What You Should and Shouldn’t Do When You're Pregnant: Submit Your Questions for Emily Oster

expecting betterIf you’ve ever been pregnant, or been close to someone who is pregnant, you know how many prohibitions there are.  You can’t smoke or drink.  Shellfish are to be avoided.  In my house, conveniently (for the pregnant woman), scooping the cat litter was absolutely out of the question.  Of course, there are also a large number of things you have to do when you are pregnant or are thinking of getting pregnant, like take folic acid.

Is there any evidence to support all these pregnancy rules?  My good friend and colleague Emily Oster (whose research has been featured in SuperFreakonomics and many times on the blog), has just written the definitive book on the subject, entitled Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What You Really Need to Know.  She has generously agreed to answer blog reader questions, so fire away in the comments section below and, as always, we’ll post her answers in good time!

Here’s the Table of Contents to get you started:

Part 1: In the Beginning: Conception

1. Prep Work

2. Data-Driven Conception

3. The Two-Week Wait

Part 2: The First Trimester

4. The Vices: Caffeine, Alcohol, and Tobacco

5. Miscarriage Fears

6. Beware of Deli Meats!

7. Nausea and My Mother-in-law

8. Prenatal Screening and Testing

9. The Surprising Perils of Gardening

Part 3: The Second Trimester

10. Eating for Two? You Wish

11. Pink and Blue

12. Working Out and Resting Up

13. Drug Safety

Part 4: The Third Trimester

14. Premature Birth (and the Dangers of Bed Rest)

15. High-Risk Pregnancy

16. I’m Going to Be Pregnant Forever, Right?

17. Labor Induction

Part 5: Labor and Delivery

18. The Labor Numbers

19. To Epidural or Not to Epidural?

20. Beyond Pain Relief

21. The Aftermath

22. Home Birth: Progressive or Regressive? And Who Cleans the Tub?

This post is no longer accepting comments. The answers to the Q&A can be found here.

James Frey

Even if the risk to the baby is small, is that still too great a risk when considering the life of a child? I live in a community where the effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are widespread and far reaching - many at risk youth are the product of FASD and are at risk havin children with FASD themselves. It's permanently disabling

Ian Harrold

Perils of Gardening? This definitely caught my eye. Is there a danger?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasma_gondii -- check it out, it mentions gardening

Danielle Moleski

So I'm forever arguing that drinking while breast feeding HAS to be fine. Please, tell me once and for all, is there anyway that babies are getting drunk after mom knocks back a glass or two?

Enter your name...

A glass or two? Maybe not, although it's going to depend on things like the mom's size and overall health. A tiny woman with slow alcohol metabolism is at more risk than a large woman or a woman with rapid metabolism (most Asians, apparently).

But it's not always a question of a glass or two. I spoke with someone whose mother had been ordered by her doctor (back in the day) to drink an entire six-pack of beer, for the express purpose of getting the baby to sleep. That baby probably was drunk.


Pressing questions for the very newly pregnant during the first trimester (and who is definitely ordering this book but would be thrilled to hear more on the subject from the author):
1) Can I paint my bathroom/bedroom while pregnant? Are the fumes too harmful? Should I get low-VOC paints?
2) Can I travel by plane several times per month, possibly a couple of trans-Atlantic flights? I thought that air travel was only a risk for women close to delivery or having complications, but then I heard you should always have your doctor's permission first. Is that really necessary?
3) What is the deal with cat litter? Should I have my cats tested for toxoplasmosis or just insist that someone else clean up after them and be grateful for the respite?


I'm nine weeks pregnant with twins. I have been avoiding all sources of caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.), but it has been very difficult because I love the taste of coffee and chocolate. Are decaf coffee (which has about 25% of the caffeine content of a cup of coffee) and small rations of chocolate safe to consume?


I'm a powerlifter and haven't had children yet, but when I do, I plan to be "lifting for two". My mother ran 10K five days a week until she was near full term and I was born with the thickest umbilical cord the doctor had ever seen. We think it was increased oxygen and nutrient transfer.

So, can I continue activity that my body is accustomed to pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, such as heavy squats, deadlifts, bench press? Does that activity potentially have a beneficial or harmful effect on fetal development? And what in what way do pregnancy hormones affect anabolism/catabolism?

