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When I put together my pregnancy bibliography earlier this year, I wrote about a couple of prenatal fitness things I hadn’t tried. Now that I have, I thought I’d do a fuller review.

dvd coverPrenatal Yoga with Shiva Rea I heart this dvd! I’ve found myself neglecting all the other fitness things I was doing to have more time for it. There are three workouts of about 20 minutes each, followed by a four-minute guided relaxation, so I can do one, two, or all three sessions, depending on how much time I have. There is a model for each trimester, each wearing a different jewel-toned outfit, demonstrating adaptations of the poses for each, though they are still explained verbally as well. The moves seem to hit everything that gets achy or needs extra help during pregnancy – lower and upper back, leg stretches, side stretches, squats and Kegels. To borrow the words of the friend from whom I’m borrowing the dvd, after doing the workout, I go from feeling like I just can’t live in my body anymore to feeling comfortable in it again. The beautiful music and visuals help in making the whole thing feel like something special I’m doing for myself rather than the dull but necessary time that exercise can so easily be.

book coverMaternal Fitness by Julie Tupler, by comparison, covers most of the same bases, with a lot more explanation, but telling you to do a 1-2 hour workout every other day – difficult with a first pregnancy and pretty much impossible with a second. The big difference is the Tupler Technique, Julie Tupler’s special abdominal exercises, the same in both Maternal Fitness and Lose Your Mummy Tummy. These I find really valuable and do just those, and the prenatal yoga. Maternal Fitness comes as either a book or video/dvd. I borrowed the book and video from a friend. They both have a lot of useful information on preparation for birth and selecting a health care professional, though this is available many other places as well. I disagreed with her philosophy on belly breathing – she seems to want a lot of active pushing in and out of the breath, which doesn’t sync well with my Alexander training, but this is easily skipped and the idea of paying attention to breath might be more valuable for someone less musically trained than I.

The video that I saw was the first of two, the first explaining her 15-minute basic daily routine and basic health things and the second about the full hour-plus workout to be done every other day or so. While the information was good, I was frustrated that the exercises in the video were all intercut with lengthy information. I understand the need for explanation, but on a day-to-day basis, I don’t want the 45 minutes of explanation to be talked through the 15 minutes of workout. Perhaps the dvd version would have just a workout segment, and would certainly make it easier to skip, but I found the video version frustrating to work with in this regard. Between the book and the video, then, I’d go with the book.

The book includes both the long and short workouts, and charts to photocopy with pictures and brief explanations of the exercises. It is deeper than the yoga video in that it goes in depth into why she’s having you do what she is, and exactly what bad exercises will do for your body. That’s useful information to have, and makes it easy to modify your own favorite workout for pregnancy. The abdominal work is unique and useful, and the rest of the information in the book is good to read through. The workouts looked to my midwives and me to be good workouts – they just looked to me like less fun than the yoga and perhaps too time-consuming. As that’s entirely a matter of taste, you, gentle reader, might want to look at both.
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book coverYour Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein Lake and Epstein start this positive and empowering look at birth with explaining how even a woman in love with her Tylenol PM could want to try for a natural birth, and their own birth stories. It’s first and foremost about opening up choices about birth, including choosing your place (hospital, birth center or home), care provider (OB, GP or midwife), and back-up team. (They even suggest finding a doula first, who can help you pinpoint your birth style and direct you to doctors and midwives in the area who share your philosophy.) Though they don’t hesitate to point out that the U.S. is at the bottom of the world charts in terms of maternal and infant safety during birth, they focus more on what women can do than on the depressing statistics. They talk about what interventions are out there, risks, and when they are really appropriate. The C-Section chapter talks about both medically unsound reasons to do them as well as ways to make your c-section as gentle as positive as possible if it turns out that you do need one. They talk about communicating with providers and hospital staff, birth for survivors of sexual abuse, different (and more American-focused) birth class/philosophy options, and postpartum care. They include profiles of “birth goddesses”, including birth activists, celebrity moms who opted for natural births, and regular women with amazing births.

