What To Hate About “What To Expect When You’re Expecting”

Shocking but true: The crazymaking pregnancy bible “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” has now been on the New York Times bestseller list for 500 weeks, the paper’s Inside The List column reports. 500 weeks. That’s enough time to gestate a dozen kids, if you did them back to back (definitely not recommended.)

I mentioned that 500-week mark to a friend this weekend, and her immediate response was “Oh, I hated that book! It made me so anxious!” Ditto. My least favorite part was being told that every bite I ate counted, just as I was craving high fat, high sugar treats as never before. I still gained 55 pounds, but every pound was laced with guilt instead of serenity, thanks to “What to Expect…”

Readers, do you hate it, too? What particular part? Is there anything that especially needs revising now? What truly baffles me is that the book continues to sell in huge numbers even though it is, in fact, renowned in part for being hated by pregnant women, and its authors acknowledge revising it to tone down some of their warnings. Way back in 2005, in fact, the Times wrote here:

…In its third decade the book has turned into a publishing conundrum: It is the most popular and widely trusted book in its category and yet is coming under such regular criticism that its authors are revising some of its key tenets. The reaction comes in part from expecting parents who call it a worst-case-scenario handbook. (Nicknames include “What to Freak Out About When You Are Expecting” and “What to Expect if You Want to Develop an Eating Disorder.”) Though many parents swear by it, a startling number protest that, instead of emphasizing the wondrous process of fetal development, the book dwells mostly on complications, including the pedestrian (anemia), the more exotic (“incompetent cervix”) and a catalog of horrors at the book’s end (“uterine rupture”).

“It reinforces every negative, paranoid worry that everyone going through a pregnancy for the first time has,” said Ron Sullivan, a new father in Philadelphia, who warned in the reader reviews on Amazon.com that “What to Expect” “will make your life utterly miserable for the next nine months.”

While many doctors and midwives still recommend the book, others tell patients to throw away their copies or simply to read them with skepticism. “It’s too much to process,” said Susan Kelley-Moran, a nurse at the Brigham practice, explaining why she tells women to ignore the book. She prefers newer guides that generate less worry.

….and ah, yes, the famous old oral sex warning…

Dr. Alexander Anthopoulos, an obstetrician in the Philadelphia suburbs, said, “There are so many warnings and admonishments that patients become frightened of normal symptoms.”

He and other doctors also say that although the book offers generally sound advice, there are a few notable exceptions: for example, the warning that performing oral sex on a pregnant woman can create an embolism that could kill both mother and fetus. “That is utter, utter rubbish,” Dr. Anthopoulos said.

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  • Smft60

    I bought the book, but its too happy, peppy and bright for my situation. It is a lot to process- especially for a single mother in the active military. What about us? Its not all rainbows and sunshine. I swear its made for the optimum scenario of having a child.

  • http://youngmum-katiemul.blogspot.com/ Young Mum

    I hated that book! So many reasons to freak out! It’s reference books like that that turn natural, wonderfully healthy pregnancies into physical ailments and disorders. When I was pregnant with my first child, Iread everything I coul dget my hands on, and spent the entire time anxious, and guilty for even having a cup of coffee, and gaining too much weight. But you know what? My pregnancy went great, I had an easy, drugless labour with no complications, and I was back in my pre pregnancy jeans 3 weeks after giving birth, DESPITE the fact that I gained 60 lbs (Breastfeeding is a miracle diet!)

    This time around (I’m 20 weeks along), I haven’t read a thing. I’m just trying to enjoy my pregnancy through bouts of morning sickness, and I’m spoiling myself :) I don’t know if I’ll ever get another time in my life when I feel absolutely entitled to afternoon naps, skipping housework to take baths, and eating pretty much whatever the heck I want, without the nagging feeling that I should excersize everyday. ehh, chasing around my two year old is good enough cardio when expecting :)

  • Thereforyoudoula

    Even though I am a childbirth Educator and Doula. I have it in my libraryand I have never read it.Something just kept me from opening it up. Thank You for all the information. Now I can get rid of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jennie-Rebecca-Bunyard/1290837178 Jennie Rebecca Bunyard

