Sexy, Savvy, Natural Mama

a blog space for pregnant ladies, new moms, feminists, and interested souls

The Essential Pregnancy Library July 18, 2010

As a pregnant lady, you may be interested in getting some good books. I mean, the internet just doesn’t cut it. And as I said, a lot of those sites end up with a bunch of scary comments about miscarriages and illness. I have known of pregnant ladies who stay away from reading any books or sites, but as you might have guessed, I’m not really that type of person. In fact, I highly recommend reading a good selection of books — but you don’t need to go overboard.

You’ll need …

A great reference book. I totally do NOT recommend What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s not written by doctors, and it just kinda tells moms to avoid every little thing possible. It’s information light, and condescension heavy. Instead, I highly recommend the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. This book is a true treasure — if you only buy ONE book for your pregnancy, this is really the one you need. It is divided into three sections — pregnancy, childbirth, and your newborn. It’s written by health care professionals, and has a non-conversational this-is-what-you-need-to-know kind of tone. It provides information on every option for pregnancy and labor, has charts for when you should call the doctor according to the week of pregnancy, and it tells you what to do with your newborn once you get it home. It’s well organized, well laid out, has lots of great information, and it will help you chill out when you perceive a potential problem.

For natural birth planners, you’ll need: Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Ricki Lake — she’s at her least ridiculous in this book — and Abby Epstein are the minds behind the eye-opening documentary, The Business of Being Born (available on Netflix instant). (I recommend this for natural birthers as well.) This is the companion book, which details why pregnancy and childbirth are treated differently in the U.S. than in other countries, and it tells American mothers about all of their options when it comes to their own births. Ricki and Abby both tell their own birth stories in Your Best Birth, all of which are vastly different experiences (hospital birth with an epidural, home birth with no medication, and an emergency c-section). The best part about this book to me was the lists of questions to ask your doctor, midwife, hospital, and doula. They also go over how to write a birth plan and the things you may want to include. A quick, easy, fun and thoroughly informative read!

For the natural birth planner, you’ll also want to read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I’ve already written a full review of this fabulous classic, and yeah, I still think it’s pretty much the best thing ever. Ina May Gaskin is a total badass — a rogue, self-trained midwife who started her own birthing center at a commune in Tennessee. This book is her guide, her philosophy, and her experience. The best thing? The first third of the book is written by her patients, giving glimpses of their positive, natural birth experiences. Then, Ina May details all of the different ways and methods to cope with labor — particularly the more difficult labors. She is unflappably calm and amazingly creative, and gives you a lot of ideas to hold in your personal labor arsenal. For example, if you open your mouth during pushing, you’re less likely to tear. If you’re muscles are tight, and someone rocks you back and forth, you’re more likely to relax and have it easier. And you get to read Ina May’s amazing statistics for her commune birthing center at the end. Also, it’s well written and has a good sense of humor!

For coping with labor pain in a natural way, check out: Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz and Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan. Both of these books are designed around a “method” to deal with labor, so you may want to choose one ore the other. However, I think checking out a little of both is important because it gives you a chance to gather more tools for your labor arsenal. Birthing from Within does have some wacky stuff about creating birth art to express your fear, which I’m not really into, but some people might find cool. What I really liked about Birthing from Within is the varied methods of coping with pain and the suggestions for how to cope with post-partum stress. Hypnobirthing has a lot about the history of childbirth, and it explains the self-hypnosis methods for dealing with labor. It has a great deal of wonderful information about pregnancy, and it explains meditation you can practice and use during childbirth. Also very well written and engaging. Highly recommended!

Breastfeeders will need … A good breastfeeding book. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding By La Leche League International comes highly recommended. It’s the one I have, and there’s a ton of great information in it … but … it gets a bit preachy. If you are someone who knows you’ll get cranky at super preachy breastfeeding dogma (i.e. “There’s no such thing as not producing enough milk. If you’re not producing enough milk, there’s something wrong with you.”), then don’t get this one. I haven’t checked any other ones, but The Nursing Mother’s Companion comes highly recommended as well, and I would definitely give Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding a good try since Ina May pretty much rules.

Everyone needs … Baby Bargains! As you know, I totally support Baby Bargains. The authors claim they’ll save you lots of dough when buying your baby gear, but I’m not sure if that’s the main benefit of this tome. The main benefit? I found out about everything available on the market, got familiar with brands, and got good ideas for what I needed and didn’t need. From this book, I got the crib recommendation that led me to choose Westwood, the idea to purchase the Arm’s Reach Mini Co-Sleeper, and the suggestions as to what brands to include on my registry. That said, the authors, Denise and Alan Fields, are parents and not consumer reports experts. It’s also good to get opinions from other sources — I choose friends and family, and Amazon reviews!