One review I read (Library Journal, I think, but maybe Booklist) said that since the authors seemed to think that hospitals cared more about avoiding litigation and following hospital policies than individuals, this shouldn’t be the only book libraries carry on the topic. I would really like to know where the reviewer gave birth to come up with a different opinion on modern birth. This book reflects the reality of modern birth in America, from my point of view and the many other mothers I’ve talked to. And it does it in a way that will leave you feeling more informed, confident and excited about birth.
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book coverThe Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
I’d looked through this book during my last pregnancy, and it made it onto my pregnancy list. But, I hadn’t read it all the way through. This time, I read both the most recent (2004) and the earlier 1997 edition of this classic. Kitzinger is England’s premier natural childbirth advocate. The book includes baby development at the beginning, pregnancy by trimester, labor and birth, and newborn care. Each trimester includes considerations for birth appropriate to that phase. Read more... )
All in all though, her advice for pregnancy and birth is solid, reassuring, and very helpful for women figuring out what’s important to them in birth and how to make sure they get the best support possible. Since her biases are towards the norm, this is an excellent basic pregnancy book for most mothers.
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book coverThe Birth Partner by Penny Simkin When I prepared to give birth, I hired a doula, a professional birth support person. She made a huge difference in making the whole birth experience smoother and more positive, and I recommend hiring a doula to anyone giving birth. But, suppose you can’t hire a doula? Suppose you want your parenting partner or your best friend to come to the birth with you? Or, that such a person wants to educate him or herself to be able to help you even if you have a doula as well. In that case, you want this book. It covers pregnancy, birth and newborn care from the perspective of a partner, rather than the mother or a medical professional. It includes such topics as preparing for labor, helping the mother find an effective labor coping pattern, common medical interventions, their side effects and risks and how to discuss them with hospital staff, what to do if there is a personality conflict between the mother and the assigned nurse or doctor, and how to best support a mother in labor who’s changed her mind about what she wants from her birth plan. I read the old, falling-apart edition that my midwifery still keeps. This edition placed rather more stress on the importance of learning and practicing several breathing patterns than is currently in vogue (my birth class instructor said that practicing breathing before you were in labor was like practicing breathing for a marathon without running); I don’t know if the new edition has changed. Overall, however, the information was extremely helpful. There are even helpful summary pages labeled in white text on darker bars on the sides of pages, so you can fan out the pages and find the part you need in the heat of things. Simkin is the founder of Doulas of North America/DONA, and this book is required reading for many doula training courses as well.
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I’ve noticed something about pregnancy books, which is that being mainstream or natural will affect what they talk about. The mainstream camp will spend a lot more time on the pregnancy, what to eat and wear, dealing with relatives and heartburn. For labor, they’ll talk about the three stages, and tell you that modern birth is safe and to do what your doctor says. The natural camp will of course tell you what to avoid during pregnancy, but basically tell you to pay attention to what your body needs. They will spend the bulk of the time on labor and birth – preparing for it physically and emotionally, what it feels like from your perspective, the side effects and risks of common medical interventions and well as the effectiveness of various non-medical pain relief techniques, various labor and birth positions and their benefits. Both because no medical intervention is risk-free and because I’ve known people who decided in advance on an epidural and then had it not work for them, I recommend that everyone read about birth from the natural perspective whatever their plans for labor. I’m also including books for fathers and soon-to-be older siblings, for hopefully obvious reasons. [Edited 2/13/09]: because more of my friends are having second or more children now, who need their own books, as do fathers. Links are to my original reviews, where available.

lots of books, with pretty pictures )
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When friends are wanting or having babies, I naturally want to point them to resources. And so many friends are going through this right now and I’m going over the same information over and over in emails, which is tiresome. So I’m going to start a small series on my recommendations for the best in books, internet resources and other services. I'll link to my original reviews, if I did them in the first place.

Books I’ve Read

TCOYF coverTaking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Wechsler
(note: teen book available, too) This is the classic and recently revised guide to monitoring your own fertility. Most people won’t need anything else. Looking on her web site, I note that she’s also got a book for teen girls, with probably less on getting pregnant and more on understanding your body.

Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn Shannon. This is put out by the Couple to Couple League. On the one hand, it is aimed at Catholics. On the other hand, Catholics appear not to believe in using drugs to solve fertility problems. That means a whole lot of cycle and fertility problems with really detailed nutritional solutions. This could probably be used well in conjunction with other methods, according to your own beliefs and situation.

GPNW coverGetting Pregnant the Natural Way by D.S. Feingold and Deborah Gordon, M.D. I found this book by the very scientific method of pulling all likely-looking books off the library shelf, and then skimming and reading bits to see which one looked best. Plus, of course, already carefully selected by our medical librarian. This book, as well as covering the basics fairly briefly, gives nice coverage of nutrition, herbal therapy, movement, massage and stress reduction for conception. This was my favorite for the even coverage of all kinds of therapies, including when they can be integrated with conventional drug therapy and when it is or isn’t safe to self-medicate. There have a lot of solutions to a lot of specific problems, as well.

The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook by Cathe Olson has detailed notes on nutrition for preconception as well as pregnancy and lactation, including suggested recipes. The recipes are full of micronutrients, include nutrient breakdowns, and are really, really yummy.

You Could Also Try

The Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer
– recommended by Toni Wechsler
Healing Gourmet Eat to Boost Fertility by the Healing Gourmet – on Amazon

Web Sites
www.ovusoft.com - Toni Wechsler’s site, with her ovulation-tracking software (not free.)
www.fertilityfriend.com - Free ovulation tracking software, lots of FAQs, plus support communities for all types of trying to conceive – by age, number of children already, using donor sperm, etc.

Good luck and sticky vibes, as they say!
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The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook by Cathe Olson This cookbook is full of yummy recipes aimed at the pregnant or nursing vegetarian mother. While that group may be small, the recipes are really good, with appeal well beyond the target audience. They are designed for maximum nutritional benefits, with balanced protein, fat, and whole grains, and includes nutritional profiles for all the recipes. (Adding vitamin-rich seaweed mix to nearly everything seemed strange at first, and then we discovered that seaweed is also one of the biggest natural sources of umame – the flavor that MSG recreates without the health benefits.) I was first impressed by the book when, after the usual trope on the importance of breakfast, she actually devoted a full third of the book to breakfast recipes designed to work for busy mornings, including porridges, whole-grain pancakes and waffles, granolas, and breakfasts on the go. Then there are recipes for dinners, snacks, teas, and baked goods and sorbets that will satisfy your cravings without throwing your blood sugar out of whack. The dinners especially include advice on which recipes freeze well and how to bake in small stages throughout the day around baby duties. This is the rare book that we actually bought, because there were so many recipes that looked really good, even to my carnivorous husband – better than beef stew, many variations on lasagna, nori rice balls, and more. And while meatless entrees might not be for everyone, the careful attention to sugar balance makes this an excellent choice for anyone who wants good food that doesn’t compromise on flavor or nutrition.
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This time, one for my seemingly insatiable appetite for pregnancy and childbirth books and three normal person books.

The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger This is yet another really great pregnancy book. It’s a little light on the fetal development side, compared to many others, and also not as entertaining as my favorite, How to Have a Baby and Still Live in the Real World. It also focuses somewhat less on issues like clothing and dealing with nosy relatives, topics that are covered heavily in many other books. However, it has a great many strong points, including coverage of labor and childbirth that really shines. It covers dealing with changes in the body during pregnancy extensively, including pages of full-color photos of useful stretches and exercises. It covers care options in detail. Kitzinger is renowned for natural childbirth, but the coverage here is remarkably balanced: if you think you’ll need that epidural, she talks about the risks and benefits and when in labor it’s safest to use. She also includes the only description I’ve seen of exactly what the body does during labor, focused on what can cause pain and what type of pain it is. She also describes, with photos, positions to use during labor, and when the various positions are most useful or unhelpful. There’s a useful, if sad, section on dealing with the loss of a child, as well as a chapter on newborn care. Sprinkled throughout are birth stories, ranging from home to hospital births, as well as helpful photos of labor and families with their new babies. This books complements Ina May’s Guide very well, providing practical information to go with Ina May’s inspirational stories. It’s also a good basic pregnancy book, with information slanted more towards childbirth and preparing for it.

