Self-Care Without Candles

Emily Oster

13 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Self-Care Without Candles

Redefining wellness for parents

Emily Oster

13 min Read

Self-care is everywhere. Bubble baths, massages, Instagram encouraging you to “take time for yourself.” Get up early to have coffee and meditate, or take a forest walk. It can get to the point where self-care itself is yet another thing to check off the to-do list. Send emails. Make lunches. Clean Cheerios off floor. Take forest walk.

My podcast guest today, psychiatrist and author Pooja Lakshmin, wants to push back on this performative, box-checking, crystals-and-baths form of self-care. Her book Real Self-Care is about what it actually takes to create wellness for ourselves. On today’s episode, we talk about the book and get personal about what true self-care means for each of us. 

I think this is the perfect listen headed into the holidays.

To spark your interest, here are three highlights from the conversation: 

What does self-care look like for parents?

Emily Oster: 

I don’t like the phrase “self-care” in general. I don’t like it in the context of parenting. I don’t like it in the context of being a mom. But 20% of women are diagnosed with postpartum depression. That surely understates the true burden. And throughout the life cycle, from the beginning, from when our kids are older, there is this incredibly hefty care burden which more often falls on moms…

And when people recognize this, there is then a lot of discussion of self-care. On Instagram, self-care is like a spa day: make sure you’re taking care of yourself and taking a spa day, getting a manicure, get a scented candle. But your book is titled Real Self-Care, and so is real self-care finding the right scent for your candle?

Pooja Lakshmin:  

So the sub-subtitle of the book is “Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included.” And I actually pushed hard with my publisher, because it makes it a really long title. But I was like, “No, this is really important,” because this book is basically a culmination of a decade of professional and personal experience of the ways in which woo-woo wellness fails us. 

I spend a lot of time up front in the book talking about how the real problem is our social structures. I wrote a piece for the New York Times back in 2021 — so, the height of the pandemic — [that I] called “This Is Betrayal, Not Burnout,” talking about moms who work outside the home and how really it’s about public policy, it’s about paid leave, it’s about affordable child care, access to good health insurance.

And it’s not our fault that we get seduced by all of this. Because let’s just say in my profession — psychiatry, mental health — it is so hard to find a therapist. If you call your insurance company, the work is sitting on hold for two hours to get a whole list of therapists who potentially say they’re taking new patients, but then you actually call all of them and they’re all like, “No, we’re not.” So when Instagram gives you ads for this pretty, beige, branded vitamin that’s going to cure your stress and that’s delivered in 24 hours and arrives at your doorstep.

How can you set better boundaries? 

Pooja:

My conceptualization of boundaries is a little bit different than what you might hear. I talk about boundaries as the pause. I tell a story in the book about when I first graduated from residency at GW. And my mentor, who is the head of our women’s mental health clinic, took me out for lunch. I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, first day on faculty. And she was like, “The one piece of advice for you I have, Pooja, is you don’t have to answer your phone. You can let it go to voicemail, and then you can decide after you listen, you can decide how to respond.” 

And that for me was a big aha because I had just come from med school and residency, where at that time we had pagers. And a pager would go off and you had this PTSD reaction, you had to call back. And then for me in that context, it was like, okay, sometimes it’s the front desk and they have insurance paperwork, and I can call them back and say, I’ll do that at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s a patient who I know has ADHD, and if she misses a day of her stimulant, she literally might get into a car accident. So I’m going to put that refill in. But I decide. So the boundary is the pause, and then you get to say yes, no, or negotiate, because the no always has a cost.

Again, no secret option C. The no has a cost. And if you are in a marginalized group, if you’re a woman of color, if you’re a black woman in corporate America, that no is going to have a higher cost. So it’s not always accessible, but the pause is. And then if you determine “Okay, you know what? I can’t say no to my boss right now because literally this is my livelihood,” then your goal is “Six months from now, I want to be closer to being able to say no. So what can I put in place?” So again, it’s the decision-making, but the boundary is the first step — realizing you even have a choice and taking that space.

How do you balance self-care with mom guilt? 

Pooja: 

[Sociologist] Martha Beck’s work has really been inspirational for me, because she’s studied culture for her entire career. And she talks about how women have to reconcile the irreconcilable in our society. And exactly what you’re talking about, how moms are taught that their selflessness is their value and also told at the same time that their self-care is something that they should be prioritizing and performing. Our whole culture is set up that way. It’s not an accident. So this guilt that you feel, it’s from the outside. It’s not actually yours. 

The way that I frame it with my patients is to think of this metaphor: think of the guilt as like a faulty “check engine” light on your car dash. So you took your car, got the engine changed, everything checked out, it’s fine, but there’s the light that keeps flicking no matter what. It’s broken. It doesn’t give you any meaningful information, but it’s always there. And that’s what the guilt is. And so if you set your life decisions with guilt as your moral compass, so if you make all your choices in avoidance of guilt, that life just ends up with you as a martyr and angry, pissed. Nobody wants to be around you because you’re just the angry mom. Right? It’s not a good path. 

The work with compassion is not giving [the guilt] power, just letting it be in the background. It’s just that “check engine” light. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t have to guide you.


Full transcript

This transcript was automatically generated and may contain small errors.

Emily Oster:

I’m Emily Oster. This is ParentData, and today I’m talking to Pooja Lakshmin about her new book, Real Self-Care. When we hear the phrase self-care as parents and especially as moms, I think what comes to mind is taking an hour to have a massage or lay in a bath. And the wellness industry, the world, has somehow convinced us that both, that should be enough to take care of ourselves and also that it’s, to some extent, a bit selfish. How could you possibly take an hour away just to lay around in a bath or, God forbid, to use the bathroom in quiet peace. Is that self-care, pooping alone?

