infant and baby care

Penelope Leach, Champion of Infant and Baby Care and Children’s Rights

“Whatever you are doing, however you are coping, if you listen to your child and to your own feelings, there will be something you can actually do to put things right or make the best of those that are wrong.”

While most people can probably agree with this statement from author Penelope Leach, her work on infant and baby care has been generating controversy for years. In a 1994 article in The Independent, she is referred to as both the “scourge of the guilty middle-class parent” and “Britain’s leading authority on child care”.

The Path to Authority

After graduating with honors from Newnham College in 1959, she earned her PhD in psychology from the London School of Economics in 1964. In addition to having held several prestigious positions in her field, she founded more than one organization herself, including The Association of Infant Mental Health and EPOCH, (End Physical Punishment of Children). Her philosophy regarding infant and baby care during and after divorce became a source of continuing public controversy. Leach, a child of divorce herself, became a passionate champion of infant and baby care and children’s rights, which many believed usurped parental authority.

Despite criticism, her steadfast belief that corporal punishment was detrimental to children’s mental and emotional health and development has since been supported by a number of scientific studies and is widely accepted as fact by nearly all infant and baby care experts today.

One of her primary goals was to reduce the degree of emotional suffering children experience through divorce by stressing the importance of parents recognizing their human rights throughout the process.

Influence on Infant and Baby Care Practices

The 2010 edition of her best-selling book on infant and baby care care, Your Baby and Child, originally published in 1977, is still selling today. In addition to proving it has staying power, it has also been translated into 28 languages, and millions of copies have been sold all over the world. Its popularity resulted in an award-winning cable television series of the same name, which she wrote and hosted.

Her stance has been described as “child-centered feminism“by Robert Manne, in that she recognized and acknowledged the difficulties women face when trying to combine motherhood with a career. However, her opinion that child, infant and baby care provided by family members was superior to that of paid professionals in a day care setting proved to be unpopular with working mothers, many of whom did not have the luxury of making that choice. Many feminists believed that her views hurt the cause of equal rights for women by inducing guilt in working mothers.

Child, Infant and Baby care and …. Fathers

Another area of controversy surrounding her book was the role of fathers in child, infant and baby care. She stressed the importance of the role of the primary care-giver, most often the mother. Her 2014 book, “Family Breakdown” received a great deal of criticism due to her claim that there was “undisputed evidence” that sleepovers with those not the child’s primary caregiver, including divorced fathers, could cause emotional damage in comparisons to regular nuclear families.

It was so controversial that a report disputing it, written by Professors Richard Warshak and Linda Nielsen and endorsed by 110 child care specialists, was published in the journal “Psychology, Public Policy and Law”.

In a recent article in the Guardian in which she is interviewed about “Family Breakdown” and the impact on infant and baby care, she answers critics who believe she doesn’t recognize the equal importance of fathers by saying:

“In the vast majority of cases, it’s the mother who is the primary attachment figure: young babies need a primary caregiver and being separated from that figure can cause them problems. If a father was the primary caregiver, I’d say the baby shouldn’t be staying overnight with the mother. But I believe fathers are just as important to a child’s life as mothers, though the timing is different. They tend to come into their own in the second year, rather than at birth, and children who have a close relationship with their fathers do better through life in every way.”

Current Contributions

Her current research at the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at the University of London reveals her continued dedication and commitment to replacing opinions with scientific evidence. She recently authored a chapter of the “Handbook of Child Wellbeing” entitled “Infant Rearing in the Context of Contemporary Neuroscience” and continues to serve as a visiting professor at the University of Winchester.

The ever-increasing number of post-divorce parents and their specific concerns for their children’s well-being is just one of the reasons for the continued popularity of her books on child, infant and baby care. Her strong advocacy for children’s rights is another.

Despite her critics, given the most recent divorce statistics and the fact that parents continue to be parents after divorce, her research will continue to be present for a long time to come.

infant and baby care

July 22,2015  |

child and baby care

Child and Baby Care : Evolving viewpoints

“There is no evidence that babies or infants attach less to other carers than the mother.”

