When I was around 20 weeks pregnant with my first child, a friend gave me a copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting. A page in, I got so overwhelmed by the breadth of information I had already missed, I stood on my couch and shoved the book as high up on the bookshelf as I could manage, hoping never to lay eyes on it again.
Whether you’re working full time outside the home or full time at home, and whether you’re on your first, second, even third pregnancy, making time to educate yourself on what’s happening to your body during pregnancy can feel not only indulgent, but panic-inducing, if not impossible. But as hospitals sweep aside maternal care in favor of infant care, pregnancy books and prenatal education are now more important than ever.
Rather than rely on overworked midwives and doctors who hardly have time to do more than weigh us, check our blood pressure, check the baby’s heartbeat and ask us if we’re feeling OK before sprinting out of the room, we can take control. We can become experts on our own needs, our own bodies, and, in turn, find ways to make our pregnancies and births more manageable, maybe even – huge gasp – enjoyable?
These 6 books for preggos – five of which were published this year – offer the kind of insight, humor, and/or relief I so craved during my last pregnancy. Luckily, 31 weeks into my second, it isn’t too late to read up and try again!
The Big Fat Activity Book for Pregnant People by Jordan Reid and Erin Williams
This book was just a pure and hilarious pleasure. The intro alone lowered my blood pressure! Many of us spend at least half our pregnancy trying really hard to be our healthiest best selves and the other half feeling guilty about all that we aren’t doing right. But the physiological benefits of laughter and of a witty, grown-up equivalent to Highlights magazine should not go unsung! This book provides both, in spades. It’s a perfect gift for showers or, better yet, for yourself. Reid’s and William’s super entertaining puzzles, activities, and laugh-out-loud pregnancy commentary is an ideal relief from a long commute on the train, or for that quiet time after dinner when your partner is doing the dishes and you are sitting at the table staring off into space–or for those dreaded middle-of-the-night wake-ups when all you can think about is how necessary it is to choose a bassinet right now. I cracked up at illustrations like Things That Will Make You Cry Uncontrollably (list includes tiny shoes and an empty donut box), A Kitten For You To Color While You Sit Around Constipated, and the Bad Baby Names word search, which, if you’re wondering, includes the names Murl and Dock.
The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth by Genevieve Howland
As someone who reads more fiction than non-fiction (if I can keep my eyes open for more than half a chapter), I love how manageable this comprehensive pregnancy bible is. Each week’s entry is only a few pages long, but includes only the most relevant information on where your baby’s at and where your body is at, as well as a “Nom of the Week” (like cherry chocolate trail mix, chia seed pudding, and, YES, chocolate placenta truffles). It also includes a Mama To-Do list, and suggestions and anecdotes for what to stay on top of, be it essential registry items, whether you’re a candidate for a VBAC, or when to stop flying on airplanes and why. I caught up on a handful of the 30-odd weeks I’d missed and was pleasantly reminded of all that I’d forgotten since my first pregnancy, like how great eggs are for my unborn child’s brain health and the benefits and logistics of hiring a birth photographer. The brevity of Howland’s chapters made me feel like I’d accomplished something major without exhausting myself! This is ideal for busy mamas who aspire to treat their bodies with the utmost care during pregnancy and those curious about attempting an informed drug-free labor.
How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn
Veteran magazine writer and bestselling author Jancee Dunn’s writing is simultaneously self-deprecating and self-assured, which I appreciated as a feminist and as someone who isn’t necessarily proud of how annoyed I’ve gotten with my own husband about something as trivial as where he stored the measuring cups. Citing more than a handful of recent studies, Dunn explains how frequently husbands inadvertently eschew household responsibilities after baby is born, as well as how unresolved parental squabbling has neurological effects on children. Her book is an attempt to prevent the latter by dealing with our wonderful but often confused husbands. We follow Jancee and husband Tom’s funny and moving emotional maturation, learning techniques like mirroring and allowing effective pauses, how to fight fairly (using non-judgmental I statements), and how to encourage both husband’s and children’s help around the house. Dunn is not embarrassed to tell us how pissed she gets, but she’s never holier than thou (or her husband). Though her advice is sound and concrete, the book is a breezy page-turner, a comedy of manners (and errors), and a treat to get lost in each night.
I was shocked by how hard this book was to put down! Harvard-educated mathematician and mother, Daphne Adler, has painstakingly researched and assessed every pregnancy taboo. Her work is backed up with over one hundred fifty pages of explanatory appendices on her methodology and that sounded (to me anyway) like dry, nerve-wracking data overload. Except…it’s not! Adler’s writing is pithy and her discoveries, illuminating, and often a great relief (like, for example, that sushi is so low-risk, you’d be silly not to eat it). Adler organizes her findings into concise, often just one or two page risk assessments of potential dangers, including perfumes, rice cereal, driving, hot tubs, and sex, to name a few. She concludes each section with the threat level of that particular risk, or, in the case of Chapter 5, the benefit level of things like prenatal vitamins and music exposure in the womb. For those who crave the most informed pregnancy possible and those who take comfort in statistics-backed science, this book will both assuage your anxieties and provide a strong argument for the few truly taboo foods/practices to be avoided during pregnancy (like driving, lunch meat, and lead).
Feng Shui Mommy by Bailey Gaddis
Trained in HypnoBirthing, author Bailey Gaddis’s soothing narration cultivates positivity and freedom from fear, which is refreshing at a time when we’re so often barraged with stories of impossibly tough pregnancies and horrific births. Three years ago, I listened to Hypnobabies tracks during my first pregnancy, as well as my early labor, and I’m fairly sure that work (plus my paralyzing fear of needles)contributed to a drug-free labor for me. Though the book is organized by trimesters, including the oft ignored fourth trimester (featuring a guide to nursing and the postpartum recovery process, both mental and physical), you can really bounce around. Gaddis covers the benefits of doulas, the nitty gritty of water birth, and also includes a chapter on nontraditional pregnancies, like those of adoptive parents. I particularly enjoyed her illustrated yoga poses for relief from pregnancy aches and similar illustrations of helpful birthing positions. Each chapter ends with a link to relaxation recording downloads online and a call to pleasure: unconventional but calming to-do lists for mamas-to-be who want to maintain balanced minds and bodies throughout pregnancy and beyond.
9 Months by Courtney Adamo and Esther Van de Paal, illustrated by Lizzy Stewart
I’m always impressed and charmed by children’s books that aren’t only for children and 9 Months fits the bill beautifully. It’s a marriage of vivid and whimsical illustrations with the story of gestation, warmly told using questions and answers, all addressed directly to young siblings-to-be. Adamo and Van de Paal explain how mama is feeling each month, a gentle way of reminding little ones that their mothers might be sleepy or sick or achy and that that’s normal. There are also a host of surprising animal facts, for example, that elephants are born covered in hair and that chipmunks only carry their babies in the womb for a month (oh to be so lucky)! This is one I want not only on my own shelf, but that I’d love to send to friends as soon as I hear they’re expecting a second. I wish I could’ve read 9 Months to my son during my rough first trimester earlier this year as a way of easing his worries, but there’s still time for me to use this lovely celebration of becoming a mother to help make the imminent arrival of our new roommate a little less scary.