Pooja’s book is about self-care as both more selfish and more important. It’s about taking care of ourselves as a way to invest in our families, to invest in the people we love, and in showing up for them in the best way. And it’s about drawing really clear boundaries and saying, what is it that I need? And what I need probably isn’t just an hour in a bath with a scented candle. Maybe what I need is more time to myself, or more time to invest in the things I love. And once we recognize that we can start making choices for our families, for ourselves, that prioritize that real deep self-care. The reality, and this comes up all the time in this book, is that what is your self-care is super subjective. It’s not a candle for everybody. It’s the things that you need to take care of your own mental health. And so this conversation, although it has some data, we talk about the book, it also gets pretty personal. We talk about the pieces of self-care that work for us. I hope that for you, something sparks here to think about the self-care that you can prioritize for yourself.

After the break, my conversation with Pooja Lakshmin.

Pooja, thank you so much for joining me. I’m extremely excited to talk. Before we get going, can you just introduce yourself?

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, I’m excited to be here. I am Dr. Pooja Lakshmin. I am a board certified psychiatrist and the author of the book Real Self-Care, which just came out, and I’m a mom of a, gosh, almost 16 month old at the time of this recording.

Emily Oster:

Time goes fast. My kids are 12 and eight, so I feel like I know what it’s like to be there, but you rapidly forget.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yes.

Emily Oster:

So we’re going to talk about your book. I don’t like the phrase self-care in general. I don’t like it in the context of parenting. I don’t like it in the context of being a mom, but 20% of women are diagnosed with postpartum depression. That surely understates the true burden. And throughout the life cycle, from the beginning, from when our kids are older, there is this incredibly hefty care burden which more often falls on moms. I wrote something a few months ago about a study which basically just proved what we already know, which is schools always call mom rather than dad. And so these care burdens, the household labor burdens, the invisible work burdens, however you want to call them, fall disproportionately on women. They also fall on men. They fall on all parents. And in the past several years, I actually think there’s been more recognition of a lot of these things. More recognition of the disparities in these burdens, more recognition of things like postpartum depression. But when people recognize this, there is then a lot of discussion of self-care and the way to address this. One important way to address this is to engage in self-care. And on Instagram, self-care is like a spa day. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and taking a spa day, getting a manicure, get a scented candle. It could have this kind of scent. But your book is titled Real Self Care, and so is real self-care finding the right scent for your candle?

Pooja Lakshmin:

I think my answer to this.

Emily Oster:

It’s mint is your answer. If you get the correct mint from the Yankee Candle store, you’re good.

Pooja Lakshmin:

You’ll be good to go. You’re like-

Emily Oster:

It’s totally fine.

Pooja Lakshmin:

So the sub-subtitle of the book is Crystals Cleanses and Bubble Baths not included. And I actually kind of pushed hard with my publisher because it makes it a really long title, which is not great for media, they don’t love that. But I was like, “No, this is really important,” because this book is basically a culmination of a decade of professional and personal experience in my own life of the ways in which woo woo wellness fails us. I spend a lot of time upfront in the book talking about how the real problem is our social structures. I wrote a piece for the New York Times back in 2021, so height of the pandemic called This is Betrayal, not Burnout, talking about moms who work outside the home and how really it’s about public policy, it’s about paid leave, it’s about affordable childcare, access to good health insurance.

And it’s not our fault that we get seduced by all of this because let’s just say in my profession, psychiatry, mental health, it is so hard to find a therapist. It is so hard to find a therapist. And so if you call your insurance company, the work is sitting on hold for two hours to get a whole list of therapists who potentially say they’re taking new patients, but then you actually call all of them and they’re all like, “No, we’re not.” So when Instagram gives you ads for this pretty beige branded vitamin that’s going to cure your stress, and that’s delivered in 24 hours and arrives at your doorstep, of course.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. I mean it’s interesting. I think that there’s this distinction between immediate, so some combination of immediacy and short-term ness that feels very seductive in the self-care space. I could get it right now. It would be easy to do. I could do it once. I could go get this massage. I could get these pills that are supposed to relax me or whatever. And that in fact, having a structure in your life, having put in time, which, to be fair, we may not have, but the value of putting in time to think about how to structure your life so it doesn’t feel like “God, if only I had some pills to fix how terrible I feel.”

Pooja Lakshmin:

And I should say I prescribe antidepressants all the time. I actually take antidepressants. This isn’t like anti med.

Emily Oster:

No, no. When I said don’t take pills, I just meant like a supplement that says it’s going to give you some kind of woo woo happiness, not antidepressants, which I think are great.

Yeah. Tell me, okay, I was going to do boundaries then. So let’s do boundaries now. Tell me about boundaries.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yes. So my conceptualization of boundaries is a little bit different than what you might hear. So I talk about boundaries as the pause, and I tell a story in the book about when I first graduated from residency at GW, and this was 2016, and it was my first day on the faculty. And my mentor who is the head of our women’s mental health clinic, she took me out for lunch. And I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, first day on faculty. And she was like, “The one piece of advice for you, I have, Pooja, is you don’t have to answer your phone. You can let it go to voicemail, and then you can decide after you listen, you can decide how to respond.” And that for me was a big aha because I had just come from med school and residency where at that time we had pagers. And a pager would go off and you had this PTSD reaction, you had to call back. And I was like, “Oh.” And then for me in that context, it was like, okay, sometimes it’s the front desk and they have insurance paperwork, and I can call them back and say, I’ll do that. At the end of the day, sometimes it’s a patient who I know has ADHD, and if she misses a day of her stimulant, she literally might get into a car accident. So I’m going to put that refill in. But I decide. So the boundary is the pause, and then you get to say, yes, no, or negotiate, because the no always has a cost.

Again, no secret option C. The no has a cost. And if you are in a marginalized group, if you’re a woman of color, if you’re a black woman in corporate America, that no is going to have a higher cost. So it’s not always accessible, but the pause is, and then if you determine “Okay, you know what? I can’t say no to my boss right now because literally this is my livelihood,” then your goal is “Six months from now, I want to be closer to being able to say no. So what can I put in place?” So again, it’s the decision making, but the boundary is the first step, the realizing you even have a choice and taking that space.

Emily Oster:

The other thing you’re talking about there is thinking deliberately about the idea of boundaries. That’s a tool, this idea of let it go to voicemail, that’s a tool. But also requires you to have started by saying, “Okay, where am I going to want to go? What are the boundaries? What are the structures I want to put in place that are going to get me there? And then how am I going to implement this plan that I have with this particular tool or this set of tools?” You got to think about it.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yes. Right.

Emily Oster:

And be deliberate.

Pooja Lakshmin:

And you have to know, you do have to know yourself and know what you want and know what your future self will want. And so that takes time. So I think there’s also this element of you’re going to mess up. It’s not going to be perfect. That’s just part of the process. You’re collecting data too as you go along.

Emily Oster:

About what makes you happy, or what makes you fulfilled, or what makes your life the life that you want. This is something I talk about a lot in the context of structuring your family life, is actually sitting down and thinking about what do you want your day to look like? What do you want your weekends to look like? How do you want your family’s life to be structured? And it does then require sometimes sacrifices, no secret option C. You can’t both have family dinner every night and also have your kid do gymnastics from five to 8:00 PM every day. That’s just like, you can’t do both of those. And so sometimes you have to decide which of those things you’re going to do, and making that choice in a way that works for your family, that’s kind of is self-care. That’s what it is. That’s making a life that you’re going to be happy with most of the time, and not one that you will feel, I don’t know if you need to escape to your candles from.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right or to the retreat or whatever it is.

Emily Oster:

Yoga retreat.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right. Can I touch on another piece of that?

Emily Oster:

Yeah, totally.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Because I think that ties in, the next principle is compassion. And you have a great line in the family firm where you say… It’s where talking about the different parenting labels, like the helicopters, the chickens, the tiger, the ostrich. I love the ostrich.

Emily Oster:

Yes. My son read this, I want to say, and he was like, “Is that a real kind?” And I was like, “No, I made that up.” And he was like, “Oh, okay. It’s funny.” I was like, “All right, thanks.”

Pooja Lakshmin:

But you say parenting is in the end about what you do, not what you call it. And I think the same applies to self-care in that once you set the boundaries, the first thing that comes up, especially for moms, is guilt. And “Oh my God, I’m a selfish person.” But we need to let go of these labels and understand that the labels are just outside creation. That’s noise instead. And we can talk more about guilt, but it’s really about making the choices that align with the life that you want.

Emily Oster:

I think we should talk about the guilt because I think that one, maybe we’ve touched on this before, but for me, and I do want to come at the end to our kinds of personal self-care, but for me, one of my pieces of self-care is having a job outside of my home. That, for me, is a really important part of shaping the life that I want. And I think framing it in that way, that’s my self-care, this job, my office, this is how I am happy. I think for many people, this generates a lot of guilt. It can be hard to say, “I’m working outside my house and my kids have, they go to school, they have a nanny, they have whatever.” The thing that we want to say is, “I work outside the home. I have a job because I have to.” And saying, “I don’t have to, but I do because I like it.” Which I’ve said publicly many times. And sometimes people say, “That’s selfish. That’s not what’s the best thing for your kids.” And I think that can generate quite a lot of guilt.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah. Well, and the presumption there, there’s two pieces. One is that you don’t matter. Your mental health doesn’t matter. Your wellbeing doesn’t matter. And that the only way that it could matter is if it leads to more well being for your kids.

Emily Oster:

Yes, exactly.

Pooja Lakshmin:

That’s the deflection people use.

Emily Oster:

Exactly.

Pooja Lakshmin:

“Well, I’m a better parent, because.” Which is true. For many people it’s true. But that doesn’t have to be the only reason.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. I think to be able to say, “Yes, I think that this probably does improve my parenting. I’m not sure my kids would benefit from having more of my time, frankly. Benefit from less. But I would work even if… That isn’t the only reason. And maybe it’s not even the primary reason. And even saying it like that to you, it feels a little bit like, “Oh, would I really say if I thought it was a little bit better for my kids, if I stayed home, would I still work?” I think the answer is yes. And maybe I am a terrible parent. Pooja, am I a terrible parent?

Pooja Lakshmin:

Well, no, you’re not a terrible parent. But this is just touching on… In the book, I talk about Martha Beck’s work. Martha Beck, the sociologist and Oprah Superstar. Her work has really been inspirational for me because she’s studied culture for her entire career. And she talks about how women have to reconcile the irreconcilable in our society. And exactly what you’re talking about, how moms are taught that their selflessness is their value, and also told at the same time that their self-care is something that they should be prioritizing and performing. So there was a study that I reference in the book from Mercer University, which surveyed moms, which they checked off both as a priority, but they’re in conflict. Our whole culture is set up that way. It’s not an accident. So this guilt that you feel, it’s from the outside. It’s not actually yours. So the way that I frame it with my patients is, and this comes from acceptance and commitment therapy, is think of this metaphor, think of the guilt as like a faulty check engine light on your car dash.

So you took your car, got the engine changed, everything checked out, it’s fine, but there’s the light that keeps flicking no matter what. It’s broken. It doesn’t give you any meaningful information, but it’s always there. And that’s what the guilt is. And so if you set your life decisions with guilt as your moral compass, so if you make all your choices in avoidance of guilt, that life just ends up with you as a martyr and angry, pissed. Nobody wants to be around you because you’re just the angry mom. Right? It’s not a good path. So you have to actually… The work is with compassion is not giving it power, just letting it be in the background. It’s just that check engine light. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t have to guide you.

Emily Oster:

I love that. I’m totally going to use that as someone whose car frequently has this problem. Car and my emotions. Yeah, I love that. So can we talk about kids and the question of whether to have them at all? Because I think we are talking about this is mostly people who listen to this are parents, but some of them are not. And even if you are a parent, I got a question the other day, which maybe is a good way to frame here, where somebody said, “I only have one kid. I only want to have one kid.” And people told me that’s selfish. And their question was, “What should I say to them?” And my answer was like… I can’t repeat it because I’m trying to keep this podcast more PG. But basically how do we frame that out of… I think that’s a crazy thing to tell somebody.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah. Yeah. I agree. I have a couple thoughts on this. So one is I’ve been through this internal conflict myself. And I wrote a piece for the Times, I think it was last year, about ambivalence around motherhood and my own ambivalence. I grew up an immigrant family. My family’s from South Asia, from India. And kind of the model of motherhood in that culture, in my culture is martyr. My mom stayed at home, everything was about sacrifice, and I was just growing up, I was like, “Oh, why would I want that?” And I went to Penn and I became a doctor, and it was like, “I’m going to throw myself into my career.” In my late twenties, I went through a divorce and kind of a whole life blowup/exploration, and I was kind of like, “I just don’t know if I want to do this.” So I only came to motherhood at 38 and a half. And it’s interesting because the piece that I wrote for the Times, of course I read the comments even though everybody says, don’t read the comments.