This was shown by research on child and baby care done by Rudolph Schaffer and Peggy Emerson in Scotland back in 1964. Other research on child and baby care confirmed similar facts.

There is, we must conclude, nothing to indicate any biological need for an exclusive primary bond (with mother); nothing to suggest that mothering cannot be shared by several people.’

wrote Rudolph Schaffer in 1977 in his book Mothering published by the Harvard University Press.

This is off course a sharp contrast to the imprinting generalization on the human species.

And later research on child and baby care went even further. A baby can attach as much to another caring person than the mother even if she is the one staying most of the time at home with the baby. The research on child and baby care shows that the baby or infant can be as and even more distressed when the father, or grandmother leaves the place than the mother. The baby has the intellectual and emotional capacity to attach itself to several people just like adults and this from an early age on. By the time the baby is eight to twelve months it will have as strong bonds with and the mother and the father and siblings if all of them are fun to be with.

And there is the debate whether or not women can go to work when their children are very young and use child and baby care for example. In many countries child and baby care by others is still not encouraged. The reason given is often the emotional implications on the children. The people who feel a mother should be with her children still wonder why it is so important for certain women to go to work and can not understand they do not wish to stay at home with their children. They do not understand why it is necessary to take any chances or risks with other types of child minding when the stakes are so high. In their eyes, the risks are surely higher on one side than on the other. This child and baby care is surely more valuable and important than the employment for some extra years.

If sharing child and baby care would be proven harmful one would think these research data on child and baby care would be mediatized  and that it would be impossible for most women with the choice to even consider going to work and organize group child and baby care. But the data of the research on sharing care says the contrary and this since several years. It was not always so.

The sole condition of child and baby care

There is however one condition. The daycares or other forms of child and baby care need to be of sufficient quality. And a good carer with the right training seems to be able to praise, comfort, respond, question and instruct young children more than others. This is of utmost importance because this quality of baby care will influence positively language skills, intellect and emotional skills. It is also said that the quality of child and baby care is more determined by knowledge of childminding and less by experience. So all these things need to be taken into account whether group care or care by the father or by family members or friends is being debated. Once qualitative child and baby care is seen divergently from the mother, this will have an impact on how we organize as a society.

Child and baby care and Penelope Leach

Sharing care or child and baby care by other people than the mother was not always okay. Back in the seventies, full-day attendance at a day nursery, with mother excluded by her own outside job and/or by professional staff, was considered to do a child considerable harm. It was actually Penelope Leach, a loved British psychologist and bestselling author who was one of the first to debate this matter and the effects on sharing care, in Who Cares? A New Deal for Mothers and Their Small Children written in 1979. But even today and in her last books The Essential First Year (2010) and Family Breakdown  (2014), she is extremely cautious about child and baby care in the first year.

Leach has been criticized for her view that young children require one-on-one attention, ideally provided by mothers or family members and which cannot be provided in day-care.

It is no coincidence that most research on child and baby care showed the opposite of what was actually done in that same period. We now know when children can be taken care by other or more people besides the mother, it does not leave her at a disadvantage in employment, politics or other areas of public life, and does not impose excessive demands on them that can produce so frustration and unhappiness.

Women can get out or combine it with an activity for which they have studied or are passionate about, which gives them their identity and there backbone in questioning moments. Sharing care, child and baby care or group care (more here)are not longer judged and criminalized as before.

child and baby care
A Domestic Scene, Annibale Carracci, 1582-1584, Credit Line Purchase, Mrs. Vincent Astor and Mrs. Charles Payson Gifts, Harris Brisbane Dick and Rogers Funds, 1972


April 9,2015  |

social change

The Seventies: Negative Motherhood, Social Change and the Celebration of Women Power

The sanctity of motherhood is a modern concept

Although there was a wave of social change and women’s liberation in the 1920s throughout the world, which led to women’s suffrage, as the world got pulled into war, the realization of such women power became a little diluted as the world strived toward bringing back peace. Women were not yet soldiers, but did help out amply in the war efforts, either as nurses, military officers or various forms of support.

