Book Review: Gina Ford's The New Contented Little Baby Book
When I wrote this, I hadn't planned to publish it. I read the book and wrote the review as part of my preparation for attending the Aspiring Doula course with Kicki Hansard from BirthBliss Academy. I've shared this with a few people now and they have gently encouraged me to publish it, so here it is.
This is a book that I have never read previously and I chose it as I felt it would challenge my beliefs, based on my preconceived ideas around its content. I feel it’s relevant for me to state here that I read this book as a woman who exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months and that my child fully weaned himself from the breast just short of his fourth birthday. We adopted a baby led attitude to the first years of our child’s life.
On the first page of the book, Gina states “as you will see from my routines and charts, spare time is extremely limited”. In all honesty, I felt she was straight away setting new mothers up to feel as though they have “failed”.
In her birth preparation section, Gina talks about various equipment needed for a new baby, There is lots of useful advise in this section, including pre-freezing meals, but she also mentions, if you’re planning to breastfeed, booking your electric breast feeding pump well in advance as they are in high demand. All of the information I have read as a mother has indicated you shouldn’t express for at least the first 6 weeks, as your supply stabilises. I did wonder if women are being set up to have unsuccessful breastfeeding journeys.
In respect of equipment required I again felt much of the advice was useful. However, Gina was most dismissive of the use of baby slings. Something I don’t agree with personally as I feel babies instinctively want to be close to their mothers as much as possible during the period often referred to as “the fourth trimester” and a sling is an excellent way of keeping your baby close whilst you move around the house or are out and about.
We then move on to what is required if you’re planning to breastfeed. Nursing bras: my understanding is it is better to have a fitting for these once your milk has “come in” so you truly know the correct size needed. Also, nipple cream and sprays: here Gina does talk about poor positioning being the main cause of nipple pain and recommends seeking professional support before buying creams or spays. While she also states that women shouldn't use any other special soaps or creams she does state that they need to wash their breasts twice a day with plain water and after each feed. I did wonder how you’re meant to do this when outside of the home (but I will come to being outside the home later on). Gina also advocates the use of electric expressing machines to express excess milk. However, as this places demand on the breast, it would not address any issues with oversupply. I was a mum with an oversupply and I was advised (by more than one appropriate qualified infant feeding professional) to avoid expressing the excess as it wouldn’t aid my supply in settling (I hand expressed to ease discomfort and to make latching easier only). And feeding bottles: Gina advocates introducing a bottle feed from week one. My understanding is that this can lead to nipple confusion and also, as it is easier for milk to flow from the teat of the bottle, it can lead to babies refusing the breast.
I found it difficult to comment on the equipment recommended for bottle feeding as I have never bottle fed a child. It seemed well organised though.
Gina then goes on to discuss clothes for the newborn. I think this is possibly useful for someone who has never had a child before. However, she goes on to discuss laundering the clothing and, if I’m honest, I felt exhausted just reading about how much to separate the clothing into different loads etc.. She even has certain items which should be hand washed. I must confess here, when I was shopping for baby clothes, if it needed to be hand washed it wasn't purchased!
So then we move into the routines. I think it’s fair to say the routines allow for little to no flexibility. In fact, the “schedules” don’t allow for “outings” beyond a daily stroll with your baby it the late afternoon. Gina advocates for all sleeps happening in the cot in the nursery and so, I can’t really see when a mother would manage an outing as babies will typically fall asleep in the car or in a sling or pram.
A few things that really stood out for me as irresponsible as recommendations are:
· putting your baby to sleep in a nursery, not in the same room as the mother from week one. My understanding of SIDS prevention guidance is that babies need to be in the same room as their mother to reduce the risk of SIDS.
· setting timings for the length of each feed. I know my baby would never have fed for those periods. He was an efficient feeder and I would have felt anxiety at how short our feeds were in comparison to the recommended timings.
· the introduction of a drink of cooled boiled water (or try adding a hint of peach juice if baby still refuses at 8 weeks) from 6 weeks old for a breastfed baby. Babies get all of the hydration they require from breastmilk. Even in hot weather the composition of mother’s milk adjusts to ensure sufficient hydration for a baby.
· the need to express mid feed (potentially distressing the baby) and how frequently Gina states expressing is an indication of how much milk the mum is producing (I have many friends who have successfully breastfed their babies but haven’t been able to express milk at all).
Reading this as a woman who followed baby led rhythms, I felt overwhelmed at the continuous routines. I felt anxious about when a mother was supposed to socialise and spend time with others and how this could contribute to poor maternal mental health.
As Gina moves into weaning, again there are a lot of rules about introducing solids gradually. Starting with baby rice (I would be concerned at the high arsenic content of rice) and then slowly introducing other fruits and vegetables. She is also very prescriptive in respect of portion sizes of carbs, protein, vegetables and fruits. Again, I felt this overwhelming reading.
At the end there is a chapter on trouble shooting. From memory, there were two things that stood out to me. I felt it was implied that low milk supply was the fault of the mother for somehow not following Gina’s methods to the letter, whereas I felt that low milk supply could be caused by following these routines (babies know when they need to feed and what they need to do if they need to boost your supply). Also, Gina advocates the use of sugar water for easing colic. I feel that sugar water should only be introduced with medical guidance.
I did ask a few mothers if they had read this book and if they found it useful. One stopped following the routines after a few days as they felt it was too restrictive, another felt it was detrimental to their mental health and didn’t continue beyond a few days. But, someone did say they followed her twins book and found it really useful to have her babies following the same schedule (which I could understand), and another took parts of this book that worked for her only.
Gina Ford is known for advocating controlled crying and whilst she doesn’t go into detail in respect of this method in the book, she does mention it. She states “With the ones that fight sleep, because I know they are well fed, burped, and ready to sleep, I am very strict. I let them fuss and yell for 10-12 minutes until they have settled themselves. This is the only real crying I experience, and even then it is only for a week or two. Understandably, all parents hate to hear their baby cry; many are worried that to put their baby down in a cot to sleep and leave him to cry like this could be psychologically damaging. I would like to reassure you that, provided your baby has been well fed, and that you have followed my routines regarding awake periods and wind-down time, your baby will not suffer psychological damage.” This goes against the mounting evidence to the contrary.
I would like to add here that a student at Swansea University supervised by Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor and maternal and infant health researcher, did a study and found a clear relationship between mothers reading books such as this one, and poor maternal mental health.
This is not a book I would recommend to a new mother. I didn’t see any time for cuddles, love and enjoying your baby. I’m sure I read at one point that doing this is akin to putting your needs ahead of your baby. On a personal level, I shattered my ankle when my baby was 15 weeks old. I then had more than 6 weeks where I couldn’t easily leave the house. People occasionally visited, but it was incredibly isolating. I had my mother and my mother-in-law to help, but it wasn’t the same as going out and spending time with other new mums and it did get me down. I can really see how following these routines could lead to poor mental health in new mothers.