From the author of EXPECTING BETTER, an economist's guide to the early years of parenting
With EXPECTING BETTER, award-winning economist Emily Oster spotted a need in the pregnancy market for advice that gave women the information they needed to make the best decision for their own pregnancies. By digging into the data, Oster found that much of the conventional pregnancy wisdom was wrong. In CRIBSHEET, she now tackles an even great challenge: decision making in the early years of parenting.
As any new parent knows, there is an abundance of often-conflicting advice hurled at you from doctors, family, friends, and the internet. From the earliest days, parents get the message that they must make certain choices around feeding, sleep, and schedule or all will be lost. There's a rule--or three--for everything. But the benefits of these choices can be overstated, and the tradeoffs can be profound. How do you make your own best decision?
Emily Oster is an American economist and bestselling author. After receiving a B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard in 2002 and 2006 respectively, Oster taught at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She later moved to Brown University, where she holds the rank of Professor of Economics. Her research interests span from development economics and health economics to research design and experimental methodology.
She is the author of two books, Expecting Better and Cribsheet, which discuss a data-driven approach to decision-making in pregnancy and parenting.
90% of the book can be distilled into: the research and data on xyz is inconclusive, so do what’s best for your family and it’ll probably all be fine. Didn’t really learn anything super significant, except that apparently economists think that having a higher quantity of children means they will be lower quality. Not really my style of parenting book
What I didn't like: Most of my disappointment with the book comes from the difference in available data on pregnancy and on small children. There are a lot more variables, as she will tell you, once a child is out in the world and these variables only get more complicated as the child gets older. It's hard to tell whether staying at home or working or having a nanny really affects a child's educational achievements because there are so many other contributing factors in families that choose each of those options. Because of this, most of the scientific suggestions are vague. The entire book can almost certainly be summed up as "Studies suggest that x has more positive effects, but the effects are not positive enough to outweigh a negative impact on your family's individual lifestyle." For example... She goes pretty deep into sleep training (I was biased as pro-sleep training going in, so take that into consideration). She concludes that sleep training generally does not cause harm and results in better sleep for both children and parents. HOWEVER, she points out that if sleep training will cause you anxiety and you are happy with an arrangement that doesn't involve sleep training, then that will most likely be better for your family. That's pretty much how all the recommendations go. That's something I really liked about her analysis, but it also meant I didn't get the same sense of comfort from data that I got from the first book.
What I liked: The same things that were great about Expecting Better are present here. She takes apart studies on everything from breastfeeding to potty training. What I learned from the book is that any of the things we obsess about at each stage probably don't have the impact that we fear it will. Toward the beginning she elucidates a bit on the "Mommy Wars" and the reasons we fight so hard to justify our decisions and, unfortunately, deride the parenting decisions of others. It feels important that we are doing the best thing for our kids objectively. And if what we are doing is objectively right, then other moms are objectively wrong. This book tears that apart. Like Amy Poehler said in Yes Please, "Good for you, not for me." This book helps you look at the cost/benefit analysis of things like early toilet training and Montessori preschools and make your own informed decision that is probably different from your sister's, but also better for your family.
There's an anecdote she tells at the end of the book where she frets about the possibility her daughter being stung by a bee to her pediatrician. When she asks the pediatrician for advice, the pediatrician says "Don't think about it." It's not good advice for every situation, but for certain ones it's perfect.
I don't think this book is as "must read", but if you need a little perspective or feel like you're doing it all wrong, it is a helpful tool for affirming your decisions and making sure they match your family's values.
As a parent, it is quite difficult for me to suspend all bias in favor of the evidence and I do not believe this author has been able to either. Although she admits her particular bias in one section of the book (spanking), a few snarky comments in other sections leave me feeling as though she has other unclaimed biases in play. There was some helpful fodder for thinking through the many issues parents confront in the earliest days, months, and years of their children's lives, but I suspect folks drawn to a book like this will still spend a great deal of time researching on their own. Maybe some researchers will appreciate the gaps in evidence noted in this book and begin work filling them in. Oh, and, she and her medical editor seem to have overlooked that diastasis recti abdominis is often the reason for the "mommy tummy" she deems as mysterious.
