Sometimes the right book at the right time makes all the difference.
This is our library of recommended books to read if you're navigating your health, body, pregnancy, or the early days of parenting. In addition, I've got a round-up of my favorite books on business, entrepreneurship, marketing and leadership. Over the past decade, I've read hundreds of books and some of them are stand-out winners for business and parenting support. Good books, crafted with love and effort by authors who take years to pour wisdom into their pages, can be life-changing. Take a look through our recommendations by category, below!
PREGNANCY: BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS
If you’re pregnant and you need somewhere to start, these are the books that helped get me (and thousands of other women) through pregnancy, postpartum, and more.
By Emily Oster
This is one of my favorite all-time pregnancy books. We had Emily Oster on the podcast twice, once to talk about Expecting Better. She’s an economist who studies data and pours over research to find what evidence there is for common claims in pregnancy and parenting. So much pregnancy advice is patronizing and way too idealistic, and is all lumped together in one massive dump of what you should and shouldn’t do when you’re pregnant.
The world will volunteer a lot of advice about who you ought to be, both in pregnancy and then again when you become a parent, and this book treats you like the independent adult that you are, and not solely as a cavity for a baby and nothing else. Yes, you’ll want to minimize the risks that you take, but humans take risks every day (getting into a car, for example), and we’re comfortable with a wide range of risks and behaviors simply as a condition of living. There is no perfect set of circumstances, but rather, doing the best you can with what you have, where you are, right now.
Expecting Better reassured me that some of the risks in pregnancy are over-blown, and that I can make my own choices in the face of the existing data (rather than have someone patronizingly tell me all of the reasons my choices are terrible for lots of over-stated reasons). If you love data and want to be told what the actual percentage of risks are with each behavior, as well as what’s been overblown or mis-stated in pregnancy “wisdom,” then read this book.
Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD
This is a massive book that weighs 2.55 pounds in the paperback version and clocks in at 960 pages. First published in 1994, Dr. Christiane Northrup is a board-certified OB/GYN and past president of the American Holistic Medical Association who is known for pioneering new ways of thinking about medicine, women’s bodies, and integrative approaches between conventional medicine and functional medicine practices. I have not read the entire book, but rather focused on the chapters around preconception, menstruation, pregnancy and fertility. Today it still sits on my bookshelf along with dozens of other books by women, about women, and my baby laughs hysterically as he tries to pull it off the shelf because it’s so heavy and makes a loud thud each time it comes out. I also appreciated the detailed list of supplementation requirements and the ways in which women can become adrenally fatigued and out of whack energetically due to the ways we overlook women’s bodies and needs.
Ina May Gaskin
I’m not sure I can do this book justice in a short summary, but this was one of my all-time favorite books. I loved reading about women’s childbirth stories, and the many variations that can happen as labor begins and progresses. I craved being on The Farm, and having a birth experience like these books—the careful attention and nurturing by a long-practice midwife who can tell when you’re starting labor, when you’re in transition, when to come in, and how to tap deeply into yourself when you need to—it sounds divine.
I also deepened my respect for her knowledge when I read stories where the midwife would alert a hospital, and knew when extra attention was needed. Birth is a critical sequence of events and there are some life-saving tools that hospitals can provide. The irony is that hospital environments aren’t always the best places to allow women to give birth, at least not emotionally and psychologically in making you feel safe and protected. Read this if you want to immerse yourself in birth stories, and surround yourself with women who have given birth before. Read this if you want to cry about how beautiful birth can be, and feel familiar with the process. Read this to feel in awe of women.
Ina May Gaskin
This book is credited with “introducing an entire generation of young women to the possibility of home birth and breastfeeding.” The history of childbirth and breastfeeding over the last century-plus is a deep (and somewhat dark) takeover of a realm of knowledge my medical practitioners, often male, who had very little experience in the subject matter. For those longing for a deeper inner connection to your own body and a deep understanding of childbirth and homebirth, read this book. It’s beautiful, evocative, and filled with love. I found myself drawn to birth stories—craved them, wanted to be in touch with other women’s stories—constantly when I was pregnant.
Hypnobirthing (The Mongan Method)
Marie Mongan, MEd, MHy
My first birth experience was so deeply challenging—and painful—that I longed to find out if that had to be the case. Through extensive reading, studying, and practice, I learned how various elements contributed to my experience: from the environment around me, to my sense of safety, to my perception of fear, and the words I used to talk to myself all mattered.
