babies for beginners
September 2, 2007 6:16 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite resources for a (clueless) first-time pregnant couple?

After passing the home test this morning, I'm yearning to find that middle ground where we are adequately informed to make healthy decisions, but not as terror-stricken as the obsessiveness on Parents magazine and some prey-on-the-fears-of-expectant-mothers magazines, articles and forums I've read. I find I just don't trust advice delivered with a barrage of pop-up ads and pernicious marketing. Of COURSE we are headed to the BabyDoc as soon as posible, and will get all the proper medical counseling, but in the meantime I'm looking for book, website, forum and any other suggestions the Hive might have found useful, calming, enlightening, and/or any anecdotal advice about managing some of the rocky points, how to celebrate when champagne is verboten, the things you wish someone had told you, etc.

Anonymous because it's so early that we haven't shared the news with friends and family (some of whom are fellow Mefites) or employers (and you never know when they're watching), and we'd like to save the surprise.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
What to Expect When You are Expecting.

Read it.
posted by caddis at 6:28 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

My wife and I are trying for our first, and we have a lot of books (including the one caddis mentioned) that have been given to us by select friends that know we are trying.

posted by Big_B at 6:46 PM on September 2, 2007

The best advice I can aim you towards can be found at the very beginning of the Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care:

"Relax. You know more than you think you do."
posted by jquinby at 6:51 PM on September 2, 2007

I love and used it for each of my three pregnancies. What I liked was the "week by week" information that it gave - for example, it would explain what's going on in week 6 of the pregnancy - how big the fetus is, how mom might be feeling, things dad can do. Just a lot of useful and fun information there. I also loved Mothering magazine. It's a more natural approach to things.

posted by Sassyfras at 6:52 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


We signed up for a bunch of the weekly emails from the various major baby websites. They were kind of fun. ("Your baby is the size of a garbanzo bean today!")

Really good discussion boards at &

I didn't like "What to Expect When You are Expecting". "Your Pregnancy Week-by-week" is also one I'd avoid. Every week they tell you developmental things & follow it up with something horrible that could happen. In general, I found less paranoia-inducing info online. My favorite book was "A Child is Born".
posted by belladonna at 6:54 PM on September 2, 2007

Actually, I've been told (I'm pregnant too) to avoid "What To Expect" by many people, including my doctor. Evidently it mentions many problems that *may* occur, that some consider scaremongering.
posted by pinky at 7:08 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dr. Sears Baby Book

My wife has hung out at the Amity Mama forums since she was pregnant with our first. While it seems to have the typical forum noise, it has been a good resource for our more hippy-leaning child needs, cloth diapers. attachment parenting and the like.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 7:10 PM on September 2, 2007

First-time dad here putting in a vote for The Birth Partner. OK, the part where they explain how to deliver the baby in the car if necessary is a little scary, but overall it's on the "how to be supportive" not "how to prevent your baby's near-inevitable catastrophe" side of things.
posted by escabeche at 7:12 PM on September 2, 2007

If you really want "What To Expect" -- and I've also heard that you probably don't -- don't buy it new, just go to any random garage sale. Odds are they'll have it.
posted by xil at 7:13 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

The book that stands out in my mind is Babysense, but that I think is more about what to do when the baby gets there. Hard to remember, really, since our baby turned 20 this month...
posted by Doohickie at 7:21 PM on September 2, 2007

Your husband (and you) should read Armin Brott's The Expectant Father (he has expanded it into a series -- The New Father, The Toddler Father, etc.). The only decent book aimed at fathers I could find when my wife was pregnant (7 years ago now). Also, the best baby naming book is Puffy, Xena, Quentin, Uma by Joal Ryan. Probably needs an updated edition, as it was already slightly dated in 2001, but it is fun to read and provides great advice about picking names that sound like the popular ones, but are not quite so trendy.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:23 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite] is good. A little crunchy, but a wealth of information. has a lot of good stuff there. There is a hardcover version, but I think their board is more up to date. is a Godsend. Bookmark it. NOW. Even after almost 5 years, I still go back to check it as a reference point. Any of the Elizabeth Pantley books are great, as is the "Happiest Baby on the Block" by Harvey Karp. Immeasurably valuable if for nothing else besides learning how to swaddle.