And if you’re interested in a book for your partner … Get The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. This is the to-go reference for the person in your life who will be supporting you through labor — significant other, friend, mom and dad … etc. This has all the information that that person can tell you throughout your pregnancy — exercises, health, nutrition, and all the stuff they can tell you about labor while you’re in it — medical interventions, options, and positions, and what you can expect after the birth — how to identify postpartum depression, how you can be supported in breastfeeding, and how to clean your baby. It’s good for that person in your life to have all the info. As much as you can cram in your brain, you won’t remember all of it, and it’s good to have someone there to remind you and make sure you’ve got what you need.

I’ll have another addition after Sam is born — the best books for having a baby!

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My Favorite Pregnancy Books: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin April 13, 2010

What is the first book that every pregnant woman in America reads? That’s right. They read What to Expect When You’re Expecting. This is the very first book I picked up. I actually downloaded it onto my husband’s Kindle the very day I found out I was in a family way. I had always thought it was the go-to pregnancy guide, the one you see in the movies, the one that you can always consult when you have a question, an infallible authority on all things pregnant.

I did consume the whole thing in one day. I was at my husband’s family’s house, scared to tell anyone about the pregnancy because it was so early on. As I read more and more of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, instead of becoming more informed, I became more and more alarmed. I read that I should not be using whitening toothpaste, nor should I use face wash with salicylic acid. There’s a whole section on all the things that can go wrong, entitled “The Complicated Pregnancy.” This nearly did me in. I’m a worrier anyway, and these “helpful” pieces of information put nightmares into my sensitive brain. Phew.

Why did I introduce my review of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth with a review of a totally different book? Well, to me, they seem polar opposites. Of course, the two books have different goals. What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a general guide, and Ina May speaks of labor and delivery only. To me, though, the feelings that I got from each of these books are completely opposite. With What to Expect When You’re Expecting, I felt overwhelmed and frightened; Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth made me feel positive, enlightened, and empowered.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is unique in the world of books for pregnant ladies. First of all, Ina May Gaskin, the author, is a midwife with over thirty years of experience, who birthed on “the Farm,” a commune in Tennessee, starting during the late 1960’s. In other words, she’s a total badass. She’s informed and educated in ways that most doctors are not — she has attended all of her own births, developed her own philosophy of post-partum care, and will try a multitude of techniques with her patients in order to make their labors comfortable and their babies healthy. She’s also a damn fine writer. She lets her delightful sense of humor flow through her anecdotes and advice, and you can feel her personality coming off the page. For an English major dork like myself, Ina May Gaskin’s writing is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Ms. Gaskin’s book also has another unusual aspect to it: her entire first section is filled with the diverse voices of the women whose babies she has birthed. This section takes up about a half of the book — what other author would give such a large portion of her book over to the writing of others? The birth stories, written by patients of the Farm, are overwhelmingly positive. Though all the stories are positive, they are also all real. There are stories of women who have had c-sections and chose to birth vaginally. Others recount breech births, painful labors, stalled progress … all of the things that can happen and end up concerning some women (and their doctors) so much. The overarching theme is still one of female power, health, and ability. All of these women give birth naturally, attended by the midwives of the Farm.

I used this part of the book as my daily dose of positivity. All of theses stories also contained valuable information on the most interesting, exciting, and feared part of pregnancy: birth. Gaskin then moves on to write about all of the technicalities of labor and delivery, writing about all of the options available to a woman, as well as pain coping techniques backed by fascinating anecdotes of births on the Farm.

Ms. Gaskin does spend some good time throwing stones at the modern pain-coping techniques and perhaps unnecessary testing. However, she also carefully explains each one so that parents reading her book can make informed decisions. I will say that, unlike other books touting natural childbirth, the Guide to Childbirth does not push faulty information on how “harmful” ultrasounds are. Gaskin does include her opinion that ultrasounds are not necessary, but that’s as far as she goes. (It’s a total pet peeve of mine when I read statistically unsound information about how harmful this routine procedure is. Again, I don’t like alarmist crap.)

I know that I will go back to this book time and time again. I will likely re-read parts of it closer to my due date, for the pain-coping techniques, as well as the incredibly positive and uplifting stories of childbirth. I would absolutely recommend this book to any expecting mother, whether or not she’s going for a natural childbirth. I give it a solid A on the Savvy Mom scale of approval.