The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
I’d looked through this book during my last pregnancy, and it made it onto my pregnancy list. But, I hadn’t read it all the way through. This time, I read both the most recent (2004) and the earlier 1997 edition of this classic. Kitzinger is England’s premier natural childbirth advocate. The book includes baby development at the beginning, pregnancy by trimester, labor and birth, and newborn care. Each trimester includes considerations for birth appropriate to that phase. In the first, she discusses choice of care provider, looking at OBs, hospital midwives, birth centers and home births, with nice balanced reasons and safety discussions for all of them. She also includes a section on making sure your doctor knows what you want and how not to be pushed around. In the second trimester, there are exercises, nutrition information, and discussions of sex during pregnancy. (Here I will note that the earlier edition includes tempting photos of good meals and illustrated sexual positions, both omitted in the newer edition. Also, the older edition said that a small amount of alcohol – say a half serving a week or so – was all right after the first trimester, which I have noted to be standard European advice. The new edition, following standard American thinking, recommends no alcohol at all.) The third trimester has discussions of various birth philosophies to help in choosing a class, and emotional concerns for impending parenthood. Sandwiched rather confusingly into the trimesters are chapters for partners and about twins and being pregnant with your second or so child. The birth chapter has a lot of information on labor positions, how to support a mother in labor, pros and cons of medical interventions and the idea of gentle birth. All in all, Kitzinger is knowledgeable and supportive of women’s choices. While she’s coming from a natural childbirth perspective and experienced with home birth, she also wants women to be where they’re most comfortable. If that’s the hospital, she includes a lot of information on working with the staff and policies there. While she talks openly about the risks of standard interventions like epidurals, she also says that a woman who feels she needs pain relief should certainly have it. The new edition has a more casual tone and more attractive layout than the earlier edition; both are filled with quotes from mothers and photos of pregnancy and newborns, including three photo essays of births – hospital, home, and water. The pictures reflect good racial and age diversity.
An issue with the book as a whole was its focus on heterosexual, two-parent families. She does at least not assume that they’re married, but single motherhood was given a paragraph in the beginning. The possibility of same-sex couples was perhaps mentioned in the chapter on selecting a child-care class, where it says that registration shouldn’t be limited to heterosexual couples. Even here, though, it sounded more like she was thinking of mothers who wanted a female best friend rather than the father to be a support person. There was also no mention in the section on becoming a parent again on issues dealing with children spaced at other than two or three years apart in either direction.
I was not too impressed with her section on newborn care. Though mostly good, it includes a few chunks of bad breastfeeding advice – she advises rather short timed nursing sessions, and not allowing “nursing for comfort” even in the newborn, ignoring that nursing without milk present is how newborns build up the milk supply. In the section on postnatal sex, she advises trying intercourse before the postnatal checkup – I’d personally want the pro to make sure everything was in good shape before trying that – and doesn’t mention that reduced libido is a natural result of nursing hormones as well as exhaustion. Probably bothersome mostly to me, she argues in favor of disposable diapers on the grounds that parents will be more likely to change diapers more frequently if they don’t have to wash them. In my experience, cost-conscious parents are likely to do the exact opposite, especially with the super-absorbency of modern disposables. There are reasons to use disposables; I don’t think her listed reason is a good one. Her postnatal exercises include some that Julie Tupler would say are likely to increase abdominal diastases. The final resource section includes a lot of classic titles and groups, mostly European, and omits such classic American natural birth and parenting gurus as Ina May Gaskin, Pam England and the Sears.
All in all though, her advice for pregnancy and birth is solid, reassuring, and very helpful for women figuring out what’s important to them in birth and how to make sure they get the best support possible. Since her biases are towards the norm, this is an excellent basic pregnancy book for most mothers.