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.