12 First-Time Parenting Books That Will Actually Help You Stay Sane

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Editor At Large
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Becoming a parent for the first time is wildly overwhelming — and oftentimes, the sheer amount of parenting information out there (which is meant to help) actually contributes to being overwhelmed. (Seriously — go to any bookstore's "Parenting" section and try not to have a panic attack.)

To combat that, we've culled parenting over-information into 11 truly useful books for first-time parents to read, sorted by topic — plus some other first-time parenting products that are life-savers, too.

As a mom to a six-month-old and someone who reads about mom & dad stuff almost too much, I can attest that of all the titles out there — and there are SO MANY — these are the ones that help the most with your sanity those first few months (or heck, years.) 

So without further adieu, 11 first-time parenting books that guide you, encourage you, calm you, and most importantly make you feel less alone:

On becoming a parent

1. A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk

From Amazon:

"When first published in 2001, it divided female critics and readers. One famous columnist wrote a piece demanding that Cusk's children were taken into care, that was she was unfit to look after them. Oprah Winfrey invited her on the show to defend herself and the book as protests grew about its honest, gritty account of the misery of those early months. It is a seminal, stand-out book on the complications of being an ambivalent mum in an age of white-washed, Annabel Karmel'd new families."

Cusk normalized some of the conflicting, difficult feelings I had during those first few months, especially the 'liaisons with my former life,' while my baby slept. I applauded her bravery in being so radically honest and saying what so many think internally — but dare not say out loud. It made me feel less alone and definitely less 'crazy'. 

Other products that'll help you prepare for parenting:

On making hard parenting decisions

2. Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, From Birth To Preschool by Emily Oster

From Amazon:

"With Expecting Better, award-winning economist Emily Oster spotted a need in the pregnancy market for advice that gave women the information they needed to make the best decision for their own pregnancies. By digging into the data, Oster found that much of the conventional pregnancy wisdom was wrong. In Cribsheet, she now tackles an even greater challenge: decision-making in the early years of parenting."

As a pregnant mom and new parent, you get SO much unsolicited advice that it's easy to fall for anecdotal stories that often unreliably terrify or soothe. That's why I was so grateful when I read Cribsheet. Finally  concrete data helped me make tricky parenting decisions. Plus, Oster made me feel a lot better for switching to formula at three months —​ turns out, my son won't be ruined for life, no matter what anyone else tells you.

Other products that will help you make better parenting decisions:

On formula feeding vs breastfeeding

3. Lactivate! A User's Guide To Breastfeeding by Jill Krause

From Amazon:

"Breastfeeding moms will tell you milk makin’ comes with health and convenience benefits―and a million questions. Lactivate! is a judgment-free advice book with the latest knowledge of breastfeeding, supporting you to make the best decisions for yourself and your family."

Edited by a lactation consultant, this “breastfeeding guide” is inclusive of all feeding journeys, and keeps mom’s mental health as #1 priority. 

Other products that will help you breastfeed or bottle-feed — there is no 'right' way to feed your child:

RELATED: Why I Will Never Apologize For Being A Working Mom

On sleep

4. The Happiest Baby on the Block:  The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp

From Amazon:

"Thousands of parents, from regular moms and dads to Hollywood superstars, have come to baby expert Dr. Harvey Karp to learn his remarkable techniques for soothing babies and increasing sleep. Now his landmark book—fully revised and updated with the latest insights into infant sleep, bedsharing, breastfeeding, swaddling, and SIDS risk—can teach you too! Dr. Karp’s highly successful method is based on four revolutionary concepts."

Thankfully, I had a good sleeper on my hands as soon as my son was born — but I was so terrified of that not being the case (and in turn, being a zombie mom running on no sleep) that I read this book back and forth before he came. Moms in my group who did have sleep issues with their kiddos swore by it.

Other products that will help you combat sleep issues:

On combatting perfectionism

5. Operating Instructions: A Journal Of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott

From Amazon:

"It’s not like she’s the only woman to ever have a baby. At thirty-five. On her own. But Anne Lamott makes it all fresh in her now-classic account of how she and her son and numerous friends and neighbors and some strangers survived and thrived in that all-important first year. From finding out that her baby is a boy (and getting used to the idea) to finding out that her best friend and greatest supporter Pam will die of cancer (and not getting used to that idea), with a generous amount of wit and faith (but very little piousness), Lamott narrates the great and small events that make up a woman’s life."

I'm not a religious person but if I was, Anne Lammot would be my spiritual guide. I read this book about her journey as a single mom before deciding whether I wanted kids. Somehow, Lamott manages to write in a way that is both honest and hilarious and always, always vulnerable. She makes you feel like she's your best parent friend even though you've never met her. I recommend this memoir to all my first-time parent friends.

