A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting from Birth to Preschool

Emily Oster

This book fulfills its promise, but not as you might expect. Emily Oster is an economist. Her qualification for writing this book is her ability to evaluate research. Her reason is to enable others to avoid some of the confusion, worry, and guilt that she and her husband went through during this phase of parenting. The book’s primary message is to not feel guilty due to arguments opposed to your decisions. You need to do what works best for you and your family. Most parenting is not supported by credible research. This is due to constraints on how research is conducted and to human variability. Much research that is used to support positions only demonstrates correlation, not causation. Breast feeding is an example. While breast-fed children have been shown to have advantages, it is inconclusive because the mothers who decide to breast feed also tend to have advantages which cannot be factored out.  

The following information is supported by credible research which is not true about much of what you read on the internet. It is easy to read and is sprinkled with humorous anecdotes which demonstrates that parenting is not easy for anyone.

Postpartum depression occurs in 10 to 15 percent of births and is treatable. Approximately half of the time, the depression starts during the pregnancy which usually goes undetected. It usually becomes evident soon after giving birth, but it can appear months later. A personal history of depression or a family history of depression are predisposing factors.

90% of SIDS deaths occur in the first four months of life. The causes of SIDS are still poorly understood but significant risk factors have been identified. This is similar to many drugs that have been demonstrated to be effective even though we don’t fully understand the mechanism. There is good evidence that infants who sleep on their back are at a lower risk for SIDS. There is moderate evidence that bed sharing is risky. This risk is much higher if you or your partner smokes or drinks alcohol. Infants should have a wearable blanket in the crib. Sleeping on a sofa with an infant is very dangerous.

Vaccinations are among the most significant public health triumphs of the past hundred years… The scientific evidence of vaccinations is extremely clear: vaccinations are safe and effective…. There is one vaccination risk that is common and, while not serious, can be scary. The MMR vaccine is linked with febrile seizures – seizures that occur in infants or young children in association with a high fever. They typically do not have long-term consequences, but are very scary in the moment… About 2 to 3 percent of children in the US will have a febrile seizure before than are five years old (most of these are not vaccine associated)….In a study of 537,000 children – all the children born in Denmark from 1991 to 1998, they found no evidence that vaccinated children are more likely to be autistic; if anything, the results suggest vaccinated children are less likely to be diagnosed with autism.

In a group of children who were more likely to have peanut allergies, children who were exposed to peanuts were less likely to be allergic to them at the age of five than children who were not exposed. In the group that didn’t get peanuts, 17 percent of the children were allergic to peanuts at age five. (Remember, this figure is higher than it would be in the general population because of the way the researchers selected the sample.) However, only 3 percent of the children who were given peanuts were allergic… In the wake of these peanut findings, the recommendations about exposure have changed completely. Early exposure to peanuts is now the normal recommendation, especially for children at risk for allergy. (Let Them Eat Dirt)

There is a large range within which normal children meet developmental milestones. The following table is from the book. Many more could be added that are cognitive or behavioral. Note the extreme variations that are normal without long-range consequences.

Milestone                                                                                         Range

Sitting without support                                                                3.8 to 9.2 months

Standing with assistance                                                              4.8 to 11.4 months

Crawling (5% of kids never do)                                                   5.2 to 13.5 months

Walking with help                                                                          5.9 to 13.7 months

Standing alone                                                                                6.9 to 16.9 months

Walking alone                                                                                 8.2 to 17. 6 months

It is recognized that there isn’t any benefit, and perhaps some harm, from trying to accelerate development. Research shows that the average age of potty training has been delayed because it has been found that the children master it faster when they are older. How can wide developmental ranges be accepted as normal while educational expectations are narrow? It is expected that all children will be ready to read at the same time and to do so earlier than prior generations. There are many skills which need to have developed before children can start to learn to read without excessive effort and frustration; auditory-visual integration, the ability to sit still, prolonged attention, working memory, eye teaming, tracking, visualization, and delayed gratification. Being pushed to read before a child is ready does not have the same outcome as naturally learning to read when they are ready. If any of the prerequisite skills are outside normal variation, specific intervention is indicated.

For More:

How To Raise a Reader

What if Everbody Understood Childhood Development?

Let Them Eat Dirt