Before I got pregnant with Cece, I can truthfully say I knew next to nothing about babies, I had probably only held new-born once or twice and if you had asked me about what they are like or what they need I could have given only the most basic of answers and that would have been wrong. I thought they cried all the time!
So after finding out I was having one myself I decided this needed to change. I had no desire to find out about pregnancy, I found the whole thing far to disturbing (and still do). I therefore wanted something that only focused on what to do when the baby was actually here, so that’s why Jon and I decided on Parentskool.
Parentskool was started in 2011 by Sarah Watkins and offers a “0 to 6 months crash course in having a baby”. The course, which has helped hundreds of new parents across the county, takes place one evening a week over 4 weeks and promised an introduction into what to expect from your newborn and how to look after them. Each session covered a range of topics such as:
- How to dress your baby
- What to dress them in
- Where they should sleep and the dangers of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- How long they should sleep for
- Crying and what it could mean
- What to buy
- How to change them
- Baby poo (delightful)
- Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, including sterilising
- What a health visitor is and does
- Where to go to get help
- Plus lots more….
Our teacher was the very helpful; Amanda Middlewick was great, not only imparting the information but also talking about her own experiences as a mum of three (twin boys – yikes!! and another little boy). I interviewed Amanda to find out a little more about Parentskool and how she got involved. She said:
“I had had a car crash and went to see a physiotherapist, and in the waiting room there was a leaflet about Parentskool. At the time I was trying to set up something to help parents with twins, Because I had struggled so much to begin with, I had wanted to set up a website. I got in contact with the organiser to see if there was an opportunity to work together and try and incorporate something for parents of twins, from there I ended up getting heavily involved, then and one thing led to another and eventually I became a teacher!”
Amanda feels Parentskool really does fill a gap in the market, she explains:
“When you become a parent people just don’t really tell you what it’s like, there tends to be a lot of focus on the birth, breastfeeding and people often get the baby home and don’t know what to do with them. Sarah (the former director and founder) felt it shouldn’t be like this. We felt there is so much we can share with people to help them feel more confident.”
“Being a parent can be the hardest job in the world and it often is sometimes, but it can be the most amazing job. The biggest thing for me is to try and connect people; you need to talk especially when you’ve just had a baby. I want people to know the things they may feel, like being scared, anxious, lonely, worried it wasn’t the right thing is all really normal. I think everything is a phase and it changes.“
For me having Amanda as a teacher was reassuring, as someone who did feel clueless about babies, scared that I was not very maternal, worried about losing my independence and bonding with my baby it was comforting to hear that these feelings are in general normal. Amanda made it clear that while some people don’t experience these kinds of things, some people do and that it’s all OK.
But it wasn’t just the emotional side that was covered by Parentskool, attendees are also given a brilliant bible, full of succinct information and advice. The booklet was put together by Sarah as Amanda explains:
“Sarah spent hours and hours of her own time researching best practise, government websites, world health organisation and more. Speaking to midwives and organisations and charities and then collating everything she found out into one place.“
Over the years the content of the course and the booklet has grown and evolved. One thing’s for sure, Parentskool covers a lot of topics in 4 weeks. The sessions are varied and include interactive sections, games and handouts. There are some topics, like neuroscience, where only the basics are covered. Amanda told us a little about baby brain development and how interaction, bonding, skin on skin contact and responding to the baby can affect future outcomes in terms of relationships, social development and healthy brain growth.
Other areas are more in-depth, for example sleeping. The course, which highlights that all babies are different and can will have a variety of sleeping schedules, taught us things like where they should sleep, in what clothing, for how long, how to get them to sleep and when to wake them (as in for feeds) and how to reduce the risks of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
I think there were times when I felt a little overwhelmed by the amount of information. However that’s where the booklet is so brilliant, it contains everything you are told in class and more – such as websites and links where people can learn more…. if they want to.
As well as the manual Sarah went out of her way to ensure the course really did have everything needed to prepare new parents. The “0 to 6 months crash course in having a baby” is the only antenatal class in the country to have received a Department of Health CANparent Quality Mark.
It’s not the only reward Parentskool has received, last year the course was endorsed by the University of Brighton School of Nursing & Midwifery. Various lecturers and academics from the university checked the content, which is very thorough, as is the process of becoming a teacher as Amanda recalls:
“The training course was over the course of a few weeks, and then I became a Parentskool graduate. I did hours and hours of shadowing Sarah (founder) to see how she did it. Then I ran my own sessions, which were monitored to ensure I was doing it the right way, there was lots of feedback and checking.”
At first Amanda said she felt nervous and was unsure, but over the years her confidence has grown not only as a teacher but also as a parent, she said:
“Some days being a parent doesn’t go as you plan, that’s what having kids is all about. I think being part of Parentskool has helped me to let go and not stress about things so much, to just enjoy the moment a bit more. Sometimes it can be so overwhelming, just getting out the house, but if everyone is fed, clothed and happy then you have done a good job that day, you need to give yourself a pat on the back.”
Parentskool has grown massively and since its inception, Amanda has become a director and there’s now a team of four working behind the scenes, each of them brings a wealth of experience and passion to the company, as does the new Director Kerry Fox. The experienced Parentskool teacher and pre and post natal service provider is looking forward to the future. Both mums have big plans for the 2016; they are in the process of training new teachers and are hoping to roll out courses across the UK. At the moment it runs only in East Sussex, North Hertfordshire and parts of Bedfordshire. The pair would also love to be able to offer the course free to people on very low incomes, but for the time being Amanda says her biggest highlight is still meeting the new parents and helping them:
“I love bringing people together, introducing them to others and helping them to hopefully know what’s coming, so it doesn’t all come as such a shock. I think a lot of people don’t actually really talk about what it’s like, the anxieties that people have over having a new baby and so hopefully our course can help.”
Well Amanda has been able to bring us all together, we have stayed in contact and all met up recently with our babies.
To find out more about Parentskool, visit their website here.