Today’s post comes from Steffany Kerr, a Master Babywearing Educator with Babywearing International of O’ahu. Steffany has a research focus of examining babywearing instruction methods with high risk populations and babywearing instruction as a social welfare intervention.
As a babywearing educator, I often encounter misinformation or questions about research regarding the practice of babywearing. Many of these questions are centered around settling debates about best practices. During these debates, articles are cited without much thought as to whether the information presented is indeed relevant to the topic at hand, or whether the content is reliable, valid, and/or statistically significant enough to warrant conclusive recommendations. Additionally, there is often the assumption that more research is available than we truly have. Through my work as a babywearing educator focusing on increasing the quantity and quality of babywearing-specific, statistically relevant, peer reviewed studies, I spend a lot of time attempting to clear up misconceptions about research and what we can deduce from the information that is currently available. In this three part blog series, I will identify some common misconceptions, clarify what information is currently available, and illustrate what efforts the industry is taking to increase the amount of babywearing-specific research.
Before delving into research specific content, I would first like to address common misunderstandings about research and source credibility, as myths about what constitutes research on a topic can prevent us from moving forward to create a solid foundation of evidence to support our actions. To discuss myths associated with research within the babywearing industry, it is important to understand how the act of research is defined. As stated by Cresswell (2002):
Research is a cyclical process of steps that typically begins with identifying a research problem or issue of study. It then involves reviewing the literature, specifying a purpose for the study, collecting and analyzing data, and forming an interpretation of the information. This process culminates in a report, disseminated to audiences, that is evaluated and used in the educational community. (p.8).
With a common understanding about what research is, we can now seek to determine how misunderstandings about the act of research and resulting information can negatively affect our industry and shared goals of increasing the quality and quantity of research.
“This Blog Post Says…”
In the year 2015, it seems that much of our information results from views on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Information sources such as the Huffington Post have taken precedence as a primary news source, and blog articles serve as a predominant learning resource. What many do not realize is that anyone can deem themselves an authority and write an opinion-based blog article, and that no matter how nicely packaged the information is, the content isn’t always supported by evidence beyond the author’s experiences. Given that I am writing this blog article, I do believe that this platform can be a highly effective way to spread information. Without a vetting system, however, misinformation spreads easily. Blog articles are often taken for fact, instead of for what they are: opinion pieces. Blog articles can present and cite research, however blog posts are not research. They are not scientific, peer reviewed articles. They have not been published in academic journals, nor reviewed by specialists of the discipline. Often, they are not a result of scientific inquiry. Blog posts can contain lots of useful and correct information, and they can even summarize and highlight studies that are relevant to a specific discipline, but they are not in and of themselves research. It is important to understand this distinction so that we can properly evaluate how much weight a piece should carry.
“Someone Should Do a Study!!!”
This is one of my favorite common misconceptions about research, when a well-meaning enthusiast asserts that someone should just conduct a study. If it were as simple as making this declaration, we would be buried under an avalanche of research. The reality is that conducting true, statistically significant studies is very challenging, expensive, and time consuming. Let’s pretend you are a researcher. Before any research can take place, you must design a quality study that will result in useful data. In order to launch a study, you must first be well connected and knowledgeable enough to obtain Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, which ensures that the study is being conducted in an ethical manner and not putting any subjects at risk. Usually you must be associated with an academic institution or large research institution in order to gain IRB approval. Next, you have to obtain funding for the study, which requires massive amounts of time dedicated to applying for grants or soliciting private funding. If you are able to track down funds, you will then need to obtain subjects for a study, find a facility or equipment (if necessary,) and have the time to dedicate toward the logistics of conducting the study. Then, you must properly analyze and interpret the results of the study, which requires skill and analysis software. Can you conduct studies without any of these steps? Sure! But it might not result in meaty enough data to pass through the final step of birthing that research baby—publication. To demonstrate that the research you conducted adheres to quality standards and is relevant enough to be taken seriously by other researchers, you must submit your research to a variety of scholarly journals. This can be challenging for the industry of babywearing practices and education, because other disciplines do not necessarily recognize babywearing as a practice worthy of research attention. We have come a long way in spreading babywearing awareness in the last several years, however we aren’t quite there yet considered to be a professionalized industry. As a result, many of our current researchers struggle to get their work published.
There is progress being made in this area, which will be highlighted in Part 3 of this series. My point in discussing this common misconception about research now is to illustrate that it is fairly complicated, time consuming, and can be expensive to conduct the type of studies that we need to provide a solid foundation to inform our practices as babywearers and babywearing educators.
“This one Study/Source Says…”
As an industry that is lacking a substantial number of practice specific studies, we find that a disproportionate amount of weight is often placed on the very little data we do have, even if that data comes from a study that hasn’t applied proper methodology or doesn’t have conclusive results. We all have to start somewhere and work with what we have, but it is counterproductive to our industry to draw stronger conclusions from a study than its results and methodology warrant. One common example of this is the International Hip Dysplasia Institute’s Educational Statement that is often cited as a significant source of information regarding positioning. While this information is relevant, it can be misleading. The IHDI’s statement is not based on any actual babywearing specific research conducted, rather it pulls from evidence from related disciplines. The relevance of resources such as the International Hip Dysplasia Institute will be reviewed in Part 2 of this blog series, but it is important to point out that one source and/or one study in and of itself is not enough to determine best practices. It will be necessary to conduct babywearing specific studies and hopefully replicate the outcomes before conclusively determining best practices. In the meantime, it is necessary to draw upon related disciplines while taking those related studies with a grain of salt and recognizing that one study or source cannot provide us with the amount of evidence we need.
Babywearing continues to gain popularity, and along with mainstream attention comes increased resources. As one who spends a lot of time addressing misconceptions about research amongst fellow babywearing educators and within the general population, I feel the need to address these myths so that we can stand together as an industry, knowledgeable about our current obstacles and goals for continued professionalization. Huck (2008) states, “Readers of research literature must be on guard for unjustified claims of validity and for cases where the issue of validity isn’t addressed at all.” (94). Being able to fully analyze the credibility of our sources and evaluate for quality and relevance will inherently increase our ability to promote evidence based practices. Identifying common misunderstandings about the information we have available within the babywearing industry allows us to determine effective methods for moving forward with creating a more specific and sound research base in the future.
Creswell, J.W. (2002). Educational Research: Planning, Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Huck, S.W. (2008). Reading Statistics and Research. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Click here for Babywearing Research: Part 2 Relevant Research
Click here for Babywearing Research: Part 3 The Future of Babywearing Research