A friend of mine recently posted on her frustration with finding gum without aspartame. You see she's pregnant and has of course received all kinds of conflicting advice and is now terrified about what her favorite gum is doing to her baby.

I've been in her shoes. It started when my wife first became pregnant and out went the Diet Coke. Then as delivery approached, thanks to this book, I became paranoid that the hospital staff would railroad my wife into lying down on her back which would increase pain leading to an epidural which would slow the delivery leading to an episiotomy and the tongs which would fail resulting in a c-section. The staff turned out to be great and according to my wife so did the epidural (and no c-section).

After delivery I was warned that unless my child was breastfed he would be physically, mentally and emotionally stunted. I learned that my child needs to learn to put himself to sleep and that allowing him to do so will psychologically scar him. And I was told that vaccines and microwaves will give my son autism.

Fortunately by the time our daughter arrived I was able to collect myself and get a little perspective. I let my baby advice books collect dust and eventually gave them to charity (is donated guilt tax deductible?). At this point I'm a little cynical about the whole baby advice industry. So in an ironic move let me give my own parenting advice.

1. Get a good general reference because there are some real medical issues to be aware of. You really should be cautious about what medicines you take when pregnant or breastfeeding. Don't give your baby asprin and no honey before 1 year etc. I like the What to Expect... series.

2. Ignore the rest, or at least 99% of it. Most of it is quite simply just made up. Doing scientific studies is hard, doing them on children is even harder. Most advice givers are not qualified to interpret the studies much less do their own.

3. Most good advice is old school. It's stuff your grandma's grandmother could tell you. Babies like to be cuddled and sung to and rocked.

4. If it sounds new agey it's most likely garbage. This may tick some people off but, with the possible exception of acupuncture, the entire field of alternative medicine has not produced any remedy that has been shown to work in a rigorous way. See this article for example.

5. Testimonials are worthless. These are what always got me, I'd read the amazon reviews of a book and decide that I had just found the key to my child's future. In their series Bullsh_t Penn and Teller had an actor pose as an alternative medicine guru at a mall. He started with a giant fake "magnet" made out of painted rain gutter. He waved it over a woman's arm and she described how she could feel her blood flow back and forth with the "magnet" and afterwards claimed that her sore wrist actualy felt much better. They topped the segment off by giving mall goers a "mucus mask" by literally letting snails crawl on their face and the patients raved about how their wrinkles were reduced. We really want to believe.

6. Follow your instincts. Humans have been raising children for a long time. Most of what you need to know has been programmed into your biology.

7. Things get better. I once read a testimonial on a sleep advice book. The writer talked about how she had been following this program for one year and raved about how her child's sleeping had improved. Amazing! Kids grow up. They learn how to sleep. They learn to feed themselves and entertain themselves. They grow out of behavior problems (and into others).


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