The Informed Parent – a science based book review

There are innumerable myths and tropes about raising children. My mother used to tell me to not go into the pool until 30 minutes (or some random number) after I ate; and she always told me I’d catch the flu or a cold if I didn’t put on a jacket during winter. Of course, neither are science based, and neither are “facts.”

But those were innocuous little myths. I don’t like being all that cold, so putting on a coat isn’t the worst thing ever. It had nothing to do with whether I’d catch a cold or not.

Unfortunately, some myths about parenting and raising children are dangerous. The whole “vaccines cause XYZ” mythology have infected the internet have caused some drops in vaccination, especially amongst those who should know better.

We need better resources for “science based parenting,” and a new book, The Informed Parent – A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four Yearsmay become one of the more valuable tools to separate the wheat of good science from the chaff of pseudoscience and woo.

Because our children deserve the best that science can provide.

 

The informed parent
Click to order this book. You won’t regret it.

 

Review of The Informed Parent

 

The Informed Parent is by Tara Haelle and Emily Willingham, who are both notable science authors who have focused on medical and science topics that are important in today’s world.

Dr. Willingham has written extensively about autism, I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that she is one of the top science journalists with respect to autism and autism related issues. Ms. Haelle writes extensively about parenting issues, from vaccinations to breast feeding. They both contribute a “real-life” mom plus science aspect to their words, that is both refreshing and informative.

Ms. Haelle and Dr. Willingham use extensive citations and scientific knowledge in their articles in various venues. Both write provocative articles in Forbes (here and here). What they write often represents the best thinking in a field.

Not that I advocate for the Argument from Authority, but when an authority uses real scientific evidence, the authority becomes the expert. And they both use evidence, over and over

The Informed Parent continues their writing tradition of combining real world knowledge with real science. Yes, that means this book is a bit “science-y.” However, Ms. Haelle and Dr. Willingham make it readable without trying to oversimplify it.

I think that science should not be scary – it should be exciting and interesting. And science isn’t magical, it is simply a method to answer questions about our natural universe using a rational system of experimentation.

And they use this science to answer important questions about raising our children.

Haelle and Willingham jump right into the fray with their first chapter, basically on what a mother needs to do for her developing fetus. For example, Vitamin D is all the rage in the supplement world. But, generally there isn’t an issue with vitamin D levels in the developed world. Finally, they note that high quality medical research has shown us that vitamin D supplementation really has no effect on maternal or newborn outcomes.

I could spend two thousand words reviewing every topic they have covered, since it is literally from A to Z on the list of issues. I couldn’t begin to choose a favorite amongst favorites. I think you could read this book cover to cover and use it as a resource to argue with your mother-in-law (trust me, that happens), or just use it as a well-sourced and -written encyclopedia of issues regarding pregnancy, birth and raising the child.

For example, they consider the benefits of vitamin K injections at birth:

That doesn’t mean breastmilk is perfect, however. Exclusively breastfed babies do not get enough vitamin K to remove the risk of vitamin K deficiency bleeding—hence the need for a vitamin K shot at birth.

Since vitamin K has become one of those things that have gotten certain segments of the population all in a dither, it’s good that Haelle and Willingham have taken the time to talk about it in detail. Scientific detail, rather than rumors and innuendo.

As a vaccine advocate, my favorite part of the book is all about vaccines. They look at schedules, rumors, history, myths, science, and just about any consideration a parent might have about vaccines. The authors mostly created a Q&A format for vaccines  –and because it filters out all the yelling and screaming about vaccinations on the internet, the scientific facts about vaccines shine through particularly well.

They dispel many of the myths of the internet about vaccinations – from the usefulness of VAERS data to personal anecdotes to manufacturing issues to just about anything you would want to know about vaccines.

This is one of the best books about parenting. I remember my wife reading the semi-official manual of pregnancy, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” If The Informed Parent were available back then, I would have given my wife this book too. Because we had a short, but intense, set of arguments regarding vaccinating our daughters, and I lacked a lot of information that I have now, especially from a book like this one. Yeah, our daughters are fully vaccinated.

I generally don’t review books, because I read them months after they are published, and no one wants to read a six month old review. But in this case, I was excited about this book. I’m glad I got to read it.

If you’re expecting or have an infant, get this book. It can help you relax and do the right things.

Updates

 

After I posted this, I noticed some comments about this on Twitter and other locations. I think it’s important that I note these points in addition to my review.

Some people believe that this book gives advice to parents. I don’t think that’s how I read it, and I don’t think that was the author’s intent. I might be completely wrong in my point of view, but to me this is an authoritative reference for any question you might have about things you’ve “heard” or “believed” about various issues with respect to pregnancy or infants.

The authors make this clear right from the beginning:

But science is useful because the practice of science produces data instead of anecdote—data we can use for evidence-based decision-making as parents. In this book, we look at what science has to say at the various crossroads parents encounter, from vaccines to attachment parenting to circumcision to screen time. We don’t dole out a lot of advice—after all, we don’t know you or your family and can’t say which route would be best for you and your child. But we give you the scientific information you need to map your own path. And here and there, we divulge what we ended up doing, which may not have been terribly scientific at the time.

Haelle and Willingham provide a high level of science-based evidence to assist the parent in making informed decisions. For example, the authors write extensively about fluoride in water and toothpaste. The evidence is solidly on the side of safe and effective, but they lay it out carefully.

I didn’t mention that this review was based on a pre-release version of the book. I had the list of citations, which for some reason I thought would be listed in the book, but the authors took an ingenious approach to their citations, notes and references – they put them online. It has the benefit of allowing the reader to actually see the data behind their science. But I also assume it allows them to update citations as better ones come along.

 
 
The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!