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Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong - and What You Really Need to Know
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Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong - and What You Really Need to Know

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  23,548 ratings  ·  1,923 reviews
What to Expect When You're Expecting meets Freakonomics: an award-winning economist disproves standard recommendations about pregnancy to empower women while they're expecting.

Pregnancy—unquestionably one of the most pro­found, meaningful experiences of adulthood—can reduce otherwise intelligent women to, well, babies. Pregnant women are told to avoid cold cuts, sushi, alc
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published August 20th 2013 by Penguin Press
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Neelie I think you are right to be worried. I can't speak to all the info in her book, but as a neuroscientist who focuses on studying the impact of prenatal…moreI think you are right to be worried. I can't speak to all the info in her book, but as a neuroscientist who focuses on studying the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure on the brain, I can say that her chapter discussing alcohol is dangerously misleading. She discusses only a couple studies on light or moderate drinking during pregnancy and fails to put them in the context of the larger literature. She may be well qualified to perform statistical analyses, but what she lacks is the broader knowledge of the field on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and the clinical expertise and experience to put the studies she is reading into the appropriate context. I have personally interacted with children who have fetal alcohol syndrome despite their mother's reporting that they only had occasional drinking during pregnancy. There are other factors at play that can make an individual more or less susceptible to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders besides alcohol, genetics, stress, and nutrition to name a few. Does she discuss this at all? No. She's not allowing you to make informed decisions on drinking alcohol during pregnancy, she's muddying the waters. If you'd like to see the response to her chapter discussing alcohol use during pregnancy by the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Study Group, a group comprised of medical doctors and research scientists devoted to fully understanding fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, you can do it here: https://www.proofalliance.org/2013/09.... (less)
Chelsea I only read the 2019 edition, so I can't speak to how substantial differences were overall. But there were many places where she references data from …moreI only read the 2019 edition, so I can't speak to how substantial differences were overall. But there were many places where she references data from after the original book was published, so it seems like there's a fair amount. She also talks about her second pregnancy and choices she made differently when she had her second child throughout the book.(less)

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Jaclyn Day
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is so much hubbub about this book right now. I was really interested to read it and before I started it, I read a few news articles and some of the dozens of 1-star reviews on Amazon. It turns out people are really upset with Oster primarily for the chapter on drinking alcohol during pregnancy. There are other reasons people are poo-pooing the book too—like the fact that she hardly interviewed any medical professionals about the topics she covered and instead relied almost entirely on her ...more
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: pregnancy
After 2 moderately complicated pregnancies and multiple thrown pregnancy books, I wanted to like this. I was attracted to the concept of applying decision-making principles to pregnancy. It's a great concept, and not enough pregnancy literature emphasizes the risk-and-tradeoff model (or if it does, presents inaccurate risks). The book has already gotten a backlash for daring to suggest that the zero-tolerance approach to alcohol in pregnancy is not backed by evidence, prompting 1-star Amazon rev ...more
Apr 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
After becoming pregnant, I quickly learned that there are two types of pregnant women (ok, there are a lot more than this, but keep reading). The first type says "Show me proof that this will NOT hurt my baby, and I will do it." The second type says "Show me proof that this WILL hurt my baby, and I won't do it". It turns out, I am the second type, which causes many of my friends and coworkers to be absolutely horrified at some of my behaviors (most of which involve ingesting things). Thankfully, ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
I am an obstetrician and I was very interested to read this book, hoping to find an accessible resource that would resonate with my patients. Dr. Oster set out to do a very difficult task and I appreciate what she hoped to accomplish. Unfortunately, while there are sections of this book that provide practical advice, as a whole I was disappointed and cannot recommend it.

As an economist, Dr. Oster has an understanding of statistics that can help her make good decisions for her pregnancy, but she
Jun 23, 2014 rated it liked it
As a physician, I was curious about this book, after a few of my friends read it during their pregnancy. First of all, I found much of the data that she presented was quite interesting, and I learned some of the more specific aspects of prenatal care.

However, more importantly, her tone smacks of privilege, and she falls prey to many of the biases she criticizes doctors and ACOG for. She skews how she discusses the research based on whether or not she agrees with it. She appears to be critical o
May 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
I'm astounded that an economist who is not a maternal-newborn health care professional decided that being pregnant, reading an obstetrics textbook and reviewing some studies makes her qualified to decide she can tell women to ignore reputable health organizations' guidelines.

