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Cribsheet

A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool

By Emily Oster
16-minute read
Audio available
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster

Cribsheet (2019) provides a unique and insightful perspective on early-childhood parenting – that of an economist. Given its focus on decision-making, cost and benefit analysis, risk assessment, and data interpretation, the academic discipline of economics provides a surprisingly useful framework for thinking about the difficult decisions that new parents have to make when raising their babies.

  • Soon-to-be parents trying to think ahead about parenting decisions
  • Current parents already wrestling with those decisions  
  • Would-be parents wondering if they want to deal with those decisions in the first place

Emily Oster is a professor of economics at Brown University, with a PhD in economics from Harvard University. She is the author of the provocative and controversial book Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know. She has written articles for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Esquire, and she was also a speaker at the 2007 TED conference.

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Cribsheet

A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool

By Emily Oster
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster
Synopsis

Cribsheet (2019) provides a unique and insightful perspective on early-childhood parenting – that of an economist. Given its focus on decision-making, cost and benefit analysis, risk assessment, and data interpretation, the academic discipline of economics provides a surprisingly useful framework for thinking about the difficult decisions that new parents have to make when raising their babies.

Key idea 1 of 10

It’s hard to make parenting decisions.

The world of parenting advice is an incredibly confusing place, full of conflicting opinions on what to do and how to do it.

If you’re a new parent, that’s true right from the get-go, when important questions and decisions confront you immediately after the birth of your child. For example, if your newborn baby is a boy, should you circumcise him? And if you’re the mother, should you “room” with him after birth – that is, have him sleep with you in your hospital room? Or should you send him to the hospital’s nursery?

You might get completely contradictory answers to questions like these, depending on which friends, family members, doctors, journalists or online forums you ask. For instance, some will say that you should definitely circumcise; it’s medically beneficial. Others will say that it’s dangerous and unnecessary.  

Adding to the confusion is the fact that both sides usually come armed with all sorts of evidence in favor of their positions, ranging from peer-reviewed scientific studies and established biological facts to personal anecdotes and that one newspaper article your aunt vaguely remembers reading a couple of years ago.

Worse still, people don’t just give their advice to you in a neutral, take-it-or-leave-it sort of way. Instead, they deliver it laden with moral judgment. For example, if you’re a mother, it’s not just that some people think you should breastfeed your baby because the practical benefits outweigh the drawbacks; many of them think you’re an outright bad mother if you resort to feeding your baby with formula.

Now, that would be a lot of confusion and pressure to deal with even under normal circumstances – but after you or your partner gives birth, you’re likely to be sleep-deprived, stressed and exhausted. The stakes, meanwhile, will feel incredibly high. After all, you’re trying to ensure the survival and welfare of the fragile little person who’s suddenly become the most important being in your life.

So when you’re faced with questions like whether or not to breastfeed, circumcise or room with your baby, how can your frazzled mind figure out which answer is right?

Well, if you approach these sorts of questions like an economist, you’ll see that the short answer is that there are never any “right” answers. Or, to be more precise, that’s simply the wrong way of framing the questions in the first place!

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