Just before our son arrived, I assured my wife that as an almost-paediatrician I knew all about babies. While she could help herself to parenting books, I'd be fine. Then, of course, I discovered that taking care of one well child can be an entirely different challenge from managing a hospital full of sick ones. My pride wounded and my shirt puke-stained, I went in search of a book that would touch on the stuff we don't learn much about in medicine, wouldn't retread basic concepts too much, and was evidence-based.
The title that kept coming up when talking to physician friends was Cribsheet by Emily Oster. Oster and her husband are economists and their way of thinking about problems of infancy aligned quite nicely with our scientifically-minded household. Rather than tell me I needed to do X in order to get my two month old to sleep, Oster provided the evidence for different approaches and allowed me to draw my own conclusions. For me, and many other parents, this is what we're after. Judgement-free data that allows us to choose what is best for our children and family.
It helps that Oster's writing is clear, easy to read, and never feels like a heady academic text. Cribsheet is full of anecdotes about parenting, but they read as an offering of solidarity rather than a book-as-victory-lap. On a personal level, this was very much the right parenting book for me. It touched on topics I don't discuss every day (sleep training!) while doing a fine overview of the literature on the stuff I do spend my days rambling on to parents about (safe sleeping, introduction of solids, neonatal infections).
This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're looking for an easy solution to parenting, here's my advice: avoid having kids. In all seriousness, Cribsheet is the best bang for your buck for someone looking for hard and fast data to guide parenting. I'll be gifting and recommending this one in the future!
I struggled with this book due to my background in child psychology. I felt that Emily had her own biases that she was trying to defend her own personal choices within this book. Yes, ultimately it is dependent on the parents' choice and parents that are likely to read this book will be the parents that are putting in the effort to their children, but I felt that she left a lot of science-based information out stating that there was no evidence when there is. I highly suggest people doing their own research in each of the subjects that she mentions for better understanding as there is research available.
I’m not a huge fan of parenting books- there is seldom anything “new” or revolutionary. This book is less about advice and looking at global numbers. Vaccines - great. Infant crying - it’s awful and there’s not much you can do about it. Safe sleep - important, but looks at the data from an unemotional standpoint. Sleep training - doesn’t hurt the kid, can be good for everyone’s mental health. Breastfeeding - not as great as we pretend it is. Potty training - happens later than it used to, your kid will eventually use the toilet. Basically, you’re probably not actually screwing up your child, which is nice to hear.
With a few exceptions, the overall gist is that there isn't a ton of high quality research to prove one parenting choice is better than another so you should use your judgement and do what's best for your family. I do think this is an important message but there was nothing groundbreaking here for me.
I loved Expecting Better, so I was super disappointed to not find this book very useful. I’m surprised she wrote it at all, given how few conclusions can be drawn from the studies she cites. The whole book could have been summarized in one sentence: “the data is unclear, so just do what’s best for you and your family.” I also found her biases sneaked through in a more off-putting way than with Expecting Better. In particular, it was frustrating that so many studies defined long-term outcomes by the very American definition of test scores and IQ points. She didn’t seem to challenge this, yet later in the book acknowledges that ‘happiness’ is really a more important outcome (without exploring this further). Just because there’s no difference in test scores and IQ between kids raised in different care arrangements doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some difference in anxiety, social relationships, resilience, or happiness through adolescence and adulthood. A more critical interrogation of the assumptions underlying a lot of these studies would have helped me not hate the book.
I think my main takeaway from this book is that most data is inconclusive so just do whatever feels right for you and your family and don't sweat it. The kids will be fine. (As long as you vaccinate them that is).
I suppose Emily and I differ mostly on the issue of sleep training. But at the same time I don't judge anyone who decides to sleep train - good luck to you and your baby, I hope you get some sleep.
