‘Gina Ford’. Two dirty words. If you follow her routines and schedules you must not have a motherly instinct in your body, right? Your poor, poor babies are fed on a schedule and put to bed or woken up at certain times of the day and night, regardless of what they might appear to want. Mothered by Hitler. Poor baby.
Baby led or mum led? Demand feed or scheduled feeding? Keep the baby up until mum and dad go to bed, or knuckle down and have them in the sack by 7pm? Co-sleeping or pop them in a separate room with a conventional cot? Somehow these two worlds split into columns in my mind; hippy flower child versus cold and corporate; paganism versus true Christianity; flowing skirts and beautifully shabby knitted scarves versus dark suits and clip-cloppy heels; Joni Mitchell and Devendra Banhart versus Wagner. But the funny thing is I often wear the flowing skirts and the shabby scarves, I listen devoutly to Joni and I made a clear decision to leave the office behind in my mid-twenties and went the arty farty road…but my confession? My confession.
I subscribed to Gina Bloody Ford. (Gina is a British childcare expert for those of you wondering who the hell I’m banging on about!) I followed the Gina Ford routines. There I said it. Hmmm. It almost felt good. I followed the Gina Ford routines. I followed the Gina Ford routines. But I’m not quite done. I still do! Oh yes, I’ve shared this with other Gina followers, but for the most part, it stays in the family! There’s something so very uncool about Gina isn’t there? No children of her own for a start. Actually, there’s something uncool about admitting that you are routiney and that you don’t just roll with your baby’s every punch. I think some folk assume that if you endorse Gina or follow a schedule, you somehow relinquish responsibility for making your own decisions based on your own maternal/parental instincts for your own child. Worse; that you are somehow denying your child the same level of intimacy and love as a mother who is baby-led and demand feeds and co-sleeps. I disagree. I don’t think you can tarnish the entire routine scenario with the same judgmental brush; a lot is contingent upon how you use Gina’s routines or any schedule for that matter. More on that later.
I haven’t been particularly open about my use of the New Contented Little Baby Book. What of my friends who co-sleep, demand feed, go with the flow and think routine is a dirty word or that it just isn’t for them? I thought it would be ok to calmly do my routine thing in a subdued kind of way, but it was difficult to dodge their questions, usually posed from a haze of hard core, deeply-entrenched and starting to eat into the fabric style sleep-deprivation (I mention this without judgment, but simply observe that I have not the slightest clue how anyone can get a decent night’s sleep with a baby sleeping in their bed. It does not come naturally to me. I know it works for some, but how?):
“But how do you get Maple to sleep for two and a half hours in the day and then sleep through from 7pm until 7am…sometimes 8, sometimes 8.30…on holidays sometimes 9?”
I played it down; “Look she’s just naturally a very good sleeper. She’s dedicated to it. It was her priority from day one.” And this too is true. I think some bubs are naturally just more prone to lengthy and deep sleep than others. We lucked out with Maple. But the thing that I failed to mention to these friends initially (until guilt crept in like a urinary tract infection and it felt that the withholding of this information was tantamount to deceit) was that Gina also had something to do with it.
I didn’t resort to Gina Ford out of desperation. I was hugely pregnant with my first child and had just finished work when a friend in Australia phoned me and said “So what’s your plan?”
“Yes, how are you going to play this parenting lark? You’re going to follow a routine right?”
“A routine? Right, a routine. I guess.”
“Miranda, you’ll be lost without a routine. You know it. You need order, some semblance of control. Your baby will need predictability.”
She had three kids and had managed with masterful ease to survive a toddler and twins, so I was listening. I was all ears and belly.
“You need The New Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford. I’ll send it to you.”
And she did. I could have got it quite easily in London as Gina Ford is English but my friend insisted and posted it from Melbourne.
“My kids were all sleeping through the night by six months. You need your sleep. Your baby will need her sleep.”
She had me there. I am utterly dreadful without sleep. I fall in a heap, a puddle of patheticness. I also had no clue about babies. I had never changed a nappy, had no interest in changing one and had barely held a baby because I avoided those sorts of situations. I would drop to my knees for a dog on the sidewalk and wouldn’t even notice the beautiful baby smiling up at me with cupid eyes from a pram, sucking on her Sophie giraffe (oh the things I have learned). Babies did not interest me. Children interested me only slightly more than not at all. And so here I found myself desperately up the duff, with my due date imminent and suddenly it dawned on me as I hung up the phone blowing kisses to my very resolute friend in Melbourne, that I needed some sort of approach. I’m a routiney kind of gal in some respects. I need to feel that I have some kind of loose control over things. If you’re not routiney, then it follows that schedules are probably not for you.
Shortly afterwards I met another mum friend for tea on Hampstead Heath and she handed me another book, singing its praises: “Secrets of The Baby Whisperer” by Tracy Hogg. I had days to kill. So I read both books, dog-earing pages I thought might be useful when the time came and generally trying to digest as much as I could of what might be expected of me very shortly. Secrets of The Baby Whisperer was a pleasant read; humorous, light, colloquial and accessible. I have continued to dip into it with both of my babies and it is a very useful guide and generally quite calming. Gina Ford is humourless, dry, unwavering, butt-clenchingly bossy, tediously militant, and blatantly uncongratulatory. Actually, the two routines these women promote, are not dissimilar, but the Baby Whisper allows for greater flexibility. Anyway, my partner and I decided to test drive Gina. We were initially appalled by the rigour of the routines. An example of some of the six to eight week schedule:
– Baby should be awake, nappy changed and feeding no later than 7am.
No chance. At best the baby will be feeding by 7am, quite often later if they’re kind enough to sleep later. Priorities.
– If he fed at 4am or 5am, offer him 20-25 minutes on the full breast. If he’s still hungry offer 10-15 minutes from the second breast after you have expressed 30-60ml.
Really? Do other babies feed for 20-25 minutes on cue? I never express on schedule. In fact I never express. My kids don’t do bottles so I don’t do expressing.
– Do not feed after 7.45am as this will put him off his next feed.
I always feed after 7.45am. With an oversupply of milk I always split my feeds and always top up my bubs before they go down again for their morning sleep. It has never put them off their next feed. Boobie!!
– Don’t forget to have your own breakfast and a drink by 8am.
– Wash and dress baby, remembering to cream all his creases and dry skin.
Never! They’ll stay in their PJs until they wake up again after their next sleep, they will not have a bath until after dinner, and I will moisturise my son as he has eczema, otherwise no.
– Settle the drowsy baby, half-swaddled and in the dark with the door shut, no later than 9am.
I aim for 9am and do the best we can. My bubs always showed signs of knackerdness by 9am if we got them awake at 7am in the early days. Gina’s right with her sleep timings when it comes to my tots.
– Wash and sterilise bottles and expressing equipment.
So that’s a condensed morning with Gina Ford. Sounds ridiculous right? But what you have to know is that my partner and I saw through the extraneous detail and fluffery, meaning the lengths of feeds, the prescriptive timings of things that for us simply didn’t matter, and we worked with general waking, sleeping and feeding times. There’s nothing extraordinary about them, and we just adapted the routines depending on where our children were at, rather than what the book said they ought to be doing by a certain age. And it worked for us. Of course we struggled with all sorts of things and still do. We are complete novices. Neither of our kids slept through the night by the time Gina says they ought to, neither of them took a bottle and she doesn’t help much when your bub has tongue tie and can’t latch on to your boob. But these are just life’s little challenges. The point is the book served its purpose and at some point, we shelved it and just carried on.
Pssssssssst! “Never Wake A Sleeping Baby.”