For instance, the researchers, physicians, midwives, and other health care professionals are reviewing the SAME research information as Emily Oster is, and have concluded that there is not enough quality or conclusive evide
Richard Carozza
Apr 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
The author of this book is committing child endangerment. I did my graduate studies on fetal alcohol syndrome, my family has members afflicted with fetal alcohol syndrome, and between graduate and medical school I believe I have the authority to contradict the author and state unequivocally that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. None. Not during the first trimester, not during the second, not during the third. The effects of alcohol on babies tear apart families and ruin lives. I'm ...more
Kathryn Lucas
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: pregnant women, women trying to conceive, partners of those women
Recommended to Kathryn by: NPR
I'm now on my second reading of this book. It's so jam-packed with enlightening facts and information that every expecting couple should know, that I felt I should read it again, just so I can retain it all a bit better.

First, let me address the alcohol issue, since there's been a lot of backlash against this book (online and on talk radio) for suggesting that drinking a bit of alcohol during pregnancy is okay. It is my opinion that the anti-FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) crusaders out t
May 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
I did not finish this book, because although interesting, I found the author's personal bias to be too distracting to take her research seriously. I stopped reading once I got to the chapter about smoking during pregnancy. But let me back up -- the author is very open about the fact that this research began when she became pregnant out of a desire to learn more about WHY she should not take some risks and HOW to calculate those risks. She is open about the fact that she likes caffeine and alcoho ...more
May 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
Cherry picked studies to enforce her own world view. Listen to your doctor; not this entirely unqualified woman.
Aug 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
I like statistics. I read research articles for enjoyment - yeah I'm strange. So I thought this would be a really good pregnancy book. I was wrong. The author says she wrote it to help thinking women make their own informed choices but instead she is just telling them what to choose. Both in her tone and by the studies she chooses to highlight or ignore.

Skip this book - If you want to make your own informed choices - do the research yourself. If you want someone to tell you what to do based on
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As heard on Planet Money.

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 other pregnancy 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 ea
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Based on the title, I expected to get more out of this book. I'd suggest that it should be renamed "Agenda-based Science: How to Mine Data to Support Your Favorite View". Oster likes to drink four cups of coffee a day, and the evidence magically supported her up to this amount of caffeine, although not above four cups. She likes deli meat, doesn't like to work out, and has a cat but doesn't garden, and her findings manage to support all of her lifestyle choices. The author is an economist and st ...more
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A little background: I'm 29 weeks pregnant for the fourth time, so I probably have more interest in pregnancy than your average Joe.

When economist Emily Oster decided to have a baby, she wanted to make informed decisions and assumed the medical community would offer her the statistic-based information she is used to finding. Instead, she received a lot of "probably fine" and "low-risk" vagueness. Since her (and her husband's) profession is to find and analyze research, she started reading studie
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book really seems to have polarized a lot of people. Topics like kids seem to do this. First off, I'm certainly not the target audience for this book. I'm a single guy with no kids in his mid thirties. I doubt I'll ever have kids. But I do love reading about pop science, and normally books of this genre are right in my wheelhouse.

They usually come in one of three flavors, a scientist or pop-science writer explaining some topic in an accessible manor, a crackpot author explaining their theor
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I picked this one up after reading several reviews describe it as 'if you read a single book about pregnancy, this is the one you should read.' And I completely agree. THERE ARE SOURCES! I swear, it never occurred to me that the vast majority of pregnancy books would cite no sources whatsoever. I don't care if you're a doctor. Lots of people call themselves doctors and I'm not going to take their advice. On top of that, the books often say things like "Ask your doctor." I'm reading pregnancy boo ...more
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
Emily Oster read the same "10,000 ways you can totally f- up your baby" pregnancy manuals I did and had the same level of disgust. Why was the doctor so obsessed with my weight gain? Why was the nurse telling me that I should rush to the hospital the second my water broke? Was all of this really necessary? Like me, she also wasn't comfortable with the extreme backlash response of home-birth in an inflatable bathtub (which turns out to be not an option where I live anyway). But Emily Oster has su ...more
Nov 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women, parenting
Loved it! If you are the type of person that likes data and statistics, and wants to know WHY all these conflicting "rules" about pregnancy exist, this book is for you. I wish I had read it at the beginning of my pregnancy rather than in month 9 -- but it wasn't out yet!

Oster's big idea is that women should be trusted with specific, accurate data so they can make their own decisions based on the risks vs. rewards.

