Thursday, November 26, 2015

My four favourite pregnancy and parenting books (with a strong science bias)

When I was pregnant with the Little Monkey, since it was an all new game for us, I was keen to hunt down the best resources to inform me for the path ahead.

So I read a heap of books, some of which I hated, some of which had a few good points in them, and a few (i.e. those listed below) which I devoured, which resonated with me, and which have made me feel more comfortable and in control of my parenting. If they were real books they'd be dog-eared and weathered by now because I have referred back to them on many occasions, but I primarily read on Kindle so the wear doesn't show.

Veteran parents are probably already laughing at me, because really you can't really know it until you're in the midst of it, and "control" becomes a much looser concept when there are small people in the mix. But I respond well to data: it makes me better able to cope with the unpredictable. It's how I think. If you're also data-driven and you're getting ready to start a family (or are just interested in the science) then you might enjoy some of these books.

All these books are packed full of data on various topics, and aren't judgemental or preachy - they just lay out the info for you to make a call on what's best for your family. There are lots of different ways of going about things and there isn't necessarily a right or wrong for everything - but feeling comfortable about your method helps make the journey more relaxing.

1. Expecting Better 

Written by economist Emily Oster, this looks at data on what pregnant women should and shouldn't do, and breaks down risks, myths and old wives' tales. Rather than prescribe a course of action, Oster presents the data in a digestible way and encourages the reader to make their own informed risk assessments and decisions.

My key learnings: recommended dietary restrictions for pregnant women are often overstated, and some matter a lot more than others; alcohol in moderation is most likely fine after the first trimester; most of the things people recommend to bring on labour don't work (but a couple have reasonable evidence). I also really liked the probability charts.

2. The Science of Mom

This is my most recent read (it only launched at the end of August), and I wish I'd had it earlier. Topics start at cutting the cord and run through milk, sleep and vaccines through to introducing solids. As with Expecting Better, the data is presented for the reader to draw conclusions from, and Callaghan weaves her own parenting experiences into the data which makes the book very relatable.

My key learnings: That the benefits of delayed cord clamping are very important for the iron levels of breastfed babies; food allergies are substantially more common in kids who have the potential allergens withheld until late infanthood.

3. Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue

A great book about how gender impacts on our kids - which I reviewed in great depth here. It's split into three sections. The first discusses the effect of sorting and labelling by gender on how we think about people. The second attempts to identify what the real differences are between boys and girls - hard to pin down, due to the effects of stereotype reinforcement. The third section looks at how we can use this information become better parents.

My key learnings: Individual personality is way more important than gender for determining what children will and won't like; gendered perceptions become pervasive for children at a very young age.

4. The Happy Sleeper 

Yep, a sleep training book. So I'm starting with a caveat: this is a very personal thing, and if sleep training is not for you, no worries! We worked out that it was going to be our thing when, after a long day with not much napping, I put the Little Monkey into his cot for a nap. He looked like he was drifting off... And then he started crying. I was at the end of my tether, so I took a deep breath and took the best piece of advice I got from our antenatal group: if you are pushed to your limits, leave the baby in a safe place (like the cot), close the door, and give yourself five minutes to calm down. At around four and a half minutes, just as I was about to go and get him up and cuddle him, he went to sleep. And had a lovely, long nap. Which we both needed. And woke up happy as anything.

After that we read up a little on gentle sleep training methods, and ended up using The Sleep Store's verbal reassurance, which was very effective. He learned the signals and words that meant it was time to sleep, and though there were a couple of stressful nights getting into the groove he has become a champion sleeper. I know this is partly temperamental - not all kids respond to this - but for us it was a life-saver.

So back to the book - I saw it recommended as a science based look at sleep training, and bought it without knowing what it recommended (hoping it wouldn't tell me my child would hate me forever!). It looks at the research on infant sleep but also the health of the family as a whole, which I think is very important. If the parents are exhausted and can't cope it will rub off on the kids. And then it goes on to discuss techniques that are appropriate for various ages. Though the methods don't differ much from The Sleep Store's VR, they are slightly gentler and there's more background info, which is helpful to refer back to when you're in the midst of it and questioning whether you're doing the right thing.

My key learnings: That the appearance of a long evening sleep is a strong signal that the baby's circadian rhythms are kicking in; the "soothing ladder" suggestions for young babies, that allow you to work through the least disruptive calming methods before picking up the baby.

I'd love to hear your recommendations - what did you rely on to get you through the fog? Any other great reads I should get into before the arrival of number two?

Links in this article are affiliate links so if you click through and buy a book you're supporting my blog. I only ever recommend things I happily spend my own money on though! :-) 


  1. Sorry for commenting on an old post, I suddenly remembered that I meant to comment on it a while back. Useful summaries, thank you, I'm afraid I have nothing to recommend as I didn't end up reading any baby books at all (with the exception of the odd bit on the internet). I surprised myself because I'm always over-prepared for everything in life, but I bought a few books recommended by friends and couldn't get very far. Maybe I wasn't reading the right type of books for me, but I found it all a bit boring, irrelevant and guilt-inducing! Slightly overwhelmed by conflicting advice and the pressure to choose a 'theory' to follow in child-rearing, I gave up before my little monkey* was even born. I would love to say that I just try to follow my own instinct in most things baby-related, but it's impossible not to be influenced by things you hear from friends or read online (much of which is very useful, of course, but some types of advice are just not helpful at all when you're dealing with babies who are all so different). Even though I know that most likely it is my little monkey's stubborn little personality that prevents her from being a good sleeper (won't go into details but she is 13 months now and relies on me to get her back to sleep any number of times a night), I can't help but think that sleep is an area that I should have approached with some strategy a bit earlier on. I'll check out The Happy Sleeper and see if there's anything in there for us, thanks! I'm also definitely interested in the gender book, was just discussing this with a friend yesterday.
    *I see we both have 'little monkeys'! I hope our monkeys can be friends when we move home in a few months :)

    1. Thanks for commenting! I was quite similar in that the books first recommended to me ended up not being very helpful for our family (though it took me a bit longer to realise it). And sleep is so tricky!

      I hope you enjoy the reading - and indeed that we can have plenty of little monkey playdates when you return to Wellington! :-)


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