The New York Times appears to also have a review, but they seem to have completely missed the point.
10/20/13: I'm only partway through this book, but I cannot contain my exuberance. This is finally the book that I had just assumed otherpregnancy books would be, but was sadly disappointed to discover they were not.
For a given risk factor (such as caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco), she lays out the studies that have been done, highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each study, shows what they found, and then leaves the reader, now armed with data, to decide her own appropriate course of action.
For example, caffeine. There are a number of studies linking caffeine to miscarriages, which have led different doctors to give their different recommendations: some doctors say up to three cups of coffee per day is ok; others say two; still others say absolutely no caffeine at all. The problem with most of these studies is that it turns out that nausea is actually a sign of a healthy pregnancy, and the more nauseous you feel, the less likely you are to miscarry. Of course, if you're feeling nauseous, you want to drink coffee less than you otherwise might. So any study comparing coffee-drinking to non-coffee-drinking women might not be studying the effects of caffeine, they might actually be studying the effects of nausea.
Fortunately, there was one study in Denmark (that paradise of public health data) that issued free instant coffee to a large cohort of coffee-drinking pregnant women, and instructed them to replace the coffee they would normally drink with the free instant coffee, which was either caffeinated or decaffeinated. The women assigned the caffeinated coffee consumed on average 200 mg more caffeine per day than the women assigned the decaffeinated coffee, but when the researchers looked at birth weight, length at birth, gestational age at birth, or head circumference, they found zero (zero) difference between the two groups of babies. It's pretty clear that caffeine has zero impact on the outcomes measured.
Now, of course coffee has a lot more in it than just caffeine (I could have sworn I had a molecule of the day post on cafestol and kahweol, but I can't find it now), so after reading that study, you might still decide that for your own pregnancy, you might prefer to err on the side of caution and cut down on coffee anyway, and that's fine. But perhaps you might think twice before hassling someone else for the choice she's made for herself.
Like Emily Oster, I find this kind of information a lot more useful for decision-making than simple rules like "only one cup of coffee per day".
10/20/13 (later that day) update:
"My best estimate, based on the data, was that avoiding ham sandwiches would have lowered my risk of Listeria infection from 1 in 8,255 to 1 in 8,333. Would you want to do this? Maybe. Someone certainly could make a case for doing so. However, this change is really, really small. For me, it wasn't worth it."
Working mothers call stay-at-home moms lazy and without ambition. Stay-at-home mothers call working mothers selfish and neglectful.
What's really going on is that most people feel guilty and insecure about the choices they've made. Instead of facing the complicated reality that all choices have advantages and disadvantages, it's easier to tell yourself that you've made the Right choice by pointing out the failings of anyone who's made a different choice, which must be the Wrong choice.
One of the conclusions of this book is that whether you work or not has no bearing on whether you're a good mom or not (whereas whether you're happy or not does), but that seems to me to me no solution to the problem: the specifics may have changed, but we're left with the general framework that we can make ourselves feel better by saying, "At least I'm not as bad as Those Other Moms!"
The book includes a few essays by women who haven't had children yet, which provides nice context. In the same spirit, I wish a few essays by fathers had been included, to provide further much-needed context. The idea of the challenges of "having it all" is an idea society exclusively applies to women: no one views a full-time job as an impediment to being a good father (and, in fact, many models of good fatherhood require the ability to provide for the material needs of your family). I would have loved some insight into why that's the case, and I think a few essays by working and non-working fathers reflecting on what parenting means to them versus what it means to their spouses would have been really helpful. In the same vein, the perspectives of parents in same-sex relationships would have added useful context, too.
The best advice in this book comes from Sara Nelson in "Working Mother, Not Guilty": "Those traveling with small children should put the oxygen over their own nose and mouth before assisting other passengers."...more
Joshua Gans's blog Game Theorist was first called to my attention on Freakonomics. It's a blog that accounts his attempts to use the principles of ecoJoshua Gans's blog Game Theorist was first called to my attention on Freakonomics. It's a blog that accounts his attempts to use the principles of economics to get his children to do what he wants (i.e., "parenting"). It's very well written, so I eagerly anticipated the arrival of his book Parentonomics, which, I must say, took its sweet times getting to a library in Maryland (one contributing factor is that the author is Australian, and apparently such things matter, even though they do in fact speak English in Australia).
As a result, I had been following the blog for over a year by the time I read the book, so I was a little disappointed to note that I had already read much of the book, which was either a rehash of his blog, or his blog has been publishing excerpts from the book while I was waiting for it to arrive. (This was very similar to my experience seeing DisneyNature's Earth after seeing only a couple of episodes of the BBC's Planet Earth, of which it was apparently a rehash.)
But if you haven't likewise been reading his blog, this book is certainly worth reading.
I'm not entirely sure it meets its stated goals, though. In the introduction, he says that the goal of his book is to teach the principles of economics using concrete examples from an easily relatable topic, i.e., parenting. For example, how can you use incentives to get your children to eat healthy food? And while he does talk about incentives in regard to eating, toilet training, and punishment, most of the rest of the book is, in fact, just a memoir of parenting, and not especially economics-related. It's cute that Child No. 1 is a pack rat, but I'm not really sure what that has to do with economics....more