After the initial shock, joy and other emotions expectant parents experience, they find that when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, they know pretty much nothing.
The good news is that information may be gleaned from a diverse array of books. The longtime bestseller What to Expect When You’re Expecting is still available in bookstores, libraries and online, but many other guides now offer advice that is practical, well-researched and perhaps less likely to make new parents feel like failures even before they’ve begun.
The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy: Or Everything Your Doctor Won’t Tell You by Vicki Iovine is one such straightforward resource. Beginning with the “Top 10 Greatest Lies About Pregnancy,” Iovine doesn’t pull any punches, but she does coach you on how to stay in the ring and take the punches standing up.
She addresses an issue that most guides ignore: how to share the news with a partner who may not be enthusiastic. Whether married or single, this is a dilemma many expectant mothers face. Iovine’s casual and frank tone is that of a girlfriend doling out sensible advice.
It helps that the book is also laugh-out-loud funny. “Telling your mother that you are pregnant can be much more fun than you might initially imagine. This is especially true if your mother can say your partner’s name without spitting on the ground or seeking a restraining order.”
Covering topics that range from body image and weight gain to sexual relations during pregnancy, the tone is honest and informative, but like some girlfriends, a little opinionated at times.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin is written by a renowned midwife who co-founded a community in Tennessee and established a midwifery center there.
This book is primarily focused on labor and delivery, often contrasting a traditional medical model with a woman-centered, midwifery-driven model. Gaskin’s research is convincing, citing her midwifery center’s rate of medical intervention in delivery (such as induced labor or cesarean sections) as 2 percent, compared with closer to 30 percent in hospital settings. However, her assertions never come off as judgments or prescriptions.
Examining some of the drugs commonly used to ease labor pains, she provides information on those least likely to cause unwanted side effects for mother and child. “They know that it is better to keep their senses alive if they are to experience the true wisdom and power that labor and birth have to offer,” she writes.
If the Mother Earth tone doesn’t bother the reader, this book offers a lot to consider and will help readers ask questions and make informed decisions, regardless of whether they adhere to a view of childbirth that favors medical management or one that is closer to an all-natural approach.
In contrast is a book that promises something for the gentlemen. Scratch that. The Caveman’s Pregnancy Companion: A Survival Guide for Expectant Fathers by David Port and John Ralston promises advice and information “by cavemen for cavemen—guys with throwback tendencies who happen to have a child on the way.” The book is narrated in part by Gronk, who provides “a caveman guide for the next 40 weeks.”
The tour through pregnancy starts with an exhortation for men to stop smoking and to prevent their partner’s exposure to secondhand smoke. Advice on which positions for intercourse may be advisable at each stage of pregnancy are interspersed with reminders that the partner may not be interested, and that sensitivity to such concerns is key.
Based on the assumption that guys have some bad habits to begin with, each section of the book has advice on which practices to “drop or stop” and which to “develop or keep.” In spite of some of the phrasing, there is everything for women to like about this book. It advises men on how to deliver a massage, instructs them to assume responsibility for the cat’s litter box, and—after explaining that the primary cooking duties will fall to their manly hands for a while—the book provides enough recipes to last a few weeks.
The best part of this book is on labor and delivery. Describing the dilation of the cervix in everyday terms, it explains that 1 centimeter is about the size of an M&M, 4 centimeters is a shot-glass opening, 7 centimeters is a Buffalo chicken wing and 10 centimeters is the diameter of a golf cup.
For an all-purpose book, Pregnancy: The Beginner’s Guide by DK Publishing is my favorite. Printed in glossy, full-color pages, this 2013 volume is like a well-designed website in paper form. Beginning with the developmental stages of the fetus, color-coded columns indicate which foods and practices are safe, warrant caution, or should be stopped. With this strategy, the book provides helpful advice without any of the panic-inducing what-ifs so common in books on pregnancy.
Each chronologically arranged chapter includes month-by-month sections on Mom’s Journey, Baby’s Journey, a Top 10 List and Dad’s Survival Guide, doling out recommendations on everything from home improvement projects to managing financial worries.
The book offers practical guidance on baby equipment, clothing for the newborn, and tips on managing the first few weeks with baby, including breastfeeding.
Small enough to fit into a roomy purse, laid out so that the content can be read in bite-sized chunks, and informative without being judgmental, this book is an absolute standout for newly expectant parents. Of course, if you know you have a caveman dad-to-be, you may want to consider buying some other books as well.