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A rambling OP about discussing risk and why risk is not destiny. And a couple of rude comments about Irish weather.

(99 Posts)
welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 16:00:28

OK. If I go out today without my umbrella, I’ve increased my risk of getting wet in the rain. But risk is not destiny. Umbrella or not, if it doesn’t rain, I won’t get wet.

Why is this important? Because if research suggests that doing X increases the risk of Y, the researchers aren't in their wildest dreams suggesting that X always causes Y, any more than I’m suggesting that going out without an umbrella always causes you to get wet (unless you live in Ireland, in which case, fair enough wink).


….If I point out to another mother that going out without an umbrella increases the risk of getting wet I'm NOT saying “you will cause water damage to your child you evil mother”, I’m saying, well, that has been shown to increase the risk of getting wet. It's a fact about risk, not a prediction for the future of that child.

…If I read the research about umbrellas and rain and decide to disregard it, fair enough, my choice. But I need to think about why I’m disregarding it. The research was probably conducted on people just like me. Do I truly believe it won’t apply to me? Am I somehow different from the rest of the human race in having special protection from the rain? Or am I using that well known (but sadly useless) protective mechanism of “it could never happen to me”?

... The risk of getting wet is related to a physical law of nature, it wasn't made up by a politician. It doesn't make the blindest bit of difference whether or not the government advises me to carry an umbrella. The underlying risk is whatever it is.

…. If I went out yesterday without an umbrella and didn’t get wet, this is not really rock solid proof that the research is all rubbish. Maybe it just didn’t rain. Because after all, most of us don’t live in a climate with a 100% daily risk of rain. Except you lot in Ireland.

Seriously, I think there are some big mistakes being made in the way risk is discussed here, and it's not just academic, it's causing a lot of bad feeling.

The research on weaning is mostly pretty rubbish - not because the researchers are rubbish, but because it's a very very difficult topic to research. A lot of the findings are fairly tentative. That doesn't make them wrong. A lot of the risks mentioned are rare. That doesn't make them irrelevant. But most of all, risk is not destiny, and I'm uncomfortable about the way the "weaning debate" is polarising on here into some rather dogmatic camps.

It's not a simple issue, any more than predicting the weather is a simple issue.

hambo Mon 27-Oct-08 16:02:39

If you don't take your brolly, at least take your wellies!

blush sorry WM couldn't resist.

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 16:03:57

aaaargh, I "walked" into that one, didn't I..... grin

MrsMattie Mon 27-Oct-08 16:07:23

Very true.

Re: weaning. I weighed up the risks and decided I could live with them. Ditto for formula feeding.

It doesn't mean I am oblivious to the possible risks... or in denial about them... or that, in RL, I am knee jerkingly sensitive and defensive about them.

It's only MN where I find myself justifying my decisions and getting worked up about it. I just hate being patronised, and I feel that a lot of these threads are incredibly condescending.

Habbibu Mon 27-Oct-08 16:10:13

You also need to consider how onerous a control measure/mitigation is - if umbrellas were made of cast iron and needed two hands to hold at all time, then the risk of getting a bit wet probably seems worth it.

But also the general risk to the population may be greater or lower in you personally, and that's a great unknown. You've heard me use this analogy before, wellie, so apologies, but most women of our parents generation didn't take folic acid, and most of their babies were fine. Some weren't, and there was no way of telling beforehand who they would be. So my risk of having an NTD baby is in fact much higher than the national average, and I unfortunately found that out the hard way.

So if someone says "should I take folic acid?" and someone else says "well, I didn't and I was fine?" it doesn't say anything about the questioner's individual risk. As the FA control measure is easy, I think the general recommendation is sensible. with weaning the perception of the difficulty of the control of ebf until 6 months is very difficult to quantify.

Kathyis6incheshigh Mon 27-Oct-08 16:15:59

I think you're right Welliemum - it's not just weaning and not just MN, it's a general issue about people being bad about reasoning around risk.
A friend of mine came away from her NCT class with the idea that the injection you have to deliver the placenta (can't remember its name, sorry) makes you sick and she seemed quite surprised when I and the other friends there when she mentioned it said it hadn't made us sick. Presumably the NCT teacher wasn't talking complete rubbish and there is indeed a risk of it causing vomiting, but somehow that part of the message about it not being certain had got lost.

