My 5 Fave Parenting Books

As with everything involved with parenthood, each person has a different way of doing things. My mom told me repeatedly that reading books about pregnancy and parenting were pointless. She insisted that it would all come naturally as pregnancy progressed and as I became a mother. Despite her insistance and advice, the first day we brought Mara home I felt totally lost. This brought on panic and feelings of inadequacy. Jesse started doing research and found the top books on dealing with a crying baby. He read them, and then insisted I do the same (I was definitely not in the mood but did it anyway). They definitely changed our lives. I learned so much about her little baby brain! I also learned that I was not alone. There were so many parents dealing with the same issues that experts had to write books! Talk about not feeling alone! Since these books were such a GIANT help to me, I figured I shouldn’t keep that info to myself.

The first book that we read was The Happiest Baby on the Block. We read it while we took turns staying up with Mara all night. She refused to sleep at night for the first 10 days of her life (before she became ill from pyloric stenosis). This meant Jesse would stay up with her from 9pm to 2am and then I would get up around 2am so he could get sleep. Mara slept great during the day, so we would take advantage and nap while she slept. While this schedule “worked” it definitely wasn’t working for us. We were both tired and cranky, plus we barely got to spend time with her together so we both felt pretty isolated. The Happiest Baby on the Block taught us about the concept of the “fourth trimester” where baby is adjusting to no longer being in the womb and ways we could ease that adjustment along. This included dimming the lights inside during the evening and keeping them as bright as possible during the day to help differentiate between the two. We also read about her basic reflexes, like “rooting” when she was hungry and the Moro reflex (where you feel like you’re falling). To help with the Moro reflex the book recommended swaddling. We had been swaddling Mara with blankets, but after reading the book we specifically switched to the swaddler sacks with velcro. She was always breaking out of the swaddles and waking herself up with the blankets! Swaddling is actually one of the “5 S’s” recommended for soothing a newborn baby. The other 4 are side/stomach, shhhing, swinging, and sucking. I will say side/stomach and swinging did NOT work for Mara. She hated being on her stomach and was not a fan of her swing. Also, side/stomach is not for sleeping! It was a recommended position to calm an upset baby. Babies are not supposed to be placed on their stomach for sleeping. However, shhhing and sucking worked wonders. She loved the sound of shhhing and the vacuum. I even downloaded a YouTube video of 30 minutes of vacuuming that I played in the car, or when she was crazy upset, to calm her down. It worked for months! We also introduced a pacifier to help calm her down and get her to sleep. We had to try a few different brands before we found one that she liked, but once we did it was amazing. After her surgery we established a nightly routine of turning down the lights, giving her a bath, feeding her, rocking for 20 minutes and then swaddling and giving her the pacifer. We did this every night at the same time and she became a great night sleeper! We still kinda follow this routine, but now it’s just bath, read 1 book while rocking and then putting her down. 

So at about 11 weeks old sleeping at night became a practically non-existant issue, but sleeping during the day for naps was a whole different story. A lot of my mom friends on Facebook recommended On Becoming Baby Wise, so I gave it a try. The cover suggests that the book is for nightime sleep, but it definitely helped with naps. Baby Wise recommends following a feed-wake-sleep routine for all babies. This means feeding them as soon as they wake up, then having “playtime” of some sorts, and then putting them down for a nap while they are still awake. In the beginning wake times can be as short as an hour or two, but they get longer as baby gets older. This book recommends that babies take at least 2 naps a day through the first year of life. It also encourages teaching a baby to soothe itself to sleep pretty early on. They recommend a gradual cry it out method. This means going in to soothe the baby (not by picking them up) after 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15, then 20. They definitely do not recommend going beyond 20 minutes. If your baby is crying for more than 20 minutes, then they need something. For Mara, it was food. Whenever I noticed a change in her napping and she wasn’t settling after 3-4 days of consistent behavior it always meant changing when she needed a meal. I actually had to switch her lunchtime and nap time again recently because I couldn’t get her to sleep longer than 1.5 hours. Now I give her lunch and then put her down and she is back to 2-3 hour naps. I know that crying it out is controversial, but it honestly worked for us. A sleeping baby makes for a happy baby, and for well-rested, happy parents. And now if Mara cries at night or during naptime I immediately go check on her because I know something is wrong. This rarely happens, but when it does she either has a stuffy nose, gas or a poopy diaper. I think that all kids are different, so we will see if any other children we may have in the future respond differently. 

