Let's Get a Serious

We’re about to post in favor of something that seems to be very unpopular for some reason in the blogging community: modern medicine. This is the Nerd Nest, after all. We like science. We don’t just put microscopes and beakers in our bathroom because it is trendy. We are actual nerds.

We’re not trying to be mean or belittle others’ opinions; but not believing in modern medicine when it is readily availible is something that just doesn’t make sense to us. We think in a lot of instances it’s a case of people fearing what they don’t understand: but in a lot of cases, the alternative is a lot scarier.

And we should note that we’re coming at this as parents and nerds, as we have no medical background. So go consult a doctor.

*Note: this doesn’t mean that we think you’re stupid or a bad parent if you disagree with us, so if you’re an alternative medicine guru don’t get all defensive.

Amber Teething Necklaces We’ve been mulling over this post ever since we posted about Jonas teething last July and received several comments recommending amber teething necklaces. I went into a research frenzy about amber necklaces because, in the words of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, they sound like absolute hokum.

I even borrowed university peer reviewed journal database passwords from friends working on Masters’ degrees to see what I could find. Here’s the thing: there is absolutely nothing in any medical journal I searched in about medicinal properties of amber. I’ve been putting this post off for so long because I figured I’d have to find something related to the necklaces in a medical journal somewhere. No dice. That’s after searching through hundreds and hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of papers on medical research. Jake made a lot of fun of me for missing school, but I told him I was determined to have a references section at the bottom of this post. So much for that.

Look: we’re open minded enough to realize that there are medicinal properties in natural forms out there just waiting to be harnessed. But there’s no way we believe that people making handmade necklaces have discovered something that scientists refuse to look at. If it were a shaman making them somewhere on a remote island, that would be one thing. But if amber medicinal jewelry was possible, don’t you think Johnson & Johnson would be selling them in your local pharmacy by now?

Amber necklaces are supposedly supposed to alleviate pain by releasing succinic acid (which is used for sweeter in food but has no known pain relieving qualities). Right. Because the acid in a rock is just going to rub off. Want a more scientific reason of why this doesn’t make sense? This blogger does a good job explaining it.

We believe that amber has zero medical effect. And we wouldn’t really care about the practice in general, because the placebo effect is probably comforting to parents. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something to ease your child’s pain, which is especially nice now that Orajel was found to be dangerous (pharmaceutical companies get it wrong too). But amber teething necklaces are dangerous. They’re a strangulation hazard, and even the ones that are supposed to break easily become a choking hazard from the beads. Why take the risk when it’s not helping? Also, we’ve noticed that a lot of sellers say something to the effect of, “child safety regulations require us to tell you that these are not suited for children under 2 years of age, but…” If you have anything like that sentence anywhere in your product description, you should not be marketing to babies.

Vaccinations We’ve also heard a lot of people in the blogging community speak out against vaccinating children. A lot of bloggers don’t take an activist approach; but many of them say that they believe that vaccinating their children is a “not for them” option or feel awful because they gave into doctors’ fear mongering and don’t think that the shots are worth the side effects. Or that think the whole thing is a sinister plot designed so that pharmaceutical companies can make more money.

But we think that a day of possible side-effects (that not everyone gets) are totally worth not getting horrible diseases like polio. Maybe this generation of parents is rejecting vaccinations because we weren’t around when these diseases were rampant; so we’re not afraid of them anymore. Maybe Jake and I feel differently because we talk to our grandparents and my great-grandparents about their lives and hear about how common and horrible these diseases were. Or maybe I have proper fear of these diseases because I read so much classic fiction in which it is perfectly normal for a character to drop dead or be paralyzed by these diseases.

As parents skipping out on vaccinations becomes more and more popular, the diseases have more of an opportunity to spread. Because of this parenting trend, reports of diseases like Measels are on the rise in the United States, when they should be declining. You have a cure for diseases that could potentially kill your kid. You can put up with a few days of fever for that.

Oh, and we really hate Andrew Wakefield, who fabricated data for a study linking the Measles vaccination to autism. There is no link between Measles and Autism. Wakefield was punished for severe ethical misconduct, the paper was repealed, and his medical license was revoked. This happened in 1998, but people still believe it. That guy should be rotting in jail.

Home Births Lastly, we’re going to talk about home births. Home births are very very popular among bloggers and are on the rise in the United States in general: the rate of home births increased 30% from the 1990s to the 2000s.

We’re mostly freaked out by this for personal reasons. Jake and Jonas were both emergency C-sections as babies. In both cases, the pregnancies were low-risk, they seemed to be perfectly healthy, and they were born perfectly healthy after the C-section. But in both cases, they would have died had they not been born in a hospital. Jake had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and Jonas was also tangled up in his umbilical cord. In Jake’s case, they didn’t know until he was crowning. In Jonas’s case, his latent heart beats on the monitor and the sudden stop of the progression of labor led to the doctor’s decision to do a C-section.

But we’ll let medical researchers explain it a little better:

“Home birth has attracted a great deal of attention of late, culminating in a meta-analysis to assess its risks for mother and baby. Mothers were estimated to be 2.6 times more likely to die and babies 3 times more likely to die from a planned home birth than from a planned hospital birth. (Keirse, 2010)”

That author did argue that it’s more about the equipment and medical expertise than the location of the birth: there are safe home births, and the likelihood of mortality have low-tech and low-experience home births lumped together with high-tech and high-experience home births.

We get the appeal of home births. I honestly wouldn’t have understood without the women’s studies courses I took in college, but I now know that birth used to be a very female centered experience that was celebrated; but then birthing became dominated by male doctors and the experience became very impersonal. But I also know, from my history courses, that the chances of dying during childbirth before modern medicine were about 40%. Infant mortality rates were also very high. That’s not the rate you’d have at a home birth today, of course, but our point is: let’s not get all nostalgic about birthing in the past. It was dangerous. It is dangerous. Why not have the best of both worlds? Bring the midwife or a birthing coach to the hospital.

To conclude: choosing alternative medicine as a parent doesn’t make sense to us. You may be thinking, “Well, I know so and so that had a home birth and uses amber teething necklaces and didn’t vaccinate her kids, and they’re all totally fine.” That’s great. But that’s not how statistics work. We’re not saying that choosing alternative medicine will kill your kids. We’re saying that choosing alternative medicine increases the statistical likelihood that your kids will die or become seriously ill. And really, when it comes to your kids, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to decrease the risk that they’ll come to harm?

What do you think about alternative medicine?


Keirse, M. (2010, December). Home Birth: Gone Away, Gone Astray, Here to Stay. Birth, 37 (4).

Let’s Get Serious is a blog series where we share our opinions and put ourselves out there. We get that not everyone thinks the same way; the same things don’t work for everyone. These are our opinions. They don’t have to be your opinions. We’d like to hear about what you think, but please don’t be mean to us. Let’s respect each other and talk about it!

Find more Let’s Get Serious posts here.