16/04/2013 20:12 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

How Mothers Are Bored Of Ridiculous Research And Guilt-Making Headlines

Anxious woman Rex

So it's 'official', then. Child obesity has nothing to do with how much you eat, how much you exercise, complicated genetic predispositions or deep-seated psychological issues. It's all to do with whether or not your mum had a C-section.

Or so say all the papers and the internet.

This week's study into how to make mothers feel vaguely guilty about everything was from the Boston Children's Hospital in Massachusetts and published in the Archives of Diseases of Childhood.

It followed 1,255 mothers and their children for three years and began when the mothers were less than 22 weeks pregnant.

284 children were born by C-section.

And out of those, 15.7 per cent were judged 'obese' when they were weighed and measured at the age of three.

How many children does that percentage represent? I am no maths expert, but a quick faff around with my mobile phone calculator tells me that 15.7 per cent of 284 – stay with me – is 44.58.

Let's round it up, partly for convenience and partly because weird percentage anomalies are the reason why most people find statistics so hard to translate to real life. (0.58 per cent of a child? What?) So that's 45 children.

The obesity rate for babies born vaginally was 7.5 per cent. So on the basis of a study which runs for only the first three years of a child's life, in one hospital, in an American state where almost a quarter of adults are obese - women in the UK are being told that 'C-section babies face double the risk of obesity'. (I quote several newspapers here.)

OK, so it's a bit unfair to pick on this piece of research in particular. Investigating what causes obesity is a valid thing to do.

And, after all, it's just one of many, many similar studies which pop up with mind-numbing regularity.

Most of them deal with subjects that matter deeply to mothers. Child obesity, of course. Breast and bottle feeding. Sleep patterns. Childcare.


And whatever the official conclusion, the message between the lines is pretty clear – it's your fault.


My personal favourite of these is a study which found that children 'fed on demand' as babies performed better in school.

I wonder how that research makes parents of premature babies who need to stick to a strict hospital feeding schedule feel.

But I've also got a soft spot for another piece of C-section research based on a grand total of 283 women who filled out a questionnaire. Let's remember here that most women are not too 'posh to push' (horrible phrase) but been advised to have a C-section by medical experts concerned about the baby or mother's health or have had to have an emergency C-section.

The conclusion? Having a C-section damages your fertility. So you're not just ruining your child's life by having a vital operation, you're destroying children you haven't even had yet. I'd feel sorry for the poor little things, if they existed.

Experts say that individual studies don't matter so much. Looking at the big picture is more important.

I have no problem with that. I love good science. Vaccines, antibiotics, cancer screening – yep, I like all those things.

I am extremely happy, for example, that people far cleverer than me worked out that by taking folic acid every day, a pregnant woman can drastically reduce her baby's risk of spina bifida.

They did this with painstaking research which has saved millions of lives.

But I do have a problem with the results of very small scale studies being reported as facts. And those 'facts' then being used as a stick to beat mothers with.

People read them, and they believe them. That makes our lives even more difficult.

"When I was pregnant with my first child, my mother-in-law bombarded me with information," recalls Holly, 37, who has two sons aged two and six.

"I shouldn't be having a glass of wine in the evening because it would make my baby brain damaged. I shouldn't even consider a C-section because it would give my baby allergies.

"I shouldn't leave the baby to cry because it would have 'stress chemicals' and I shouldn't have chips because they might give me cancer and leave my child motherless!


All this was nonsense she'd read in the paper. I felt like there was nothing I could do that wouldn't harm my baby.


So the next time you find yourself worrying about a piece of 'research' in the papers, stop and think.

How big is the sample? Who is running the study? Do they have a vested interest? Can I learn anything of value from this research? Does it enable me to make a valid decision about risks versus benefit? Is the conclusion actually true for me and my child?

And if the answer to that last question is 'no', congratulations. You join a further 99 per cent of women in my latest very official study, Levels of discordant maternal engagement with self-selected mass media studies.


Or, to give it its short title: Most Mums Think This Thing We've Just Read Is Rubbish.


Tell us what you think. Are you bored of these 'research' headlines? What ones make you most cross?