Hello and welcome!

November 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm 8 comments

Hi there!  I’m Sarah, I’m a GP living and working in the UK, and I have two children.  If you want to read more about me and my life, do come check out my general blog, Good Enough Mum.

When I was pregnant with my first child, it didn’t take me long to learn that the age-old tradition of telling mothers how they should bring up their children has reached a whole new level in recent years.  At least a few decades ago it was just individuals making disparaging comments on what we should/shouldn’t be doing with that baby. These days, the do-it-this-way factions are organised into movements posting scads of articles on the Internet, complete with references to a half-dozen or more studies which (these authors claim) provide cast-iron, irrefutable proof of just how damaging and wrong parenting practice X is. And, while many of the dos and dont’s I read struck me as ridiculous enough for me to see through them, unfortunately I didn’t generalise that scepticism to the more convincing-sounding of the essays I was reading – I swallowed quite enough wholesale to spend my first child’s infancy as a nervous wreck over all the possible ways in which I could ruin him by failing to observe some all-important precept with sufficient accuracy.

Then – because my profession gives me the opportunity to get hold of journal articles to read for myself and the training to follow at least the basics of what they say and what their flaws are – I started actually looking up some of those references to research studies, and reading what they really said.  And, little by little, I discovered an astonishing amount of misleading information and downright misinformation.  A frightening number of these people giving their opinion as though it were gospel from on high were, in fact, downright misinterpreting research articles or ignoring contradictory results in order to make it look as though the evidence backed them up when it simply didn’t.  (For the most part, I don’t think these were deliberate attempts at deception – it’s an extremely natural human tendency to make the evidence fit our beliefs, rather than the other way around. We all tend to focus on that which supports our beliefs and gloss over that which doesn’t.  Unfortunately, the effect on bewildered new parents struggling to make sense of all the information out there and do the best thing for their babies is the same – they’re still being misled.)

I had the opportunity to learn that quite a lot of what I was reading just wasn’t correct – but what about other parents out there, who didn’t have access to the same information?  On my blog, I started to write the occasional post dealing with one parenting-related controversy or another, explaining what I knew on the subject and giving my take on it all.  Is sleep training really psychologically damaging for babies?  How much of a problem is it likely to be for a breastfed baby to get the occasional bottle of formula?  What did I think about the MMR?  I corrected erroneous claims I’d read, commented on logic that I found faulty, and generally did a bit of debunking of some of the myths out there.  Some people read them, and some people found them helpful.

After some years of this, my sister suggested, that instead of making them an occasional feature on a blog that was primarily filled with general ramblings about my own life, I should set up a separate blog specifically for posts about parenting.

“Won’t that be a bit of an empty blog?” I asked.  Posts like that take quite a lot of time to write and (see opening paragraph concerning existence of two children and job, above) I’d only actually written a handful of them over the years.

My sister thought I should go ahead anyway and add other posts as and when I got the chance.  So, I took her advice and here we are.

I’m copying the relevant posts from my other blog, with slight editing if appropriate, and posting them on here under the timestamp they were originally posted under (which is why it looks as though I’ve been posting here for years on a very occasional basis, in case you were wondering.  This is actually the first post written specifically for this blog.)  I’m not likely to have the chance to add more very often, but I’ll do what I can.  If you have any topics you’d like my views on, do please let me know.  Meanwhile, the most important piece of advice I’d give to any parent?  Don’t worry, don’t sweat the small stuff, and remember the old saying – the most important thing you can do for your kids is to enjoy them.


Entry filed under: General comments.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bionicbrooklynite  |  November 9, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    duly added to my reader! looking forward to more sacred hamburger.

  • 2. ConstanceW  |  November 20, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    This is a truly useful blog and I am recommending it to one and all with even a remote interest in the issues….it is exceptionally well written and everything is supported by facts, reasoning and evidence and not just the hobbyhorse of whoever in the garage of advice that is out there to bewilder parents. Keep it up Dr. Sarah and I wish you could be my GP

  • 3. Stohelit  |  December 14, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Dear Dr Sarah:
    Do you take requests on writing topics? I have received a lot of conflicting advice and today, when I was asking myself who to trust, I thought: “You know… I’d trust Dr Sarah”. So if you could find some time in this busy season, I’d be *extremely* grateful if you could give us the facts on the following topic: Does breastfeeding cause tooth decay?

