Worse Baby Advice: More Science-Free Tips I Encountered On The Way To Parenthood

By Cameron English — Jul 28, 2021
Pregnancy and pediatric "advice" comes from all directions when you're a soon-to-be parent, and most of it is scientifically dubious. In part one, I examined the potentially harmful suggestions my wife and I received from friends and family. This time, I'll cover the less deadly but still ridiculous recommendations.
Image by Andreas Wohlfahrt from Pixabay

“Good advice, good advice. Good advice costs nothing, and it's worth the price,” sang comedian and musician ">Allan Sherman in 1964. That song has brought me a lot of needed comic relief as my wife and I adjust to life with a newborn. As I mentioned in part one of this series, the source of our stress is that everybody we know seems to have some “good advice” about how to get through a pregnancy and raise a child.

Having already covered the suggestions that pose a potentially serious health risk, I want to look at the less harmful but still dubious recommendations we received. This series, I urge you to remember, is for "that guy." As I wrote in the previous installment:

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. 



Consume [useless food/beverage/supplement] to naturally induce labor

The internet teems with advice about how to “naturally” induce labor. Most of this is based on surveys of pregnant women who said that drinking red raspberry leaf tea or eating dates facilitated contractions. The obvious problem is that labor likely begins when “a complex cocktail of chemical signals” from the mother and her baby triggers it. These induction hacks are probably just noise obscuring the signal because there’s no scientific evidence to support most of them.

Ironically, many of these listicles rightly discourage women from consuming castor oil at home because there is some evidence that it may actually help induce labor. Doctors generally induce labor only when it's medically necessary, which makes all this advice moot anyway. The Mayo Clinic helpfully summed up the situation:

Can I do anything to trigger labor on my own?

Probably not. Techniques such as exercising or having sex to induce labor aren't backed by scientific evidence. Also, avoid herbal supplements, which could harm your baby.

Have lots of sex

Strictly speaking, this isn't bad advice. Sex is generally safe during pregnancy, and some studies have shown that it may help induce labor, if that's necessary. But other papers couldn't draw a conclusion either way, and still others found that sex “does not hasten labor.” In any event, this suggestion gets its own sub-headline because I've rarely been in a social situation where it seemed fitting to tell another person, “Hey, man, you really should be having more sex.” [1] Yet, once my wife was pregnant, people I wouldn't accept a movie recommendation from felt compelled to tell us to do it as often as possible.

Ignore your body-shaming doctor?

Weight is a very sensitive topic. On this, as with every issue we've covered, I wouldn't presume to tell anybody how they should live during a pregnancy. That said, my wife has been lectured by dozens of people over the last nine months for expressing an eagerness to get back in the gym postpartum. The cause of this seems to be a culture that increasingly confuses good medical advice with “body shaming.”

For example, according to Refinery29, a “leading next-gen media and entertainment platform,” physicians who encourage their pregnant patients to lose or gain weight are part of an inconsiderate medical establishment more concerned about earning commission checks than caring for expecting mothers:

Sites like What to Expect earn money through affiliate links hawking pregnancy and baby products, meaning at least some of their 'medical' information could be incentivized by advertisers … This in-text sales pitch includes, let’s not forget, plenty of weight-loss drugs, sometimes with little hard data about those drugs’ actual effectiveness or side effects.

Incentives certainly matter; if a website is paid to market a product, they're probably going to market that product to you. However, this doesn't mean that What To Expect or WebMD offer pregnant women misleading nutritional advice. In fact, "follow the money" is generally a lousy standard because we can disqualify anyone from commenting on anything based on who pays them. Consider that Refinery29 has an entire section dedicated to shopping, loaded with affiliate links to products they review.

Rules for thee, but not for me. Does this mean that Refinery29's product reviews are inherently worthless? Not at all. The point is that complaining about a website's funding sources doesn't undermine the validity of the advice it publishes. OB-GYNs (the vast majority of whom are women) don't tell expecting mothers to lose or gain weight to be spiteful or earn a commission. They do so because the evidence dictates they should. According to a 2018 analysis in Obstetrics & Gynecology:

These recommendations are supported by mostly retrospective data showing a direct correlation between maternal weight gain and birth weight. Several observational studies have shown that weight gain below or above the National Academy of Medicine recommendations is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes.

One recent meta-analysis demonstrated that weight gain below the National Academy of Medicine recommendations is associated with a higher risk of preterm birth and small-for-gestational-age newborns; weight gain above the National Academy of Medicine recommendations is associated with a higher risk of macrosomia and cesarean delivery.

Moments after my son was born, I was so grateful for modern medicine. Labor and delivery was an anxiety-filled, life-changing experience that, it seemed, could have gone wrong at any moment. In reality, my wife and baby didn't face any significant danger because they were surrounded by healthcare providers who prevent things from going badly for a living.

In other words, my harrowing experience was just another Tuesday for those doctors and nurses. [2] That was a comforting realization and a striking demonstration of why the experts know better than "that guy."


[1] Making fun of your buddies while drinking is the exception, obviously.

[2] Relatively excellent health care is why maternal mortality is vanishingly small in the US. 

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