Three Must-Read Books for New Moms

Last night we attended what we thought would be a low-key birthday party for our longtime friend, Uncle Lee, who is not actually anyone’s uncle. He and his wife, Mandy, pulled off a quick little last-minute shin-dig at the Davenport Lounge. After hugs, kisses and a few high-fives, Lee whipped out his phone and showed us a favorite picture… a sonogram of their first child. This wasn’t just a birthday party. More kisses, more hugs, more high-fives and few added tears of joy.

Lee and Mandy are that couple everyone prays will be parents someday because everything they bring into the world is always good.

While I’ve learned over the year to offer parenting advice only when asked, there are a few things new parents don’t typically think about while marinating in gestational bliss.

There is a reason you hear so many mothers joke/lament about the last time they actually read a book. And since you have some time before baby arrives, try to get in as much reading as possible because you will soon be tired and hormonal and your brain will turn to mush.

Here are three books every new parent should read before giving birth.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

The most valuable thing you can wrapped your head around before baby arrives is the importance of sleep and it’s direct impact on the cognitive development of the young, developing brain. Sleep training is the first real parenting mountain that you must climb because it involves allowing your child to be uncomfortable (cry), albeit only temporarily, so that healthy sleep habits are established. Healthy sleep = happy child. Every child is different, of course, but if you understand the science behind sleep as it relates to babies and children, you will be ahead of the curve. This is one area you don’t have to learn as you go. Arm yourself and start thinking about how you feel about all this sleep training stuff. And be warned: sleep training is a hot topic in the parenting jungle. You will find very strong opinions with every approach… and there are many. Take the time to figure out where you might fit into the conversation.

bright from the start

Bright from the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind from Birth to Age 3

Again, we’re talking brain development. If you don’t think screen time directly impacts your kid’s long-term ability to think, learn, focus, sustain, communicate, relate, or stimulate, think again. For the “normal” child, apps and videos are babysitters, not educational tools. They do not help your child become smarter no matter how you slice it. Accept that and move on. This book with help you set your kid’s brain up for success.

belly laughs

Belly Laughs, 10th anniversary edition: The Naked Truth about Pregnancy and Childbirth

Long before launching a worldwide crusade against vaccinations, McCarthy actually used to make us moms laugh so hard we’d pee, which, by the way, happens more and more once you have kids. So do your kegels. If you can’t laugh about it, what’s the point? Find the humor and enjoy the ride.

raising bilingual.

For nearly two years now, I’ve been raising both my daughters – one a toddler, the other an infant – in a bilingual household.

I speak only Spanish to them while my wife speaks mostly English (with some Spanish words thrown in, for fun). It’s a studied and proven method known as the One Parent, One Language technique, and it’s produced bilingual children all over the world.

When my oldest, Elle, was just a cooing baby, it was easy. I would read her one of the many Spanish children books we have. She would look on admiringly, coo some more, giggle.

Now that she’s starting to take hold of language, it’s becoming increasingly challenging. And I know it’ll get more challenging as she gets older and increasingly embraces the language of her friends, daycare and home country (English).

But I’m determined. What gives me most hope is knowing their brains, though small and developing, are hard-wired for such a task. One of the most fascinating things I learned while preparing for the birth of my first daughter was this:

Baby brains start readying to acquire language at seven months — in utero.

The tiny embryonic brain at that stage starts spreading out neural connectors tasked with absorbing syntax and organizing sentence structures, even though the mouth won’t utter a single word for years to come. The connectors twitch, stretch and jerk in response to the sound of the parents’ voices outside the womb.

Equally fascinating is the fact that language is not a learned skill — it’s an evolutionary trait, a uniquely human instinct akin to walking upright or opposable thumbs. Evidence of this can be found in the whimsical utterances of children — “You giggled me!” — that aren’t taught to them by parents or learned through imitation.

The brain comes hard-wired for language.

“Language is no more a cultural invention than is upright posture,” MIT professor Steven Pinkler writes in his insightful book, The Language Instinct.

The fact that language is acquired evolutionarily and starts to develop mind-bogglingly early are important revelations for parents attempting to raise a bilingual child.

One of my goals for my cooing, smiling daughter, Elle, is to raise her speaking Spanish, the way my parents raised me. The goal is to have her retain the heritage of her Cuban ancestry and help her achieve the lifetime advantage of a second language.

Unlike my upbringing, where I heard only Spanish at home and learned English later in school, the principal language spoken at our house today is English.

But the books say keep talking. It’s not comprehension at this point. It’s the sound and the syntax and the cadence of the language that, believe it or not, is registering into those tiny connectors. Children learn two languages simultaneously as they do one. They sometimes take a bit longer to conquer a language, as late as 3 years or longer in some cases. But they usually catch up quick and, often, surpass their monolingual classmates in comprehension and grammar, says The Bilingual Family: A Handbook for Parents, a great guide on the subject.

Apart from parents, the bilingual child’s most important “teachers” are other children, the book says. That’s why playgroups are so important. Submerging a child for a few hours a day into a fun, nurturing playgroup where other children, led by an adult, are all speaking the foreign language will miles further to instill the language into the child.

While we toil to find the best schools and teachers and friends for our kids, let’s not forget the advantages of foreign languages. They stretch and strengthen the recesses of the human brain in ways few other things can.

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