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Ask HN: Parents of HN, what are your best sources for evidence-based parenting?
129 points by kqr on Sept 22, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments
I am having my first child a few months from now, and am looking for all sorts of perspectives. I am told things will never be the way I picture it in my head anyway, so there's no use in preparing. But still, it'd be nice to have some clue about what we know and what we don't.

Beware the risk of looking for evidence-based parenting advice: it tends to focus on effects that are measurable and small. It's unethical to research parenting strategies with large effects. So you'll find lots of studies about what kind of music stimulates developing brains, but you won't find a recent, randomized controlled trial that says whether it's bad to constantly fight in front of the kids. (It is, I assert without evidence.)

So don't lose sight of the basics, like ensuring secure attachment.

Definitely a good point. My trouble in filtering out the small nonsense from the actually meaningful stuff is part of the reason I wanted to ask this in the first place.

There's some chapters on emotional development in the book emotional intelligence that's a summary of social sciences.

It's about nurturing empathy and socializing behaviour. There's also some materials on how to counter natural anxiety (new foods/new people/new experiences) by forcing controlled exposure.

From my own experience having a child with my wife (an engineer as well) reading up on all the materials. Having and maintaining a trust-bond with your child is the most important, especially when you realize there is lots of bad advice out there related to baby sleep.

Essentially, the first 6 months your baby is too "stupid" to cry for nothing but basic needs like:

1/ too warm

2/ too cold

3/ hungry

4/ thirsty

5/ tired (need sleep)

6/ oversensitive (too much light/noise)

7/ wet diapers

8/ pain (sickness/teething/diaper rash)

Afterwards she/he can start to get into habits like waking up for some breastmilk while it's possible to go without. But babies are pretty flexible and can adopt a new routine within 3 days of enforcing that routine.

I really like this advice, we'd often get frustrated with the crying and remind ourselves to "go through the checklist" and more often than not it was one of the basic needs you mentioned that needed attending to.

I found that the cries were very quickly pretty distinct about what was the source of the problem. Even 3 month olds communicate if you listen.

This thread repeats advice I've heard a few times before, but in a good way. It definitely sounds like the type of advice that bears repetition.

Your comment history suggests you are a bot ?

That's right, we learned a lot from this youtube video on baby sounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P4Kjh-GX3c

It's helpful as it shortens the elimination process you'd have to run to figure out which one of the basic needs are in play when she's crying

Constipation is a tricky one, since you don't normally think of it. Although that is probably more of a problem for toddlers.

yea, there's also one if they have a painful reflux. Luckily my child was a happy refluxer.

I’m currently reading Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster.

It tackles the common questions involving infants and toddlers through analysis of research in those areas.

Love Oster and her works. She’s great for summarizing what is actually out there.

Not exactly evidence based, but “Be Prepared” is a whimsical and helpful parenting aid for the first year that I enjoyed.

The American Association of Pediatrics and the CDC both have parenting sites which I have used over the years, but I’m honestly not sure how evidence based they are.

Even as a non-parent her work is fascinating. I really enjoyed her interview on the Ezra Klein podcast (https://www.vox.com/ezra-klein-show-podcast)

In case anyone else has trouble finding the podcast episode in question this should be a direct link - https://megaphone.link/VMP1678725500

Yes! I found Oster's book on pregnancy very enlightening, so this is definitely on my reading list.

One book I recommend is “How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, and How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk”. Beyond this and some others, one thing I would not get overly hung up on is “evidence based”. I say that because you’re not raising an average of all children; you’re raising an individual child who may (or may not) be an outlier in all kinds of different respects.

This book is dated but excellent. It basically teaches us to have empathy for our child’s state of mind and feelings. This empathy is hard to generate sometimes but I’ve found it to be the most effective way to parent. Ironically this is true of all human interaction: empathy is hard but is so powerful.

I have a 14-month-old now and my wife and I read a ton of articles on raising children and how to best teach them, talk to them etc.

What I have realized in the past 14 months is that, at least during this first year, every problem you'll encounter (which there is a LOT) is going to be about physical things, not "how to raise your children", and boy were we vastly under-prepared. There's your usual hungry/too warm/too cold/wet diaper stuff. Then there's stuff that comes up like diaper rash, eczema, constipation / digestive system development, colic, teething pain... and a long list of more things that could happen but I don't know about because it didn't happen to our baby but just as likely to happen to any other baby.

My advice would be, read more about those. You can worry about how to raise your children later. My advice to friends who have had babies after us is that, you usually see the cute baby pictures on FB and read articles about how to raise your children; but what no one tells you is that 95% of your life in those first months is about feeding your baby, changing diapers, trying (and failing) to put baby to sleep, washing bottles (if bottle fed). But then again, what do I know, I have a 14-month-old, so maybe I'm wrong and I'll bang my head on the wall when she's 7 years old. :)


I got 21 months old and I read/skimmed through pretty much everything popular and did almost everything by books. Sometimes, I followed advices in the books and got different results, it made me feel a bit of failure. Of course, I understand that every child is different and parenting science is in infancy right now. But at some subconscious level, maybe I thought parenting is like programming and one can easily control output with their code.

