The Best Books to Read During Pregnancy (And Which Ones To Avoid)Feb 14, 2023
If you’re anything like me, you like to do your research when embarking on a new endeavor. When you’re expecting a baby, it’s only natural to seek out information about pregnancy, birth, and parenthood to help yourself feel prepared about what lies in store. However, the books you read will have a profound influence on your experience. For example, if you read a book that includes very negative rhetoric about pain during labor, you will probably fear labor more and it will influence your birthing decisions (and could actually make birth seem more painful). If you read a book that is very supportive of breastfeeding and offers sound, practical advice to help solve any issues you may run into, you are more likely to have a positive breastfeeding journey.
For this reason, I actually find myself feeling very conflicted when I am asked to recommend a ‘natural pregnancy and birth’ book to expecting mamas. In my opinion, there are no books that are absolutely perfect— they are all flawed in one way or another. Plus, pregnancy is a rite of passage that challenges us to draw upon our own innate wisdom and to surrender to the process. We are all fully equipped to birth our babies without depending on a book for information or guidance. I personally believe that having a birthkeeper, doula, midwife, wise woman, or close friend who has a DEEP TRUST of natural birth is a far better resource than any one book could ever provide.
Due to popular demand, I’ve compiled this list of books that I am okay with recommending. I’ve also included a list of books to AVOID (and included my reasoning for doing so).
I DON’T recommend that you run off and read every single one of these. I simply wanted to create a list of books for you to choose from when you are expecting, or for you to gift to your friends who are expecting. Don’t overload yourself. If you choose to read more than one book, then find books on different topics (pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, postpartum, nutrition for mama & baby).
The Best Books To Read During Pregnancy:
Ecstatic Birth, by Sarah Buckley
The first ‘book’ on my list isn’t a book at all— it’s a PDF file of an essay by Dr. Sarah Buckley. This essay gives a fantastic overview of the hormones involved in childbirth. I give this file to all of my clients because it is so important to understand the hormonal and biological reasons why undisturbed physiological birth is key to a positive, healthy, unhindered birth experience. When preparing for a natural, undisturbed birth it is important to have a strong ‘WHY.’ If you do not have a strong ‘why,’ or a strong belief in your choices, then the intensity and challenges of labor can overwhelm you. Reading this PDF during my first pregnancy (before my planned home birth) gave me a very strong ‘why’ for the choices I was making, as well as a foundational understanding of the ‘science’ of birth (and how to work with it rather than against it). Sarah Buckley also has a book titled, “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” that you could read if you enjoy this essay and would like to read more from her.
Ancient Map for Modern Birth by Pam England
If you want ONE book that will be a quite thorough holistic guide to birthing, I highly recommend that it be this one. I appreciate Pam’s use of a classical myth to help illustrate the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges women face when laboring and birthing.
The Mama Natural Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth by Genevieve Howland
I won’t lie, I haven’t actually read this book— but it comes highly recommended from mothers who I have worked with and I do frequently point people to the Mama Natural blog, so I trust this source.
Real Food For Mother and Baby by Nina Planck
I ADORED this book during my conception/pregnancy journey with my first baby. I believe it is so helpful because a well-nourished pregnancy is a healthy pregnancy. This guide makes it simple to care for yourself nutritionally during pregnancy.
Okay, so this book might be slightly overwhelming for some and so I wouldn’t recommend it for just anyone. But if you are someone who likes to be OVER THE TOP prepared and who really wants to take a deep dive into the ways you can prepare holistically for creating life within our toxic world, this is your book. This is also a phenomenal resource for anyone struggling with infertility. This book should be read in preparation before trying to conceive, ideally.
Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
No ‘natural birth book’ list would be complete without this classic by Ina May Gaskin. So many women have been inspired by this book, and the wisdom within has been very encouraging to many mamas I’ve worked with. I think this is a perfectly good choice of book to read, with the caveat that sometimes even Ina May can be a little intervention-happy. This is what I mean when I say every book will have its flaws, even some of the best ones. Still, this book has a solid place on this list.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International
This book is an excellent resource for any mama who plans to breastfeed. It is so encouraging and has a solution for almost every problem you could run into during your breastfeeding journey. I think women tend to under-prepare for breastfeeding, which is an issue since many of us do not have close relatives who breastfed who can offer support and wisdom. We do not have a knowledgable community available to support us, since the formula industry has successfully taken over. I highly recommend this book— I read it myself before having my first babe and it was a great resource to have.
The First Forty Days by Heng Ou and/or The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson
Another overlooked aspect of bringing a baby into the world is POSTPARTUM. Many women are not prepared for what we call “The Fourth Trimester.” Our culture is no longer set up to support women during this sensitive time. It is important to prepare for this time as best as you can in order to set yourself up for a positive early parenting experience.
Birth and Breastfeeding by Michel Odent
An intellectual read, this book is great for a philosophical mother who wishes to feel validated in her desire to birth naturally. It is a thought-provoking book that invites us to view birth through a natural, mammalian lens. Michele Odent’s views on labor, birth, and breastfeeding have absolutely influenced and shaped my own. This is not so much of a guide as it is a collection of his thoughts, beliefs, and philosophies about birth— an explanation of and investigation into WHY undisturbed, physiological birth is important.
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin
This resource is mostly for parents who are unable to avoid birthing within the hospital setting (due to complications, high risk pregnancy, etc), but it could be useful to anyone. What I like about it is that it gives an unbiased, matter of fact explanation of hospital procedures and drugs that are used during labor. It is written in a way that is directed toward the partner rather than the mother. It includes a very comprehensive guide to labor, what to expect, possible medical interventions/drugs, postpartum, and even breastfeeding. It is a valuable resource, even if it isn’t ONLY geared toward natural birth.
Pregnancy Books and Baby Books To AVOID:
The “What to Expect” Series
Seriously, just skip this whole series. They have earned nicknames such as “What to Freak Out About When You Are Expecting” and “What to Expect if You Want to Develop an Eating Disorder” (that last one is a reference to parts in the book that recommend women don’t gain too much weight during pregnancy if they want to remain attractive to their husbands… yeah, it’s that bad). These books propagate anxiety and paranoia surrounding all things motherhood. They also recommend practices that are NOT evidence based and give advice that is not scientifically sound. Just… avoid these books. If someone gives you one as a gift, I hear they make great kindling.
On Becoming Babywise
This book isn’t just bad, it’s downright dangerous. If you’re interested in completely neglecting your baby, I guess you could read this book. But why bother reading a book if that’s your strategy? The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that this book outlines an infant feeding program that has been associated with dehydration, slow growth and development, failure to thrive (FTT), poor milk supply failure, and involuntary early weaning. The AAP spoke out about this book back in 1998, but unfortunately you can still find this book on the shelves. 10/10 DO NOT recommend.
The Girlfriend’s Guide Books
”The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” is a book that goes out of its way to perpetuate the myth that birth is inherently painful and traumatic. The author does not provide factual data and statistics, but simply speaks to the reader as a “girlfriend” who happens to be overly negative in an attempt to be humorous. Honestly, it is everything wrong with how our culture views birth. Do you want to have a positive birth experience? Avoid this book.
And as you continue your conscious parenting journey, these are some books I recommend having on hand as resources for keeping your babe healthy as they grow:
This post contains affiliate links. I only link to products that I have personally used and feel comfortable recommending. If you use these links, it does not increase the cost for you. It does help support this blog and my family, which allows me to bring you more helpful content. I really appreciate it when you use these links to purchase these products!
Kate Rose is a holistic birthkeeper and birth photographer who serves expecting women both locally in the Texas Knobby Hill Country and online through her holistic childbirth prep program, Birth Alchemy. She also mentors up-and-coming doulas and birth keepers in her virtual apprenticeship program.
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