Emily Oster:

Don’t read the comments.

Pooja Lakshmin:

I know. Everybody says that, but does anybody actually take that advice?

Emily Oster:

My daughter once when she was during the throes of COVID, when people were saying really nasty things to me on the internet, I was explaining to my 10-year-old, I feel really bad because people are saying these things. And she was just like, “But do you have to read the comments?” And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t have to.” She’s like, “Maybe you shouldn’t.” I was like, “Okay, thanks.” Hello..

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah. Yeah. I just didn’t have the willpower, and the piece was all about prioritizing your mental health and that it’s okay as a mother. People were scathing around that. “Well, if you waited until you were 39 to have a baby, then clearly you never actually even wanted to be a mother. So why would you do it now?” So this is the stuff that people hear. I think the decision to become a parent is a real self-care decision. I would put it in, it’s like the 400 level class. It’s after you get through figuring out if it’s yoga or running or reading sci-fi, then that’s 101. And then you get to 400 and then it’s like, “Okay, do I want to be married? Do I want to have a kid?” And it’s normal. It’s normal to wrestle with that, because there’s no right answer. And there’s pros and cons. And of course there’s amazing things about being a parent.

Emily Oster:

And there’s also really hard things.

Pooja Lakshmin:

There’s also really hard things. And both are true. Both are true. I have a, I guess he’s a toddler now. He became a toddler in two weeks. It just suddenly overnight he switched from baby to toddler, and now he has all the toddler feelings and none of the words. And so it’s rough. And the highs are really high. He’s super cute and really fun and doing fun stuff. But again, it only works if it means something important to you. In Real Self-Care, I talk about eudemonic well being, which is based on this theory of well being means that your values, your internal values, and your life choices are aligned. It’s the opposite of hedonic well being. Hedonic well being means that wellbeing is the absence of suffering. So there will be suffering when you make choices that are aligned with your values, there will be. It’s kind of like what Mark Manson says, you just have to choose your suffering, which suffering is more tolerable for you because it means something.

Emily Oster:

And it’s interesting. So when we look at the data on marital satisfaction after kids, generally it goes down, but it goes down much less when people have planned. So the declines are much bigger if births are unplanned. And I think part of that is, by planning this, we have… Maybe we didn’t know exactly the frame of the suffering, but we’ve chosen something together that we know is going to have some of the complications and many of the joys that come with this. And that is a buffer against at least some of these kind of internal conflicts, not all of them, or external conflicts.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right. And I think that the other question that you asked about whether to have more than one kid, this has been surprising for me because I always thought that deciding not to have kids was the most stigmatized decision. But now I’m in a place where people are asking me if I’m going to have another baby. And I’m really like, “I don’t know.” This has been really hard and it’s great, but I don’t know if we can handle another.

Emily Oster:

And then do people say, “But don’t you want to give him a sibling?”

Pooja Lakshmin:

Exactly. Somebody actually said to me that you can’t do that. That is so selfish. Literally. You have to give your child a sibling. You can’t just have one kid. I think she even said, “If you were going to do that, you shouldn’t have even had a kid.”

Emily Oster:

Oh my God.

Pooja Lakshmin:

I was… And I couldn’t even respond because I was so shocked. I just want to say, that’s not true. There are so many happy only children, and you can be perfectly happy deciding to have one child. But it’s people, I think when you make a choice that maybe goes against society’s expectations, it causes other people to then question their own decisions.

Emily Oster:

I think I totally agree with that. I would have said it slightly differently, which is when people make choices that are important to them, they want those choices to be right, and they want them to be so right that they’re right for everybody. And so saying, “I chose to have two kids, and it’s the choice that worked for me.” And that’s true. I have two kids. That was the number that we wanted when we had just one. I was like, “We’re not done.” As soon as the second one came out, I was like, “Okay, where’s the long-term birth control? Because we are totally a hundred percent done here.”

But when people have made some choice, then there’s again this temptation to say, “Well, you should make my choice, because my choice about number of kids are breastfeeding or sleep training or what kind of diapers to use or where to send my kid to school or whatever it is, that must be so right that it’s right for everybody.” And that so quickly moves into this, in the case of this person you talked to, so deeply inappropriate interactions with another person. When you say it like that in the abstract, can you imagine saying such a thing to someone about other choices they make? It’s so rude.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right. Right.

Emily Oster:

Just so straight up rude.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right. Well, and I think, of course, coming from a psychiatrist perspective, I always think about the messy internal conflict. And I think that what you’re describing from your position is somebody who is not conflicted. You made that choice based on what you knew you wanted and not based on what society wants. But when someone is making decisions based on more of an expectation, then you feel a little bit more threatened when you come across another person who has made a different choice.

Emily Oster:

I think for me, the most salient part for this is breastfeeding. For so many people, it’s very hard. And a lot of people, because of the expectations and the pressures we put, really push through very difficult circumstances and in ways that really, it hasn’t brought joy or certainly in the aggregate, maybe there’s more negatives than positives about that experience, but you think I’m doing it because it’s the most important thing. And then when someone says, “This wasn’t for me, I opted this other thing,” it’s very hard to say, “Well, I killed myself to do this, but I guess it wasn’t that big a deal.” And I think that’s where you sort of get into=.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah. I agree.

Emily Oster:

… this really extreme judgment.

