Celebrity maternity nurse: Modern mothers have 'lost the plot'
For the past 40 years, maternity nurse Rachel Waddilove has been guiding women through the dense fog of new motherhood. Her methods, spelt out in her parenting manual, The Baby Book, published a decade ago, are controversially traditional – she advocates swaddling, controlled crying and formula – yet her client list includes Hollywood A-listers such as Minnie Driver and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Meanwhile Zara Philips, who hired Rachel for a few weeks after the birth of her daughter Mia, describes her book as “the wisest” about families that she had ever read.
Now Rachel, 68, a mother of three and grandmother of six, has decided to bring The Baby Book to a new generation and has spent the past year compiling a revised version, which comes out tomorrow. This latest edition, she says, takes into account mothers’ evolving lifestyles.
“It’s not me who has changed, it’s modern mothers. You’re all so busy, you travel so much and you scare yourselves by reading nonsense on the internet," she says. "I want to make my message even clearer."
As a first-time mother, three years ago, I was one of Rachel’s “girls”. She showed me how to swaddle Hector, my firstborn, and leave him to settle in his cot. The results were instantaneous: my husband and I began to get a lot more sleep.
Two babies later, however, and I’ve gone soft. My latest addition, Horatio aged 12 weeks, is exclusively breastfed, spends his days in a sling and has a special cot connected to our bed, which he usually shuns in favour of sleeping next to me.
As I tell all of this to Rachel, who trained at a Doctor Barnado’s nursery college in the Sixties, she sighs. “Modern parenting is all about the child and that’s what I don’t like about it,” she says. “I’m not belittling the fact that children are precious, they’re a gift but we’re building a generation of little tin gods and it’s not creating a very nice society. We’ve lost the plot.”
It's mothers like me, confused by conflicting advice, who led her to rewrite her classic parenting manual - adding in more detail on routine and sleep training, and an additional chapter on travelling with a baby – something she has done a lot of with her high profile clients such as Autumn Phillips and Lady Ivar Mountbatten.
Her down-to-earth advice is mother, rather than baby-led. She encourages women not to treat their baby as “king pin” but to focus on their relationship with the father and the rest of the family.
“Babies mustn’t think the world revolves around them. They’ll grow up thinking the world owes them a living.”
The key to a happy home life, according to Waddilove, is a loving flexible routine. The feed and nap times she sets out in her book, while less prescriptive than those recommended by controversial baby guru Gina Ford, encourage a baby to learn to settle themselves, in their own bed. “I see myself as being half way between Gina Ford and Baby Whisperer Tracy Hogg,” Waddilove says.
For Zara Phillips, brought up with horses and boarding school, I imagine Rachel’s training makes perfect sense; more surprising is how well ‘new-ager’ Gwyneth Paltrow, who apparently feeds her children lemon flavoured flax oil, took her no-nonsense, traditional values.
In her foreword to The Baby Book, however, Paltrow happily admits that Rachel's structured schedule saw Apple sleeping through for seven hours by six weeks. "Rachel's advice on everything from breastfeeding to parenting was invaluable," she gushes.
Naturally Rachel declines to comment on any of her “girls” (except to say, when pressed, that it’s “very sad” about Gwyneth and Chris Martin, and to congratulate Zara and Mike on being fantastic parents). What she will say, though, is that her structured approach is particularly relevant to those in the public eye, who crave routine in their lives.
Waddilove turns pale when I mention the "attachment" style of parenting, where babies feed on demand and sleep with their parents.
“It’s so constricting,” she says. “I don’t think it’s good for family life in the western world where so many mothers have to go back to work.”
The hardest part of her job, Rachel tells me, is teaching mothers that it ok for their babies to cry. “Very often a baby’s normal way to go to sleep is to have a shout, air their lungs,” she says in typical no-nonsense fashion. “If you rush to them you interrupt the pattern of them falling asleep.”
Once a baby is fed and settled, she advocates “controlled crying” – waiting a certain time before comforting your baby.
“Babies should be taught to wait,” she continues. “It’s good training, we all have to fit in. That’s why twins are often nicer.”
And no, your baby is not going to be damaged if you don’t rush to pick them up, she insists. “You’re not leaving a cold, hungry, unloved child on its own to cry for hours. That’s abuse. We’re talking about a baby with a full stomach in a comfy cot learning to self settle and sleep. That’s parenting.”
Waddilove is similarly strict about co-sleeping, suggesting mothers sleep in the same room as their babies for just two or three weeks rather than the recommended six months.
“Babies need to learn to be on their own, in their own cot rather than in bed with you,” she says. “It’s probably lovely in those early days, but I have mothers ringing me after two or three months because their babies won’t sleep anywhere else.”
All her “girls” are taught to put their babies to sleep on their sides – in breach of NHS guidelines which recommend babies sleep on their backs – and are shown how to swaddle them, a practice which a Medical Journal of Australia study says could hinder the child's joint development and damage hips.
“I’m not changing my stance,” she says, firmly. “Babies have been swaddled since the time of Jesus. It’s rubbish to say people in their forties are walking around with bad hips because they were swaddled. The problem is they’re overweight and don’t take enough exercise.”
She has a similar disregard for World Health Organisation recommendations that a mother should breastfeed for at least six months. Her book includes detailed information on breastfeeding but also claims mothers should feel no guilt about giving formula. “The most important thing is the baby is fed. Formula is not poison – lots of people have been bottled fed and are perfectly healthy,” she says.
While devout attachment parents will choke on much of this advice, Waddilove, who runs a local toddler group and works at her local primary school is adamant that a routine does not mean you ignore a babies spiritual and emotional needs.
The book encourages parents to bring love, joy and peace into their child’s lives and she even suggests praying over their cots. “I see mothers giving their babies their iPhones but you need to show children how they fit in to the world, that there is a higher order.”
After years on call to Britain's most affluent new mothers, Rachel is now focusing on training others to do her job. “I want to pass on my wisdom,” she says. “At the local school I spot the children who don’t sleep at night. It’s better for everyone if they do.”
Does she worry about the backlash against her traditional views when the new book comes out?
No, she says, squaring her shoulders, suddenly more farmer’s wife than celebrity maternity nurse. “Of course there will be negative comments but there are also people out there who want to get some sleep."