Maternity Reading

This post is not primarily about books on pregnancy, childbirth, and child care; I have read only one book on pregnancy (The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, which was pretty good) and no books so far on child care and development, although that may change. I have read a lot online, however, and that strikes me as a pretty good way to get information (from reputable sites, of course). The thing is, I much prefer to learn information and gather ideas as I need them, rather than trying to take in a lot of information all at once. Reading pregnancy and parenting books cover to cover doesn’t make as much sense to me as dipping into books or websites (primarily websites) now and then when I need them. It seems like a good way to avoid becoming completely overwhelmed. Also, I feel resentful and anxious about our culture of uptight parenting and want to participate in it as little as possible. So I’m not reading everything I can get my hands on and making plans and crafting parenting philosophies, etc., etc. I want to be as laid-back about this whole thing as possible (ha, ha — I know! it’s impossible! but let me live in my fantasy world while I can).

What I do want to think about, though, is the kinds of reading I might do after the baby is born, when I’m not getting much sleep and don’t have the ability to concentrate on anything serious. When I buy books, I tend to have my best reading self in mind, and I pick out ones that are fairly serious. It’s not that I don’t read lighter things, but I’m not as good at collecting them or planning for what I might want when I’m in the mood for it. So I’m wondering what books people would recommend as good to read after the baby is here. What do you turn to in those times when you aren’t concentrating well, have limited time and face frequent interruptions? Obviously, it doesn’t take a parent to answer this question, just a sense of what is good for the general situation. Any thoughts?


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41 responses to “Maternity Reading

  1. I’ve just sent Buddhism for Mothers to my sister-in-law after her baby was born. It’s the parenting book I wish I’d had. Otherwise, thinking of non-parenting books, have you read the Ladies Detective Agency series? That is lovely and light.

    • Charlotte — thanks for the recommendation. Buddhism for Mothers sounds like just the kind of parenting book I would like to read. I haven’t yet read the Ladies Detective Agency, and it looks like I will need to!

  2. No children, so I can’t be much personal help, but my friend Helen read through the entire Deverry Cycle by Katharine Kerr during Edie’s first six months. There were some very long nights!

  3. For how NOT to parent, I recommend King Lear and The Tempest. /nod But the LDA suggested above sounds fun!

  4. Laila

    After I had my son, I couldn’t read more than a page or two at a time for about 3 weeks. SO EXHAUSTED. I keep a book journal, and the first book I finished post-baby was about 4 or 5 weeks after he was born. I normally read 1-2 books per week. I recommend something light but not brainless; the books I chose for that time were the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith. Give yourself permission to indulge literary guilty pleasures – or (gasp!) not to read at all for a while.

  5. Rohan

    I second the Ladies Detective Agency recommendation – they are light, yes, but with enough interest and substance to be worth reading. I did a fair amount of rereading during that phase, including my ‘comfort’ authors like Anne Tyler (also not hard to read but still rewarding). That’s still what I do when things are stressful or distractions are frequent. I wonder if books of letters or other collections that consist of relatively short parts would be good: someone gave me the Oxford Book of Letters, for instance, which looks to be full of goodies. I confess that for me, the first months after the babies were born was also a time when I watched a lot of TV. When I read that I might be nursing up to 12 times a day, somehow I didn’t connect that with the other comments that nursing might take 30 minutes or more at times–that’s a lot of time per day when you’re kind of inert, and for me, TV (endless Law & Order reruns….) helped me stay patient! Netflix may be your friend.

    • Rereading is an excellent idea. I’ll have to look over my shelves and see what appeals. I hadn’t thought about the total time spent nursing per day — that’s a lot! It might be an excellent time to watch all those TV shows I’d like to try but don’t have time for now.

  6. A friend of mine who’s a pretty big reader swore by audiobooks when she was nursing.

    The best book I’ve ever read about motherhood is Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions. It’s funny and an easy read, but raw and serious too. I’m not a mother, but I loved it, and I know several women who are mothers who said it spoke to them in those early years.

  7. I think your attitude is excellent in finding information when you feel you need it. I know how hard it can be to be balance being prepared with not feeling overwhelmed.

    Contrary to expectation, my first few months of motherhood was when I really started reading serious literature, thanks to very long breastfeeding sessions and the drive to not let my mind go to mush — I was craving something to challenge me, focus my mind, engage in something non-baby. So you may be surprised by what you feel up for.