So be careful putting too much faith in these book even if they are evidence-based. At same time, I am surprised to see so many people recommending against reading up on parenting. Sure you will learn a lot of things from your parents and some of things that you will read in books might be common sense, but there will many new things you will learn. And some of common sense ideas are not even correct.

These books/blogs helped me being better father & husband, and also helped me deal with a lot of stress. "Let them Eat Dirt" helped me relax about being dirty.

"Brain Rules for Babies" helped me relax about not trying to teach my son all the time.

"What to Expect First Year" had a lot of useful tips. I didn't know that one should not microwave in plastic containers. And definitely don't microwave milk.

This is an Australian site but it's an evidence based, government funded initiative for new and upcoming parents like yourself: https://raisingchildren.net.au/

As a recently new father myself I've found it incredibly valuable. There's so much noise out there and it's great to have a solid starting point which you can then branch out from if you need to.

That looks like a good and useful initiative. Will take a look!

God, I only wish that my parenting could have been evidence-based. We found that there was so much variation between our two kids that it was hard to apply practice from one to the next. Forcing a consistent routine helped us get into through-the-night sleeping relatively quickly for both of them, but that's about all I can think of.

My parents tried evidence-based parenting on me. Granted it was 50 years ago, but whatever the science seemed to be saying at the time... In the end, they abandoned the idea completely for my brother as the evidence they collected with me appeared to support the theory that their previous attempt was completely misguided ;-)

Parenting is hard.

We read lots of books, but the most useful thing we got by word of mouth. "Elimination communication" basically you teach baby to poop when you hold them over the toilet or sink. You can sing a little pooping song or make grunting noises as a queue. This eliminates diaper rash and is much easier to clean up then a poopy diaper. It also makes potty training easier when you get there down the line. You can start very early, 1 month old is fine.

There isn't anything macro, people are too complex. As a parent you are just one variable, one influence. Plenty of people will say otherwise and give you advice whether you want it or not. Some of it will be good advice.

My advice is to pay attention to your child, ensure they know that they're loved, imbue them with a love of learning and teach them to be resilient.

The details are for you and your child to figure out but in my view reading together is key to a lot of good.

I have three kids: 4,6, and 8. We read a lot of books when our oldest was born...and learned that most advice is not based on much. Each of our kids is very different, stratiges that worked well with one failed completely with another. We have consistently adapted our approach with a focus on maintaining trust and teaching our "family rule" to be kind to yourself and others. It's hard work.

I don't buy into most parenting books, but after we accidentally taught our first to need her hand held for an hour to fall asleep, we realized we needed to do something different for the second.

My wife read a book by Ferber and it changed everything. I met a lot of people who said they tried Ferber and it didn't work, but none who actually read the book and did what it said.

I would recommend that you and your partner read Bringing Up Bébé. The chapter on sleep cycles will be a godsend.

The sooner you can get the baby sleeping through the night, the better you will be.

Also, be careful around 6 month age with new foods. There are way too many food allergies these days. I was just in the ER last night for a food related allergy.

> Also, be careful around 6 month age with new foods. There are way too many food allergies these days. I was just in the ER last night for a food related allergy.

This is something I've been borrning about a lot, because my wife has a very serious sesame allergy.

But what's confusing is that some allergies might be prevented with exposure, and some seem to be caused by it. Either way, caution is useful, of course.

I am sorry to hear about your food allergy experience! Our baby has reflux issues so anything acidic seems to bother him, but luckily no allergies yet.

Our doctor said to introduce new foods one at a time and wait for a few days just to make sure you know what caused a problem if there is one.

Hard data:

- Everybody will tell you what to do.

- Even more, they believe they are right everytime.

- You'll spend a lot of time in ER (or something like that) because you don't know what's going on and how to troubleshoot a baby. When in doubt, go ASAP or you'll end going back home at 5am.

- You'll be tired of doctors asking you if it is your first son. Fact is when the second one has fever, you give him/her medicine _and_ pospone.

- If you're wondering if you'll be able to do it well, you will (that's a symptom of someone who cares).

It is _very_ important that the mother has enough rest, at least the first 3-4 months. Some people talk about post-labor depression: it is not depression, just the mother is more exhausted than she has ever been in her life.

I'm a few months ahead of you -- I have a 3 week old daughter.

I don't have much to add at the moment, except to expect a constant barrage of (often unsolicited) advice from well-meaning family and friends. I'm learning to take everything with a grain of salt and approach new advice with an experimental mindset.

Hah, yes. And strangers, I suspect! (Based on experience of having dogs, where strangers are surprisingly enthusiastic about telling me about everything I'm doing wrong.)

