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.

Listen ToYourMotherEarth

Have you read the Ringing Cedars Series? i learned more from these 9 books about pregnancy and child rearing than any other book.
I was shocked to see in the comments that gardening maybe harmful when your pregnant! I don't think things could be any farther from the truth, as long as you are organically gardening in an ecologically clean place! Its about becoming friends with the Earth and her microbes! I know from experience!

Even though I couldn't do all the things she suggests, like being in your Space of Love and only eating what has been grown on your land, I could still start to dream in that direction!
I did not own land when I was pregnant, or know much at all anout gardening. These books are amazing and have helped me become a much better parent. I only read the books a few years ago, just thinking of what is suggested for optimum health of our children, gets my thoughts flowing in a sweeter direction.

I have a 14 yr old daughter, whom I have learned alot from! One thing she has been adamant about teaching me is how important it is for her to have a stable home and friends. This didnt become really important to her until she was 9. Before then, I was her stability, but after that, she wants to explore the world on her own terms, not mine. This is important to think about while you are pregnant. So often these days we are taught to just think about right now, and its good to be in the present, but its important for our unborn children that we also consider how our actions now will effect their future!

I gave birth to her at my mothers house, in FL, I had a midwife that came for the birth, from two hours away! She said she would leave when I felt like I couldn't stand the pain any longer! I was shocked and upset that I would have to endure this pain for another two hours! But it didn't take long for me to remember that I needed to breathe thru the pain and understand it so I could deal with it. And I did, I learned so much, learned how to breathe deep and feel the pain simply as a sensation, and not something that was going to get the best of me! I had a wonderful natural birth and I am so glad I did not go to the hospital! My grandmother and mother had tried to convince me my whole pregnancy that it was too dangerous! So I asked my midwife at one appointment, how many women have you had die while giving birth, and she looked at me shocked and said NONE! It was at all what my mother and grandmother had been brainwashed into believing about childbirth. My daughter is the first person in generations of our family to be born and raised in a different way, and she lights up the world around her!

My child's father wasn't that present, though he was physically in the room. He doesn't even answer our texts or phone calls anymore. But life is getting better and better because we finally have our own land.
Thru this process I have learned that children need stability, and not just that, but they need healthy food, grown on their land, our society really under estimated the power in this simplicity. . Its best if you can plant a tree over the placenta that comes out after the baby, and the child can have contact with that tree throughout her life, and in her adult years. I don't know the scientific reasons, but I have seen the effect this has on people, I wish I had that.
When my daughter was born, we planted a tree over her placenta, and that tree is still growing in my mothers yard, but she is considering selling her house :-(
I hope everyone, who are is expecting a child, or not, will read these books, the Ringing Cedars Series, you can get them the cheapest thru kindle now and have it instantly delivered!
They have changed my life. Before I read them I never thought it would be possible for me to live on land thati could pass down to my daughter, but thru the help of the dream and fire ignited in my heart by Anastasia, theSiberian recluse who is the main character of these books, I have held onto my drm until it has become a reality, and my daughter is happier and healthier than ever!


Listen ToYourMotherEarth

Its shocking that the perils of gardening is in the table of contents!
That alone makes me wonder about who paid to have this book written and printed?
There is so much misinformation being put out these days, and I feel so sad that women would be given information that would lead them away from the very thing that could help them the most.
Why put that in the table of contents in that way? I think it could have been phrased differently, in a way that doesn't instill fear, and yet still presents information.
Even without reading the chapter, if I just saw that phrase, if I were pregnant, I might fear gardening!
I wish every family had an ecologkcally clean place to give birth to a child.
In answer to Who cleans the tub?
Most women that have home births, find during their pregnancy the necessity of making friends with other moms or women, or hiring a doula to help out after the birth.
In several communities I have lived in, all the families and friends would make a schedule and each take a meal to the new family for the first two weeks after birth. I wasn't that lucky. If only this were common practice in most of America, families would have a much easier time.



What's the optimal age, whether that means physically, economically, or even socially, to get pregnant and become a mother?

Andrew B

I have not read the book but read a number of reviews and I would like to ask her how in good conscience she can recommend even a little alcohol when pregnant. Alcohol does get to the fetus and although probably it is safe in small quantities why take the chance? What is the big deal about "sacrificing" yourself for a few months. And if the baby does end up with problems are there not mothers who will blame themselves for having a few drinks, whether there is a definitive basis or not?
I am a physician, and do not believe most docs would recommend not drinking out of malpractice fears, but rather out of such concerns and we try to be as conservative as possible in situations such as this.

Enter your name...

I suspect that it has to do with the important difference between "one drink per day" and "one drink per pregnancy". The studies generally show a (tiny, but real) risk if the mother consumes one alcoholic drink every single day. None of them show any effect if she has much less than that, e.g., one alcoholic drink a month.

So given that we actually have good data on this, then why not? Why tell an adult woman that just in case dozens of scientific studies *all* turn out to be wrong, then she should pointlessly "sacrifice" herself for three-quarters of a year (plus all the time she spent trying to conceive, plus all the time she spends breastfeeding, which adds up to rather more than "a few months")?

Or, more pointfully, if she's going to "sacrifice" herself, why not direct that energy towards something that actually matters, like getting a little extra exercise when she doesn't feel like moving, or wearing a seat belt in a car when it chafes uncomfortably?


Laura H

To Ms. Oster, (not every person on the Internet with an opinion)
I don't want to have my vagina change to have a baby. What are the actual downsides for the baby? Not the opinion of the super natural advocates. And, do the complications with elective c-section definitely outweigh the benefits as I perceive them?


This may be an unduly controversial question, but you sometimes hear people (usually rabid right-wingers) say that rape is less likely to produce a lasting pregnancy than consentual sex. Is there any truth in this, given that trauma in the early stages of pregnancy could lead a woman to lose the child, and rape is inherently traumataic?

Crunchy Frog

My biggest question is how can those of us without a PubMed subscription and years of statistical training get this data for ourselves? Your book covers a lot of questions that I have, but there's no way it can address everything that's going to come up over the course of 9 months. I had been working under the assumption that the fact that a study was even published in a major journal meant that it was carefully vetted, so even if I couldn't get more than the abstract (at best--and more likely only the pop-news "Breathing air is bad for the baby! More at 11!" coverage), I could trust that the conclusions were valid, but your careful analysis shows that that's not always the case. Even if my doctor is up to date on the latest publications, it's unlikely she'd have taken the time to analyze the methodology, or present me with statistical probabilities for various outcomes. It's much quicker and easier for her to say "Don't do that."



It's interesting to read the one star comments on amazon...


My wife was told to avoid pepperoni while pregnant. My friend didn't get this warning. Does every doctor use a different playbook? Is there any sort of effort to standardize this knowledge among the doctors who make these kinds of recommendations?

A medical professional told me that you should wait three months after stopping birth control before attempting to conceive. Is this true? What are the risks to not waiting?

I've recently heard that Pitocin was implicated in a link to autism. Before that, immunizations got a lot of attention. Is there any truth to the Pitocin claim? How can we best sort truth from fiction in these claims going forward? (Perhaps annual updates of your book? Do you have a web site dedicated to tracking updates?) I suppose if something was proven, the knowledge would lead to new regulations, right?

Thank you!