I picked up Hypnobirthing to find ways to bring my experience into my own hands, through better conceptualizing fear and pain, and digging into the experience and narrating it in a new way. If I’m honest, my doula and I laughed (a lot!) at the idea that contractions were just “pressure.” We had a lot of belly laughs at that idea. Yet it still gave us comfort in knowing that the way we frame the story of pain matters, and practicing empowering, calming statements and responses can help shift the overall experience from one of extraordinary pain to one of manageable pain.
I still had massive insomnia, loads of third-trimester anxiety, and a healthy dose of fear leading up to my second birth, but I approached it in a calmer, steadier manner, and it made a huge difference. I’m happy I took the time to listen to the meditations and learn more about the mental practices that can support your path through childbirth—however it happens.
The Birth Partner
Birth is an event and adventure taken on by the birthing mother, but it is also a time when we connect most deeply to our support systems—the partners, friends, relatives, and doulas that are part of our network and are an essential component of the ecosystem needed to bring new life into the world. This book serves as a guide to helping women through labor and birth.
My husband was fastidious about taking notes and learning the patterns. He couldn’t help with the pregnancy, but he wanted to be all-in with supporting however he could. From tracking contractions to setting timers to learning massage techniques, to eventually spending hours on the birthing ball, bouncing our newborn to sleep with loud shushing noises in the living room—childbirth and the postpartum period should not be alone.
Every partnership is different, and you may find you need other partners—sisters, doulas, friends, neighbors—to join you in this journey. It may feel strange, given Western cultural norms of extreme independence and isolation, but birth can be a time to find and initiate the support structures that you need. For many, early parenthood can be the start of new connections and friendships that last a lifetime.
Birthing From Within
“Here is a holistic approach to childbirth that examines this profound rite-of-passage not as a medical event but as an act of self-discovery.” For my second birth, I began to see birthing as a rite of passage; a transformation and a shedding and re-birthing of myself, as a person. Birth is more than just a medical event or a physical act. How you show up, who you are, and how you deal with pain, fear, and challenge is also a huge part of the work you’re called to do.
If you like journaling exercises, meditations, and art “homework” assignments, and you want to get deeper into analysis and reflection about the birthing process, and how you are changing as a part of it all, this book might be great for you.
Childbirth Without Fear
This book is considered a staple for midwifery and obstetrics, and it is as dense and meaty as you would expect a textbook to be. It’s not “watered down” or “basic” at all (according to Amazon reviews in support of it)—but as we are shifting culturally away from the masculine-centric views of the 1960s-1980s, parts of this book can be hard to read. Written by a male doctor, at times sexist, and sometimes a bit heavy, the book can take some time to wade through.
At the time this book was written, however, it was a radical departure from the cultural of fear and anxiety around pregnancy and childbirth. The philosophy at the center is one of heart and empathy, which is still important today for all childbirth educators, supporters, and most of all—experiences!
The Fourth Trimester
Kimberly Ann Johnson
Kimberly Ann Johnson’s work and writing on the fourth trimester, and the experience of navigating pregnancy and childbirth, is outstanding. This is a book I recommend to everyone, because of its depth of insights around women’s health, inner wisdom, and true healing.
Many women feel pushed off a cliff when it comes to the days after childbirth. Instead of recovering and healing, they are bewildered, isolated, confused, and often left alone. Perhaps the harshest depiction of this is the numerous visits you will make to your pediatrician—but at no point will the pediatrician (or any doctor) look to you and ask you how you are doing. Women everywhere experience difficulty adapting to motherhood, and tremendous stress during the postpartum time. A one in seven rate of postpartum depression is not okay, and we need to radically rethink how we support and care for the life-bringers.
Yet women, especially mothers, are trained to believe that their bodies are separate and that suffering is a part of the process, writes Johnson. She is adamant that this is not okay, and that holding women back in suffering is part of what’s holding back women everywhere.
In this book, Kimberly traces where we’ve gone wrong through both her own narrative, as well as a larger look at the cultural contexts surrounding birthing mothers today. Then, she outlines the plan for healing and care that we need to surround ourselves with, giving us the language and the tools to set up a new—and different—postpartum experience.
Who should read this book: Everyone that wants to learn how to heal during the postpartum period, and how to take care of yourself after childbirth.