I *really* didn't like the "What to Expect" books. I found them to be pretty alarmist and dated. I much preferred the "Mother of All Pregnancy Books".

An awesome book for breastfeeding is one called "So That's What They're For". Also, check out

There is SOOOO much information out there. Take your time, you have much longer than you think, and it really doesn't all happen at once. Once you're out of the woods, and halfway through the 2nd trimester, you can pretty much stop holding your breath and start 'planning' (not to freak you out, but I've been down the infertility track, and also have had too many friends experience big bumps in the road to kiddo land). If you've never been around babies, I highly suggest taking one of those weekend parenting classes your hospital offers.

I will tell you right now. It is all purely overwhelming. There is no if, ands, or buts about it. You can expect to have to address a blizzard of questions and decisions ranging from: do you want to know the sex of the baby? Do you want to do prenatal testing - what do you plan to do if things aren't 100% ok (some people are cool with that, others aren't - that's something that is exclusively yours to determine)? Cloth dipes or disposables? Circumcision or no? Breastfeeding or no? Formula feeding or only EBM (expressed breast milk)? What kind of bottles, etc.? Pacifier or thumb? Co-sleeping or crib or a variation in-between? Vaccinations, no vax or vax on an extended schedule?

Sure. All this is stuff that you will need to think about one day. But for now. Sit back. Enjoy the miracle that is conception. Look forward to those first kicks, seeing that heartbeat on that ultrasound monitor, watching your wife's belly bloom with life. It is truly a beautiful thing.

You might want to check out a website called It's an ongoing collection of photos and essays by and about mothers and mothers-to-be. All shapes and sizes. Some happy with what God has dealt them; others, well, not so much. Still, it's all fascinating.

It's quite a club we are. A camaraderie that is truly without definition or explanation until you enter into it. Congratulations to you and your wife. I wish you a healthy and happy pregnancy. Please feel free to email me (in my profile) if you have any questions. I have two daughters - one is almost 3, the other almost 5. I'm happy to answer whatever I can. :)
posted by dancinglamb at 7:25 PM on September 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seconding The Mother of All Pregnancy Books- the tone is upbeat and reassuring and it's chock full of useful and interesting information.
posted by ambrosia at 7:43 PM on September 2, 2007

It's not too soon to sign up for a PEPS group. Any other classes or activities (exercise, yoga, swimming) with other expectant parents will get you in touch with a great support group.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:48 PM on September 2, 2007

Realize that humanity has been having babies for far longer than it could write. Not that we haven't figured out better things since then, but in the end, having kids is what evolution demands, you'd figure by this time, we'd be good at it.

If you wanted a child, I give you my heartiest congratulations. If you didn't, I wish you the wisdom to make the right choice for you.
posted by eriko at 7:58 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is 100% a self-link, but here I go: I wrote this. (I don't get royalties, so I don't benefit financially from any sales.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:04 PM on September 2, 2007

Annie Lamott's Operating Instructions.
Janet Tamaro's So That’s What They’re For!
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:07 PM on September 2, 2007

What about your parents? I figure they've gone through it before, and so may be a reasonable source of real-life experience.
posted by that girl at 8:36 PM on September 2, 2007

Especially fun during pregnancy: slider tool thingy that shows baby growth in the uterus. (I always broke this one out when my husband rolled his eyes if I complained about sciatica or heartburn.)

Eye Color Calculator.

"A researched-based timeline for how your child develops in the first five years" Useful since day one. I check it before each well-baby visit to see what sorts of things the kid should be up to around now.

The Nursing Mother's Companion. I didn't put this book down for about 5 months. And after that it was still within reach. for when you have a cold or upset stomach and want to know what you can take.

