Emma Cowing: Dangerous ground for maternity ‘expert’

YOU’LL have heard of Gina Ford. She’s the childless former maternity nurse with no formal qualifications whose methods for bringing up babies have been likened in the past to “dog training”.

Despite her self-realised position as the Simon Cowell of baby-raising, she is hugely popular amongst parents in Britain today.

Ford has a new book out. Its smug title – The Contented Mother’s Guide – is enough to set your teeth on edge, but the advice it contains may well have you reaching for the dentist’s drill.

New mothers, it says, should show sexual interest in their partners four to six weeks after having a baby. It warns that men sometimes feel “emotionally closed out” by the lack of intimacy that often follows the birth of a baby. It also tells women that adult’s massage oil – and this will come as a surprise, no doubt, to the salespeople at Mothercare – is a “post-birth essential”.

Previously, Ford courted controversy with her “controlled crying” technique, in which she encourages parents to let babies cry themselves to sleep rather than rushing to comfort them the moment their lip starts to tremble. It strikes me that this is exactly the method she should be advocating for the aforementioned fathers, but when it comes to men, Ford clearly has a different agenda.

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It is true, of course, that many men do feel shut out and neglected when a child comes along. To a certain extent it is a natural result of having a tiny infant in the house who desperately, constantly, needs their mother. But many fathers, given that it is no longer the 18th century, get stuck in to the business of parenting and try their best to be a supportive partner, realistically realising that the relationship may – just for a while – have to come second.

Ford however, seems to believe this isn’t good enough. In one section of The Contented Mother’s Guide dedicated to advice from other women, new mothers are advised on the subject of sex after childbirth: “sometimes you may just have to grin and bear it”.

Which is funny, because that’s often what rapists tell their victims, too. I am not, of course, suggesting that the book is advocating rape, but what it does suggest is that women should treat themselves as secondary to their partners, and to view their bodies as objects. This is an enormously dangerous bomb to throw into a relationship that is already having to change because of the rapidly altered circumstances of having a child.

While it is enormously important for new parents to find their way back to their own relationship after the birth of a child – what is also important is that they don’t feel obliged – or worse, forced – to do so immediately, in a way that causes more stress and concern for either party.

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Perhaps the most worrying thing about this is that people listen to Gina Ford, and lots of them buy her books, too. She is, for reasons that seem unfathomable to many parents, one of the country’s most influential authorities on childcare. If Gina says jump, millions of sleep-deprived new mothers will meekly ask “how high?”

There is already an enormous amount of pressure on new mothers to conform. Whether it’s on the subject of breastfeeding, sleeping schedules or snapping back into shape the moment you’re out of the maternity ward, new mums are inundated with people telling them what to do, when to do it, and just what a terrible mother you’ll be if you don’t.

With all this to deal with, not to mention the lack of sleep, the barely-two-minutes-to-yourself-to-brush-your-teeth routine and the sheer overwhelming, world-turned-upside-down responsibility of becoming a parent for the first time, the last thing you need is the added pressure of being told that your relationship is all but over if you don’t sleep with your husband within a month of going through what is for many women a major medical procedure that is traumatic, terrifying, and ultimately produces a small person who is reliant on you for every single thing except breathing.

Ford’s advice is dangerous – not just for new mums but for all women