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The 7 Best Birth Books

Educating yourself about birth *will* make a difference to your labor.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I remember standing in front of a wall of pregnancy books at Barnes and Noble. I was excited to be pregnant and learn more about what I was going through, but something about the sheer number of books made me want to run in the other direction–an avalanche of manuals might knock me to the ground. Surely birth– something that has been happening since THE DAWN OF TIME– doesn’t require this much instruction!

Nevertheless, I did grab a few from the shelves and I was surprised by what I read. I knew my body was meant to give birth, but I didn’t know that my doctor wouldn’t be with me until I was pushing or that 24 hours was the average length of a first time labor. I realized that though birth is the most normal thing in the world, like most modern women, I hadn’t been around birth all that much. Since then I’ve read too many birth books to count: obstetrics manuals, midwifery memoirs, polemics, histories, rants and anthologies. I even wrote a birth book!

My friends and childbirth education students often ask me:

If I get ONE book, which birth book should I get? (Maybe after their own encounters with the Barnes and Noble preggo section?) So, here’s a list of my favorite birth *guides.*

These are practical books that will explain how birth works as well as offer tons of ideas for coping– from squatting to epidurals. You don’t need to read them all, but one really good birth book can make a difference to your birth experience.

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  • The Big Book Of Birth by Erica Lyon 1 of 7
    The Big Book Of Birth by Erica Lyon
    Bottom Line: This is top shelf childbirth ed; perhaps a perfect book for a woman giving birth in America right now.

    Book available for purchase here.
    This book covers ALL OF IT (early labor, transition, external fetal monitoring) and yet it's a riveting, friendly read. It's exhaustive but not exhausting. I give this my number one slot because I think Erica is one of the best educators out there. I can't say enough good stuff about the woman--she's been a mentor to me, she's a brilliant teacher, she's completely unpretentious and accessible and she knows what she's talking about.
    Read an interview I did with Erica here.
  • Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin 2 of 7
    Ina May's Guide To Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
    Bottom Line: Ina May knows what women and women's bodies are capable of doing. She's hugely inspiring.

    Book available for purchase here.
    Ina May Gaskin is sometimes called the "mother of modern midwifery," she's had a huge (and positive) impact on the birth culture in the US and has written several best-selling birth books. All of them are excellent and inspiring no matter how you plan to give birth. What I think I love most about Ina May is the way she gives women credit for being strong, (maybe sometimes stronger than we think we are). She's immensely practical and intuitive. I like that in a midwife.
  • The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin 3 of 7
    The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin
    Bottom Line: You'll learn how labor works and how to cope at each stage. It's not just for partners.

    Book available for purchase here.
    This book really delves into what labor looks like, sounds like and feels like. Simkin's focus is on the "three Rs": Relaxation, Rhythm and Repetition. A woman in active labor tends to rock back and forth or sway during contractions (she's literally rocking the baby down and out) and make rhythmic moans or other noises. Once found, this rhythm helps women focus, which is massively helpful if not essential during the really hard parts of labor. Get it for your partner and borrow it to read yourself.
  • From The Hips by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris 4 of 7
    From The Hips by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris
    Bottom Line: If you want a spread of opinion on all things birth and baby, here's your book.

    Book available for purchase here.
    It's always a tough one with your own book, but I've got to put it up here because, to this day, some 4 years after initial publication, I am really proud of it. When I wrote this, with the amazing Rebecca Odes, we were still very much in the throes of pregnancy and all-nighter baby care. And I think that's part of what makes this book particularly unique and compelling-- we really felt for our readers. We knew what it was like to feel pressured to do this or do that; to have moments where all the "choices" felt more like opportunities for failure than our ticket to parenting freedom. We understood what it felt like to hear "dude, get an epidural" from one friend and, "undisturbed birth is empowering" from another. We tried our best to present the many ideas about birth and baby-care in one place, without judgment.
  • by Sheila Kitzinger 5 of 7
    by Sheila Kitzinger
    Bottom Line: Kitzinger is one of the very best in the business of educating women about birth.

    Book available for purchase here.
    British grand dame of natural childbirth Sheila Kitzinger has written and taught for decades on woman-centered birthing practices. This book—recently updated— is a classic; my mother handed me her small, faded, 1967 Penguin paperback when it was my turn. And, not surprisingly, a lot of the info still applied.
  • The Thinking Woman’s Guide To A Better Birth by Henci Goer 6 of 7
    The Thinking Woman's Guide To A Better Birth by Henci Goer
    Bottom Line: Required reading if you're hoping to avoid too many interventions.

    Book available for purchase here.
    I've heard some variation on the following story many times: "I got this book because I figured, I'm a 'thinking woman,' and boy did it make me think. I had NO idea... " Goer describes how birth works and offers ways to cope, but she also explains why excessive interventions can cause the very problems they're supposedly preventing. This book will make you look at the seemingly benign fetal monitor with a new perspective! If you're hoping for a relatively undisturbed or "natural" birth in a hospital setting, read this book to better understand how maternity care impacts birth.
  • Birthing From Within by Pam England 7 of 7
    Birthing From Within by Pam England
    Bottom Line: A crunchy birth book that's not just for crunchy people.

    Book available for purchase here.
    This is a classic Earth Mama birth book, with lots of activities and exercises to help women process their feelings about birth and becoming a mother. The surprising fact? Many Type A moms end up loving this book! . I think what's really important about the whole Birthing From Within approach is that birth and becoming a mother are treated not just as a medical, physical event but as a rite of passage.

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