Book Review: The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby's First Year

By Anne M. Estes, PhD

Today on Science & Sensibility, Anne M. Estes, PhD reviews a new book – The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year.  Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility are all about providing families and professionals with evidence based information that can help inform decision making.  Seems like this book might fit in nicely with the philosophy that Lamaze has held for decades.  Regular contributor Anne M. Estes, PhD shares her review on this new book and lets us know if it might be something to add to our resource list for new parents.  See the end of the review to learn how you can enter to be chosen for a free copy of this book courtesy of the author,  Alice Callahan. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility. 

Science of Mom Cover HiDefMitchell Kapor once said, “Getting information off the Internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant.” New parents and child care professionals are certainly easily drenched by all the information that can be acquired on the internet from a variety of sources. As newly minted scientist-mom seven years ago, I was frustrated at the number of opinion and experienced-based baby books that lacked scientific support. The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year, now fills that gap. Alice Callahan, a PhD in nutritional biology and mom of two, systematically examines common questions and concerns about infant care from a scientific perspective. In each chapter, she discusses the historical practice of the question, recommendations of different organizations, the current research, and the risks and benefits of a practice. Dr. Callahan does an excellent job presenting the strengths and limitations of particular studies and the logic behind different recommendations. AlthoughThe Science of Mom is science-focused, it is well-written and easy to read. The style of the book is personal and conversational. Personal experiences are intermingled with the science to illustrate her points well. A list of both the references used for each chapter and recommended books and websites are also given to help parents identify credible resources instead of getting lost in the fog of Internet “experts”.

Potential readers

For childbirth professionals and parents or parents-to-be interested in evidence-based practices for birth and an infant’s first year, The Science of Mom is a new and invaluable resource. Questions covered include: When is the right time to cut the umbilical cord? Which newborn treatments are necessary? How do newborns experience and explore their world? What are the differences between breastmilk and formula feeding? Where and how can babies sleep safely? What is the evidence for vaccinations? When and what kinds of solid food are best for babies?

Importance of evidence based decisions

Perhaps it’s also my bias as a scientist, but I greatly enjoyed reading such an insightful description of the process of science, the importance of scientific consensus, differences in quality across studies, and how scientific data can assist families in making informed decisions. Though readers of an evidence based blog like Science and Sensibility may already understand these points, the introduction could be helpful when introducing the rationale behind evidence based practices during child birth classes. It also serves as a guide for anyone who wants to research their own questions in the scientific literature.

I was particularly surprised to read about two instances where changes to medical practices in the early to mid 1900s had occurred without any evidence based support. One example was timing of cutting the umbilical cord. The author speculates that perhaps due to efficiency or convenience, the umbilical cord began to be cut before all the blood was pumped into the newborn. This practice is now being reconsidered due to the increased iron stores in the first 6 months of life of infants when cord clamping is delayed. Such an example certainly reinforces the importance of having evidence of benefit before new procedures are introduced or changes are made in traditional birth procedures.

Filling a gap in the bookshelf

In science and medicine there are no borders and no “right” answers. The Science of Mom is the same. Throughout the book, the author explores how a variety of countries and cultures deal with issues from giving Vitamin K to newborns (oral vs injected) to sleep practices (bed/room sharing vs separate sleeping arrangements). Different personal health conditions and prevalence of disease differ across the globe, making the need for some newborn treatments, such as eye prophylaxis, less clear. Dr. Callahan provides the data and information for people to make informed choices for their own family’s practices and situations. I found the honest, open, and nonjudgmental tone throughout the book refreshing.

Callahan author photo

Author Alice Callahan and her newborn © Alice Callahan

What a scientist-mom adds to the conversation

Each profession trains people to strengthen different skill sets. Training in the life sciences, especially at the PhD level, encourages a person to gather resources, sort through different quality data, synthesize data, and reach a conclusion based on that data for a given situation. Add to that training first-hand experience with raising two kids – knowledge of what it’s like to be in the parenting trenches, experience the “mommy wars”, and feel the exhaustion and yet love and concern of being a parent – and you’ve got a winning combination. The author is not a medical professional and most likely has only attended the births of her own two kids. However, in Science of Mom, Alice Callahan, PhD combines the critical eye of a scientist with the heart of a mother to create a helpful resource for all people interested in evidence based infant care and parenting.

What is missing?

