really powerful storytellers. It’s well-documented that we see patterns even when none exist. When we read about medical tragedies online, it’s really easy to connect the dots and decide what caused it, but there are countless other details missing that could help complete the picture.

When conducting your own research, don’t settle for the first cause you find. Or better yet, focus less on what may have caused a medical problem (you don’t have the lab equipment to make that determination, anyway) and instead focus on what to do about symptoms.

Trap #3: Focusing on newsworthy numbers

Humans may be good storytellers, but we are lousy unaided statisticians. When we see an one-in-a-million chance, we tend to see ourselves in the “one” rather than in the “one million.” Or we see a scary sounding conclusion and forget to look at the sample size.

Even if Wakefield’s sample wasn’t compromised, even if his research methods were pure, he only studied 12 children. That’s an incredibly small number to base any conclusion on, especially given the millions of children who have received vaccinations without developing either bowel problems or autism.

When you see stats reported in the news, pause and consider them in context.

Trap #4: Not identifying “they”

In her profile of Wakefield, Susan Dominus mentions his use of a powerful rhetorical tool: “He said he believes that ‘they’ – public-health officials, pharmaceutical companies – pay bloggers to plant vicious comments about him on the Web.”

Even as the medical community was rejecting him, Wakefield’s work continued to gain popularity. Perhaps that’s because of the very scary “they.” Invoking a mysterious other, with potentially impure motives, is a sure way to pull people over to your side. “They” don’t want people to see the research. “They” have money to gain from the existence of vaccines. “They” gain from making vaccine federal policy.

Now imagine that you are a parent to a child with an autism diagnosis. You’re probably also really angry with some amorphous “they.” “They” told you vaccines were safe. “They” didn’t tell you about Wakefield’s work. “They” didn’t catch the warning signs early enough. It’s easy to put your “they” and Wakefield’s “they” together.

In your own research, if you’re seeing frequent references to whatever “they” don’t want you to know, be skeptical. Define “they.” Ask yourself what “they” really have to gain from this supposed deception.

Trap #5: Failing to ask why you’re researching in the first place

Wakefield has defended the conflict-of-interest allegation against him, arguing that none of the money he received from law firms arguing against MMR vaccine manufacturers went to funding the 1998 Lancet paper. Even if that was true, he cannot be an impartial observer of the evidence because his erstwhile employers had something to gain if he concluded in their favor.

Parents who conduct research without asking themselves why they’re doing it may face similar conflicts of interest. It’s hard to be honest with yourself, but asking hard questions about your own research motives can help you avoid most common research traps. Has your child just received a scary diagnosis and you’re looking for comfort? Are you looking for someone to blame? Are you looking to find evidence to win a fight with your spouse or mother-in-law? Those circumstances don’t mean you will do bad research, but they can interfere with your interpretation. Making your own biases clear can help you steer clear of sources that cater to those biases.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

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Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

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

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Orange Is the New Black star Danielle Brooks is pregnant and frustrated. The actress took to Instagram this week to lament the lack of plus-sized options for pregnant people.

"It's so hard to find some clothes to wear today....Although I get to pregnant I still can't find no clothes. It's so hard to find some clothes when you're pregnant," she sings in a lighthearted yet serious video.

"It's so hard to find cute plus size maternity fashion while pregnant, but ima push through," she captioned the clip.

Brooks has been talking a lot this week about the issues people who wear plus size clothing face not just when trying to find clothes but in simply moving through a world that does not support them.

"I feel like the world has built these invisible bullets to bully us in telling us who we're supposed to be and what we're supposed to look like. And I've always had this desire to prove people wrong—to say that this body that I'm in is enough," she told SHAPE (she's on the new cover).

"Now that I'm about to be a mother, it means even more—to make sure that this human being I'm going to bring into the world knows that they are enough," she said.

Danielle Brooks is the body-positive hero we need right now. Now can someone make her some cute maternity clothes, please?

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In prior decades, body image issues usually didn't hit the scene until kids reached adolescence. But thanks to social media, and our culture's relentless pursuit of thinness, we now have to find creative ways to teach young children how to develop healthy body images.

Before I dive into some practical tips to help kids improve body image, I want to first diminish any shame that you might be feeling if you have body issues of your own. It's so important to remember that you downloaded every internal message from somewhere else. Of course, it's critical to work on your own issues, but it's also important to know it is not your fault that you developed them in the first place!

