4th December 2018

Gingham Kids parenting specialist Caroline Zwierzchowska-Dod tells Louise Cummings why it’s natural, normal and healthy for new parents to raise children with a network of help and support. . .

Having a baby is a venture into the unknown. It’s magical, wonderful, life-changing and awe-inspiring, from the first second you cradle this tiny miracle of nature in your arms. But it’s also scary, mind-blowing and relentless as you blindly navigate the choppy waters of motherhood, trying not to drown beneath a sea of dirty nappies or become overwhelmed by a chorus of crying. It’s rarely plain sailing, and whilst in a new career, you’d receive training, there’s no guidebook for fledgling parents, just a plethora of parenting ‘bibles’, which can lead to anxiety rather than enlightenment. Couple that with images of uber-glamorous mums emerging from the plush Lindo Wing just hours after giving birth, a picture of radiance, and it’s enough to make you want to go into hibernation until your baby hits their teens!

The good news is that it’s invariably smoke and mirrors; beneath that perfectly coiffured façade is often an exhausted new mum who’s also got sore boobs, eye bags and the tell-tale zombie stare. But perhaps that mum’s salvation has been asking for help, in whatever form that may be; grandparents, nannies, maternity nurses, doulas. . .

Whilst it may have become the norm in our society for parents to be sent home from hospital alone and left to fend for themselves with their new plus one, our very own parenting guru Caroline Zwierzchowska-Dod tells us that this is not the way nature intended it to be. “The idea that we parent either on our own or as a couple is not the biological norm for our species. We should be in a tribe, we should have our mothers and our sisters and our aunties around to help us,” she explains. “It’s a tough call to be looking after a baby 24/7 and we often don’t have the experiences that our grandmothers would have had of growing up in large families, so the first time parents have held a tiny person is when it’s their tiny person. That can be quite frightening.
Parenting can be instinctive and natural of course, but it’s full of a whole load of skills and if you don’t have great antenatal education or the support of family members or others at the time of birth it’s a really tough gig.”

A mum to two teenagers, two foster children, and a further child she co-parented, Caroline has a wealth of experience to call upon. She’s a teacher, newborn and parenting specialist, qualified maternity nurse and birth and post-natal doula, and supports parents in all aspects of infant sleep, feeding and development. Having worked alongside families for two decades now – including as a doula to Syrian refugees – her main focus now is those precious early weeks of baby’s life.

“The biggest part of my work with parents is normalising baby behaviour, so saying ‘You’re doing a fantastic job and your baby is normal, this behaviour is usual’. We have an idealised view from the media, Instagram and others people’s expectations of babies that sleep in a cot and feed for a short amount of time. These are not baby behaviours that are instinctive and normal so making sure that parents understand why their baby is behaving how it is, is the biggest and most enjoyable part of the job.”

With breastfeeding a struggle for many mums, Caroline’s support, or that of a maternity nurse, is invaluable. “It’s important in those first few days to help mums to learn how to position baby and get a great latch, then we look at the reality of infant feeding and sleep, and making sure parents are maximising the efficacy of the feeds so that they can get the maximum amount of sleep for their baby and themselves.”

Caroline believes that more mums would succeed with breastfeeding if the level of help available here matched that of some of our European counterparts and further afield: “In societies where parenthood in general is supported better, for example in Norway, around 85 per cent of women were still breastfeeding four months in. And the key reason women give for giving up is a lack of support.”

Gingham Kids has a team of childcare specialists on hand to give families that all-important support – and Caroline has been working with the agency, presenting a variety of courses on breastfeeding and maternity issues. “We’re hoping to expand in the New Year to include some sleep courses and work on reflux and colic, which will be really interesting. We are training maternity nurses and nannies mainly, so that training is going to spread across all the children that those people work with, which is such a privilege,” Caroline enthuses.

So, next time you see a mum struggling, go and give her a hand or at least offer some words of support, and if you’re a new mum yourself, feeling daunted by the daily demands of your baby, sit down, take a deep breath and call in the recruits. As Caroline so rightly points out: “We’re not meant to do this alone. We were meant to have people to pass our baby to, to help us to feed our baby, people giving us that support, it’s in our biology.” And who are we to argue with biology, right?

Find out more about Gingham Kids courses on the training diary section of the website. To contact Caroline direct, email training@ginghamkids.co.uk

Free breastfeeding support is available on the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212

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