Category Archives: book reviews

Book Review: Good Night Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep, and Wake Up Happy by Kim West and Joanne Kenen

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Good Night, Sleep Tight has the dubious distinction of being the first baby sleep book I ever read. You may be noticing a pattern here, but I found this for $1 at the Good Will (I was there a lot when I was first pregnant, and none of my clothes fit), and when I looked it up online, it seemed like a lot of people liked it. I was young, I was innocent, I knew nothing about baby sleep . . . into the cart it went.

Now that I’m old and jaded and substantially more knowledgeable about babies all over, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I’m pretty sure that some of my son’s sleep problems were actually created when I tried to follow West’s advice too closely, but there’s also a lot of good information here.

west-good-nightPros: West’s delineation of the amounts of sleep that are normal for different age groups and the types of routines/schedules that work for different age groups are some of the clearest I’ve found, and the most accurate to what my son was doing from 0-9ish months-old. We didn’t try her “Sleep Lady Shuffle,” but it didn’t seem like a terrible idea and I think it would work well for some families.

Cons: West says she breastfed her own children, but it seems like she’s not well-educated about breastfeeding and what’s normal for breast-fed babies (a recurring trouble spot for many sleep books, I’m noticing). This is bad, because a lot of babies won’t be able to be night-weaned nearly as early as she seems to think they should be, and she sometimes suggests formula feeding over breastfeeding for sleep purposes, which is just baloney. If a mother’s willing to breastfeed, she should be supported in that, not told that she’s ruining her baby’s sleep. And we have good evidence that formula-fed babies *don’t* tend to sleep any better than breastfed babies, so encouraging formula here is especially wrongheaded.

Another huge problem for my family, and one of the reasons I end up not recommending this book that often, is that West does not address sleep regressions (common at 4 months, 8 or 9 months, and sometimes 11 months) as a normal part of development. She certainly doesn’t devote any time in the book as to how to get through them. As I’ve mentioned, sleep regressions are really challenging times for everyone, and West ignores the existence of that challenge, potentially making parents feel like they’re doing something wrong when their kid is just going through a normal, difficult stage. She does address some sleep issues like teething and regression in the last chapter, but it needed to be front-and-center in the age-appropriate chapters to be meaningful.

I have such mixed feelings about this book, but I think overall, it doesn’t really fit with my parenting philosophy. Nothing West says is evidence-based, and some of the advice seems actively harmful. For those reasons, I don’t recommend it.

Book review: The Dream Sleeper: A Three-Part Plan for Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep by Conner Herman and Kira Ryan

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Still clearing out the short book review backlog, though this one went and got longer on me.

If you are on this blog in the baby sleep tag looking for a decent book on baby sleep, you may have noticed that I haven’t been impressed by most of the baby sleep books I’ve read. This is really sad, because I’ve read a lot of them! I say that I’ve been unimpressed with the caveat that my first baby, my son, was just not a great sleeper, and he was never going to be a great sleeper no matter what method I used, until he was ready. He never dropped feedings as early as all the books said he should, and despite multiple frustrating attempts at night weaning, he really needed at least one night feed until he was 13 months. That’s not average, but now I know that it’s normal, because “normal” encompasses a wide range of behavior when it comes to the first year of life. But most books don’t tell you this, and when you end up with a baby who doesn’t (or can’t!) respond to common sleep training methods, you end up feeling like a failure for no good reason.

Now my son is 2 and he sleeps wonderfully, and it turns out that my daughter is one of these “normal” babies I’ve read so much about. But if you have a baby somewhere between my son and my daughter, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally found a book I can recommend for you.

When my son was about 9 months-old, he was still waking to eat 2-3 times at night. A friend with a baby 7 months older than my son had read The Dream Sleeper, and it had helped her with her son’s sleep issues, so she got it out of the library for me.

Spoiler: it wasn’t the magic spell that got my son to sleep through the night. But, it’s one of the stronger baby sleep books I’ve read, for a few different reasons.

herman-the dream sleeperFirst, I like how the book is laid out. Its structure was intuitive for me, and it was easy to find what I needed. I also really appreciated how much the authors emphasize that it’s okay to want to sleep! It might sound silly, but when your baby won’t sleep, you can feel guilty about your own need for sleep, and start to feel like your not being supportive of your baby’s needs because you’re so tired. Some parents have great reasons (or a great need) to sleep teach and are doing it for the right reasons, even though it’s hard.

What was really helpful for me, though, and one of the reasons I recommend The Dream Sleeper so highly, is that the authors spend a lot of time on nutrition at different ages and how that affects sleep. This is a major piece of the puzzle missing from most of the other sleep books out there. If your baby is hungry at night because of a scheduling issue over in the day, you will never be able to night wean, your baby will be screaming with hunger, and everyone will feel awful. So nutrition *must* be a large component of any plan to work on sleep.

