Every parent wants the best for their baby but how do you know what that is when childcare advice changes as often as high street fashions? For the past hundred years, parents have been increasingly bombarded with books and manuals giving them the definitive answer on how to bring up a baby – so which era had it right?
To try and make sense of it all, we've taken three of the most influential baby handbooks of the last hundred years and are pitting them against each other with the help of six new families. Each couple has chosen the method they think will best suit their values and lifestyles and has agreed to let cameras observe how they get on for the first three months of their babies' lives.
Of particular concern for child health experts have been the methods of Claire Verity, who advocates four-hourly feeds, no eye contact while feeding, early introduction of complementary foods, leaving children to cry in the garden or cot in a separate room from day one. To ensure babies sleep through the night she advocates loading the stomach with feeds at 7 pm and 11 pm - something difficult if not impossible to do if breastfeeding on demand. In discussion with the other mentors on the programme she dismissed the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, disputing that exclusive breastfeeding is sufficient for a child for the first 6 months, ignoring the wide review of research conducted by WHO experts.
As by 3 months one of the couples could boast of their child sleeping from 7 pm to 7 am and already being on solid food, she portrayed this as vindication for her methods.
There have been many complaints about the programme, including a petition on the 10 Downing Street website. Some have pointed out that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) ran an advertising campaign showing a quiet baby in a cot with the message that the baby had learned not to cry because no-one ever came.
Last week the NSPCC and National Childbirth Trust went public on their complaints about this and other programme that subject babies to sometimes extreme situations for entertainment.
The Guardian reported on 19 October, quoting Maggie Fisher of the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association and the union Unite. See:
A spokeswoman, Maggie Fisher, said: "It is clear that voluntary codes of conduct don't work with a television industry obsessed with audience rating figures. Babies can't give their permission to take part in such programmes. They rely on their parents to protect them." She said Ms Verity's parenting methods had left sobbing parents neglecting their baby.
The health visitors' call comes as the NCT, NSPCC and other charities are also drawing up proposals for an ethics panel. The NCT's chief executive, Belinda Phipps, said the watchdog would need jurisdiction not only over regular broadcast channels, but also over non-broadcast productions such as videos made by baby milk manufacturers to promote products.
---extract endsCuriously the Channel 4 In the news link for the programme didn't include this article when I checked. The article also states: "Both the NSPCC and the National Childbirth Trust called on Channel 4 not to commission the programme, arguing that experimenting with babies in the name of entertainment was unethical."
The programme did include a mentor advocating breastfeeding on demand and exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding into the second year of life and beyond, in line with WHO recommendations.
It may be coincidence, but when I visited the page for the programme it contained two advertisements from L'Oreal, which is part-owned by Nestlé. Whether that is advertising in standard rotation on the site or a programme-specific deal is unclear. The named programme sponsor is Huggies disposable nappies.
We have raised another concern about the programme with the Advertising Standards Authority which is responsible for broadcast and print advertising in UK's voluntary, self-regulatory system. That is the product placement in the programme for infant formula and feeding bottles. While being filmed in a fly-on-the-wall documentary style, the use of branded bottles and shots of formula tins is something that could have been avoided and prompts us to question whether the legislation on advertising of infant formula has been breached. I will let you know what happens.The programme also contained a plug for formula for 'hungrier babies' as a way to get them to sleep through the night, though the mentor for the mother suggesting this said it was not a good idea. These formulas are casein based which is harder to digest and so remains in the stomach.
If you have concerns about promotion of breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles, teats or other baby foods, you can report them to us and the authorities via the monitoring project we coordinate for the Baby Feeding Law Group. See the monitoring section of: