What to Expect: the First Year by Arlene Eisenberg

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What to Expect: the First Year by Arlene Eisenberg

Buy What to Expect: the First Year by Arlene Eisenberg at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Home and Family
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: A book with masses of immensely useful practical info, especially for first time parents; 'What to Expect in the First Year' can be reluctantly recommended but it would definitely be not my first choice for the main baby care bible. Borrow or at least have a good leaf through before buying to see if you like the format and philosophy and remember inaccurate references to health care system and other American biases.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 688 Date: May 2004
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
ISBN: 0743231880

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'Baby and Child' by Penelope Leach was my first baby bible. I liked it for all sorts of reasons which I will not elaborate here, just mentioning it to say that Leach's book is my benchmark for a close-to-ideal baby care manual.

However, when my friend thrust her spare copy of 'What to Expect: the First Year' I accepted as there is no harm in having another book, is there?

'What to Expect: the First Year' follows in the footsteps of mega-best-selling 'What to Expect when You are Expecting' and is headed by the same authors as well as following the same rough pattern and sharing a lot of the same advantages and disadvantages.

The aim of the book is to provide comprehensive advice about baby care, development and parenting in the first year and it largely succeeds in doing that. Whether you are going to love the book, pick some useful things and discard the rest or hate it depends largely on your own attitudes to babies and baby care, your life situation and even philosophy and values.


It's an extremely comprehensive tome: almost 650 pages, all devoted to the first year of baby's and parents' life. This is the books biggest advantage: it really seems to cover all questions a parent of a normal baby might have, as well as touching on quite a few 'special concern' areas too.

There is advice on practical aspects of baby care, from buying pushchairs to feeding positions, from dressing to nappy changes as well as long sections devoted to first aid and baby ailments, good description of baby development and a listing of developmental milestones, and the post-partum and later concerns of parents from depression to sex to work are also covered. If you have a baby-rearing question, 'What to Expect: the First Year' will probably answer it.


One of the hardest problems facing authors of such a big book is how to structure the information. Here the book is a compromise between strictly chronological approach and topical sections.

The main body of 'What to Expect: the First Year' follows a chronological pattern with separate chapters devoted to a newborn and each of the months of life. Each of these chapters starts with developmental milestones, follows with substantial sub-section on feeding, then there is a question-and-answer formatted section on 'what you might be concerned about' which often contains answers to what to me seem rather silly questions but I am sure many parents ask those and thus will be reassured. And finally, each chapter finishes with a topical section, from choosing a doctor to stimulation of development to going back to work.

Several chapters of 'special concern' follow, including premature babies, adoption, special needs and stillbirth as well as two devoted to immediate post-partum period which to me would be better placed at the appropriate chronological position but never mind.

I don't particularly like this structure. I think it's very arbitrary, promotes unnecessary obsession with developmental milestones (despite protestations to the contrary) and 'performance' and as far as other topics go, can be confusing as it's not at all obvious why choice of caregivers is discussed in month three while stimulating early development in month two. But the book has a clear table of contents and an index so it's not really such a major niggle.

The advice offered in the book is on most issues what I would describe as expert common-sense. Sometimes they have clear opinions which are not necessarily based on facts (more of it in the UGLY section), and why not, all gurus are supposed to have them. Sometimes (but to be honest rarely) they are permissive and non-judgemental saying it's all up to you which way you choose. The philosophy is less gently child centred and more development-performance-focused than let's say Penelope Leach's book.

One thing I found off-putting in 'What to Expect: the First Year' (same as in the preceding pregnancy book) is its overblown focus on nutrition: an obsession with diet, first of the mother and then of the baby and toddler, with detailed prescriptions of how many portions of what colour foods one should eat and truly, truly paranoid attitude to what they consider bad foods (never, but never ever give your child white bread or it will grow up liking only this one). Some of the advice, despite seeming scientifically sound seems like a fad: for example marked preference for sweetening things with concentrated fruit juice rather than 'plain' sugar; while in fact a sugar (fructose) is a sugar (sucrose) is a sugar (glucose) - a simple carb, essentially. But for those concerned with nutrition and looking for precise advice 'What to Expect: the First Year' has it, including even a recipe section!


The main problem with 'What to Expect in the First Year' is that it's an American book and one that is clearly directed at well-off middle-class families of what can be defined as updated traditional structure (daddy working morn to night 5 days a week, mommy probably working or having worked too, earning enough money to contemplate hiring of nannies and worrying about college fees).

And from that the stem main inaccuracies, irrelevancies and annoyances of 'What to Expect: the First Year'.

Inaccuracies concern mostly the information relating to health system and hospital stay. Although things like vaccination schedules have been updated to reflect UK realities, a lot of in-the-book content has not and thus we have a lot of confusing information. Examples include:

- whole section devoted to choosing a doctor for your baby and constant references to 'your doctor' when dealing with baby issues, questions you might have about development and things like that. This completely ignores the fact that in the UK care in case of illness is provided by a GP and unless you go private you would not have a paediatrician, while all concerns you might have about healthy babies are dealt with by first midwives and then health visitors.

- a discussion of the hospital stay frequently mentions 'nurseries' and 'nurses' while in the UK NHS hospitals and birthing units rooming-in rules completely, nurseries are non-existent and more welcome would be advice of how to deal with a constant presence of a baby at your side all the time in the hospital, even after you have had a ceaseran section!

- standard stay in the UK hospital is 24 hours and many mothers are discharged after 6. An idea that you might be made to stay in bed for 8 hours post-partum is now unheard of (I was encouraged, nay, I was actually made to walk to a shower about an hour after birth and it was actually great).

Irrelevancies are less annoying but I couldn't help noticing for example several pages devoted to a medical discussion of circumcision which, though common in the US is in Europe limited to families that undertake the procedure for religious reasons (essentially Jewish and Muslim). I have yet to meet a family who hired a professional baby-nurse for few weeks after birth or send a 6 month old to baby classes but then I don't move in particularly exalted circles... which brings me neatly to the annoyances.

The biggest of which is the fact the 'What to Expect: the First Year' is clearly in keeping with the values and concerned with circumstances prevalent amongst modern middle class American parents.

Thus, although a substantial chapter is devoted to adoption there is virtually no mention of a surely much more common situation of being a single mother. There is quite a bit about concerns of fathers but it all, invariably, assumes that the father will be employed and pretty much working a 5-day a week, day-long job.

On top of it, there is a lot of talk about 'progress', 'stimulating development' and one of the sub-sections is event titled, albeit bit tongue in cheek 'Raising a Super-Baby'. The authors are not obsessed with those issues, and by no means advocate teaching 8 moth olds to recognise words using flash-cards, but there is a bit too much talk about performance, best-odds for the future and similar for my personal liking.

Brito-American obsession with creating independence from the earliest age is clearly visible in the authors' attitude to subjects like co-sleeping (claimed to work but only in other cultures); or even keeping the baby in separate cot in parents' bedroom, and baby slings (bit patronising attitude to pouch-type slings in which baby 'feeds in a grazing fashion and looks at nothing much but the breast').

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