My approach to my baby's sleep is hope for the best, prepare for the worst and be zen about it - she is a baby. As soon as I stopped believing all this online nonsense that "most 6 month old babies can sleep through the night", I felt much better. (Maybe those babies CAN sleep through the night, but mostly they WON'T).
All my friends in Poland seem to have a similar approach, while most of my British and American friends seem to desperately try to 'fix' their babies' sleep. (And as I'm typing this my baby just woke up after 1 hour and 41 minutes of sleeping, lol). I think the difference in attitude might come from the how shit maternity leave in the UK and US is (in the UK it is better, simply because it exists, but the second half of it is unpaid and the first pays peanuts), whereas in Poland you get a year off on 80% of your salary. So you have plenty of time and a peace of mind to just let your baby figure things out at their own pace. That's my theory. Here I'm being bombarded with ads for sleep coaches, sleep training programs, sleep consultants, whereas my friends in Poland have no idea what I'm talking about.
Anyway, I went off on a tangent here. I think what went slightly wrong with this book was the Oster want to approach parenting as hard science, but parenting is half science, half art, half chaos. (Yes, it has three halves). OK, bye, my baby is sleeping again and I have a million things to do in this short window.
Like I mentioned before, I’m not pregnant, I just dig science. And this is a pretty good compilation of research related to baby stuff, though a lot of the advice boils down to do what works for your family so both baby and parents are in a good mental head space to deal with the stress of having a new person. Also, vaccinate your kids, obviously.
Now that Sultan and I are expecting, we decided to do much reading on parenting (and by that I mean i do the reading, he does the listening). This is my first parenting book, and I can say it passed with flying colors as a perfect starter! Emily Oster writes about early parenthood, how to manage and deal with all the little stuff that nobody tells you about as a first-time parent, and she supports all of that with "excellent" data. She also goes beyond the early months until preschool. Shedding light over concepts that have been mistaken or falsified. All you need to know about cognitive development, physical development, lanaguage senseiitvety, and all that matters after your child steps out of toddlerhood. I'd give big thumps up to Oster's incredibly fluid style of writing. It only tells me what a great professor she is, and how lucky her students are! she has the ability to simplify everything and make it understandable and easy to catch.
I knew that there's much shaming against women who are pregnant, but I found out the hard way that the aggression escalates when one becomes a parent, especially a mother. People do not discuss pros and cons of different choices regarding taking care of their children. When you make any decision, it doesn't matter if you go for option A or option B. There will always be people that will accuse you of abusing your child and destroying her or his future.
The author of this book examines scientific evidence regarding different areas of being a parent, for example sleep training, the method of feeding an infant or how the child is taken care of when parents are back to work.
I read some reviews that claim the this book is useless, because in many cases the conclusion is: do what you think is right and what works for your family. I believe, however, that these are some very important conclusions. It means that a lot of pressure and unwanted advice is based on emotions and not on facts. In many cases the child will be just fine as long as you are a loving parent who pays attention both to the needs of the child and to the mental health of all the family members. Most breastfeeding benefits are manipulated in order to probably force women out of workforce. No, you won't lose a secure attachment, if you sleep train your baby. No, the child will not become a loser because the mother doesn't want to be turned into a house slave.
All in all, the book gave me a peace of mind and be more confident in my own choices.
I’ve heard rave reviews about this book from clients for years, so decided to check it out. 1/3 am f the way in and I am SO frustrated.
The intent of the book is excellent. I am completely behind examining the evidence to see what we actually can demonstrate to be helpful for improving outcomes for parents and babies. However, there are so many issues with this book that really take away from its validity and usefulness.
1. The author’s biases heavily influence her presentation and recommendations, yet she continually claims to be presenting the information in an unbiased way. Definitely not true.
2. In places, she’s drawing conclusions from data that aren’t actually there. Which I find especially annoying considering her continual statements about relying on the data and her expertise.
3. She misses SO many other factors in so many of the decisions. Coming from an economics background without birth professional expertise really shows. You don’t know what you don’t know and she has such large gaps in the decision processes it seriously limits the usefulness of the information.
