A friend just asked me for a list of books for someone who wants to get pregnant and wants to research everything about babies. Asking a mom for parenting advice is like giving a toddler Pixie Stix and taking her to the park: ABSOLUTELY THRILLING.
I have a lot of memories of ignoring my baby complaining on the floor while I finished a page in a parenting book. So I obviously know what I’m doing.
I’ve actually been wanting to write about some of the things we did with Audrey, and what I might change for the next kid, and this seems as good a reason as any to explore that topic too. So…Books I Like plus What I Think about What I Did: let’s start!
For the making of babies in the first place
Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I never would have picked up this book if a friend hadn’t handed down her copy. It sounded like something for people who have, you know, problems, but it’s actually for anyone currently in possession of a uterus. In fact, I wish I had read this book when I was 11 or 12. I learned so much about how my body works. A little observation and you can know the second you wake up if you’ll get your period that day, you can avoid making a baby without putting artificial hormones in your body, and you can make a baby faster than you would have by just, you know, throwing caution to the wind. Love this book.
I have another hand-me-down called I’m Pregnant! that served me well but I really have nothing to compare it to. It seems well-balanced. I hear What to Expect While You’re Expecting is a fright-fest but has toned down a bit in recent editions. But what I really push is a hilarious week-by-week column called Zero to Forty. It made me so happy. I learned important things like how to get more pee out when you go so you don’t have to go five minutes later, and that maxi pads be damned, old people diapers will take on the post-birth carnage better. I’m reading it again every week with the baby I’m cooking now.
On birthing the babies
I watched the documentary The Business of Being Born and read the book in the same vein Your Best Birth. I will say these were A) Mind-blowingly informative and B) Scary. While it’s important to be totally aware of common medical practices that may actually get in the way of an easier, healthier birth, it’s also important to not become frightened and mistrustful of the people taking care of you and your baby. Here’s the thing: it’s not all-or-nothing. You don’t have to go either intervention-filled hospital birth or crunchy home birth. There is a HUGE land of in-between, including a lot of hospitals and providers that happily default to a gentle, hands-off approach. Learn what you want, find a provider you trust, and after you’ve made as many decisions about birth as you reasonably can, try to then do the opposite and relinquish control to your baby, cause that kid’s going to decide what happens from there.
With Audrey, I had a Certified Nurse Midwife and a doula, and birthed drug-free in a Jacuzzi, all while still being in a great hospital with a NICU down the hall. That’s not the right formula for everybody, but it was amazing to have that kind of option. In my fantasy life, it’s how this next one will come out, but you never know. Your choices change if you have any kind of problem or risk and you have to ride along with it. But it’s always good to know your options in any situation. A great thing about doulas: they will help you figure out what you want to happen in various weird labor situations and help you accomplish it. Get one.
Also, long before I ever saw my husband, I read Misconceptions and some books by midwives and they were the first I ever learned about how birth is treated these days.
Keeping Babies Alive and Stuff
I spent so much time obsessing about birth that I totally forgot I’d have to take care of the kid once she came out. And by then I was burnt out on reading. So…well, eventually I picked up Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, and that along with the tome the pediatrician laid on me have been the medical/developmental backbone of my baby library. It’s like a range of views: one is from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Dr. Sears is more your warm-fuzzy attachment parent take on everything.
Oh, also, there’s another book in the Dr. Sears canon (a different Dr. Sears, but they’re all related) called The Vaccine Book. WAIT. DON’T YELL AT ME. I am passionately pro-vaccine, but I also think it’s completely sane to look at each one individually and make choices about when and how your kid gets it. We are doing every recommended vaccine, but we do fewer at a time (yes, I went in twice as often in the first few months so Audrey would get half as many at a time) and we put off some until later (while the newborn Hep B shot is necessary if Mom is infected, it seems like too much for a freshly born person otherwise: Aud has yet to start sharing her drug needles…). I do care that all kids that can get vaccinated get vaccinated. Please. But it’s okay to find your own method.
We saw some good videos in our childbirth class, and it was super helpful to really see how you were supposed to get those things in there. I don’t think a book could have done that for me. Also, my doula was a certified lactation…person…I forget proper terminology, but she was great at getting us started and answering questions when they came up later. Shop around if you don’t like the person messing with your boobs. It can be hard and not all lactation people are created equal. Does anybody out there have a book they’d recommend?
Oh, sweet heaven. I read every book on the subject. No, really. All of them. After the first few months where the kid pretty much validly needed to wake up all the time, I became obsessed with sleep. Things would feel okay enough and then every six weeks or so I would lose my mind, say “Something has to change,” research a ton, and then do nothing. Rinse and repeat.
I read the range. I read – and liked – The No-Cry Sleep Solution and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep. (Oh, P.S. Just watching a short video of the Happiest Baby dude working his voodoo magic on crying babies was worth the 12 weeks’ tuition in our childbirth class alone.) They are both chock full of ideas to pick from and try. They totally understand that there’s no single formula – what works will be different for every family, different for each baby, different from month to month. But I also read at the more extreme ends. I read the “Cry It Out” guys, even though it went against my gut, because, hey, sometimes I was desperate enough to hear every perspective. And that’s good. I learned “leave the room and let them cry” wasn’t actually the entire text of the books and there was a lot of good info on how sleep works, and many other techniques to help babies. I also read Mayim Bialik’s Beyond the Sling, and her sleep chapter felt basically like, “I gave in to our primate neurological wiring and bed-shared for 12 hours every night.” And I learned a lot from that book too. So. My advice would still be to read the range. Seek out perspectives that make you uncomfortable. Then ignore everybody and go with your gut.
We did these things:
Co-slept (same room) and bed-shared (same sleep surface), nursing on demand all night (0-15 months)
(If you’re into sharing your bed, ignore those billboards that tell you it’s like putting your baby to sleep next to a butcher knife but of course do it safely: Sleeping with Your Baby is a good one.)
Put her in her own room and shut the open bar while lying next to her until she fell asleep, including night wakings (15 months to…hmmm…somewhere around 2?)
Sat in the same room while she fell asleep, including night wakings (2ish to 29 months)
Left the room and let her fall asleep alone, including night wakings (29 months and counting and she’s not waking at night anymore)
I like everything we did but….every transition was surprisingly easy to make and I realized it was me being nervous about moving her forward that made it all take so long. I could have pushed it more; I could have done all those things ages earlier. So that’s my goal with the next kid. I mean, he’ll have his own personality, and nothing will work exactly the same, but I won’t be afraid to, say, cut off the nursing at night sooner. I will know he can cry, but if he’s crying next to one of us, he’s going to be okay. That kind of thing.
Ha! I have no right to talk about this. I got a really easy kid and she only just got to an annoying stage of toddler. And she still ain’t half bad. But I’ve enjoyed Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood, Discipline without Shouting or Spanking, and Mayim’s chapter on gentle discipline. I’ve heard great things about the Happiest Baby guy on this topic too.
Oh, balls, the greatest book of all time I nearly forgot: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. If you read no other book ever, seriously, this one. Kids or not. It may fix every relationship you’ve ever had. If everyone had a copy, we’d have world peace. No foolin’.
Gestating this second babe of mine makes me realize how little I’ve really learned in some ways. I’ll probably just bumble along again and see what this one seems to need. My greatest book wisdom, on any topic in life, would be to always read the opposite of what you believe along with the people you know you’re going to agree with. My life-with-baby wisdom would be to always err on the side of mushy smushy affection.
Oh, and also: to remind you that all the decisions you obsess over are probably not that big a deal:
Who else has books out there they love? Am I forgetting any essential topics?