Other products that will help you combat perfectionism:

On creating a schedule & staying organized

6. The Wonder Weeks: A Stress-Free Guide To Your Baby's Behavior by Xaveria Plooj and Frans X. Plooj, PhD

From Amazon:

"The Wonder Weeks answers the question, “Why is my baby cranky, clingy, and crying?” with helpful guidance. Maybe they’re experiencing a leap in brain development, after which new skills are mastered, discoveries are made, and perceptions evolve. Fussy behavior might signal that great progress is underway!"

This book — when paired with the iPhone app — acted as sort of a postpartum What To Expect When You're Expecting. It magically predicted — and explained — the behaviors of my baby as he entered each new 'leap' in his growing and development. 

Other products/services that will help you stay organized:

On your new "mom" identity 

7. Dear Mama: You Matter: Honest Talk About The Transition To Motherhood by Amanda Hardy, PhD

From Amazon:

"Dear Mama, Once a baby is born, so much of the focus and energy turns toward them. It’s natural for all the books and chatter to be about the baby. But, Mama, this book is all about YOU. You matter, too, and these words are my love letter to you."

A friend recommended I read this right after my baby was born, saying she wished she had read it before having kids. So do I. It's a love letter to moms — and something all parents should read to remind themselves of their own strength on the hard days. 

Other products that will help you instill your new mom identity:

RELATED: Study Shows The Family Size That Makes Parents The Happiest

On postpartum body image:

8. Body Full Of Stars: Female Rage And My Passage Into Motherhood by Molly Caro-May

From Amazon:

"Molly Caro May grapples with questions of grief and rage as she undergoes several unexpected health issues after the birth of her first child. Body Full of Stars both reveals deeper truths about how disconnected many modern women are from their bodies and celebrates the greatest story of all time: mothers and daughters, partners and co-parents, and the feminine power surging beneath it all."

I struggled with postpartum body image — and thankfully, I was prepared for that because I read this book before giving birth. May struggled mightier than I did — she had pelvic floor collapse and a prolapsed uterus following her birth which affected her postpartum quality of life. Despite our realities being different, I could relate to many of the feelings about feeling like a stranger in your own body.

Other products that will help your postpartum body image:

On fatherhood

9. The New One: Painfully True Stories From A Reluctant Dad by Mike Birbiglia

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From Amazon:

"With laugh-out-loud funny parenting observations, the New York Times bestselling author and award-winning comedian delivers a book that is perfect for anyone who has ever raised a child, been a child, or refuses to stop acting like one."

Comedian Mike Birbiglia is a comedian and was a known reluctant parent — and so was his wife until she changed her mind. This is a funny and surprisingly touching coming-to-terms-with-parenting memoir. Great for any parent who may have been on the fence to begin with.

Other products that will help you embrace your new dad identity:

On having a sense of humor 

10. The Sh*t No One Tells You: A Guide To Surviving Your Baby's First Year by Dawn Dais and Meredith Mitchell

From Amazon:

"There comes a time in every new mother's life when she finds herself staring at her screaming, smelly 'bundle of joy' and wishing someone had told her that her house would reek of vomit, or that she shouldn't buy the cute onesies with a thousand impossible buttons, or that she might cry more than the baby."

The Type-A in me couldn't relate to some of the last-minute-ness of this author, but what Dais lacked in baby preparation, she fully makes up for in hilarity. The most honest and hysterical guide to parenting — a great baby shower gift for any mom with a great sense of humor. PS: There's a pregnancy one and a toddler one, too.

Other products that will help you keep a sense of humor as a parent:

On keeping it simple

11.  Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power Of Less To Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne with Lisa Ross

From Amazon:

"Today’s busier, faster society is waging an undeclared war on childhood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time, children can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. Simplicity Parenting offers inspiration, ideas, and a blueprint for change."

For Montessori-style parents (or Montessori-ATTEMPTING parents like me *wink*), this book is really helpful to condense the overwhelm that is parenting and parent marketing (Target toy aisle, anyone?) and churn out the most vital aspects: kids need structure, discipline, love, imaginative play, and really, truly, seriously: only a few toys.

Other products that will help you keep things simple:

RELATED: The Reality Of Being A Young, Single Mom

On your legacy as a parent

12. Family Secrets Journal: A Guided Keepsake For Recording Your Journey by Claire Wallace

From Amazon:

"Dig deep into what makes your family's story unique with this deluxe hardcover guided journal. Filled with dozens of prompts for amateur genealogists, this thoughtful keepsake guides you through the journey of recording the colorful details of your lineage. From immigration tales and treasured recipes to laugh-out-loud jokes and special celebrations, the Family Secrets Journal opens up a world of conversations with your loved ones, as you capture important memories."

If you're a first-time parent obsessed with jotting down every moment, giggle, and poop *raises hand*, this is a great solution. It's also great for recording your past history so that your child can learn about his past as well as his childhood.

Other products that will help you preserve memories and record special moments:

Andrea Zimmerman is the editor-at-large at Yourtango. She enjoys reading, traveling, and reading while traveling. Follow her on Instagram @angiecat86 or email her at andreaz@yourtango.com.

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