Books and websites on babies

Several people I know are expecting a first baby soon, and I wrote up notes for one of them. Might as well share here too:

Scott Alexander’s Biodeterminist’s Guide to Parenting is an interesting read, and some parts are actionable. 

If you live in an old building (pre-1978 in the US), here’s my writeup on lead paint.

If breastfeeding, KellyMom is my go-to for advice on whatever is going wrong.

On childbirth, I read several books but The Birth Partner is the only one I’d use again. It’s written primarily for the partner rather than the person giving birth, but it’s the best one I read even for the person giving birth. The advice for working out your attitude to pain relief and medical interventions felt more balanced than some of the other more obviously pro- or anti-intervention stuff I read.
Even if you’re not expecting a c-section, read about what aftercare will be like if you do get one. For example laying things out in the house to minimize walking / stairs, figuring out what pain meds you’d be ok with during recovery if breastfeeding.

The Happiest Baby on the Block techniques are well worth learning for dealing with fussy babies. The actual book is needlessly fluffy, but there’s a video version that covered the important stuff in an hour, or there’s a 9-minute version.

Emily Oster’s Expecting Better and Cribsheet have some good info, and enough of your friends have read them that you’ll hear about her opinions no matter what. At least on her blog, I feel like her brand is now “don’t worry, studies show your child probably won’t be harmed by X.” I think she’s overly cavalier in a few cases (for example claiming that light drinking during pregnancy won’t hurt; this rebuttal by an epidemiologist specializing in fetal alcohol syndrome was pretty convincing to me.) There are cases where there’s no conclusive evidence that X is bad for your child, but often she’s only looking at one particular type of harm, or it seems like there’s just not enough data to answer the question. For example she convinced me that caffeine is not likely to cause a miscarriage, but that’s not the only harm I care about, and common sense is that you don’t give psychoactive drugs to developing brains.

Now that you can google everything, I don’t feel like a Dr. Spock – style baby guide is that important if you have a decent sense of what babies are like. If you’ve never spent much time around babies, it’s probably worth skimming a baby development type book to get a sense of what happens when. I skimmed Penelope Leach’s Your Baby and Child and T. Berry Brazleton’s Touchpoints, which were both fine.

Another part of why I didn’t feel like I needed a book that explained every last medical situation you could encounter with a baby is that our pediatrician’s office has a 24-hour phone line where they answer your questions about the baby’s rash or whatever. I definitely recommend finding a practice that offers this.

When researching medical problems, I find that children’s hospitals often have good guides. You can find some doctor somewhere with all kinds of opinions, but I assume the guides from children’s hospitals represent some kind of expert consensus. Example on fever.


On sleep training, my take is that people have a pet method they prefer and will tell you the other methods are terrible. But different families do succeed with completely different methods, and if one method is a terrible fit for your family you can switch to another. We used the Weissbluth cry-it-out method and will do it again. If you run into other sleep problems the Ferber book might be worth getting because he’s an actual pediatric sleep expert, while the other authors are usually generic pediatricians. The Ferber book covers a bunch of other sleep stuff like sleepwalking and bed wetting, so might be worth consulting later even if you don’t use it for sleep training.

Aside from nighttime sleep training, read something about nap schedules. One example. If your baby is in daycare, you can ask the daycare what they do and do the same at home.

On potty training when the time comes, the Oh Crap method was great for us. Both kids trained in a weekend.

On other behavior stuff, Jeff’s main thoughts are here and mine are here. I talk a lot in that post about How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, but a lot of it is about older kids. For younger kids, I start with How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.

Other life stuff:
On time management, Laura Vanderkam is about the only productivity person I can stomach anymore, because she has 5 kids and most other authors seem to write for people with no commitments aside from work. Her book I Know How She Does It is based on time tracking by mothers who earn at least $100k and are presumably pretty busy. The time logs indicate you can work a lot, have some personal time, and spend quality time with your kids if you organize things well and pay for a lot of childcare.

Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is based on a bunch of twin and adoption studies. He argues that they show parenting doesn’t make that much difference and mostly your kid is going to come out how they were always going to come out based on their genetics, so you might as well just focus on enjoying time together instead of shaping them into a star achiever. I thought I was going to be a really relaxed parent after buying these arguments, but there’s still a bunch of environmental stuff like lead exposure that I managed to be anxious about anyway. And there’s still a lot to figure out about how to make life pleasanter in the meantime. 


6 thoughts on “Books and websites on babies

  1. A


    We’re a working couple in a London (family abroad) and planning for our first child – we’re trying to figure out what balance will be necessary in terms of how quickly the mum returns to work. Financially we could probably get by with just my income but my partner enjoys her career.

    Many of our friends live in a European country where maternity leave is 2 years and they take it in full. My partner will probably be able to take 1 year which we thought was fine as the standard here is for people to send children to daycare or get a nanny even earlier, but our friends scared us out about how important the first 3 years are and how it’s cruel to not stay with the kid for minimum 2 years at home full time, as this is the time when a lot of development happens and connections get formed.

    We’re in jobs where we’d probably be able to make flexible arrangements (e.g. each parent WFH a couple of days a week and so on, though we’d still need help to be able to work during the day) but this catastrophic view definitely worried us.

    Logically, I would say there is some truth to it being important being very close to the child in the first 2 years, but there is a balance to strike between having to be there 24/7 and getting some help during working hours after e.g. 1 year while still being there for everything else.

    You seem like someone balanced (who also has children), what’s your opinion on this? This got my partner particularly worried, as she’s thinking about not being a good enough mother in comparison.

    Thank you!

    1. Julia Post author

      I mean, you’re asking an American, where 12 weeks unpaid leave is standard! Personally, my first child started daycare at 8 months and my second started with a nanny at 4 months (but by that time was I working from home so was still breastfeeding and seeing her regularly throughout the day, which felt very different from a 9 hours day apart.)

      I have minor misgivings about daycare for young children – there’s some evidence that it’s more stressful for them (cortisol levels higher on daycare days).
      Emily Oster’s book “Cribsheet” addresses daycare vs. nanny evidence, but I forget what the conclusions were.

      I’ve certainly preferred in-home arrangements once we started doing that, since the kids can sleep and eat on their own schedule, which is less frantic for everyone. Probably less getting sick, too (which probably doesn’t make much difference to the child’s long-term health but is a hassle in the short term.)

  2. Pingback: Books and websites on babies - Otherwise

  3. Pingback: Books and websites on babies • Otherwise

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