Growing up too quickly? Not if I can help it

So my increasingly-not-so-little man is turning four. There is nothing quite like the stark reality of another year ticking by to make parents nostalgic for ‘when you were a baby’, lamenting the fact that their bundle of joy is inevitably growing up. At least with a September birthday, Little Man still has the best part of a year at nursery before I send him off to school. Even if he might be ready, I’m not.

excited faceYesterday we went to the park with Grandma and Grandad. Joe had an absolute whale of a time, as he always does when there are slides, trees and grassy slopes to clamber about on. He’s now what might be deemed ‘sensible enough’ to run ahead of the grown-ups a little bit, and will stop in his tracks when we shout for him to. Letting him run to the next bench or lamppost and knowing he will wait is part of the trust we show in him as a ‘big boy’, and he revels in his increasing independence.

Of course, running through the park unhindered is a different matter to walking along a busy road. Here we hold hands, he walks with mummy and daddy, he needs to be careful, he needs to be safe. Roads are dangerous, cars are dangerous, we always wait for the green man.

And this is the balancing act parents have to learn. I don’t want to wrap him in cotton wool, but I feel it’s important he understands the risks that are all around him, and learns to keep himself safe even from this young age. He knows he doesn’t play on the stairs, or run into the kitchen, or climb around on the furniture – even if sometimes he still does. He will learn the hard way, and that is part of childhood too. He will graze his knees and bump his head. We can’t always protect him from every little scrape, however much we might want to.

As much as I want him to understand the dangers in his own, otherwise safe, environment though, if there’s one thing I am determined to protect him from, it is the frightening and terrible reality faced by far too many other people in the world. In his own little bubble of life he is happy and has no reason to assume everybody else isn’t too. He doesn’t know that wars are raging, families are starving, people are dying at the hands of others – and he doesn’t need to, not for a long long time.

He won’t see the rolling news coverage of yet more atrocities on the TV, or have to look at upsetting images plastered across tabloid front pages, because we will protect him. He will sleep soundly at night, not waking in fear of a bad dream caused by seeing some horror he doesn’t understand, because we will protect him. Or at the very least we will try our absolute best to, because that is our job as parents. Childhood is all too fleeting as it is.

And when that day comes when he is old enough and inevitably wants to ask us why those men are waving guns around, why those children are crying, why those people are hurting each other, we will tell him that yes, baby, there are some truly awful things that happen in the world, and some very nasty people. But there are also lots of really wonderful people, and you are one of them.

Against all my protective instincts as a parent, I want him to grow up to be like the brave pair who rescued some animals from the Manchester Dogs Home fire without a thought for their own safety; to be like the selfless aid workers risking their lives to help stricken families in the many war-torn regions of the world; to be like every volunteer giving their all to make life better for those in need – because without people like this, there is no hope for any of us. If all of us lived being too afraid to do anything to help, life would be that much worse for everybody else. It takes special people to restore faith in humanity in the face of so many tragic events and I want my son to understand that; to care about others is what makes life worth living.

One day my little man will need to understand life outside his bubble, and how it is both terrible and wonderful in equal measure. How his life can be whatever he makes of it. How you still should really wait for the green man.

For now though, the joy of birthday cake and cuddles is all he needs to know.


child_eyes_logoThe Child Eyes organisation is working to reduce the exposure of children to violent and sexual imagery in the media, such as tabloid front pages and ‘lads mags’, by campaigning against the display of such material at child height in shops and public spaces.

Find them at or @ChildEyesUK

navigating the pregnancy app minefield

When I was pregnant with Little Man back in 2010 – the veritable technological dark ages in comparison to today – the extent of my online interaction with other expectant mums was a Baby Centre forum for those due around the same time as me, which I had to go to the effort of logging on to the desktop at home to keep up with, and invariably didn’t bother. I had a book – a BOOK! Imagine that! – called ‘Your Pregnancy Week by Week’ which I obsessively referred to and read from cover to cover as soon as the test was positive. My phone was an old Sony Ericsson one that pushed up the screen to reveal the keypad, had limited internet capacity which involved navigating an unresponsive cursor around with a fiddly week by weekbutton, and took about three weeks to load anything.

