My pregnancy and birth book reading list

Two commenters – Kaitlin and Agatha – asked for my birth reading list and on my blog,that makes it “popular demand”. I better post it before the masses beat down my door. So here is the list of books I have read and a review of each. Like I said in my earlier post, these books tend to lean toward more natural/less intervention heavy birth philosophies, some more than others. I really think overall that they give better information than traditional birth and pregnancy books.

Back when I was pregnant, I had all the regular books about pregnancy and childbirth that are recommended from doctors and friends. I did get some comfort from these books when I had a question, but I also found myself wanting more information than what they would give me. I felt like I was in a doctor’s office – the books flip-flopped between talking down to me (“oh, you are fine, Mom…” without giving me any real information) to being alarmist (“seek medical attention immediately” for a million different normal and benign symptoms without giving me an understanding of why) and what I really wanted was information about what was happening, why, what the risk factors were, and actual evidence-based advice (with the evidence given). I felt a bit manipulated at times, like the authors were more interested in protecting themselves from a lawsuit than providing the best care for me. (Sound familiar?) The best birth books neither belittle me or act as a scaremonger.

The Birth Partner: Everything you Need to Know to Help a Woman Through Childbirth by Simkin
I start with this book because it is my favorite and is literally jam-packed with information to help a doula or another birth partner such as a father, partner, mother or friend help a woman through labor. In the book is detailed, instructive information on everything from what to do before labor begins (exercises, visualization) to comfort measures (massage, positions) to how to give support in unique situations (cesarean, emergency home delivery). I can’t imagine learning how to be a doula without this book from the founder of DONA and Seattle Midwifery herself. I wish OBs and L&D nurses all read this book as well as part of their training. I think you know how highly I respect and admire Miss Penny. I love that she makes no value judgments in the book (doctor vs. midwife, hospital vs. homebirth or epidural vs. natural birth), but just gives information on both sides and lets the reader come to their own conclusions and make the decision that is right for them. The way she frames her language is a great role model for me when I begin serving women.  (And I will be meeting her in a week from today!  Pinch me!)

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Vincent
This book isn’t a textbook or a “how to” book at all – it is an autobiography. Yet I have learned so much from Peggy Vincent’s story. She starts her tale as a young, inexperienced labor and delivery nurse in the early days when women were strapped down and often put under during delivery no matter if they consented or not. Then she tells how she evolved into a doula-type nurse encouraging movement in labor, started an alternative birth center within the hospital she worked, and eventually as a midwife practicing on her own. Her life is filled with both heartache and pure joy and empowerment, with much more focus on the latter. I feel empowered by her words perhaps more than any other. She is absolutely another role model of mine. You will not be able to put this one down.  (When will this book become a movie already????)

The Doula Book: How a Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by Klaus, Kennell and Klaus
This book is written in a way that it speaks to many audiences: current and future doulas, prospective doula clients, and perhaps most importantly, doctors and nurses who may not understand what a doula is or why they are important. It is jam-packed with statistics that prove the usefulness of a doula and how they improve birth and postpartum outcomes for both mother and baby. I didn’t expect a lot of how-to information from this book but was surprised to find it filled with ideas and techniques that will be very useful to me in practice. Occasionally I found the book to jump around a bit and go on tangents but nonetheless is a very valuable resource, especially for collecting information that can explain to resistant parties what it is that I am about to do as a doula and why my work is valuable.

Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide by Simkin, Whalley and Keppler
This book is a great alternative to “What to Expect” and is written by Penny Simkin so right away you know it is good, balanced and informative. Its information is holistic and occasionally challenges some of the more traditional information an OB might give without being aggressive. A mother should be set for life before, during and after birth with this resource at her fingertips. (I’m in the middle of re-reading this one now…)

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
What can I say about Ina May. She’s a living legend and either you love her or you hate her. (I love her.)  Sure, she lives on a hippie commune and has dislike for modern obstetrical practices that she does not hold back from sharing in sometimes an aggressive and condescending way (although it doesn’t make her wrong, does it?). Occasionally I read her book and see that she has anecdotal evidence but hasn’t cited medical research that a doctor might listen to which makes me want to seek out more information. It would be easy to dismiss her except for one key point. You cannot argue with her incredible birth statistics. I believe that many of her methods need further research, but truly I feel that long after we are all gone many of her ideas will become standard practice. She’s ahead of her time, that woman. In any case, her perspective is fresh, inspiring and intuitive (Oh, you mean that pre-eclampsia might actually be natural to some extent and preventable with a healthy diet to the rest? Perfect sense, right?) and I love looking at pregnancy and birth from this other perspective.  I’ll probably feed many of her ideas (in a more balanced way) to my clients.

The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers by Newman and Pitman
Why didn’t I have this book while I was breastfeeding? Perhaps I wouldn’t have had to stop at 9 months due to diminished supply and dangerous weight loss in both my kids. For sure I wouldn’t have spent that first month with Connor exclusively pumping because we would have caught that restricted frenulum earlier. And I absolutely would not have let the lactation consultant shove a bottle down his throat so quickly that put us on the road to nipple confusion hell. Somewhat like Ina May, Dr. Newman has a lot of strong feelings towards formula companies, doctors and the healthcare profession in general which he shares eagerly (and often rightly so). But his book is packed with techniques that will help moms (and doctors) understand breastfeeding with all the most recent studies cited. This book makes me want to rush out and certify become a lactation consultant even while I am certifying to become a doula.  And to start a local breastmilk bank.  And to….

I’ll post reviews of other books as I read them – there are so many great ones out there that I am eager to get my hands on….

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3 Responses to “My pregnancy and birth book reading list”


  1. 1 Agatha June 20, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Lovely! I am on my way to loving Peggy too… & Ina May…. *sigh* I cannot wait to meet her.

    I’m going to order the Simkin book, sounds very interesting& right up my alley.

    Thanks for taking the time to do this, I really apprectiate it.

  2. 2 Kaitlin June 20, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you!!!! I’ve read Ina May’s book, but haven’t heard of most of the others–I’ll have to order some to balance out what I read in my medical textbooks. Am I a complete geek if I read such things in my “spare time” while in medical school? 😉 I can only hope that, in the end, it will make me a humane physician–one who can really support women. We need more like this! Are you sure *you* don’t want to go to medical school? You’d make an exceptional OB/GYN, IMHO. 🙂

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