I would have loved to be able to recommend it. But I can’t even stomach finishing it.
As a first time, new mom I was very interested in Oster's down to earth views on parenting, especially with her practical background. She quickly addresses common themes of not knowing what information to trust, and pointing out a better-established recourse.
Everything from the scary days after delivery, to what to do when nothing makes sense, to how to work toward better relationships with your partner. She also gives earnest information how all the practicality of newborn to toddler life - from swaddling, punishing, school prep and letting things go (which i do feel there is a parental pressure to equally do and not do).
My favorite part is that she summarized each chapter with refreshingly clear bullets at the end of each part - so helpful!!
Cribsheet is unique in the parenting books arena in that it provides a (mostly) unbiased perspective on a wide range of parenting decisions, allowing you to decide for yourself which option makes most sense for you and your family. While at times this got frustrating because a vast majority of areas had inconclusive evidence or very little research to base your decision on, resulting in very vague conclusions, overall I found this approach to be an interesting and engaging breath of fresh air.
Mostly not relevant for me anymore - with a 28-month old, I've already made most of the infant and toddler decisions discussed in this book. But, I love her approach and agree that data is interesting and empowering. I identified with her very much. My favorite chapter title: "Wait, you want me to take it home?" which is exactly how I felt when discharged from the hospital with a 2-day old infant.
This was a library book, so rather than a review this is really just a summary of notes:
- it's important to swaddle in a way that allows the baby to move its legs and hips. - changing formula or maternal diet, treating with probiotic or both have been shown to help with collic. -the data doesn't provide strong evidence for long-term health or cognitive benefits of breastfeeding - the only food women are medically advised to avoid during breastfeeding is high mercury fish (swordfish, mackerel, tuna). Other fish are fine (as are sushi, deli meats, etc). If they baby is suffering from collic removing dietary allergens may help. - drinking while breastfeeding is basically fine - even if you had four drinks very quickly the baby would be exposed to only a very low concentration of alcohol. So really no need to pump and dump. The milk has the same alcohol concentration of your blood - is it goes does so does the milk alcohol level. If you're worried wait two hours after having a drink before feeding. - Seems to be fine to have caffeine while breastfeeding. Cut back if baby is irritated. - think about picking a feeding (ie; AM) and pumping after that feeding. - If the baby rolls over there's no need to roll them back. Once they can roll on their own the highest risk of SIDS has passed. - if you're going to co-sleep make sure to not drink or smoke and limit what's in the bed. - the vast majority of SIDS occur in the first 4 months - so after 4 months there's not as much benefit to having the baby sleep in your room. - Longer nighttime sleep develops around 2 months. Move to 3 naps around four months. Move to 2 naps around 4 months. Move to 1 nap around fifteen to eighteen months. Drop napping around 3. - Vaccines are safe. A small share of people have allergic reactions, which are treatable. - things to consider for daycare: exposed cords, safe cribs, written emergency plan, disposable towels available, eating area away from diaper area, toys washed every day, teacher knows about infant illness, fun toys can be reached, floor space for crawlers, different music materials available, planning, adult to kid ratio - kids who are in day care for more time over this entire period have better language and cognitive outcomes at 4 - regardless of what child care you choose have a place for who takes care of the baby when they are sick - with any child care arrangement its quality that matters. on average more time in day care seems to be associated with slightly better cognitive outcomes and slightly worse behaviour outcomes. The positive effects present more at older ages and the negative ones more at younger ages. - Babies that participated in sleep interventions were more secure, predictable, less irritable and cried and fussed less - there are different "cry it out" methods. Whatever you do, make sure you have a plan and stick to it. - generally its easier to sleep train a 6 month old than a 3 month old. sleep training goals may differ on the age of your baby. ie - if you're sleep training a 10 week old is to encourage the baby to fall asleep on its own. On the other hand a 10 month old should be able to sleep through the night without eating. so the goal of sleep training isn't to deprive your child of their needs but to encourage going to sleep independently once those needs are met. - recommendations have changed - early exposure to allergens is now recommended (esp for kids at risk) - children under 2 can't learn much from TV. Children 3 - 5 can learn from TV. Evidence suggests that TV watching, even at young ages, doesn't affect test scores.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Despite a frustrating lack of conclusions, this book was interesting, and might have made a bigger impact on me if I had read it before having my first kid.