    Yea the first pregnancy book I ever checked out from the library was “what to expect when your expecting” It was the only pregnancy book I had heard of at the time. I closed it for good after a few chapters and some skimming through. Instead I read a book my sister sent me called “The Baby Book.” Here is the link. http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Baby-Book/William-Sears/9780316778008 I believe I actually read ALL of The Baby Book :) or at least most of it and really liked it. I also like the hypno birthing book :) “What to expect” was a nightmare for me lol. I would never recommend it. I also like the hypno birthing book :)

  • Danielle Winebarger

    Wish this page had a dislike button. The book spills over with all the bad stuff because the author knows prego women question every little mishap in their body so she decided to write a book contianing all the random questions prego women ask and explaining in our language what to expect and if we should worry or not. Mine prevented lots of late night (what i thought were emergencies) calls to the Dr. and left me feeling secure enough that I was fine until the next morning. The book is supposed to be used as a reference and maybe if these women are feeling guilty for gaining 55 pounds while prego they should! It is NOT healthy to gain that much weight for a normal one child pregnancy. I think you guys have too much to complain about in life if you target an author who is trying to help us women by answering questions that would cost us millions in healthcare to ask doctors who want to charge 200+ for every office visit.

    • Guest

      Actually, as long as there is no sign of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, gaining 55 lbs or 65 lbs in pregnancy is perfectly healthy. It’s not so much about the weight you put on but what you are putting in your mouth.  If a momma gained 55 lbs because she was eating crazy amounts of protein and dark green vegetables, then kudos, because she is going to have one chunky healthy baby!

  • Archeatham

    Can’t agree more with the negative comments about this book. I borrowed a copy during my first pregnancy and was told NOT to read it while pregnant, I read a chapter or two and it became obvious why not. It is a book that seems to have been written with the intent of scaring moms to be. There is little in the book to give sound, calming, advice about natural birth, ugh. There are fabulous birth books out there, but not this one, sorry.

  • maxdaniels

    Am sorry to report I encountered this book at the start of my first pregnancy and began reading without shields up. The nutrition advice is unbelievable – a soccer team cannot put away as much food as a pregnant woman would have to consume to hit the book’s nutrition targets. And I was especially infuriated by its death warnings regarding any kind of herbal supplement.

    I LOVE that Tabitha set it on fire. I hope I at least recycled it rather than giving it to Good Will.

  • Danielle Conte

    I’m pregnant now and use it as a general guide, certainly not as something to live by entirely. I think it has its good points, but I simply ignore what I feel would make me anxious or neurotic. Use it as it applies to you. Don’t get obsessed with it. Use common sense, listen to yourself, and look for alternative information that might support your gut feelings. I don’t even listen to some of what doctors try to make me fear about my pregnancy. Scare tactics have no place for a healthy pregnancy. Stay informed yes. I believe that if you start believing in yourself now, it will help with parenting in the long run.

  • Happy Reader

    As a reference book, I found it helpful, but I never considered it one to read cover to cover, just to look at specific concerns.

  • Margotmacewen

    Couldn’t stand this book when I read it during my first pregnancy. Uncompassionate, impersonal, patronizing, generalizes all pregnancy experiences, written in a “stop complaining” tone, focuses on gestation as a neutral process rather than a personal, individual, unique, emotional and/or spiritual one, totally removes the woman as a participant & provider in pregnancy, sounds like a male voice narrating. Worst line in the book? “Don’t overeat, instead have a bran muffin as an occassional treat”. Like, wtf??!!

  • Ontario Midwife

    As a midwife, I always recommend that clients do NOT read this book.

  • Kim Lane (Midwife)

    “Best Seller” only means that the book has been PURCHASED alot! If you ask the women who have READ this book, MOST will tell you that it SUCKS!

  • Kdma8

    My OB forbid me to read it or buy it. I followed his advice, especially after looking at some crazy part about the food and eating, AAAAAaaah.

