Okay, so I want to talk about the books that have helped me SO much during my pregnancy.
I literally knew nothing when I first began this journey.
I’m the first of my friends to get pregnant. My mom passed away so she’s not here to ask questions. That is why I needed to do a lot of self-educating.
Now, 9 months later, I feel knowledgeable, as prepared as a person can realistically be, and most importantly: READY!
I’m very grateful that my stepmom is my midwife. She has been an excellent resource for information. But, mostly, I’m grateful that she encouraged me to educate myself by recommending various reading material. These are the books I’ve found most helpful:
A Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
Now, I have already written about this book at length. So, I won’t bore you by going back over it all again. Please review previous posts in my archives if you want more detail. Specifically, the posts titled “A Sisterhood of Positivity” and “How I Transformed from a Girl Scared of Childbirth to a Woman Who Feels Empowered.” (Entitled "Why I'm No Longer Scared of Childbirth" in the Categories sidebar.)
Regardless of whether you are planning on having a natural birth or not, this book is (in my opinion) life-changing. The reason why? Because the author, one of the most highly respected midwives in the country, showers you with over a hundred pages of positive birth and labor stories. These are beyond empowering. Especially if, like me, you have never heard a positive birthing story before! I didn't know that labor could be anything but painful, agonizing, and something to be terrified of until I read this book.
Then, Gaskin gets into the specifics of the different stages of labor and the process that your body physically goes through, which is important to know. She also discusses different birthing techniques, both modern and historic, and current hospital methods so that you can be as informed as possible.
She has an extensive background and professional expertise and yet she writes in a very easy to digest manner. I couldn’t recommend this book any more highly if you are pregnant or plan on becoming so.
In fact, if you are only going to pick one book from this post to read, let it be this one.
Real Food for Real Pregnancy by Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE
Okay, so this book is awesome! I’d be lying if I said I read it cover to cover. But, I feel like it’s one of those gems that you can just pick up and flip through and still get so much from.
The premise is that the traditional doctor-prescribed prenatal diet is flawed. Her methodology suggests that a pregnant woman’s diet needs to be very high in protein and vegetables and low on carbs.
But, more importantly, that the focus should be on what she calls “real food.” That means as little-altered as possible. So, no process foods! (Or avoid them as much as you can.) If we buy meat, for example chicken, to cook it with the skin still on.
Many vitamins and minerals, including the ones found in meats or dairy products, are best absorbed with a little bit of fat. I never knew that!
That is why Nichols recommends that each meal be made up of equal parts protein and (non-starchy) vegetables, a little bit of carbs, and a little bit of fat (though again this shouldn’t be anything processed—so no vegetable oils! It should be healthy fat like olive or coconut oil.)
What’s wonderful about this book is that the author explains everything in great detail, backed up by TONS of scientific evidence, but she does this in easy-to-comprehend terms. She has lots of suggested daily meal plans and even dives into many common pregnancy symptoms, like nausea and heartburn, and offers potential dietary remedies.
When it comes to the traditional prenatal diet, I’ll give you a few examples of how she differs in her opinion. Under the traditional recommendations, pregnant women are meant to eat only low-fat dairy products. But, Nichols discusses how, scientifically, your body processes the vitamins and calcium in dairy much better in whole fat products. Again, this fits in line with her suggestion that we consume foods that are as "real" as possible.
Another example is eggs. The traditional prenatal diet tells you not to eat any in case you eat one that is under-cooked. However, eggs are an excellent source of protein, healthy omega-3 fats, and choline...all things that you and baby need! So, Nichols recommends that you at eat at least one egg a day.
Fish are another example. Many prenatal diets tell you not to eat any seafood. But, Nichols suggests that the risks do not outweigh the reward. So long as the fish is not high in mercury, this is a food that is a healthy, lean protein chock full of vitamins and minerals and good fats. She even talks about why oysters are beneficial for pregnant women to eat, too.
Of course, Nichols describes this all much better than I can. Which is why you should definitely not just take my word for it--read it for yourself!
At the very least, it is incredibly thought-provoking. Honestly, I would find it worthwhile even if I wasn’t pregnant!
The best thing about this book is that the information is in no way pseudo-science or just based on Lily Nichols’ opinion. She backs everything up with scientific data and research. You can fact-check all of her information. In fact, she encourages you to do so.
The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
If you refer back to my previous post, I talk a lot about the 4th trimester. I learned about that (primarily) from this book!
I grew up hearing stories about colicky babies. In fact, my older brother was one of them. It sounds nightmarish! I can imagine nothing worse than a sleep-deprived parent desperately trying to soothe their crying baby: Are they hungry? Are they cold? Do they have a dirty diaper? Going through this list of potential ailments only to find that nothing works!