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 16:21:21

When I become Empress of the Known Universe, risk will be taught in all the schools.

I think understanding risk is huuuuugely important life skill nowadays. We're bombarded with studies and evidence and it can be hard to make sense of all that.

Kathyis6incheshigh Mon 27-Oct-08 16:24:16

oh - and a similar very sad one - there was someone on MN a while back who'd just been diagnosed with breast cancer and she couldn't understand it because she'd breastfed her dcs and thought that breastfeeding prevented breast cancer sad

It must be the health professionals as well as ordinary people though.... I remember when I had hyperemesis people kept telling me about the positive side, which was that it meant you were less likely to miscarry. I was rather curious to know just how much less likely that was and I looked very hard and asked everyone I could think of but couldn't find a shadow of a figure anywhere.

It's as if people are interested in the fact that there is a connection but relatively uninterested in, or unable to take in, what the actual percentage differences are. Whereas in fact we need those figures frequently if we are to make decisions based on the supposed connections.

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 16:33:00

One example of something I'm getting a bit uncomfortable about is the "4 months vs 6 months" debate.

I think this might turn out to be a bit of a red herring.

Firstly, it's very unlikely that there's one good age to wean all babies.

Secondly, 4 months and 6 months have no real biological meaning - they're dates on a calendar. They're meaningful to us, but our bodies don't measure time that way.

This is one of the reasons I think BLW is a very, very interesting idea - it's based on the developmental capability of that individual baby, and recognises that they don't all develop at the same rate.

So I wouldn't be surprised if eventually, the idea of a recommended weaning age disappears in favour of a recommended weaning stage.

Habbibu Mon 27-Oct-08 16:34:00

I think that risk being taught in schools is a really good idea. wellie. It's a really interesting topic (though the risk management industry is dull in the extreme), and badly understood. We calculated that the odds of the 2 major pregnancy-related things that happened to us were 1 in 1.2 million, mind...

Kathyis6incheshigh Mon 27-Oct-08 16:35:14

Surely a teacher is going to come on in a minute and say that risk is taught in schools? (Though we could always counter 'Well obviously not well enough!')

Habbibu Mon 27-Oct-08 16:37:28

Well, I suppose probability is part of Maths, if you do Pure Maths & Stats A'level, for example (I did Pure & Mechanics, so bypassed it completely), but it may be hard to properly apply it to life there. should prob be part of science or pse or both.

MrsMattie Mon 27-Oct-08 16:37:45

Very interesting point@Wellie.

I've been flamed for suggesting that my 5 mth old was ready for some sort of food, but I truly believe he was. He was ready for taste or texture or something, anyway. He was curious. I didn't immediately start pureeing up 3 meals a day for him. But when he reached out to my porridge and licked the spoon and smiled and went for it again, I thought 'why not let him try a bit of baby rice?'. I didn't treat it as posion that was going to induce terrible allergic reactions (of course, there was/is a risk of that! grin).

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 16:38:06

OH, that is sad, Kathy sad.

Yes, I think size of risk is a crucial fact that doesn't seem to make the transition between the science press and the lay press.

A research paper wouldn't even be considered for publication unless it could descibe very precisely the size of the risk, the probability that the result didn't just arise by chance, the likelihood of other explanations for the finding..... all of that.

Yet you'll read the report of the research in a newspaper and none of that gets through - it's all balck and white, no shades of grey.

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 16:40:53

Mind you, if risk was better taught in schools, the Lottery industry would go down the toilet wink

Kathyis6incheshigh Mon 27-Oct-08 16:46:59

That's interesting re your 5 month old Mrs Mattie. I've seen similar posts, where the poster saying they think their child was ready was laughed at and told things like 'He's 5 months, he puts everything in his mouth, mine grabbed my coffee spoon but that doesn't mean he's ready for a cappucino'. Personally I think you can tell the difference between a child who randomly puts things in their mouth to feel them, and a child who makes a determined grab for food qua food. (Though what we don't know, of course, is whether brain readiness follows gut readiness IYKWIM - hopefully that is something they'll find out soon!)

