Pregnancy: A Reading List

There a million resources on pregnancy available, either in the bookstore or online.  A lot of them are great; a lot of them are terrible.  (Beware, especially, of getting any sort of medical information online– there are a lot of websites and blogs that are written by people with zero medical training, with a lot of blatantly false information.)  Here is a short list of things that I’ve found interesting and/or helpful either before or during my pregnancy.

How-To Books

What To Expect When You’re Expecting

Okay, let’s start with the most basic.  What To Expect has been around forever and is equal parts loved and loathed, although it seems like they listened to reader feedback and have made some pretty significant changes and updates in recent years.  I personally found this book to be super helpful, in part because it’s so comprehensive.  You can read about each month– baby developments, symptoms, physical changes, and commonly asked questions– as you experience it, plus there are separate sections for things like pregnancy complications, labor and delivery, and the first six weeks postpartum.  Chances are you can find most of your worries or curiosities addressed here.  However, some of the information seems a little outdated, which brings me to…

Expecting Better: Why The Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong by Emily Oster

This is by far the best, most helpful book I read for pregnancy.  Go out and buy this book if you’re considering getting pregnant.  Read it before you get pregnant.  Read it again after you get pregnant.  And go back and skim through it during your pregnancy.

Emily Oster is a professor of economics at Brown University and a Harvard-trained statistician, and she tackles common pregnancy advice by going to the actual published, peer-reviewed medical studies and analyzing them.  Some of the conventional advice turns out to be absolutely true– there actually are harmful (to pregnant women) bacteria in cat poop, although you’re just as likely to contract them by gardening as by cleaning out the litter box– and some not so much, like the fact that there is actually zero evidence that bed rest is beneficial to pregnant women.  She also does a great job of statistically breaking down risks so that women can decide for themselves what they want to do.  So much of the advice for pregnant women is based on fuzzy or outdated medical studies, and certain things we take for truth (like the fact that you shouldn’t eat sushi) are not actually all that clear.

As someone who likes fact- and science-based approaches to things, I really appreciated this book.

Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth

And then on the other end of the spectrum, we have this book.  I… did not like this book.  It was recommended to me by a lot of people but I couldn’t finish it.  Basically, Ina May Gaskin is a midwife who provides natural, unmedicated vaginal births at her Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, and has been since the 1970s.  This is great!  I am all for women taking this approach to childbirth, if they want to.

However, the way the book was written– all focused on the personal experiences of the women, rather than the medical side of things– didn’t work for me.  This might be exactly what some women want/need to read about childbirth, but I felt it really was lacking in actual information.  I stopped reading maybe a third of the way through the book when one of the women referred to her cervix (at least I’m guessing it was her cervix) as “the gate of life.”  It’s completely a personal preference, but this was not the childbirth book for me.

Books on Raising Kids

Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman

This book, about an American woman raising her kids in France, got a lot of attention when it was published in 2012.  It’s an in-depth look at how French culture treats pregnancy and child-rearing differently than American culture, and it turns out that there are a lot of very big, very stark differences (including the claim that French babies sleep through the night at three months, which sounds amazing, but I remain skeptical).

As someone who has lived in three countries and seen how parenting is handled differently in each country– and as a teacher who has seen the results of different styles of parenting– I find stuff like this fascinating.  At the very least, I think it’s good to read differing perspectives on parenting because it can make you look at common ways of doing things and ask, “Why?”  I recognized a lot of the things about American parenting that she criticizes in the book, and those are things that I think most American parents don’t even think twice about.  You don’t necessarily have to read it as a curriculum on how to parent, but I found it interesting and thought-provoking.

Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske

This is the German version of Bringing Up Bebe, published just in January of 2018.  I kept hearing about it and since I just moved to Germany and am having my first baby here, I thought it might be useful.  Again, I found it interesting and thought-provoking, and also very, very informative to learning more about my new adoptive culture.  It talks specifically about how Germans strive to instill a sense of independence in their kids from a young age.

It also talks extensively about the German daycare, kindergarten, and education system, which is drastically different from the American one, and that was useful to me as a soon-to-be-parent and super interesting to me as a teacher.  In my opinion, the strongest part of this book wasn’t the parenting advice, but more about how so much of what we’re doing with education in the US is having the opposite effect than we want, and showcasing another way of doing it.  I think anyone who has young, school-age kids should read this book to get a clearer understanding of why subjecting five and six year olds to standardized tests, or giving them lots of homework, can do more harm than good in their educational life.

Books About Motherhood

Black Milk by Elif Şafak

Elif Şafak (English: Shafak) is a well-known Turkish novelist and Black Milk is her memoir about postpartum depression.  I read this years ago, soon after moving to Turkey, and loved it.  It’s imaginative and funny and paints a vivid picture of someone who loves her child but struggles with early motherhood, and also how having kids impacts her sense of self, since shifting from “writer” to “mother” is a profound change in identity.  (Something another essay I mention below talks about as well.)

The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs

A book about infertility might not seem directly relevant to your situation if you find yourself pregnant, but this nonfiction book is a beautifully written look into many facets of parenthood, how it feels when you can’t achieve something that you badly long for, and the various emotions and logistics tied up in things like IVF and adoption.  It’s well-researched and does a great job of combining the informational with the personal.  Several of the chapters of the books are available online as essays, which you can find at the author’s website here.


Writer, Mother, Both, Neither” by Belle Boggs

Another one from Belle.  (Actually, just check out all her writing, she’s great.)  This is an essay she wrote discussing how becoming a mother has complicated her professional life, and the lengths that working mothers are forced to go to in order to juggle both a career and motherhood.

The Size of a Memory, the Size of a Heart” by Laura Giovanelli

“I am going to be a mother, and all I can think about is my father.”  A beautifully written personal essay about how becoming pregnant made the writer reflect on her relationship with her estranged father.


Pregnant Chicken

This is a fun website with lots of different articles and blog posts on pregnancy and having kids.  Again, I don’t recommend using any medical information you find online without fact-checking it against a reliable, peer-reviewed source, but this is a good website to waste some hours and is low on the bullshit scale.

Alpha Mom’s Pregnancy Calendar

Alpha Mom has a week-by-week pregnancy calendar and out of all the ones available out there, I found this one the most informative and entertaining.

National Institutes of Health

I don’t recommend googling anything medical-related while pregnant, because it inevitably will just scare the crap out of you; however, that said, everyone will give into it at least a few times, so be sure you’re using reliable, scientifically-sound resources.  The NIH website has articles and published studies that are all written by doctors and peer-reviewed.  Whatever you do, DON’T go onto the pregnancy/mommy discussion forums, because everyone and their sister will be spouting anecdotal evidence and old wives tales and claiming they are true, and making you believe that you have cancer, shingles, and rare blood diseases all at once, and that your baby will be born with two heads or something.  Just don’t do it.


Happy reading!