While the best parenting books may not stop new parents from feeling overwhelmed, they can help them feel more prepared.
Becoming a parent for the first time is a wild roller coaster of emotions, anxiety, and constant self-doubt. While books may not be the cure-all for those feelings, they can definitely help a parent feel more prepared. Or at least offer a jumping-off point for how you want to handle sleep training, discipline, and learning.
This is a list of the 5 best parenting books for new parents, in my opinion.
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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 the pregnancy progressed and as I became a mother.
Despite her insistence and well-intended advice, the first day we brought my first daughter home I felt totally lost. This brought on panic and feelings of inadequacy. My husband started researching and found the best parenting books for new parents.
We 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!
Don’t be afraid to look into parenting books or to seek research-backed advice as a new parent.
The 5 Best Parenting Books for New Parents
The Happiest Baby on the Block
The first of the best parenting books that we read was The Happiest Baby on the Block. We read it while we took turns staying up with our first daughter all night. She refused to sleep at night for the first 10 days of her life.
This meant my husband would stay up with her from 9 pm to 2 am and then I would get up with her around 2 am. She slept great during the day, so we would take advantage and nap while she slept.
While this schedule “worked” it definitely wasn’t ideal for us. We were both tired and cranky and felt isolated since we were living in shifts.
The Happiest Baby on the Block taught us about the concept of the “fourth trimester” where the baby is adjusting to no longer being in the womb. Plus, it was full of advice on how to 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 Happiest Baby recommended swaddling. We had been swaddling her with blankets from the hospital, but after reading the book we specifically switched to Swaddler sacks with velcro. She was always breaking out of the swaddles, so the velcro helped solve this problem!
The “5 S’s”
Swaddling is 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 either of our girls. Also, side/stomachs are not for sleeping! However, shhhing and sucking worked wonders for our oldest. I even downloaded a YouTube video of vacuuming that I played to calm her down. We also introduced a pacifier to help get her to sleep.
Later, 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 pacifier. We did this every night at the same time. Eventually, she became a great night sleeper! We followed this routine with our second daughter as well.
On Becoming Baby Wise
By the time our oldest daughter was 11 weeks old, sleeping at night wasn’t much of an issue, but sleeping during the day for naps was a whole different story. A lot of my mom friends recommended On Becoming Baby Wise, which is why it’s one of the best parenting books. The cover suggests that the book is for nighttime 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 sort, 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 the 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!
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. Now, if my kids cry at night or during nap time I immediately go check on them because I know something is wrong.
I think that all kids are different, and you have to follow your gut when sleep training. The Baby Wise method worked well for both of our girls though.
Positive Discipline: The First Three Years
Once our kids became mobile, around 8 months, we dove into more of the best parenting books on discipline. They were constantly getting into things and we wanted some guidance on how to handle teaching them what they could and couldn’t do. The two best parenting books dealing with this subject were Positive Discipline: The First Three Years and The Everyday Parenting Toolkit.
Both of these books encouraged letting little ones practice autonomy over themselves. This includes giving them choices. For example, instead of saying “You have to wear a hat,” try “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. Positive Discipline focused on non-punishment methods to create boundaries and educate. This included redirecting a child’s attention when they are upset or constantly getting into things they shouldn’t.
This book is anti-timeout but does encourage establishing a calm, “cool down” spot when a child (or parent) is overly upset. According to Positive Discipline, parents should allow children autonomy and follow their lead in areas like potty training, sleeping, and eating.
The biggest piece that I took away from the book was to learn your child’s temperament and create systems around that. While this is an excellent book and I learned a lot about child development, I don’t agree with everything 100%. We actually did end up using timeout for our oldest, and still, use it today. We felt like redirection and some of the other methods didn’t work for our child’s temperament.
The Everyday Parenting Toolkit
Another of the best parenting books on discipline that we read was The Everyday Parenting Toolkit by Alan Kazdin. Kazdin is a child psychologist and the director of the Yale Parenting Center. He has developed The Kazdin Method, which focuses on changing a child’s behavior through reason and “positive opposites.”
This means praising the positive behavior of a child rather than just disciplining the negative behavior. The book uses an example of bullying siblings. It’s okay to call out the negative behavior and explain why they shouldn’t hit their sister, but yelling and punishment won’t change the behavior.
According to Kazdin, the behavior is more likely to change if a parent praises when the children are kind to each other. The kids will enjoy the positive reinforcement and eventually stop hitting each other.
Again, we didn’t quite follow this method but we have used it (along with timeouts). Both The Everyday Parenting Toolkit and Positive Discipline were excellent resources.
I learned a TON about child behavior and the long-term effects of discipline from reading these books and I have something to think about when trying to correct my own children’s behavior.
Bringing Up Bebe
My favorite of all these parenting books is Bringing Up Bebe. I know I’ve talked about it on the blog before and I focused on how the author (an American woman living in Paris) realized that moms in the US are incredibly hard on themselves. They have goals of being the best at everything and always providing their kids with the latest and greatest stuff. When American moms don’t achieve this then they start beating themselves up about it.
This habit was entirely different from how mothers in Paris treated motherhood. Something I haven’t talked about was how this book shaped my philosophies on feeding my kids.
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 my kids started eating solid food. I’ve given them everything from tabbouleh to pho.
I also don’t typically give them snacks at home. They eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at about the same times every day. I will give them snacks at a restaurant or when visiting with friends to keep them occupied and happy. I also give them snacks if they’ve been very active for a long period of time.
Not snacking at home means that the kids are genuinely hungry at mealtimes and less picky about their food. If they refuse a dish, then I know that they genuinely don’t like it versus just counting on a snack later.
These books aren’t the best parenting books 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 as simple as pausing for a second before the temptation to yell overtakes me, or cutting myself a little slack. The point is, that no one knows everything, and it’s important to seek knowledge and to learn.
If you enjoyed this post, check out my post on what items I believe are must-haves for newborns!