7 Books to Read Before Natural Birth – Classic, Fresh, Inspiring!

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:

  1. 1
    Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
  2. 2
    Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
  3. 3
    Real Food for Pregnancy
  4. 4
    Thinking Woman’s Guide
  5. 5
    Birthing From Within
  6. 6
  7. 7
    Spiritual 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.

Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering

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:

  • Understand the hormonal system of birth (plus why makes such a huge difference for a smooth labor)
  • Discover how hormones make labor safer for you and your baby
  • Know how to protect the early moments of your baby’s life so you get off to the best start possible together
  • Find out the truth about many common procedures such as ultrasound and the Group B Strep (GBS) test
  • How to make decisions that are right for you (and safe for your baby) when it comes to tests and procedures
  • Understand the possible risks of epidurals
  • Feel calm and confident about your birth choices (including where you want to birth and who should be with you)
  • Get a firm understanding of attachment and how to build a strong bond with your newborn

Click Here to Get Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering

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…

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

…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:

  • What is the mind-body connection, and why it’s so important for today’s intelligent, modern mama-to-be
  • What real women need to know about what happens during labor (hint: this is not your dry, textbook description)
  • What is the “Sphincter Law” - and why it will help you handle the “ring of fire” like an 8-time mama 😉
  • Crucial information on what to look for with your prenatal care
  • How to know when labor is beginning (and what to do if it feels slow
  • Pain and pleasure (and how you can harness pleasure - yes, even during labor)
  • VBAC tips for pregnant mamas
  • Potential complications and what to do about them
  • How to choose a care provider that you can trust - and who respects your thoughts, feelings, and intuition

Click Here to get 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!

Real Food for Pregnancy

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:

  • How what you eat now can prevent your baby from struggling with obesity, having chronic skin problems in adulthood, stop diabetes from developing, and more
  • Do you need to “eat for two?”The truth about protein needs in pregnancy
  • Why what you’ve been told about fat is wrong
  • How to eat in pregnancy to maintain a healthy weight - and grow an optimally healthy baby
  • Super-foods for a healthy baby (hint: most of the foods on this list are NOT veggies!)
  • Which foods DO NOT build a healthy baby
  • Real-life meal plans for busy pregnant mamas
  • How to handle common pregnancy complaints with nutrition
  • What lab tests mean during pregnancy
  • What to eat during your postpartum for good emotional health and a full milk supply
Real food for pregnancy notes

My notes from Real Food for Pregnancy

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:

  • Physical preparation (including diet, exercise, and childbirth techniques)
  • Mental preparation (understanding choices in pregnancy and birth)
  • Emotional & Spiritual Preparation (handling the ups and downs, personal growth, and abundant spiritual growth pregnancy brings)
Thinking Womans Guide to a Better 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:

  • Why we have a cesarean epidemic - and what you need to know about it.
  • When a cesarean is beneficial (plus how to avoid one that’s unnecessary)
  • What you need to know about breech babies
  • Induction is the “new normal” - and here’s why you should almost always say “no!”
  • The truth about IV fluids and how to stay hydrated during labor
  • Why Electronic Fetal Monitoring may not be best for your baby
  • How long should labor really take (and is it ever okay to speed it up?)
  • Should your doctor or midwife break your water?
  • The real deal on epidurals and labor meds
  • How to choose the right care provider
  • Factors to consider when deciding where to give 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.

Birthing From Within

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:

  • How to balance the worry that comes with pregnancy
  • What is birth art? Find out all the details - plus how it helps you ditch the fear and prepare for giving birth
  • What to consider when you build your birth nest
  • Why birth plans might not work (and what to do instead)
  • How to have the birth you want - even at the hospital
  • What it means to “lose it” during labor
  • This neat trick will help you really practice for contractions!
  • What your birthing partner needs to know
  • How dads can help during birth - even when they’re nervous
  • What dad needs to do to keep mama and baby safe
  • A real-life rundown on labor pain (plus how to handle it like a pro)

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.

Pushed Painful Truth About Childbirth

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:

  • Why induction rates have skyrocketed - and how induction can create danger for mother and baby
  • Cesareans have become a “quick fix” for doctors - but they have long-term negative consequences for mamas, babies, and future babies. Here’s what you need to know about this trend (and how to protect yourself)
  • The real deal on breech babies
  • The long-term complications of c-sections, induction, and other birth interventions
  • Why you should consider having a doula at your birth
  • What you need to know about midwives, maternity care, and the law
  • The truth about women’s rights in childbirth!

#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.

Spiritual Midwifery

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:

  • How to have the courage to give birth on your terms
  • “Amazing Birth Tales” to inspire you, empower you, and cause you to think
  • How to let gratitude bring you energy and power - even in the middle of labor!
  • Trusting your intuition in labor
  • A wide variety of birth stories, including breech babies, twins, and hospital transfers
  • Working with your partner during birth
  • How to decide who to have at your birth (and why too many people can be a problem)
  • Basic information about pregnancy and childbirth
  • Basic information on baby care, including breastfeeding

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:

Sacred Pregnancy

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!

Unassisted Childbirth

Related Questions

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 a Perfect Birth Plan Template? Use this template and step-by-step videos to write a birth plan that gets your birth team on your side for a beautiful birth experience! Get the birth plan kit here.)

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About the author 


Kristen is a pregnancy coach, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! I've spent nearly two decades helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Does complete support for a sacred birth and beautiful beginning for your baby resonate with you? Contact me today to chat about how powerful guidance and coaching can transform your pregnancy, birth, and mothering journey <3

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  1. I love this book list all besides the bonus books that I know nothing about but know they wouldn’t suit my religious beliefs and I haven’t read the Unassisted book yet but it’s on my list, and Birthing From Within for similar reasons but also that it just made me uncomfortable and was a bit strange for me to get into in its style and presentation.
    The only one I didn’t know of was Pushed so I’m going to look for it ASAP!

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