Thursday, July 24, 2014

Great Books for Your Pregnancy

I have read an awful lot of pregnancy books over the last few years.  When I was pregnant with my son, I read a number of books, mostly from the library; I didn't know what kinds of books I was looking for, and I didn't know what kinds of books were out there, so I picked up a handful of "mainstream" pregnancy books (which you won't find on this list).  During the process of certifying to be an instructor for Birth Boot Camp, I read a ton more.  (And many of those are on this list!)  And as a book reviewer for San Francisco Book Review, I am pretty sure that I review most of the pregnancy books that come through (and I specifically have them request others that I hear about through the grapevine).

So I wouldn't say I'm any kind of an expert on pregnancy books, but I have read a lot of them.  Thus, this list.

What you will find on this list are all of the books I now recommend to friends who are expecting a baby.  They are all the books I wish I had known to read when I was pregnant.  And while I am a big fan of natural birth, these books don't all push the idea down your throat.  (Well, some of them are very strongly in favor of natural birth.  But most of them just want women to have a good birth, which is not necessarily synonymous with natural.)  Instead, these books tend to promote evidence-based care in pregnancy and birth, which is something that I strongly believe all women are entitled to.

Part of my collection.

Books for Pregnancy & Birth

The Healthy Pregnancy Book 
~William & Martha Sears
Just to let you know now, this list contains a number of books from the "Sears Parenting Library."  I love Dr. Sears, and I am not ashamed to admit it.  (And did you know that he loves Birth Boot Camp?  Just sayin'.)   The Healthy Pregnancy Book is quite possibly my top pick for pregnancy books at the moment; if you think you will only make it through one book before your baby is born, this should be it!  Published in 2013, it's very up-to-date.  It covers all the important things you need to know to have a healthy pregnancy (diet and exercise, as well as things like sleep, reducing stress, and important lifestyle changes to consider), and it also covers pregnancy in a month-by-month format.  I love that this book promotes looking at pregnancy and birth as a normal, physiological process, and while it advocates this mother-centered style of care (often called the midwifery style of care), it approaches everything in such a way as to be appealing to readers of all stripes.  No matter what you think you want your birth to look like, this book will be a beneficial read to you.
For a slightly more detailed review, check out:
My review of The Healthy Pregnancy Book on San Francisco Book Review
My full-length review of The Healthy Pregnancy Book on this blog

Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn 
~Penny Simkin, Janet Whalley, Ann Keppler, Janelle Durham, April Bolding
You're probably wondering why it would be necessary to read more than one "complete" pregnancy book.  The reason is because not every book contains the same information, because not every book has the same focuses, and because every book is written in a slightly different way; you will no doubt find some books more appealing than others (for a variety of reasons).  Things I specifically loved about this book: descriptions and pictures of yoga poses that are beneficial during pregnancy, an entire no-nonsense chapter devoted to potential complications (I'd rather have them all in one place than scattered throughout the book, like some pregnancy books tend to do; this way, you can get your worrying out of the way all at once!), and a really detailed section on comfort techniques to deal with labor pain (because even if you think you'll want an epidural, you still can't get one right away, so you need to some ideas for how to cope in the meantime).  Lots and lots of good information in this book!

Birthing a Better Way
~Kalena Cook, Margaret Christensen
Back before I even knew I wanted to have a baby, I reviewed a copy of this book on a whim.  It is still not a particularly well-known book, but I recommend it to every pregnant woman I know.  Birthing a Better Way is the first book to introduce me to the concept of natural birth, and for that, it will always hold a place in my heart.  This book presents twelve essential "secrets" to help women have the natural birth they dream of.  After everything I've read and after having had a natural birth myself, they all seem so commonsense, and that's why this book is such a great place to start if you're interested in having a natural birth!  From the importance of "shopping around" for care providers and birth places, to understanding the purpose of labor pain and having strategies to cope with it, to finding expert opinions to back up and support your own decisions, this book has a lot of good information.  It's packed with facts, not to mention a handful of good birth stories!  If you want a natural birth, or are even just considering it, this book is a good one.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
~Ina May Gaskin
The natural birth community loves Ina May Gaskin.  And with good reason!  If you've never heard of her, Ina May is a famous midwife and the founder of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee.  Thousands of babies have been born naturally there, under the care of trained midwives, with very few complications; Ina May herself has attended more than 1200 births over her lifetime.  The first half of this book is a collection of birth stories; some of them are pretty "hippy," many of them will likely be nothing like how you will experience birth, but they make for a powerful read that will reaffirm the fact that natural birth is possible!  The second half covers "The Essentials of Birth," and includes topics such as what really happens during labor, the sphincter law (fun fact: when I was in labor, most of what I had learned about birth evaporated from my mind, but I did remember the sphincter law!), the third stage of labor (delivery of the placenta), VBAC, and the importance of choosing a good care provider.  This book was very inspirational for me!