Pooja Lakshmin:

I think the breastfeeding piece is… That’s one of the hardest pieces in my practice with patients. And I start really early in pregnancy of putting those seeds out there that this is not the be all end all that there’s lots of options. But I use it as an example in Real Self-Care, actually, a patient who let go of breastfeeding, and that was a real self-care decision. And then once she made that choice, she was able to get back into working out in a way that felt nourishing for her. And she was able to go to the postpartum support group and actually take some of it in. But when she was stuck in that place of still breastfeeding, but feeling so resentful, none of the other methods worked.

Emily Oster:

Yeah. So tell me, what are you working on with your self-care? And then I’ll tell you mine.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yes. So when I sold this book proposal, my therapist, I told my therapist, I was like, “How can I write a book about self-care? Because I’m a workaholic.” She was like, “Pooja, I think you’re going to learn a lot from this process.” I’ve always been really good at the… So I go to therapy. I have a coach that I work with. He helps me with some of these figuring out my career and things like that. But I’m great with boundaries. The issue for me is that I like to do a lot of things. So I notice that every couple years I go into another season of change. And right now I’m in another season of transition, where there’s just so much on my plate that I’m having to figure out… There’s no secret option C. I’m having to tell myself that.

And also recognizing and having to think through, “Wow do I really want to spend my time? What do I really want to be doing? Do I want to be on calls all the time, or do I want to be writing? Do I want to be seeing patients and getting really deep with folks in their life? Or do I want to be responding to emails?” So I’m trying to figure that out. I don’t have all the answers, but the things that help me… Well, I should back up and say, in the context of all this, I had a whole bunch of health issues last month. I had to get my gallbladder out because I had gallstones. I was in the hospital. I had a kidney stone. So it was not subtle that I needed to rest.

Emily Oster:

Your body was like, “First we’re going to meet the gallstones.” So you were like, “Okay, okay. But I’m done with that.” And it was like, “You didn’t rest enough. I have other stones for you.”

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right. Exactly. So I am now… I recently joined the YMCA, and I’m walking, I’m not a runner. I know you’re a runner. I’m not a runner, but I’m walking and I’m taking time. I’m putting in three or four hours a week to just read for fun. I like to read sci-fi. And my son is in a really fun age. So for me, to be transparent, the early baby phase was not super fun. But now I’m noticing that I really like hanging out with him, and I want to have time to be with him. So I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Emily Oster:

I find, I will tell you, I think as my kids have gotten older, I have only wanted to spend more time with them. And I have also increasingly felt like my time is less substitutable with other people’s. So when they were little, I usually thought our nanny was, if anything, quite a bit better because she’s very patient with the baby. But now there are things that they need me for and I really like them. They’re really interesting. Last night my son and I cooked together. It was so great. And then afterwards he was like, “This was so fun. I love cooking with you.” I was just like, “Oh my God, this is the greatest day of my whole life.” I’m not going to cry. It’s fine. So my self-care is running. And it’s interesting that… I have run for exercise for basically my whole life, but in the last couple of years, I started taking it, what my husband would describe, as too seriously. Fine.

But for me, thinking about it as something that I am investing in and trying to do better in. And I think part of what’s valuable there is it is a place that I can fail with no consequences. The only person who cares if I don’t run as fast as I wish to, is me. That’s it. No one else… Not that people don’t care, because they could care because they wanted me to be happy, but nobody else is like, “Boy, I’m so disappointed that you didn’t break 90 minutes in the half-marathon.” Nobody else caress except for me. But it’s interesting to explore. Okay, when there’s a disappointment like that in this way that is objectively incredibly low stakes, but to me feels very high stakes because I care about it for whatever reason.

Experimenting with that and how I can, not get through that, but how I deal with that, has actually been really interesting as a way to think about how I deal with failures that matter more in the other parts of my life. It’s also been interesting because it has been something that I’ve been willing to prioritize, that is for me, and that I can only do because my kids are now bigger. But it’s been a really good exercise and being like, “Okay, I’m not going to be able to walk you to school because I need to run 17 miles this morning and I have to leave before you go to school, and you’ll have to walk yourself to school,” which is not a boundary that I have typically put up with my kids. And somehow this is a thing that gives me the freedom to make that boundary, which I could have made anyway. But somehow this is enough for me.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Oh gosh. I love that last thing that you just said. Somehow this is enough for me. That’s so powerful. Because what I’m hearing is that it’s a practice for you because nobody else is dependent on it. You don’t get maybe the external accolades that come in other parts of your work sometimes. No one’s livelihood is dependent on it, but you still are doing it. The value, it’s completely internal.

Emily Oster:

It’s completely internal.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s such a great example. I think for me, writing used to be that, but now I have a book, so writing is also-

Emily Oster:

Your job.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Right. It became my job. So I’m trying to figure out how to get back to something that isn’t a job. So stay tuned for that.

Emily Oster:

Stay tuned. Stay tuned for your self-care. Okay. My producer, Tamar, is making hand gestures. I think she has a question for you, Pooja, and I want to let her ask it because I think I know what it’s going to be about.

Pooja Lakshmin:

I love that.

Tamar Avishai:

Okay. Well, so my question is, does self-care have to be something that is “good” for you? Because I’m realizing that my self-care is roller coasters. I’m actually going again tonight. We have a season pass. My husband and I have a season pass to Cedar Point. And there is something about doing something absolutely ridiculous that shoots the adrenaline. It shakes you out of your house and your day and you’re just screaming, going down a huge hill. And it’s like, I come back happy and restored. But I tell my family about it and they laugh at me. So is it… We think of self-care as something like, okay, well at least this makes you a healthier person, but do you get to choose what actually makes you healthy?

Pooja Lakshmin:

Okay, first, Tamar, I love this. I love this for you and your husband. I can hear it in your voice of, “I come back and I’m excited, I feel good. I’m energized.” You’re having fun. You’re playing. That is absolutely aligned with real self-care. And the other piece here is that it’s like no one thing is good or bad. It’s actually about the process that you take to get there. So the way that you’ve thought about it, the way that you’ve thought about what it brings to your life, the fact that you’re doing it together, maybe it started as something spontaneous and on a whim, but then you’ve thought more about it and realized that it had positive repercussions.