Fast forward four years and you would be considered some kind of societal outcast for not having a Smartphone of some description, at least some form of online identity in the form of a Facebook profile, Twitter account or blog (or all three, or more), and an over-reliance on a plethora of apps to micro-manage every aspect of your daily life from shopping to paying for your parking to tracking how far you’ve run (if at all – and then it tells you off).

One life event during which it could be argued apps are actually quite useful, however, is pregnancy. A functioning modern day phone or tablet of some description is all you need these days to leave that heavy book at home, avoid logging on to an unwieldy and slow computer, and enjoy an interactive experience which, in the case of the most well-designed and reputable apps, can inform, advise and entertain in equal measure.

How to choose, though, between the approximately 47,000 pregnancy apps on the Apple or Google Play stores? I’ve done a little research, which fortunately I needed to do for work anyway as we are looking into antenatal education.

Firstly, many of them are American, which is fine – pregnancy doesn’t do anything different over there – but the care women can expect to receive may differ significantly from the good old NHS, and the advice given may not always be appropriate. You also get referred to as ‘mom’ all the time.

Secondly, a lot of them come at a cost, albeit a relatively small one, so it’s up to you whether you want to fork out for use of the app past the first three months, which seems to be the done thing with some of them. On the flip side, the free ones tend to be free for a reason – they can be heavily sponsored or filled with sneaky advertising which could get mighty annoying after 40 weeks.

Thirdly, the content of the apps can vary considerably; whilst many follow the week-by-week format, offering info and advice, and possibly some pictures comparing your growing baby to a grape, peach or, horrors, a watermelon, others give you little added extras which make the app much more engaging and user friendly.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, which ones can you trust to give you important and reliable information?

baby buddyI’ve recently been having a play with a brand new app, in my capacity as ‘health professional’, which is being developed by the charity Best Beginnings. Best Beginnings is dedicated to helping children and parents in the UK by aiming to give every baby the healthiest possible start in life, and have been working on the Baby Buddy app with mums, dads and health professionals to create an informative and useful addition to the vast library of titles already available. The app is free to download, contains no irritating advertising, and you can rest assured that all content in the app has been approved and endorsed by several organisations including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – so you know you can trust it.

The main draw of Baby Buddy though is the fact that it is actually aimed at young parents and parents-to-be so has been designed with mums in mind who might require something more fun than a list of foods you shouldn’t be eating – the brilliance of this being that this actually makes it more fun for expectant mums of any age to use.

On first using the app you are invited to create your own personalised avatar – your ‘Buddy’ – who will guide you through your pregnancy as a trusted friend in your pocket. At 33 years of age, I ooh-ed and aah-ed as I chose a hairstyle, outfit and accessories for my Buddy, who ended up looking far more glamorous than I tend to do, and considerably more youthful.

buddy pic

My glamorous ‘Buddy’

Baby Buddy focuses on empowering parents, and young mothers particularly, to improve their health choices and wellbeing, and of course that of their baby. As well as increasing knowledge, improving confidence and enhancing bonding and attachment, the app reinforces the importance of accessing health services. The first version of the app covers the period through pregnancy to when the baby is six months old so it’s worth a look if you’re expecting or have a new little one. A lot of the midwives I network with on Twitter have been raving about it and have all been changing their profile pics to their Buddy in support of Best Beginnings so they must be doing something right!

Best Beginnings is keen to get lots of feedback for the app before the official Baby Buddy launch in November, and more features will be added soon, so please find out more on the Best Beginnings site if you’d like to help out at this early stage. The app is available on both Apple and Android.

Other pregnancy apps I suggest you might like to have a look at (not that I recommend them necessarily in case somebody wishes to sue at a later date):

