I have a problem. A major, abiding problem with reading books. If you’re in the market for a few dozen books on pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care, have I got a list for you:
After a few weeks, I figured out that my body doesn’t actually need any books to tell it how to grow a healthy baby— it is perfectly capable of doing that on its own. Find a book, or series of books, that speak to you in a tone you enjoy, whose organization makes sense to you, that offer a number of perspectives, and that have been updated in the last few years, and you’re set. Your body can do all the rest. At some point the Baby Center emails about what fruit or vegetable your fetus is will start to make you mad/make zero sense, and you won’t care if you’ve read about pelvic floor pain or not when you try to roll over in the night— you’ll mostly just want a list of creative expletives. There’s a million dollar idea for you, pregnancy book people: “Creative Cusses for the Expectant Mother”.
I found that pregnancy books will, on the whole, assume a few things about you:
- That you are straight
- That you have a partner, and that he is your husband
- That your husband is kind of an idiot, who loves you very much, doesn’t understand feelings/how babies are born, and wants to have sex with you all the time or is really freaked out by having sex with you
- That you have a doctor who will tell you nothing/everything
- That you are not already scared enough, so it is the book’s responsibility to scare the peewadden out of you (not that hard, since you’re pregnant, and as you learned in Chapter 54, you might have to go to the bathroom more, hehehe, haha, omg, having a baby is so grooossss!)
I don’t have any books about nutrition for mother and baby below, primarily because I had access to a lot of wonderful resources in non-book, real-live-person form, and secondarily because much of what is written about nutrition in trade books is, in my total layman’s opinion, at best misleading and at worst flat out wrong. Don’t get me started about the varied and erroneous statements made about cheese and dairy in nearly every book I read. Eat to replenish what your baby needs from your body to grow and avoid pathogens. Talk to your healthcare provider.
This is my favorite book about pregnancy, though I wouldn’t recommend it as a comprehensive go-to resource. I just loved the way the book was organized and found that it made learning about pregnancy fun- a way to geek out about what was happening in my body (epigenetics, anyone?). It’s basically a comic book about having a baby.
The Pregnancy Book (Dr. Sears)
Perhaps the most outdated of this group, but I felt it was quite comprehensive and helpful. I disagree with Dr. Sears on a number of issues, but I appreciate that he included, for the most part, a variety of perspectives and information on competing viewpoints. He advocates empowering women to make choices in childbirth without undermining the importance of trust between a woman and her care provider— and this was a balance I found lacking in nearly every other book I read. Heteronormative and at times patronizing to women, but that’s sort of the norm for many of these books, and it’s not so pronounced here as in others.
These two were perfectly fine:
Here’s where some reading can come in handy— or did for me, anyway. While being pregnant had a pretty predictable pace and required very little effort on its own (except for such wild tasks as “standing up out of bed” and “putting on pants” and “walking up one flight of stairs”), birth was going to be A Thing. Plus, to me, birth was and is fascinating— there’s so much going on, so much your body just DOES, and so much you get to be an active participant in.
UPDATE: I had a baby, and I’m not going to lie— I was glad I read all of the books I did! Some things were more helpful than others, sure, but the security I gained from what little bits of knowledge I gleaned helped me to better work with my team of heathcare providers, my husband, and my doula. I’ve modified some of what I wrote below post-actually-having-a-baby. Specifically, two books not mentioned here were tremendously helpful.
Hands down the best book-helper for birth there is. The best part is that, if you’re having the baby, you don’t even have to read it! You can, of course, and the information is fantastic, but this is really a comprehensive resource for your partner— who can be your spouse, your mom, your doula, your friend, whomever you choose to be by your side for your birth. Penny Simpkin outlines nearly everything you could need to know about birth, illustrates positions to help you cope, to help labor progress, to help you push, and gives specific advice to your birth partner to help aid you through you birth. Knowing that Mike had read this book, that our childbirth education classes were based on this book, and that our doula dug this book (she brought over copies of the positions in the book before she knew we had read it— which Mike recognized, thus earning him major birth bonus points) gave me such a feeling of confidence in my little birth team.