I couldn't take much of but was always over at the message boards at for immediate feedback on parenting issues. (It has multiple boards divided into baby ages - expecting, newborn, toddler, etc.). It is tiresomely NYC-centric, and often biting, but I learned more from those ladies than I did from my OB, midwife and pediatrician combined. It's since been sold to some conglomerate and I haven't visited in a while so I don't know what the tenor is any more.

posted by cocoagirl at 8:53 PM on September 2, 2007 [3 favorites] and were great resources for me, before and after I had my first baby. What to Expect When You're Expecting and Your Pregnancy Week-by-Week caused tremendous anxiety. I am now less than a month away from having my second baby and I have not so much as looked at either of those two fear-mongering books this time. Avoiding them has helped significantly. All those books did was make me worry non-stop.
posted by acoutu at 9:14 PM on September 2, 2007

Bun in the Oven by Kaz Cooke is very easy to read through and touches on all the important information without getting spooky. (It's also called "Up the Duff" in Australia and NZ)
posted by slightlybewildered at 1:38 AM on September 3, 2007

"What to Expect" is science-free, fear-mongering claptrap that explains how to be frightened of your pregnancy, and a compliant little patient when it comes to any BS an old-school OB might want to sic on you. DON'T.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth is a must-read. The above-mentioned "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books" is quite readable (ditto "The Mother of All Baby Books"). See also anything by Sheila Kitzinger, Dr Sears' books...


Dr Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding is fantastic.

Beware some of "all the proper medical counseling." Bookmark (and for passwords to some of that) and question the whole pregnancy-industrial complex. There isn't much point at all to a lot of stuff that many American women think is part of good prenatal care. Peeing on a stick every week, getting weighed, having a doctor "check" you internally -- those things do not lead to better birth outcomes (but sometimes lead to worse). A relaxed, hands-off, low-intervention practitioner is a must. (See Questions to Ask When Choosing a Hospital, Doctor, Birth Center or Midwife.) Worth printing out: Evidence based guidelines for midwifery care in labour (.doc file).

Re. "champagne is verboten" -- lies lies lies. The evidence is clear that there is no apparent risk to a child when the pregnant woman consumes no more than one drink per day. ...pregnant women have no reason to fear drinking a glass of wine every day, & the 1st hit on Google Scholar for "light drinking pregnancy."

Question the whole crappy bill of goods people are going to try to sell you. The food scare-mongering is particularly silly; see 'Being pregnant and receiving unscientific advice go hand in hand' for a start.

"Calming" = outdated pregnancy/birth/baby books. If you see something at a book fair that your mother or grandmother might've read, grab it. Much of the stuff that will now OMG KILL UR FETUS was beneficial for the baby not all that many years ago. Reminding yourself of that helps, I find, in decreasing the general freak-out, I-know-nothing panic. The "experts" don't really know much, either -- and yet women and babies keep thriving.

(If you like feeling indignant, pick up The American Way of Birth.)

Good luck. I had to interrupt this to go and tend to a two-week-old, and while I'm not terribly gaga over the whole pregnancy and birth part, I can assure you that the end result is fantastic.
posted by kmennie at 4:10 AM on September 3, 2007 [4 favorites]

Don't read too many parenting books. They can give you the impression that parenting is just a skill and then when things work differently than you think they should, you do something wrong. Then you feel frustrated, because in those books everything always works, and you wonder why it doesn't work for you.

Every baby is different and it is impossibe to know how yours will be. Don't compare him/her to others. Also: don't compare yourself to other parents.

Do read about breastfeeding (or go to a La Leche League meeting for pregnant couples, if that's your thing). It is such a natural thing, but because you probably do not live in a country where you have lots of breastfeeding neighbours and friends, it is good to have some info, so that you don't fall in the "I tried it and it just did not work" trap.

Don't worry too much, but do make sure you eat a healthy diet. Just the common sense things: eat your fruits and veggies and don't eat trans fats. Don't freak out over things though and read kmennies post, especially the The "experts" don't really know much, either -- and yet women and babies keep thriving.
posted by davar at 5:44 AM on September 3, 2007

The only absolute advice we ever give expectant couples is to avoid the temptation to know the baby's sex beforehand.


