The Best Parenting Books for New Parents

Crop of the Cover: Let the Baby Drive - Navigating the Road of New Motherhood

Full disclosure: This list of the best parenting books for new parents is from the perspective of someone who leans towards an attachment parenting style, prefers not to leave her babies to cry, likes to ‘wear’ her babies (but also likes to put them down some), and thinks you should sleep with your baby or in a separate room from your baby, depending on what works best for your family.

As a new parent it is often hard to know which parenting books to choose out of the enormous range available. So you go with one your mother had, or the one your friend recommended. Well, neither of those are bad options, but the important thing is to find books that have real solutions to real problems, and that mesh with your own prefered parenting style. True, as a new parent you might still be figuring out what that is, but you will have an idea. For instance are you more attracted by a book called the No-Cry Sleep Solution, or a book about rigid baby routines (I couldn’t find a suitably book title because they don’t usually say they are going to be rigid in the title!)?

  1. Best overview book for parenting babies:  The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know From Birth to Age Two by William and Martha Sears is far and away the best baby book I have come across. If you were only going to have one book as a parent, this should be it. And it is almost always the book I gift new parents (or parents-to-be) with, for that reason. It covers everything from preparing for and giving birth, first days, feeding (breast, bottle, solids), changing nappies, wearing your baby, nighttime parenting, tips for mums and dads, right up to normal development patterns for zero-two year olds. I won’t discuss it further here because I already have a whole post on it, but it is definitely my number one recommendation.
  2. The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley is hands down the best baby sleep book on the market. This is exactly what it says – a book of solutions for sleep problems, without any tears. It also includes a section on why Pantley (along with most specialists these days) recommends against leaving your baby to cry, even for a few minutes (note that this is different to listening to a quietly grizzling baby through the monitor to make sure she is really waking up before you go to her), and sections on what the range of  ‘normal’ sleep looks like and the mechanics of your baby’s sleep cycles.
  3. The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, MD, is a book especially for parents of newborns. This is a book about soothing your crying baby, and talks about the secret of the “fourth trimester” to explain why some newborns cry so much. The first part of the book is all about why baby’s cry, while part 2 is about how to sooth your baby, focusing on the five “S”s of soothing – swaddling, side, shhhh, swinging, sucking.
  4. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, by Ellyn Satter is an excellent book about how to feed your family, starting from when your baby is transitioning to solid food. Satter has another book that is more specific to parents of babies and young children (Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense), but I am not willing to include it as one of the ‘best parenting books’ because I feel that her approach to breastfeeding is too narrow, seeing it solely as a tool of nutrition and not also as an important part of the bonding relationship between mother and child. She also prefers weaning before 12 months, because it is an easy time to do so, despite the fact that the World Health Organisation now recommends breastfeeding until two years. Nonetheless, Sectrets of Feeding a Healthy Family is a wonderful book for any parents, and one that needs to be read early – before those “bad” eating habits (or bad feeding habits) develop. The two main principles of the book may be summed up as 1. Eat together as a family as often as humanly possible, and 2. remember the division of responsibility: Your job as the parent is to decide what food is available, and when it is served. Your child’s job is to decide whether to eat and how much to eat. This is a crucial point for parents to understand, and Satter does an excellent job of demonstrating why it is so important, while providing numerous references and studies in the appendixes for those who want more detail.

The next two books are not how to books, in the tradition baby book sense. They won’t teach you how to give birth, how to change nappies, or when to call the doctor. But they do provide some hints on how to live, and how to make the transition to parenthood gracefully.

5. Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian is a funny, lively, and a deeply moving book about being a mother. It’s impossible to sum this book up in a few words. In fact, in looking through it again to decide what to write I realise I need to re-read it. I bet I get as much out of it a few years on as I did the first time I read it, back when my first child was little. So instead of trying to describe it I will give you two quotes. One from William Sears (author of The Baby Book, above, as well as numerous other parenting books), which is printed on the back of the book, and one from the book itself, in the final chapter.

Babies cry to communicate, not manipulate. A baby’s cry is a baby’s language in which a baby says, ‘Something’s not right, please make it right.’ Listen to babies when they are young and they will listen to you when they are older. Let the Baby Drive lets a mother understand how and why to do this. (Dr William Sears)

I am just beginning to understand that in order to truly trust in our children and ourselves, we have to keep our own light on. This isn’t simply about having the courage to stand up for what we believe in, but having the courage to doubt, to change, to be changed.

Book Cover: Buddhism for Mothers6. Buddhism for Mothers: a calm approach to caring for yourself and your children by Australian writer Sarah Napthali (yes, I’m afraid she is the only Australian writer I have listed here – that’s not to say there aren’t other good parenting books by Australians – Pinky McKay comes to mind) is another absolutely wonderful book for mothers. Actually, fathers will get a lot out of it too, if they’ll read it. This is a book about learning to live joy and take in the moment with your child, learning to notice our thoughts and emotions instead of simply riding them. But it is also a book about self-forgiveness – Napthali is big on not feeling guilty, on simply noticing when we slip back into anger or self-recrimination or whatever our issues may be, and then beginning again. It really is about caring for both yourself and your children, not just one or the other.

There are so many other books I could mention – Michel Odent’s Birth Reborn, Jill Day’s Breastfeeding Naturally (there’s another Australian), Shiela Kitzenger’s The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth, to name a few. But if you have limited resources (and at the very least,time is a limited resource for most new parents – or old parents for that matter!), those books above are the very best parenting books I can recommend to you. But whatever you read – be it in a book, on the web, or even something you heard – test it against your own sense of what works, what make sense for your family; against your parenting intuition. Let your knowledge of your own baby drive your understanding, not the other way around.

  1 comment for “The Best Parenting Books for New Parents

  1. February 17, 2012 at 4:05 am

    Kirsten, being an expecting mother I have now read many parenting articles on blogs and have been trying to decide which books to read. It’s important to have good info but as with everything not too much or else it can be even more confusing.

    This is a very comprehensive review here, i like the way you have split the books into their different functions rather than just list them all.

    Buddhism for mothers seems particularly interesting!

    Many thanks


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