Habbibu Mon 27-Oct-08 16:51:59

I'm never sure about that, tbh. DD grabbed pieces of orange from me and was clearly interested in the sensation (aged about 5mo) but i kind of treated it like babbling - preparing to speak, rather than actually being ready to communicate, iyswim? I guess she just didn't seem frustrated - maybe that's the difference you're talking about?

MrsMattie Mon 27-Oct-08 16:56:23

But that's it - so did I@Habbibu. I didn't immediately start shovelling full meals down his poor little gullet grin. I just didn't treat food like an evil that must, at all costs, be avoided until the clock struck midnight 6 months after he was born. I gave him a bit of baby rice (he lapped it up). I let him taste my mashed potato (loved it)...and so on. He was fine. OK, so perhaps there is a small risk that I am storing up all sorts of health problems for him later. I already formula fed him from 6 weeks old, drank (some) wine when pregnant, ignored a lot of my HV's advice because she seemed totally ill informed and patronisjng to me...I guess I just didn't genuinely believe it was a big deal.

Kathyis6incheshigh Mon 27-Oct-08 16:58:30

Yes, 'frustrated' is probably part of it. My ds picked up a piece of butternut squash and tasted it at around 4 months but didn't seem that interested, then at 6 months he grabbed a piece of kitchen roll soaked in mussel, cream and wine juice from my plate and crammed it in and looked very pleased with himself grin.

Habbibu Mon 27-Oct-08 17:02:07

But I don't think that your type of "early weaning" is really the target of much of the concern here, MrsM - I think that's generally reserved for very early and very quick weaning. But yes, the exactly 26 weeks thing can't be true for all - think that's what I meant about how onerous control measures are - I didn't find it hard to ebf until 6 months (luckily), so found the control measure pretty easy.

I also think that perception of risk may well depend on how your luck has been! I think I'm a bit more risk averse than I was before getting pregnant, as we've had 2 pretty rare events, and so the sense of security (which I think keeps society relatively sane) has slipped a bit for me.

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 17:02:14

Yes, I agree, I wouldn't automatically assume that because a child has the motor skills to eat, they're ready for food. You'd expect the 2 to converge more or less I suppose - no evolutionary advantage to needing food but not eating, or wanting to eat at a time when eating would be harmful.

I think, MrsMattie, that most of the people who favour weaning after 6 months on MN don't really stress about 5+ month old babies getting food. (I wouldn't).

But I think that using self-feeding ability as a guide will at the very least shift the weaning age to later than it currently is - and there's a fair amount of evidence that in Western countries, we're weaning earlier than necessary, so that could be beneficial for some babies.

The other thing that self-feeding can do is limit the amount of food they take in initially - there doesn't seem to be any practical research on how quickly the gut adapts to food but I wonder if some babies aren't being fed too much too quickly.

welliemum Mon 27-Oct-08 17:04:30

Sorry all, have to go, will be back later

slim22 Mon 27-Oct-08 17:05:54

it IS taught in school but only at a high academic level.
It's called stochastic mathematics or the mathematics of randomness.

I know nothing more about it. DH explained the other day. It is what is used to try and make financial models for trading on financial markets. Very very difficult subject.

Agree about weaning stage rather than age.
Started weaning both mine around 5 months cause could sit unsupported, lost thrust tongue reflex and just grabbed food out of our hands.
Guess they were saying they were ready............................this is where I usually get the rambling about the can of beer.

Habbibu Mon 27-Oct-08 17:08:47

"could sit unsupported, lost thrust tongue reflex" - that's the bit that's more important, though - I mean, they do grab pretty much anything, but the first two strike me as more distinctive.

stillstanding Mon 27-Oct-08 17:09:15

Very interesting points and very well expressed, welliemum.

I was interested in BLW but, as a first time parent, was too anxious to go that route and felt instead I should follow the well-trodden path of puree etc. I also had the fear of god put into me by my HV who said (effectively) that while not a morsel of food should pass DS's lips before 6 months on such date I needed to get my skates on and that because of iron-deficiencies and the like he needed to be eating wheatbix, meat and three veg by 7 months (I may be exaggerating a bit but not much).

All quite daunting really.

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