Dr Ellie Cannon’s book, Keep Calm: The New Mum’s Manual, aims to reassure mothers of their parenting skills. Francine Wolfisz finds out more.
When it came to impending motherhood, I certainly wasn’t the first pregnant woman to imagine what life would be like once the baby had arrived. I envisioned the baby would spend most of her time gurgling at me sweetly, cry a little when she was hungry and fall asleep soundly like a tiny angel.
That, of course, was pure whimsy. In reality, after my daughter was born three years ago, she spent much of her waking time crying, was impossible to feed and spent what seemed like an eternity to settle – only for the routine to then repeat itself all over again after what seemed just a brief respite.
Underneath it all, I had this niggling feeling – call it “instinct” – that something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t have the confidence to truly believe it. Instead, I soldiered on for five months, but deep down I felt this was not a straightforward case of colic.
I wasn’t being neurotic and despite my inexperience, my maternal instinct was right on the money: my daughter had, in fact, been suffering colic and severe reflux. A small dose of medication later and my child was a different baby – and I was a happier mother.
It’s a scenario that Dr Ellie Cannon has heard all too often – so much so, that she is now on a mission to help more women find greater confidence in their parenting skills, thanks to her recently-released book, Keep Calm: The New Mum’s Manual.
Even Cannon, who is married to Adam and works as a GP in St John’s Wood, openly admits receiving a knock to her confidence when her daughter, Lottie, was born.
She writes: “I felt confused, exhausted and really lost a lot of confidence in what I was doing. I didn’t trust myself enough and sought advice from anywhere and everywhere. Parenthood didn’t really feel like it was going ‘right’ from the things I’d read. My baby didn’t seem to follow the routines the book suggested.
“I spent a lot of time feeling anxious about what tomorrow would bring, rather than enjoying today. I had been the calmest, most professional woman and I was turned into a neurotic madwoman.”
Now, the mother-of-two (she also has a son, Jude) can look back with the benefit of hindsight, but she acknowledges those first few months as a new mother were in some ways overwhelming.
Cannon, who recently starred in the Channel 4 series, Health Freaks, and is a regular contributor to Cosmopolitan magazine, explains: “I thought I would be a very calm mother, because I’m a very ‘in control’ person, but actually new motherhood and the bombardment of everyone telling me what to do drove me crazy.
“I thought that feeling was just me, but having spent a decade in general practice, I realised it was the way many other mothers feel as well.
“Looking back, I had a pretty easy time with my daughter. Not only did she appear on her due date, but everything was incredibly straightforward – she was even sleeping through the night by the time she was a few months old. But I was still concerned about stupid things, like her nap at lunchtime was only an hour-and-a-half and not two hours. Or she had a nap in the buggy today, but would she have a nap in the cot tomorrow? I just couldn’t relax.”
Over time, Cannon was able to put this sense of uneasiness down to feeling guilty about what she humorously describes as “parenting piffle”.
“Every mum I have ever seen in my surgery has been feeling guilty about something, from their child’s sleeping and feeding, to going back to work or their diminishing love life,” she explains. “They all have this feeling of getting something wrong and that is what’s so toxic.
“Mums seem to be spending far too much time worrying about these minutiae which, quite frankly, are not important.” By way of example, Cannon recalls how her own daughter “didn’t move off her tuchus” until she was 13 months old.
She says: “It was wonderful until people made me worry about it. People give you these neuroses that you didn’t have before and it really starts when you are pregnant. I’ve had appointments where someone has come in worried because of comments about the size of their bump.”
The key points to her book, which the Cambridge educated doctor describes as a “self-help manual”, are for women to trust their own instincts, feel more confident in the decisions they make for their child and know which advice is worth listening to. For the latter, she is especially passionate that women learn how to distinguish what she refers to as “woman-at-the-bus-stop advice” from that advocated by more official channels, including the NHS and medical science.
Her biggest bugbear, to which she devotes a chapter in her book, addresses the arguments given against vaccination – and says this is one issue where new mums can feel confident about the official advice.
Cannon, who is an ambassador for Meningitis Now, a campaign to provide Meningitis B vaccines for all children, says: “Parents who don’t vaccinate their children are basically living under the blanket of protection provided by those who do, so it’s hugely selfish not to vaccinate your children. They are not adding to herd immunity.
“If more people chose not to vaccinate, those poor kids with leukaemia, who can’t be vaccinated, would be in a very difficult position because the levels of serious infection would not be kept down.
“It’s only because we don’t know the pain of polio and children dying from measles that people are so blasé about it. But in my mind it’s absolute folly not to vaccinate a child.”
• Keep Calm: The New Mum’s Manual by Dr Ellie Cannon, published by Vermillion and priced at £10.99, is out now