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Top Five Childbirth Books

Between researching and writing a book on pregnancy and birth, and the two year course I took to become certified as a childbirth educator, I’ve read a lot of books about childbirth: textbooks, memoirs, rants, even a coloring book. But here are my absolute top five favorite books– not counting my own, of course– that are just straight-up good for childbirth preparation:

(in alphabetical order)

1. Spiritual Midwifery or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. Ina May Gaskin is somewhat of an iconoclast. She’s a lay midwife (self-taught) who has been delivering babies on her commune, The Farm, in rural Tennessee for decades and with outstanding results.

She has great stats; low c-section rates, little tearing, nary an episiotomy. Despite the fact that she’s a genuine hippie, her books fly off the shelves to readers who have little interest in birthing on a commune or even without an epidural. I think this is partly because her books make women feel confident that their bodies were meant to give birth. It may also have something to do with the fact that she can write; she earned a Masters in English Literature before becoming a midwife.

2. The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger. 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 a surprising amount of info still applied.

3. The Big Book of Birth by Erica Lyon. This book may be most useful for the modern, American woman preparing for birth. It’s really up-to-date with the research and clear on how to navigate the current hospital system. The book also does a good job describing birth from beginning to end; Lyon goes through the stages of labor in great depth, getting right into what’s going on physically, emotionally and offering up lots of different ways to cope. She uses the phrase “range of normal” all the time, to remind readers that there is no “textbook birth” and help them stay open-minded. Full disclosure: I taught at Lyon’s “Real Birth” education center in Manhattan for some time.

4. Birth Reborn by Michel Odent. Love this book!! But good luck finding it; it’s been out of print for years. (Second hand copies are sometimes on Amazon.) I still have to recommend it. It’s the story of how a surgeon– Odent– was put in charge of a labor and delivery hospital in a small French town without  much prior experience in the area of non-surgical birth. Following the lead of the midwives and his own adventurous spirit, he created a new kind of birthing center: low beds, jacuzzis, breezy, clean, spare, lots of lovely supportive sage femmes around. What I take most from Odent is his notion of how intimate birth is; how important it is to have the dim lights, lack of distraction, privacy and focus. The only thing that freaks me out about this book is that the pictures are all of gorgeous, young, French women– think Bridget Bardot in a squat– who seem to have already entirely “bounced back” from pregnancy before the placenta is even out. The picture above is my own torn up second-hand copy.

5. The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. It’s meant for the labor support person, but both partners can read this. Simkin is great at describing the way women react and cope with labor. She talks a lot about “rituals” and how women get into these repetitive, ritualistic coping rhythms. Swaying, moaning, rocking, pacing and how important it is that the birth partner identify what she’s doing and help her do it.

What are your favorites?

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