By Hilary Levey Friedman
One of the best pieces of advice I received while pregnant for the first time was to not focus on books about being pregnant, but to use the time to learn about the after part since while it may have felt hard to believe at times, you aren’t pregnant forever. And not just the first few weeks with a newborn, but the first few months because you might not have time to read (let alone process) any suggestions that books might offer in that postpartum period. By the time my own baby shower rolled around I read 6-8 weeks ahead in my infant books, and was glad I did. But even now I wish I had known more about introducing solids, or learned more about the different types of gear I would need just a few months down the road. This list is motivated in part by that spirit and also by the knowledge that while it may feel like it at times, you are not alone in this parenting game. Others have traversed this sometimes rocky path and survived and have worked to offer others their hard-fought wisdom. Below you will find books that offer a mix of how-to, tips, knowledge, philosophies, perspectives, and entertainment. Any of these on their own, or in combination, would make an ideal baby shower present, along with those blankets and booties.
The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp
Making a second appearance on a Brain, Child Top 10 List because it is just that good. As I previously wrote, “When people ask me to recommend one book to new and expectant parents, this is my go-to title.” Karp’s tone is informative and entertaining and will help you attain the number one goal of most parents of newborns: sleep, and hence sanity. Because sleep is so all-encompassing for infants, Happiest Baby on the Block also addresses other concerns like feeding, development, and play. While it focuses on the first 90 days of life, you can use suggestions here far beyond this important, but transient, period of life.
Your Baby’s First Year Week by Week by Glade Curtis and Judith Schuler
The point of this book, now in its third edition, is not to overwhelm the reader with information about any one topic. Each weekly entry has a section on what might be new (either to baby or to you) that week and milestones you might expect to see around this time. By the end of the 52 weeks all the other major topics and minor topics will be covered, from what to look for in first shoes to how to prevent frostbite on a baby. As experienced parents know, but new parents have to learn, often as soon as you settle into a pattern your child changes, and Curtis and Schuler provide advice about how to deal with that. I read ahead in this book, and then would read 3-4 week chunks at a time; this book also has a very useful index for looking up the questions that pop up when the Internet sources aren’t as reliable.
Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality by Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu
Sometimes you might wonder if the author of a parenting book is the most qualified source to offer advice. You won’t wonder that if you gift Heading Home With Your Newborn because this book is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (a third version is forthcoming in June 2015). Pediatrician-mothers Laura Jana and Jennifer Shu offer an informed, but engaging, voice that reassures and entertains—for example, I love section and chapter titles like “Other Unmentionables and Inconveniences” and “All Dressed Up but Now Where To Go?” The strength of this book is Part VI, “Just for the Health of It,” which focuses on the science of a baby’s body, from head to toe, and common childhood illnesses like jaundice and fevers. They discuss sometimes controversial topics, like cloth diapers and vaccines, with a direct and up to date style similar to how they discuss baby books and preserving digital memories.
Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t by Suzanne Barston
Before she gave birth Barston fully expected to breastfeed (so much so that she worried she would be judged if she put any bottle supplies on her baby registry). But it didn’t work out for her and her son for a variety of reasons. Not being able to nurse sent her into a depression, but starting a blog called Fearless Formula Feeder—a place where she tried to share science and facts about the use of formula—helped her. Bottled Up is the outgrowth of the blog and it is a “hybrid of memoir and reporting will speak for the scores of other women who wanted very badly to do the best for their children and found themselves in conflict about what ‘the best’ truly was.” Barston’s short and well-researched book (it is published by a University press and notated) based on two years’ of interviews with pediatricians, researchers, sociologists, statisticians and fellow feminists will either help expectant moms make personal decisions, or potentially reassure them if they find themselves unable to breastfeed when they had wanted to do so.
Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett
While it is true that mothers and babies are hardwired to breastfeed, breastfeeding isn’t as simple as expectant moms often expect it to be. Breastfeeding Made Simple by lactation consultants Mohrbacher and Kendall-Tackett seeks to make the case why breastfeeding can in fact be simple. The “laws” and their application in Part II are clearly explained, along with possible complications, and the tone is less strident than other books on breastfeeding. New parents reading this book along with Barston’s will begin to understand that having children means making a variety of small and large complicated and super-complicated decisions that have to work for you, your child, and your family. These two options provide advice and facts and a dual gift means no judgment of the growing family. Since many mothers no longer live close to their families Breastfeeding Made Simple tries to be the collective female wisdom from the Red Tent of yore.
Baby Bargains by Denise and Alan Fields
Now in its 10th edition, this perennial favorite is a fixture on many mothers’ shelves, especially those looking to save a few dollars (and who doesn’t want that?!). The first edition debuted in 1994 after the married authors had a son. Now in its 11th edition the Fields’ book looks a bit like a doorstop at over 600 pages. But the authors are very comprehensive covering gear with wheels, things with straps, things with music, etc. Even if don’t end up saving a dollar from the book—though that is unlikely—new parents will get a sense of what equipment is useful at every stage, and how much to budget for each new stage of their newborns’ first year and beyond. The only problem is that some shower guests may have wished they had read Baby Bargains before purchasing their own shower gift!
Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman
It has recently become de rigueur for books about particular parenting philosophies to generate headlines, and sometimes amp up parental anxieties. Druckerman’s 2012 book definitely got a lot of press, but in many ways helped lower parental anxiety. Rather than prescribing precisely how parents should act, Bringing Up Bebe instead focuses on a way of life that is meant to enable parents to feel empowered. She writes, “It quickly becomes clear that having a child in France doesn’t require choosing a parenting philosophy. Everyone takes the basic rules for granted. That fact alone makes the mood less anxious.” Just like previous generations of Americans survived without diaper genies, so too did they successfully raise children without “philosophies.” Druckerman puts that into context, and shows us another way.
The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel
Walter Mischel’s new title, recently reviewed here at Brain, Child, is based on over fifty years of research on children and self-control. Mischel and a team of researchers have found that delayed gratification is one of the most significant predictors of success later in life on multiple dimensions including health, finances, and education. But instead of assuming that self-regulation is pre-programmed, Mischel offers tips on how parents can inculcate in their children to develop this life skill, starting at even early ages. And because the advice applies to adults as well, it may help during the tumultuous post-partum period. What’s also great about this book is that there is much to learn about parenting here, but it’s not a “parenting” book making it an even more useful baby shower gift because it can live on a bookshelf for years to come.
Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession by Erma Bombeck
Because sometimes the best way to survive (new) motherhood is to laugh. One of the greatest columnists ever, this volume collects Bombeck’s most enduring writings on motherhood. It isn’t long, but it is full of clever observations that will resonate long past the last page—and for years to come as understandings of parenting continue to evolve. Plus, this is your chance to introduce Bombeck to another generation of mothers! While the print version is out of print (but used copies abound online), you can gift an e-copy to your favorite mom-to-be.
The Husband’s Secret by Lianne Moriarty
If laughing doesn’t help, a smart, engaging, page-turning novel might. Sometimes, you need to escape, or find something to engage your mind and be sure it isn’t mush. Any great novel will suffice, but I really loved this one by Australian writer Moriarty (note that I find Moriarty is a sociologist at heart with a reporter’s eye and a thriller’s pen, so any of her novels will do as well). I had been warned in reviews that once you start The Husband’s Secret it is hard to stop, and that was true for me (sometimes I wanted nursing sessions to last even longer!). This is the kind of novel I slowed down to read because I didn’t want the interesting, tangled web to completely unravel. As a mom it made me sad, as a wife angry. I guess then it shouldn’t surprise me that Moriarty is labeled “chick lit,” but I honestly didn’t think of this novel that way at all. I also appreciated the Australian setting as a mental escape from the nursery.
I have to add that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to read as much after giving birth. But I was wrong. I actually read more because for me nursing prompted a switch to reading on the iPad using the Kindle app—turning the page with a flick of the finger made it possible. I still read paper books, but I now love reading electronically as well, even though I too have passed out of the baby phase.
Photo: Megan Dempsey