Getting through labor and birth is a big job, especially when you decide to go all natural! After having 8 babies naturally, I’ve discovered the 7 best books to read before natural birth - they’ll help you feel strong, confident, and prepared! Check out the list, then read on for details on each book:
- 1Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
- 2Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
- 3Real Food for Pregnancy
- 4Thinking Woman’s Guide
- 5Birthing From Within
- 7Spiritual Midwifery
Bonus Book: Sacred Pregnancy
Bonus Book: Unassisted Childbirth
#1 - Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
If you read only one book about childbirth, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering should be the one. Dr. Sarah Buckley has been teaching women about pregnancy and birth for decades, but her book is not a clinical overview of childbirth.
Sarah shares intimate stories about her own babies’ births and how she grew and discovered how to have better births through those experiences.
She also shares how her own births sent her in search of how birth really works.
You can pick up most pregnancy books and take any childbirth class (including my MamaBaby Birthing class online) to find out the stages and mechanics of labor - but birthing a baby involves far more than hours of labor and centimeters dilated.
Sarah discusses the hormones of birth, something I didn’t even realize was important until I'd had several babies! But the hormones of birth are absolutely vital - and Sarah tells you exactly why.
Additionally, she gives you a solid system to evaluate interventions during pregnancy and childbirth - including insider information on many tests, procedures, and interventions.
After reading Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering you will:
Don’t miss my podcast interview with Sarah! Click here to listen to Ecstatic Birth with Dr. Sarah Buckley
Next up in recommended books to read before natural birth:
#2 - Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
Ina May Gaskin is often credited with the modern resurgence of midwifery - and she shares wisdom she gained over decades of serving birthing women in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
When I think about what has helped me the most with birthing my own 8 babies, it has been Ina May’s books (I’ll share details on the second book later in this list).
Like Sarah, Ina May doesn’t waste your time with basics you’re going to pick up in your childbirth class. Instead of a clinical rehashing the stages of labor, you’re going to dive right into how the mind and body are connected…
…and how that’s going to impact your labor and birth. Even though Ina May’s midwifery career got its start on a hippie commune, there’s nothing “hippie” about what you’ll get from this book - it’s all based on research…
…and tempered with women’s wisdom and intuition <3
Ina May gets into what she calls the “Sphincter Law,” which is crucial to understanding how to let your body stay soft and open for your baby (and can help you slip through the “ring of fire” with a lot less pain).
Here’s what you’ll find inside Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth:
Next up is another don't miss book to read before natural birth:
#3 - Real Food for Pregnancy
I know, this isn’t a book on childbirth - it’s Lily Nichol’s book Real Food for Pregnancy and it covers how to eat during pregnancy. If you’ve listened to my podcasts or read my website, you know that I talk about pregnancy nutrition a lot.
And with good reason. It’s the #1 thing you can do to help yourself grow a healthy, happy baby - and to have a smooth, safe natural birth.
A well-nourished mama has a healthy baby who can handle labor. And a well-nourished mama has the strength and energy to get through labor. Labor is an athletic event that does come with a little blood loss… being well-nourished is literally your insurance policy!
We didn’t have good information on healthy pregnancy diet for a long time. We had Dr. Brewer’s work (which is still excellent and relevant) - but after he died we didn’t have anyone dedicated to pregnancy nutrition.
Lily, a registered dietician, worked with pregnant mamas and saw the need for science- and wisdom-based prenatal nutrition firsthand. Her research led to Real Food for Pregnancy, which is a solid guide to how to eat for a healthy baby - and a safe birth.
Here’s what you’ll dig into inside of Real Food for Pregnancy:
Listen to my podcast interview with Lily: Why Your Pregnancy Diet Advice is All Wrong!
Continuing the list of books to read before natural birth:
#4 - The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth
I usually tell students that pregnancy and birth are more than they appear - in fact, there are three parts of preparing for a natural birth:
Henci Goer’s book The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth is exactly what you need for the mental preparation: it clearly lays out common childbirth interventions and tells you what the research really says about them.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth is a classic and with good reason - it’s based on solid science and it has been sound advice for a generation of women. Even student midwives often have this book as assigned reading (along with Henci’s more technical tomes).
It’s packed with clear considerations for each intervention and procedure and written in a conversational tone that’s easy to absorb - even on the days when pregnancy brain makes you think you’re going a little crazy 😉
There is information to use as talking points with your doctor or midwife, and if you want more information it makes a great jumping-off point to dig into the most recent research.
Here’s some of what you’ll get inside of The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth:
Click Here to get your copy of The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth
Next up is a classic book to read before natural birth!
#5 - Birthing from Within
My memories of Birthing from Within are happy - and powerful. I got it at the end of my pregnancy with my second baby, but went into labor before I really got a chance to read it. During my labor one of my midwives sat in the bathroom with me, reading passages from the book. It gave me peace, power, and energy, all rolled into one!
I want you to read it before your labor begins 😉
Birthing From Within has one of the most unique perspectives on birth preparation for partners out there - if your partner feels a bit nervous about the “coach” role, this book will help both of you feel settled into something a little different.