I recommend reading “The Wonder Weeks”, a book about different developmental phases infants go through - with some caveats. It has helped us immeasurably to understand what their little minds and bodies are going through as they grow into their next developmental phase. Check it out, it’s worth a read and is based on scientific research, though not without controversy, so take it all with a grain of salt. Personally / anecdotally, we have found fussiness has lined up perfectly with the jumps in our first child, while it’s about two weeks early in our second child.


There is a ton of conflicting advice. We're currently using Ferber and happy with it. But there's so much variance among kids, so you can't rely blindly on any method.

You just need to gather evidence from your own kid (n=1) by being attentive, responsive and malleable.

The other comments seem spot on: Emily Oster books, a checklist (amazing how quickly they leave your mind when stressed by crying), and the knowledge that parenting doesn't actually matter for much in the first few years past making sure the kid gets enough food and sleep.

"The Whole Brain Child" is an excellent primer on how children's brains work and behaviors are exhibited, and from researchers in this area. I'm now listening to the follow-up "No-Drama Discipline", and hoping it will provide even more practical advice in this area.

"How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, and How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk" is also good.

"Parenting From The Inside Out" is a gut punch about getting your own psychological problems addressed first.

I'll also say that prioritizing sleep (as best as you can), proper diet, exercise, and healthy boundaries between work/home are sometimes so much more important than any book you could be reading.

Humans are too diverse for an evidence-based "always do X, never do Y". You're more likely to get "X worked out better 70% of the time" - which means with 70% of the kids. Well, 30% of the time, that won't work out well with your kid.

So take advice (evidence based, if available). But if it's not working with your child, then it's not. (Your kid will almost certainly differ from the "best advice" on something.) When that happens, try something else, no matter how "expert" or "evidence-based" the recommendation was.

I have two essential books:

1) https://www.amazon.com/Baby-Whisperer-Solves-Your-Problems/d...

Good sleep habits should be the #1 priority with a newborn (to the extent you can do anything about it).

2) Peaceful Parents Happy Kids https://www.ahaparenting.com

When kids get older (toddler and up) this book is very evidence based, and is very helpful for dealing with relationship conflicts.

I've recently found the work of Alfie Kohn and his books (Unconditional Parenting, Punished by Rewards - these I've read) it's heavily evidence-based (lot's of cited research).

It challenges the status-quo but I really enjoy his perspective.

The books aren't really about dealing with very small babies , but you might enjoy his teachings.

There's a DVD (about 2 hour long) "Unconditional Parenting" which is a great summary of the book with the same name.

Best of luck in that adventure!

My wife and I listened to and got a lot out of the Great Course "Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids who Thrive". He cites studies for all his tips, and is very careful about recommending only things that have been thoroughly researched, with replication.


I’d recommend the book NurtureShock (https://www.amazon.com/NurtureShock-New-Thinking-About-Child...)

It has great chapters on sleep, race, praise and most interesting of all, how the ways in which our efforts to become perfect parents can backfire.

If you haven't a chance to check out www.parenttv.com it's great!! It has literally brought together the leading parenting experts from all over the world into the one place and personalises to the age of your child 0-17 years old and walk you through their development and what you need to know broken down into categories ... it's awesome!

I think this is more difficult than it sounds. Kid A is very different from kid B. I've found that things that 'work' with my kids don't work on other kids.

Along these lines, I thought this book was interesting: The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children

Most of the good stuff is designed for early childhood professionals, not parents. Parent stuff tends to be plausible sounding nonsense. It's when you have a group of a dozen kids in a preschool that you need stuff that works. Compare levels of order the versus at home. It's a bit of work to adopt but not too much.

I never really used any.

In your place, now I would work to have community that feels familiar. Maybe you are lucky and you have your close-family living nearby and you have good relationship and good boundaries, that is a real asset.

We didn't. Having friends with small children saved me.

Read a book on child development Read a book on early childhood education. Read about attachment.

You yourself should go to therapy to better understand yourself. A lot of people parent as a reflection of their adult needs and their childhood experiences. And congratulations!

I really haven't found anything that I trust.

A lot of anecdotal stuff and strange testing kinda stuff.

There's SO MUCH NOISE when it comes to parenting information.

The best advice I have is to just pay attention to your child and figure out what works for them the best you can. Every kid is really different.

I enjoyed "Parenting without Power Struggles" and "All Joy and No Fun". The former nails how to have a real relationship with your child, the latter talks about the issues with modern parenting.

Selfish Reasons to have More Kids.

The TLDR is, relax: your parenting doesn't matter as much as you probably think.

This seems to be a recurring theme. I get the impression it's very hard to screw up so bad it would be statistically repeatable.

I wouldn't recommend any.

You should try common sense.

This is a blog I've read and enjoyed before. Thanks for the link; will take a look!

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