Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review: Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide

Note #1:  My original review of Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide was written for San Francisco Book Review and appears on their website.  I have expanded that review for this post.

Note #2:  The opinions in this post are just that: my own opinions, for better or for worse.  No one paid me to write any of this.

Being pregnant is uncharted territory for first-time moms.  For those who are looking for solid information and reassurance, Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide is intended for women (and their partners) who are facing pregnancy for the first time.  This guide presents an abundance of information that will aid you in having a healthy pregnancy.

The bulk of the book is presented in a typical month-by-month format, with each month featuring pages on Mom's Journey, Baby's Journey, and Dad's Survival Guide (I love that there is a section for dads in each month!), as well as other sections covering topics that differ from month to month.  For example, Month 1 has a spread regarding determining the due date, Month 6 talks about the trendy idea of having a "babymoon," and Month 8 offers advice on writing a birth plan.

The format is cute and colorful, making this book a joy to page through. There are illustrations and photos included throughout, and nearly every page includes fun facts, statistics, or pieces of advice at the top of the page.  Some of my favorite factoids include:
  • Your baby's temperature is about 32 degrees F (0.3 degrees C) higher than your body temperature.
  • Your uterus increases 700 times in size from conception to birth.
  • At birth, babies don't have kneecaps.  They don't develop until after six months.
After the month-by-month chapter comes a shorter section on labor, followed by one on first days with baby and some basic advice on baby care.  The section on labor is very short indeed, and will definitely not provide a first-time mom with everything she needs to know in order to have the kind of birth she wants.
"The more prepared you are, knowing what to expect and how you might deal with discomfort, the more likely you are to relax and have confidence in your ability to manage."
My biggest concern with this book has to do with how some of the wording and topics included (or not included) reflect a leaning towards today's typical hospital birth.  This is very much a "mainstream" pregnancy book.  There is not much mention of important choices that must be made during pregnancy; indeed, most of the book assumes you will be giving birth in a hospital, under the care of a traditional OB.  While that may be standard for most of America, it is still disappointing to only have the occasional mention of midwives and birth centers, which are becoming more and more popular as they become more well-known options.  Home birth does get an entire two-page spread, but with the immediate caveat that the idea is opposed by the AMA and ACOG.  With doulas becoming slowly more mainstream, I kept expecting them to get a section; there were several perfect opportunities to discuss a paid labor assistant, but the only mention of hiring a doula came as an aside on one of the Natural Birth pages.

I also didn't like how sometimes passages were worded in such a way as to indicate that these decisions would be made by your caregiver, with you as the pregnant woman having no say.  I am a big fan of informed consent when it comes to medical decisions related to your pregnancy, and while I freely acknowledge that a woman's doctor or midwife is more knowledgeable about the medical aspects of pregnancy, I can't help but object to any suggestion that a woman will have no part in the decision making.  Statements like "If [a membrane sweep] doesn't work [to induce labor], an induction will be arranged during which drugs will trigger contractions" imply that a woman can't refuse an induction if your doctor wants you to have one.  Or how about the section on "Older Moms," which discusses how your age can affect your pregnancy?  "During labor, medical interventions and cesareans are also more common.  Try to see this extra level of care as a bonus; you and your baby are in safe hands."  Certainly, an "older" woman undergoing pregnancy may require closer monitoring in many ways, but I do not like the assumption that labor will naturally require more interventions simply because of a mama's age.

I was somewhat perplexed by the attention given to ultrasounds; there are two full two-page spreads devoted to them, and they are mentioned frequently elsewhere.  It's true that many caregivers, especially OBs, do expect women to get at least one or two (or often even more), but it's also true that many women have perfectly healthy babies without getting a single ultrasound during pregnancy.  Sometimes health insurance is reluctant to pay for an ultrasound, especially if it is medically unnecessary.  I'm not trying to claim that ultrasound can't provide valuable information to caregivers during pregnancy, because it can, I simply don't understand why this book places such emphasis on getting scans done.

Some other topics touched on include nutrition, exercise, pain relief options, newborn essentials, and cesarean sections.  For the most part, this book is pretty well-written, and it covers a wide range of topics that "most" women will want to read about during their pregnancy.  If it leaves some topics out, or focuses on some I am not interested in, or words some sections in a way that I do not agree with, well, this is more of a problem for me and my personal bias toward natural birth than it would be for most pregnant women.  Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide is cute, informative, and a good starter guide for many women, especially those who are planning to have a typical hospital birth.  This is not, however, a "complete" pregnancy book by any means, and would be complemented nicely by additional reading and a good childbirth education class (like Birth Boot Camp!).  I don't expect to be adding Pregnancy: The Beginner's Guide to my list of recommended reading for pregnant women.  But it does cover a good many important topics in a friendly way, and it is sure to appeal to many women who aren't sure where to start.

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