It took an economist Emily Oster to bring this kind of concern to the level of national news. Here is how she explained the problem in her Wall Street Journal article called Take Back Your Pregnancy published on August 9, 2013.
“When I asked my doctor about drinking wine, she said that one or two glasses a week was “probably fine.” But “probably fine” isn’t a number. In search of real answers, I combed through hundreds of studies—the ones that the recommendations were based on—to get to the good data. This is where another part of my training as an economist came in: I knew enough to read the numbers correctly. What I found was surprising.”
The key problem she uncovered was in separating correlation from causation. The claim that you should stop having coffee while pregnant was based on causal reasoning. However, what the data showed was only a correlation—that the women who drank the coffee were more likely to miscarry. In reality there were many other differences between the women who drank the coffee and those who did not, and these differences could easily have been responsible for the differences in the miscarriage rates.
The main point of the article was that Emily found that “being pregnant was a good deal like being a child again. There was always someone telling (her) what to do.” Of course, if the directives were well-founded, that would not have been a difficulty. On the contrary, they would have been very helpful. However, being the economist she was, Emily found out that once she looked into the whys for all the cautions “the recommendations from books and medical associations were vague and sometimes contradictory.”
Oddly enough, the best studies often painted a picture that was different from the official recommendations. In the end, getting the numbers led her to a more relaxed place—”a glass of wine every now and then, plenty of coffee, exercise when (she) wanted it.” As she pointed out “the economist’s toolbox may not be known as a great stress reliever, but in this case it really was.”
This approach to pregnancy—getting the best information and making her own decisions with it—worked for her, and she was very happy to report that her daughter Penelope, now 2, is healthy and thriving.
August! The Month of Dignity
Take back your pregnancy with dignity. What was good for Emily to do might not necessarily be good for you, but being comfortable with your own decisions is definitely good for everyone.
Many years ago, pregnant moms followed this idea: Make food and drink choices based on giving as much nourishment as possible to yourself and to your unborn child. There was no one right way to do that, but it made sense; and as you know the human race and its ability to reproduce have been doing pretty darn well for a very long time.
Congrats to Emily and Penelope! They did it their way, and they did it well.