For example, perhaps you have seen all the lists of foods you're supposed to avoi
Cara Winter
May 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn’t read every single chapter, but what I did read seemed really biased and skewed toward the author’s personal experience as a white, well educated person with access to high quality, affordable medical care, and a completely uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. She barely touches on issues she didn’t personally face. But the most irritating part of this book was that it totally ignores what it actually FEELS like to make decisions, especially in high pressure, high risk, emotional situation ...more
Sep 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this read but all is does is ask unanswered questions. If you want to know absolutely that a glass or 2 of wine won't hurt your baby, don't expect your doctor to tell you that they tested this on pregnant women, just don't drink it. ...more
Sara Lorenz
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the 2nd pregnancy book that I’ve read.
I wanted to read this one in particular because 1) it was one of my good friend’s best pregnancy book recommendations (thank you Brandi!) and 2) the author is an Economist and as an Econ major I was intrigued to see how she would apply an Economist’s way of thinking to the topic of pregnancy.

I really liked this book. It’s different. The author lays out all the data, statistics and research and gives you a better understanding of why there is so much
Maryann J-D
Sep 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. I've been half-consuming all sorts of pregnancy books lately, and this was the most satisfying. I previously read Origins, which had somewhat of a similar premise, but instead of calming me down with information, it just threw a bunch of studies at me and had me convinced that, when we do get pregnant, I need to just cloister myself until the child is born. (And even then?!)

In contrast, Emily Oster lays out all the data, with some handy visual aids (like the mercury to omega-3s f
Jun 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
So here's the thing: pregnancy is terrifying. Like, going into it you kind of know that things are going to be different, but nothing really prepares you for the amount of anxiety you will experience. Don't eat this! Don't do this! Don't touch that! You are constantly bombarded with rules, some of which seem completely arbitrary. And, well, some of the are. This book was really refreshing in that it wades through a lot of the misinformation out there. Facts, facts, beautiful facts! Data! Evidenc ...more
Caroline Niziol
Aug 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you asked me a couple of weeks ago if I was interested in reading Yet Another Pregnancy Book, I would have laughed. Hardly! I read a couple early on, then turned to the almighty Google when I had questions or curiosities. Then about a week ago, my mom clipped an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal called "Take Back Your Pregnancy." Well, I took the bait. Emily Oster's article intrigued me. Definitely one for any subsequent pregnancy, I thought!

Then the furor struck on the Interwebs. Because
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, self-help
This was one of the best pregnancy books I've read. Oster brings all the data you need to make informed decisions throughout your pregnancy and labor. She goes through all the common misconceptions and wives tales about everything. This helped ease my anxiety over causing harm from hair dye and drinking in the two week wait. It was also empowering to read about her no-meds natural birth story. Oster is so non-judgmental. A great read for moms to be. ...more
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A great guide to understanding myths vs science. Very conversational language - highly recommend for those newly pregnant - especially those like me who tend to be anxious.
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
There was a lot of hubbub on some of the pregnancy subreddits about this book, so I wanted to read it to see if it was worth all the hype. Conclusion: eh.

My corrections and comments:

1. You can't run studies on many things in pregnancy. It's unethical and there aren't ways to set up proper controls. She should have mentioned this in the intro, but waited until a later chapter to very briefly explain.

2. OPKs are not expensive unless you buy the big ones in stores, and they are most accurate when p
Pankaj Singh
Mar 04, 2021 rated it liked it
The Good:
- this seems to be the most evidence based book on pregnancy I’ve come along.

The Bad:
- a classic example of someone who is an expert in one field who assumes they are an expert in another as well. Just because Ms. Oster is an economist and can interpret data doesn’t mean she is the go to advisor on all things obstetrics. It’s painful to read the conclusions she draws, especially when she draws smug conclusions on things that are well established for decades.

- way too US centric. Most o
Shannon Weynand
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book - it provides tangible information (data, facts) about much of the advice you hear and receive as a pregnant woman. The author’s doesn’t take herself too seriously (I loved when she made fun of the doctor weigh-ins!), but she gives an unblinking eye to research, presenting what literature says in an easy-to-approach way.

Reading this made me feel more relieved and prepared than anxious and that is the sign of a good pregnancy book to me.
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The perfect book for expecting parents. Read this book, then have some sushi and a half glass of wine, and chill out; your baby will be fine. And if s/he isn't... it wasn't the sushi, 4 ounces of wine, or anything else you did wrong. ...more
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Emily Oster is an American economist and bestselling author. After receiving a B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard in 2002 and 2006 respectively, Oster taught at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She later moved to Brown University, where she holds the rank of Professor of Economics. Her research interests span from development economics and health economics to research design and experi ...more

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29 likes · 5 comments
“...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.” 12 likes
“So why did my conclusions differ from theirs? At least two reasons. One is overinterpretation of flawed studies. But the bigger thing, I think, is the concern (which was expressed to me over and over again by doctors) is that if you tell people they can have a glass of wine, they'll have 3 (or one giant "bowl-o-wine"). Even if one isn't a problem, three are. Better to say you can't have any, as that rule is easy to understand.” 4 likes
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