My top recommendations:
Gaskin, Ina May. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. 2003.
This is a wonderful book to start with if you want to develop a positive outlook on childbirth. Ina May is the leading midwife in the nation and helped found The Farm, where women still go to have babies. (At The Farm, birth statistics are astoundingly good; those midwives know a thing or two about childbirth.) Besides the inspiring birth stories that make up the first half the book, the book’s second half contains solid information that will reassure you and inform you before you give birth. It’s a quick, fun read.
Simkin, Penny. The Birth Partner. 3rd edition, 2007.
This book clearly explains what happens in labor and how your partner can help at each step of the way. The really key parts are marked with a different color, so you can refer to them quickly. Author Penny Simkin is the quintessential doula. She is one of the founders of DONA International and is revered and loved by doulas everywhere. Her suggestions are backed up by research and by many, many years of personal experience as a doula. The book includes helpful line drawings of labor positions and would be easy to refer to during labor.
Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. 1999.
Henci Goer has condensed a huge number of scientific studies of maternity care into one book that covers the pros and cons of various medical interventions. At the beginning, she admits her bias toward midwife care and natural childbirth, and she goes on to present some fairly convincing reasons to avoid most medical interventions. (Be forewarned: This book will probably not leave you on the fence. ) Whether you are planning a natural birth or not, there is valuable information here about what you can expect to be offered once you enter the hospital.
It would be nice to have an update to this book, with more recent medical studies. My guess, based on statistics presented at the DONA Int’l conference in July 2007, is that the results of recent studies will further support the conclusions in this book.
Kitzinger, Sheila. The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2003.
Sheila Kitzinger provides a thoughtful, thorough overview of all aspects of pregnancy and childbirth in this book. She believes in giving women the information they need to make their own decisions. She has done much research on what is happening in today’s birthing rooms and gives you a good idea of what to expect emotionally and physically. In addition, she brings her sociologist’s knowledge of other cultures’ childbirth practices into the discussion wherever appropriate.
Other books that would be worth reading:
Huggins, Kathleen. The Nursing Mother’s Companion. 2005. (Esp. good for first-time nursing mothers.)
Klaus, Kennell, and Klaus. The Doula Book. 2002. (In case you want to know what I might do.)
Gaskin, Ina May. Spiritual Midwifery. 2002. (If you just can’t get enough birth stories. . . )
Harper, Barbara, and Suzanne Arms. Gentle Birth Choices. 2005. (Again, woman- and baby-centered,
England, Pam, and Rob Horowitz. Birthing From Within.