It's the single greatest surprise you two will ever give each other. Don't go spoiling it just because you want the room decorated perfectly.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:57 AM on September 3, 2007

Have you considered using a midwife? If it's an option I really recommend it.

The reason so many people buy these books is that we are isolated from children and childbirth in the work-world, the other side of that is that having children can be very isolating: make some friends with children now. They probably have lots of good advice, better than some author you've never met and have no real reason to trust.

Do either of you have a 'career'? Be prepared to be forced to choose between your kid and your career: how will you respond?
posted by geos at 7:20 AM on September 3, 2007

I would not get What To Expect When You're Expecting because you'll feel like you're doing everything WRONG. Same with Your Pregnancy Week by Week (I bought that one to see the progress every week, but has the same info and doesn't freak you out as much).

The books that have been most helpful for us: The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth (if nothing else, just get this one so you're better prepared for labor), Bun in the Oven (cutsie, doesn't talk down to you), and The Mayo Clinic Guide to Pregnancy.

When you're pregnant, you will snore. Plan for alternative sleeping arrangements. Make a registry in your fourth month - people will be asking for it that early. Don't buy anything until the seventh month (seriously - you'll get a lot of gifts) unless it's something you really can't resist or you will be eschewing baby showers altogether OR you will have baby showers after the baby's birth. Save your money between now and then because baby stuff can be expensive. Sign up for Babies R Us coupons, Target coupons. The formula sites have signups where they send coupons for things other than formula. has been good to find out where to sign up for these things - you'll save a lot.

Start investigating (quietly) maternity leave at your workplace. FMLA for the dad for paternity (I assume USA). Plan ahead and start saving money if you don't get paid leave (most American places don't offer that). Find out about short term disability and if that is offered and what the qualifications are.

Find out what hospitals you can deliver at through your insurance and sign up for a labor and delivery class and a parenting class (don't forget the tour of the birth area!) for the seventh month or so. Look into hiring a midwife or doula.

Being pregnant makes you exhausted. If this is your first, this is your one time to actually nap and rest when you're this tired. For your second (if there is one), you'll not be able to rest up as much. So nap when you're tired!

Find a place to swim. A gym, a community center, whatever. Swimming has been a lifesaver for me because it's helped reduce water retention, sciatic nerve pain (oh how that sucks), and just feels better on my hips and back.

Congratulations! :)

(I'm due early November. This is my brain dump of things I wished I knew when I first found out I was pregnant.)
posted by schnee at 7:56 AM on September 3, 2007

I liked - more their tools and articles than the discussion boards.

I also found What to Expect... alarmist.

And actually, I rather like Parenting magazine and find it pretty balanced, but that's just my opinion.

Good luck!
posted by mazienh at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2007

Congratulations! Mrs. and I are at 29 weeks with our first, so we haven't gone through the birth process yet, but have some quite recent experience to share.

First, your ob visit won't be until at least six weeks (ours was nine). We went to our doctor for the blood test (which was sent on to the ob) and an overall checkup. Take folic acid and a prenatal - bring them to your first ob visit. If they make you sick, try taking them before bed vs. in the morning.

Second, start a list of questions. As you've discovered, there's tons of info out there, some conflicting and most confusing. Let common sense guide. We have had good success with trying to bring three questions to the ob at each visit, everyone's pregnancy is different and your ob will have the best answers with your full profile in hand.

Third, you have a couple of options for celebrations - we've found that sparkling cider works well (they have pear and blood orange as well as apple, read the label first). Water with lemon and a touch of honey works okay as a hot drink - bland but innocuous!
posted by DakotaPaul at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2007

First time parents of a 3-month old here...

Someone mentioned "A Child is Born" but didn't explain what it was about. It's not a typical "instruction book", it uses amazing in utero photography techniques to capture what's happening to your baby (and you) over the nine months.

As others have said, the "Mother of All..." series of books are excellent, probably the best the Mrs. Jaybo read (and she read a lot!)