  • My Pregnancy by Bounty: This app has been developed by ‘parenting club’ (i.e. massive commercial operation) Bounty which may put some users off, but the content is endorsed by pregnancy charity Tommy’s, which I love, so this gets the thumbs up from me. As you might expect, there is some advertising but it is largely unobtrusive and the content is well thought out and user friendly. It is free to download and is available on Apple and Android.
  • Pregnancy +: This is a beautifully designed app which looks great and contains lots of interactive features – however the free version is only available up to 13 weeks, at which point you need to upgrade to the paid version to continue to access everything and unlock some content. The cost of the full version is cheap though so may be worthwhile if you have enjoyed using the free one in the early weeks. There is also no advertising which is a bonus. Available on both Apple and Android.
  • Glow Nurture: This is a new app which follows on in a similar vein to the existing Glow fertility app which enables women to monitor their monthly cycle through daily tracking of certain markers to maximise the chances of conception. Nurture is relatively basic compared to some of the all-singing, all-dancing paid-for apps, but it is free and still contains plenty of info. Its strength is its simple ‘daily log’ function which works well in the fertility app and acts as a helpful reminder for some important healthy pregnancy practices. Its downside is that it is American so, for UK users, the antenatal appointment info it pre-populates for you and some of the terminology used isn’t quite right for us. Currently only available on Apple.

‘all of this': taking the unexpected path

My mum said something to me yesterday that really made me think.

I was sitting with my parents and Little Man in the spectator stands at Gateshead Stadium, cheering on the drizzle-soaked runners making a torturous circuit of the athletics track before crossing the finish line of the Great North 10k, a race I had competed in myself the previous year. I had felt it necessary to sit this one out as I’ve been struggling with some minor leg niggles in training for the Great North Run and couldn’t risk doing more damage that might put me out of the half marathon.

Gateshead stadiumMy husband Andy, on the other hand, had just put in a sterling performance in the event, and stood with us soggy but happy with his new personal best and another medal around his neck. We had seen him entering the stadium to complete the final few hundred metres of the race quite easily, as the luminous orange panels on his Tiny Lives vest stood out brightly on such a dreary day. This was the first time the vest had been worn in an event, and we were proud to be flying the Tiny Lives flag, along with the logos of the brilliant businesses who had sponsored us for our fundraising printed on the back.

As we sat watching the variety of different charity vests and t-shirts being proudly paraded by other runners, Mum said, “Do you think you would have done all of this if it wasn’t for what happened with Joe?”

I realised at that point that I had never really thought about it. I considered everything that might constitute ‘all of this’.

Joe was born in September 2010 at 37 weeks, following an induced labour due to pre-eclampsia. Eight months later, when I felt physically able and mentally ready to, I signed up to Weight Watchers online. I started running, slowly at first, but seeing gradual and steady improvements as the pounds dropped off. By Christmas 2011 I had dropped 3 stones and 3 dress sizes. In May 2012 I ran my first ever 10k race, the Great Manchester Run, raising money for Tommy’s, a charity I had come across as a result of looking for information about what had happened to me. Few things have ever felt like more of an achievement than crossing the finish line on that day.

Tommy's Tent picAt the start of 2013, I threw myself into more fundraising, this time organising an online auction for Tommy’s through our newly established Facebook page Bids For Babies. I got myself onto Twitter to help publicise the auction and, it’s probably safe to say, I have never looked back. I ran the Great Manchester Run again, as did Andy, and in September we ran the Great North Run together, Andy spurring me on as I did what once I would never have considered possible. We raised over £1100 for Tommy’s. We have also been fundraising for Tiny Lives, the charity which supports our local SCBU in the hospital where Joe was born, and we’ll be doing the Great North Run again this year to raise more money.

I started writing again, something I used to love as a child and teenager with dreams of becoming a famous author or journalist, but had somehow lost along the way. I seized the opportunity to contribute guest posts when they came along and in August last year I started the Great North Mum blog, the alias I gave myself when I joined Twitter as a reference to my run training but which has now taken on a life of its own! I have my own little corner of the Internet I am very proud of, now including Blogs For Babies which is a wonderfully fulfilling side project I am really enjoying.

It was also last summer that I changed jobs and started working for the Northern England Strategic Clinical Networks, part of the NHS which focuses on regional collaboration for service improvement in various clinical areas, of which Maternity and Child Health is one. I am so grateful for the opportunities and wonderful connections my job has enabled me to make. I have realised what I am truly passionate about. Most recently, I joined MAMA Academy as a volunteer and have somehow ended up being their Media Coordinator, a role which I couldn’t be more proud to have. Having the opportunity to make a positive difference to the pregnancies of other women, which I am also extremely lucky to be able to do as part of my ‘day job’ with the NHS, is an absolute honour.

So, do I think I would have done ‘all of this’ if it wasn’t for the way my pregnancy ended?