  • Wolfmother

    I wrote about this horrible series in my blog lat month actually:

    http://fabulousmamachronicles.blogspot.com/2011/02/what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting.html

  • D’Anne Graham

    I’ve hated this book since i saw it in 1982, called it–How to be a good girl and spread your legs—where the hell have all of y’all been? ;-)

    • Margotmacewen

      friggin’ hilarious title – appropriate too!

  • marychristmas

    We have a great book here in Australia called ‘Up The Duff’ by Kaz Cook. Funny, informative and not at all alarmist. I recommend it to all preggo ladies.

  • Janelle Durham

    When working on the cesarean chapter for our 2010 revision of Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, I checked out what other books included on the topic. What to Expect barely mentions it. There was one page worth of content. 34% of births are by cesarean – one page is not enough! We ended up with 21 pages, covering reasons for cesarean, questions to ask when evaluating your options, the procedure itself, postpartum recovery, and impact on future births. If an expectant mom really wants to know what to expect in her birth, she may be served better by other books than by WTE.

  • Laryn

    i remember looking up cramping during my 8th or 9th week (TOTALLY common) and being directed by the index to an ‘eptopic pregnancy’. talk about a terrifying, tear-filled night at our house!

    • http://twitter.com/emandelsmom AJ Cecil

      I know! Every little think I looked up led me to a horrible outcome. I was so scared the entire pregnancy I could hardly sleep at night from all the worry!

  • bird

    Yes, this is a horrible book. Women need to stop reading it, and publishers need to stop publishing it. I threw it out before my second trimester even started, because it made me feel so stressed and defective and like I should sit still and not breathe or else my baby would die. Horrible.

  • Katherine Henderson

    LITERALLY the least helpful book I’ve ever read!!!! If you want a helpful book read “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” and “Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method”. “What to Expect…” is utter tripe! In my copy it even listed Cytotec as a legitimate induction method!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jennmossholder Jennifer Seraphin Mossholder

    As a labor doula, I tell all my clients to burn this book :) Dr A. was my OB for my triplets :)

  • http://www.thedoulaguide.com Ananda Lowe

    I have been aware that doulas and other childbirth advocates have disliked this book for years. I almost hate to go against the grain here, but interestingly, that book hasn’t bothered me. I appreciate that the newest edition of WTEWYE has a section calling doulas “the best medicine.” For information not found elsewhere, see my book, The Doula Guide To Birth: Secrects Every Pregnant Woman Should Know. Topics covered in my book include “will your doctor actually be there for labor?”, information for married/single/partnered/lesbian/heterosexual mothers, delayed pushing, new research about back labor, “walking” epidurals, using sexuality in labor, and MUCH more.

  • Onebirdie

    When I was pregnant with my first in 1991, I read this book cover to cover (unlike most of my friends who only read snippets of whatever they were interested in). I appreciated that it gave more info than I personally needed (never did develop gestational diabetes! lol) because when a worst-case-scenario DID present itself, I knew what the subtler signs were & got prompt medical attention. This probably saved my child’s life.

    But I think of it like drugs with a mile-long list of possible side effects. Read it, then take your medicine. IF some weird side effect presents itself, then you know what to do. If not, yay, you fell into the majority the FDA counts on. I didn’t freak out about all the possible scenarios because there was no reason to unless something actually happened out of the norm.

    I did feel that the diet was a little too strict but I didn’t feel pressured to follow it. I used my own good sense in knowing what & how much to eat. I gained exactly what my doctor said to gain with all 3 pregnancies and had very little trouble losing weight afterward. In my mind, you don’t have to be TOLD that gaining 55 pounds in a few months is not good for you. Seriously? You may not LIKE someone telling you that every bite counts but if that is the friggin truth, then that’s what I want to read.