So it absolutely fits. And I think that’s the thing about sometimes other people’s reactions. We can get stuck on them and maybe worry and take in some of that judgment, but I think it’s great. I have a patient who board games is their self-care with their partner. And it’s something that’s so out of the routine. They actually… They do it, stay up late and do it. So I think that that’s actually brilliant.

Tamar Avishai:

It’s a hard thing to ask for babysitting for. It’s a hard thing to think that that’s like a worthy…

Pooja Lakshmin:

But why is it any different than a date night?

Tamar Avishai:

I know.

Emily Oster:

Or going out to a restaurant? It’s actually healthier because you’re probably not drinking.

Tamar Avishai:

Although that also, it’s also hard to ask for a date night. It’s hard to ask for anything that just feels like-

Emily Oster:

Indulgent.

Tamar Avishai:

… decadent. Exactly.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Yeah.

Emily Oster:

I love your rollercoaster thing. It’s one of my favorites. Thanks, Tamar. So Pooja, your book is amazing. What is the one thing you wish people, maybe there’s a million things, but if you had to say one thing you wish people would take away from the book or from this conversation, what is it?

Pooja Lakshmin:

I think that it is, you can start now. You can start wherever you are. It can be one tiny thing. It can be an email that you sent to your boss about needing to leave at 4:30 instead of five. It can be saying to your partner, “Hey, can we have a talk tonight? I want to chat about something.” It doesn’t need to be big. And I think often, especially in the parenting context, it’s really common to feel like you’re drowning and you don’t want to think about one more thing. And I want to say that with real self-care, it doesn’t have to be anything big. And actually the small steps, the small little seeds they add up.

Emily Oster:

I love that so much. Thank you, Pooja. Thank you for being here.

Pooja Lakshmin:

Absolutely. It was such a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me, Emily.

A young man holds a smartphone outside. He is looking down at the phone, engrossed.

Apr 01 2022

6 min read

More on Facebook and Mental Health

A new study gives reason for caution

Emily Oster
A parent looks down at a fussy baby during a well-baby visit after birth.

May 24 2021

9 min read

Mental Health After Birth

My oldest child is 10 and when I think back on the first days with her there are moments which Read more

Emily Oster
Three kids running and leaping outside.

Mar 16 2023

10 min read

What’s Behind the Decline in Teen Mental Health?

The past several weeks have seen somewhat widespread discussion of a truly upsetting trend in adolescent and teen mental health. Read more

Emily Oster
A new parent covers their face in sadness as they sit on a couch holding a baby.

Aug 07 2023

5 min read

Zuranolone and Postpartum Depression

I had planned a different post for today (homeschooling! Look for it in a week or so), but our inbox Read more

Emily Oster

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If you have a fever during pregnancy, you should take Tylenol, both because it will make you feel better and because of concerns about fever in pregnancy (although these are also overstated).

The evidence that suggests risks to Tylenol focuses largely on more extensive exposure — say, taking it for more than 28 days during pregnancy. There is no credible evidence, even correlational, to suggest that taking it occasionally for a fever or headache would be an issue.

People take Tylenol for a reason. For many people, the choice may be between debilitating weekly migraines and regular Tylenol usage. The impacts studies suggest are very small. In making this decision, we should weigh the real, known benefit against the suggestion of this possible risk. Perhaps not everyone will come out at the same place on this, but it is crucial we give people the tools to make the choice for themselves.

#emilyoster #parentdata #tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancytips

If you have a fever during pregnancy, you should take Tylenol, both because it will make you feel better and because of concerns about fever in pregnancy (although these are also overstated).

The evidence that suggests risks to Tylenol focuses largely on more extensive exposure — say, taking it for more than 28 days during pregnancy. There is no credible evidence, even correlational, to suggest that taking it occasionally for a fever or headache would be an issue.

People take Tylenol for a reason. For many people, the choice may be between debilitating weekly migraines and regular Tylenol usage. The impacts studies suggest are very small. In making this decision, we should weigh the real, known benefit against the suggestion of this possible risk. Perhaps not everyone will come out at the same place on this, but it is crucial we give people the tools to make the choice for themselves.

#emilyoster #parentdata #tylenol #pregnancy #pregnancytips
...

Parenting trends are like Cabbage Patch Kids: they’re usually only popular because a bunch of people are using them! Most of the time, these trends are not based on new scientific research, and even if they are, that new research doesn’t reflect all of what we’ve studied before.

In the future, before hopping onto the latest trend, check the data first. Unlike Cabbage Patch Kids, parenting trends can add a lot of unnecessary stress and challenges to your plate. What’s a recent trend that you’ve been wondering about?

#parentdata #emilyoster #parentingtips #parentingadvice #parentinghacks

Parenting trends are like Cabbage Patch Kids: they’re usually only popular because a bunch of people are using them! Most of the time, these trends are not based on new scientific research, and even if they are, that new research doesn’t reflect all of what we’ve studied before.

In the future, before hopping onto the latest trend, check the data first. Unlike Cabbage Patch Kids, parenting trends can add a lot of unnecessary stress and challenges to your plate. What’s a recent trend that you’ve been wondering about?

#parentdata #emilyoster #parentingtips #parentingadvice #parentinghacks
...

As of this week, 1 million copies of my books have been sold. This feels humbling and, frankly, unbelievable. I’m so thankful to those of you who’ve read and passed along your recommendations of the books.

When I wrote Expecting Better, I had no plan for all of this — I wrote that book because I felt compelled to write it, because it was the book I wanted to read. As I’ve come out with more books, and now ParentData, I am closer to seeing what I hope we can all create. That is: a world where everyone has access to reliable data, based on causal evidence, to make informed, confident decisions that work for their families.

I’m so grateful you’re all here as a part of this, and I want to thank you! If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to sign up for full access to ParentData, this is it. ⭐️ Comment “Link” for a DM with a discount code for 20% off of a new monthly or annual subscription to ParentData! 

Thank you again for being the best community of readers and internet-friends on the planet. I am so lucky to have you all here.

#parentdata #emilyoster #expectingbetter #cribsheet #familyfirm #parentingcommunity

As of this week, 1 million copies of my books have been sold. This feels humbling and, frankly, unbelievable. I’m so thankful to those of you who’ve read and passed along your recommendations of the books.

