Week 15: Watch out for safety

Your hot pepper sized fetus doesn’t mind if you eat hot peppers. |   Mamun Srizon  on  Unsplash

Your hot pepper sized fetus doesn’t mind if you eat hot peppers. |  Mamun Srizon on Unsplash

If you’re one of either 17% or 45% of pregnant women who experience heartburn during pregnancy, you may be looking forward to your long-neglected jar of salt-cured peppers after the birth. But wait. If you’re nursing, can the baby feel the capsaicin? 

You start googling. "Can baby taste hot peppers in breast milk?" 

A quick glance at the search results makes you nervous about your peck of postpartum peppers. "Should You Avoid Certain Foods While Breastfeeding?" "Is it Okay to Eat Spicy Food While Nursing?" "Is It Safe to Eat Spicy Food While Breastfeeding?" The very titles indicate that not only can a baby taste hot peppers, but that it could be unsafe for that baby to do so. 

Let's pause right here and cool down the pepper panic. It's fine to eat hot peppers while pregnant, while nursing, and pretty much any other time as long as you like to eat hot peppers. 

Now, back to your search results. Did you see what happened when you googled a question about taste? You received articles about safety. That may be because Google's algorithm knows that parents searching for questions tend to click on search results about safety. Maybe you were actually asking about safety. Or maybe you really were just curious about taste. In either case, when you click on the safety-based answers to your question, you're teaching the search algorithm that when asking a question about taste, you were really interested in a question of safety.

This happens all the time in pregnancy and parenting literature, for both questions of literal taste and metaphorical taste. Search for the "best" stroller models, for example, and you'll find safety assessments right alongside your fabric options, even though all strollers sold in the U.S. are regulated by the same guidelines and are therefore pretty much uniformly safe. 

Right now we're dealing with the fairly mild question of hot peppers and breast milk, but what happens when you google about hotter parenting topics like teething toys or kindergartens or sex education? You need a strategy to help you when questions of taste turn stealth-morph into questions of safety. 

To avoid steering into safety questions, avoid asking "can." Remember when you asked "Can I play?" only to hear "I don't know, can you?" The strict grammarian in your life may have been technically right about the meaning of "can," but was wrong to assume that words only ever mean one thing. In an internet search, "can" almost always transforms to a safety question. "Can a baby taste hot peppers" transforms into a question of whether or not it's safe to feed a baby hot peppers. Instead of asking your questions in "can" form, consider not asking questions at all. Search for "taste in babies" and you'll get all sorts of interesting studies into how babies experience flavor. 

If you're noticing a lot of safety-based answers in your search results, you can, of course, start asking questions without the internet. Because google is so convenient, we often forget that it does not actually contain all of the world's information. Instead of googling about hot peppers, you could just wait for your baby to be born and start your own taste experiments. Shaun Gallagher's Experimenting with Babies will help you use your baby as a lab subject.