    I don’t remember the book going into much detail about cravings though, and that did bother me because I started craving things I’d never eaten. With my 3rd child I started craving coffee like CRAZY and I had never drunk coffee in my life. It was delicious! As soon as I had her, I didn’t crave coffee any more & still don’t drink it. Weird! lol

    The breastfeeding section could be improved, for sure. At the time though, just getting out of the supermom 80s when almost no one breastfed their babies, it wasn’t a dealbreaker. If they haven’t updated it since then though, that is messed up because it was not very informative. I basically got all my assistance from a nurse at the hospital. :-/

  • http://www.doulaquinn.com DoulaQuinn

    I would love to steer women toward more empowering books like “A thinking woman’s guide to a better birth”, Ina May’s books, and anything that would encourage a woman to think for herself rather than give her a ton of neg information that she has no control/power over. She is encouraged to be a passive uterus in “What to Expect”, and her baby is not seen as the wildly inquisitive and clever creature that she/he is. Yuck.

  • Guest

    I read it when pregnant with my first. And I took the hospital-based “childbirth class”. I was completely unprepared for the reality of birthing. At no point did I learn that I could trust my body, my baby and the process of birth. Only that I should call my OB and trust her. Sadly, I did just that. Wound up with a birth that was nowhere near what I wanted, and a baby in the NICU – because of, not in spite of, the medical procedures during her birth.

    • http://twitter.com/emandelsmom AJ Cecil

      Same here! WTEWYE and The Girlfriends Guide were the only 2 books I read (how embarassing) and I am just thankful that I didnt end up with a nervous breakdown or a c-section! I did NOT follow the nutrition advice. I was so sick with morning sickness I had to eat whatever sounded good, not matter how bad it was! I also took a horrible hospital class and got nothing out of it. I was completely unprepared when my water broke! Thank goodness I had 3 years to learn from that birth before I had my second, an amazing, perfect, natural, unmedicated, intervention free birth with a midwife at a local hospital. My labor lasted under 3 hours and I was at the hospital for 43 minutes before she was born!

  • adria

    I concur that the book is outdated and also hated it. I prepared for a home birth but of course that option was never covered. Bradley Method by Susan McCutcheon is a fabulous book! But of course, no medical practitioner will ever recommend a book that tells you birth is natural. They want you to be prepared for them intervening so they can go home before the end of the night. Bradley Method is the only book I recommend and only book you need.

  • Guest

    I think this book (and another far worse one which is called something like “Your Pregnancy Week by Week” which is truly a litany of what horrifying things can happen on a WEEKLY basis during pregnancy) start us down a path I call “the self-esteem crushing experience of motherhood.” A friend of mine whose self-esteem is currently being crushed by her child’s teachers and therapists was mentioning how she thinks of that phrase of mine often, and unfortunately it is so true.

  • Betsy

    I had to laugh and recycle the book when I read the passage about some women having their first orgasm once they get pregnant… I mean, really, how did she get in her predicament in the first place?

    I should also add that my midwife recommended the recycling of the book rather than donating it – it would be one less copy in circulation.

    • mama-3c’s

      Actually, a woman doesn’t have to have an orgasm to get pregnant, only the man. And there are many women who have never had an orgasm at all, so it really isn’t a far stretch. Consider yourself blessed if you have frequent orgasms. It doesn’t happen that way for most women.

  • AMB

    It’s amazing how you tout that the cut penis is “easier to keep clean”. The exact opposite is actually true. A newborn intact penis doesn’t need any of this special cleaning or wound care. It’s also odd that you ask parents to smear a form of crude oil (petroleum) on a fresh wound. People (or authors) who are pro baby cutting, always downplay the pain of infant circumcision. Watch one on YouTube sometime, tell me what your gut says…..

    • AMB

      This comment is directed at the authors of “What to Expect….”

    • http://youngmum-katiemul.blogspot.com/ Young Mum

      amen! Horrible that our society widely and enthusiasticly accepts a book that encourages genital mutilation. We wouldn’tdo that to our little girls, why do so many abuse there little boys? :( 

  • Hijessica

    I was convinced that our baby was going to die and had some awful disorder. My husband took the book away, threw it in the trash and went onto to have a healthy and happy baby. Such a horrible book!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=671115117 Tabatha Hilton DiDomenico

    I used the copy I received from my intervention heavy turned cesarean birth as kindling to start a fire during my home birth. It worked really well for that.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YZUYLTGAQNEDLAGNS6MOWH37WY Angie

    I remember, in my first pregnancy 16 years ago, being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. When I looked it up in my copy of “What To Be Terrified Of When You’re Expecting,” I basically started thinking I was going to die, or my baby was going to be born brain-damaged, or the baby was going to die, or *I* was going to have brain damage… you get the picture. Since the doctor assured me I was probably going to be fine, as the condition was being managed successfully, that is when I started doubting the advice in this… er, handbook.