What The Science of Mom does not do in general is to give you prescriptives for answering many of the parenting questions she poses. Data are still being collected and debated for many birth and parenting questions. There simply may not be one “right” way. In these cases, the scientific data are presented, the pros and cons of the different perspectives are addressed, then Dr. Callahan recommends following your baby’s lead and doing what feels best for your own family. After all, parenting is an art as well as a science.

In situations where scientists have reached a consensus, such as with the benefits of vaccines or back sleeping for infants, the author provides insight into how and why that consensus was reached by the scientific community. In such cases, Dr. Callahan provides additional information such as the role of each ingredient in the vitamin K shot in order to provide additional comfort to worried parents.

The Science of Mom is an excellent new addition to the bookshelves of any birth professional or parent who is interested in evidence-based parenting practices. Although the copy of The Science of Mom that I reviewed was complementary, I have given copies to several scientist-mom friends with newborns who also enjoy the nonjudgmental and objective tone of the book. For those wanting to read more of Dr. Callahan’s excellent commentary on the science of parenting, you can find her writing at the blog, The Science of Mom.

Enter to win your own copy of The Science of Mom

Have you had a chance to read this book?  What did you think of it?  Does this sound like a book that you would like to read?  Would you consider adding it to your resource list?  Share your thoughts about the book, how necessary or needed a book such as this might be, or other favorite resources for families to get evidence based information in understandable and easy to digest formats in the comments section below and include your email address.  All comments will be entered in a drawing for your own copy of the book.  The winner will be announced next month when Anne Estes interviews Dr. Callahan about her book. – SM

About Anne Estes

AnneMEstes_headshot 2015

Anne M. Estes, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, MD. She is interested in how microbes and their host organisms work together throughout host devel

20 Comments

I'd love to read something tha

September 3, 2015 07:00 AM by Susanna
I'd love to read something that takes an analytical approach for choosing the best parenting practices, but also encompassed assessments of practices both past and present and looks for historical parenting practice gems erroneously abandoned.

As a scientific researcher (Ph

September 3, 2015 07:00 AM by Amy Lavelle
As a scientific researcher (PhD in Human and Molecular Genetics and Research Scientist in an Immunochemistry lab) and a doula and childbirth educator, seeing this made me so excited!!

As a postpartum doula and firs

September 3, 2015 07:00 AM by Sara L.
As a postpartum doula and first time mom, this book sounds like it contains all of the information I need in one place. I often have to do my own research to help my clients navigate parenting. I could lend them this book, if I won it.

I look forward to reading this

September 3, 2015 07:00 AM by Anne Figge
I look forward to reading this book. I imagine it being helpful to me in two areas: As a new grandmother, I'm discovering the fire hose that is the internet. Goodness gracious! How do parents today make choices without going into overload? How great to have parenting topics passed through an evidence-based filter. As a recently trained, novice doula, I can see this book being a great resource for me, and one that I might recommend to parents. I'll be interested to read the section on vaccines. I am searching for resources on both sides of that debate that are evidence-based and avoid attacking the other side. (I just placed a hold on the book at my local library, and I'm off to check out the Science of Mom blog now.)

As a veteran doula I'm constan

September 3, 2015 07:00 AM by Sarah Vine
As a veteran doula I'm constantly trying to adjust the library of books I lend parents, and make sure what I give them is only the best. In the SF Bay Area here I get a lot of parents who are highly professional and really want the scientific research, the truth and not just the protocol. I'm always happy to find real research! Whoop! Thanks for your excellent review.

I would love a copy of this bo

September 3, 2015 07:00 AM by Jenifer Sawchenko
I would love a copy of this book. As a midwife I am regularly seeking out science-based evidence to present to and assist families in making decisions throughout and beyond the birth of their babies. This book would be a great addition to my library.

As a childbirth and postpartum

September 4, 2015 07:00 AM by Jen Chandlee
As a childbirth and postpartum educator (and a birth & PP doula!) I am always asked for my opinion/advice, especially on newborn care. A book like this, based on scientific evidence and also allowing room for different parenting choices and styles, is an invaluable resource for my students and clients.

Thank you for the great review

September 4, 2015 07:00 AM by David W.
Thank you for the great review of Alice Callahan's book Science of Mom. I am very excited to get the chance to read her book soon. Callahan's book will be an invaluable resource to me as a future RD, when I'm a father, and as a lay person (with regards to raising children) that needs good information to debunk all the misinformation shared across various media.

This sounds like a very import

September 4, 2015 07:00 AM by Sarah
This sounds like a very important book! I'm a mom of two and evidence-based information helps me gain confidence in making parenting decisions. It shows me the pros and cons of a situation and I can choose which set of pros and cons I want for my kids.

