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#111 — Data Driven Parenting: An Economist on Breastfeeding, Sleep Training, and Vaccinations

Why is so much parenting advice seemingly in direct conflict with others? How do we determine who is correct? How do we make these emotional decisions for ourselves?

Emily Oster, author of the wildly popular “Expecting Better” is back to apply her economist’s data-driven lens to the big questions of early childhood parenting: Should I breastfeed? Will sleep training harm my child? What are the real risks and benefits of vaccinations?

The data she uncovers is surprising. Some running directly counter to popularly held beliefs, others supporting both sides of a firmly entrenched debate. Oster is relatable and judgment free as she tells stories of how her research impacted her own parenting and which information she mosts wishes she’d had access to before giving birth for the first time eight years ago.

In many circumstances, Oster proves that conflicting information from seemingly opposing camps can actually both be correct. If someone tells you to breastfeed and someone else tells you to formula feed, what are you to do with this conflicting information? According to Oster, be informed and empowered by data, then make the best decision for your child, yourself, and your family.

Oster’s goal is not to shock parents with data or make them act counter to their intuition, but rather to help make parents more empowered, comfortable, and confident in their decision making process. Even for her, data only plays a partial role in her decisions. The rest is a careful consideration of what is best for her child, herself, and her family.

On today’s episode, we get to talk with Emily Oster about the big topics of debate in early childhood parenting as well as learn about how she coordinates her family’s schedules, how she interprets her personal work vs. stay at home debate, and what she wishes she knew before giving birth for the first time almost a decade ago. IN THIS EPISODE WE TALK ABOUT

  • Why so many of the conversations around parenting are completely baby-centric and what is missing when we don’t consider parental and familial well-being.
  • Emily’s own struggles with breastfeeding and how the data around the benefits of breastfeeding really surprised her.
  • The ingenious decision Emily made to implement the task management software at home that she uses at work and how that has changed her and her partner’s communication.
  • How to set up an operations manual for your family so that you can travel (for work or pleasure) and someone else can smoothly run your day-to-day family operation.
  • Why we can be more confident about the data on sleep training than other areas of parenting. And importantly, why whether you choose to sleep train your baby or not, you are correct.
  • How Oster herself chooses to use (and not use) data in her own decision making around her family and children, and how you can implement her three-pronged approach to making your own choices.
  • The surprising ways the complex-sounding economic term “decreasing value of marginal utility” is applied to parenting and work.


Get the complete show notes with episode quotes, photos, and time stamps at LEARN MORE ABOUT EMILY OSTER   

Emily Oster is a highly-respected economist and professor at Brown University. Her research interests range from development and health economics to research design and experimental methodology. Emily’s work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the bestseller SuperFreakonomics, and FiveThirtyEight, among many other publications, and she is the author of Cribsheet: A Data Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting from Birth to Preschool and Expecting Better: Why Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong—and What You Really Need to Know.


We have a series of mini-books we wrote just for Startup Pregnant listeners: from Pregnancy Affirmations to the Pregnancy Reading List and the Parenting Reading List, check out all of our Startup Pregnant mini-books at If you’re on our email list, you can get a free copy of one of the books with our secret codes just for email subscribers!


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