To this effort, The Dream Sleeper offers useful optional daily schedules for babies of different ages, which actually helped me figure out that I could get the same amount of milk into my son without having to nurse every two hours. We were all much happier, and I still remember how much easier it was to transition him to the new schedule than I expected it to be.

There are some caveats to my recommendation that you should know about. The Dream Sleeper is a book that recommends a cry-it-out style of sleep teaching, which isn’t for everyone and didn’t really end up working for us. The information on the scheduling and nutritional components of sleep training can be applied to any method, though, and that’s what I think makes the book so valuable.

The other issue I noticed was that the book doesn’t reflect the most up-to-date research that the breastfeeding relationship can be sabotaged by early sleep training. If your baby’s over 4 months-old and your breastfeeding relationship is strong, or if you’re not breastfeeding, this won’t be an issue, but do your research on breastfeeding and sleep before any kind of training effort.

Have a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment or email me.

Book review: Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma Jane Bumgarner

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Another short book review to clear out the backlog.

bumgarner-mothering-nursingYes, I have a nursing toddler (going on 28 months!), which is surprisingly different from having a nursing baby, and I went looking for some help on what’s “average” for this age. Recognizing that there’s a lot of variation in what babies do at any age, I was really looking to see how often toddlers were nursing, how many moms were doing on-demand nursing versus sticking to a schedule, how and when moms chose to wean, and the like. This book was published in 2000 and so is a little older, but there’s not a lot out there on nursing toddlers in the US, sadly, and this book was recommended on some parenting blog or other.

I really didn’t like it. I thought the author’s tone was pedantic, and there were lots of unquestioned assumptions about, well, everything, from the composition of families as a mom, dad, and kids, to styles of discipline and limit-setting, and even to why parents were choosing extended nursing. The book included a lot of personal stories, which I did find interesting, but they are all twenty to thirty years-old at this point, and thus not always relevant to today’s society.There also wasn’t much practical advice, and since that’s what I was looking for, I didn’t find it helpful.

If you  don’t need practical advice and are interested in stories from moms nursing toddlers in the 1990s for some kind of cultural research project, then this is your book!

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Book review: The Mother of All Pregnancy Books by Ann Douglas

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I have a backlog of shorter book reviews, so I’ll be posting those in the next few weeks.

douglas-mother-allI found The Mother of All Pregnancy Books at the Good Will down the road when my partner and I were first talking about trying to conceive. It was $1 and the title is cute, so I bought it. It’s a perfectly fine pregnancy book, including sections on planning and conception, pregnancy itself, and postpartum issues. It is unique among the pregnancy books I’ve read in that it is not organized by month, but rather focuses much more on questions you’re likely to have throughout pregnancy. There’s a good, extensive section on common complaints, and I found the chapter on prenatal testing options to be particularly helpful.

It’s a good resource book to use while pregnant, but it lost points for me because it doesn’t really stand out among the crowd of other pregnancy books out there. There was nothing particularly wrong with it, but I didn’t feel that it provided me with any information or new perspectives that I hadn’t already gotten from elsewhere. I do like it better than the What to Expect series only because it doesn’t dwell on all possible worst-case scenarios. Most expecting parents are anxious enough without the addition of the unnecessary stress that comes from reading about all the things that go wrong 1 out of every 100,000 pregnancies.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Book review: “Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods And Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater” by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett,

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When my first baby was coming up on 5 months-old, I started researching the best way to introduce solid food. This book popped up in several of the parenting groups I’m part of online, so I checked it out of the library. It’s a quick read about a theory of introducing solids called baby-led weaning or baby-self feeding. There isn’t a lot of research that’s been conducted on this method of introducing solids yet, but the idea is that babies should be allowed to control what they’re eating from the beginning of solid food introduction. So, instead of doing the whole spoon-fed puree thing, you offer the 6 month-old baby soft foods that they can pick up and put into their mouths themselves. This way, baby decides whether to eat, how much to eat, and can work up to new foods at their own speed.

rapley-baby-ledThe book is largely anecdotal, but was reasonably convincing overall and seemed common sense to me. The authors stress that the gag reflex in a young baby is much higher and more sensitive than it is in an adult, and that babies will gag on food as they learn how to handle it. However, a gag is much different than choking, and the authors argue that more traditional spoon-fed weaning may cause more choking in older children, since the spoon allows the food to bypass the gag reflex and doesn’t let kids learn how to process solids in their mouths effectively.
I’m interested to see how future studies support or don’t support the theory, but we ended up doing baby-led weaning with my son and I am so happy we did. When he was under a year-old, he would just eat some component of what we ate for the most part, which made it a lot easier to figure out his meals. We didn’t have to deal with the purees or making sure we had special baby food for him at restaurants. We were able to eat our own dinners while he ate his. At one year-old, he had a lot better hand-eye coordination and fine motor control than a lot of other babies that age, and I still think it’s because he’d been picking up his own food for six months already. Baby-led weaning was easy for all of us, and I fully intend to introduce solids this way for my daughter when she is ready.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Book Review: “How Weaning Happens” by Diane Bengson

