catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 14 :: 2008.07.11 — 2008.07.25


Surviving your baby’s first year

A friend of mine asked me to sign up with an online book review site, because in my distant past—my pre-parenting past—I used to read literary novels and we would swap ideas and tomes. She wanted to glean recommendations from my list, so she sent me an invite.

As it goes, it took me a year or so to get around to signing up. By then I was firmly entrenched in my current culture of reading (a) parenting books and (b) light fiction. That's all I have time for, and that's all I have the brainpower for.

I think my (child-free) friend was sorely disappointed.

The good news is, I have quite a few parenting book recommendations to pass along. Since that's my topic of choice at this point in my life, with a baby who just turned one, I'll give you some good resources for making it through a baby's first year. (I'd feel too shy to recommend past that age, since that's all I've experienced.)

It was hard for me to narrow down my list, but I've tried to present a good selection here on a variety of specific issues as well as general parenting philosophy. Yes, my list leans a little unconventional, but give it a chance. Several of these books were really mind-blowing for me and changed what I had firmly believed or opened my eyes to ideas I hadn't even previously considered.

I read a lot of these books before I had my baby, which is a great idea, since you'll still have time and free hands then! That said, I decided to divide them up into time periods for when they would come in most handy, but feel free to read ahead, or play catch-up.

Also, I came to most of these books through online resources, such as forums, reviews, articles, and excerpts, so I've tried to include some links in case you want to research further before committing to reading a whole book in your limited time!


Books for Birthing

There were many books that helped me prepare for the birth: Henci Goer's The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth is a detailed, sometimes frightening look into the details of the birth industry; Mothering Magazine's Having a Baby, Naturally gave a good, all-purpose overview. But I'll concentrate on a couple others that really spoke to me and gave me strength for my own birth experience.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth was not a favorite of mine at first. It didn't have enough nitty-gritty as I began researching birthing options, and half the book is just women's experiences. "Just"! As my birthing date neared, I was drawn to those other women's stories, and I reread them all. They shared a common thread in that every birth was different! But they all spoke of peace, strength and joy, and they helped prepare me for the unknowable. Ina May Gaskin is one of the foremost, pioneering midwives in the United States, and she even has a midwifery technique named after her, and through her voice I sensed she is wise and warm, just like my midwives turned out to be.

HypnoBirthing, by Marie Mongan, got me started on my journey to a comfortable natural childbirth. I had assumed that an epidural would be my best friend, and as I researched more about hospital births and the interventions that take place there, I became sad that I seemed to have a narrow choice: peaceful birthing at home or a birth center with intense pain vs. hectic birth at a hospital with drugs to dull the contractions. When I first read about hypnosis for childbirth online, I felt a deep sense of relief—here was a way to have the best of both worlds. I actually went with Hypnobabies, which is another program but a similar method, but this book gave me a chance to try out some of the self-hypnosis techniques and offered a nice overview of the philosophy of natural birth as it should be—not a martyrdom, but a calm and joyous, empowering experience. The deep relaxation and visualization techniques helped me through 42 hours of back labor, all but the last three at home, and then a natural birth of my 11 lb. 13 oz. baby. So it's worth checking out, even if you're skeptical about hypnosis!


Reading for the Newborn Time

For the newborn phase or, as I call it, the worst parenting time ever (ha ha—love you, Corin), here are some books to get you through the bewilderment that comes with suddenly being handed a life form you're obligated to care for, and all on no sleep!

You really can't go wrong with any of the books by William or Martha Sears. Dr. Sears is known as the grandfather of attachment parenting, and the descriptively titled The Attachment Parenting Book will give you a good overview of the philosophy. Attachment parenting came about both as a personal response to the Searses' own high-needs baby and as a reaction against the detachment parenting that has been advocated at different times in Western society—attachment parenting is now much more in vogue, and for good reason. It recommends commonsense wisdom such as keeping your baby close to you day and night, breastfeeding on cue and responding to your baby's needs.

Another overview book is The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost, by Jean Liedloff. It's a little more didactic and idealized in tone, but it's an eye-opening philosophy of how to remain a person while becoming a parent and still respect your child's needs. It takes children seriously and gives a vision of making them an integral part of your life and tribe. It shows a dream of how you can continue your own, fulfilled life by fitting parenting into the way you already live, without controlling or neglecting your children. You can get a taste of the Continuum Concept through articles on Liedloff's site.

I think the books above can help parents tackle the biggest "issues" of babyhood, but in case you're looking for something more specific, here are some that helped me.



Don't be dumb like I was and wait to read The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer, by Dr. Harvey Karp. The techniques are most helpful for the first three months, when your baby's still a de facto fetus. Seriously, do yourself a favor and give Karp's Five S's a try.

