The Essential First Year

The Essential First Year is a parenting book by Penelope Leach. On the whole. I found it an irritating book.

It is difficult to say how useful the advice is at this stage, not having a baby yet. However, I found much of the tone very patronising. Maybe I will feel like it is obvious that I would want to sacrifice any free time and happiness for my baby. But maybe I won’t, and if I decide I want some kind of balance between caring for my family and looking after myself, that is fine too.

I think this comes from the premise that the book is baby-centric. It is about how to give your child the best possible start, at the cost of sacrificing the parents. This is a complex issue though. For example, the book recommends not letting father’s get involved with feeding.

You may hear that bottle-feeding is better for modern families because the father can share the joy of feeding his baby and the mother can sleep while he does some night feeds. Oh please! Every parent knows that feeding is the baby’s basic need and has to come before father’s joy or even mother’s sleep.

There are two possibilities here. One is that I will feel as I do now: that having a family is a compromise involving the welfare of all parties. That sometimes getting some desperately needed sleep, or bonding with your child, might equally weight in on what is best for the child, beyond the obvious.

The other, is that I accept I could feel differently after the baby is born, and that I will then agree with the sentiment expressed above. Even in this case, Leach’s writing is still amateurish and offensive. Some basic thought on the topic would suggest that people may feel this way for perfectly valid reasons, such as I have stated above, and that there is a far more effective way of winning people to your side than yelling “oh please!”.

Conventions are a bit annoying too. The book mostly uses the pronoun “she” when referring to the baby, but then seemingly randomly switches to “he” instead, and flips back between them. What pronoun to use for a gender-unknown baby is a genuinely difficult question, and perhaps it is asking too much of a book to solve it.

There is a lot of useful stuff in here: reasons for find out the gender for example, and any book that says some moderate alcohol intake is okay, which the evidence says it is, gets some points for that. Understanding what stages babies go through and a rough guide to when they will do what is also very helpful. However, this could probably have been presented in two or three pages of charts rather than a hundred pages of prose.

The production of the book itself is high quality. There are lots of full-page colour photographs to illustrate the stages of a baby’s first year.

Overall, I do not think this book was worth reading. It’s just too irritatingly patronising and long-winded. This is a shame as it does have a good evidence-based grounding. Time will tell as to whether I refer back to it after the baby arrives.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, July 30th, 2016 at 10:42 am and is filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.