    By the time I was pregnant with my 5th and 6th children, visiting midwives and planning homebirths, I had learned to trust the advice of Ina May rather than that horrible pink book o’ cr@p.

    • guest

      Actually, I was diagnosed with PE and my baby DID die. Much later I went back to that damn book and wondered where the hell the “warnings” of PE were, or even an explanation of it… My version seemed to skip over that completely. Worthless book. 

  • http://www.birth-smart.com Birth Smart

    Couldn’t agree more. I also wrote about this one when I recommended “pregnancy,childbirth, and the newborn” to my readers at http://birth-smart.com/2011/02/11/move-over-what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting/. my husband is military and they give these books out free on base here – ugg. Thanks for shining more of a light on this.

  • mrsdixon

    I didn’t hate this book at all!!! And honestly – I just had my 2nd child and wish I would have taken the time to read it again with this pregnancy. I was a single Mom whe nI was pregnant with my daughter – so it was just me and my pregnant belly at home every night – the book helped me to know not to eat sushi – what braxton hicks were when I started getting them and freaking me out – tips to settle my morning sickness, telling me its ok to rest every once in awhile and reminding me my body is doing it’s most important job ever – tips on easing my swollen ankles…. etc etc

    AT the time of my first pregnancy, however, i did NOT have the internet to look up every little thing I wanted to know – so I did rely on the book.

    I’m sure there was some oddball stuff in there, but I don’t remember having any bad feelings towards it. It didn’t freak me out or make me anxious…. it just… informed me.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YZUYLTGAQNEDLAGNS6MOWH37WY Angie

      Fortunately, you were able to absorb the practical advice that most benefited you in your particular situation without falling prey to the over-abundance of worst-case scenario information the book also puts forth. Kudos to you for having the sense to recognize the “oddball” stuff for what it was and take from it the usable information that you needed.

  • Timeless Birth

    have written this piece a gazillion times in my head! I’ve been known to hide all of the copies in any given book store….. and will continue to do so until I take my last breath.

  • guest

    How about the advice to wean so as not to ruin the relationship with your spouse? Sadly, I thought they were ok books until I got to there. Then I threw them out.

    • http://youngmum-katiemul.blogspot.com/ Young Mum

      If your relationship is threatened by breastfeeding, your with the wrong guy! (I didn’t even know the book went there, that’s terrible! My husband felt that my breastfeeding our daughter until she was 16 months was nothing but a wonderful, and a source of pride for us both. And a GREAT way to save money on healthcare costs and food :) Not to mention my figure bounced right back into pre-pregnancy shape, I’m sure that was a great Bf’ing perk for him :)

  • MamaB

    I read this book during pregnancy #1 but didn’t have such a strong reaction to all the admonishments … likely because I was reading so many other good books. My favorite practical was “Natural Birth the Bradley Way” by Susan McCutcheon. Also really liked Henci Goer’s “Thinking Woman’s Guide to Childbirth.” The Ina May book someone else mentioned was also inspiring. Thanks to these readings (and our amazing Bradley Method classes), we were able to have two natural births even in a hospital setting.

  • http://reproductiverites.wordpress.com Reproductiverites

    It’s not just a bestseller — weirder still, they’re making a movie: http://reproductiverites.wordpress.com/2010/12/01/what-to-expect-at-the-movies/

    • http://twitter.com/emandelsmom AJ Cecil

      The movie is going to be ridiculous I am sure!

  • VinceClay

    Women get informed with all the matters on giving birth.As to the title of this article of course it was so understandable what really are things to expect being the times women are experiencing during these period.

