Odds and Ends

Hello and Happy Thursday. This weekend is my birthday (41!) and I will be celebrating by staying in my house, just like every other day. The older child did promise me a gift, though, so that is something to look forward to.

Thanks to all the new subscribers after the Toxic Bay Metals post. A reminder if you want to see all the posts they are all saved and you can browse here. And if you’re looking for how to support…consider pre-ordering The Family Firm (or buying Expecting Better or Cribsheet).

Today’s newsletter is some odds and ends — short thoughts and follow-ups. Here’s a little table of contents so you can find what you want…

  1. Dashboard Hiring

  2. More on Rice

  3. Breastmilk Antibodies & Vaccine

  4. Schooling Mode & Family Experiences (Survey Results)

  5. Scary but Bad Coffee in Pregnancy Study You All Emailed About

Dashboard Hiring

I haven’t been writing as much here about the COVID School Dashboard, but you can continue to see it updated here. And we’re looking to hire one or two people to work on this for the next 6 months or so. Relevant skills include data analysis, data cleaning and data organization. If you or someone you know is interested, see listing here.

More on Rice

After the last post, a number of you asked what about rice? For adults, the same concentration of arsenic exposure is less concerning because you’re bigger and also your brain is already developed. But what if your baby eats a lot of regular rice with you?

Standard rice does have arsenic, but actually at lower concentrations than rice cereal (see some numbers buried in here). It’s also a bit easier to control your arsenic exposure in rice, if you are worried. Consumer Reports has some details here about which types of rice are better (white better than brown, rice from California better than Arkansas or Texas). And: you can remove a reasonable share of the arsenic in rice by rinsing it first.

Which is all to say that, first, I still wouldn’t stress about this and if your baby likes rice, that’s great. If you are worried, take the consumer reports steps as possible. Since there is no health benefit to arsenic, you aren’t losing out by washing your rice before cooking.

Breastmilk Antibodies & Vaccine

I’ve talked some about the vaccine while breastfeeding (TL;DR: Yes, it’s fine). A number of people have asked me whether they should, effectively, keep breastfeeding so when they get vaccinated their baby can have antibodies.

The short answer is that we do not completely know. Small sample data suggests that mothers who recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their breastmilk. This is what we’d expect, based on our understanding of antibodies, so even though the samples are small this seems very likely to be confirmed in larger samples.

We do not yet know whether antibodies produced through vaccines will do the same but there is no reason to think they will not. (In fact, it would be really, really bizarre if they didn’t).

What is less clear is the degree to which antibodies delivered through milk in this way will protect infants. They are likely to do so to some extent, like other antibodies which are passed through milk. But how much? For how long? Totally unclear. And it may be a long time, maybe forever, before we really know this, especially given the low risk to infants and children. Even without antibodies, they are unlikely to be infected.

My bottom line read is that this is probably not a reason to change your breastfeeding plans unless you are really, really close to the margin.

Schooling Mode and Family Experiences

I posted a survey a few weeks back about family stress, screen time and other outcomes and how they depend on schooling mode. The author, Joshua Hartshorne, promised a write-up of results, and here they are!

You can see the whole discussion of what they learned in this helpful document here. By far the best line is: “The closest we have to good news is that back-to-school paradigms don't seem to have much effect on parental sleep. This has to be tempered by the fact that nobody is getting enough sleep.”

One example graph is below.

Parents who are homeschooling report less stress than any other group (selection?) and online school generates slightly higher stress than in-person school. This seems broadly consistent with anecdote, although for me the differences are smaller perhaps than I might have though. We are all very stressed!

I’d love to see more research on this. Clearly, the pandemic is having wide ranging effects on parents, which are moderated (in perhaps non-obvious ways) by schooling mode. We need to know more, especially as we look to the fall. I hope Joshua and others will continue both data collection and analysis on these (and that we as parents will help them!)

Scary Coffee in Pregnancy Study You All Emailed About

This didn’t get the play that baby metals did, but a number of you emailed me coverage of this new paper on caffeine and brain scans. The TL/DR on the article is that they took a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds, scanned their brains, and related some brain measurements to caffeine exposure in utero. Children whose mothers reported drinking some coffee (at least once a week) had differences in measurements in two particular areas. They also differ in behavior problems.

This study uses the same data as the study on alcohol in pregnancy I talked about months and months ago (see post here) and it is problematic for some of the same reasons.


  • Observational study; people who drink coffee are different from those who do not, very hard to account for. There are significant differences in education, race, income and smoking behavior. This suggests the possibility of unmeasured confounding.

  • Many outcomes, unclear statistical assumption. They report on data for about 25 brain measures, of which 2 are significantly linked to coffee consumption at the 5% level. It is a bit hard to tell how they are accounting for the statistics of looking at so many outcomes here, but in general this type of approach has issues with false discovery.

  • Biggest Issue. Coffee measures not contemporaneous. They measure caffeine consumption by asking people when their child is 10 how much coffee they drank during pregnancy. These kind of recall-based measures are really problematic.

Given the vast literature on caffeine in pregnancy, at least some of which has much better coffee data, I’d put this aside.

Weigh in!

Keep the thoughts coming. I don’t always write back, but I read everything.

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