Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg
If you're considering natural childbirth, I highly recommend the Bradley Book. We used most of the Bradley Method, although there were a few things we did not do, like practice our exercises naked or eat four thousand pounds of protein every day. :) You have to pick and choose what you like, but this book did a really good job of preparing us for what would probably happen on the big day! In fact, during the last week of my pregnancy we got it out again and re-read a couple of chapters that were very helpful at identifying what kind of pregnancy and birth we were having. (I was an "any day now" pregnancy: waiting for two weeks at 4 cm; getting really frustrated toward the end, then finally showing up to the hospital fully dilated. Oops!) I'm really glad we had this book.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin
Whether you're going natural or not, Ina May's guide is a must-read! It gets really weird at times, but I loved reading all of the birth stories in the first section of the book. I would read a story and then decide what I would do if _________. Many times I thought, "No WAY and I doing THAT!" and many times I thought, "Oh, I'm totally going to remember to do that." Plus, there's a really funny picture in here that will totally gross you out and make you laugh at the same time. While the first part of the book is all stories, the second half is all business. It's the science behind childbirth and it addresses all of the misconceptions and fears that are out there. If anything, it will make you very confident in yourself, which is a huge benefit on baby day!
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by The La Leche League
Here's one that a friend told me about. She said her daughter-in-law was having a lot of problems breastfeeding and they bought this book to help, which it did. So I thought I'd read it before the birth and I'm very glad that I did! There are parts that I didn't totally agree with, so you have to pick and choose what's best for you and your family. It was very helpful at explaining how to breastfeed, what to do in the beginning, and how the breastfeeding relationship and routine changes as your baby grows. I kept it by my bedside and used it as a reference quite a few times while Sylvia was nursing.
Good Night, Sleep Tight, by Kim West
I love this book and I hate it. The Sleep Lady has many great tips and advice about how to put a baby to bed, and in the first couple months we followed her "plan" pretty diligently. But recently I realized that we're breaking quite a few of her rules these days. The big one is that we broke down and let Sylvia "cry it out," and as guilty as I felt about it at the time, I'm so glad we chose that method because now she sleeps like a champ! I also rock her to sleep every once in a while, which is a huge no-no according to this book, but I can't help myself. There's nothing better than rocking a sweet baby to sleep! The most helpful part of this book is the chapter that explains how much sleep you can expect your child to get at certain ages. Once again, though, now that Sylvia doesn't nap at day care, I don't use The Sleep Lady as much as I used to. Her solution for a non-napping day care baby? Switch day cares. Ummmm, no thank you.
So there you have it. The four books I would pass on to any friend who wants them! Notice I did NOT include the What to Expect When You're Expecting, because I really, really don't like it. I have it, and I've used it as a reference, and I'd happily lend it to anyone who wants it, but I think these four books are much more helpful. No matter what you read, though, heed this advice that was given to me by a great friend:
In the end, the best person to tell you what's best for you baby is YOU. That baby doesn't know there are a hundred different ways to do things. You're the only parents that little girl has! She only knows what you do, and she loves you for it.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more cleaning to do.