Parenting and Pregnancy Books I've Loved
When I was expecting Theo, I scoured the blog archives of every blogger I knew who was a mom to see what she had to say to expecting and new moms. I read the books they read and did a search on all their blogs for "doula," "birth story," and "welcome baby." I accumulated solid resources and checked out copious pregnancy books from the library.
After Theo was born, I realized I knew everything about pregnancy but nothing about feeding a baby, so I started reading more about breastfeeding, and then about introducing solids, and so on from there. I found out that I LOVE parenting books. So I've decided to document them here, along with pregnancy books. I won't go into those that weren't so great (hello, fear mongering and old-fashioned pregnancy books!), but here's what I loved, and I hope to continue to read all the things. I know it's quite possible to raise a healthy child without reading a guide, but children develop at such a bonkers rate and toddlers are so confusing that I find these books to be fascinating and sometimes hard to put down.
I have two books to share here, and I suggest reading them in this order. First is Expecting Better by Emily Oster for the first trimester. When I was pregnant the first time, thankfully I didn't experience much morning sickness. I was exhausted but not ill, and any bit of nausea I experience could generally be quelled with a snack. I'm pretty sure that the lack of physical ailments gave me more time to focus on the mental ailments. My mind was constantly busy obsessing about what could go wrong. And when it came to how I took care of myself, some things were easy. No alcohol, no deli meat, and put away the retinol creams. But there's grey area around so many other things, and so much you can read online that your doctor or midwife might not have warned against, that it can be hard to know what's safe and what's off limits. This book was a great guide. I probably strayed to the more conservative side of Oster's recommendations, but knowing she had done the research put my mind (slightly) at ease.
My next recommendation for pregnancy is Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. This is a great read for the second or third trimester. Regardless of your "plan" for birth, I think this book is so beneficial. You just have to be prepared to read it with a grain of salt if some aspects don't speak to you. The book is 100% pro giving birth without pain medication or other interventions, but regardless of your own intentions, reading the section on birth stories can do so much to normalize birth and prepare you to trust your body and let go of fear. I was scared of giving birth years before I was even pregnant, but after reading this book, the birth stories in particular, I felt complete confidence in my ability to birth a child.
*EDITED TO ADD*
Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, Early Motherhood–and Trusting Yourself and Your Body is a recent release that I've seen popping up on blogs and in shops. I purchased the book in December, and as a second-time-mom, I had a hard time getting into it at first. It's definitely written for a first-time-mom experiencing pregnancy and becoming a parent for the first time. The introduction provides important guidance on making that transition to parenthood that I definitely would have appreciated as I became a mother, and to talk to my husband about our goals and plans as we became parents together. Since some of that didn't speak to me as a second-time-mom, I set the book aside for a couple of months. I've since picked it back up to read about labor, and I have to say, these chapters are extremely helpful. Reading about the stages of labor is a great refresher, and there are topics that I've seldom read elsewhere, like the postpartum tummy pooch and packing adult diapers for the hospital. Some of which I hadn't even learned the first time around, so I'm grateful for this book and definitely recommend reading it cover to cover for any first-time-mom experiencing pregnancy.
On the First Year
I checked out Montessori from the Start when Theo was turning one. I still have the book from the library and have nearly hit my limit on renewals (I obviously need to purchase this one). It is just. so. good. Again, I think it has to be read with a grain of salt. There are some aspects of a strict Montessori household that I'm just not going to implement. We used a traditional crib rather than a floor bed, which is promoted by the Montessori method. Montessori method also suggests that all books for children be rooted strictly in reality, and so animals should never be doing things like driving cars or wearing clothing. While I get the idea of only promoting reality to children until they are developed enough to understand the difference between reality and fantasy, we are all about Richard Scarry books at our house and that will not be changing. But what did work for us, I happily adapted, like allowing him easy access to a limited number of open-ended toys that speak to his interests, encouraging his verbal development by talking to him regularly and always explaining what we are doing, and giving him opportunities to make choices for himself. I learned so much about how a baby's and toddler's mind develops, and the book promotes treating the child in a way that respects his ability to be independent.
After a challenging start to breastfeeding Theo, I realized I knew nothing about it. I had only read about pregnancy! So I checked out a ton of books to try to catch up. After that, I decided I would stay ahead of the game for solids. I had heard of the concept of baby-led weaning so I read Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater. I am SO GLAD that I read and followed this book. I'm not sure how much has been nurture vs. nature (I can't imagine my offspring not loving food), but Theo has been a fantastic eater since he started eating solids a little over a year ago. I know he can still change his habits, but our meals are pretty stress-free thus far. The idea is that children should learn to chew before they learn to swallow, not after. So by introducing safe sized real foods for them to explore with their hands and mouths (like bananas, sweet potato strips, toast), they can appreciate the real texture of food, then learn to chew it, then learn to swallow. Food is not forced on them with a spoon, and once they are approaching a year old, they're not having to transition from smooth baby food to lumpy food that they may try to swallow without chewing. Theo eats his meals with us, basically eats the same foods, and we try not to push food on him when he's not interested in eating it.
On the Toddler Years
As Theo approached his first birthday, I wondered what I would do when he started throwing tantrums or learned the word "no." I've seen well-behaved kids and I've seen kids having meltdowns, and I wanted to know what the parents of the well-behaved kids were doing differently! Now that Theo is closer to two, I realize that testing his will is just a part of the age and his blooming personality. It seems there is no healthy trick to eliminating tantrums and meltdowns completely. But I think reducing them while respecting his feelings is possible. No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame was a great foundation. I actually need to reread it because we are in the throes of toddlerhood now, and I've forgotten much of what I read back in the summer when Theo was still very infantile.
On the Second Child
Oh, how I wish I had more in this section! I have so many feelings about having a second child, and my first instinct has been to go read a book about it. I haven't come across much yet, but I did read Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. I didn't grow up sharing a home with siblings, so I don't have any experience in this area. This book did put a few fears in my head about how my children will feel toward each other, but it had so much practical advice for how to talk to children in a way that positions them as team members rather than rivals, and as unique individuals rather than their role as oldest/middle/youngest. Ultimately, the book gave me tools on how to focus on each child and gave me high hopes for what it will be like to be a family with more than one child.
Full disclosure, I haven't actually read these books. But my husband did! The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-to-Be was organized month by month, telling him how the baby was developing and how to support the expecting mother. He followed that up with The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year. I felt like where I focused so much on preparing myself to give birth, Alex was able to research what to do with the baby. It similarly went month by month, telling him what to expect and covering basic development.
The third book he read was The Birth Partner. Again, I didn't read this book, but I know that during early labor, Alex was knowledgable about what was happening, and he helped keep us relaxed. During active labor, he was present and supportive, and he took notes on all the details of what was happening when, because he knew it would be important to me later since I had no sense of time, and he actually knew how to notate the progression of labor from what he had read.
By no means do I think anyone needs to read a book and follow it closely to raise a child. I have read a variety of books and articles, and I incorporated what makes sense to me and my kid in order to piece together my own philosophy in raising a child thus far. Reading advice from child specialists gives me tools and therefore confidence to help Theo develop into his own person, and to give myself peace and sanity.