Honestly, my gut tells me probably not.

joe hospitalI might have put some effort into losing the baby weight, but without the thought of my future health thanks to the unknown long-term effects of the pre-eclampsia, my fitness to be an active mum to the little man I was so lucky to have, and the likelihood of complications in a subsequent pregnancy, I don’t think I would have had the motivation to do as much as I did. I doubt I’d have ever pulled my finger out to do a half marathon.

I might have supported someone else’s fundraising, but without the gratitude I felt towards those who had helped me have a happy ending to my complicated pregnancy and the affiliation I then felt to the charities trying to do something about the cause, I don’t think I would have put the effort into raising money and awareness myself. I am almost certain I wouldn’t devote the time I do to volunteering and to feel so strongly about what they are hoping to achieve.

I might have come across the job opportunity I did, but without the true desire to see things improve for everyone using NHS services, for all the deserving mums and babies, for all those who are not as fortunate as we were to bring our baby home, I doubt I would have been so convincing at interview or have found my niche on the Maternity team in the way that I have. My passion drives my work everyday.

Our life experiences cannot fail to shape our futures, but I count myself lucky every single day for the position I find myself in. I interact with some amazing people online on an almost daily basis who are driven by their own experiences, often infinitely more tragic than mine, but all wanting to change the future for others when their own lives have already been changed forever – Jennie Henley raising the profile of SIDS after the loss of Matilda Mae; Leigh Kendall making people aware of HELLP syndrome following the passing of little Hugo; and the inspirational Heidi Eldridge, founder of MAMA Academy, working tirelessly to reduce stillbirth in memory of her son Aidan. We are all travelling down paths we wouldn’t have chosen in order to show others the right way.

That’s not to say people have to go through an adverse experience to want to make a difference but in my case, on reflection, it has definitely affected my choices. And for ‘all of this’ to come out of a situation over which I had no choice is an achievement I am really proud of.

MAMA Academy ‘Made to Measure’ campaign

new logo backgroundIn one of my ‘multitasking mummy’ roles I am Media Coordinator for the wonderful pregnancy charity MAMA Academy so I was delighted to be involved in the launch of the Made to Measure campaign which aims to reduce the UK’s shocking stillbirth rates – still among the highest in Western Europe.

pilogoMade to Measure is all about promoting uptake of the Perinatal Institute’s Growth Assessment Protocol (GAP) programme by all hospital trusts providing a maternity service. This is recommended practice, nationally endorsed by NHS England, but there are still a sizeable number of trusts that have not yet signed up for GAP training – and the implications of this are serious.

The GAP programme is designed to enable midwives to more accurately measure the growth of a baby in the womb by plotting the symphysis fundal height measurements (that your midwife takes with a tape measure) on a specially customised growth chart, unique to the mother. This takes into account the mother’s height, weight, ethnicity, and previous obstetric history to more reliably indicate if the baby is becoming growth restricted – a sign that the placenta may be failing and a key early indicator of the risk of stillbirth.

bump 3If every trust was to adopt the GAP programme in their maternity service, using the customised charts and the package of training for midwives, obstetricians and ultrasonographers that ensures all professionals involved in the care of women are properly educated in their use, it is estimated that 1000 babies could be saved each year. By detecting more growth restricted babies, we can greatly increase their chances of being born safely.

How you can help

  • Head on over to the Made to Measure campaign page on the MAMA Academy website to read all about GAP and find some related links.
  • Use the example letter on the MAMA Academy website to email your local Head of Midwifery and encourage them to sign up to GAP training.
  • Email to share your story of having a baby affected by growth restriction with MAMA Academy, to add to a list of case studies for media requests.
  • Email if you are interested in becoming a campaign ambassador in your area.
  • Write a post on your own blog to help promote the campaign or share a post with my parent blogging project Blogs For Babies and I’ll publish your story there.
  • Follow @MAMAAcademy on Twitter and like their Facebook page for regular updates on the campaign as more trusts are encouraged to sign up. Help promote the campaign on social media using the hashtags #1000babies and #Made2Measure.