    You may want to gather up some old favourite comfort reading, or brush up on children’s classics.

    • Isabella — interesting that you took the opposite approach of what I am expecting. I can see how it would be satisfying to turn to meaty books instead of away from them. You are right — who knows what I will actually want!

  8. Matthew

    I enjoyed Alison Gopnik et al.’s The Scientist in the Crib: each chapter is fairly discrete, and it was fun to get a sense of what my mysterious infant son would likely learn and how.

  9. I love Bardiac’s comment.

    I’m not a mother either, but as someone who has needed a lot of light reading for poor concentration since I became unemployed, mysteries have been a real blessing. Hazel Holt, who was friend and biographer to Barbara Pym, has the Mrs. Malory series. Malory writes articles or papers focusing on literary criticism from her English village, and there are about twenty books now. Anne Perry’s Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series is incredibly well-written, lots of historical fact woven into the plots, and Charlotte and Thomas have one of the healthiest and coolest marriages in most of the books I’ve read.

    For non-mysteries, some of the Bloomsbury vintage books look light and witty, as does the “Diary of a Provincial Lady” series, & Miss Read (similar in mood to the Anne of Green Gables books, I think). Daddy Long Legs & Dear Enemy (the sequel) by Jean Webster, given to me by Emily, were also amazingly fun and light-hearted. Kept turning pages to the end, and then I wanted to go back to the beginning and start over.

    • Debby — thanks for the recommendations! I can see myself turning to mysteries, and I’m glad to get some information on good series out there. I’ll send Hobgoblin out to the library to get the latest in whatever series I’m reading while I nurse the baby :) I have Diary of a Provincial Lady, but haven’t read it yet, so that’s perfect.

  10. I think you are so wise not to immerse yourself in all the parenting books out there. Babies do teach you as you go along! I was at the start of my PhD when my son was born, so I didn’t have a lot of choice for reading. I don’t recommend the heavy stuff in the early months, that’s for sure! I wonder whether it might be nice to take the opportunity to reread some books you’ve loved in the past. There is something very comforting about rereading – no rush to get to the end!

    • Litlove — what a challenge that must have been to be doing all that heavy grad school reading with a little one! I have found myself wanting to reread, and this would be the perfect opportunity, as you say.

  11. I think you have a very wise approach. I was going to say exactly the same recommendations as Teresa: Ann Lamott’s and audiobooks while nursing (the other option is to have a sturdy paperback with a strong spine because I had only one free hand).

    • Smithereens — you bring up a good point; it does matter what shape the book comes in, if I’m nursing or holding a baby! I wonder if my Nook would be easy to hold and change the pages with one hand. I’ll have to investigate.

  12. I had a pile ready to go to the hospital this time around, but ended up rereading all the Georgette Heyers on my kindle instead. I still haven’t read the last Diana Wynne Jones I saved especially for the hospital.

    With #1 I got caught up on Harry Potter.

    p.s. Books on child-rearing: Our Babies Ourselves talks about how Western Culture influences what we do and how there are many other ways to raise a baby and they’re all fine, just different. Lots of neat research and took away my fears. Similarly, Diaper Free Before Three is packed with excellent research on how the standard guidelines for potty-training are bunk (they were developed by T. Barry Brazelton who was working for Pampers), and how starting at pretty much any other age than the “signs of readiness” will be a lot less stressful. is great for nursing advice, but if you’re also working, Working Mother Nursing Mother has some information that’s missing in kellymom about things like pumping.

    • Georgette Heyer is a great recommendation, and I have a couple unread ones lying around. I’ll have to stock up books on my Nook, as it sounds like it might be convenient to read that way. Thanks for the recommendations on child-rearing; I like the idea of getting a more global perspective on the subject. I will certainly investigate the potty-training book and the websites — thanks!

  13. I don’t have kids but it seems to me a smart thing to not get wrapped up in reading pregnancy and parenting books. As for what to read after baby is here and you are sleep deprived, seems like a good time for favorite comfort reads and good plot heavy thrillers without too many characters to keep track of.

    • Stefanie — I’m glad you and others agree with my strategy. Reading tons of books on the subject sounds like a great way to become hugely anxious right?

