Understanding Research: Introducing Andrea Lythgoe

[Editor’s Note: I’m absolutely thrilled to announce our newest regular contributor, Andrea Lythgoe. Andrea is a DONA-certified doula, hospital-based Lamaze childbirth educator, and instructor at the Midwives College of Utah. She is the author of the website UnderstandingResearch.com where she aims to help those just beginning to read research to understand the language of research. Look for the first article in her series tomorrow!- AMR]

“Are you sure that’s right? On the news last night, they said a study just proved that ……..”

“My doctor said that since there are no randomized controlled trials, it’s not safe.”

“Is it REALLY true that sex starts labor? Because last night on the news they said it did not, but last month on the news they said it did!”

Andrea Lythgoe, CD(DONA), LCCE

Andrea Lythgoe, CD(DONA), LCCE

As a childbirth educator and doula, I have run across these kinds of situations many times. It’s hard for expectant parents to understand what “the research says” when the headlines are their only source of information. In order to best help the families we serve, we should be as up to date as we can on current research. There are lots of excellent ways out there for birth professionals to stay caught up on the current research, but often it can be overwhelming to those just starting out.

I’ll be writing a series of articles here designed to help you learn the basics:

  • How (and why) to find the actual research study when you hear about a study on the news, or from a student.
  • Basic questions to consider when reviewing a study
  • The various types of studies you may come across and which types might be most appropriate for research in pregnancy, birth and parenting.
  • Classroom techniques for the educator to use when a birth-related study makes a big media splash.
  • Simple statistics you should know. I promise there will be no math!

As the series progresses, please feel free to ask questions, suggest topics for future articles, and share your tips as well. I’m looking forward to this project!

2 Comments

Understanding Research: Introducing Andrea Lythgoe

September 16, 2009 07:00 AM by MomTFH
I am really looking forward to this series! Thanks! I am teaching at a midwifery school right now, and I have one student who frequently interrupts with questionable "research" findings: children who are born in water are more confident, willing to take on challenges and more successful in life, for example. She always confidently presents these theories as proven research by some nameless physician or scientist, and they are usually extreme claims for some aspect of the natural birth spectrum. I really am not sure how to respond. For that example, I said that it's hard to make comparisons of children born in the water since they are such a small group, and it would be hard to structure a long term study on behavior with an appropriate comparison group. Other similar assertions of hers I have just let survive unchallenged, I just smile and continue where I left off with the lecture. I don't want to have an adversarial relationship with my student, embarrass her or seem nonsupportive of these topics or techniques, but I also want to counter the idea that sweeping judgments can be made based on small, non scientific observations. Since you also teach midwifery students, have you had any experience with this?

Understanding Research: Introducing Andrea Lythgoe

September 16, 2009 07:00 AM by Andrea D. Lythgoe, LCCE
Yes, this type of situation happens all the time! When students make vague research claims, I will often tell students I am really interested in learning more, since I have not seen any studies showing that. I'll privately ask them to send me more information - occasionally offering extra credit if they can send me a full-text copy of the study. Often this sends students looking for research they'd heard about secondhand and they can't find it or are surprised by the weak articles they do find. Then, since my class is a research class, we hold a class discussion to look over the research and critique it. It would be harder to fit that kind of discussion into a different class, but even doing it once or twice a semester would be enlightening to the students, I think. The trick is in making it crystal clear you're critiquing the RESEARCH, not the student who brought it in. Since I've asked the student to supply the study privately, it is less focused on that student. Again, easier in a research course where critiquing studies is a regular part of the curriculum. Keep trying! It is worth it to help new midwives learn to be discriminating in how they read and apply research!

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