Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Book review: Pregnancy books

I had been reading online articles for months when I got pregnant, but I am a reader and a researcher and once I really was pregnant, I started building something of a library of pregnancy books. I never picked up a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, as I was told that a lot of the book would just terrify me. Instead I asked friends for recommendations and ended up with a half dozen books to occupy me over the past nine months (and one week!).

Your Pregnancy Week by Week (5th Edition)
Glade B Curtis, and Judith Schuler

This was one of the first pregnancy books I bought. A friend had it during her pregnancy a few years ago, and I began calling it "the fruit book" at that time, because when I would call her to ask how she was doing, she would always tell me "This week the baby is the size of a grape" (or a strawberry, or a plum, or a peach), because each week the book gives you something to compare the size of your baby to. My favorite thing about this book is explained in its title: "week by week." This book gives you something new to read with each week of your pregnancy. Most other books only give you an update every month, which I found frustrating, especially early in pregnancy, when I knew things were changing constantly. Not that reading about it really makes a difference--I was still anxious no matter how much I read--but at least it gave me something to do.

My least favorite thing about this book is that it takes a very medical view of pregnancy and childbirth. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised by that. After all, the cover does bill it as "the only best-selling guide written by a doctor." But other books I've read (including the Mayo Clinic guide listed below) take a more balanced view of out-of-hospital births. Is home birth safe? the authors ask in a text box on the subject. "By any doctor's standards, the answer is a resounding "No!" I am planning birth center birth, attending by a midwife, rather than a home birth, but I was still put off by this. The authors don't offer specific citations for the studies they mention that found home births risky. They also point out that risk of serious complications increases when a woman suffers from gestational diabetes or high blood pressure. They do not, in this section, mention that these women are at higher risk of complications in any birth setting, nor do they discuss whether home birth or birth center midwives will refer their clients to back-up physicians because of these higher risks. I do hope that in a future edition of the book, the authors will consider other research, including a 2005 study of low-risk women with planned home births, that found that the women had fewer interventions than similar women birthing in hospital settings and experienced similar outcomes.

Maybe it's strange of me to spend so much time thinking about half a page in a book, but this particular half page really stood out to me. Still, I found the book helpful overall, and I have recommended it to other pregnant women.

The Pregnancy Book
William Sears and Martha Sears

I confess that I have drunk the Dr. Sears Kool-Aid. And while I haven't yet had my baby, so I can't attest to his parenting advice, I have enjoyed the Kool-Aid so far. The Sears' philosophy of attachment parenting appeals to me, and I found their pregnancy book offered a more balanced perspective on pregnancy and birth options. I did not feel that they were pushing readers toward natural childbirth or judging those who opt for other alternatives. This book does only offer monthly snapshots, which I found frustrating at times. I do think it has a good index and makes a good reference book, though, so that even if you're experiencing something that's not discussed in your current month, it is easy to find what you're looking for.

This is another book that cites studies without actually citing the studies. The authors offer some numbers from studies to offer support for some of their claims, but they don't tell me where to go find the studies to read them for myself. As someone who really likes research and numbers, it hurts my heart to not have access to some of the details of the statistics they are quoting. I mean, at least give me the z-scores or something.

The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy
Vicki Iovine

This book was perhaps the least practical, in most senses, of all the books I read, but I did find it helpful. It's not helpful if you are having some concerns about something medical going on. It's great, though, if you want to laugh about pregnancy and hear some practical advice about what other women have experienced. And I didn't have the issue with wanting something more of a bibliography, because it's not the kind of book to offer up many studies to begin with.

The Expectant Father
Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash

I bought this book for Brian after reading some reviews on Amazon. He had been asking our midwife about books on becoming a father. He apparently meant actual parenting books, but I was unclear on what he was talking about at the time. Both of us did end up reading and liking this book. It doesn't go into a lot of detail on more medical aspects of pregnancy, but that was fine. They begin each chapter (one for each month) with lists of what your partner is experiencing physically and emotionally, a section on what's happening with the baby, and then a discussion on what's going on for the father. I found the sections on what the partner (that's me!) is experience to be fairly accurate, and what it listed for what the father was experiencing seemed reasonable to me. But the book also included more practical advice that isn't in the books targeted to women, such as a discussion of different types of life insurance and some information on various college savings accounts. I suppose these sections are in this book because it is aimed at men, and these are traditionally things that men deal with. Plus, it could give expectant fathers something to do while their partners gestate (that's a fancy word for nap and eat). But in our house I'm the one that generally handles that, so I found the information helpful in getting me thinking about what we needed to do (once I got over my momentary outrage that these people seemed to think it was my husband's responsiblity to deal with these things). And it got my mind of the gestating for a while.

As for the book's balance between "medical" and "alternative" practices during pregnancy and childbirth, I felt the authors did a fairly good job. Their discussion of issues such as out-of-hospital birth and natural childbirth methods didn't strike me as at all judgemental. It's also not a book that's heavy on the statistics and research, so I don't think it would help anyone make a decision about this sort of thing, but it does offer a way to start thinking about what you want to do.

Complete Book of Pregnancy and Baby's First Year
Mayo Clinic

A friend sent me a link to a State Farm website where you could send in your name and address and get a free copy of this book (unfortunately, I have lost the link), so I think it was totally worth what I paid for it. And I think if I'd paid actual money for it, it would have been worth it too. I would weigh this heavy book on my kitchen scale, but that only goes up to five pounds, and I think this book is heavier than that. When the book arrived, I did start to read it through, but I found some sections too difficult to read--in the early days of pregnancy, I really was not emotionally prepared to read about birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities. But it was my reference book for any concerns I had about medical aspects of pregnancy, and when we were weighing whether to go ahead with theAFP (triple screen), this book had the best discussion of what the test would actually be able to tell us.

Husband-Coached Childbirth
Robert A. Bradley

Bradley's book isn't a traditional pregnancy book as the ones above are, but it's on my shelf and I thought I would include it here, since I washed down my Dr. SearsKool-Aid with a glass of Dr. Bradley's Kool -Aid. Not having been through birth yet, I can't attest to his method of childbirth, although I can say that I feel more confident going into this because of reading his book and taking his class. Bradley was one of the first doctors to advocate for the presence of fathers in the delivery room, something that I take for granted at this point. His book isn't really balanced. While he does recognize that some women really need an epidural or other interventions during birth, his goal is to have women get through birth drug-free. The book offers helpful tips for parents-to-be on exercises to help prepare the body for labor and details at what to expect during labor.

I would also like to note here that the workbook that you are given when you sign up for a Bradley course could use some serious editing. The typos in there made me twitch.


lynnerd said...

I know you must be anxious about this baby's arrival... I am too! Everytime there is a gap between your posts, I think you must be delivering Sticky. Then I saw your post this morning... AUGH! Still no Sticky.
My friends who had their baby at home recently said that the nuber one thing that has helped increase the safety of home births is soap. I believe it.

We're still rooting for you guys... :)

The Sister said...

reading makes me feel better too. Immediately after getting engaged I had 2 or 3 nervous breakdowns related to wedding stuff. Then a friend lent me 5 books on weddings. Suddenly I felt much better.