Don't Retract Pack

Instead of "What to Expect When You're Expecting"

Due to the heavy marketing of the What to Expect series of books, and promo/sponsorship from special interest and lobbying groups (not always those who have mother/baby wellbeing at the forefront of their agenda), these are books that tend to be in every bookstore, every library, and on every shelf.

We spent some time talking with a Barnes & Noble manager in Iowa who said that their local store had all front-facing space in the pregnancy/baby section 'spoken for' by the What to Expect publishers. There simply were no other books to be found - and this was the only large bookstore in a 60 mile radius of the city's two hospitals. An expecting mother seeking insight at her local bookseller would be led to believe that this is thee book for her to read...

We visited a holistic health store in Virginia that had only two book options for pregnant women among their hundreds of books - guess what one of those two was? (We've since spoken with this manager as well to provide the store with many more holistic options for books that would fit better with the philosophies of the store).

What to Expect is everywhere. But it is far from being a 'good book' - or even one we'd recommend to anyone. In fact, there are much better options for a pregnant or planning-to-conceive woman who wishes to pick up a research-based, empowering book and discover what is going on with her body, and her baby. Don't let the ubiquitous nature of this series fool you -- instead, ask for one of the excellent pregnancy/birth books. You deserve it! And so does your baby.

Pregnancy/Birth Top 10:

Before Your Pregnancy

The Pregnancy Book

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

Gentle Birth Choices*

Birthing From Within

Birth and Breastfeeding

Childbirth Without Fear

The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth*

* Indicates book contains research-based information on genital autonomy and intact baby boys.

Highly Recommended Pregnancy/Birth Books:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition and Other Holistic Choices

Journey Into Motherhood

Orgasmic Birth

Hypnobabies Home Study

Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta

Choosing Waterbirth

Your Best Birth


Born In the USA

Rediscovering Birth

Having Twins and More*

Active Birth

Homebirth and Other Alternatives to Hospital

Heart and Hands

The Birth Book

Primal Health

Birthing From Within Keepsake Journal

The Caesarean

Silent Knife

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

She Births

A Holistic Guide to Embracing Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood

Birth Without Violence

Back Labor No More

Painless Childbirth

Creating a Joyful Birth Experience

Better Birth

Calm Birth


Mother Rising: The Blessingway Journey into Motherhood

For Kids:

Baby On the Way

On Mother's Lap

We're Having a Homebirth

Mommy Has to Stay in Bed

Hello Baby

Angel in the Waters


Mothering the New Mother

Additional Good Related Book Collections:




Have a favorite pregnancy or birth book? We'd love to hear it! 


  1. I would add Natural Childbirth The Bradley Way and Husband-Coached Childbirth!

  2. Anything by Pinky McKay is brilliant :)

  3. I read both that Natalie recommended too.

    Thank you for the list! Someone gave me the "What to Expect..." book and I never liked it. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly. I much preferred the information I got from Bradley, LLL, even Dr. Sears's books. I have Journey into Motherhood also and Ina May's book on my Amazon Wish List. Praying we can get pregnant again! :-)

  4. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way, Supernatural Childbirth, The Christian Childbirth Handbook - all excellent.

  5. I would like to add HypnoBirthing-The Mongan Method by Marie Mongan to the list.

  6. I would add Penny Simkin's Birth Partner. That book and her video Comfort Measures for Childbirth were invaluable.

    Mari K.

    1. Agreed; that book is amazing and I have read many. I read it when in labor too and it was amazing.Definite must read for pregnancy and labor.

  7. Good books i have read a few and loved them! The what to expect books were the first ones we read and now are permanantly dubbed as bathroom reading material. That's about all i thought they were good for after i read The Birth Book and Birthing From Within.

  8. Even though I was sure I was having a homebirth with my son, I read the "What to Expect When You're Expecting" book and it put A LOT of doubts in my mind about my body and my ability to birth.

    Thankfully I had a VERY supportive birth team and had my ideal birth anyways. I think all those "What to Expect" books need to be burned!

  9. Great to see the books marked that include information on genital autonomy! Thank you for this list.

  10. Apparently it's standard practice for a lot of OBs to give their patients the "What to Expect" books at their first appointment. I'm seeing a CNM group, and they didn't give me that. My mom friends think it's so weird that I don't have it, and that I'm read other things. Hah!

  11. I was recently at an even that was called a Radical Library Crawl. It was an even to show GLBT people in our area what/where the community libraries are and how they can use those libraries to support their 'alternativeness' for lack of a better term. It was a great event but what disturbed me was to find a What to Expect book on the shelf at one of the locations. I spoke with someone in charge who explained that they don't research these books, they just accept them as donations and out them out on the shelf to be loaned out. I offered to buy them a book (or donate one from my own library) that I felt was much more supportive of women in pregnancy and birth and she agreed to take the other off their shelf! Win!

  12. I second Natural Birth the Bradley Way.

  13. In response to what Laura wrote above - I also once thought that everyone was expected to read this book (and it must be good?) because all the doctors in our unit give a copy to patients. Then I asked one about it (I work as an RN alongside physicians in an OB unit) and she told me they are sponsored and receive a bonus of sorts for giving "What to Expect" to clients. It's no wonder the book is written from a "don't ask questions" and "do whatever your doctor says" point of view - it is supported by large organizations like ACOG (surgeons who are trained in performing c-sections). In a way, you get what you choose. Several others in our unit have elected to birth at home, or in our local birthing center with a midwife.