The author of the Big Book of Birth, Erica Lyon, is the Director of Education for the entity that hosted our childbirth classes, and I found her approach to align really well with ours: she promotes minimal intervention but notes that intervention can be lifesaving, stresses the need for a trusting relationship with your provider, and gives you the opportunity to advocate for yourself and your desires (even if they include an epidural! even if they don’t!) throughout the process. Plus, it’s not all that big— a pretty quick read compared to the others!
This, along with Hypnobirthing, is going went in my hospital bag, and will be was dogeared and worn out by the time Bean makes made her appearance. Chock-full of concrete exercises to help both partners deal with whatever happens in the birthing process, I feel like Mindful Birthing, unlike some other books on this list, doesn’t set you up for failure or disappointment if your ‘perfect birth’ invariably goes awry— it teaches you to cope and roll with the punches. That flexibility gives everyone involved a better sense of control, and, I think, ultimately leads to healthier outcomes emotionally. The pain management techniques contained within were also more digestible and realistic to me. Post-birth: I do wish I would have practiced some of the exercises contained in the book more— I think it would have helped me to stay more focused. There is a ton of narrative in the book that isn’t really necessary, but if you use your ol’ skim and scan skills, the content can really help with pain management and maintaining a sense of agency.
This isn’t a birthing book at all- in fact, it’s something I used prior to getting pregnant to treat anxiety and panic attacks. The techniques promoted, though, are exceptionally effective at reducing anxiety and helping one feel in control, while actually reducing physical manifestations of stress. I plan to use many of the breathing exercises during labor. Post-birth: Seriously awesome. I probably used the breathing exercises from this book more than anything, especially once those contractions (pitocin!) got going. They were also helpful for working through early nursing struggles and my late onset postpartum depression.
Skip the first few chapters on how women used to birth strapped down on tables, totally knocked out, without agency or awareness because really? Do you really need someone to tell you for the four hundred and thirty fourth time how bad birth used to be? SO BAD, y’all. I get it. I’m an informed woman who trusts my body. Now treat me like the informed woman who trusts my body that you say I am, Natural Childbirth Books. FOR THE LOVE.
Beyond those brief chapters, this book is a goldmine. I love the breathing, relaxation and visualization exercises, as well as the physical exercises and information on birthing. I place a tremendous amount of weight on the power of language in my day to day life, and I appreciate the alternate vocabulary used in Hypnobirthing to eradicate negativity from the birthing process. I don’t think I’ll use exclusively Hypnobirthing techniques in my birth experience, but this has been the most powerful and helpful resource about birth that I’ve read so far. Post-birth: A sleeper hit! I dug into Hypnobirthing much deeper in my last few weeks, and Mike and I started practicing the visualizations every night. I do wish we would have started that earlier— I’m even considering a Hypnobirthing class for our next baby. The birth breathing in particular was great for pushing.
The Sears family clearly advocates for minimal intervention, but again, aren’t so rabidly anti-intervention that they eschew smart choices. Trust with one’s care provider is reinforced throughout, and it gives women the tools to pursue the kind of birth they hope to have— without promising that anyone will end up with the exact birth they plan. They review a number of birthing techniques without pushing one over the other. But oh my god, if I have to hear about how Martha Sears has painfree two hour labors one more time, I’m going to light this book on fire— and then buy another one. Postbirth: After reading fifty ka-thousand books, the only thing I remember from this book were the birth stories. In my last few weeks, I gorged myself on birth stories, walking through every imaginable iteration of childbirth— the good, the bad, and the ugly— in an effort to have some control over the uncontrollable. If, like me, you need to live vicariously through dozens of other women to feel ready for a birth unlike any other, go for it!
The Bradley Method has crazy high numbers for intervention-free births among its adherents, but I couldn’t get past the inherent heteronormativity and paternalistic tone of Dr. Bradley himself. I’m certain a good number of Bradley practitioners would agree with me, but I had to just toss this book to Mike and ask him to fill me in on any good stuff. Recent editing has softened some of the “Listen up, ladies” rhetoric and certainly having an active, supportive birth partner is important, but I’m not sure this was the right resource for us.