    • Emilymarguerite

      Is this supposed to make sense?

  • http://www.facebook.com/MacBump Fiona M Galloway Dionne

    The breastfeeding “advice”…all bad. Weaning incl.

  • http://www.thevillagedoula.com The Village Doula

    The Mother of All Pregnancy Books is a good one. Along with, The Birth Partner, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, as mentioned in other comments.
    SAM- I am interested to know where you heard that stat about childbirth related procedures accounting for half of the medical care in the US. I believe it, but I need a source so I can write about it!

  • mamato3 gmato1

    Sorry but the title says it all – any one who works in the birth community let alone birthed a child will tell you not all pregnancy, births, etc. are the same – EVER. You can’t ‘expect’ anything because there is rarely such thing as a ‘textbook’ scenario unless of course you go to the hospital, labor for 8 hours and then get your c-section all in accordance with the Friedman curve. THAT is a textbook birth. Women read books like WTEWYE and then are frustrated about how things didn’t happen the way the books said it would (that frustration then becomes part of their birth story that they then pass on to other expectant parents instilling fear in them, reinforcing societies view of birth as ‘scary’ and requiring medical management). If that is not what you want, seek out some of the titles listed by Chana and Sdjdoula below. Also, Birthing From Within is definitely worth the read as well.

  • Tricia

    Luckily, I didn’t read it till halfway through my third utterly normal pregnancy, so I was able to give most of the histrionic advice the finger and continue to produce my 5 healthy babies the way my own body wanted to. I did gain 15 pounds over the 12 years I was pregnant and breastfeeding, but I’m still normal weight and no one died when I had a Diet Coke or spent my last pregnancy (wouldn’t you know it, the only boy) craving fast-food cheeseburgers.

  • Sdjdoula

    Yes! Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Birth Partner, Active Birth all encourage women to be well informed and look forward to birth without fear. Women who enter the hospital with the knowledge that childbirth is not an emergency can better trust their bodies to do the powerful work of birth.

  • Motherhendoulas

    It was actually this book that convinced me to deliver at a Free Standing Birth Center instead of going to a hospital with an OB…..it was a passage about how its possible, not likely, but possible to break your tailbone in labor. I thought, ‘only because your forced to be on your back while pushing’ …any other position, hands and knees, squatting, hell hanging from a trapeze and the tailbone would be OK! Of course, this book did not mention that!!

  • http://www.chanalew.com Chana Lew

    What a sorry excuse for a birth book. More aptly titled “turn off your brain and go through a medical condition”. This book teaches women what their doctors will do to them to save them from the life-threatening illness called pregnancy.
    What we need is, “turn on your intuition and trust your body….” Good thing it’s been written – by some other titles… “Ina May’s guide to Childbirth”, “Pushed” “Active Birth” “Immaculate Deception” etc. etc.

    • http://youngmum-katiemul.blogspot.com/ Young Mum

      amen sistah!

  • Sam

    I heard recently that childbirth related procedures account for half of the medical care (and its subsequent bottom line) in the US. So I’m not at all surprised that WTEWYE spent 500 weeks on the best seller list. It’s a book which steers families toward the current, popular system. I think if more women knew how baseless or unnecessary much of the prenatal care they’re receiving is, books which inform women how to care for themselves in pregnancy would be on that best seller list instead of a book which tells women how they will be cared for by their doctors.

  • Soxgrrl4evah

    After hearing about how crazy-making it was I avoided it with my first pregnancy and instead got “Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Pregnancy” which was a terrific fact-based (and matter-of-fact) book that really explained everything in clear terms without being at all alarmist. I highly recommend it.
    It’s funny, I am now pregnant with my second and I haven’t even cracked the book open! You just don’t focus on pregnancy as much when you have an actual child to contend with.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1253580993 Emily Sulzle

      I also really liked the Mayo Clinic’s Guide. I think it’s just really important that whatever you read, you read it with discernment.

  • guest

    Hated it with a PASSION. Wanted to hold a burning ceremony after my daughter was born but I was too busy.