There are two words that I’ve consistently used when asked how I feel now that I’m pregnant with my first child: terrified and excited. I’m excited to become a parent, but at the same time, I recognize that I am also unequipped in many ways.
As my friends and family members with children love telling me, enjoy your pregnancy while you still have time to yourself. It sounds like good advice, but when you’re expecting your first child, it’s difficult to not spend every second of the day focusing on how much you don’t know. I’ve spent the first three decades of my life having time to myself and for the next nine months I need to learn how I’m going to keep another human alive. That means going to the experts and inundating myself with books on babies.
Reading about pregnancy, labour and child-rearing has had its ups and downs. Knowledge is power, but ignorance is bliss. Did you know that women are only supposed to dilate 10 cm before pushing during labour, but the average baby’s head is 11.5 cm? What happened to measure twice, cut once? The mantra that our bodies are meant to bear children loses a lot of validity when you consider the ocean that is 1.5 cm in relation to your lady bits.
Although the current generation is more prepared than ever to be parents in terms of modern medicine and smart baby products, we’re the least prepared in terms of actual hands-on parenting experience. It’s true. My husband and I are both the youngest in our families. When our baby arrives, it will be the first time either of us have ever changed a diaper. Frankly, mastering the diaper is the least of our concerns. At the worst, there’s an explosion all over us, the baby, and everything we own. Diapers don’t keep me up at night. Statistics on SIDS, whooping cough, and images of babies rolling off change tables keep me up. Diapers have tabs and snaps. Come at me, diapers.
For everything else, including having a healthy and safe pregnancy and labour, as well as having some sense of what to do once my internal tenant makes their grand debut, we have turned to books. Here are a few that are worth your now very limited time (always with the time!).
BRINGING UP BEBE
Author: Pamela Druckerman
I heard about Bringing Up Bebe after a friend’s OB recommend the book and I’m so glad that she did. I was at the height of my pregnancy panic when I picked it up (will I ever sleep? Will my child only eat chicken fingers? Will my husband and I ever see each other naked again on purpose?). Getting tips from the French helped soothe my worried mind, while also getting me excited for the day when I can once again eat soft cheese. American Pamela Druckerman and her English husband found themselves living in Paris for the birth of their first child and later their twins, with the experience prompting Druckerman to get to the root of why Parisian parents and their children are always so calm. Speaking with parents and specialists, Druckerman learned the secrets of our French friends, including the nighttime pause, the importance of manners, the unimportance of snacks, and why children can and should be trusted in the kitchen. Druckerman notes throughout the book that not all the lessons are so easily applied in the US and Canada. Breastfeeding beyond four months is uncommon in France, which makes it easier to sleep train babies at an earlier age without your milk drying up. But other aspects, like reserving the toddler years for playing and the older years for learning, are great ideas with weight behind them.
Best Advice: The parent is in charge, not the child. North Americans have begun to lean towards the King Child Syndrome, where the lives of the parents are dictated by the child. The French don’t play that way and guess what? Their kids still feel valued and loved even if mom has a social life.
When to Read: Second or third trimester or after your baby has arrived.
THE HAPPIEST BABY ON THE BLOCK
Author: Harvey Karp
When we first started telling people I was pregnant, my husband and I were told by colleagues to learn the five S’s. We nodded our heads and then forgot to actually look up the heck the five S’s stood for (swaddle, side or stomach position, shush, swing, and suck, if you’re wondering). A few months later, a friend sent us a Rock and Play that hums white noise and vibrates. Having had her first child last year, she called the product a ‘literal life saver.’ I had just finished reading The Happiest Baby On The Block, where I learned about the five S’s and understood her love of a machine that vibrates and makes noise. That’s two of the S’s right there! Karp does a great job explaining the five S’s, quelling any fears parents may have about the stages, and giving a history on why each stage is important. He also directs parents on what sections in the book they can skip if they just need the basics on how to help their child stop crying and sleep. The book was obviously written by someone who understands the desperation and lack of mental capacity of a sleep-deprived new parent.
Best Advice: Nothing you or your child does causes colic, but there are ways to help curb the constant crying thanks to the five S’s.
When to Read: Third trimester before the baby arrives and you still have the ability to take in all the information about how to calm your crying newborn.
