Maternity nurses, the baby whisperers who can ease new mums and dads into parenthood and ensure that their new child finds a routine which suits them all, have long been a luxury accessory for the rich and famous – and, of course, Edinburgh gave the world the most famous maternity nurse in Gina Ford, whose books have sold millions.
But now it’s not just those with large bank balances who are employing a little extra help in the baby business. Professional couples who have perhaps moved away from their extended family, single parents who just need an extra pair of hands – in fact, anyone who’s finding the joys of parenthood slightly less joyful than they imagined are hiring maternity nurses, even if it’s just to get a good night’s sleep.
Sarah Johnston from Fairmilehead is one mum who found baby Daniel’s inability to sleep forced her into looking for help. “I had done all the ante-natal classes, including going to those run by the NCT, but they all omitted one important aspect – life after hospital and what to do.”
The 34-year-old adds: “I knew the first few weeks would be hard but nothing quite prepared me for motherhood and life with a newborn. Having had a C section, I was on pain relief and struggled with everyday tasks for the first few weeks.
“Daniel cried a lot and slept little, and I resorted to letting him sleep with me in bed or on top of me for a few hours of precious sleep. My husband, who is a firefighter, works shifts so I was often on my own at night and I’d end up taking him into bed with me.
“But he would still wake every hour through the night, wouldn’t sleep in his moses basket, cried all the time, fed every hour and wouldn’t take a bottle. I was sleep-deprived and exhausted.”
She called a friend for advice on parenting books, but instead was told she might benefit from a maternity nurse.
“I had heard of maternity nurses but didn’t know they existed in Edinburgh and thought they were a luxury. But my friend told me about Baby Matters and so I booked Sarah Carpenter immediately for three nights.”
Within an hour of Sarah meeting Daniel she suggested he was potentially suffering from silent reflux, something his GP later confirmed and instantly prescribed medication to treat.
“The change in him was amazing,” says Sarah. “As I hadn’t put good habits in place, Sarah had to break the habits I’d started. She got him used to his moses basket. His fitful sleep was cured and he slept peacefully for hours a time, and he stopped snacking and fed better giving me three hours in between feeds.
“She even got him to take a bottle and into a routine.”
Sarah Carpenter, 34, is one half of capital firm Baby Matters, a Norland College trained nanny who has worked with celebrities and well-known financiers from London to Canada, and then worked as a maternity nurse in Australia before returning to Edinburgh. Her business partner is Helen Cook, a maternity practitioner who trained at the famous MNT in Hampshire, which is itself used by the renowned Norland College – where Prince George’s new nanny also trained. To say they know a little about babies is as mild as pureed pear.
“I grew up with lots of small cousins and wanted to work with children so going into nannying seemed right, and so I went to the best place to train,” says Sarah.
“At Norland we learned how to work with children from birth to age eight, hands-on training, day and night, so it was pretty intense.
“Because of the thorough training there’s a certain reputation about Norland nannies, so you can command a pretty good salary, and in London it certainly used to be the case that it was people who were very well off who employed nannies and maternity nurses.
“When I got back to Edinburgh I thought that really it should be something that’s affordable to anyone who really needs it. Midwives do a brilliant job but they’re stretched so far you’re lucky if they spend 20 minutes with a new mum, so we can offer much more time than that, from an hour to a whole night, and financially we’ll work with people so they can get what they need.”
So Baby Matters offers trouble-shooting support with infant feeding, sleep training even help with post-natal depression. It’s also recently branched out into offering BabyNatal ante-natal workshops, focusing on what happens post-hospital rather than in pregnancy and labour, and charges around £15 an hour.
Sarah, who herself has two boys aged 26 months and eight months, says: “A lot of women build up an expectation of what the labour might be like, what breast-feeding will be, and have a kind of romanticised notion of parenthood which, when reality strikes, can cause them to feel like failures.
“We want to be able to help them know in advance the realities of having a new baby at home which most ante-natal classes don’t cover. Breast feeding for instance is painful at first, yet women aren’t told that so when they experience the pain they give up. We just want to make life a bit easier for people.”
• For more information visit www.baby-matters.co.uk.
HOW THE WISER HEAD CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Fiona Craig, 30, a school registrar from the New Town, has a 14-month old son, Wilf.
“I loved Wilf the minute he was born but after a week of everyone telling me to ‘enjoy this special time’ I was exhausted and didn’t see how we could get out of the endless rocking to sleep and constant feeds.
“Wilf was sleeping all day – we couldn’t keep him awake however much we tried – and then was hungry all night but fell asleep after a few minutes so I was continuously up feeding him.
“I’d spend hours trying to get him to sleep, then putting him in his basket to have him wake up immediately. After weeks of a couple of hours’ broken sleep every night, I just couldn’t cope anymore.
“I confided in friends who suggested a maternity nurse and they recommended Sarah. Until then, I had just assumed I would cope and thought a mat nurse far too expensive but now I realise you can’t put a price on what they can offer.
“I remember she took Wilf from me and he immediately stopped crying. Then we had our first good night’s sleep in weeks; I felt like a new woman the next day. She came to us a few nights a week for a while which gave us the chance to sleep but also got Wilf into regular sleep patterns at night. She set us off into a realistic routine that suited our lives. Within the first few days I began to enjoy being a mother and each day became a pleasure rather than a nightmare.
“She has returned to help us through the weaning stages, teething dramas and various illnesses. Knowing what I do now, I would have had a maternity nurse from the start.”
Michelle Anderson, 36, director of Quanderson Solutions, from Stockbridge. Her daughter Scarlett is 16 weeks old.
“When I was pregnant I was anxious of how I would feel and cope after her arrival. Having been focused on my career, the thought of having a baby who is 100 per cent dependent on you was quite daunting.
“I had done the NHS and NCT ante-natal classes, but then I heard about the BabyNatal Practical Baby Care workshop, run by Sarah and Helen. The primary focus of their sessions is aftercare – they are more practical and provide an insight into what to expect when you leave the hospital. The workshop covered bonding, feeding, sleep, and calming tips definitely came in handy. She started sleeping through the night at only seven weeks.
“And when Scarlett was around nine weeks, Sarah became our maternity nurse for a week. I wanted to have an expert around for reassurance and to help stop any bad parenting habits forming. For me, it was fantastic. I had energy, peace of mind and could bounce concerns off a professional as opposed to friends and family who have their own opinions.
“Scarlett is so contented and I’ve enjoyed every minute.
“I hadn’t considered a maternity nurse before I had Scarlett, but it has been so beneficial for us as a family. And, it’s no way as expensive as you would imagine.”
Vive la difference!
HOW best to bring up a baby is a contentious subject. Views abound, from rigid routines to relaxed parenting where babies co-sleep and are fed on demand. And books about the subject can easily become bestsellers …
Edinburgh’s Gina Ford is the “queen of routine”. She first published The Contented Little Baby Book in 1999 and was based on her 12 years of experience as a maternity nurse for more than 300 babies.
Her prescriptive advice creates routines for babies to “match their innate natural rhythms” which leaves them “happy and contented because their needs for sleep and food are appropriately met”.
She also advises parents to leave their baby crying for up to an hour so it learns not to expect to always be picked up. While many parents swear by her routines, other believe it to be far too rigid.
At the other end of the scale is “attachment parenting”, where the idea is that the child forms a strong emotional bond with parents which has life-long consequences, leading to more secure individuals.
Babies are not expected to self-soothe by being left to cry, they need a quick response from their parents to help them regulate their emotions. Feeding is done on demand and skin-to-skin contact is very important.