Come along for the ride!!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The contented little baby book

If you are a parent you will no doubt recognise the heading above as the title to one of the (many) books by ‘baby and child expert’ Gina Ford. Such is her reputation for being able to practically guarantee your offspring are indeed content, M was reading this book in the very early stages of her first pregnancy thanks to a friend’s nod in the author’s direction.

While (all) the books are incredibly detailed (if a little long winded at times), if I were to summarise in one simple line the basic ethos which runs throughout, it would be this;

Get your child in a routine early and keep them in it.

Of course, it’s not anywhere near as simple as that but if I have any hope of keeping your interest here, that’s where I am going to draw the line. In other words, I won’t go into the fact that you pretty much kiss goodbye to your social lives, that you will be up incredibly early and going to bed even earlier, that you will be spending your evenings making puréed suede and carrot and taking it in turns …. oh the list goes on and I said I wouldn’t bore you with the details, but you get the idea!

Reading the book, it dawned on M and I very quickly that you could choose between two types of baby. These were;

Firstly, a baby that slept through the night from a very early age thus avoiding you going stark raving mad relatively early in your new lives as parents or

Secondly, a baby that will wake and feed on demand for an unspecified number of years with no real sleep pattern of any description and pushing you to the limits of human endurance, possibly forcing one or both parents to drink red wine excessively, oh no hang on, umm …. yes, severely impacting on the mental health of either parent, if not both.

For us it was a no brainer. We chose option 1.

And to cut a very long story short, it worked beautifully. And, credit where it’s due, M was the one who read the books, digested the information, bought the food mixer, expressed the milk (bit obvious that one) and generally followed Ms. Ford’s instructions to the letter.

The result?

A happy, well fed and contented little baby boy. The amazing thing is not that this woman’s books and theories worked for us but the fact that it worked on a fairly prematurely born baby; Joseph was 7 weeks early! Should that have made any difference? I think so.

Naturally, the next book in the series is From Contented Baby to Confident Child and yes, we read that one too and I am happy to report that this book also weaved its magic. Of course, then Annabel came along and, with a quick refresher read of the first book, we were on our merry way again.

Did we kiss goodbye to our social lives?


Was it, as the book said, early to bed and even earlier to rise?


Was it a routine of preparing and blending and expressing and freezing and so on?


Yes it was all the things we were expecting after reading these books but you know what? The books acted like a helpful and supportive friend. Any time your baby or child deviated from the ‘expected’, good old Gina had a game plan, typed out for you in a “problem and solution” section to put straight into action, which invariably solved whatever issue had arisen.

“Dear Gina; my baby wakes on the third night (of the week) an hour before I am due to wake her and this throws out the rest of the days planning. What can I do?” Yours, Worried of Wandsworth.

“Dear Worried, do not worry. Wake baby up three hours earlier on the second night and allow to sleep an extra 20 minutes in the afternoon. This will stop baby waking early on the third night of the week and with the extra 20 minutes you have on the second afternoon, you can express 20mls extra of breast milk whilst watching Neighbours”.

“Dear Ms. Ford; my baby refuses to eat the puréed alphalpha sprouts and chickpeas I spent all morning cooking. He/she looks skinnier today than yesterday! Please help!! Yours, Petrified of Primrose Hill”.

“Dear Petrified, relax. Merely stir in a small spoonful of steamed, diced savoy cabbage and baby will happily stuff its face with your purée until he/she nods off. Provided it is the specified time, naturally”.

The fact is, we knew then (as we know now) that it was a fairly regimented way to approach parenthood.

“Wake him up?” I would ask M, astonished! “He’s only just stopped yelling! Why the hell would I want to wake him up??”

“Gina (she was referred to by her first name in our house; always) says to wake him, feed him, change him then put him back down”.

At the time I could have wept. We both could, I know.

Wake him up? But, but, yeah but, no but …..

And now? With the benefit of hindsight (as the saying goes) it was the right choice.

100%, by far and away and without a shadow of doubt, it was absolutely the right choice.

I must stress however, it was the right choice for us. It was the right choice for us and it suited our babies. It might not work for everyone.

Having said that, we know plenty of people (established friends and those who have become friends) who never gave the book a second glance and have always bemoaned the fact that our children have been sleeping through the night from the age of two months (!) but their 4 year olds are still waking for one reason or another. The fact that ours sleep through the night and theirs are still sitting on the sofa at 10pm asking for crisps.

That was another draw. Yes it was regimented but guess what? After the initial problem of getting them into a routine, you got your evenings to yourself. Ok, this was initially spent sterilising and washing and peeling and cooking but that didn’t last forever! Within 6 months you could steam sterilise less milk bottles and by 18 months you could stick the steriliser on eBay once and for all.

The incredible thing about all this is that at the age of 5½ years, Joseph still has his ‘routine’. I call it ‘his’ routine because although it was us who put him in it in the first place, it is a routine which ‘he’ doesn’t like to come out of. Yes, he and his (nearly) 3 year old sister will enjoy staying up late at my parents when they spend the night there, but it is the following day that they will be tired and lethargic.

That’s not a problem of course. This does not mean that Gina’s planning is ‘monumentally flawed’. I’m just highlighting the knock on effect of any deviation from their routines.

Having said that, knocking their routine out of sync on a Friday or a Saturday is fine. Knocking it out of sync when it is school holidays is also fine. Knocking it out of sync on a Sunday before school however is another matter altogether.

And not just because M and I don’t like to but because it isn’t fair on Joseph or Annabel. It isn’t fair expecting them to adhere to something we established and then shake it up for the sake of one day.

Every generation brings up their children a little differently and this is how we have chosen to bring up ours. It doesn’t work for all. Not everyone likes it.

But it works for us and our children and that is what’s important.

If you’ve just become or are about to become a parent for the first time let me tell you 3 things;

1. Get Gina Ford’s book.

2. Keep going, even at the beginning when you feel like giving up.

3. Stick to your guns. People won’t make it easy for you.

But it will be worth it in the long run, I promise you.

And thank you Gina Ford. We have two happy (and healthy) children.

But thanks mostly to the best Mum in the world; the secretively named M.

Happy Mother’s Day M; we love you very much.

And Happy Mother’s Day also to my own Mum who I wasn’t able to catch up with today.

I love you Mum


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