When a baby is born, parents are often awed and alarmed to find themselves responsible for this tiny new person, and they desperately want to do their very best to keep their infant safe and healthy. New mothers worry about everything from SIDS to vaccines, from feeding practices to sleep hygiene, and they are bombarded with conflicting advice about caring for their babies. Myths and misinformation abound. Finally someone has written a truly science-based guide to the first year of life: The Science of Mom. The author, Alice Callahan, is a research scientist with a PhD in nutritional biology. When her first child was born, she had a lot of questions, and thanks to her background she knew how to look for reliable answers in the scientific literature. She started writing the Science of Mom blog and eventually turned her findings into a book.
Her first chapter covers the important concepts for understanding how to think about scientific studies:
- Good science is a process that takes lots of experiments, time, and people.
- Good science is peer-reviewed.
- One study on its own isn’t worth much, but scientific consensus is trustworthy.
- Some studies are more valuable than others (here she covers the various types of study from animal studies through observational studies in humans to RCTs and meta-analyses).
- Numbers matter (sample sizes).
- Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet (here she gives some practical tips for evaluating whether a website is reliable).
- Correlation is not causation (she uses my favorite example of the correlation between autism diagnoses and the sales of organic food).
- We can’t eliminate risks (but science can quantify the risks and benefits and families can use the information to decide what risks they are personally willing to take).
- Find smart allies (experts and providers you can trust).
- Forget about perfection and pay attention to your baby.