Sleepless in America: Is Your Child Misbehaving…or Missing Sleep? by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, gives a good overview of the topic of sleep in general and has plenty for older kids as you look toward the future. I resonated with the whole idea that sleep is essential for being a calm and happy person, no matter how short or tall that person is.

If you need something more practical for the whole babyhood range, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley offers step-by-step tips to encouraging sleep.

All this said, the "philosophy" books I offered as a general introduction to parenting a baby really helped me not make sleep so much of an issue but just allow my son to be a baby and grow into adult sleep patterns in his own time.



It would be nice if breastfeeding were so normal and pervasive that no one needed to read a book on the subject, but as it stands, the act of nursing can be foreign and even overwhelming to a first-time mother.

The Breastfeeding Book by Martha Sears gives a good, practical guide to the basics of feeding your baby.  Dr. Jack Newman's The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers is much more comprehensive and might be more detailed than some would prefer. I include it here because I found it fascinating, even through the academic tone and oodles of facts. Certainly, if you're having any problems with breastfeeding, I would recommend it for searching for answers. You could skip to the relevant chapter as needed. Newman's take on breastfeeding is knowledgeable and matter-of-fact, and he seems to encourage breastfeeding to continue despite almost any obstacle. Dr. Newman has a site with videos and instructional handouts, and another helpful site, started by a breastfeeding mother, is

I haven't read this next one but have heard so many glowing reviews that I'll include it here. The Nursing Mother's Companion by nurse and lactation consultant Kathleen Huggins, has been helping mothers for over 20 years and has been recently updated. It includes an appendix on drug safety.



If you really want a new (old) idea, try Diaper Free: The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene by Ingrid Bauer, and learn how to do away with diapers altogether by responding to your child's cues for elimination. We do a mix of these methods and cloth diapering from a diaper service, which has been easy and respectful of our son and the environment. Here's an FAQ from Ingrid Bauer's site if you want to read more about this topic.


Preparing for the Journey Ahead

As my son moves into toddlerhood (although, technically, he's not yet toddling—more like scooting), I thought I should read ahead about that bugaboo parenting subject: discipline.

The book that most astounded and inspired me in this arena was Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn. Kohn has written extensively about the educational system, and this is his application of the principles he's seen at work (or not working at all) in the public schools brought to the parenting world. Instead of finding less objectionable methods of punishing (time-outs vs. spanking, for instance), Kohn challenges the very idea of punishment as something a loving parent would inflict on a child in his or her care. He spends an equal amount of time debunking the idea of rewards, whether that's money, stickers or a "Good job," showing through scientific research the detrimental effects of both punishments and rewards and that both, in the end, present a conditional love to children. Very interesting stuff if you're willing to wrap your mind around it. I first became introduced to Kohn through his website where he has posted many articles to give you a taste of his writings.

Some other books I'm currently reading that have been recommended multiple times are How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, which has good reminders on how to communicate with compassion and empathy—the way good adult friends do, rather than the condescending or instructional way adults often speak to children. Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté; speaks to the rising attachment of children to other children and how to bring them back into connection with parents by not segregating them from adult life. I have on the way Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming Parent-child Relationships from Reaction And Struggle to Freedom, Power And Joy by Naomi Aldort, and I've just picked up Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority, Without Punishment by Lynne Griffin, which teaches parents how to set up appropriate boundaries and calmly inspire your children to meet your expectations. I'll have to let you know how those two books turn out.


Need Something Lighter?

If you need something physically lighter to hold with one hand while nursing or bouncing, or something with shorter bits you can read in a spare moment, try Mothering Magazine. I've found it both informational and inspiring. The articles are well researched, the stories are touching and I love the uplifting, quality poetry throughout. I also have found it invaluable to be part of their online forums, to receive support and community from like-minded parents.

If you want something you can read online in a few minutes a day, sign up for Scott Noelle's Daily Groove e-mails. As with most of the authors above, he's not approaching parenting from a Christian point of view, but I've found his views on how children and parents can ideally interact refreshing, respectful and inspiring.


Now that I've recommended an armload or two of reading material, I should just mention that parenting is not all about research and following the experts. It is nice, though, to hear from some different perspectives and reexamine the way we've been raised or the way we've unthinkingly been doing things. That's what these books have done for me in my parenting journey so far. Listen to your heart and your children as you pursue your own growth as a parent.

The good news is that, as a whole, these books have advocated a gentle, natural, less frantic approach to parenting than having a whole reading list might suggest. They recommend trusting your instincts, going about your daily life, respecting yourself and your children, working with your child's God-gifted nature, forgiving mistakes and building relationship. There's no need to spend a lot of money on specific gadgets; there's no need to torture yourself or your babies trying to train them into a certain mold.

Speaking of money, my library has all these books, plus the magazine, and the online and e-mail resources are free. Hope you find a quiet moment or two to read (or skim) some helpful books as you grow and learn as a parent!

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