As a first-time millennial mommy, when it comes to pregnancy books, I had my pick of choices on Amazon. There are hundreds and even thousands of books out there about pregnancy…I did not know where to start. It was intimidating because…I didn’t have that much time to read. Plus I didn’t have any time to invest in learning which book to read. I was working and spending half the day nauseous sucking on anti-nausea Preggie Pop. There was so much work to do ahead and it included renovating a nursery! You’re going to tell a busy pregnant lady to read and invest time in choosing a pregnancy book that doesn’t suck?
But the good news is that I did suck it up. I spent the time and paid the money for all the state and hospital-recommended pregnancy classes, labor classes. I also ended up hiring a super knowledgeable post-partum doula who helped me learn the ins-and-outs of pregnancy, labor, and post-baby recovery. By the time my daughter was 6 months old, I had solidified and separated (quite easily) what my top favorite pregnancy books were and came up with these 4 core books.
My pregnancy book recommendations do not carry any special affiliations. They are really helpful for a general overview of pregnancy backed with good research and empirically backed science. I don’t have any affiliations with natural living, drug-free birth, healthy paleo-green-awesome diet, etc. so my list won’t reflect that.
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Avoid Information Overload
When I was trying to learn everything about pregnancy, labor, post-baby recovery as a first-time mom I found myself overloading on a lot of information that was out there for those special 9 months.
My goal was to get through this pregnancy without going crazy, deliver a healthy baby, and a preference for not getting cut open. The end.
Do You NEED to Read a Pregnancy Book?
It depends. I know how you feel, I’m not too fond of the preggy subject (too many unknowns and chances for gore!) The whole pregnancy thing was sort of a weird alien experience that my body happened to go through while my mind preferred to have skipped it. So no, if you don’t want to read, you don’t have to.
But it’s good to arm yourself with some knowledge (to recognize trouble etc.) and that’s what this short list is for.
If you’re not a big reader, almost all the books I recommend (especially my top 4) have an audiobook version and your local library probably has a few copies bouncing around too.
First Time Moms: Midwives vs OBGYN?
Go with your midwives network. I know not all midwives are created equal but if I had to take a gamble, I would bet on my local hospital midwives for support during pregnancy and labor. I spent hours sitting with my lovely midwives asking every question there was in the book; nothing was off-limits.
I was SO fortunate to have an entire midwife center to hold my hand during my 9.5 months (yes 9.5 MONTHS!) All 6 of my midwives were the most incredible patchouli-oil-scented superwomen I’ve ever shared a room with. They were patient, accommodating, empowering, and INCREDIBLY knowledgeable.
I walked out of my bi-monthly office checkups brimming with knowledge and confidence. The best choice I made during my pregnancy was going with the midwives rather than an OBGYN.
Comparing OBGYN to midwives is like comparing a lemon to a lemon tree. They’re definitely related and a lot of their jobs overlap, but midwives are specialized nurses that spend overall more time with their patients as supports and guides. Midwives are the ones that deliver and catch the babies. OBGYNs are surgeons. They don’t catch the babies; they perform surgery. They are there to perform surgery when something goes wrong. They did not train as in-depth as midwives when it comes to helping you survive those 9 months.
In fact, do pray that you don’t ever meet the OB during labor.
As the hospital nursing assistant very politely whispered to me when I sat in my hospital bed after 15 hours of labor…“Let’s hope you will never need to see the OBGYN during your stay. If you do, it means something during labor went wrong.”
Basically, TL;DR, midwives specializes in pregnancy and birth…and almost all of them have this soothing mother earth vibe to them…haha.
The ONLY 4 Pregnancy Books You’ll Need (Plus 6 Pretty Good Ones Too)
I am actually very thankful to have had a very supportive network of midwives and family members that kept me in the loop for everything, during my pregnancy + labor journey, whether I liked it or not.
In fact, my sweet husband read more pregnancy books than I did. He was so excited for our baby he took the initiative and even asked his coworkers for their best recommendations; so in guilt, I ended up reading the preggy books with him. We ended up discussing it and agreeing a lot of what we read was sort of like information overload. You just needed to read 3-4 to not feel lost; I threw 6 in there so more bases are covered.
1. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide | Author: Penny Simkin
If you’re short on time and can only choose one book to read. CHOOSE THIS ONE. Penny is the AUTHORITY on pregnancy, labor, and postpartum support. My husband and I paid $600 for a pregnancy and labor class provided by the hospital and our curriculum centered around Simkin’s book. In terms of depth of knowledge – Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide is on par with a college textbook! It’s 500 pages of solid knowledge from the decades as a physical therapist, doula, and innovator in the field of labor and birth. The book has a lot of helpful pictures and it’s written from a professional standpoint based in scientific research; not opinion.
Although my husband and I enjoyed the $600 pregnancy and labor workshop, if we were on a tighter budget, I think paying $20 and reading this book would be just as helpful.
2. Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong | Author: Emily Oster
What I like about Emily Oster’s books is her way with managing and interpreting data. Have you read those 50 pages dry-as-heck research papers based on something like “How Mice Salivary Sensitivity Correlates to Genetic Immune Response of Their Grandbaby Mice”…? It’s the most boring way to treat an otherwise pretty interesting topic, but that’s academia for you.
Oster, a trained economist, breaks the data and statistics down for you. She tells it like it is. About 5% of her book is personal; she talks about her approach to pregnancy and kids – her own decisions and why she went with/against the data. I like her honesty and her openness to topics even if she agrees/disagrees. She handles controversial topics well; giving concise pros and cons on the topic while remaining open…
This is an older book from Oster that was revised in 2019. This is an easier read than Simkin’s book; less academic but also a little less in-depth coverage. It’s about 350 pages so it’s not as in-depth as Simkin’s complete pregnancy saga but it’s a quicker, easier read available in a 10 hour audiobook.
3. The Happiest Baby on the Block | Author: Harvey Karp MD
This book came highly recommended by everyone. Karp is the famous pediatrician behind the SNOO (super expensive bassinet that we caved in to buy!) and Karp’s 5 S’s system to soothe babies. Although it’s not a book about pregnancy or labor, Karp did save me and my husband for the first 3 (truly horrible) months of our little (cry)baby’s life. In a way it is very much related, just because the screaming bundle of loudness is out of you doesn’t mean your body has come even close to recovering. The physical recovery and sleep deprivation also both coexist on top of learning how to breastfeed…a crazy complicated topic in it of itself. So do yourself a favor and skim through this book – it’s not complicated – yet it’s almost universally effective in getting a newborn to sleep (…longer than 45 minutes.)
4. Babies Are Not Pizzas | Author: Rebecca Dekker
I have mad props for the very brilliant Rebecca Dekker. I followed her on Evidence Based Birth religiously on my own pregnancy journey. She has an amazing evidence based website that’s as informative as any book out there (except her website is totally free); she also has a YouTube channel that discusses heated new topics related to pregnancy/birth like how Covid-19 impacts pregnancy.
If you’re a fan of the newest and latest research in the science of birth, I would most definitely support her and get her book. She is the iron woman fighting for millions of women who have no idea how outdated hospital birthing practices truly are. Medical bureaucracy and scientific stagnation has no place between a mother and her child in the birthing ward.
Here’s a quote that really touched me, and many others – for my daughters sake I hope we continue to evolve.
“I had a new mission. By the time both my babies were growing up and having babies of their own, they wouldn’t have to fight to get evidence-based care of. For them, evidence-based care it would be a given.” -Rebecca Dekker, PHD, RN
That’s it for the 4 core pregnancy books you should know about. The remaining 6 suggestions were some of the ones I borrowed from the library or had gifted to me.
P.S. I chose to not include The Complete Guide to Breastfeeding as a core, although it’s a very good resource i you’re interested, because some moms will not / cannot breastfeed so it won’t offer everyone the exact values.
