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  • Megan Johanson

Data-Centric Book Review: Expecting Better

When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started looking for data on what I should and shouldn’t be doing, as well as what to expect during pregnancy and delivery. If you are, or know, a data nerd like to me who wants to know more about the actual data surrounding pregnancy, keep reading.

Emily Oster's book: Expecting Better.


Emily Oster is an economist who tackled the enormous task of condensing research on pregnancy topics into bullet points that empower parents to make informed decisions. In her book, Expecting Better, she walks through the most common questions expectant parents have.

For many of these questions doctors only give vague suggestions like “limit your caffeine intake” and if you try to research it yourself you find many conflicting opinions. Oster not only gives you an overview of all the existing research, she explains why some findings are more reliable than others. She doesn’t tell you what to do, but provides all the facts to enable you to make the best decision for your family.

Overall, I found the book extremely insightful and helpful in knowing what to expect and how to best care for myself and my growing baby.

Here are the five most interesting things I learned from the book:

1. All the available research suggests that having up to 2 cups of coffee per day does not increase your risk of miscarriage before 20 weeks compared to those drinking no coffee, but be aware that some coffee drinks may have more caffeine than others.

2. For the average woman the chance of having a miscarriage at 6 weeks is 11%. Just 3 weeks later at 9 weeks, the chance of miscarriage is only 3%. Miscarriages at this point generally cannot be prevented and are due to chromosomal abnormalities.

3. The most dangerous food-related issue for pregnant women is listeria, which has been found to occur on a range of produce items (celery, cantaloupe, sprouts, etc.), making it hard to pinpoint what to avoid.

4. There are five categories of drugs (i.e., Tylenol, Ambien, Vicodin, prenatal vitamins) based on the type of studies that have been done and the likelihood of fetal harm determined from those studies. Many drugs do not have clear-cut recommendations about safety and instead depend on individuals and their doctors weighing the pros and cons of their particular situation.

5. No evidence shows that putting a pregnant woman on bed rest prevents preterm labor, but there is evidence that it is related to negative outcomes such as blood clots and muscle atrophy.


Of course, the summaries I give here are brief and there are a lot more details around each of these topics (and many more!) in the book. For more information check out Expecting Better.


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