I was very lucky to be sent a review copy of Linda Geddes' new book Bumpology. It's a book that I wish I'd had when I was pregnant; as a journalist for The New Scientist, Linda researched all the common myths, theories and ideas about pregnancy, childbirth and infant development in order to sort the facts from the fiction. I would have seriously benefitted from some of the research in the book, but I've still found it useful as the mum of a three-month old. I also really liked the layout of the book- bitesized chunks of information which was brilliant to dip in and out of when D was catnapping! I would definitely recommend this book to all pregnant women (and their partners- my husband said that he wished he'd known some of the stuff I told him!) There's information on serious stuff, like epidurals, tearing (ouch!) and health risks, but also more light-hearted studies on eye colour, language and cravings. In short, it's fab.
I've got to be honest though, that I first became aware of Linda and Bumpology when she inadvertently caused a Twitter storm; after an appearance on Radio 4 discussing the book, Linda discussed how she felt about the NCT. This in turn led to Kirstie Allsop denouncing the NCT as a 'scary organisation'. (I must admit, I never wanted NCT classes and had antenatal classes from a different provider- but my choice was because I'd had friends who didn't find it useful.) You can read blogs on the debate from Linda, Kirstie and the head of the NCT, Belinda Phipps.
Excitingly, Linda agreed to be interviewed for TRMC...
What was the idea behind Bumpology?
When I was pregnant with my first child, I had all sorts of questions that I couldn’t find answers to in conventional pregnancy books. Things like: when will my fetus become conscious? Can my unborn baby taste what I’m eating? Does it have memory?
At the same time I felt bombarded with information about what I could and couldn’t do during pregnancy. I felt pretty sceptical about some of it, but anxious about not following it just in case. So I decided to investigate the research underpinning some of this advice to try and figure out what I really should be worrying about.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt whilst researching pregnancy/babies?
There were so many surprises. One of the most fascinating things I learned was how much babies already understand about the world by the time they’re born. For example, they already know their mother’s voice and smell, and can recognise their native language. They have an inbuilt appreciation of numbers, and what a human face looks like. They really aren’t born blank slates at all.
Did anything you learnt disturb you?
Yes. While I was writing the book I fell pregnant for the second time and started to revisit many of the things my NCT teacher, midwives and health visitors told me the first time around, which I had just accepted as fact. Things like, if you have an epidural during labour it will increase your risk of needing a c-section, tearing, or having an instrumental delivery. Or if you introduce a feeding bottle or dummy to a breastfeeding newborn they will become confused and reject the breast. I discovered that some of these things were not supported by any scientific evidence, while for others, if there was an increased risk, it was a tiny one. I think antenatal teachers need to be more critical of any “evidence” they cite when discussing birth or babies, because it has the potential to generate a lot of unnecessary anxiety – particularly among women who have never done any of this before.
Did you find that the research changed your ideas or perceptions of any aspect of pregnancy or early motherhood?
I think it made me more relaxed about the whole thing, because I realised that many of the things we are told to worry about have a negligible effect. I also realised that a lot of the parenting methods that seemed instinctively right to me – things like not rocking or feeding your baby to sleep every time; or having a structure to your baby’s day, but not enforcing a strict routine – were actually backed by evidence. The research also suggested that no single method of bringing up babies is correct. You don’t have to follow Gina Ford or the Baby Whisperer to the letter to have a healthy happy baby.
Were you surprised by the Kirstie Allsop/NCT debate that was sparked by your Radio 4 interview?
No, because although I think there are some very good NCT teachers out there, and the NCT as a central organisation is pretty evidence-based, there are plenty of NCT teachers who do seem to be pushing an agenda. The number of comments Kirstie Allsopp’s Tweet prompted goes to show just how many parents feel let down by their antenatal teachers.
What advice would you give to pregnant/new mums?
Accept that you have no idea what your labour will be like, so try to keep an open mind about all medical interventions. And be a bit sceptical of people claiming that some behaviour or action increases the risk of something bad happening to your baby. Ask for the evidence and try to figure out how big the risk is. Or just read Bumpology!
You can follow Linda on Twitter: @lindageddes
Her blog is here