      • Most of the books on parenting aren’t based on research or facts, just unproven theories. Most of them play on maternal guilt in order to sell copies. Some of them (like early editions of Babywise) have actually given dangerous advice. So yeah, relying on your instincts rather than what a book tells you is a lot less anxiety-provoking (Ironically, it took Our Babies, Ourselves with its putting everything into context for me to figure that out).

    • Ugh, I definitely want to stay away from books that play on maternal guilt. I’m so happy with these comments because they have given me a positive direction to go in when I’m finally ready to read books about parenting.

  14. I’m sure you can find all kinds of advice for expectant mothers informing you what to expect while expecting, all the info…etc. I myself had also read quite a few such books during pregnancy. But I believed a more spiritual preparation for myself was needed, and in maintaining a restful spirit and a serene disposition. Further, I was also convinced that the baby inside me could hear my voice. So, during my pregnancy, I read out the Psalms from the Bible, one per day. Also, I played the piano, soothing classical music. ;)

    • What a nice thing to do! I like the idea of reading the Psalms. I think I’m at or close to the point where the baby can hear me (although maybe not sounds from the outside), so I’d like to start reading to him/her.

  15. It looks like you’ve gotten lots of good reading suggestions. I can’t help with anything reading-wise on parenting, though I think you are smart in your approach. As for escapist reads–mysteries are usually my choice when I need something really absorbing, and I like the idea of rereads–picking up books you know you read and liked and would want to revisit. Maybe short stories would be another good option? They don’t always require a serious time investment. Or maybe P.G. Wodehouse? I’ve been eyeing his books myself!

    • Danielle — I’m sure I’ll read quite a few mysteries next year, and I’m looking forward to that. Short stories are a good possibility, although I sometimes feel pressure to get to the end of them in one sitting, whereas a novel can be interrupted at any point. So strangely enough, novels seem better to me for short periods of reading time. But still, short stories would provide a nice feeling of accomplishment much more quickly! Wodehouse is a great idea.

  16. Such a good question – I read the weirdest stuff after my daughter was born, stuff I don’t usually read but which worked really well for those middle-of-the-night moments of being awake. Like Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and mysteries.

    Totally silly purchase recommendation – do you have a Thumb Thing Book Page Holder? It’s this little plastic ring you wear on your thumb and enables you to hold a paper back with one hand. My mother-in-law gave me one years ago, and I used it ALL THE TIME to read while holding a newborn.

  17. Congratulations on your news – I must have missed the original post! May I recommend The Blue Jay’s Dance ( an offbeatf diary of a birth year) by Louise Erdrich. I only wish I’d read it during and after my own pregnancies – only discovered it many years later!

  18. Oh. My. Gosh. Thank you for posting this. I am also (17 weeks) pregnant, and I have been having ALL of these same thoughts. I especially agree with you about what you call “uptight parenting.” This is one reason I’ve stayed away from the mommy blogs so far. :)

    But I have also been thinking about what I’ll read when the baby’s born. Will I have time? Energy? Attention span? And I’ve been thinking about what, when, and how to start reading to the baby. I’m so grateful you wrote this post and that there are so many helpful comments from others! I am lucky I get to benefit from your work. Take care!

    • Brookebove — congrats! You are only a couple weeks behind me. I hope you are having a great time and enjoying it :) I think about reading to the baby too, and I’ll probably do it right from the beginning, even if the baby has no idea what I’m doing. It makes sense to start good habits early, right?

  19. CJ

    I’m late to the party (I just found your blog today through one of Teresa’s reviews Shelf Love), but I want to second (third?) Our Babies, Our Selves. It was incredibly eye-opening to see just how much culture influences the way we parent whether we think it does or not. With my first, I was too tired and too frazzled to read much. I would dip into The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding for comfort on occasion (it’s written in a style that I found very comforting and empowering compared to the “instruction manual” style that’s so pervasive), but didn’t read much else for months after her birth. When my second was born, I was in the middle of John Crowley’s Little, Big, which was a weird one made weirder with all of the sleep deprivation. My favorite reads for that early post-partum period were all of Jane Austen’s books. It was lovely to curl up with <Sense and Sensibility or Northanger Abbey while nursing my little guy late at night (I nursed him side-lying in bed and used a book light to see my book after my husband insisted that he couldn’t sleep with the bedside lamp on).

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