5. The Name Book: Over 10,000 Names | Author: Dorothy Astoria
“Including their meanings, origins, and spiritual significance, with a supporting Scripture for each.” Sums up what makes this book different and unique as a baby shower gift. Getting baby focused books like this really brighten the information overload I was experiencing. The end goal for everyone is to get that baby into our arms. Having a physical name book really help making something from a ultrasound feel more “real.” If that makes sense. If you don’t have a name or names in mind yet, it’s going to be a massive help to have them all in front of you with the information you need to make a life long, very impactful decision. (Noooo pressure.)
6. Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born | Authors: Miranda Paul & Jason Chin
The illustrations in this book are so eye-catching and beautiful. It’s realistic enough to satisfy a curious siblings and answers how the body works/how exactly babies grow in the womb. It takes you through the 9 months of gestation simplifying it by using rhythms. I couldn’t be happier with this gift, Miranda Paul has an amazing way with words and Chin’s art makes me feel like I’m being hugged. It’s on my “top picks list” ” baby book for future family and friends who will be expecting a stork flying their way.
7. Cribsheets | Author: Emily Oster
Are you getting book #2 Expecting Better? Get the follow up book to that which is Cribsheet that carries through from birth to preschool. Is it overkill for a pregnant lady? I thought so too. But as I read everything by the time I was 8 months pregnant, I was getting more and more afraid of what I will be doing when the baby is actually HERE. Due to the anxiety of becoming new parents amidst a growing pandemic, we realized we were going to be alone, Cribsheet was pretty helpful to get an overall view of everything from potty-training to sleep-training.
(PS My husband and I got an audiobook version of Emily Oster’s Cribsheet. We listened to the 13 hour long audiobook during our Christmas roundtrip from Seattle to California. The print book has a section full of graphs and tables we didn’t get in the audiobook version. Not a big deal, but just something to know if you’re choosing between audio vs print.)
8. Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss | Author: Adriel Booker
Two of my neighbors (one happens to be a good friend as well) all got pregnancy within 6 months of each other. I had this crazy good dream of having 2 other first time moms to go along this holy journey, especially living so close to each other. When I went into my first 8-week appointment, I learned a dark secret, shrouded in secrecy and (ill-placed) guilt, one in four pregnancies ends in loss.
As my pregnancy progressed wonderfully, there was not a “more average” fetus than mine. She was the average body size, head size, average median heart beat…for every visit she was normal. A completely uneventful pregnancy. Months later, I learned both my neighbors had miscarriages. They both tried again, with no luck. Over 1 year later, when I am playing with my 6 month old daughter, I get a taste of sorrow and loneliness – at what could have been.
So I think back to the very private pain of loss that they go through. As a friend, I cannot ignore but I also couldn’t push. I wish I could take the sorrow and turn it into joy for them but all I am is a symbol of their loss when I visit. I don’t blame both of them for being distant at all. Grace Like Scarlett was a bold gift for my friend (she is Christian like the author) who loved, loved, loved the book (she told me this as she’s hugging me.)
9. To Pee or Not to Pee: The Hilariously Snarky Pregnancy Activity Book | Author: Pearl Chance Todreeme
This activity book was a great boredom buster during the last phrases of ‘preggertory’ waiting for baby to come. Any minute. The hospital bags are packed. Everything is rehearsed. All there is to wait. To take your mind off and keep relaxed, try to work on this book. The pages of illustration and puzzles are just OK but to be honest…you’re just trying to pass the time and activity books are perfect for that no matter what.
10. Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy | Author: Angela Garbes
I had the unfortunate luck of reading Garbe’s book first before any other pregnancy book….and it terrified me by the time I got to chapter 3. If you are a beginner, first-time preggo lady, and isn’t fond of depressive news…do not read this. Does Garbes tell you things and go into topics that no one else does, with a spitfire dominating fiery feminist attitude? Yes, and she does it well. Her main points are true: women are underpaid, underappreciated, undersupported…and now add pregnancy and motherhood on top of that, yeah. It’s rough for women. Should you buy this book? To me, it’s sort of like asking someone if they want to take their coffee black. This book is pretty intense to me as a novice mom; perhaps a bit too black and bleak. But if you’re an experienced mom of multiples, you’ll likely enjoy the dark humor and dark facts.