Gina Ford is well known for her views on childcare. Her book, The Contented Little Baby Book, became a best seller, but has prompted some controversy. After several books about particular areas of concern, such as sleep problems, Gina Ford has now published The Contented Baby with Toddler Book, dealing with the sometimes fraught move from one child to two. Workingmums asked her why she wrote it and how she has dealt with the controversy around her childcare methods.
GF: During the nineties the number of parents contacting me for advice was increasing so much that in order to cope with the demand I put together notes of FAQ and routines for babies so that I could give copies to all of those parents that asked for help. It is quite funny looking back at those hand-written notes and never in a million years did I think that when I was writing them that they would one day become part of a book. It was never my ambition to write a book. However, my handwritten routines were used by parents from all sorts of backgrounds, many of whom were in the media and publishing. It was these parents which made me realise how helpful these notes would be to the ever increasing number of families wanting routines, and this was the motivation for me to put everything I had learnt over the years about babies into a simple, concise little book.
WM: What have been the main problems parents of two young children have come to you with?
GF: The most common problem is how to cope with the lack of sleep and juggle the needs of a baby and a toddler. Trying to establish breastfeeding with a newborn, keep up regular play dates for the toddler, plus cook healthy family meals, in addition to cleaning and shopping is an awful lot for any new mother to cope with, especially when many do not have the support of an extended family close by. Over the last few years I have spent a huge amount of my time helping mothers learn how to cope in those early days and what to prioritise. That is also the aim of my latest book The Contented Baby with Toddler Book.
WM: There has been a lot of discussion around establishing routines for young children. Do you think your views have been fairly represented in these discussions? What would you like to say to your critics?
GF: I sometimes read in the papers or on the internet about Gina Ford’s strict four hourly feeding schedules for tiny babies or about babies being left to cry when they are hungry. Anyone who has read my books properly know that these type of statements are complete nonsense and are usually made up by people who have not even bothered to read the book properly. I rarely waste time responding to this type of criticism for the same reason I have just mentioned – these people simply do not understand my methods. For me the most important thing is that the people who really matter, that is, the parents who want routines, do understand them.
WM: Sleep is a huge issue for working mums when they return to work. How important do you think it is in ensuring mums can manage both work and home life?
GF: Sleep deprivation is a really serious issue, particularly for working mothers who cannot catch up on sleep during the day. Through my consultancy service I deal with some working mothers who are really struggling to cope with high powered jobs, a baby and the home. My advice for these woman is that routine for the whole family is essential if they are to cope. This means agreeing a structure for the evenings that ensure both parents get some relaxation time, but also a mother of a baby who is still having a late feed gets to bed early and allows the father to feed and settle the baby at that time.
WM: What are the main benefits for toddlers in their mum establishing a routine for the baby?
GF: One of the main benefits is that establishing regular feeding and sleeping times for the baby means that a mother can ensure that she can give the toddler one-to-one time at certain times of the day, therefore minimising the risk of the toddler feeling left out or neglected. In The Contented Baby with Toddler book I give advice on how the routines can be adapted to ensure that the toddlers regular activities and play dates are not affected too much by the arrival of the new baby.
WM: What happens if your child gets sick or suffers some change to their routine e.g. travel abroad to see relatives? Do you have to start all over again?
GF: When travelling abroad I usually advise that parents go straight into the routine (local time) the day after their arrival. Obviously, there will be times when the baby’s daytime naps or bedtime will have to be adjusted to fit in with holiday plans, but for parents who follow the CLB routines and understand the concept of adjusting them, this rarely seems to cause any problems. With babies or toddlers who are ill, they may need more sleep during the day, and young babies may need to go back to feeding in the night. But once they are over their illness they will normally fall back into their old routine within a week or so.
WM: Do you think that most sleeplessness is put down to things like teething when it is in fact to do with children not getting adequate nutrition during the day?
GF: I have certainly found a link to sleeplessness and what a baby eats and drinks during the day. Mothers are constantly being told that babies do not need to fed in the night once they reach six months. However, what is not stressed enough is that babies do not need to feed in the night, providing their nutritional needs are being met during the day. In my experience this is not always the case, and often night time wakings are put down to teething/nightmares etc when it is in fact genuine hunger. In my book The Contented Little Baby Book of Weaning I give very specific advice on how these problems can be avoided, and if night waking due to hunger is an on-going issue with an older baby how to deal with it.
WM: What about disruption caused to children from women returning to work, getting used to childcare, etc? How can this best be minimised?
GF: I always advise parents to set in place childcare arrangements at least two months before returning to work, and ideally even longer if finances allow. This enables any problems to be sorted out and any adjustments that need to be made, can happen long before the mother returns to work. Also if the father is not already capable of feeding and settling the baby at sleep times, that he learns how to do this well in advance of the mother returning to work, so that should the need arise he is able to cope.
WM: Do you think that your methods are suitable for all children/parents? If a parent does not have a routine lifestyle/job would this work for them?
GF: I believe that all babies and children thrive on routine, but I do not think that implementing a routine suits all parents. Having said this, by the time children start school, regardless of whether parents believe in routine or not, nearly all families are following some sort of routine. Certainly the feedback that I get from many of the teachers on my website www.contentedbaby.com is that babies who have followed a routine from early on, tend to adapt to a school routine more easily than those who have been used to five years of late nights and irregular feeding and sleeping patterns.
Further information on The Contented Baby Routines can be found here.