The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

August 20, 2013

Coffee, wine and sushi! New pregnancy book says OK

Associated Press
The Clinton Herald

---- — NEW YORK — Emily Oster isn’t a baby doctor. She’s an economist and a mom who wanted to know more about all those rules handed down to women after the pregnancy stick goes pink.

Only two cups of coffee a day! No alcohol. Beware deli meats.

Being pregnant, she said, felt a lot like being a child, so she decided to take a deep dive into research covering everything from wine and weight gain to prenatal testing and epidurals. What she found was some of the mainstays of pregnancy advice are based on inconclusive or downright faulty science.

To this data-cruncher, an associate professor in the University of Chicago’s business school, those magical nine months became a question of correlation and causation.

Some of her conclusions? Weight gain during pregnancy is less important than a woman’s starting weight and not gaining enough may be more harmful. Light drinking is fine (up to two glasses of wine a week in the first trimester and up to a glass a day in the second and third trimesters). And much of the evidence supports having three to four cups of coffee daily, which made Oster very, very happy.

There’s more, of course, and not all of it runs counter to standard medical advice. And she happily reports in “Expecting Better,” her book corralling all the research for other women to share, that her 2-year-old daughter, Penelope, is healthy and happy.

The book, from Penguin Press, is out this week. A conversation with Oster:

AP: Have you written the “Freakonomics” of pregnancy?

Oster: I think it’s right that it feels a little bit like ‘Freakonomics’ because Steve (Levitt) and I are both economists, but the goal here was really to write down an approach that was right for me. The approach being thinking carefully through all of these decisions, getting the best data that you can and then structuring the decision in a way that takes into account your personal preferences, tolerance for risk and all the kinds of things that we should be thinking about every day.

AP: Do you anticipate blowback from women and doctors because you’re an economist and not a medical professional who helps manage pregnancies?

Oster: For sure but I certainly do not envision women reading this book and saying, ‘Oh, like, I can deliver my own baby now, right?’ I think that there’s a real sense in which pregnancy should be something that you do with your doctor, but I think that for a lot of women the time you have with your doctors is limited and it can be difficult to get all of the answers to your questions.

AP: That leads me to the vices, including alcohol. You and ACOG differ on that one. ACOG recommends no alcohol.

Oster: I think we can all agree that heavy drinking and binge drinking, even occasionally, is very dangerous, and I certainly say that in the book. What I found is there are a large number of quite good studies with a lot of women that show having an occasional glass of wine does not seem to pose a problem, that children of pregnant women who drink occasionally have similar or in some cases even better outcomes than children of women who abstain. This is a very personal choice. In some other countries the recommendations are it’s OK.

AP: What are your top five fallacies about pregnancy?

Oster: One is that much of the evidence suggested an occasional drink is OK. Bed rest is not a great idea. Gaining too much weight may in fact be less risky than gaining too little weight. Sushi is OK. And coffee in moderation is fine.

And in terms of toxoplasmosis, which is a parasitic infection that can cause birth defects, when I looked at the data on this, there’s actually no evidence that women who clean the cat litter box or have cats are more likely to get this, but I do see some links between doing a lot of outdoor gardening and having this infection.