When I was pregnant, I read a lot. One book — kind of the de facto pregnancy book — advised I eat no sugar of any kind. This of course led to guilt, which led to over-eating, which led to the very weight gain I was trying to prevent. Brilliant.
Don’t let my cautionary tale turn you off reading, however. There are plenty of books that’ll help rather than hinder your pregnancy. Below, find your “pregnancy personality” to help you identify which books to read and which to leave on the shelf.
1. “What to Expect When You're Expecting, 4th ed.,” Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel, 2008
Recommended for: The Over-Achiever
What to expect: While undeniably the most famous book on this list, this guide to pregnancy and childbirth felt like a lecture from some vigilant mother-in-law. That’s why I recycled my copy. Thankfully, the newer revised fourth edition offers a “more realistic” approach — that’s code for less guilt.
Pass on this if… you dislike long books or too many rules.
2. “Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy,” 2011
Recommended for: The Obsessor
What to expect: Informative and practical, this color-illustrated reference covers pregnancy month-by-month, birth partners, breastfeeding and more. It’s easy to read, except when it isn’t — the worst-case scenarios are so alarming you may find yourself checking into a hospital just to be on the safe side. But if you believe that knowledge is power, this book is for you.
Pass on this if… too much information overwhelms you.
3. “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth,” Ina May Gaskin, 2003
Recommended for: The Earth Mother
What to expect: This passionate treatise combats fear by highlighting stories from successful, intervention-free labors. Examples range from the standard (mothers who use gravity and massage) to the weird (you can have an orgasm during childbirth?!). It’s everything you’d expect from an author who founded a commune.
Pass on this if… you’re bothered by fringe practices or bias against modern medicine.
4. “Expecting Better,” Emily Oster, 2014
Recommended for: The Scientist
What to expect: This academic read explores the unscientific justifications behind many of our closely held beliefs. For example: You've heard drinking alcohol while pregnant is bad, right? According to the author, that adage is based on studies of mothers who were also cocaine addicts. (It remains a controversial point.)
Pass on this if… you’ll be upset to see age-old guidelines upended.
5. “Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, 4th ed.,” Penny Simkin, April Bolding, Ann Keppler, Janelle Durham and Janet Whalley, 2010
Recommended for: The Activist
What to expect: This empowering handbook encourages women to make informed choices about medical care with the goal of decreasing delivery interventions. Includes natural methods of relieving common pregnancy complaints.
Pass on this if… you’re firmly in favor of medical assistance and don't want to feel like a cheater, a quitter or both. Who needs the extra guilt, right?
6. “The Girlfriend's Guide to Pregnancy, 2nd ed.,” Vicki Iovine, 2007
Recommended for: The Best Girlfriend
What to expect: This hilarious book explores “real” pregnancies. We're talking excessive weight gain, acne, epidurals — the works! Recommendations include “keep big old towels in the front seat of your car so that you have something to barf into” and the surprisingly necessary reminder that “you did not invent pregnancy.” Read for a guaranteed laugh.
Pass on this if… you’re looking for actual medical advice.
7. “Birthing From Within,” Pam England and Rob Horowitz, 1998
Recommended for: The Hands-On Learner
What to expect: This book offers tips on how to prepare for labor through self-knowledge and intuition. Activities range from the active (testing your pain tolerance using ice cubes) to the artistic (making belly casts) to the introspective (journaling about labor fears). Basically, it’s like pre-school for pregnant ladies.
Pass on this if… you’d rather do anything than write letters to yourself, draw pregnancy pictures or craft clay models.
8. “The Healthy Pregnancy Book,” William and Martha Sears, 2013
Recommended for: The Optimist
What to expect: This reassuring manual shares how your baby grows and how you can stay healthy. The tone is encouraging rather than alarming, which is nice, but it sometimes veers toward the paternalistic. The authors also include a series of bizarrely corny drawings where a cartoon fetus gives you advice. Yes, really.
Pass on this if… cutesy language annoys you.
9. “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year,” Anne Lamott, 2005
Recommended for: The Class Clown
What to expect: Funny, irreverent and honest, this memoir reminds us that it’s OK to laugh at the craziness a baby brings along. Pro tip: Hide this book from any quizzical relatives or they may question whether you’re ready to parent.
Pass on this if… crass language and graphic descriptions offend you.