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The family way
6:00am Saturday 15th March 2014 in Lifestyle
GP Dr Ellie Cannon wants first-time mums to trust their instincts, and tells Lisa Salmon all about her no-nonsense, anti-rules approach to parenting.
There are, in theory, few hard and fast rules about looking after a baby, yet there is plenty of advice about how to do it 'properly'.
As a result, many new first-time mums become anxious about their parenting skills, often preventing them enjoying those precious first few months.
Ellie Cannon, a GP, is therefore passionate about encouraging first-time mums to trust their own instincts. Rather than searching for and relying on 'expert' advice, Cannon argues in her new book Keep Calm: The New Mum's Manual, that mums can successfully be their own experts.
"This is very much the antidote to all the other baby books, because it's anti-rules, and it doesn't tell you what to do.
"As a mum for the last 10 years and also as a GP, I felt very strongly that mothers and fathers are bombarded by a huge amount of rules and guidance, which is often confusing and conflicting.
"It's a rebel's guide to motherhood. I didn't want to tell mothers how they should be holding and feeding their baby, or whether or not they're allowed to go back to work. I wanted to encourage mums to learn to listen to themselves, not to feel guilty, and through that to know what to do for the best, rather than being told what to do."
In the book, which she describes as a "self-help book for mothers", Cannon covers all the obvious stages of baby development and care, including feeding, crying, weaning, illness and sleeping.
But while sleep is of course vital for both mother and baby, she stresses: "What is definitely not vital is that you follow anyone else's idea of a sleeping plan.
"The only plan you need to follow is your baby's. There is no correct foolproof way to sort out a baby's sleep, despite what people will claim."
She accepts there are "clever steps" new mums can take to make the days and nights better - working in shifts with your partner, grabbing daytime naps when baby's sleeping, and not drinking too much coffee because it could make you too 'wired' to sleep when possible - but the schedule is individual to each family.
As for feeding babies, Cannon is keen to point out that despite the huge amount of advice about breastfeeding and bottle feeding, only a tiny portion is scientifically-based, and the rest is "claptrap".
"If you want to bottle feed your baby or if you want to breastfeed, it is entirely up to you, and only you.
"Mothers spend far too much time feeling guilty, confused or upset about their feeding choice and it is quite wrong."
Throughout the book, Cannon frequently repeats this simple mantra: "Keep calm. Trust Your instinct. Listen to the baby expert - YOU."
She says: "The point was to show, with my expert knowledge as a doctor, that parenting is not a science, there is often not a right or a wrong, and being able to make your own decisions is perfectly safe and perfectly valid.
"I want to show mums that they can actually be their own expert."
She wants to show they're allowed to feel 'normal' emotions too. Several chapters focus solely on the mother, not the baby, because Cannon wanted to explore how mums really feel after the birth, not just looking at the obvious issues like postnatal depression, but also what's not usually discussed.
"Like how tiredness makes you feel, the fact that many mothers are bored and want to go back to work, and the conflict that many mothers feel about giving up a career and staying at home.
"It's realistic about the things new mothers face."
Cannon, whose children are now 10 and seven, works as an NHS GP and regularly appears on television, including Sky Sunrise and Channel 4's Health Freaks, as well as writing for national newspapers and magazines, so she is clearly well-placed to be giving out her advice.
She points out: "I have my own personal experience, and also the very important experience of my clinic, where I see hundreds of mothers and babies.
"It's very, very important that the person giving this advice has been there and done it. This is why I won't say 'you must breastfeed, you must do this, you must do that', because I know from my own experience and my patients' experience, that real life isn't like that."
Ask the expert
Q: "My three-year-old son hits, bites and kicks a lot, and yet his older brother has rarely shown any signs of aggression. Why might this be, as they've both been brought up the same way?"
A: Dr Eric Lacourse, an associate professor at the University of Montreal, who recently led a study into aggression in toddlers, says: "Onset, frequency and duration of physically aggressive behaviours stems from genetic factors and is weakly related to shared environmental factors such as watching violent cartoons or witnessing domestic strife.
"There's highly likely to be, in a single family, a child that's much more aggressive than the other. This is because they only share half their genes, on average.
"If you happen to have one more aggressive child, the odds are it's going to fade away and you needn't become overly alarmed. Parents should look at physical aggression as a normal phase of development that peaks between the ages of one and four.
"The way parents deal with their toddlers' aggression can either help them grow out of it or perpetuate the cycle beyond early childhood, and favour the continuation of physical, and later verbal, aggression.
"Parents should neither be too coercive and harsh in their parenting behaviours. It's important to swiftly identify and discipline aggressive behaviour in young children, with age-appropriate punishments such as timeouts.
"If the behaviour persists over six months or parents feel overwhelmed, they should consult their paediatrician about coping strategies or to identify other developmental disorders such as ADHD or autism."
Frugi Buzzy Bee Babygrow
A bee-printed soft organic cotton babygrow featuring integrated fold-back scratch mitts, and popper fastenings at centre front and inside legs. Available in sizes from newborn to 24 months from www.welovefrugi.com, £16.
Animal Planet Morphsuits
Super-stretchy polyester and spandex body suits shaped like a human body, complete with fingers. The children's Animal Planet range includes a jaguar (pictured), zebra, cobra, gorilla, bear, leopard, bat and tiger. Available in sizes to fit ages from six to 12 years from www.morphsuits.co.uk, £24.99.
Creeper Crawlers Crawl Suit
Pure cotton romper suits with grippable little bugs up the shins and on the soles of the feet, which help tots crawl safely. Available in sizes 6-9 months and 9-12 months, from www.Rosy&Bo.com and selected Kiddicare stores, £15.
:: Note to Editors: This column is embargoed until Sunday, March 9. :: Keep Calm: The New Mum's Manual is published by Vermilion, £10.99. Available now
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