Information Overload

August 21, 2008 by

 Information Overload

By Meagan Francis

In the Internet age, knowing everything—and I do mean everything—about pregnancy and parenting often seems just a mouse click away. Not only can you order every book in print without ever leaving your desk, but you can also read countless articles and blogs warning you about scary pregnancy-related symptoms and birth emergencies.
Sure, knowledge is power, but after a while, too much knowledge can become overwhelming. And it may not be all that helpful: After all, no matter how much you read, it’s almost certain you’ll encounter a few surprises along the way…and most of those complications you read about are very unlikely to happen to you.

Be Choosy
Remember, just because something is on the Internet—or even written in a book—that doesn’t necessarily make it true or relevant to your pregnancy, your birth, or your baby, says Marjorie Greenfield, M.D., author of The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book. “On the one hand, it’s fabulous that there’s so much information out there on the Internet, but on the other hand, this information often isn’t checked for accuracy,” she points out.

Before you believe a forwarded email, website, or even a legitimate-looking book, consider the source: Is the information backed up by science or an organization you trust? Is it based in reason, or does it seem too over-the-top to be true? Making medical decisions based on incorrect information isn’t only anxiety-provoking—it could be dangerous, too. Get book and website recommendations from somebody you trust, such as your doctor or midwife, a friend, or childbirth educator.

Websites You Can Trust

Wondering where to start your search for more information? Check out these medical organizations for sound advice. Just don’t browse too long!

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

The American College of Nurse-Midwives

The American Acacemy of Pediatrics

Keep Things Right-Sized
There’s such a thing as overkill even when the information is sound, says Jagjit Khairah, D.O., an ob/gyn at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston. Khairah says that TV shows, news stories, and websites portraying complications of pregnancy and birth often don’t show the whole picture. “Take anything sensational you see with a grain of salt—most pregnancies and deliveries go just fine,” he says.

Carol Livoti, M.D., ob/gyn and co‑author of The Stress-Free Pregnancy Guide: A Doctor Tells You What to Really Expect, agrees. Pregnant women, she says, often deal with fear and anxiety by scouring the Internet for information—which can just cement their most radical fears and make it difficult for them to enjoy pregnancy. “Do you stand at the top of a mountain and think, ‘Hmmm, I have a 1 in 500,000 chance of getting struck by lightning right now’?” she reasons.

Livoti also points out that doctors are required to inform their patients of everything they know about their condition, which can add up to unnecessary worry. “We have to tell you whenever something drifts ever so slightly off the course of an ideal pregnancy, because you have a right to know. But 99 percent of the time, anything that looks abnormal turns out to be insignificant.”

Just Chill
Unlike all those exotic pregnancy conditions and tragic parenting mistakes you may have read about—which are pretty unlikely to occur—expecting moms really are at a high risk for stress, which has been linked to both prenatal and postpartum depression and anxiety. Because depression and anxiety can make it more difficult for you to bond with and enjoy your baby, you owe it to the both of you to protect yourself against information overload.

Be selective about the information you take in, and when you read something upsetting, take a deep breath and consider whether you really need to be worried about it. If you still aren’t sure, ask your doctor or midwife for input before you do more research.

Prepared, not Paralyzed
OK, so you’ll chill out on the pregnancy anxiety. But we all want to be great mothers, so when it comes to parenthood, is it really possible to be too prepared? If you want to be a happy and sane mom, the answer may be “yes.” “My co‑author and I call it ‘paralysis by analysis,’ ” says Devra Renner, a licensed clinical social worker and co-author of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids. “We have instant access to all this information, but the end result is that moms feel like they need to be experts at everything and that they’re failing as mothers otherwise.” Information overload, Renner says, can also make it difficult for moms to keep from second-guessing every choice they make.

Clueless or Crazy? The Quiz

No matter how much reading you do, there are always things you won’t understand about parenting until you’re faced with a real-life baby who won’t sleep, won’t nurse, or won’t quit chewing electrical cords. Take this quiz to find out if you’re striking a good balance.

1. How much do you read about parenting?

a) I bought every book that came up under the keyword “baby” on Amazon, including the horror novel Rosemary’s Baby. It can’t hurt to be prepared for demon possession.

b) I’ve read a few recommended books to learn about the basics of breastfeeding and baby care without overloading myself with too much information.

c) Why bother? If I just keep the baby from running into the road or playing with rabid animals, she’ll be OK.

2. How detailed is your birth plan?

a) It’s a 15-page thesis that includes flowcharts, diagrams of pushing positions, and a -history of birth from the dark ages through the present.

b) I kept it short and sweet—my wishes for birth and postpartum care, along with procedures I’m OK with and those I’d like to avoid.

c) Actually, until this moment, I hadn’t really thought about it.

3. What kind of mom would you like to be?

a) I’ve got it all planned out to the last detail. When—and how much-my baby will sleep, how often he’ll eat, and what discipline methods I’ll use at each stage of his life. And I’ve been telling everybody within earshot about my plans, too.

b) I have a basic parenting philosophy, but I won’t pontificate about it or what kind of kids I’ll end up with. After all, that sweaty, frazzled mom trying to dislodge her child’s teeth from another toddler’s arm could be me one day.

c) Nah—I’ll just look to my favorite celeb moms as parenting role models. They’re famous, they must be doing it right!

4. How will you spend your maternity leave?

a) I’ve signed us up for mom-and-baby yoga, because studies show that it might help my baby learn to relax; infant Mozart—studies say it’ll make her smarter; playgroups for proper socialization; and, of course, baby sign language. What, not enough?

b) I plan on spending a lot of time just hanging out getting to know him. I’ll try to get us both out of the house for a change of scenery—and to give me a reason to shower and dress! But I’m waiting to find out what his personality and sleep schedule is like before I try any organized activities.

c) I’ll be sleeping in and catching up on the soaps I haven’t seen since college. Babies don’t do anything but stare at the ceiling all day anyway, right?

Mostly A’s
Your goals for motherhood are admirable…but probably unrealistic. Some prep is a great idea, but keep in mind that the minute you think you’ve got parenting all figured out, you’ll be faced with a crying baby, exploding diaper, and full grocery cart all at once.

Realize that there are some crises you just can’t prepare for. Knowledge is power, but the ability to roll with the punches and listen to your gut is the true ticket to a successful—and sane—motherhood.

Mostly B’s
You’ve struck a nice balance: enough preparation to ride out the rocky parts of parenthood, without short-circuiting your brain by filling it with every nugget of information—the good, the bad, and the just plain silly—to ever hit the bookstore shelves.

Remember, you’ll develop your own mothering style as your baby grows, and it’ll become easier to discern which of the advice is really helpful and which should be tossed out with the diapers.

Mostly C’s
We’re all for a relaxed approach to parenting, but entering motherland uninformed is like going into an outlet mall without a map! You need some basic baby-care information to keep you sane (and your baby safe) after he’s born, and if you don’t have a plan for dealing with rough spots when it comes to breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, or the often isolating early weeks of motherhood, you might be vulnerable to depression and other postpartum issues.

Ask a mom you admire to recommend one or two books and keep them on hand as a reference. You’ll be glad you did when your baby is doing something befuddling—which she probably will at least 10 times a day.

Meagan Francis is author of The Everything Health Guide to Postpartum Care. Going through pregnancy four times herself has shown her just how easy it is to become pregnancy obsessed.

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