If you have ever prepared for the birth of a little one, or know someone who has, then you know how stressful and confusing it can be. There is so much information out there that tries to persuade you one way or the other, and for every perspective on issues related to pregnancy, birth, and newborn care, there seems to be an equally strong and conflicting point of view.
How is a soon-to-be parent supposed to find accurate, trustworthy information about issues such as how long to wait before clamping the umbilical cord after birth, whether or not to vaccinate, what the best way is to help baby sleep, whether to pursue breastfeeding or formula-feeding, and more?
Well, Alice Callahan — who is both a PhD scientist and a mom — set out on a journey to help parents truly understand what the research says about often-debated topics related to pregnancy, birth, and newborn care. She wanted to help parents understand the difference between “hype” and actual evidence. She had been blogging at ScienceofMom.com for several years and wanted to pull together as much practical, evidence-based information as possible to help parents make informed decisions so they could spend less time worrying and more time enjoying their little one.
What resulted was an amazing book called The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.
I am so excited Alice decided to write this book! As a mom of two who has trudged through the conflicting information and tough choices that needed to be made during pregnancy, birth, and infancy, I can only say that I wish this book was around five years ago when I was preparing for my first baby! The Science of Mom sets aside fear and judgment and focuses on the evidence. It does so in a way that not only enlightens its readers, but is also interesting and inspiring. It’s awesome!
Alice was gracious enough to send me a free copy of her book and, once I realized what an amazing resource this book was, she agreed to let me interview her so we could share more about her book with you here on the blog! I have actually loaned The Science of Mom to a friend of mine who is expecting her first little one in a few short months because I really do feel it is a useful, powerful resource for soon-to-be parents!
And guess what?! Alice and I are giving away a free copy of her book to one lucky, random winner! Enter the giveaway at the end of this post.
So what inspired Alice to write this book? And what does the evidence say about issues such as breastfeeding and vaccines? And what is Alice’s one piece of advice for parents who are expecting a tiny new member of their family? Read on to find out! (This post contains affiliate links for your convenience, see full disclosure here.)
Mama OT: What motivated you to write The Science of Mom?
Alice Callahan: I think that having a baby these days is just so overwhelming, and I think that science can help with that. Many of us live far away from the support of family members, and we only get a few minutes with our pediatricians at well-child checks. We have a ton of questions about how to care for our babies, and we really want to get it right. Yet, when we search for information (usually on the Internet) about birth plans, vaccines, sleep, feeding, and more, we are bombarded with conflicting information, lots of anecdotes and opinions, and a little judgment. Who do we trust? How do we evaluate information to figure out what is accurate and what is not? As a scientist and a new mom, I turned to science to help answer these questions.
I was inspired to write The Science of Mom to share that science with other parents so that their jobs could be easier. I wanted to write a book that would not only provide accurate information but that would also show parents how to smartly navigate parenting information to find science-based sources for themselves.
Mama OT: What is “evidence-based parenting” and why do you feel it is important?
Alice Callahan: Evidence-based parenting means that you are curious and open-minded about how science can inform your parenting decisions. For all of the things that we wonder and worry about as parents, there are scientists who have devoted their careers to careful, objective study of them, and their hard work can help us make smart choices. This is especially important when we’re considering choices that affect our children’s health. Our kids are counting on us to make good decisions based on accurate information.
Evidence-based parenting doesn’t mean that you have to over-think every decision. It also doesn’t mean that you ignore all the gut feelings that you might have about how to raise your child. In fact, sometimes you will look at the science on a topic and find that it is still evolving and uncertain. You can see what it says and then consider your particular situation and make the best choice that you can. In other instances, you’ll see that the science is very clear. You can make those choices with confidence and then spend your time enjoying your baby or doing something else important to you rather than scouring the Internet for more opinions.
Mama OT: What was the most interesting thing you learned from writing this book? What surprised you the most?