Made to Measure flyer

listening to the new patient voice

Last week Mumsnet launched its Miscarriage Care campaign, aimed at encouraging key politicians to pledge to improve the care received by women suffering an early pregnancy loss. Mumsnet’s almost 80,000 Twitter followers were encouraged to Tweet or email MPs Jeremy Hunt, Andy Burnham and Norman Lamb to share their personal tragic experiences and ask them if they would make a promise to include better miscarriage care in their next manifesto.mumsnet 1

Twitter and Facebook were soon awash with some truly awful stories of inadequate care, including women miscarrying on maternity units alongside still-pregnant women, waiting substantially longer than 24 hours for a scan to confirm miscarriage or not, lack of empathy or basic compassion from medical staff, trivialisation of their loss and poor follow-up care. In spite of the excellent and compassionate care received by some women who responded, these stories of unacceptable practice are the ones that stand out, and cannot fail to elicit an emotional response in those reading them.

This is the power of social media.

I suspect that relatively few of these poor women made a complaint to their hospital at the time of their treatment, perhaps only reflecting on the experience later and not wishing to revisit such a traumatic time by accusing a busy doctor of not showing enough compassion after the fact. But the fact that so many of them felt the need to respond to the campaign, drawing on difficult memories with painful clarity, demonstrates how the care that is provided can have a long-standing effect on patients – and the NHS needs to listen to them.

pillsMiscarriage care is only an example. Websites such as Patient Opinion allow users of any NHS service to review the care they have received, enabling them to summarise their experience, state what could have been improved and indicate how the encounter made them feel. Organisations are then given the opportunity to respond. NHS Choices provides a similar function, enabling users to review their hospital treatment in the manner of reviewing a hotel on TripAdvisor, giving star ratings for aspects such as cleanliness, staff co-operation, dignity and respect, and involvement in decisions.

It seems that gone are days when a strongly worded letter to the Trust Chief Executive, possibly passed from pillar to post through a Complaints Department, was the only way to make your voice heard if you weren’t happy with your treatment. People are no longer content to sit and silently stew about the obnoxious consultant, the excessive waiting time, or the questionably unhygienic facilities. Before they’ve been discharged they are complaining to friends and family on Facebook or Tweeting their followers with an unfavourable review – and if the service has no online presence to respond to it, they may never even know about it until the local newspaper goes to press.

I think it is vital in this day and age that all NHS services provide a means of obtaining online feedback from their patients and users, and making the most of social media is the most immediate way to achieve this. Hospital Trusts with well-managed Twitter accounts like Northumbria Healthcare NHS FT and University College London Hospitals NHS FT provide their service users with the means to instantly tag them in feedback Tweets, enabling them to give a timely and transparent response for improved patient satisfaction – a lot less frustrating than waiting weeks for a response to an initial email from an anonymous admin department, and nipping the issue in the bud before it escalates.

It’s not all about dealing with complaints though. Social media provides an important means to convey good news stories about NHS care, in a time when the mainstream media are often more content to focus on the negative. Consistently negative reporting about the NHS can quickly break down staff morale and lead to much lower patient expectations of the treatment they are likely to receive, causing them to be more apprehensive and potentially have a worse experience than if they had total confidence in the service. Social movements like Big Up the NHS aim to spread positive stories about the NHS for the benefit of its staff and patients. Giving service users the means to publicly praise great care is brilliant for staff morale and is important to maintain high standards.

The Friends and Family Test may be the official means of collecting patient feedback for NHS services, but the real test is in every Facebook post, every Tweet and every blog where patients feel the need to comment on the care they have received. It should never reach the point where a huge online campaign is needed to improve what should be basic care and compassion. The patient voice is shouting loudly, but the people who can make a difference need to be in the right place to hear it.



mumsnet 2Support and get involved with the Mumsnet Miscarriage Care campaign

Like everyone else, we believe the NHS should provide effective, responsive care and treatment to the one in five pregnancies that ends in miscarriage, but while some trusts provide great care, unfortunately, others do not.

Please join us in asking politicians to pledge to improve miscarriage care, based on the principles in our Code, by 2020 – the end of the next parliament. The code proposes a series of simple principles, supported by best practice guidelines which, if fully implemented, would significantly lessen the trauma of early pregnancy loss.

the best medicine

Little Man wasn’t very well at the start of this week. After an afternoon haring around the soft play centre on Saturday, he complained of feeling tired the next day and insisted on being carried everywhere in town that lunchtime. Better for him as he clasped his little arms around Mummy and Daddy’s necks, less good for both of our backs as his ever increasing rate of growth, with his fourth birthday now a little over three months away, makes him a hefty weight to lug around for any length of time.

