Bad Baby Advice: Science-Free Suggestions I Encountered On The Way To Parenthood

Related articles

When you have a baby on the way, everybody has "helpful" advice that isn't all that helpful. Most of it, in fact, is downright useless, and some of it is potentially very harmful. We'll start with the latter and revisit the useless in part two of this series.

My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world this week. If you're a parent, you know there's nothing like it. I wouldn't trade my experiences over the last year for anything in the world. But if there's one thing besides a pandemic that brought the mood down during this same period, it was the revelation that, apparently, everyone we know, in our daily lives and online, is a pregnancy expert.

Like Bruce Wayne jumping Gotham's rooftops, our friends and family must moonlight as obstetricians, because they all had advice to “help” us through the pregnancy. It won't shock you to learn that most of these suggestions, while well-intended, were contradictory and scientifically dubious. The problem with all this advice, as one physician explained in 2018, is that

[I]t can be difficult for women to navigate the myriad of conflicting recommendations regarding what they should and should not do when they are pregnant. This leads to confusion at best and misinformation at worst regarding nearly all facets of life

This isn't merely frustrating; research has shown that the buffet of bad advice can induce anxiety in mothers and subsequently harm their children. I'm neither qualified nor entitled to tell other parents what to do, but this article is for “that guy.” You know the one—that aunt or uncle, mom or dad, or mommy blogger who can't help but proffer baby advice. Here are a few potentially harmful examples of “that guy's” recommendations and how they compare to the relevant science.

Don't get a COVID vaccine

After the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized last December, the Facebook pregnancy group my wife joined was certain the jab was deadly. It's an experimental gene therapy; it wasn't actually approved by the FDA; you're risking your baby's health if you get an untested vaccine—all the now-standard tropes. [1] After a physician named Sara Beltran Ponce announced that she had miscarried post-vaccination, I was told more or less the same thing on Twitter.

In contrast, the doctor was a little more humble. "We don't know how the vaccine affects mothers or their unborn babies," she told us during the first ultrasound in December, but we do know that COVID-19 poses a greater risk to both. "It's probably a good idea to get immunized when you can," she added, "though it's ultimately your choice." This turned out to be sage advice. Studies began to show a few months later that immunization protects mothers and their babies. Subsequent research has yielded the same results. Funny how the physician with years of schooling and experience made the right call.

Space out childhood vaccines

A good friend of mine made this very unhelpful suggestion over lunch a few months ago. Following a long line of anti-vaccine celebrities and bloggers, he asserted that giving a baby a dozen or more shots in his or her first months is unnecessary, and probably dangerous; there are no studies validating such a rapid administration of so many vaccines, the argument goes.

Our own Dr. Chuck Dinerstein has helpfully explained how agencies like the CDC developed vaccine schedules and why they were wise to do so. Ethical prohibitions prevented experts from performing clinical trials to validate vaccine schedules, but as Dr. Dinerstein pointed out:

In the absence of studies of immunization schedules, their expertise and judgment inform the process. Immunization schedules are grounded in the science of epidemiology, and the practicality of logistics into an immunization, the schedule the creation of science-informed judgment.

In healthcare, evidence-based care is an aspirational goal. But evidence-informed care, as our immunization schedules have demonstrated, can be just as helpful in preventing disease.

Sadly, several of my family members have refused to get certain vaccines based on the same fallacious reasoning Dinerstein debunked in that article. "We don't need Tdap and seasonal flu shots," they told my wife and I, "and we don't get vaccines we don't need." Strictly speaking, this wasn't advice, though the implication was that we should ignore the doctor's recommendation and allow unvaccinated people around our son. 

We told these relatives that our pediatrician disagreed with their assertions and followed up with “see you in two months.” I've been quite critical of government-mandated immunizations, but that hasn't stopped us from taking sensible precautions to protect our son. Land of the free, baby.

Eat organic food to avoid pesticides

I've written previously about how the prospect of parenthood tempted me to take a more cautious stance on pesticides and food safety. This consternation was also influenced by MD-approved commentary like this, which suggested that eating organic food might be safer for our son:

Research indicates that eating organic foods decreases the amount of pesticides we consume, but there’s still more to learn about the effects of pesticides on humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for example, take different stances on whether the popular weed-killer glyphosate is carcinogenic for people.

You can read my full analysis of this “ the jury is out” argument here. Short version: after a little reflection, my wife and I said, “yeah, no thanks” and started focusing on the many actual challenges new parents face.

Related story: 95% of Baby Food Tainted with Toxic Metals? Don't Panic

A little critical thinking and input from our doctors helped us navigate the tortuous conversations and social media threads where we were subjected to all this silliness. We survived, and so will our son. But if you're "that guy" I'm talking about, stop it with the advice.  


[1] In order to receive full FDA approval, the vaccine developers should have to “demonstrate the ability to produce batch after batch with the necessary purity, potency, and sterility,” as former FDA drug reviewer Henry Miller has noted. This is a valid concern, but it doesn't justify the existing objections, which assume the vaccines pose a risk even if properly manufactured.