“There’s no manual for raising a child.” If you’re expecting to become a parent, prepare to hear those words over and over. An odd statement, considering that there are literally thousands of books on how to raise a child from infancy to mature adulthood.
It’s true that every child is different — for that matter, so are their parents — and no single book is going to give you all the knowledge and tools that your situation requires. That’s why, when you’re preparing for your new baby’s arrival, your best bet is reading a healthy mix of books from different eras and schools of thought. It’s also important to take everything you read with a good-sized grain of salt. (Fun fact: There are plenty of baby books out there written by people who have never had kids.) As you read, meditate on the advice that resonates with you, set aside the stuff that sounds foolish, and look for the big-picture patterns in everything you read.
To help get you started, we’ve compiled a shortlist of some of the best, most recommended books on baby’s early years. From practical caregiving guidance to insights from brain science to empathetic essays, these
The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby (and You) by Janet Kennedy
Let’s move on to another controversial matter: Sleep training. In case you haven’t heard, the first year of a baby’s life is infamous for depriving the parents of sleep. Even if you and your partner are committed to co-sleeping or baby-wearing right now, after enough cluster feedings, you’ll be scanning the Google listings at 3 a.m., looking for proof that maybe the cry-it-out method isn’t as harsh as it sounds. I’ve been there, and I can promise you that no good sleep advice comes from Google. Instead, read this book before baby shows up. It offers a concise, easy-to-read overview of different approaches to sleep training your baby. If nothing else, it’s a solid way to prepare yourself for what’s ahead.
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting by Janet Lansbury
My son is a cheerful, affectionate kid with a great sense of humor. Yet at times, his behavior has made me wonder if I’ve given birth to the antichrist. All kids have their moments, and some ages bring more moments than others. Lansbury’s book gives you tools for navigating those moments with insight, so you can come through on your promise to youreslf to do a little better than your parents did. (We also highly recommend her podcast, Unruffled)
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
One of the most fun parts of having a baby is staring deeply into your newborn’s ever-changing face and trying to guess what’s going on in there. This book gives you a few precious clues, with its peek behind the curtain of a baby’s developing brain. It’s important to note that some of the information is presented as “solutions” to the typical struggles involved in raising a child — take those with a grain of salt. For the most part, though, The Whole-Brain Child distills cutting-edge neuroscience research into practical, relatable insights into the precipitous growth curve of a child’s early years.
Your Baby & Child from Birth to Age 5 by Penelope Leach
Parents and professional nannies swear by the gentle, practical advice in this classic book on bringing up baby. One of the most valuable things it offers is an overview of different newborn personalities, a gold mine for the new parent who is constantly wondering if they are doing it all wrong. If there were a manual on raising children, this would probably be it. No wonder it’s been an international bestseller for over 25 years.
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes
Journalist Angela Garbes took some serious heat for her viral 2015 article on breastfeeding. Like a Mother expounds upon the themes in that article, bringing science and personal experience to prepare new parents for the myriad issues (biological, psychological, emotional, and cultural) that you’re about to confront. While it’s definitely aimed at women, this book should be required reading for new dads, to understand the intensity of “mom guilt” that your partner will be dealing with on an hourly basis.
Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words by Kimberly Harrington
A good laugh is just as important to new parenthood as a diaper subscription. That’s why I advise every new parent to stack their Netflix queue with stand-up specials and goofy comedies, and to pick up a copy of this humorous, highly self-aware essay collection. Harrington dissects the absurdities and indignities of parenthood with wry wit and piercing insight, encouraging us all to step back when things get tough and just laugh at the mess of it all.
The Vaccine-Friendly Plan by Paul Thomas, M.D. and Jennifer Margulis
Many new parents will be moved to spend some time studying the science behind vaccines, and this book offers valuable food for thought on the topic. Authored by two pediatricians, one of whom specializes in treating children with developmental delays, this book cuts through the rhetoric to offer data-driven advice for helping your child grow up healthy. Handily organized to cover each year of your child’s life from infancy to pre-teen years, The Vaccine-Friendly Plan offers balanced, non-pushy advice on breastfeeding, nutrition, potty training, screen time, and much more.
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