Once Mara started becoming mobile, around 8 months, we knew it was time to dive into more discipline and parenting type books. She was constantly getting into things and we wanted some guidance how to handle teaching her what she could and couldn’t do. Two books that we read dealing with this subject were Positive Discipline: The First Three Years and The Everyday Parenting Toolkit. Both of these books encouraged letting a little one practice autonomy over themselves. This includes giving them choices, ie. – You need to wear a hat because it’s cold outside. Do you want the blue hat or the green hat? This gives the little one a choice to consider, without giving them the opportunity to say no. Both of these books also discourage yelling, spanking, and constant nagging. They encourage you to be swift with your reactions, not just saying no over and over again. I will say that I liked these books best out of the ones that I’ve read on discipline for mobile babes and toddlers, but I don’t agree with everything 100%. Neither book recommeneded timeout, or punishments in general (though The Everyday Parenting Toolkit was less severe about it than Positive Discipline), but that is something we decided to adopt for Mara. She is a headstrong child and we’ve found that putting her in her playpen for 2-3 minutes when she misbehaves has worked fairly well. I say fairly because I am not always swift to put her in there. I sometimes take the easy way out and just try telling her “no” several times. Jesse does not. He tells her no once, or not at all if it’s something she knows she shouldn’t do, and then straight to timeout. Guess which one of us she listens to more? Him. Now, I’m not saying that these books are wrong by any means, I just took what they had to say and then created my own method. Maybe for another child timeout wouldn’t work, but distractions or just removing them from a situation would be the way to go. Every child is different. The important part is that I learned a TON about child behavior and long term effects of discipline from reading these books and I have something to think about when trying to correct my own child’s behavior. 

The last book, which was a very enjoyable read for me, was Bringing Up Bebe. I know I’ve talked about it on the blog before, but it is definitely one of my favorites. When I talked about this book before, I talked about how the author (an American woman living in Paris) discovered while visiting with American friends that moms here are incredibly hard on themselves. They have goals of being the best at everything and always providing their kids with the best stuff. When they don’t acheive this then they start beating themselves up about it. I’m still so guilty of doing this with Mara. Jesse is constantly giving me pep talks and reassuring me that I’m a great mom. Something I didn’t talk about was how this book shaped my philosophies on feeding my kid. The author talks about how in Paris toddlers eat fish and vegetables without complaint and there is no constant snacking. I was amazed by this and put it into action once Mara started eating solid food. I’ve given her everything from tabuleh to pho. Now, somethings she definitely likes more than others (she’s been on a green vegetable strike lately) but her diet is not limited to typical toddler foods. I also don’t give her snacks at home. She eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at about the same times everyday. The only time she snacks is if we aren’t at home. I will give her snacks at a restaurant as she waits for her food or to keep her occupied while I’m trying on clothes at the mall. I also give her snacks if she’s been very active for a long period of time. For example, all summer when we went to Busch Gardens she would get a snack at 10am to hold her over until lunch because it was hot and she was riding rides and playing. The not-snacking means I have a kid that is really hungry come mealtimes and is less picky about her food, unless it’s green. 

These books aren’t my favorites because I worship every single word in them. They’re my favorites because I was able to glean some nugget of knowledge from them that made me a better parent. That nugget could be a simple as pausing for a second before the temptation to yell overtakes me, or cutting myself a little slack. The point is, no one knows everything, and it’s important to seek knowledge and to learn. As we enter the toddler years I can already tell that I’m going to need some more books to help me through!

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