Thank you :)


Is there any research out there that supports a link between what you eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding and the child's risk of food allergies? Or for that matter, are there any ways to prevent your child developing a food allergy?

Fannie Lemay

Hello Freaks,

My partner and I are planning on getting pregnant at the end of the year (trying anyway). As a regular control freak, I am tempted to buy and read every pregnancy book available on the market.
Should I start researching and reading and planning and preparing before I get pregnant or should I wait until I'm actually pregnant?
I would like to prepare my body and my mind before the conception, but I fear this is gonna be more overwhelming than anything else.
Any thoughts ?
Thank you in advance :)


Omega-3s? Probiotics? when in pregnancy? how much? any prevention benefits for childhood allergies?

Christina Geddes

Is an epidural *really* better? For many years, and after much research (and two pregnancies) I have to argue that what women are taught ; "Epidural: Safe, effective, and better" is not really true. I have had two births - one with the epi, and one without. The latter, albeit painful, was a better experience, ten-fold. I would love to advocate for natural childbirth, but we are bombarded right and left with information about the safety and effectiveness of the epidural in otherwise uncomplicated, "normal" deliveries. So, my question, in its entirety, Emily, is:

Are there definitive statistics on the complications induced (pun intended) by the epidural? Is it REALLY safe? And why oh why is the birth industry so obsessed with over-medicating the labor and delivery process? Can we not get back to birth, the way it was intended?

Thanks for your time, and YAY! I LOVE pregnancy conversations! Let's get this conversation started!



I keep having severe heartburn and I don't know how to treat the sensation. Help please


What do you think about consuming fish? There seems to be some evidence of benefits (higher iq, prosocial behavior, add) but there is a risk of mercury poisoning.


How effective are studies on what substances are harmful during pregnancy? It's not like anyone can ethically split pregnant women into two groups and give one group 3 drinks a day. Also, it seems like a lot of neurological defects or disadvantages could be tough to assess. If scientists report that 2 cups of coffee a day is ok, does that just mean that a pregnant mother can drink 2 cups a day and be confident that it won't effect her child's birth weight or have scientists found a way to look at effects on more complicated things like intelligence?

Patrick Engdahl

My wife and I want to go SCUBA diving. She'll be three months pregnant when we go. Is it safe?


I am 6 months pregnant and I'm losing sleep because I freak out every time I find myself on my back. Does every pregnant woman really have to avoid sleeping on their back? If you have to avoid back-sleeping what's the minimum angle you can get away with?


Great book! What is your advice on whether it is safe for a woman in their early 30s to wait to have a child?

I though the book read as pretty sanguine about this, saying that women of any normal age have a better than 50/50 chance of having a baby in a year: "After 12 cycles, the pregnancy rate was around 75 percent for women under 30, 62 percent for women 31-35, and 54% for women over 35. " But isn't the opposite conclusion really warranted by that data? If a behavior doubled the risk for birth defects or miscarriages, I think the book would rightly point that out as problematic. And also what if a woman wants several children?


It seems like everyone I know, and everyone that has a blog, has had at least one miscarriage. Is this something a normal, healthy 33 year old (who happens to be 7 weeks pregnant) really needs to worry about? Rationally, I assume that with the invention of tests that let us know we're pregnant a week before our period is due that most of these women are only even aware they miscarried due to the ability to find out so early that they are, indeed, pregnant. At what point can we assume that we can breathe the sigh of relief?

Also.... home birth... what are your thoughts?

Anna Kim

This book had very well laid out presentation of the data. I'm in the last chapters now. I have gone ahead and recommended it to friends already.

1. One of the reasons that doctors tend to err on the side of caution is to avoid malpractice. I think that they would behave differently if they were not the most sued demographic out there. Have you considered the doctor-side motivations? Mothers might not care so much about this side, but I find it helpful to understand where the doctor is coming from when approaching them.

2. I've been looking into gestational diabetes. It sounds to me that if you're not white, your fasting sugars are going to be higher. I'm being threatened with glyburide but I am skeptical that these fasting numbers are a problem . Have you looked into this? It is confusing because it sounds like different people have different problems that result in bad scores.