When I wrote Expecting Better, I had no plan for all of this — I wrote that book because I felt compelled to write it, because it was the book I wanted to read. As I’ve come out with more books, and now ParentData, I am closer to seeing what I hope we can all create. That is: a world where everyone has access to reliable data, based on causal evidence, to make informed, confident decisions that work for their families.

I’m so grateful you’re all here as a part of this, and I want to thank you! If you’ve been waiting for the right moment to sign up for full access to ParentData, this is it. ⭐️ Comment “Link” for a DM with a discount code for 20% off of a new monthly or annual subscription to ParentData!

Thank you again for being the best community of readers and internet-friends on the planet. I am so lucky to have you all here.

#parentdata #emilyoster #expectingbetter #cribsheet #familyfirm #parentingcommunity
...

Just eat your Cheerios and move on.

Just eat your Cheerios and move on. ...

The AAP’s guidelines recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby “ideally for the first six months.” However, the risk of SIDS is dramatically lower after four months, and the evidence in favor of the protective effect of room sharing is quite weak (both overall and even more so after four months). There is also growing evidence that infants who sleep in their own room by four months sleep better at four months, better at nine months, and even better at 30 months.

With this in mind, it’s worth asking why this recommendation continues at all — or at least why the AAP doesn’t push it back to four months. They say decreased arousals from sleep are linked to SIDS, which could mean that babies sleeping in their own room is risky. But this link is extremely indirect, and they do not show direct evidence to support it.

According to the data we have, parents should sleep in the same room as a baby for as long as it works for them! Sharing a room with a child may have negative impacts on both child and adult sleep. We should give families more help in navigating these trade-offs and making the decisions that work best for them.

#emilyoster #parentdata #roomsharing #sids #parentingguide

The AAP’s guidelines recommend sleeping in the same room as your baby “ideally for the first six months.” However, the risk of SIDS is dramatically lower after four months, and the evidence in favor of the protective effect of room sharing is quite weak (both overall and even more so after four months). There is also growing evidence that infants who sleep in their own room by four months sleep better at four months, better at nine months, and even better at 30 months.

With this in mind, it’s worth asking why this recommendation continues at all — or at least why the AAP doesn’t push it back to four months. They say decreased arousals from sleep are linked to SIDS, which could mean that babies sleeping in their own room is risky. But this link is extremely indirect, and they do not show direct evidence to support it.

According to the data we have, parents should sleep in the same room as a baby for as long as it works for them! Sharing a room with a child may have negative impacts on both child and adult sleep. We should give families more help in navigating these trade-offs and making the decisions that work best for them.

#emilyoster #parentdata #roomsharing #sids #parentingguide
...

It was an absolute pleasure to be featured on the @tamronhallshow! We talked about all things data-driven parenting and, in this clip, what I call the plague of secret parenting. To balance having a career and having a family, we can’t hide the fact that we’re parents. If mothers and fathers at the top can speak more openly about child-care obligations, it will help us all set a new precedent.

Watch the full segment at the link in my bio 🔗

#tamronhall #tamronhallshow #emilyoster #parentingsupport #workingparents

It was an absolute pleasure to be featured on the @tamronhallshow! We talked about all things data-driven parenting and, in this clip, what I call the plague of secret parenting. To balance having a career and having a family, we can’t hide the fact that we’re parents. If mothers and fathers at the top can speak more openly about child-care obligations, it will help us all set a new precedent.

Watch the full segment at the link in my bio 🔗

#tamronhall #tamronhallshow #emilyoster #parentingsupport #workingparents
...

Invisible labor. It’s the work — in our households especially — that has to happen but that no one sees. It’s making the doctor’s appointment, ensuring birthday cards are purchased, remembering the milk.

My guest on this episode, @everodsky, has come up with a solution here, or at least a way for us to recognize the problem and make our own solutions. I’ve wanted to speak with Eve for ages, since I read her book Fair Play. We had a great conversation about the division of household labor, one I think you’ll get a lot out of!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #householdtips #fairplay #invisiblelabor

Invisible labor. It’s the work — in our households especially — that has to happen but that no one sees. It’s making the doctor’s appointment, ensuring birthday cards are purchased, remembering the milk.

My guest on this episode, @everodsky, has come up with a solution here, or at least a way for us to recognize the problem and make our own solutions. I’ve wanted to speak with Eve for ages, since I read her book Fair Play. We had a great conversation about the division of household labor, one I think you’ll get a lot out of!

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #householdtips #fairplay #invisiblelabor
...

Prenatal vitamins 💊 If there is any product that seems designed to prey on our fears, it’s this one. You’re newly pregnant and you want to do it right. Everyone agrees you need prenatal vitamins, so you get them. But do you want to be that person who just… buys the generic prenatal vitamins?

Good news: fancier vitamins are not better.  Folic acid is the most important prenatal ingredient. Iron (with vitamin C) and DHA are also nice to have. Other included ingredients have only weak or no evidence to support their use. (If you do not consume animal products, add B12, plus a few others depending on your diet.)

Vitamins are just vitamins. Any prenatal vitamin that contains these is enough. 

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article with everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.

#emilyoster #parentdata #prenatalvitamins #pregnancydiet #pregnancytips

Prenatal vitamins 💊 If there is any product that seems designed to prey on our fears, it’s this one. You’re newly pregnant and you want to do it right. Everyone agrees you need prenatal vitamins, so you get them. But do you want to be that person who just… buys the generic prenatal vitamins?

Good news: fancier vitamins are not better. Folic acid is the most important prenatal ingredient. Iron (with vitamin C) and DHA are also nice to have. Other included ingredients have only weak or no evidence to support their use. (If you do not consume animal products, add B12, plus a few others depending on your diet.)

Vitamins are just vitamins. Any prenatal vitamin that contains these is enough.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article with everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins.

#emilyoster #parentdata #prenatalvitamins #pregnancydiet #pregnancytips
...