Alice Callahan: Chapter 4 of the book is about what newborn babies know at birth and how they sense the world through touch, sight, smell, and sound. This chapter wasn’t actually part of my original plan for the book, but when I stumbled upon this research, I just had to write about it. It was inspired by the “breast crawl” — the finding that a newborn baby placed skin-to-skin on mom’s chest can often (though not always) wriggle to find the breast and begin feeding without help. That’s incredible! We think of newborns as being so helpless, and it’s true that they need a lot of our help, but I loved learning more about what they can already do at birth. I think this knowledge can really help us to better understand our babies and appreciate them from the first days of their lives, and it’s just fascinating stuff.
Mama OT: Were there any perspectives on parenting issues that changed for you as a result of researching and writing this book?
Alice Callahan: My perspective on breastfeeding and formula-feeding really changed over the course of my research for the book. I have breastfed both of my children — my daughter for more than two years and my son is currently breastfeeding at 10 months. It has been an important part of my experience of motherhood, and I’ve been lucky that it has come relatively easy to me. I realize now that as a new breastfeeding mom, I might have been just a little smug about what a great job I was doing and a little judgmental towards moms who formula-fed.
I learned so much in my research for this book. I learned that in the history of the human species, mothers have always needed help feeding their babies, whether from wet nurses or supplementary foods or milk from other animals. I learned more about the very real challenges that many women face with breastfeeding, including an inability to make enough milk and physiological and psychological barriers for women with depression, anxiety, or a history of abuse or eating disorders. My research confirmed for me that breast milk is good for babies, but I was surprised to find that the benefits were not as overwhelming as I had thought.
Looking at this evidence together, I think we’re really not being fair to new moms when we tell them that breastfeeding is the greatest gift they can give their babies. All women should be supported in trying to meet their breastfeeding goals, but sometimes it doesn’t work out, and sometimes it simply isn’t the preferred choice. That’s okay, and we need to remember that what is most important is that infants have our attention and care, whether the milk comes from breast or bottle.
Mama OT: Of all the topics you researched, which one were you the most passionate about and why?
Alice Callahan: After all of my research, I felt most passionate about the value of vaccines and the importance of getting evidence-based information about vaccines to parents. There were many topics in the book where I found that the science was conflicting or hard to interpret, but the question of whether or not to vaccinate your child was not one of them. The science on the safety and efficacy of vaccines is just so strong that we can be very confident in that choice.
As part of my research for that chapter, I also interviewed my grandmother about the death of one of her sons (my uncle), Frankie, due to complications from measles at age 6. Going in, I knew very little about him, and hearing about losing a child from my grandmother’s perspective was very powerful to me. I was glad that I got to tell Frankie’s story in my book.
Mama OT: What advice would you give to parents-to-be who are trying to research for themselves so they can be informed about decisions related to birth and parenting?
Alice Callahan: Well, I devote an entire chapter of the book to this, so it’s hard to condense into one paragraph! I think the biggest thing is to be very careful and critical about the sources you use for information, especially on the Internet. Start by looking at sites from children’s hospitals, universities, and governmental organizations to see what the scientific consensus says. Look for sources written by someone with training and expertise in the field and that cite peer-reviewed research. Beware of sites that are selling supplements or essential oils or trying to convince you of a conspiracy theory. Take information that you find to your child’s health care provider and ask what they think. Being skeptical and science-savvy can go a long way towards making evidence-based choices.
Find The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year at any of the sites below!
Now it’s time for a giveaway! Enter for your chance to win a free copy of The Science of Mom in the Rafflectoper entry box below.
Entrants must be at least 18 years of age, possess a valid U.S. mailing address, and possess a valid email address. Giveaway is only available to those with a valid U.S. mailing address. Giveaway begins at 12:00am PST on November 8, 2015 and ends at 12:00am PST on November 15, 2015. One (1) winner will be randomly selected via Rafflecopter and contacted within 48 hours of the end of the giveaway.
. . . . .
Alice Callahan holds a PhD in nutritional biology from the University of California, Davis. She spent two years investigating fetal physiology as a postdoctoral scholar. After giving birth to her first child in 2010, she put her scientific training to work answering the big questions of caring for a baby. Alice is the creator of the blog Science of Mom: The Heart and Science of Parenting.
Join the newsletter!
Want more handy tips & tricks to help the kids in your life?
Subscribe to Mama OT so you can receive updates about new posts, helpful tidbits & a look at what's going on behind the scenes.