By the time we were all plonked on the settee later on, the fever started to kick in. Normally running a bit on the warm side, a rise in body temperature for Joe quickly turns him into a wriggly hot water bottle.

“I feel poorly”, was his sad little response to me asking how he felt.

Calpol and an early night it was, but he was quickly covered in sweat, wrapped in his duvet he refused to pull down past his neck to cool off, and with a temperature approaching 39 degrees, we anticipated a long night ahead. Unsurprisingly, he lay between us in our bed for most of the night, breathing laboriously and too quickly, fidgeting and rousing awake frequently.

There are few things worse for a night’s sleep than a small child with a fever. Never fully relaxing, we remained vigilant as he slumbered fitfully until morning.

Unfortunately for Daddy, this meant somewhat reluctantly stumbling off to work with heavy eyes, while I took the day off work to stay at home with our poorly boy. No nursery today, Little Man.

Strange as it may sound, we had a lovely day.

Feeling feverish made him lethargic, and his fatigue made him want to do little more than stay curled up on the settee with Mummy, resting his hot little head on my chest as he used to do when he was our tiny baby. Episode after episode of Peppa Pig, Ben & Holly, Pocoyo; never moving from my lap, his fingers curled around my hand, poorly but content.

He wanted to draw me a picture – a pink flower and a ‘birthday balloon’ despite it being no-one’s birthday, with his name written neatly and carefully at the top – ‘Joe H’ – as he delights in writing his surname initial too just because he can.

With no energy to run around and make a mess and too much noise as he usually would when stuck in the house all day, he was filled with affection, compliments and endless cuddles. I made the most of it while I could.

By bedtime, the fever had nearly passed, and Tuesday began with the usual routine of getting up and dressed for nursery, excited to see his friends and reluctant to brush his teeth without coercion. My Little Man was back, if a bit tired still, but ready to face the day without clinging to Mummy.

As I struggled to get his shoes on while he fidgeted excitably, I had to tell him to settle down.

“I love you Mummy”, with a soft peck on the cheek to placate me, came the response.

We had another cuddle. It would be another lovely day, even if we couldn’t spend it all on the sofa.

joe garden

‘Nurturing New Families': are doulas the Prince Charming to our Cinderella service?

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Doula UK Conference in London, in my professional Clinical Networks guise, to learn more about what they do and how we might learn from it to inform our work with NHS maternity services. The theme of the day was ‘Life after childbirth: supporting the transition to parenthood’; a welcome addition to the national maternity events calendar, as postnatal care is so often described as a ‘Cinderella service’ that you would be forgiven for thinking nobody is bothered what happens once the umbilical cord is cut.

doula uk logoThe Doula UK website is full of information if you wish to read up on it, but a doula (a Greek word meaning ‘woman servant or caregiver’) is an experienced and trained woman who can offer both emotional and practical support to a woman (or couple) before, during and after childbirth. The doula is there to ‘mother the mother’, providing support but not in a clinical capacity, and enables the woman to have ‘the most satisfying and empowered time that she can’ during the antenatal, birth and postnatal period.

I have had plenty of engagement with midwives in my current role, but I have to confess to being largely ignorant of the role of the birth doula until relatively recently, and even more so the concept of the postnatal doula. I was perhaps still labouring under the misguided impression that doulas were a bit ‘New Age’, all sandals and hippy skirts, my thoughts tainted by that episode of Frasier where Niles and Daphne hire a doula called Harvest who provides the option of a masseuse, a shaman and a drummer to enhance the birth experience.

The modern doula is far removed from this stereotypical image, as the many wonderful ladies I met at the conference proved. Doulas are knowledgeable, compassionate and truly supportive, able to provide the kind of intuitive perinatal care that nervous fathers, interfering mothers-in-law, and well-meaning but inexperienced friends might struggle to do, despite their best intentions.

nurturing new families coverAmong the many excellent speakers on the day was Naomi Kemeny, a postnatal doula who originally trained as a midwife but now follows her passion of supporting women and their families in the postnatal period. I was lucky enough to be given a copy of her newly published book ‘Nurturing New Families’ to read and tell you about, and I found it both thought-provoking and educational in equal measure.

