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Economist Mom: Diet Rules of Pregnancy Can be Bent

glass of wine on the stomach
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you watch How I Met Your Mother, you've probably seen the episode where Marshall and Lily's ob-gyn gives them pregnancy diet advice that goes something like: "Ehhh, a little bit's OK" ... for just about everything. Cheetos? You bet. Sushi, yep, that too. Of course, by the end of the episode, the soon-to-be first-time parents are questioning that advice rather than embracing it. A new book, out this week, by economist Emily Oster talks about the pregnancy rules in a similar light to the TV show's fictional ob-gyn—here's why.

When Oster, an associate professor at the University of Chicago's business school, became pregnant she was surprised by some of the rules she encountered: just one cup of coffee each day? Oster was much more content when she discovered that three or four was actually all right in some circles. But, wait a second; how can an economist label herself as an expert on things like prenatal diets and weight gain during pregnancy? Well, she's not. She simply compiled all her research into a book, Expecting Better (Penguin Press).

Above all, Oster gets it: No matter how over-prepared a mom-to-be is, pregnancy is a complicated stage in life with conflicting information. "I actually think pregnant women are really well-informed but I think that there’s a tremendous amount of confusing and conflicting information out there," she says. "You could read every pregnancy book and every pregnancy website and come away thinking on some topics, 'I have no idea what the real facts are.'"

So what are some of her findings? For one: An occasional glass of wine is OK. While binge drinking is never encouraged or recommended, Oster does note: "children of pregnant women who drink occasionally have similar, or in some cases, even better outcomes than children of women who abstain." Also, gaining too much weight is shown to be less risky compared to gaining too little. "Sushi is OK. And coffee in moderation is fine," she also notes.

Oster recommends that women keep up to date on current practices and pregnancy news, specifically citing the opinions of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, saying that they've done some interesting research in many areas.

So what does this all mean? Oster doesn't want women to turn on their doctors—on the contrary, she says, "Women have a responsibility to learn things about this process for themselves so they can actively participate in [the] conversation with their doctors."

What do you think about Oster's findings and opinions?

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