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Trusted advice from Dr Miriam Stoppard


Dr Miriam Stoppard Photo: PA

Dr Miriam Stoppard Photo: PA

Dr Miriam Stoppard Photo: PA

Even the best parents could do with a bit of advice every now and then.

But sometimes there's no one around to help, or they haven't got the answers to your questions.

And that's when the trusted advice of childcare expert and household name Dr Miriam Stoppard could come in handy.

Miriam's reassuring advice has been neatly captured in four new guides, aptly titled the Trusted Advice series.

The books are aimed at parents from pregnancy until a child is five. Each one deals with a different stage, namely: Your Healthy Pregnancy; Your New Baby; You And Your Toddler; and Your Healthy Child.

Miriam, a mother of four and grandmother of 11, says: "I've always thought of myself as like a big sister who can put her arm around the mum that's a bit worried and say 'Come on, we've seen something like this before, and we can deal with it together'."

The amiable grandmother doesn't want her books to be seen as childcare diktats, but simply as useful advice which can help back up that most vital of childcare tools, a parent's instinct.

"I have a firm belief in parental instinct, and I think parents should follow that instinct by and large," she stresses.

"I don't think any so-called experts can possibly know what's best for a family.

"The best we can do is to put a steadying hand on the elbow, reassure, answer questions and give parents confidence to follow their instincts.

"They should believe that their instincts are nearly always right."

She warns parents not to be "browbeaten" by current trends in childcare, citing the example of the World Health Organisation guidelines recommending exclusive breastfeeding for a baby's first six months.

"I've been an advocate of that, but even while I was advocating it I thought it was unrealistic, because I know some babies need more than milk long before six months."

She says there's a case for an occasional bottle of milk before six months, and that babies probably need weaning any time from four months onwards to ensure they're getting the correct amount of iron.

Just last month, a team from the Institute of Child Health reviewed evidence on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, and suggested the advice might not always be best for babies in developed countries.

"We shouldn't be clinging to a practice which isn't in the mother or baby's best interests, and it's intelligent to reassess," stresses Miriam.

Her Your New Baby book gives plenty of advice about breastfeeding and bottle feeding, as well as on all the essentials of baby care such as sleeping, bathing and dealing with crying.

The first book, Your Healthy Pregnancy, focuses on diet, exercise and emotional preparation for parenthood, and highlights the importance of taking care of yourself and getting in touch with your body, as well as tips about working during pregnancy, and common health complaints.

Miriam says she keeps up to date with research, and tries to interpret it to pass on to mums and dads.

"I want to reassure them that what they're doing is okay.

"I've been writing on this topic for an awfully long time, and I see the books as parental support."

She acknowledges that many things have changed in the years since she first became a doctor and a mother, including approaches to sleeping, crying and feeding, to name but a few.

"There are new approaches, new equipment, new guidelines.

"Things are changing all the time, and I try to keep abreast of it all."

The You And Your Toddler volume looks at children from the age of 18 months to five years, giving essential information on issues such as dealing with tantrums and starting potty training. It also offers tips on playing, sleeping and learning to talk.

"The new skills that toddlers learn, like walking and talking, are enormously complicated, and we should stand back in admiration of what they acquire," she points out.

The book outlines games parents can play with toddlers to help them develop these skills, and Miriam explains: "It's a kind of cross-section of all toddler life."

And part of that life, unfortunately, is illness. That's dealt with in Your Healthy Child, in which Miriam's voice changes from a big sister's to a medical tone.

She discusses the diagnosis and treatment of more than 80 childhood complaints, ranging from fevers and cuts and grazes, to specific problems including meningitis, appendicitis and food poisoning.

"I want to be the calm steadying medical voice that helps parents distinguish when something's serious or not, when they should call the doctor, and what they can do.

"It's to steady parents, and guide them through the rapids so they feel they're taking the right steps.

"But if you're concerned about anything, call the doctor. Never hesitate."

Miriam points out that the idea behind the series is that they can be put in a handbag and dipped into when necessary.

She says: "I want them to improve parents' confidence, and make them realise they're doing a fantastic job bringing up their baby or family.

"The spirit behind my books is at the very most to just gently nudge - I have no desire to do anything but that.

"You're the only one who really knows your baby."

PA Media