Playing James by Sarah Mason This book is British chick lit in top form – fluffy, sweet, and I even liked the character better than the Shopaholic’s Becky Bloomwood. Holly Colshannon is a journalist covering pet funerals for a small-town paper, when she gets a dubious promotion covering the crime beat. Her assignment: to shadow hunky detective James as he covers his beat. Only he hates journalists, and her klutziness keeps landing her in the hospital. And though he is really good-looking, Holly already has the perfect boyfriend, and James is due to be married in two weeks. This playful romp is a delightful summer read.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss Yes, this is on the best-seller list. And yes, it’s delightful. Truss is a punctuation stickler on the rampage, documenting with dry British humor the ever-increasing misuse of punctuation. If, like me, you wince at signs that say “X-MAS TREE’S FOR SALE” (what do the trees own? What letter was left out?), this book will strike a heart-felt chord. If, like the majority of people in the world, you are unsure of when to use “it’s” or “its”, this book’s clear and hilarious examples will soon clear up the matter for you. Or, you know, if you just enjoy laughing, you might like this one, too. Sticklers unite! Punctuation matters!

Night Swimming by Robin Schwartz Charlotte Clapp is stuck in a dead-end life: her mother has died, her best friend married Charlotte’s boyfriend and now seems to hate her, and she’s working a lowly bank job in a town with no place to go. She numbs herself with food, 100 pounds overweight. Then, her doctor tells her that she has cancer and only a year to live. This jolts her awake, and she promptly steals two million from the bank and heads out west to fulfill her fantasies before she dies. Of course, it’s a mistake, which luckily we find out at the beginning, though Charlotte doesn’t. In Hollywood, she buys a luxury apartment, and spends her days befriending an elderly neighbor and drooling over the handsome pool boy. Nights she spends swimming and looking at the stars, allowing for both deep inner reflection and lots of weight loss. Meanwhile, the hometown police are on her trail – will she lose everything she’s found? The beginning and end are a little improbable, and salvation through weight loss is a bit problematic for my inner feminist. (Be beautiful on the outside, and you will find enlightenment and true happiness!) In spite of these flaws, I found myself turning pages compulsively, rooting for this likeable character as she struggles to make her dreams come true.

Regressing

Apr. 25th, 2004 02:07 pm
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I have this feeling that most of the people who read these humble entries left teen books behind in their teen years and have not looked back. I, however, regard children’s and teen books as comfort fare, to be returned to whenever life gets a little rough. The characters always grow and even the toughest situations are usually viewed with optimism – much more cheerful than adult books. And this week, with airplane rides and visits to the doctor, I definitely needed cheerful reading. So, at the risk of boring my audience:

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan In a town where PFLAG has higher attendance than the PTA, and the homecoming queen is a drag queen and the star quarterback, Paul meets the boy of his dreams. While the course of true love isn’t entirely smooth, this is the first-ever gay romance where the gay part of the romance isn’t cause for large doses of angst. Leaving the gay-related angst out makes room for probably the sweetest, most touching teen romance I’ve ever read. It’s guaranteed to leave you feeling warm and fuzzy and just a little happier about the world.

Goose Girl by Shannon Hale A friend of mine once mentioned that she thought fairy tales weren’t very applicable to modern-day life. Pardon? Princess Anidori never felt very comfortable being a princess or talking to people, but she is prepared to marry a prince she’s never met to save her kingdom. On the long journey there, her lady-in-waiting convinces the guards that she would make a better princess than Ani. The few guards loyal to Ani are killed, and Ani hides as a goose girl to escape herself. Having lost her country and her identity – and still in danger of losing her life – Ani must work hard to figure out who she really is and where she can fit in. OK, so maybe her situation is a little extreme – but how many of us haven’t had to reinvent and reevaluate ourselves? Relevant to your life or not, this is a beautiful and compelling story of betrayal and redemption.

