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Best parenting books for new moms with toddlers and babies

For when you're too exhausted to waste time on books that won't help.
Mother carrying sleeping baby girl
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/ Source: TODAY

The first year of my son’s life — my first year as a mother — was a blur of wonder, exhaustion and anxiety for me, in nearly equal measures.

Mixed with pure joy was confusion (what is that rash on his face?), frustration (why won’t he stop crying?) and serious sleep deprivation. I read and re-read pages in the same books over and over without remembering anything.

So, my best parenting advice: Trust your instincts. Start reading before the baby comes. And, if you pick up a book after the baby arrives, make sure it's worth your time.

Here are 12 books for new parents that are actually worth reading.

  • 1. "Cribsheet," by Emily Oster, $17 (usually $28), Amazon

Economist Emily Oster brings the data-driven approach of her incredible pregnancy book, "Expecting Better," to the challenges of early parenthood. She examines the elusive data on sleep training, breastfeeding and more riddles of parenthood into a readable, succinct guide that answers hard-to-answer questions. This book is long overdue and so welcome for sleepless new parents.

  • 2. "The Good Sleeper" by Janet Krone Kennedy, Ph.D., $7 (usually $19), Amazon

In various states of sleep deprivation, I read every baby sleep book. Sears, Ferber, the Baby Whisperers, the No-Cry Sleep Solutions — all were confident they had the solution to get babies to sleep, with very little evidence to support that confidence. Dr. Kennedy’s book is an easy read for sleepy parents, with actual science on its side. It ends at age 1, so for a more thorough, but less readable, guide, try “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.”

  • 3. "Your Baby & Child, From Birth to Age Five" by Penelope Leach, $14, Amazon

This best-seller covers the basics of baby care and feeding. It explains developmental milestones, emotions, potty training, sleep and more. It’s a solid all-around primer for new parents.

  • 4. "The Happiest Baby on the Block" by Dr. Harvey Karp, $11 (usually $17), Amazon

Dr. Karp introduced the notion of the “fourth trimester” — the first three months after birth, when babies still appreciate the sounds and feelings of the womb. He suggests the "5 S" technique to calm babies: swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking. Many parents swear by his technique (and his Snoo sleeper).

  • 5. "The Fifth Trimester" by Lauren Smith Brody, $12 (usually $16), Amazon

If Karp’s book mostly deals with the “fourth trimester” Smith Brody’s handles the next important period, when many women head back to work. It covers childcare, pumping, mastering a new life as a working parent and even, as she puts it, “looking human again."

  • 6. "How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids" by Jancee Dunn, $9 (usually $17), Amazon

Not you! Of course, you could never hate your husband after kids! (But maybe buy this book anyway ... )

  • 7. "Bringing Up Bébé" by Pamela Druckerman, $15 (usually $18), Amazon

The original book about how foreign parents do it better has inspired so many others. While you may not want to become a Tiger Mom or embrace Selbstandigkeit (although, it’s fun to say!), it can be useful to take a look at what you can learn from other cultures. French children don’t eat chicken nuggets and hot dogs, they eat fish, Camembert and artichoke. Can you replicate this? Not moi. But Druckerman’s book is breezy and enlightening. Maybe you’ll do better.

  • 8. "Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year" by Anne Lamott, $10 (usually $17), Amazon

In the first months of motherhood, I searched for fiction that captured my experience. I ended up reading “Room,” which I highly recommend, but with any luck, will not reflect your parenting experience. This memoir of Anne Lamott’s first year as a mother actually does.

  • 9. "And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready" by Meaghan O’Connell, $11 (usually $26), Amazon

Even if you think you’re ready for motherhood, it has a way of laughing at you. O’Connell’s frank treatment of an unplanned pregnancy, complicated childbirth and postpartum adjustment will feel familiar to anyone who has given birth (planned or not).

  • 10. "How Toddlers Thrive" by Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., $13 (usually $17), Amazon

Klein, who runs the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, helps parents shift perspective to see the world through a toddler’s eyes and understand why failing to reach an elevator button can ruin her day. The book provides insight into toddlers’ developing minds and bodies and explains how to set up effective routines and limits without hovering.

  • 11. "The Emotional Life of the Toddler" by Alicia F. Lieberman, Ph.D., $12 (usually $17), Amazon

With strong emotions and a limited ability to express them, it’s no wonder toddlers go through "terrible twos" and become "threenagers." Understanding the world from a toddler’s perspective creates an opportunity for empathy while they scream at you or (kind of adorably) slap you in the face.

  • 12. "Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids" by Dr. Laura Markham, $10 (usually $17), Amazon

Markham, the creator of, says peaceful parenting comes down to three simple ideas: remaining calm, connecting with your child and coaching, but not controlling. Of course, simple ideas aren’t always simple to pull off. This guide will help. “In the end,” she wrote, “it’s always about love. Love never fails.”

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