  14. Thank you, thank you for this list! I am expecting my first little one and have been trying to decide on what to read. I haven't been too thrilled with the book I've been reading that my OB handed to me (even though it isn't one of the What to Expect... series). I have been trying to find a list of reputable natural pregnancy and birth books. This couldn't have come at a better time.

  15. There is a brand new book called "Natural Hospital Birth" by Cynthia Gabriel.. very important book if you really want a natural birth in a hospital:-)

  16. I had so many plans for my labor. I wanted all natural with no interventions, a water birth at home or center, the whole shebang. Sadly, I live in a rural area and no water birth was available. Then when I actually went into labor, I ended up having to have a c-section. It was for emergency reasons. And because of my c-section, I wasn't able to do kangaroo care like I had planned and she had to wait 2 hours for her first feed.

    I wish so much that I could have had at least a normal vaginal birth even if I would have had to use medication. I'm still so upset about my birthing experience. Especially since this will more than likely be our last. I may never get the chance to have the birth I dreamed of.

    But all that really matters in the end is that she came out perfectly healthy with no problems whatsoever.

  17. I love that my local library (a county library that serves the 5,000 or so residents in our rural area) has several of the recommended books on the list. Unfortunately, I know (due to the old system of book check out) that I was pretty much the only person who was checking out these books, and that was every 2 years when I got pregnant again!

    But, at least the resource is there.

  18. I recommend The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth With Confidence. It's not another "how-to" book but a "yes-you-can" book.

  19. The Mother of All Pregnancy Books is a pretty good one, at least I think so.

    What I really like about it, is that it is distinctly Canadian. It goes into depth about things that are Canadian, like our health care system, challenges of living in rural areas of Canada, laws/norms, etc. A lot of pregnancy books are American, and talk about american issues - like insurance and stuff, and...that's just irrelevant to Canadians, and those books rarely go into things that are relevant to Canadians.

    I also like it because it does touch on bad things that can happen, but it's not like it's trying to use scare tactics. It's very fact-based, and usually presents both sides of any thing that's an issue. Anyway, someone here might want to review it, and let us know what you think. Btw, second edition just came out in like...April.

  20. I like Our Bodies Ourselves Pregnancy and Childbirth.

  21. Birthing From Within was my absolute favorite! I also ready Ina May Gaskin's books and Childbirth Without Fear. Birthing From Within was so empowering. I couldn't have been successful with the natural and amazing birth of my son with out it!

  22. The Birth Partner is also a good read for anyone attending a birth. My husband doesn't read much so we read it together aloud. It gave us some much needed bonding time and helped prepare both of us for the birth of our daughter in 2009. We started reading it again the other day to refresh our memories as we are expecting baby #2 in the early New Year.

  23. I'm new to your blog--just followed a link from facebook today, but I recommend "The Birth That's Right For You: A Doctor and a Doula Help You Choose and Customize the Best Birth Option to Fit Your Needs" by Amen Ness, Lisa Gould Rubin, and Jackie Frederick-Berner. This quote from the introduction pretty well sums up the philosophy of this book: "The best and most satisfying birth experiences happen when you're able to make choices in labor and delivery that are based on who you are, not someone some childbirth expert tells you that you should be." I found this book to be an unbiased guide that helped me to think through different birthing options as they relate to my own natural tendencies and personality. It gave me confidence, not only that I could give birth the way I wanted to, but that I really had chosen the type of birth that was right for *me* as an individual, not just the type of birth that was right for my friends/family/blog buddies.

  24. We love Angel in the Waters!! My three year old wanted to hear it every day when I was pregnant!

  25. What a great list. I found What to Expect to be annoyingly vague on most topics. It really wasn't very helpful but it is the standard, I remember receiving 3 copies from various friends and relatives when I found out I was pregnant and I had planned on regifting them but they were so unhelpful I finally just gave them to the library.

    My go to pregnancy book is Ina May's. Thanks for this great list!

  26. I loved The Birthkeepers by Veronika Sophia Robinson

  27. I read "what to expect" 15 years ago and still remember how incomplete it felt and how unsettled I was after. In reading so many other books, I realized the worthless piece that it is and would never recommend it to someone else, especially a first time mom.

  28. The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer is my go-to for ALL pregnant women. It's filled with research and citations.

    1. I love Goer's work, but she is in favor of genital cutting, and this is just really contrary to everything we, as mothers, work toward in holistic, healthy birth options and empowering experiences for all involved. "Better Birth" doesn't end where baby's body begins...

    2. I know this is an old post but I actually went to college with Henci Goer's daughter Sara. I was in a class called Gender and Science with her, and she had her mom come and speak during the childbirth section of class. Henci talked about her book and she also showed a video based on the book that she'd put together. I don't remember if the video talked about circumcision much, but at the end it had a list of guidelines to look for when choosing a good birthing center. One of them was that a good birthing center should discourage infant circumcision, and she also addressed this point a bit after the video. Where did you hear she was pro circ? Does "Better Birth" say something pro circ in it? Maybe she's changed her opinion since then? I'm not sure when "Better Birth" was published, but my class was back around 2004, and she was definitely anti circ at that time.

  29. I am looking for an option of pregnancy planning as I am having troubles in fertilization. I was trying to get pregnant for a long time. Butit was not happening. So now I want to try other things to get pregnant.