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I read this when my son was 15 months-old and was still nursing four times a day, but not overnight. I’d had mixed experiences with our pediatrician office, where some doctors were recommending cutting down on his nursing to encourage him to eat more solid food, and some doctors weren’t. I didn’t feel like he was nursing too much as he doesn’t drink any other kind of milk, and some of my research indicated that extended (after 1 year-old) breastfeeding had health benefits for mom and baby. But, there are a wide variety of opinions and it can be hard to find research on extended breastfeeding done recently with any real population size or diversity of study participants.

bengson-how-weaningSo, although we’re not really interested in weaning yet, I thought this book (sponsored by The La Leche League) would be a good way for me to get a sense of what some moms who choose extended nursing are doing, how often their kids are nursing a day, and at what point they’re choosing to wean. The book is certainly biased toward extended nursing and child-led weaning, but so am I, so that was fine for me. Most of it is a collection of La Leche League members’ stories about their children and their experiences with extended nursing, organized into vague categories.

This is still not a scientific study on weaning or extended nursing, but it is a highly informational read representing a wide variety of opinions and experiences, considering that everyone had chosen to breastfeed for an extended period of time. It really helped me understand that there’s no real “normal” in terms of what kids or families choose to do after one year. Some kids are still nursing six times overnight, some nurse once a week, and most are in between somewhere. I just appreciate having a collection of different experiences to work from while we were trying to figure out what a good solution was for my family. And I was very reassured that my son was not nursing too much, and I am still nursing him (now 26 months) until he decides to wean on his own.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.

Book review: What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff

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Now that I have a few book reviews under my belt, it’s time to talk about a big one! Yes, I mean What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff et al. I got this book at the Good Will while I was pregnant with my first baby and read it slowly as he went through his first year. As you might expect considering What to Expect’s fame, it has a lot of good information about when babies hit milestones on average, ideas for games and toys that are appropriate by age, and it discusses some of the major concerns that parents run into in the first year. That said, I think there are a lot of better books out there for first-time parents, and I would not particularly recommend this one.

murkoff-expect-first-yearFirst of all, some of the health-related information is out of date even in the most recent edition, and doesn’t conform to the standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here, I am particularly thinking of their section on introducing solid foods. The current research and recommendation by the AAP is that it is not only safe to introduce highly-allergenic foods before age 1 to children whose parents have no history of food allergies, but that introducing these foods early may actually help prevent common food allergies.* I hope this kind of stuff will be updated in the next edition, but as of this moment, the book is out of date, as are a lot of the materials on the corresponding website.

Second, this book didn’t support breastfeeding to the extent that I was hoping. Murkoff repeats over and over that it’s best to breastfeed until at least age 1, but there’s also a lot of material about weaning to the bottle or formula. That’s fine, as it’s information many families will certainly want or need, but as a new mom who did have some difficulties with breastfeeding, I felt like I was constantly being told about how hard breastfeeding is without being offered any support structures to help. The book didn’t provide information for new mothers about continuing to breastfeed after the first year, and certainly didn’t touch at all on the health benefits (for mother and child) of doing so. Breastfeeding is hard and it’s important to acknowledge that, but I feel like its benefits are well-known enough that a book like this should really be supporting the breastfeeding relationship for as long as possible.

Obviously, some people will not be interested in breastfeeding or will not be able to breastfeed, and that’s okay, but there’s a way to support those decisions without constantly pressuring those of us who are breastfeeding to stop at age 1. Additionally, there is some outright wrong information about breastfeeding repeated over and over in the text, especially as concerns what’s normal/average in terms of weaning. Murkoff’s expectations for infant sleep also don’t line up with the books I’ve read on infant sleep that were grounded in scientific research.

Finally, I feel that this book spent too much time on a lot of very rare and uncommon illnesses. It’s great to have rare concerns listed briefly, and to provide resources for more information, but reading over and over about all the ways your baby could get sick is probably not a good idea for a new parent. It’s stressful enough to handle a healthy baby; spending your energy processing information that you’ll never need isn’t worth it, especially since that kind of worrying can create emotional issues you really don’t need. There is definitely such a thing as being too informed when it comes to certain topics. I say, give me information about the common cold, why vaccinations are important, what to do in a choking emergency or during a febrile seizure, and skip the several hundred pages on all the 1/10,000 ways my kid could get sick.

I feel like with What to Expect’s history as the “go to” pregnancy and child-rearing book series, it needs to be held to a high standard. People all over the world trust them to get it right and to provide information that is correct and reliable, and unfortunately, What to Expect the First Year just doesn’t deliver on those fronts.

*See for one example.

Got a book you’d like me to review? Leave a comment with your suggestions or email me.