Books: Independent choice - Parenting manuals

First-time mothers-to-be are suckers when it comes to baby lit. They'll read anything, from the small print in the Boots Mother and Baby catalogue to the picture captions in Miriam Stoppard. But it does seem a little cruel to rip them out of this soft-focused world and point them in the direction of Kate Figes's terrific new book Life After Birth, What Even Your Friends Won't Tell You (Viking, pounds 12.99). For all our upfront talk about episiotomies and Kegel exercises, argues Figes, women in the Nineties are reticent when it comes to acknowledging the long-term physical and emotional consequences of giving birth. Women may no longer die in childbirth, but very few are back to work or having sex by the time of their six-week checkup.

What most women need, she says, is an old-fashioned confinement allowing them to get over traumatic births, poor post-natal care and a legacy of physical complaints from unhealed stitches to incontinence and backache. "The 11 weeks after the birth of my first baby was one of the worst times of my life," one mother reveals in the book: "Nobody said, 'It'll be a total nightmare for a while, but it'll be alright because you'll come out of it'." Life After Birth is well-researched and better written than most books on motherhood. Figes doesn't use first-person interviews and anecdotes as a substitute for information (though she tells a good story about scraping baby pooh off a brown shag pile carpet). Every writer on parenthood has her own obsessions - Figes's are Caesarians and absent fathers - but all new mothers reading her book will find their very own obsessions addressed in therapeutic detail.

After the drama of human birth, it's a relief to turn to Susan Allport's book A Natural History of Parenting (Souvenir Press, pounds 16.99). A science writer and part-time shepherdess, Allport was prompted to investigate childrearing patterns in the animal kingdom when one of her ewes refused to suckle its newborn lamb. Surprised at the diversity of parental behaviour animals exhibit - from the lizard which abandons its young, to the beaver which lets its offspring live for up to two years in the family "lodge" - Allport goes on to show how human parental instincts compare in the nesting, hatching and lactating departments. Not an animal behaviourist by training, she has no new evolutionary theory to pedal, other than to say that parental care is costly, and only those animals that make the right physiological calculations survive.

What Susan Allport calls the "limits of devotion," Brenda Houghton terms "setting boundaries". Her self-help manual The Good Child (Headline, pounds 9.99) is a reaffirming guide to children's moral development; ie it doesn't tell you anything you didn't instinctively know already. Two-year-olds don't recognise the difference between right and wrong, five-year-olds do, and teenagers... you might as well leave them in their bedrooms until they turn into reasoning human beings.

All three authors stress that the most important lesson a child has to learn is that its survival depends on fitting into the social group that sustains it. In most basic terms, parents have needs too - as Figes discovered at three in the morning when, instead of reading her daughter yet another book, she let her cry herself back to sleep.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
The spider makes its break for freedom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Administrator

    £14400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a multi-d...

    Recruitment Genius: Service, Maintenance & Installation Engineers - London

    £34000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of Energy Consult...

    Austen Lloyd: Planning Solicitor - Bristol

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: FIRST CLASS FIRM - A very exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner - Night Shift

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A leading Leicestershire based chilled food ma...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot