BABY LOVE

My favourite book for new parents is Baby Love by Robin Barker, because the subtext clearly says, “I don’t give a crap what you do and I’m honestly sick of hearing your opinions, but here’s how you change a nappy, FFS.” At the same time you know the sheer joy of cuddly little creature s runs fizzing through her veins.'

Karen Gould, grateful mother.

Baby Love was first published in 1994. Since then there have been six editions, numerous reprints and many reviews, comments and criticisms. Karen Gould's comment above is my favourite.
'Unreal', my daughter said when she saw Karen's comment. 'Does she know you?'
No, but Karen nailed the philosophy behind the books, which is no philosophy apart from be nice, be kind, teach them to read, teach them to swim, turn off your mobile and here's how you change a nappy.

Baby Love is based on my professional expertise and my day-to-day hands-on experience helping parents (mostly mothers but fathers were always welcome) as a midwife and child and family health nurse and - oops I nearly forgot - a lactation consultant, over many decades.

In 1986 I decided to have a go at putting a book together based on my work because at the time all the baby info was coming from overseas, mostly the US and UK.
And, baby-care books from the 19th century up until the 1980s were predominately written by male paediatricians and child psychiatrists whose wives - as Dr Ferry Brazelton, a well-known US paediatrician, readily acknowledged at the time - did all the care of their own babies while they concentrated on their careers and their books.

In the second half of the twentieth century books by psychologists, researchers, academics, anthropologists, parents with axes to grind or personal insights to pass on, journalists, feminists, philosophers, grandmothers and breastfeeding experts, often people with no wide ranging, hands-on experience, started appearing on the shelves.

Curiously, none were by nurses.

Child and family health nursing (once called baby health nursing) goes back to 1900 when nurses, 'Sisters' in those days, were employed by the government to try to pin back the shocking infant mortality rate of 103/1000 babies under twelve months. Most deaths were preventable deaths caused by poverty, a general low standard of living, ignorance often due to lack of education, poor hygiene and food, dirty water, doorstop milk, unsafe homes and so on.

Baby Health Sisters were employed by the government of the time to educate and instruct mothers in basic mothercraft, to help and encourage breastfeeding (bottle feeding then being a disastrous option for many) and to keep an eye on the growth and development of their babies. Looking back at the old government booklets that were published to go with Sister's advice, it's easy to point the finger at how prescriptive and bossy it all now seems.

Certainly, there's no doubt that in the first half of last century Sister-in the-Clinic was often a force to be reckoned with standing guard over the scales in her bristling veil,  starched uniform and sensible shoes. I doubt back then that much time was spent on the emotional and psychological welfare of mothers and babies. Fathers, expected to stand back while mothers got on with it, barely rated a mention.
Nevertheless, the service then as now provided an opportunity for mothers to get help and often comfort from a sympathetic woman (as opposed to a male doctor) that was free and open to all-comers.

Middle class mothers whose babies were less at risk of dying quickly embraced the service as well. Having somewhere to go where they could get reassurance, comfort and encouragement was appealing, especially as by the early twentieth century many were living away from their extended families.
(The break-up of the extended family is not, as many new parents believe, a  recent phenomenon, but was well underway during the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century).

My mother gave birth to me while my father was serving overseas  during WW2.
According to her the local Baby Health Clinic was a godsend for many war wives. As well as being a friendly place for mothers to meet, the Sister went way beyond the call of duty to help them, even at times staying overnight minding sleepless babies so desperate mothers could get some rest.

As the infant mortality rate dropped dramatically - by 1931 to 27 per 1000 to 3.9 per 1000 births today - Sister's role changed from one of largely offering prescriptive procedures to one with more emphasis on giving psychological and emotional support as well as offering baby information modified to reflect new research and the changing times.

In the late 1970s, the veil and the title was dropped and Sister-in-the-Clinic became known as a Child and Family Health Nurse in NSW and South Australia and Maternal and Child Health Nurse in other states.

By the 1990s the occasional bloke was moving in on Sister's territory as well.

Rather than telling parents what to do, the nurse's role moved more towards providing them with the technical knowledge needed to do the job as well as helping them sort out the increasingly conflicting ideas about baby-care, which by the end of the century was driving parents batty. And still is.

Up until the 1980s advice was similar and straightforward even if, as I've mentioned, somewhat prescriptive and bossy. The 1980s heralded a new era. There was a backlash against the prevailing routine, prescriptive approach. Books by women started appearing. Breastfeeding became a hot issue. Sleep and what to do about it divided off into highly emotive factions.

After many years talking to mothers, I became obsessed with the idea of writing my own book from the point of view of a child and family health nurse. I believed this approach would be a practical and helpful asset for parents looking for objective information and advice that didn't push a certain line, for example 'attachment parenting' or the antithetical 'tough-love/detachment parenting'.
It seemed to me that most parents did a bit of both.

As a child and family health nurse I was there to help everyone:
  • Mothers who breastfeed and those who wean.
  • Mothers who breastfeed for years and those who wean at 6 months, 9 months, 12 months.
  • Parents who wish to co-sleep and 'wear' their babies and those who don't.
  • Parents who want routines and those who want to go with the flow.
  • Parents who use childcare and those who don't.
  • Parents who want to go the nappy-free route and those who don't mind changing nappies until whenever...the no one gets married in a nappy crowd.
  • Parents prepared to give the dreaded 'controlled-crying' a shot and those who think it's an evil form of baby torture.
  • Those who find the whole motherhood/fatherhood thing difficult, depressing and a shock and those who find it joyful, fulfilling and easy and those (most parents) who find it somewhere in between.
Then there are the babies:
  • Some sleep well and some don't - often for no discernible reason.
  • Some feed well, others are fussy.
  • Some love food others turn up their noses at everything other than chocolate custard.
  • Some will co-operate with tummy-time others won't have a bar of it.
  • Some toddlers will poo in the pot, others spread it around their cot.
And so on.

I quickly worked out that, as often as possible, the only sane and ethical approach for me was to provide practical, flexible options to suit the realities of the events and lives of the parents coming to me for advice, information and reassurance.

I never saw it as my job to persuade or dissuade parents from following particular child-rearing philosophies or the latest 'you-beaut trendy' methods - baby signing, nappy-free, purposeful play, baby gym - unless parents wanted to go down risky or dangerous paths. Or obviously if I could see that babies were in abusive, neglectful homes.

Baby Love was written based on these ideas.

It took ten years to write and is largely based on my day-to-day work.
One of the joys of child and family health nursing is the close relationship nurses have with families over many years and the parents at my centre were more than happy to pass on both positive and negative comments following their visits - an excellent way of keeping me grounded and a constant reminder that one size didn't fit all.

I also kept long lists of everything mothers and fathers asked me no matter how trivial or self-evident because I knew the small things that mattered were often glossed over by busy practitioners and frequently not mentioned in books.

When Baby Love finally came out in 1994 it sold a few in the area where I worked but made barely a splash in the ocean of parenting books starting to crowd the shelves in bookstores all over Australia.
As it turned out mine wasn't the first by a nurse. A couple of other Australian nurses beat me to the punch but it was good to see us finally making a mark in the burgeoning marketplace of baby and toddler advice.

Baby Love was about to be remaindered when a trickle of mothers starting asking for it and my publisher decided to re-jig the book - new edition, new cover - and start again. This time around it started to sell in modest numbers.
In 1999 Baby Love made the bestseller list for the first time and became popular all over Australia.

It continues to sell well although the heyday years are behind it.
Considering the exponential growth of parenting tomes and parenting websites and parenting experts all weighing in with their versions of what's-best-for-baby, I'm amazed that in 2016 it still has a devoted audience.

I'm delighted Baby Love has been useful for many people but I have never seen myself as a 'guru' nor ever wanted to be one. I have no mysterious inside information, nor much spirituality (whatever that may mean, I've never been sure) about motherhood, fatherhood or birth.
I veer strongly towards evidence-based information and have never been a fan of what is referred to as ‘alternative’ medicine, treatment, therapies simply because in all my years of practice I never saw convincing evidence that, in relation to baby-care, any of it did anything useful.
Unsurprisingly then, I strongly support immunisation and have no time for amber beads, herbal colic medicine or teething potions  although I understand the  comfort desperate parents find in turning to such remedies particularly when their concerns are fobbed off by mainstream practitioners.

I've never wanted to promote a 'Robin Barker' method. Or, apart from my books, sell advice, equipment or endorse products.

I've never offered solutions when I know there are none hence I chose titles that indicate what the books are about in preference to titles implying that I have the answers to making babies happier, smarter, sleep well or grow up into exceptional adults.

I do have some unpopular opinions about infant formula, child-care and teething. These are all based on research (when available - 'teething' is impossible to research), commonsense and my work over many decades. It's never been my intention to upset mothers, however I think my views on these topics should be out there so parents have an alternative to the prevailing wisdom on teething, the promotion of child-care for the under-threes as the normal way to care for this age group, and the deceptive marketing information provided by infant formula manufacturers. Whether parents agree, disagree or take no notice is entirely up to them.

I'm a practical (now retired) child and family health nurse who finds babies and toddlers endlessly fascinating, funny and utterly endearing. They are also often frustrating and irritating and require a lot of attention. A day with a toddler can be a very long day. As a night with a sleepless baby can be a very long night.

After years of midwifery and child and family health nursing, raising two children and having a lot to do with two grandchildren in their early years, I remain convinced that if the basics* are in place chances are good that children will grow up into resilient, independent, useful, ethical adults.
 (Note I don't include the 'happy' word, for me a fuzzy word that can mean anything; what children need are parents who can teach them how to tolerate being unhappy and help them learn how to find their own happiness.)

But there are no guarantees. If you're looking for guarantees, don't have children.
The world is full of stories of children who seemingly have everything who do poorly and children who have emerged from chaos and disaster who do brilliantly.

Crucially, nothing is cast in stone. It is not, as some researchers imply, all over in the first three years. Early childhood is important but a lot happens between then and adulthood and, in a wide variety of physical and cultural settings, humans can thrive and learn and benefit from experiences throughout their entire lives.

We know what damages children and it's not controlled-crying or the age at which they start solids, or childcare, or school or which way the stroller faces. Or even whether they are breastfed (naturally where safe formula feeding is possible), or get the occasional smack.
Children are damaged by war, extreme poverty, dirty water, malnutrition, neglect, emotional deprivation, abuse, saturated fats, sugar, preventable diseases, refugee detention camps, fighting parents, racism, absent parents...

And the basics* are?
Love - naturally - but what does that mean?
How about healthy food, a safe place to grow, lots of cuddles, the opportunity to learn the skills they need to take their place in the world, sensible discipline and constant interest in their progress through life from the same one or preferably two adults in a peaceful home in a peaceful country.

Oh, and good role models. Or at least parents who make an effort to be good role models. You don't have to be perfect. Children are very forgiving and seem to know when we are trying.

First edition 1994
First edition 1994

Mrs Kookaburra
‘I hardly like deliveringthe Goods
Mrs
Kookaburra’, (Mr Stork says in 1931 obviously eager to make mothers feel good about themselves),
‘Them Humans is so gum careless of ‘em.’


Sister Gladys Hack
Sister Gladys Hack with infants at the Baby Health Centre at Kempsey, mid-1950s (National Archives Australia)
Sister (unidentified) at work
Sister (unidentified) at work in 1942 (National Archives Australia)
Sister Robin  Barker
Sister Robin  Barker at work mid 1980s (receiving check from an aspiring dentist)
I hope you find
1994
I hope you find what you're looking for.
Babies give us
Babies give us all a reason for living and hope for the future.
Life begins for our beautiful Jimmy
 Life begins for our beautiful Jimmy
recent Australian edition
Don't buy this book (even if it's cheaper). Ask for the most recent Australian edition.

   These two editions of my books are U.S. editions published in 2002.

 They were written for an American audience - mom, faucet, closet, diaper and so forth - and contain American names and brands of medication and equipment as well as resource info relating to the American health system, which is vastly different to ours.

They've hardly made a ripple in the U.S. and given my time over I wouldn't publish there again.
My books were written for an Australian audience at a time when we had very few home-grown baby books.
I never contemplated trying to snaffle an American audience however when offered a shot at a bigger market I threw caution to the wind and took the plunge.

Unfortunately, my U.S. publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, who despite my best efforts I have been unable to contact for years, won't pull the plug on the books or consider updating them.

So they wander the globe like neglected children turning up where they're not wanted giving me grief.
They are increasingly appearing in Australian bookshops and popping up on websites for a cheaper price.
Unsuspecting parents buy them not realising they are out-of-date U.S. versions of the superior and safer Australian 2013 edition.
I have alerted potential readers on various websites and the Goodreads site but it seems there's not much more I can do.

My message here is to spread the word and boycott these books.
Ditto
Ditto
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