How much training would you expect someone to have before you would trust them to look after your child? People who look after children in schools and nurseries have to have at least a year of training. But what about the preparation and support we receive as new parents?
Raising a child is one of the most important jobs any of us will ever do, and yet we don't get any formal training. Obviously, I'm not suggesting that parents need a qualification to raise their children. But a little extra support would be nice, wouldn't it?
The NSPCC recently released new evidence showing as many as two in five new moms say they are struggling to cope with the demands of looking after their newborn baby. Over a half of new moms (57%) felt isolated with no one to turn to and a fifth said they were frequently "very upset" by their baby's crying in the first eight weeks after birth.
Pregnancy is the ideal time to prepare for parenthood. This is a great time to offer moms and dads advice and support, especially if they're anxious about what lies ahead. Our survey showed that almost three quarters (72%) of all new mothers would have liked more professional advice before their baby was born. They wanted more information on how to deal with anxiety, fear and depression, the effects of their own sleep deprivation and how to cope with their baby's crying and sleeplessness.
Sadly, it is an opportunity that is often missed. Many parents don't get the chance to attend antenatal education in the UK.
In 2010, a large scale Oxford University study of maternity services for the Department of Health found that 32% of new mothers weren't offered antenatal education -- and that there were substantial variations between different parts of the country in what was offered. Our own YouGov survey shows that there is a social profile to this too: whilst two thirds (65%) of new moms from advantaged backgrounds (Social classes ABC1) had attended antenatal education classes, only two fifths (39%) of less advantaged (C2DE) moms had done so.
And even when parents make it to antenatal classes they often don't learn much about how to be a parent and to nurture their baby. Studies repeatedly show that antenatal education focuses "on labour and birth and fails to address parent's need in relation to the reality of new parenthood." Thankfully, the Department of Health is now trying to address this.
We know that being a new parent can be tough, and that the way children are cared for is critically important; early interactions with parents lay the foundations for babies' future development. So we urgently need to get better at preparing parents to be the best they can. The positive impact that good parenting can have on babies' development is just as important as the practicalities of birth.
Assuming all parents will naturally be able to nurture their babies is misguided, and it means we aren't giving parents the support they want and need. This must change. It's clear that parenting can be difficult, and that leaving parents to struggle can be damaging for babies. We have to ensure that better support is available for all parents, to help them to get parenting right, from the start.
Find out more about how the NSPCC is helping to protect babies at: http://bit.ly/NSPCCbabies.