    My baby is barely one year old and all of her teeth are severely decayed, with at least three cavities, one of them huge. I have always avoided any saliva-to-saliva contact and
    brushed the teeth since they appeared. We don’t use a pacifier or bottles and I never give her sugar or juice. I do, however, breastfeeding her to sleep and several times a night (we cosleep). The dentist told me this is what caused the decay and that I need to night-wean. I do NOT want this although of course I will do what is best for my baby. But everywhere I look on the internet it says that breastmilk doesn’t cause tooth decay, that it’s a myth, so I’m terribly confused.

    I guess this is a different topic but the dentist also told me to use adult toothpaste on her because it has much more fluoride. Again, the advice on the internet about fluoride is conflicting… But knowing how much you research each topic, I guess one question is enough!

    Thank you very much indeed.

    • 4. Dr Sarah  |  December 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm

      I am delighted to take requests on topics! And, as it happens, your question is one (of many) that I do want to write a post on in the future. However, it’s also one on which I’m aware I don’t know enough to be sure the advice I’m giving you is accurate. Here’s what I do know, for what it’s worth:

      Studies on whether breastfeeding causes tooth decay have been very conflicting, with several showing a link and several showing no link. (This, of course, makes it easy for lactivists to claim that it doesn’t cause tooth decaty, simply by cherry-picking the studies.) I do have a review of the studies somewhere, stating that, given the conflicting results, it isn’t possible to reach a definite conclusion that it causes tooth decay (don’t have the reference to hand, but can look it out if you want).

      BUT… when I looked at the abstracts of the studies, I found a couple did mention either frequent breastfeeding or night-time breastfeeding as a risk. And it hit me that it isn’t really enough just to ask ‘Does breastfeeding cause tooth decay?’ without also taking into account that we can’t assume that a child who is breastfed once or twice a day, say, will be at the same risk of tooth decay as a child who’s on and off the breast all day and night. And, of course, the conflicting results in the research could be because studies have mostly just asked the question of whether a child is breastfed or not, without looking at patterns of breastfeeding.

      So, I got hold of a few studies on extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding past a year) – the ones where it looked, from the abstract, as though they discussed feeding patterns. From those, what I’ve concluded is that frequent breastfeeding during the day probably isn’t a problem but night-time breastfeeding probably is. BUT….. as I say, I only have full studies for a few out of the many done on the topic of breastfeeding and tooth decay. So I can’t be definite on that one, because it’s possible that some of the other studies out there have looked at patterns of breastfeeding (and that this just isn’t clear from the abstract) and that they didn’t find a link, which, of course, would put a whole different slant on things.

      So the answer to your question is that, based on what I have read, I do think there could be a problem specifically with night-time breastfeeding causing tooth decay. But I can’t swear that I haven’t missed research that’s out there that might prove me wrong on that. (Or, for that matter, that might prove the reverse – that frequent daytime breastfeeding might be a risk factor as well, so I guess I can’t officially give you the all-clear on that one.)

      Hope that’s of some help. As I say, I really hope to eventually get hold of all the relevant studies and form a properly informed opinion, but there are practical issues with so doing, which is why I only have a few of them as yet.

    • 5. Dr Sarah  |  December 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm

      Oh, and I knew I knew that username from somewhere – a fellow Pratchett fan? Hooray! (And Nanny Ogg is my all-time favourite, but I love Susan too.)

  • 6. Christine @ African Babies Don't Cry  |  January 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Hi Sarah, totally agree with you that there is just so much conflicting advice out there that mothers need to wade through before they find what works best for their children. Once piece of advice I was given early on in motherhood was my own mother telling me that there are many experts out there all with conflicting views and research but I am and will always be an expert in what’s best for Jesse 🙂 I liked that, definitely calmed my new-mother-nerves 🙂

  • 7. bit.ly  |  September 13, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually think this site needs far
    more attention. I’ll probably be returning to
    see more, thanks for the info!

  • 8. Liz Poulton  |  February 21, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Hi Sarah,
    It’s great that you have set up this blog. You have clearly put a lot of work into dealing with some interesting controversies.
    What are your thoughts on routine infant circumcision for baby boys? Some people say that it is a healthy and hygienic option that reduces susceptibility to UTIs, STDs, and even HIV and penile cancer. It is even believed that women with circumcised partners are less likely to develop cervical cancer.
    In America, the Centre for Disease Control has stated that they believe that the advantages of routine infant circumcision outweighs the risks. Yet interestingly, what used to be a very high proportion of boys getting circumcised, seems to be dropping like it did in Australia in the past 30 years. Are people dismissing the health benefits that have come to light? Or are fewer babies getting circumcised because of a growing reluctance of insurance companies to cover this procedure? It’s an interesting topic where myths and facts collide!


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