Alice, I Think by Susan Juby Redemption again. In this case, Alice is trying to redeem herself from her aging-hippie parents, who were cruel enough to let her start first grade dressed in a burlap hobbit costume. Now in high school, and home schooled since the fateful hobbit incident, Alice knows she must try normal society again, or be forever doomed. Her counselor, Death Lord Bob, encourages her to make a list of Life Goals. Coming up with the goals is easy – making them happen is another thing entirely. Yes, it’s an angsty teen, but her misadventures on the road to normalcy are laugh-out-loud funny.

And on a completely unrelated note, The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy by Vicki Iovine This was recommended to me by several friends, and it is indeed chock full of useful information. Figuring that there are plenty of books out there already to give you the medical advice, this one focuses solely on how to deal – with morning sickness, with the Pregnancy Police, with being too big for your regular clothes but too small for maternity clothes. The collected advice of the author and her Girlfriends are presented with a view towards practicality and humor. The advice is pretty mainstream – the author is firmly in favor of giving birth in the hospital, for example, where a doctor will be there if something goes wrong and someone else will clean up afterwards. But, even if you are leaning towards home birth and a family bed, there’s plenty of useful advice in here for everyone.
[Updated 2007-09-17] I've since changed my mind about this book. It's great for its humorous take on pregnancy, and encouraging you not to worry too much. But the practical advice is often just plain wrong - she tells you that things just don't matter that do, like eating, exercising and whether or not to breastfeed. And, from friends who've done it, if you hire a midwife for a home birth, she will clean up for you, too.
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Just for the record, I am not pregnant. But yes, someday I do hope to become a mother, and I like to keep an eye out for good books on pregnancy and parenting. Here are a few on the earlier end of the spectrum:

My favorite pregnancy book is How to Have a Baby and Still Live in the Real World by Jane Symons. I find it’s a great mix of medical and practical advice, and assumes that you have some intelligence and a sense of humor. Symons looks at preserving your sanity as well as your baby’s health, and there are great retro illustrations.

The standard, most-stolen-from-libraries book on the topic, first on every other pregnancy book’s bibliography, which I haven’t read, is What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Some people like it; some find the tone a bit condescending (per Amazon). The Tome, which you can get for free from State Farm, is The Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy and Baby’s First Year. (I think the password is “good neighbor”, but I’m not sure.) This has all of the medical details, written in doctor’s office pamphlet style. It assumes that you want simple, easy answers to everything, so all directions are black and white: don’t drink any alcohol or herbal teas while pregnant or try to conceive, for example. I find this annoying, personally, but it’s great as a reference.

For Daddies-to-Be, there are two easy-to-find books out there. They are both great in their own way.

First, The Expectant Father by Armin Brott. This is aimed at the Sensitive Involved Daddy, with short section month-by-month on what’s going on with baby and mother, and longer sections on Daddy’s emotional state and things to do to stay involved. I found it a good reminder for me that becoming a daddy is a big deal, too.

If, however, you are female and don’t think your sweetie would sit down to read a book of more than 100 pages on a baby, then the book that you want is My Boys Can Swim by Ian Davis. This book is hilariously funny, and designed to be read in an hour or less. It skips over all that internal development stuff, concentrating on the external things that the dad-to-be will have to deal with himself.

I had a friend looking for books like this for her Spanish-speaking husband. I was unable to find any books specifically for expectant fathers in Spanish (might help if I spoke the language.) But I did find a couple of good general pregnancy and parenting books:

Esperando a mi bebe: Una guia del embarazo para la mujer latina by Lourdes Alcaniz Criticas put this on their best of 2003 list, and it's been on the Spanish bestseller list as well. It got high marks especially for addressing physiological and cultural issues particular to Latinas, and includes traditional Latin foods in its dietary reccs.

Guia de la salud infantil para padres: Desde el embarazo hasta los 5 anos by Steven Dowshen Again, a starred review in Criticas. This is a translation of Parenting Guide: Child Health from Birth to Age Five. They thought it had good comprehensive advice, reasonably priced (under $20). It seems to deal mostly with the post-birth child.

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