My Favorite Motherhood Books That Are Helping Me Through This First Year

If you’re a new mom like me and you love to learn everything by reading, you’ve probably felt some choice overload at the number of parenting books out there. I wanted to read all the expert books when little Leo entered our world and learn every element of parenting a newborn. But what I found was that all the baby sleep and breastfeeding books only made me anxious with their conflicting advice and strategies that didn’t work with my sweet baby. I mostly felt more like a failure after reading them.

What I loved reading this year was stories from parents in the war zones themselves. I felt more connected and less alone when reading memoirs or essay collections on people’s experiences of transitioning to parenthood. It’s comforting to see that other people feel they don’t quite have it figured out either.

With that said, here is my carefully crafted list of books that helped me through this first year of parenting. Note that I started to read probably 10 or 15 more parenting books but didn’t like how they made me feel. The following made the cut for a happier, guilt-free mom (or a mom that felt slightly less guilt).

1. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott

If you’ve read any of Anne Lamott’s books you know that her voice is a delight. She’s witty and honest and down to earth, putting a light spin on many heavy topics. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year is an account of the first year of her son’s life, written in journal entries.

Lamott is a single mom whose writing career was in full force when her son was born. What I like about her story is that you see what changes she and the baby go through from month to month. I listened to it on audio while taking a 2-month-old Leo for stroller walks, so I liked getting a preview of what I could expect over the next few months. Rather than trying to tell the reader how to do any one thing, Lamott simply recounts everything she did and all the sleepless nights and other troubles she had. I had to laugh when she talked about taking her son for walks in the stroller in the middle of the night when he wouldn’t calm down.

2. Mom Brain: Proven Strategies to Fight the Anxiety, Guilt, and Overwhelming Emotions of Motherhood – and Relax into Your New Self by Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco

This book is more how-to/self-help, HOWEVER, the intention is to help moms deal with the stress and transformation to parenthood rather than learning how to master the hood itself. I love this book because it helped me think more realistically about setting goals and understanding myself as a mom. The author helps you determine your values and what’s important to you, and guides you through practices that will help ensure your days and actions align with that.

Ultimately, Mom Brain has helped me learn how to take care of myself to be the best mom I can be, and I can’t recommend that enough for other moms.

3. The Best, Most Awful Job: Twenty Writers Talk Honestly About Motherhood by Katherine May (editor)

If you want to feel better about your own situation, pick up this essay collection for stories that cover a range of motherhood experiences. You’ll find essays that you resonate with as well as stories that help you develop empathy for moms or parents who have it differently. This book especially is one that has helped me feel less alone in this transformation.

And that title – isn’t The Best Most Awful Job the perfect way to describe motherhood? It’s exactly how I feel. Nursing Leo at 3 am is the best for baby snuggles and the most awful, because it’s effing 3 am! Taking care of your sick baby is the most awful because he’s crying and sick, but he needs you and wants to cuddle and that feeling is the best.

4. Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina

Okay, I know I said real stories are more enjoyable than expert books, but I’ll sneak this one in here. This book felt easy and mostly enjoyable to read, and I like that it touched on everything from intelligence to emotional development. It also had that nasty sleep topic in there.

I’ll admit, Brain Rules for Baby gave me some anxiety in its strong stance on no screens before 2 years old. I’m all for minimal screen time and have never plopped Leo in front of a television or given him an iPad (do parents give babies iPads?), but what I read in this book made me cringe anytime my dad had a game on while Leo was in the room or his babysitter asked how to work the remote. I’m pretty sure though, that those few days in his young life where he may have been in a room with a screen on for an hour won’t ruin his chances at passing exams.

Take everything you read with a grain of salt – what’s realistic for your family? Understand that you can’t be perfect and just aim to do your best.

5. Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents by Alexis Dubief

If you’re going to pick up a sleep book (because what mom of a newborn can resist?) I highly suggest this one. Alexis Dubief has a humorous, relatable tone, and any tears you shed on this book will be tears of laughter. Or sleep-deprived delirium.

I got more value from Precious Little Sleep when Leo was still struggling with naps and sleep in his older-baby days. She reiterates the idea of object permanence and that your baby needs to learn to fall asleep on his own, and once I let Leo start doing that he went down for naps easier.

Note: Leo has only slept through the night once in his 11 months of life, so I wouldn’t take anything I say about sleep to heart.

Other Books for Motherhood Survival

Here are a few books I’ve enjoyed for different reasons throughout this life-changing year.

Kristin Hannah Novels

These are long and engrossing, perfect for a nursing mama or anyone who holds their newborn during naps. I read one novel per months 1 through 3, and they made me so happy.

New to Kristin Hannah? Here are a few of my faves:

The Mindfulness Journal for Busy Moms

The Mindfulness Journal for Busy Moms was my Mother’s Day gift to myself. I love it! It’s a cute book with tips and tricks for mindfulness or aka, keeping it together. There are journal prompts as well.

Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book

Hubby gifted me this one-sentence-a-day journal right before Leo was born. I know, anything you have to keep up with daily sounds like too much for a new mom, but honestly, this has brought me so much joy from day to day.

After I put Leo down, I write my note about a moment we had during the day. And over the next 4 years, I’ll get to read the entry from the previous year and reflect on those younger days. Writing in Mom's One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book every night provides a moment for gratitude, reflectiveness, and joy at the end of each day, and mothers need every bit of that they can scrape up!

If you’re a new mama, don’t waste precious time reading material that makes you feel even more overwhelmed. I hope one of these books will work for you.

Have any suggestions on books for new parents? Leave your favorites in the comments below 🙂

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