Critics of baby routines spout the “never wake a sleeping baby” line ad nauseum. But it’s an empty slogan for me as no-one has ever provided me with sufficient foundation for it. “Never wake a sleeping mum.” Now I’ll wave that banner any day.
Following a routine inevitably requires that you wake your baby at certain times of the day so they learn to differentiate between day and night and to associate night time with sleeping. It’s what everyone wants right? It’s also to ensure that babies don’t sleep too much during the day so as not to affect their night sleep. I don’t walk into the bedroom bashing a gong. It’s a gentle process. My babies never objected as it either meant boob or play. Win win. In my eyes, this is a bit of a no-brainer; you’re waking them in order to help them sleep longer. I recall in the early days, visiting my in-laws in Dorset. I went to wake Maple up from her two and a half hour middle of the day sleep so we could head out for the afternoon, and my mother in-law said: “Never wake a sleeping baby,” with an air of the ‘tut tut tut’ about it. But she could not explain to me why. On another occasion, a dear mum friend was at my place for morning tea and as I went to wake Maple from her morning sleep she said: “Oooh you should know better than that. Never wake a sleeping baby.”
“Er why the hell not?” I wanted to ask but didn’t. My baby had just slept for an hour after sleeping twelve hours through the night, and she was soon to return to bed for a further 2.5 hours. Again my friend couldn’t explain to me with any conviction why waking my sleeping baby might be a problem or might be damaging to her in any way. I remain entirely unconvinced.
Subcontracting your parental instincts to Gina
So that’s pretty much it. My daughter fell into a routine easily, and my son, being an acid reflux bub, took longer. But it just made sense to us. Gina Ford has not had her own children and has never breastfed, so the length of feeds and so on, in my view, should be taken with a pinch of salt. I just trust in what feels right, take what works and leave what doesn’t. This is not about subcontracting your parental instincts to Gina Ford’s book (paraphrased from some criticism levied at Gina by the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg). Nick Clegg openly criticised Gina Ford’s routines, saying that it made he and his wife feel “strangely passive as parents.” I love the following quote taken from The Telegraph on Monday 29th July 2013:
“’With our first one, like all new parents, we religiously followed Gina Ford. Instructions like, stick him in a broom cupboard at 7.46am.
At 7.48am, take him out, do not look at him … Absolute nonsense.”
He [Nick] recalled finally abandoning her routine after his wife, Miriam, turned to the book when their child woke late one night.
He said: “I will never forget — in the middle of the night, Antonio woke up. Miriam said to me: ‘What does the book say?’ I remember saying to her: ‘OK, we have got to stop this. I have subcontracted my parental instincts to this book’.” ‘
So that’s crazy right? To feel you have to rely on what a book says, in the middle of the night when your baby is wailing for you? Your instincts surely must kick in. You just do what feels right. But Mr Clegg is right in that the detail can be excrutiatingly tedious and unwavering and sometimes you want to hurl the book at a wall and scream “you obviously haven’t had children of your own you silly cow!” or something a little more extreme. But the fact is, our daughter responded positively, and our son at eight months has also shown his preference for predictability. We find that we can structure our days and when routine is entrenched, we can become flexible and enjoy winging it when necessary. With Maple, we found that she was feeding well, sleeping well and in between was gregarious, happy and full of energy. Importantly, every single night, my partner and I have our evenings to ourselves. (I’m sounding smug and don’t mean to. But this is a perk for sure. How else would I have found the time to write this stupidly long post?!) So it made sense for us to dip into the book again when Zeph was born, albeit with a greater degree of flexibility as we now have a toddler to ferry around the place. One down side is that because Gina bubs sleep in completely blacked-out rooms, when we stay away from home it can be tricky to settle our bubs unless we’re able to darken the room fairly well. Mae has grown out of this naturally but in the early days it’s a small price to pay for a full night’s sleep.
Gina has nine or so books and I’m sure there’s one about dealing with newborns and toddlers but I didn’t bother! You just throw the plates into the air and hope for the best don’t you?