A friend who is expecting her first baby recently asked me for recommendations on my favorite pregnancy, birth, and parenting books, and, to my surprise, I found myself brimming with suggestions. I used to tell people (proudly) that I didn’t read parenting books — but I see now that this is not actually true. What’s more accurate is that I read parenting books selectively. I’m sure it’ll shock everyone to learn that there is a lot of noise out there around pregnancy, birth, and parenting, and one must be in tune with ones own values and aspirations as a parent in order to tune out the large quantity of nonsense. And boy, there is a LOT of nonsense and gimmicks and fear-mongering out there. So, with my own parenting values guiding the way, here is my short list of favorite books on pregnancy, birth, baby care, and parenting.
PREGNANCY AND BIRTH
Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother, by Beth Ann Fennelly: This slim, beautifully written book is a collection of letters that poet/writer Fennelly wrote to a young friend pregnant with her first child. Fennelly shares her observations about pregnancy and motherhood and the challenges (and joys) of balancing being a mother, wife, and writer. I found the passages about finding balance in one’s work and home life to be particularly resonant. I leant this book to our former babysitter when she got pregnant and she told me she found it reassuring and sweet.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin: This is a must-read for anyone considering having an unmedicated childbirth. Gaskin, considered one of the mothers of modern American midwifery, has written an essential guide on what happens during birth and how the process can be made easier and more comfortable for women without the aid of medical intervention. In a society in which medicalized birth is considered the default option, I think it’s important for women to understand the natural, physiological and mental processes involved in childbirth so that they can make informed decisions about how they want to give birth. The book is also full of empowering (if somewhat hippy-dippy, woo-woo) birth stories from the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. I read this book before I had Lucia and then read it again recently to psych myself up for childbirth. I especially love the reassuring birth stories, as airy-fairy as some of them are, and the photos of real women and babies.
INFANT CARE (SLEEPING, EATING, ETC.)
The Sleepeasy Solution, by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack: We had to sleep-train our dear Lucia at six months of age because she was THE WORST SLEEPER EVER, no exaggeration. We eventually hired a sleep consultant (Annika Brindley in DC), and the method she used with us closely resembled The Sleepeasy Solution (although Lucia ended up being a tough case who required THREE FULL WEEKS of training, with many tweaks to the system, before she stopped screaming every night at bedtime, so the book alone would not have been enough for us). This book is a good starting place for those looking for answers to common infant sleep conundrums. It is a “cry it out” method, which I understand makes many new parents nervous, but when you’re desperate and the “gentle” sleep learning methods are not penetrating with your willful, spirited, STUBBORN-ASS baby, sometimes you gotta pull out the big guns. I have referred back to this book many times as Lucia has hit little bumps in the sleep road. It is a sensible and loving approach and not draconian, but yes, it does involve some crying.
The Happiest Baby on The Block, by Harvey Karp: I didn’t actually read Karp’s book, but a friend leant us the DVD, which sums up his “five S” approach for soothing infants, and we found it really helpful for calming Lucia when she was very little. These methods are especially helpful for getting an infant to calm down in the early months before sleep training is appropriate.
The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book, by Lisa Barrangou: I reviewed this book on this very blog and still stand by it as an excellent, straightforward method to introducing solids to baby. At 21.5 months, Lucia is a very good eater (although her palate for vegetables is pretty much limited to broccoli and spinach, but it could be worse, right?) and I suspect a lot of that comes from being exposed to many different healthy foods (in puree form) as an infant.
French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billion: Le Billion is an American married to a Frenchman who is raising her children in small-town France. When they first moved to France from the U.S., Le Billon’s kids were picky eaters, but by immersing them in French food culture, she was able to expand their palates, cut down on mindless snacking, and initiate a ritual of sit-down family meals. I enjoyed this book (which is a combination of memoir, instruction manual, and cookbook) and found the insights into the French perspective on food and mealtimes inspiring. However, I didn’t take all of Le Billon’s recommendations onboard, because not everything that works in France would be appropriate or even desirable for the U.S. For example, French children are only given one snack a day, period. No exceptions. Le Billion describes the nasty stares she got from other parents when she brought fruit to a school event, outside of the apportioned snack time. This rigidity is not realistic or, I think, necessary for raising kids who eat healthy, balanced meals. Lucia, for instance, gets two snacks a day. I don’t let her graze between meals because I want her to eat heartily at mealtimes. But sometimes she gets a snack at a random time and it’s not the end of the world. Also, the French have a very different perspective on breastfeeding (they’re not super into it past the first few months), they eat really long, late-running dinners, they eschew eating the same food twice in a week, and they have very good systems in place to support all of this. So, take Le Billon’s recommendations with a grain of sel and implement what works for you and your family.
My parenting guru is Janet Lansbury and I highly recommend all of her books. Lansbury is a proponent of Respectful Parenting, based on the teachings of Magda Gerber, the basic tenets of which Lansbury describes here. Her perspective makes perfect sense to me and I try to implement it every single day with Lucia. In fact, I wish I had discovered Lansbury’s blog, books, and podcast earlier, when L was an infant, because I think her advice would have brought me a lot of comfort and reassurance. But I’m glad I discovered Respectful Parenting when Lucia was still a toddler, because Lansbury’s wisdom on discipline (particularly the idea that we need to be calm, firm leaders who hold boundaries for our children) has been indispensable for me over the last six months or so. I highly, HIGHLY recommend her book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.
JUST FOR FUN
Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman: Say what you will about Druckerman, who comes off as somewhat of a nut in this memoir, Bringing Up Bébé is a fascinating, highly entertaining read about an American raising children in France. Again, it’s important to take Druckerman’s advice and observations with a grain of salt and to appreciate the different cultural contexts in which French and American parents operate. But the book is thought-provoking, well written. and fun.
Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads, by Jeannie Hayden and Gary Greenberg: Al and I had a lot of fun paging through this book before Lucia was born. Makes a great gift for any new dad (and does contain practical baby-care advice!).