My body is awesome— it’s growing a whole baby entirely on its own as I go about my business, and I have every faith that it has a darn good idea of how to get this baby out into the world, too. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth reiterates this, and points to numerous birth stories to illustrate how awesome a woman’s body can be. I didn’t find, though, that this was a guide to childbirth for me— I don’t find myself reaching for this book for information or helpful tools because I didn’t find it particularly helpful in those areas. Sure, I enjoyed (most of) the birth stories, but I don’t feel that the book creates enough space for those of us who want to have minimal intervention but aren’t planning to give birth on a communal Tennessee farm with eleventy-nine women attending. I felt like it was a litany of ways the medical establishment is ‘doing it wrong’ without any real assistance for a woman trying to navigate within those establishments. And that’s perfectly fine if you’re not trying to navigate within those parameters, but I was, and I needed the via media of childbirth books. This is not that.
The Actual ‘We’re Going to Need to Raise This Bean’ Baby Books
Lots of solid information, tempered with the personal recommendations of the Sears’ clan. The information about going back to work after giving birth, though, is a tad guilt-trippy. To be taken with a few grains of salt (after, of course, the ankle swelling goes down).
We love many of the attachment parent principles, but I’m also determined to raise a child who can soothe herself back to sleep by the time she’s reached, say, 25. While this book contains some great information on infant and toddler sleep patterns, it’s pretty heavily tilted toward the cosleeping/attachment parenting bent.
Full confession- we actually only watched the video and have yet to read the book. Still, it looks like a solid start to soothing very young babies. Also, this. Postbirth: we used this a lot, but just google the 5 S’s and do what you’ve gotta do to get that baby to nap. I remain unconvinced that this is anything more than an attempt to distract parents from the fact that babies just cry, and you just need to feed/change/snuggle them when they do, and then they still sometimes cry. Here, make a funny noise and turn your baby into a burrito! Problem solved!
I’m limited in my ability to assess how useful this book is, but it’s certainly answered all of my breastfeeding questions thus far, and I anticipate using it lots in the coming months. Postbirth: THIS WAS/IS THE BEST. I still use it, 15 months later. I used it in the hospital right after Winnie was born, I used it after she came home, I used it at 2 weeks and 6 weeks and 8 weeks and 4 months when I started pumping and 6 months when she started food and again and again and again. I love it so much. Also, the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is good, too, but this one. It’s broken down by phases of nursing, with a ‘survival guide’ for each one— a summary of everything you need to know. It doesn’t make nursing scary, but it does give any struggles you have due weight. And while I know breastfeeding is ‘natural’, it’s not always intuitive, or if it is, that intuition doesn’t guarantee ease.
I LOVE THIS BOOK. I’m ridiculously paranoid, clearly research too much for my own good, and this is the book that calms me down and balances my neuroses. Dr. Cohen presents an overview of information on a given topic, followed by his own common sense recommendation. The tone is non-judgmental and without agenda. In places he’s probably a little more relaxed than I plan on being, but it’s a great balance for my worrying nature. Dr. Cohen mentions how much of an idiot his wife thinks he is an uncomfortable number of times, but I wouldn’t let their particular marital relations overshadow a perfectly competent book. Postbirth: Great until about the 6-9 month stage. Short, easy. A nice read when you’re up at 3 am nursing.
I’m least qualified to offer my opinion on this book, as I only picked it up when Mike and I thought we might be having an early C-section for medical reasons (that later resolved). Much of the information was interesting and enlightening, but the tone was frightening, and the author is clearly still struggling with the trauma of her premature labor experience. Helpful, I’m sure, for parents of premies, but perhaps not for those at high risk of preterm labor or overly cautious people like me who just want to be prepared.
Adorbs. Learn how to sew a teething bunny and rock your baby from people like Rachel Maddow’s mom (and who wouldn’t want to raise a tiny Rachel Maddow?).
Next up on the reading list:
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth— Skipped this one.
Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities — From the Very Start— I disagreed with a good portion of the newborn guidance, but do love this for the 3 month+ stages. Janet Lansbury does a great job of positioning Magda Gerber’s work in contemporary context.
Birthing from Within: An Extra-Ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation— Skipped this one because I already had enough crafting on the horizon without needing to craft my feelings on birth (I’m kidding, of course— I just didn’t feel like I could commit!).
The Mommy Plan, Restoring Your Post-pregnancy Body Naturally, Using Women’s Traditional Wisdom—I still read portions of this outloud [particularly the bit in the voice of an anthropomorphized placenta] for friends after a couple of drinks, just for laughs. Not my jam, but good for giggles.
I wish I would have read these:
But I still had one heck of a baby without them!