Journey Into Motherhood
~Sheri Menelli
A good friend of mine recommended this book to me early in my own pregnancy.  Positive birth stories are, in my opinion, a very important part of your pregnancy reading.  Birth does not have to be scary, or traumatic, and reading empowering examples of how others have rocked their births will help you gain confidence in your body's own abilities.  And this collection of 48 stories is one of the best I've read.  The focus of this book is natural birth, but even if that's not your stated goal you will enjoy these stories; I challenge you to not find yourself crying in response to the beauty and passion of these women!  There are lots of collections of birth stories out there, and there are many websites full of them as well (I'm a big fan of Birth Without Fear), but this collection is by far my favorite.

The Birth Book
~William & Martha Sears
Another good one from the Sears Parenting Library.  This one is a bit outdated at this point (published in 1994; here's hoping they're working on a revised edition!), but it most of the information in it has not changed, so it's still a great one to read.  While The Healthy Pregnancy Book discusses your options for giving birth, The Birth Book really covers this topic in depth.  There are so many things to think about when it comes to giving birth, and the decisions can be a bit overwhelming even to someone who has given birth before.  This book can help you work your way through your questions, enabling you to have your baby in a way that is both safe and empowering.

Books for Special Interests & Special Circumstances

The Pregnant Athlete
~Brandi & Steven Dion, Joel Heller, Perry McIntosh
Who says that working out while pregnant means brisk walks and prenatal yoga?  Certainly not the authors of this well-researched book!  It is pretty well-known now that staying active throughout your pregnancy is beneficial to both you and your baby.  This book is for the driven athlete who wants to maintain her edge as best as she can through pregnancy and start getting back to work as soon as possible after giving birth.  With information about how pregnancy changes your body (and how this affects your workouts), nutrition information for an active lifestyle, and even special workout plans, this book will help you stay as fit as possible.

Your Vegetarian Pregnancy
~Holly Roberts
I faced more questions about my vegetarian diet during the months of my pregnancy than I had during the entire eight or so years prior to becoming pregnant.  Where are you getting your protein?  Are you getting enough folic acid/iron/B12/etc?  Are you gaining enough weight?  Yes, yes, yes, it is very possible to have a perfectly healthy diet on a vegetarian (or even vegan) diet.  I had spent years adjusting my diet to make sure I was healthy and getting enough nutrients prior to getting pregnant, and while it was hard to get up to the 80+ grams of protein per day my midwife wanted me to be eating, it was by no means impossible.  This book discusses all of the important parts of a healthy diet, and offers a variety of vegetarian sources to help you meet your body's needs.  I love the question-and-answer format, too; it feels like having an informative discussion with your care provider over a cup of (non-caffeinated) tea.  If you are in need of reassurance, or even if you just need some concrete facts to present to well-meaning family and friends, this book is a fantastic resource.

Beautiful Babies
~Kristen Michaelis
On the other side of the dietary spectrum, women who embrace a traditional/primal/Paleo type of diet (forgive me for lumping them all together; they all look pretty similar to me) are bound to also have concerns about how their eating habits will affect their growing babies.   I have read a handful of books focusing on traditional foods during pregnancy (I know, this is strange for a vegetarian to admit, but it's true), and Beautiful Babies is the best, hands-down.  Kristen Michaelis isn't a doctor (and she makes that abundantly clear), but she has spent a lot of time researching the topic, and her book is an excellent summary of how such a diet can help women improve their fertility, have a healthy pregnancy, breastfeed, and get babies off to a good start with solids.  I love the non-judgmental tone of the book, and how there is information that everyone will find useful, no matter what your personal eating habits are.
For a slightly more detailed review, check out:
My review of Beautiful Babies on San Francisco Book Review

The VBAC Companion
~Diana Korte
So your first baby was born by cesarean section.  For many women, that doesn't mean that you can't have a vaginal birth with your next one!  VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) is recognized as a safe option by many birth experts, including ACOG, but that doesn't mean it isn't a bit scary too.  But as with all things birth, educating yourself is important, and this book is a great first step in that direction.  Most pregnancy books touch on VBAC, but it is worth your time to read a book that specifically addresses how your prior c-section can affect your birthing decisions this time around.