There’s far more to the book than that, however. It gives concrete strategies to use during labor and it doesn’t sugar-coat anything. If you want something that talks about the work of birthing a baby…
…and something that affirms your power to birth your baby, this is the book for you. There’s also a lot of practical information on preparing the room you’ll birth your baby, how to handle a slower labor, and good positions for birthing.
Some of my favorite techniques to “practice” contractions are from Birthing From Within - they are really effective! Practicing before labor truly makes a difference when it comes time to birth your baby, and Pam England has some creative ways to make that happen.
Here’s some of what you’ll find inside Birthing from Within:
Click here to get Birthing From Within
#6 - Pushed
Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care is a must-read for the informed consumer. Every pregnant woman should read this book. It’s written as investigative reporting and has compelling stories that will draw you through the book - but of course the value is in the information it reveals about modern maternity care.
Jennifer Block doesn’t hold much back as she discusses the problems and pitfalls of a system that’s never really taken mothers into consideration. But the book doesn’t only focus on the negative - it also covers essential information on having a better birth.
Like The Thinking Woman’s Guide, Pushed is more about giving you the knowledge you need to navigate pregnancy and birth procedures and interventions - and what you need to consider when you make your choices.
It’s not a book that focuses on how to actually get through labor and birth (though it does give hints on things that make a big difference - like why you might consider a doula).
Pushed also tackles the dicey issue of women’s rights... when it comes to birthing our babies. In many ways women have found victory and increasing rights - but that has been hampered in birth. Yet we know that, almost always, what’s best for the mama is best for the baby. Pushed will help you navigate the system and step fully into your power.
Here’s what’s covered inside Pushed:
#6 - Spiritual Midwifery
I went back and forth on including Spiritual Midwifery on the list but ultimately it had to go on because it had such a powerful influence on my own birth experiences.
Spiritual Midwifery is Ina May Gaskin’s first book, but it’s more accurately a collective book of the pregnancy and birthing experiences of The Farm, a commune in Tennessee during the 60’s and 70’s. It played a part in the resurgence of midwifery in the United States.
The book is divided into two parts, birth stories and a practical manual for birthing families (plus primer for student midwives). The birth stories include dated, “hippie” language, but there is something authentic and powerful about them.
As I had more babies, I got to where I wanted my birth attendants to be really hands-off. Farm midwives were early in the midwifery movement and informed mostly by doctors - so these stories may be more “hands on” than some mamas like. But they are still so genuine and full of the power of birthing women.
The family is considered the core consideration, and it’s hard to find something that honors our interconnectivity and the dreams we have for our families.
The information in the second half of the book is a good overview, though I don’t recommend the nutrition information (see Real Food for Pregnancy, above, for that!). And the pictures, though dated, are really enchanting and inspiring.
This book helped me to embrace birthing - as soon as things got started with my babies, I’d say “I want it to get heavy,” something I learned from Spiritual Midwifery (check out George’s birth on p. 53 of the 4th edition).
I showed gratitude during labor - for getting to birth this baby, and for the helpers I had. I discovered how to give away some of the awesome energy coursing through my body… and how that helped me handle contractions better.
I read Spiritual Midwifery in every one of my 8 pregnancies - and to me that says something about the down-to-earth, practical wisdom within. Fitting, I suppose, for an old hippie book 😉
Here’s what’s inside Spiritual Midwifery:
Bonus Book #1 - Sacred Pregnancy
Sacred Pregnancy: A Loving Guide and Journal for Expectant Moms is a beautiful pregnancy journal. If you like the idea of something that guides you through your pregnancy week-by-week and honors your intuition and power as a birthing woman, this book is for you.
There are journaling prompts each week, as well as information on a variety of topics. Pregnancy is an emotional and spiritual journey and Sacred Pregnancy covers many, many areas to consider and ponder as you and your baby prepare for your first meeting. Here’s a video where I discuss the book:
Bonus Book #2 - Unassisted Childbirth
The classic Unassisted Childbirth from Laura Shanley is not a how-to manual on having an unassisted birth, but is rather a celebration of birth and the wisdom of mothers, babies, and the birth process. This book won’t resonate with everyone, but if you’d like to hear about Laura’s unassisted birth experiences and discover how to listen to and trust your intuition, it’s an enjoyable read. Laura will help you banish fear and go into birthing with confidence!
What are the best pregnancy books? Though pregnancy books are everywhere, there really aren't all that many that get a recommendation. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn is a classic guide. The other two books are more visual - but fascinating and empowering (especially Bump - I love it so much I have an autographed copy!)
What are the best books for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)? The healthy pregnancy and powerful birth advice you get an all of my book recommendations will help, but here are a few excellent books for VBAC mamas specifically - from classic to fresh and inspiring, you'll find it here:
(NOTE: Want Real Mom Tested Techniques for Handling Labor Pain? Use these 11 proven natural childbirth techniques to handle labor and keep things moving right along. Get them here.)