For the ultimate in clueless first time parents, The Poo Bomb is a weekly series of columns about a new father's first year with his baby. It's archived online and was also made into a book. Very funny if your humour runs that way but also has lots of good insights about what to expect.

Web Sites
Something I don't think was mentioned was the value of finding a message board specifically for your geographic region. Most cities will have one and they can prove invaluable for tips about what's happening locally and giving you a circle of people going through the same thing that are near you. We heard about one in our city that's members-only and required a recommendation from an existing member to join via word of mouth.

The weekly e-mails about your baby's in utero development from BabyGaga are fun, informative and something to look forward to each week.

Other Tips
Pre-natal classes are very worth it. (Do NOT sleep through the class on c-sections! We found out the hard way that sometimes they happen even when you're not planning on one.)

People get pretty militant about breastfeeding and we'll lump ourselves in that camp. There really is nothing better for your baby so try your best to make it work and don't give up easily - it isn't going to be automatic and can be one of the hardest things to do at first when you're exhausted and frustrated. But it does get easier with every day that goes by. La Leche League will give you help for free, even if you don't join. (A lactation consultant may cost you big bucks.)

To Sum Up
Congratulations! For all of the milestones in life, the biggest by far is "before I had kids" and "after I had kids". Everything else (driver's license, graduations, marriage) will pale in comparison.

It's also important to remember that you will receive lots of advice - all of it well-meaning, all of it up to you to take or leave (including this post!). Someone once told me "There are no good or bad choices in life - only choices." Within reason, that's something worth keeping in mind.

That same person (a wise old aunt) also had another good line "Remember: The baby's joining your life, you're not changing your life for the baby."
posted by Jaybo at 9:26 AM on September 3, 2007

it isn't going to be automatic and can be one of the hardest things to do at first

I read so much stuff like that I just stopped reading, and put that I did "not require information on breastfeeding at this time" in the birth plan. All the "ooh, it's hard" made me neurotic, and the best thing I did was get back to my previous attitude of "I've got breasts and the baby will have a mouth, right? Simple."

And...and my baby did have a mouth, and the whole thing's been not just hassle-free but pleasant. It was automatic, and I really question how much the whole breastfeeding industry is making new mums think it isn't, making them expect problems, making them neurotic, and thus providing the problems. I grieve for the mothers who do run into difficulty, but I am suspicious about how common that purportedly is.

Anyway. We were also amazed to read that the average newborn cries over 2 hours per day. Ours does not. A full-on scream is a rarity, and she is quickly soothed when she does have a little fuss.

Moral: you too may have a secure baby who likes the boob. Smile and nod at all the "Oh, god, it'll be hell at first!" stories. And boasting about how well-behaved your baby is probably sentences you to a month of colic and intense spitting up shortly after you boast, but no mind.
posted by kmennie at 9:55 AM on September 3, 2007

You're right - mothers have been breastfeeding for eons and in the days before formula and the breastfeeding industry, there weren't really other options so people just did it.

Of course, part of this is also that our whole culture has changed now so that breastfeeding is much less acceptable in general. (Remember the story of the subscribers to a parenting magazine who protested because the cover showed a breastfeeding baby?)

You're also right that lots of new mothers find it very natural, easy and straightforward. In fact, our experience was a fairly good one and not really the struggle our comments might have indicated it was.

It's just that we've had so many friends who were very pro-breastfeeding as well but we saw them give in after a few days of struggling to get a good latch or because of sore, cracked nipples or whatever.

So, if you are in the pro-breastfeeding camp, it's important to realise that it *might* be a bit more work than you expected at first, especially if you've had a hard labour and are tired and worn out.

I guess it's a bit of a perspective thing it better to think it'll be easy then risk giving up early if it turns out not to be. Or is it better to go in thinking it might be tough and then being pleasantly surprised when it's not?
posted by Jaybo at 10:40 AM on September 3, 2007

Not pregnant (yet) but I really like the calm, real tone, varied views, and general helpfulness of From the Hips. It's exactly what it says on the cover, and exactly what most other similar books aren't. The focus is on you and your relationship though, less on the baby, although all the basic important stuff is covered.
posted by crabintheocean at 4:10 PM on September 3, 2007

Hated the "What to Expect" book. I got most of my pregnancy info from the internet, and advice from my OB and friends.

