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.


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  1. James Frey says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. Ian Harrold says:

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

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  3. Danielle Moleski says:

    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?

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    • Enter your name... says:

      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.

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    • Anna says:

      I don’t have a definitive answer, but here’s how I see it. Alcohol in breastmilk acts very similarly to alcohol in blood (disclaimer: I am not a doctor). You ingest, it gets absorbed from the stomach, enters the blood, milk, etc. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 — meaning 0.08% of your blood is alcohol. After not drinking for all of pregnancy and being fairly small, I’d say one beer put me pretty close to the legal limit. But, that means <1% of the blood (and comparably, milk) is alcohol. Then baby drinks and metabolizes it. So, I generally tried to not drink right before nursing, and stop when I started to feel the effects of the alcohol, but also felt it probably wasn't a big deal to have a few drinks a week while breastfeeding.

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  4. Penny says:

    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?

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    • Jeff says:

      I could be totally wrong about this (I know nothing about pregnancy) but I’d always heard the rule against flying in the 3rd trimester or if there is the possibilty of complications was due to the fact that, if you went into labor, you can’t get to a hospital.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      In the first trimester, so,e people worry about the radiation exposure and thus minimize long/frequent flights.

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    • Brianna says:

      I am 23 weeks pregnant and feel your pain of being in the first trimester. Just remember that it will be better soon.
      1) I’m not 100% sure but I’m sure you could if you can keep the room well ventilated.
      2)Honestly, they only really have a problem with it when you have risk factors.The first trimester is always iffy because your baby is so sensitive at this stage. They suggest to fly only in your second trimester. I’m sure you could in the third too but I think that comes down to the airlines not wanting you to give birth in their plane. I read that some airlines require you to not be past a certain number of weeks when flying and/or to have a doctors note.
      3)You should just be safe and let someone else clean the litter. Even besides the toxoplasmosis the smell might set off that pregnancy nose and make you feel sick. Plus its a great excuse to get out of it for a while.

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  5. Catherine says:

    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?

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    • anonymous says:

      Did your doctor tell you to stop drinking coffee or eating chocolate? If so, why? You should be asking her, not this board.

      I cut back coffee to one or two small cups in the morning because my doctor was vague, but said drinking a LOT of coffee probably wasn’t a good idea.

      I did NOT cut back on chocolate, are you crazy???

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  6. Suzy says:

    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 :)

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  7. Kyle says:

    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?

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  8. Fannie Lemay says:

    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 :)

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    • Brianna says:

      When you decide that you want to start trying you can start eating right and taking prenatals before even becoming pregnant and that never hurts.

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