My dad talks about how he would pray to the heavens, promising to do anything in the world if he could just know what was wrong!
But Dr. Karp says that babies may be crying simply because they were born too early. Human babies would actually gestate for another three months (called the 4th trimester) in an ideal world. They don’t, however, because their brains become too large for their head to fit through the birth canal. As a result, they’ve been taken from their warm, comfy womb where every need is instantly met and thrust into this cold, bright world… and it’s scary! So, how do babies communicate this? They cry.
Have you ever heard of the “Cry it Out” method? It’s a bit old school, but some still swear by it. Dr. Karp talks about why this is total nonsense. First of all, this method is built around the theory that a baby is trying to manipulate its parents through crying--and that's just ludicrous! Babies are not evolved enough mentally to emotionally manipulate you. Toddlers, yes. But infants, no. Second of all, you cannot hold a newborn baby too much. Which means it's impossible to "coddle" them. Think about it, even if you held them for 12 hours this would still be less than the 24/7 cuddling that they got in the womb!
Dr. Karp describes in his book his “cure” for colicky babies. He calls it the 5 S’s. All of them are trying to replicate a womb-like environment for your baby.
Usually, I am very skeptical of anyone that makes claims with such certainty but I have heard from many moms how this method was an absolute lifesaver.
Reading this book has helped me to feel much more prepared for the 4th trimester and a lot less afraid of whether or not my daughter will be colicky.
Dear Mama, You Matter by Amanda Hardy, PhD, LMHC
This book has been so empowering and affirming. It is a book about the postpartum period. As she says it is "honest talk about the transition to motherhood."
She starts off with a beautiful message to new moms:
"Once a baby is born, so much of the focus and energy turns toward them. After all, they are extremely dependent needy little humans that require so much of our time. It's natural for all the books and chatter to be about those sweet and squishy little cherubs that have entered our lives. However, there is someone else in the midst of this. Someone going through changes from the depths of their core to their actual physical being. That person matters, too. That person is worthy of our time and attention and a bit of our chatter: That person is you, mama. You matter. And these words are for you."
As the author goes on to say, "The more we love on the mamas, the more they can love on their babies."
Her introductory note is one that is affirming and validating and comforting. And, even before I've given birth to my baby, I appreciated this message to my core.
Hardy goes on to discuss a mentality that can be harmful to the postpartum period. It's this notion that, once you've given birth, your life will “go back” to how it was before pregnancy. Your body will “go back.” Your life will “go back to normal, just with a kid now” and Amanda Hardy says in no uncertain terms that this concept is complete and utter bullshit. Moreover, it’s actually harmful.
A caterpillar doesn’t transform into a butterfly and then contemplate how it gets back to being a caterpillar.
In no other walk of life do we evolve and then ask how ourselves how to “go back.”
Why is pregnancy and parenthood any different?
For this one exception, it gets pushed on us that our life should return to normal… just with a baby in tow. The reason this is problematic is because, well, that just can’t happen. Nor should it!
Your life is irrevocably changed when you have a child. And, if parenthood was something you chose and that you’re ready for, that’s a good thing!
But, when you’ve received this message that it should go back to the way things were and then it doesn’t, you end up thinking you’re doing something wrong. It can leave a lot of new parents feeling like failures.
Hardy also writes a lot about the 4th trimester and how this causes a lot of unprepared new parents to struggle. If a mother expected to give birth and have things just go back to the way things were, but suddenly has this infant who is completely attached to her… that can be super stressful! And, once again, it can lead to feelings of failure and disappointment.
From what I gather after reading Hardy's book, a big part of postpartum depression—outside the fluctuation of hormones—is having unrealistic expectations that then can’t be met.
So, lot of what this book does is give you realistic expectations of the struggles ahead.
Hardy warns you that the seas will be rocky, that way you can properly brace yourself.
If you have already given birth, I’d imagine that a lot of what she writes would be very validating and affirming for you. To know what you are feeling is perfectly normal and very common must be reassuring.
For those of us that haven't given birth yet, it feels like a necessary read to prepare ourselves for the changes to come.
So I’ve read a lot of other books and articles and spoken at length to my midwife about things, too.
But, these have been the four main books I’ve found to be the most useful.
If you are pregnant or plan on becoming so, I highly recommend checking them out!
If you have already had your baby, I’m curious… have you heard of these books before?
If not, do you think they would have been useful to you?
As always, I’d love your feedback!
I'm Kelsey! Proud Iowan native, world traveler, writer, wife to the most incredible husband, and now soon to be mother