Interview with Sarah Ockwell-Smith: Parenting Author, Founder & Director of BabyCalm Ltd.

Baby Calming

By Sarah Ockwell-Smith BSc(hons), Dip Hom(ACH), HBCE

Here is the VERY BEST advice I can offer to first-time Mum Kate – and EVERY mum!

It comes from Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of BabyCalm and founder of BabyCalm parenting classes. When I met Sarah I was immediately impressed by her approach. So many parents over-intellectualise parenting and impose prescriptive routines. But as soon as we’re able to slow down and just be present with our babies and children, the simpler it all becomes. What Sarah says is common sense and is – hands down – the best advice I’ve ever seen for parents:

K – What would you say are the most common reasons babies are restless or cry?
S – Gosh, that’s a tough one, all babies are individuals so we can’t presume that they all cry for the same reasons, but if you’re talking about young babies, under 4 months, commonly the top reasons tend to be hunger/thirst, a need for close physical contact and neurological immaturity meaning that babies do not possess the ability to ‘self soothe’ via emotional self-regulation. Less common reasons would be things such as trapped wind and reflux, though sadly these seem to be thought of as the most common reasons that babies cry.

Breastfeeding and birth related issues also get overlooked, a baby who is tongue tied often will not be able to feed efficiently and can often be unsettled and a baby who has had a difficult birth can be suffering from torticollis or cranial compression that has yet to rectify.

K – What are your top tips for parents to keep their babies calm?
S – Skin to skin and close physical contact, every time. Babies are meant to be with us, they are not meant to settle themselves in a moses basket or crib. Research shows that babies who are regularly held and carried cry significantly less (about 50% less!) than those who are not, holding our babies ‘in arms’ or carrying them in a sling is perhaps the easiest way to calm a baby. When we keep our babies close we also help to regulate their temperature and breathing and the release of oxytocin (the love and bonding hormone) helps to relax and calm both parent and baby. When babies are calm parents tend to be and when parents are calm babies tend to be too!

K – These things sound so obvious. Why do you think some parents have such a tough time?
S – Because we don’t raise children in ‘tribes’ anymore and we don’t value motherhood. Once upon a time we would raise our families with the aid of many more experienced, wiser mothers, we would grow up surrounded by babies. Motherhood was truly valued. Now we live separated from our families, we are rushed back to work, pressured to ‘have it all’ in the new ‘yummy mummy’ phase and our babies are expected to behave in a way that is entirely unnatural in order to make them fit into our modern day lives. Something has to give. Sadly that is often maternal mental health. Modern day ‘baby experts’ only add to this problem with their authoritarian, prescriptive manuals, leaving mothers confused and feeling as if they have failed if their baby isn’t suitably ‘contented’. We have forgotten what it means to be instinctual.

K – Why is bonding with your baby important?
S – On a chemical level bonding – and the release of oxytocin – can literally change the child’s life, for the better or worse. The first three years of a child’s life are the most important when you consider their future brain structure and personalities. Without a doubt science shows us that the most important thing in a child’s life in these formative years is a close, loving, nurturing relationship with its mother (to be PC here I should say ‘caregiver’ but my belief is the maternal relationship is the most crucial!). When oxytocin is free flowing and mother and baby bond everything is easier, breastfeeding, tuning into your maternal instinct, understanding your baby, communicating with them, empathy and calming all go hand in hand.

K – Can you recommend a couple of ways parents can improve the chances of bonding with their babies?
S – Tuning out the rest of the world, literally ignoring all of the well meant advice, staying home and doing nothing but just ‘being’ with your baby, as much skin to skin as possible (in the bath, in bed!), babywearing, and just revel in you crazy beautiful new world mindful only of the present.

If the birth has been traumatic then often this can prove a block to bonding, so talking about the birth as much as possible – whether that be with your midwife, a birth afterthoughts service, a helpline such as the Birth Crisis helpline or practicing ‘re-birthing’ with your baby. For more on that see my article here: How to Heal from a Traumatic Birth & Bond with Your Baby

K – What would you say to parents who worry that holding their babies too much will make their babies spoiled, thus creating a rod for their own backs?
S – That it is just simply not possible to spoil a baby, particularly not with love! The experts, friends or family members who tell them otherwise are just demonstrating their ignorance of psychology and neuroscience which resoundingly tells us that the ‘best’ thing to do with a baby is to love and nurture them as much as possible. Before Independence first comes dependence, the best way to raise a confident, independent child is to allow them to be dependent on you for as long as they need to, and if you listen to your instinct you won’t go far wrong! As Donald Winnicott says when he refers to the ‘Good Enough Mother’ “If mothers are told to do this or that or the other,… they lose touch with their own ability to act…. Only too easily they feel incompetent. If they must look up everything in a book, they are always too late even when they do the right things, because the right things have to be done immediately. It is only possible to act at exactly the right point when the action is intuitive or by instinct, as we say.” So throw out the books, ignore the advice and just enjoy this precious, short-lasting time with your baby – it goes too quickly and you will never regret holding your baby too much!

For the best start to your baby’s life, buy Sarah’s book, BabyCalm: A Guide for Calmer Babies and Happier Parents, or sign up for her BabyCalm Parent Classes on her website


Kate & William

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  1. Wonderful. What a great reminder. If only more people spoke this ‘truth’. Especially important for first time mums.

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