With the end of the war and soldiers returning home, the world was now concerned with peace time needs and rebuilding. Industry mushroomed in the western world as did families. Soldiers rushed back to their wives or to find wives and much of the western world in the late 40s to the late 50s was devoted to building families. This was the era of social change before birth control became popular and a time in history when women themselves were almost like commodities. Once they married, at the average of 20, they then officially “belonged” to their husbands as did any of the property they owned. When a women married in this era, she pretty much signed her rights over to her husband.

Also, at this time, in the 1950s, women were only offered the very basic jobs, the usual ones dedicated to women: secretary, nurse, librarian, or teacher. Fewer women went to college in 50s than in the 20s.

Luckily, this type of social behavior began to be put into question, like much of the status quo, in the 1960s. An air of social change was blowing and affecting all of western society, including women and women power. Everything from the past was being redefined to suit modern-day society, including women’s roles. Social change was taking place. The sixties led the way for social change in large stride throughout most of the western world.

Social change  from the sixties on

This was a powerful era for women and from it emerged strong women archetypes that were no longer pinned to the role of the commonly accepted woman at the side of man, having his children. Birth control made it possible to no longer be controlled by the birthing process; social change in marriages meant divorce became a way for women to leave marriages when they no longer felt fulfilled or happy without having to prove wrongdoing. Women became free from the heaviness of roles from the past, which were often inflicted on them, and many strived to make a difference in the world. In short, it was truly an era of growing women power and social change.

The angry seventies

As a result, the seventies was an era where the concept of motherhood took a great beating. Because this was something previously forced on women, many were only too happy to publicly knock it, and to drag the concept of motherhood through the mud, using another one of the concepts birthed in the sixties: Free speech, which although it had been around for a long time, got a real boost in this era.

This became visible in the way women presented themselves in the seventies: Women were in their power, quite naturally. From a psychological perspective, the seventies could be viewed as an individuated period that followed the permissiveness of the 1960s, which was in reaction to the authoritarian model of the 1950s. As mothers were finding their voices, so were there children. This was a period that could be referred to as under-mothering, where moms with kids did not necessarily put their kids first, as modern-day moms frequently do. There was still distance between parents and children and children were left more on their own to develop.

But next to this wave of mothers, were women who were downright indignant with the whole image of motherhood referring to it in a very negative manner publicly.

Car stickers appeared announcing,

Babies are Pollution
World pollution is YOUR baby

Earlier Simone de Beauvoir had written of the ‘ordeal of pregnancy’ (though, to her credit, she also writes a lot of good sense about mothering). Juliet Mitchell writes of maternity as possession. One writer discusses ‘the negative role of Mum’.

Another writes

‘The big push to have children, whether we are married or not, should be viewed as one of the strong links in the chain that enslaves us.’

Kate Millett writes that a woman is

‘Simply by virtue of her anatomy … prevented from being a human being.’

Some feminist writers are downright hostile to the whole business. Penelope Leach quotes an example from a widely-read women’s liberation magazine which describes the full-time care of a baby or very young child as:

‘Like spending all day, every day, in the exclusive company of an incontinent mental defective.’

Shulamith Firestone in her Dialectic of Sex describes pregnancy as ‘barbaric … shitting a pumpkin’ and announces:

‘Pregnancy is the temporary deformation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species.’

She ends her book with the following announcement:

‘With the disappearance of motherhood, and the obstructing incest taboo, sexuality would be re-integrated, allowing love to flow unimpeded.”

Women power or Motherhood

Modern articles today look back on the seventies as a time of social change and a unique time where women could be themselves and mothers at the same time, the true definition of women power. It is portrayed as a more laid back time where children required less care than today’s modern children. This could be due to the fact that women were choosing motherhood instead of feeling it thrust upon them. It was also before the time when women inflicted the role of wonder women on themselves, attempting to juggle home, office, family and personal life all at once. As one writer says,

A life is long enough to do everything we want, only we can’t do it all at the same time.

Seventies’ moms seemed to instinctively know this and if there is a lesson to take away from that period, it would be this, which is the true source of women power.

Want to know more on the origins of feminism and motherhood, head over here.

social change
Head of the Artist’s Mother, Umberto Boccioni, 1915. Metropolitan Museum of Art

March 31,2015  |