Reading it 3 years into my first and with a second on the way, it just confirmed a lot of what I have gathered and gleaned over the last 3 years: Data for MOST Mommy Wars subjects are inconclusive, and parents should ultimately do what’s right for them and their families. Glad the economist agrees. :)
The author’s content was condescending at time. I wasn’t keen on the idea that just because something isn’t “proven” by research then it is not worth even considering. Especially when it comes to something as vital and ubiquitous as raising kids.
Overall I appreciate this book SO MUCH for its sensible, nonjudgemental, and calm approach to parenting in the early years. In the intro Oster writes:
"We know being a parent means getting a lot of advice, but this advice is almost never accompanied by an explanation of *why* something is true or not, or to what degree we can even know it's true. And by not explaining why, we remove people's ability to think about these choices for themselves."
For those two sentences alone, I am pretty much willing to marry this woman.
Oster is an economist and, as the subtitle says, applies a data-centred approach to figuring out how to tackle common early parenting decisions. Major focuses include breastfeeding, sleep training, sleep and SIDS, transition to solid foods, potty training, vaccines, and child care and preschool choices.
She is explicit about her framework and how she evaluates the legitimacy and usefulness of the studies she looks at; for example, favouring studies with randomized trials and large sample sizes. She discusses major studies and interprets the data, but she never tells you that you have to take any course of action. How refreshing! She also has a fun dry sense of humor that is sprinkled throughout ("Some things about a second child are harder, the main one being the presence of the first child.")
Her approach works great for some topics: those that lend themselves to that kind of analysis she values. This means issues that have a significant medical/scientific/biological component. She shows, for example, that many claims about the health/medical benefits of breastfeeding -- such as better longterm health, IQ, and immune system for the baby -- are not supported by the data. (Lower lifetime rates of breast cancer for the breastfeeding parent are though!).
The chapter on vaccines is excellent too; Oster is careful to include information about adverse effects that are scientifically proven and their severity and rarity, and concludes that unless your kid is immune compromised, the data overwhelmingly supports early combined vaccinations.
As the book goes on into issues relevant to toddlers such as philosophies of different preschools and discipline programs, Oster's approach becomes a lot less useful. There simply isn't good data to help you make those kinds of decisions because there are too many variables. What type of preschool will be best for your kid depends on what type of kid you have.
She does share a few concepts she uses as an economist that can help with decision making on the more nebulous, which I thought were fairly useful. It's good to be reminded that you can approach emotionally loaded decisions systematically. I liked her insistence that what *you* want to do as a parent is an important factor you should consider.
In the last section, Oster begins to sound like a broken record because she keeps repeating that there is no universally relevant data on such-and-such issue, so make the decision that works best for your family. I guess this might be helpful if you were convinced you had to do a certain approach for a reason other than it was what you thought was best for your family.
If you decide to read this book -- and I do think it's overall worth it -- I'd recommend reading at least the first section before your kid is born, as it offers guidance on decisions you'd be taking into action right after childbirth -- most importantly, breastfeeding but also others like common practices in hospitals such as "rooming in" (aka the baby staying in your recovery room 24/7) and routine vitamins and antibiotics given to newborns.
I loooved Oster’s “Expecting Better” (and recommend it to every pregnant friend), and I waited months for “Cribsheet” to come out. This book has the same data-informed approach and friendly tone. However, it just didn’t seem like this book was packed with as many reassuring aha’s as Expecting Better was.
The fertility and pregnancy topics that Oster covered in EB were largely grounded in research that is hard for a layperson to find and even harder to interpret. By contrast, the early childhood topics that are covered in Cribsheet are Very easily researched and well reported by news outlets and parenting sites on a regular basis. I had already run across most of the data Oster cites here in my own research over my son’s first 11 months of life.