So, whether you are struggling with your own body image, or you love your body, here are some tools to help your child feel better about the precious body he or she lives in:

1. Break the spell

How do you know if your child has a bad body image? Perhaps they've begun making negative comments about their size or shape. Maybe they are comparing their body to others. Maybe they are avoiding foods or activities they once enjoyed because they feel uncomfortable about their body.

Often the most common response a parent has is to reassure their child that they are “fine," or “beautiful" or “perfect." And while there is certainly nothing wrong with some reassurance, it simply may not be enough to overpower the cultural messages kids are surrounded by. Reassure them that they are perfect just the way they are.

2. Unkind mind, kind mind and quiet mind

This little menu of options encourages kids to identify and differentiate between three different thinking states within themselves. I refer to them as “mind moods." Try teaching your child about these three states of mind and brainstorming examples of each. For example, unkind mind = “I hate my thighs." Kind mind = “I love singing." Quiet mind = Peacefully resting or playing.

This will raise their awareness of their thoughts and help them to choose their mind moods more consciously. As they learn to turn up the volume of their kind minds and spend more time in their quiet minds, they begin to feel more present and peaceful.

Once you have helped your child identify their unkind mind as a distinct voice, they can then try on some different responses and see which ones help bring them some relief. Try asking them to write or say all the messages their unkind mind is saying and practicing using strong, soft, silly or silent responses. Kids can learn that their unkind mind is not all of who they are, and that it doesn't have to run the show.

3. Get to the root

This concept helps kids discover what triggers their body dissatisfaction. You can help your child by asking questions or taking guesses about what might have started their bad body image. For example, I helped one 7-year old get to the root of her body obsession by noticing it started when there was a death in her family. Right around that time, her best friend started talking about dieting, so she latched onto food obsession as a distracting coping tool.

Once we uncovered this, she was able to learn about healthy grieving and truly healthy eating (as opposed to what the diet culture deems as healthy—which can actually be unhealthy).

4. Mind movies vs. really real

Try asking your child to show you some things around them that are real (i.e. things they can see, touch or hear). Then ask them if they can show you one single thought in their minds. You can playfully challenge them to take a thought out of their head and show it to you or fold it up and put it in their pocket. This tool teaches kids how to be more present.

Of course, they might use their imagination to do this, but with some finesse, you can teach your child to distinguish between the mind movies that cause them stress and the really real things around them. This is an immensely helpful tool that will not only help them with body image (since body image is one long mind movie) but will also improve the quality of their lives in general.

5. Dog talk and cat chat

Many kids cannot relate to the concept of being kind to themselves but ask a child how they feel about their favorite pet, and a doorway to their compassion, kindness and unconditional acceptance opens. For non-pet lovers, you can ask your child to imagine how they would speak to a baby or their best friend.

Dog talk and cat chat can help teach youngsters how to take the loving words and tones they use toward a beloved pet, and direct these sentiments toward themselves and their bodies.

6. Do an internal upgrade

In addition to helping your child combat the messages they receive out in the world, you can also work on the messages they get in your home. Again, if you struggle with body image, it is not your fault, but you can work on healing—and not only will you feel more peace, but your child will benefit as well.

To the best of your ability, refrain from talking about foods as “good" or “bad." Refrain from making negative comments about your (or anyone else's) weight or looks. Refrain from praising someone (or yourself) for weight loss.

Practice welcoming your child's tears and anger without trying to change their feelings before they are ready. Practice eating all food groups in moderation. Foster a positive, grateful attitude about your body.

May you and your child feel comfortable in your bodies, eat all foods in moderation, move and rest in ways that feel good, and find abundant sweetness and fulfillment in life.

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Learn + Play

After a long day of doing seemingly everything, when our partners get home it kind of becomes a habit to ask, "How was your day?" In between prepping dinner, handing off the kids, finishing your own work, we don't exactly get much value from this question. Sure, it may open up the opportunity to complain about that awful thing that happened or excitedly share that presentation you killed at work—but it usually stops there.

I could do a better job of really talking in my relationship. After 12 years and two kids, sometimes all we can come up with post bedtime routine is, "You good? I'm good. Fire up the Netflix."

Here are 21 questions to dig deeper into your marriage after a long day—see where they take you!