The most important thing is to be a critical thinker. The thing that drove me mad about pregnancy was how ridiculously over-dramatic everything became, and how extreme all the views are. No-one ever seems to offer up some information with pros and cons and suggest that you decide what is best for you and your baby. Its all agenda-pushing and scaremongering and guilt-tripping. Don't fall for it. Its tiresome but you are going to have to read multiple viewpoints otherwise you will end up a gibbering wreck, scared to eat, drink or do anything.

I don't have a great pregnancy book recommendation, but I do love Baby Owners Manual. Its a great quick reference guide (and you will love the QUICK reference aspect :)
posted by Joh at 6:01 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would not get What To Expect When You're Expecting because you'll feel like you're doing everything WRONG.

Good Lord, have some confidence in yourself. They are about information, not making you feel good about yourself. The information is good, and accurate. True, most people have few complications, but if you have some you had better know about them as you are a better advocate for your baby than your doctor who spends five minutes with you. If it scares you, take a few deep breaths.
posted by caddis at 6:17 PM on September 3, 2007

Also, I strongly second The Nursing Mother's Companion, if you plan to breastfeed. I loved the link to the Poo Bomb, reading it now and I found this quote, which elegantly summarises the approach you should take to both pregnancy and parenting:
"My advice to you: Get several books. When you get confused, if all of the books tell you to do the same thing, believe it. If they tell you to do completely different things, someone (if not everyone) is talking out their ass. Do what you want."
posted by Joh at 6:23 PM on September 3, 2007

nth'ing Dr. Sears series of books, they're nice and informative without terrifying you. I swear that half of the things in "What to expect..." end in either "you and/or your baby are going to die" or "it's cancer." Some of the other books we read were too hippy-dippy sunshine and lollypops. Dr. Sears is a nice middle of the road.
posted by togdon at 8:18 PM on September 3, 2007

Consider a family practice doctor rather that an OB. They will be quicker to work with you and less likely to push for a more medicalized delivery. A doula can offer a lot of informed support. Congrats!
posted by pointilist at 9:42 PM on September 3, 2007

They are about information, not making you feel good about yourself. The information is good, and accurate.

The "information" is poorly-presented junk with no relationship to research.

It is an awful lot of "...if your practitioner still says no, it's best to heed his or her advice" no matter how bad the advice might be. Shut up and be a good little patient! And expect that your labour will be "managed." Note, for example, "...labor will likely begin in earnest within 24 hours. Either that, or your practitioner will start it for you within 24 hours." Or else! (No, s/he need not "start it for you," I promise...)

Given the opinions on "What to Expect" I heard from a GP, a midwife, a couple of OBs, etc, I now think it's also a barometer of how good a practitioner is. I'd worry about any professional who actually recommended it.

The "information" that isn't of the "shut up and accept that intervention" nature is risible, too. Got a craving for french fries? Try baked sweet potatoes! And sugar is poison, and... The dietary advice is suspect and the recipes hilariously bad.

The whole thing is misogynist garbage.

The quotation that Joh quotes is great. Do peek at pregnancy-related web sites from other countries; along those lines, if they're not doing it to women in Australia, they don't need to do it to you in N America.
posted by kmennie at 9:45 AM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend La Leche League as a trustworthy portal to all sorts of other sources, esp. Sheila Kitzinger for birthing info, and William Sears for parenting.

If the La Leche League community in Kansas City is typical you'll find it to be composed of all sorts, from crunchy types to professional types, from conservative religious types to super progressive liberal types. There is kind of an emphasis, though, on "natural", but not overbearingly so. LLL's mission is to help YOU breastfeed at WHATEVER capacity you want. And, like I said earlier, the organization is an awesome portal to all kinds of parenting info--good common sense information that's under the radar of the "pop-up ads and pernicious marketing".
posted by keith0718 at 2:40 PM on September 6, 2007

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