I do think I would have found this book to be much more useful had I read it in the first couple months. So I would recommend to new parents as worth reading, albeit less essential than Expectjng Better.
Like Expecting Better while I was pregnant, Cribsheet summarized the start of the evidence on most of the things I spend my time thinking about these days. Thanks to Cribsheet, I gave my son a pacifier as soon as he got home from the hospital without worrying about"nipple confusion". He is already sleeping extremely well and isn't even old enough for sleep training, but it's nice to know it will be a reasonable option if he goes through a sleep regression later. I only wish the book were longer and covered even more topics, since it sadly hasn't addressed every single question I have about parenting.
Interesting and also terrifying to realize how much of the established truth we know about parenting is based on very poor research. Lots of good takeaways and helps to build a pragmatic parenting approach.
I read Expecting Better earlier in my pregnancy and found it to be really useful, data driven, and relatable. This book focuses on post-birth and the fact is that there are just less studies and data out there to be referenced. I still found this book insightful and made me think about a few new things so I’m glad I read it!
Awesome parenting resource. The author hits hot topic issues and explains the research that’s been done on them in really simple ways, including where studies have fallen short in not taking some elements into consideration (like socioeconomic status). She also doesn’t tell the reader what to do, but instead gives all of the information and options available. She does a bullet point summary at the end of each chapter which is always a plus. As someone who believes in and parents based on both science and relationship, this was amazing. Recommending to every parent.
This is not necessarily a book you read in one sitting cover to cover because you tend to want to read the chapter as you hit the stage where it will be helpful, however I can say I read MOST of it (I skipped the chapter on how to breastfeed since I wasn't breastfeeding and skimmed the chapter on siblings as we are one-and-done, so keep that in mind.)
That said, this book definitely saved me when I was at my lowest. Self-flagellating about giving up on breastfeeding after 3 days? Emily Oster lays out what the gold standard studies say about the difference (or lack thereof) of formula vs breastfed babies. Worried about sleep training? Oster breaks down the evidence on lack of harm for either doing it or not. Wondering about daycare vs nanny vs SAHM? Here comes the evidence for the benefits and disadvantages of all of them.
When every internet article and mom group and whatever else is busy telling you that you are traumatizing your child for sleep training, permanently damaging their IQ by not breastfeeding until they're 13, and a terrible parent for not sitting next to them every hour of every day up through college, Emily Oster gives you the actual research and evidence about it, 99% of it infinitely less alarmist than what everyone else wants to be.
She is a great antidote to the mommy wars that literally everything else tries to drag you into whether you want to or not.
I was kind of disappointed in this in the end. It's not Emily Oster's fault. I again enjoyed her approach to reading and translating research , but for most parenting questions there are very little. What little there is seems to give us much direction. Expecting Better seemed to have more to go on, which makes sense! There is more science to pregnancy than to raising an individual human. It sort of goes along with the general sense I had already that everything is easier if you are wealthy and educated and after that, a lot of it's up to the kid. The most evidence is around the really early hospital and feeding/sleeping decisions so I would recommend it to anyone in the midst of baby not sleeping or breastfeeding misery because there is a lot to support you relaxing about sleep training and, a lot of frustrating information on how much the benefits of breastmilk are oversold. Though there were a few moments in this where I felt like she was being flip. Not so much about the research but by throwing in thoughts or suggestions that weren't actually research based. Maybe that's fine but it wasn't what I was looking for in this book.
I should start by saying that I read thoroughly only a few chapters. I do not like that the book is advertised as an objective/quantitative view of researched parenting topics, and really does not function that way. I am married to a scientist, and am aware of how research can be skewed and documents can be cherry picked as supporting evidence to theories. However, I was hoping this author would do a better job of keeping her subjective world view out of it, or be more transparent that she was making arguments based on only part of the picture. I hate when people present like he/she can exercise an unbiased approach, and then clearly not follow-through with that promise. It is even worse when they pretend that science absolutely backs them up.