  1. Did you listen to anything interesting today?
  2. If you could do any part of today over again, what would it be?
  3. How much coffee did you drink today?
  4. Will you remember any specific part of today a year from now? Five years?
  5. Did you take any photos today? What did you photograph?
  6. What app did you open most today?
  7. How can I make your day easier in five minutes?
  8. If we were leaving for vacation tonight, where do you wish we would be heading?
  9. If you won $500 and had to spend it on yourself today, what would you buy?
  10. If your day was turned into a movie, who would you cast?
  11. What did you say today that you could have never expected to come out of your mouth?
  12. What did you do to take care of yourself today?
  13. When did you feel appreciated today?
  14. If you could guarantee one thing for tomorrow what would it be?
  15. If we traded places tomorrow what advice would you give me for the day?
  16. What made you laugh today?
  17. Imagine committing the next year to learning one thing in your spare time. What would it be?
  18. Did you give anyone side-eye today? Why?
  19. What do you wish you did more of today?
  20. What do you wish you did less of today?
  21. Are you even listening to me right now?

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Love + Village

Alexis Ohanian has made a lot of important decisions in his life. The decision to co-found Reddit is a pretty big one. So was marrying Serena Williams. But right up there with changing internet culture and making a commitment to his partner, the venture capitalist lists taking time off after his daughter's birth as a significant, life-changing choice.

"Before Olympia was born, I had never thought much about paternity leave and, to be honest, Reddit's company policy was not my idea. Our vice president of people and culture, Katelin Holloway, brought it up to me in a meeting and it sounded O.K., so why not?" Ohanian writes in an op-ed for New York Times Parenting.

He continues: "Then came Olympia, after near-fatal complications forced my wife, Serena, to undergo an emergency C-section. Serena spent days in recovery fighting for her life against pulmonary embolisms. When we came home with our baby girl, Serena had a hole in her abdomen that needed bandage changes daily. She was on medication. She couldn't walk."

The experience changed the way Ohanian viewed paternity leave. It was no longer something that just sounded like a good thing, it was a necessary thing for his family. It was crucial that he take it and now he is advocating for more fathers to be able to. In his piece for the NYT Ohanian points out something that Motherly has previously reported on: It is hard for fathers to take paternity leave even when their government or employer offers it.

A report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo (a global organization dedicated to gender equality) found 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but less than 50% of fathers take as much time as they are entitled to.

Dads need paid leave, but even when they have it social pressures and unrealistic cultural expectations keep them from taking it and they choose not to take all the time they can. Ohanian wants lawmakers and business leaders to make sure that dads can take leave and he wants to help fathers choose to actually take it.

"I was able to take 16 weeks of paid leave from Reddit, and it was one of the most important decisions I've made," Ohanian previously wrote in an essay for Glamour.

Ohanian recognizes that he is privileged in a way most parents aren't.

"It helped that I was a founder and didn't have to worry about what people might say about my 'commitment' to the company, but it was incredible to be able to spend quality time with Olympia. And it was perhaps even more meaningful to be there for my wife and to adjust to this new life we created together—especially after all the complications she had during and after the birth," he wrote for Glamour.

In his NYT piece, Ohanian goes further: "I get that not every father has the flexibility to take leave without the fear that doing so could negatively impact his career. But my message to these guys is simple: Taking leave pays off, and it's continued to pay dividends for me two years later. It should be no surprise that I also encourage all of our employees to take their full leave at Initialized Capital, where I am managing partner; we recently had three dads on paid paternity leave at the same time."

The GOAT's husband is making the same points that we at Motherly make all the time. Research supports paid leave for all parents. It benefits the baby and the parents and that benefits society.

By first taking his leave and then speaking out about the ways in which it benefited his family, Ohanian is using his privileged position to de-stigmatize fathers taking leave, and advocate for more robust parental leave policies for all parents, and his influence doesn't end there. He's trying to show the world that parents shouldn't have to cut off the parent part of themselves in order to be successful in their careers.

He says that when his parental leave finished he transitioned from being a full-time dad to a "business dad."

"I'm fortunate to be my own boss, which comes with the freedoms of doing things like bringing my daughter into the office, or working remotely from virtually anywhere Serena competes. My partners at Initialized are used to seeing Olympia jump on camera—along with her doll Qai Qai—or hearing her babbling on a call. I tell them with pride, 'Olympia's at work today!' And I'll post some photos on Instagram or Twitter so my followers can see it too," Ohanian explains.

"The more we normalize this, on social media and in real life, the better, because I know this kind of dynamic makes a lot of men uncomfortable (and selfishly I want Olympia to hear me talking about start-ups!)," he says.

This is the future of family-friendly work culture. Take it from a guy who created an entire internet culture.

[A version of this post was originally published February 19, 2019. It has been updated.]

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