Author: Emily Oster
One of the few parenting books not written by a doctor, doula or midwife, Expecting Better is the brainchild of Economics Professor Emily Oster. After becoming pregnant with her first child, Oster came to the same realization as most new parents-to-be. Doctors, books, friends, family members and the internet were full of information on the same topics without any consistency between the parties. Find five pregnant women and poll them on what their doctor told them they could and could not eat; you’ll likely get give different answers. Oster set out to find the definitive answers to common questions like, is alcohol really bad when you’re pregnant, what seafood is safe, should women be induced, and what’s the deal with cat litter? Collecting data from studies around the world, Oster gives concrete answers to the questions most pregnant women have asked at some point.
Best Advice: I know it should be something profound about becoming a parent but hearing that up to two cups of coffee per day was totally safe helped get me through some of the worst fatigue of my pregnancy.
When to Read: Before you get pregnant or during your first trimester.
THE NEW BASICS: A-Z BABY AND CHILD CARE FOR THE MODERN PARENT
Author: Michel Cohen
French native, New York based pediatrician Michel Cohen brings his laissez faire attitude on infant and child medicine to the pages of his 2004 book, The New Basics. Structured in an A-Z format, parents can look up advice on just about every topic, from adoption to air travel, peanut butter to picky eaters, to school anxiety and SIDS. The advice is much less concrete than what you’ll find in other books, as well as from your OB or pediatrician, but some topics that are common but covered less medically, like nightmares and biting, are discussed with helpful examples and reassurance for parents.
Best Advice: If strict schedules work for you and your baby, do that. If open times for feeding and sleeping are better, go that route. Find what works best for you and your baby, which could be different from your friend, your neighbor, or even your older children.
When to Read: Third trimester or after the baby arrives.
THE COMPLETE BOOK OF PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH
Author: Sheila Kitzinger
The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth truly lives up to its name. Divided into five sections, including Early Weeks, Physical and Emotional Changes, Anticipating the Birth, the Experience of Birth, and You and Your Newborn, this is a book you’ll want to keep on your nightstand from the moment you find out you’re pregnant until after the baby arrives. The book is full of images to help expecting moms and their partners learn about the great unknown of babies, focusing both on the medical side of the pregnancy and the emotional state of the expecting parents. Topics that are often ignored in pregnancy literature, like expecting as a single parent, how to talk to doctors, changes in your romantic relationship during pregnancy, and losing a baby are covered with the same authority and respect as more commonly addressed areas like birth plans and how your body is changing throughout pregnancy.
Best Advice: Parents and babies thrive when they are not being forced to live up to set standards.
When to Read: First trimester
BIRTHING FROM WITHIN: AN EXTRA-ORDINARY GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTH PREPARATION
Author: Pam England and Rob Horowitz
Unlike most pregnancy books, Birthing From Within looks at the mindset of the mother and offers advice and exercises to help address fears of labour and child rearing, keeping what serves the mother and baby and eliminating what does not. Art is heavily discussed in the book, which the author notes you can incorporate as much or as little as you want into your pregnancy. The second half of Birthing From Within has some realistic tips on labour, i.e.: it’s going to hurt, but you are going to get through it. It also has a few chapters for dads, which should be updated to partners, but the advice still works for anyone whose partner is preparing for birth. The book is quite heavy handed with advice on how to have a natural birth, but it does include information on Cesareans and epidurals.
Best Advice: Not all worrying is bad. Instead of trying to avoid worrying, use it to develop coping responses ahead of labour and delivery.
When to Read: Second or third trimester.
ON BECOMING BABYWISE
Author: Anne Marie Ezzo
Standing in the store looking through Babywise, the first story that caught my attention was about the first two babies raised with PDF or Parent Directed Feeding, the theory behind Babywise. According to author Anne Marie Ezzo, both babies were sleeping through the night by seven weeks. So yeah, I bought the book immediately. Even with all the updates the book has gone through in the past several decades, there’s still many chapters that assume a baby is being born to married, heterosexual parents. Take the applicable stuff, leave the rest. Babywise lays out the foundation of PDF, giving parents a balance between a strict schedule and letting the baby make its own schedule. It can be a bit confusing to grasp how to cut down on feedings and sleep time as the baby gets older, but thankfully Babywise is also realistic in noting that many babies will react differently, with the book encouraging parents to find what works for their family.
Best Advice: Travel, visitors, growth spurts, and life mean that you can’t always stick to a schedule and that’s okay. Live, adjust, and get back on track in a few days when things have calmed down.
When to Read: Third trimester or after the baby is born.