Books for Baby Care

Sure, we all like to think that caring for a baby will come completely naturally to us, but the truth is that we could all use a bit of guidance when it comes to caring for our little ones, especially in those early confused and sleep-deprived days.  Read some books on baby stuff now, during your pregnancy, to give yourself a head start before you even give birth.

The Other Baby Book
~Megan McGrory Massaro, Miriam Katz
I generally refer to this book as a primer on alternative parenting practices.  Meaning, this shouldn't be your only stop if you're interested in, say, co-sleeping or baby-led weaning, but it's a great introductory point.  The authors discuss natural birth, common newborn procedures (like the vitamin K shot, antibiotic eye drops, circumcision, and vaccination), the myth holding and touching your baby too much can "spoil" him, breastfeeding, baby sleep habits, elimination communication (sometimes known as infant potty training), and much, much more.  This is another book I recommend to everyone, if only to let people know that there are other options and ideas out there.

The Baby Book
~William & Martha Sears, Robert Sears, James Sears
I can't even tell you how much I relied on this book during the first few years of my son's life.  Even now, I still turn back to this book for reliable information from time to time.  The Baby Book planted the seed for my love of attachment parenting; it gave me the support I needed as a vulnerable new parent to just follow my instincts and parent my baby in a way I felt was right.  Covering the first two years of your baby's life, this book touches on pretty much every topic a new parents will want or need to know about.  Dr. Sears's books are always so straightforward and approachable; he presents ideas and methods and facts in a completely non-threatening way, making this book an excellent source for everyone, including friends and family members who don't understand why you're doing some of the things you're doing.  If you only get one book on baby care, this one would be my recommendation!

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding
~Diane Wessinger, Diana West, Teresa Pitman
If you plan to breastfeed your baby, learning about the process ahead of time can save you a lot of grief.  Yes, breastfeeding is hard work, but I promise you that if you can make it for the first six weeks or so, you will be good to go!  In my opinion, there are a few factors that can really make a big difference for the woman who wants to breastfeed.  One is tenacity: decide early on what you want, and be determined to make it work!  Another is support: surround yourself with others who are or who want to breastfeed, attend La Leche League meetings, and find a good lactation consultant.  And, arguably, the most important is education.  The more you know about how breastfeeding works, about the eating patterns of babies, about how your milk is what your baby is naturally designed to eat (it's not "best;" it's biologically normal!), and about how to deal with any issues that arise, the better your chances are of meeting your goals.  Every woman who wants to nurse her baby should start reading this book before baby comes, and then keep it close at hand.

The Happiest Baby on the Block
~Harvey Karp
This book may have saved my sanity more than once during the first few months of my son's life.  In it, Dr. Karp lays out his theory of the fourth trimester, which helps explain why babies spend the first three months or so of life wanting to nurse frequently and be held almost constantly.  It also lays out a rather magical formula for soothing an unhappy baby.  Magical, I tell you.  This book also taught me how to swaddle effectively, which helped my baby fall asleep on many occasions.  It's worth reading this one ahead of baby's arrival; you'll want to have some ideas to soothe your baby before the sleepless nights start.

The Vaccine Book 
~Robert Sears
Vaccines are a complex issue, and it sometimes seems like those who are strongly for or against their use rely primarily on fear to convince parents one way or the other.  Here's what I think: the decision of if and how to vaccinate is a major one, and you owe it to yourself and your child to research the topic thoroughly so that you can make your decision an informed one.  If you're leaning towards vaccination, you deserve to know what's in the shots and what kinds of reactions your baby may experience.  If you're leaning away from vaccinations, you deserve to know the likelihood of your child catching the disease in question and how potentially serious the illness could be.  The Vaccine Book does a very good job laying out all of these factors and more for each vaccine currently in the recommended schedule.  This book is a great source for unbiased information on a highly derisive topic.


  1. What a great list, thank you for posting!! I am sharing with friends. I would also add Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake et al. It's a great book to summarize all the information women are seeking when they first realize they have CHOICES, and they can branch out from there! Easy read, lots of good information, and no judgements offered!

    1. Thank you for sharing! I am vaguely embarrassed to admit that I have yet to read Your Best Birth, although it has been on my mental reading list for ages. I shall see if I can get a copy to read from the library, and I will definitely consider adding it to my list!