Below is a list of books that I recommend to new parents, to-be parents, or anyone wishing to get a jump start on reading before ever becoming a parent. I dont recommend a book unless I have read it. I am currently the proud mother of 1 baby boy.
All of these books follow a general philosophy of mine which is that any rational advice on parenting or education must begin by studying the child. When I would tell people how I was reading about children and was writing down expected milestones, I was told, Youll throw those dates out the door! Actually, I have found that the milestones are quite predictable, especially spinning off of the due date, not the birth date. Even if it wasnt perfectly predictable, there are usually patterns even in chaos. Milestone dates fall into a bell curve, with most babies hitting a milestone at X time and other babies hitting it within +/- Y of that time. It amazes me that even engineers dont think the natural development of children can be predicted, not even to some degree of accuracy. Millions of babies have been born in the past, with many parents, educators, and scientists recording their findings. I want to tap into their findings to best understand my child.
You may think that studying the natural development of children is a common sense way to approach education. It often isnt. There are many that preach that children can be trained to do as the parent wishes, instead of the parent responding to the childs natural development. Books like this sell wildly, I think, because they tell the parent what they want to hear. I dont think I need to defend my approach too intensely; when you start to read about the wonder and maturation of children, you will fall in love with the process like I have and want to learn more!
The other thing I look for in a good book on babies is if it timestamps its advice. Often an educator will find something works really well and they often become an expert on children, but their advice is only regarded as worthwhile for a certain age group. But the author will mistakenly apply their advice to all age groups. I have found children go through rapid developments and you must be ready and adjust for each new stage. If the author does not timestamp advice, it is a telling sign for me. Just like expert doctors are only good at, say, healing lower back injuries but not neck injuries, really good educators are often particularly good at one age group and not others. (Although, once they make their findings, the knowledge becomes widely available, increasing everyones knowledge.)
If you are expecting your first child and want general advice on how to take care of a very small baby, what items you might consider buying, etc., I recommend reading my article, All Things Baby: Preparing for Your First Child. It condenses what I read in about one dozen books and my experience as a first time mother into a 30-page article. It will at least make you aware of the competing philosophies on baby raising and some of the rationale behind each one. I have yet to find a book on the general care of infants that I agree with totally or even essentially. They all give concrete advice, much of which I disagree with, instead of overarching philosophies. I am for baby-led parenting and responding appropriately which, when very young, means on-demand feeding and sleeping. But I am not for attachment parenting, which strongly advocates baby wearing and co-sleeping. I am opposed to advice in BabyWise which teaches a parent to put their children on a 3 hour schedule of feeding and sleeping. (Tip: If a philosophy is ever presented to you as something you should “not follow too rigidly,” it is a sure sign of a BAD philosophy. This is the advice that usually accompanies BabyWise, which has a very misleading name.) And I am also opposed to Happiest Baby on the Block as the tricks it advocates are distractions, in my opinion. Since I cant recommend a book, I wrote an article. If you find value in it, please consider sending it to any pregnant lady you know.
Here are the recommended books. I dont always agree with everything written in all of these books. It is the main message of each that I like.
The Wonder Weeks
Frans Plooij, Hetty van de Rijt
I love this book; it is my favorite. It describes 10 predictable mental leaps that your child will make in the first 20 months of his or her life. During the leap, your child may be fussy but afterwards they have developed a new mental skill. The first leap is sensations and the last two are principles and systems. From sensations to systems: what a rational, logical progression! The authors give suggestions for fun activities to do during these leaps to appropriately respond to your childs growing abilities. Rational, time stamped advice on raising a child: I am in love!
It also puts you on alert for why your child may be fussy or cranky at particular times. Note also that the milestones spin off of the due date, not the birth date. The authors say the milestones can be predicted down to the *week*. So, a milestone predicted at week 5 is actually 5 +/- 1 week or rather somewhere between weeks 4 – 6.
Sarcasm alert: Or you could listen to some of your friends, family, and coworkers, who will tell you that the baby is cranky and fussy because you are doing something wrong.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Marc Weissbluth Md
People commented to me often on how happy and calm my child was. I strongly credit the establishment of good sleep habits right from birth. I read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child before the birth of my son and tried to follow its advice. I have never had any sleeping problems with my son. When he was about 3 months old, we noticed he was getting sleepy around 6 pm so that is when we put him to bed. He was out like a light around this time every night from then on. He continued to get up for night feedings, which is normal, but otherwise slept until 7 am most days. We never had to do any cry it out method.
The book is not intellectually inaccessible to the average person but I found it somewhat to be written in science-ese. Or, rather, some of the advice in the book seemed to contradict other advice and it was sometimes hard to get a clear picture. I went through the book and highlighted, in my Kindle, every bit of time stamped advice. I then put together a table of what to expect when. You can find my table in my article All Things Baby. I still recommend skimming the book but reading my section on sleep in the article I hope helps understand the book much easier.
Healthy Sleep Habits also says to use the baby’s due date, not the birth date to better predict milestones.
The Blossom Method
I am recommending this book but I will warn that I like the idea behind the book better than the execution. Sabel advocates her Blossom Method where you can read your childs signals, in particular the use of their tongue, to understand what it is they want. Sabel grew up with a deaf mother and was very skilled in reading body language. I am of course a huge advocate of anybody that advocates observing your child as to understand him or her. But the book relies largely on anecdotal evidence of her own daughter and one other child. It then encourages the parent to observe the child then try to interpret the signals themselves. For whatever money I paid for the book, I would like better advice than figure it out on your own. But of course, I am all for the idea of watching everything about your childtheir eyes, lips, tongue, arms, legsand trying to understand what the signals mean. It is a short read so I am including it.
Your Self-Confident Baby
This book largely influenced my parenting philosophy over a newborn. One of the best things I got out of it was to (mostly) leave pacifiers, swings, mobiles, and other forms of artificial entertainment or comfort given to newborns to the birds. In particular, to not use mechanical swings. They put the baby in a zombie like state, distracting them from whatever pain they are in and forcing comfort on them. Similarly, a mobilea toy that dangles 6 in front of the babys face forces entertainment on the child instead of letting the child look all around at everything absorbing the natural world. I like the advice to let the child speak for themselves; say when describing what ails them to a doctor. Being immersed in the real world is the best way for a very young child to learn. I also very much like the idea that children should be encouraged to solve their own problems.
I did not however like the advice about 3-7 year olds, in which Gerber is opposed to structured learning.
The Absorbent Mind
This is THE book to read when it comes to respecting the child, understanding their natural development, and predicting milestones.
Montessori was a doctor and offers the best scientific facts available at her time about the development of the child. She describes, from conception, how the child develops. It can really make you appreciate the wonder that is the creation of life!
I wrote a book report after reading this book, which I read several years before getting pregnant.
Montessori principles apply best to a 3-6 year old and arguably also 6-9 year olds. After that, the principles are widely regarded as breaking down.