I just wish that childbirth ed

September 4, 2015 07:00 AM by Anne G
I just wish that childbirth educators and breastfeeding advocates could get on the same page. In my opinion, breastfeeding is the natural progression after childbirth. While I am sure that the book contains a lot of science based information, the author has a tendency to devalue breastfeeding. When a childbirth site, such as Lamaze, gives positive reviews of non-breastfeeding friendly authors, it reinforces the perception that breastfeeding is over rated and that formula feeding is just fine. New mothers deserve clearer guidelines, they have enough to worry about.

@Anne G Hi Anne G. Thanks for

September 5, 2015 07:00 AM by Anne Estes, PhD
@Anne G Hi Anne G. Thanks for your comment. I completely agree that breastfeeding is the natural progression after childbirth and science supports that breastfeeding is most beneficial. I didn't feel like the author devalued breastfeeding in this book. Sh

Thanks for your comments @Anne

September 6, 2015 07:00 AM by Sharon Muza, BS, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), CLE
Thanks for your comments @AnneG, I appreciate hearing your perspective very much. Lamaze International and Science & Sensibility recognize that breastfeeding is the ideal situation for babies. I did not feel that the author of the reviewed book was contradicting this. But, I always do say that breastfeeding is often the next big challenge after birth, and families need education,support, and information about how to nourish and nurture their newborns, even when there are some bumps in the road. Thanks again for your comment.

For an excerpt of the chapter

September 7, 2015 07:00 AM by Anne Estes, PhD
For an excerpt of the chapter on breastfeeding in Science of Mom, please see this site: http://www.brainchildmag.com/2015/09/excerpt-the-science-of-mom/

Yes, there are some well reaso

September 8, 2015 07:00 AM by Anne G
Yes, there are some well reasoned comments, but there are also quotes such as this one, "If the science of breastfeeding is used first and foremost as a tool for breastfeeding promotion, we compromise public trust in science. Biased information about breastfeeding also sets up infant feeding as a debate, which sometimes escalates to mommy war status, and it doesn't need to be either of these," which seems to defend commercial infant formula and criticizes breastfeeding advocacy. The comment, "only in very recent human history has science allowed for a safe alternative" is not that far off from the manufacturers' claim that it is "closer to breastmilk" than ever before. Even the quote, "This science, however, is difficult to do and even harder to interpret in a meaningful way," reinforces the stance that the science is neither solid nor compelling. Overall, the scientific view shared in the book does not seem to be consistent with the consensus view. I think the author does a disservice to moms by concluding that breastfeeding is not particularly important.

I think this sounds like an aw

September 10, 2015 07:00 AM by Heidi
I think this sounds like an awesome book! Its nice to see a book offering advice based on evidence. As a first time pregnant woman, I would look forward to reading a book like this (and am hoping maybe I can win it before having to buy it!).

M. Estes, PhD, blogger at

September 21, 2015 07:00 AM by Where I?ve Been: Busy with Media Coverage of The Science of Mom! | Science of Mom
M. Estes, PhD, blogger at Mostly Microbes, wrote a wonderful review of my book on Science and Sensibility, the blog from Lamaze International. There is an open giveaway for a copy of my book there, and the [?]

Mitchell Kapor once said, ƒ??G

September 22, 2015 07:00 AM by Jessica Barnes, LCCE
Mitchell Kapor once said, ??Getting information off the Internet is like drinking from a fire hydrant.? This is so true! I think it is very valuable to give new parents a reliable, evidence based book to reference during the early days of child rearing rather than sending them off to the internet to find information. It is a much more effective method of ensuring accurate information is provided to the parent.

I have read the Science of Mom

September 22, 2015 07:00 AM by Abby
I have read the Science of Mom blog for years, and I am thrilled that Dr. Callahan took the spirit of the blog into book format, where many more people can find and appreciate it! I'd love a copy as I start out my own parenting journey next February.

I've been dying to read this b

September 25, 2015 07:00 AM by Laura Rousseau
I've been dying to read this book ever since I stumbled upon Alice's blog. My baby is almost a year old now and I wish I had had access to this book a year ago. But maybe it will help with my second baby, or at least give me some information I can share with friends.

@Amy Lavelle Amy, you have bee

October 5, 2015 07:00 AM by Sharon Muza, BS, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), CLE
@Amy Lavelle Amy, you have been randomly selected to receive a free copy of the book. Check your email for instructions on how to receive it! Yay!

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