When it comes to introducing your newborn to the world, timing matters. It’s a good idea to minimize germ exposure in the first 6-8 weeks; after that, it’s inevitable and, very likely, a good idea! This doesn’t mean you need to be trapped inside. The most significant exposure risks are from seeing other people at home — family, etc. These interactions are not infinitely risky, but they do pose more risk than a walk or a trip to the grocery store, since they involve closer interaction. Think simple and make sure everyone is washing their hands before holding the baby. 💛

#parentdata #emilyoster #newborncare #parentingadvice #parentingtips

When it comes to introducing your newborn to the world, timing matters. It’s a good idea to minimize germ exposure in the first 6-8 weeks; after that, it’s inevitable and, very likely, a good idea! This doesn’t mean you need to be trapped inside. The most significant exposure risks are from seeing other people at home — family, etc. These interactions are not infinitely risky, but they do pose more risk than a walk or a trip to the grocery store, since they involve closer interaction. Think simple and make sure everyone is washing their hands before holding the baby. 💛

#parentdata #emilyoster #newborncare #parentingadvice #parentingtips
...

The first edition of Hot Flash is out now! Comment “Link” for a DM to learn more about the late-reproductive stage.

There are times when we expect hormonal shifts. Our reproductive lives are bookended by puberty and menopause. We discuss those changes often because they are definitive and dramatic — a first period is something many of us remember clearly. But between ages 13 and 53, our hormones are changing in more subtle ways. During the late-reproductive stage (in your 40s), you can expect a lot of changes in your menstrual cycle, including the length and symptoms you experience throughout. It’s an important time in our lives that is often overlooked!

🔥 Hot Flash from ParentData is a weekly newsletter on navigating your health and hormones in the post-reproductive years. Written by Dr. Gillian Goddard, Hot Flash provides all of the information you need to have a productive, evidence-based conversation about hormonal health with your doctor.

#emilyoster #parentdata #hotflash #perimenopause #womenshealth

The first edition of Hot Flash is out now! Comment “Link” for a DM to learn more about the late-reproductive stage.

There are times when we expect hormonal shifts. Our reproductive lives are bookended by puberty and menopause. We discuss those changes often because they are definitive and dramatic — a first period is something many of us remember clearly. But between ages 13 and 53, our hormones are changing in more subtle ways. During the late-reproductive stage (in your 40s), you can expect a lot of changes in your menstrual cycle, including the length and symptoms you experience throughout. It’s an important time in our lives that is often overlooked!

🔥 Hot Flash from ParentData is a weekly newsletter on navigating your health and hormones in the post-reproductive years. Written by Dr. Gillian Goddard, Hot Flash provides all of the information you need to have a productive, evidence-based conversation about hormonal health with your doctor.

#emilyoster #parentdata #hotflash #perimenopause #womenshealth
...

There are plenty of reels telling you how to parent. Plenty of panic headlines saying that “studies show” what’s best for your kid. Even good data, from a trusted source, can send us into a spiral of comparison. But I want you to remember that no one knows your kid better than you. It’s important to absorb the research, but only you will know the approach that works best for you and your child. 💙

Now tell me in the comments: what’s a parenting move you’ve made recently that feels right to you?

#parentingcommunity #parentingsupport #parentingquotes #emilyoster #parentdata

There are plenty of reels telling you how to parent. Plenty of panic headlines saying that “studies show” what’s best for your kid. Even good data, from a trusted source, can send us into a spiral of comparison. But I want you to remember that no one knows your kid better than you. It’s important to absorb the research, but only you will know the approach that works best for you and your child. 💙

Now tell me in the comments: what’s a parenting move you’ve made recently that feels right to you?

#parentingcommunity #parentingsupport #parentingquotes #emilyoster #parentdata
...

Let’s talk about sex (after) baby! Today on the podcast, I was lucky enough to speak with @enagoski about her new book on sexual connection in long-term relationships. Especially after having kids, this is something many people struggle with. Emily tells us to stop worrying about what’s “normal” and focus on pleasure in its many forms.

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #emilyoster #emilynagoski #comeasyouare #cometogether #longtermrelationship #intimacy #relationships

Let’s talk about sex (after) baby! Today on the podcast, I was lucky enough to speak with @enagoski about her new book on sexual connection in long-term relationships. Especially after having kids, this is something many people struggle with. Emily tells us to stop worrying about what’s “normal” and focus on pleasure in its many forms.

Listen and subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster in your favorite podcast app 🎧

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #emilyoster #emilynagoski #comeasyouare #cometogether #longtermrelationship #intimacy #relationships
...

Ever wondered if you can safely use leftover baby formula? 🍼 The CDC says to throw out unused formula immediately because of the risk of bacterial growth. However, research suggests that bacterial concentrations do not appreciably increase after 3, 12, or even 24 hours at refrigerator temperatures. Good news! This means there’s not a strong data-based reason to throw out formula right away if you store it in the fridge.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on another common formula question: should you throw away old formula powder?

#emilyoster #parentdata #babyformula #babyfeeding #parentingstruggles

Ever wondered if you can safely use leftover baby formula? 🍼 The CDC says to throw out unused formula immediately because of the risk of bacterial growth. However, research suggests that bacterial concentrations do not appreciably increase after 3, 12, or even 24 hours at refrigerator temperatures. Good news! This means there’s not a strong data-based reason to throw out formula right away if you store it in the fridge.

Comment “Link” for a DM to an article on another common formula question: should you throw away old formula powder?

#emilyoster #parentdata #babyformula #babyfeeding #parentingstruggles
...

What’s the most important piece of advice for new parents? Here’s one answer, but I want to hear from you! Share your suggestions in the comments ⬇️

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingtips #parentingadvice #newparents #parentingcommunity

What’s the most important piece of advice for new parents? Here’s one answer, but I want to hear from you! Share your suggestions in the comments ⬇️

#emilyoster #parentdata #parentingtips #parentingadvice #newparents #parentingcommunity
...

What's in the bag of a Vagina Economist? 👀 Someone please tell me this looks familiar to you.

What`s in the bag of a Vagina Economist? 👀 Someone please tell me this looks familiar to you. ...