The book focuses on the work of a postnatal doula, in a sort of ‘how to’ guide to mother and baby centred care which will provide a new mum with the practical and emotional support she needs to recover from the birth and set off on the right foot along the road to happy parenting. There is also helpful guidance on becoming a doula and a great appendix of resources.

As a non-doula though, I found it to be full of fascinating insights which would be useful for family or friends supporting a new mother, and also for the mother herself, as a lot of the information provided aids understanding of the needs of the baby and postnatal self-care. There is a useful chapter on feeding babies including, reassuringly, some non-judgemental advice on assisting with formula feeding.

What struck me though as I read to the end of the book, was that while the work of Naomi and her fellow doulas sounded wonderful, I still had a nagging feeling that this was a luxury that few could afford, and the reality of life with a newborn for most women, especially with little family support, was very different to the glowing testimonies of clients in the book’s postscript.

Doula UK have a charitable ‘Access Fund’ which can be used to pay for doula services for mothers on low incomes, but it is by no means a guarantee that those applying for assistance can be helped, and I wonder how many potentially eligible mums are even aware of the option. Even families with modest incomes may find employing a doula a stretch whilst on maternity pay, and the ultimate option of the live-in home help I’m sure would be out the window. One estimated cost I found online for a postnatal doula is between £10-£20 an hour, plus mileage. For a doula to be most useful and be on hand a few times a week for 6-8 weeks, that could get pretty costly.

Please don’t think that I am criticising doulas in any way – I think they do amazing work and are committed to supporting women, and it is right and proper that they should be paid appropriately for their time and expertise.

That being said though, if doulas really are a luxury for the lucky few, there is a desperate need to improve the standard of postnatal care provided to the average mum. Naomi herself said in her talk at the conference that postnatal doulas have the luxury of time that community midwives and health visitors just don’t have. There is far too little postnatal support for new mums in general and too much pressure on them to get up and about and return to their ‘normal’ routine, in spite of any physical or emotional difficulties they may be experiencing. Stretched community midwives can’t spend a couple of hours cooking a meal, doing the laundry or watching older siblings as a doula could be employed to do.

I’ll let you consider part of Naomi’s book – in the chapter ‘A Career as a Postnatal Doula’, Naomi describes examples of a typical doula day, one ‘easy’ and one ‘challenging’, to help prospective doulas think about how they would cope with each situation. My thought was how a new mum with a two year old toddler and eight day old baby, without a doula, would cope with the same ‘challenging situation’ by herself.

“10am: Arrive. Mum in tears in dressing gown. Screaming toddler clinging to her leg with smelly full nappy. Baby screaming in arms, has been feeding off and on all night. Food delivery being delivered to kitchen. Cat sick on the floor. Porridge boiling over on the stove.”

It is no wonder that perinatal mental health is such an issue, not to mention the physical toll this would quickly have on an exhausted new mum.

FairyGodmotherIn Naomi’s scenario, the experienced doula sweeps into the house, takes the baby, enables mum to care for toddler then have a shower, tidies the kitchen, settles mum and baby for breastfeeding whilst distracting toddler, resettles baby and toddler after brief disruptive visit by midwife to have a cuddle and story with mum, sorts the laundry and makes lunch. This is the kind of Fairy Godmother we would all choose to have in our home – if we had the choice.

My concern is that the absolute majority of new mums receive no more postnatal assistance than a couple of short visits from a community midwife, a handover to the health visitor, and a list of local breastfeeding groups. This is not enough. Family support cannot always be relied upon when many grandparents still work or don’t live close by. Yes, most women will manage, but some will not, and not all will feel able to ask for help.

It’s time that the Cinderella service got dressed for the ball. Mums are being dealt another disservice at the hands of stretched NHS resources, and the knock-on effects of long term health problems following poor postnatal care are putting increased strain on NHS services who have to pick up the pieces when the situation could have been prevented in the first place. It’s a vicious circle that needs to be stopped.

A doula for all? That’s the fairy tale ending. (Glass slippers and pumpkin optional).


nurturing new families coverNaomi Kemeny’s book ‘Nurturing New Families – A guide to supporting parents and their newborn babies’ is published by Pinter and Martin, and can be ordered via their website