November 21, 2012 – When you're having problems with your newborn you generally ask for advice from your family or friends but when the advice, though much appreciated, does not resolve your very specific baby issues you're feeling a little exasperated, a little defeated and over time, under a tremendous amount of pressure.
Experiencing anxiety, frustration and sleep deprivation steals your joy and wonderment in being a Mom – and if the problems persist you quietly ask yourself not only how much longer will this last but how much longer can you last. You haven't changed your clothes or had a shower in a few days - let alone put a brush through your hair. The house is a mess, the kitchen sink is full of dishes and there's something stuck to the side of your arm that resembles a barnacle. Your life is no different from a funambulist in trying to maintain a balanced routine. How do you find the time to do the things you need to do to keep up with the daily demands of motherhood and raising a family?
They call her the 'Baby Whisperer'. Maria Robertson is a renowned newborn consultant and founder of 'The New Mummy Company' who provides expert babycare advice and practical help to parents of new babies, with a specialty in twins and triplets. If her list of accomplishments and 12 years of experience isn't enough, she is also a sleep coach, breast-feeding adviser, professional baby nurse, doula, and an international authority on postpartum support. At this point, it might be prudent to find out what she doesn't do because she reminds me a little of Mary Poppins (minus the grip and umbrella) with a smile that oozes assurance, a voice that exudes calm and serenity, and eyes that possess intuitiveness – a winning and balanced combination. Maria Robertson has an intrinsic quality in sensing a baby's needs while ubiquitously inspiring confidence in a new mother and doing what is best for the family as a unit. I can hear Mom's voices around the world sighing with "oohs and aahs." And you would be right to do so.
Maria's baby care services have led her to a number of prestigious, international positions, which made her one of the most sought after newborn consultants worldwide.
Veronika Bradley (VB): You've travelled a fair bit since your early days as the eldest of four daughters in County Limerick, Ireland. Can you tell me a little about your fabulous journey?
Maria Robertson: I am the eldest of four sisters and the second oldest on both sides of my family so I grew up with young children and I was always the babysitter. My grandmother, God rest her soul, would tell stories of how I at the age of three would change my sister Louise's diaper. I obviously have no recollection of this but my aunt will testify that it happened exactly as my grandmother says it did. I do remember my youngest sister Emma crying in her crib and saying, "Milk in my bottley...milk in my bottley," over and over again. Nobody was bringing her milk in her bottley, so I went to her room, dragged the crib into my bedroom, got some milk for her bottley and fed her. It has always been very natural for me to nurture and care for children.
I went to university in Scotland to study nursing and quite obviously took the wrong path because I picked adult nursing instead of midwifery or paediatrics. After attending three years of university in a foreign country, you can imagine my parent's dismay when I told them, "I don't want to do this." They were horrified. In hindsight, I do not regret my decision for a minute because it's given me a wonderful foundation to start working professionally with babies and younger children.
My husband, Neil, has family in Mississauga and Cambridge, Ontario. Fourteen years ago, we came to Canada to attend his cousin's wedding and we had an absolute ball. We returned numerous times thereafter, for visits and work posts and just loved the lifestyle that Canadians led – the weather is good, there's a good balance in work life, family life, and social time. These were things we felt we didn't have in the UK and realized that relocating to Canada would eventually become an itch that we would have to scratch. We moved to Canada in May 2012.
VB: You just returned to Canada from the UK where you took a few courses. Can you tell me what these courses entailed?
Maria Robertson: Yes, I was in the UK for two weeks doing a number of courses of which the primary course was on 'sleep' but also on infant nutrition. I organized the very first conference for Maternity (Baby) Nurses in the UK and we had seminars on Reflux, Breastfeeding, SIDS and Baby Massage. At the moment, I don't feel there is adequate training in Canada on a lot of levels for childcare and even though I find this disappointing, I continue to have strong connections and training links in the UK where I am able attend excellent training courses.
Sleep issues and problems that parents experience is a very large part of what I do - sleep not just from the child's aspect but sleep from the parent's aspect. Parents who do not get sleep are incredibly tired and their marriages can suffer. Also from a safety point of view, they are not at their full mental capacity so accidents do happen when parents do not get the sleep they require. My biggest worry is for Dads who have to get up in the morning and drive to work - not that Moms don't get out and drive but predominantly it is the Dads who have a bad night of sleep and are getting behind the wheel of a car. When I speak to Dads who say they got four hours sleep and those four hours were very broken – that's what makes me nervous.
'Sleep' is the route that I am going down more and more from a consultancy point of view and I took this course to deepen my knowledge. I can help more people as a consultant as opposed to what I am doing now with a set of twins that I am taking care of five nights a week. As a consultant, I can be with numerous families and resolve many issues at the same time.
My job has always been about planning ahead, for example, a lady calls me somewhere between eight and twelve weeks of her pregnancy and she says that she would like to book me when she delivers her baby so my diary tends to be 6 to 8 months ahead all of the time. If I don't plan my schedule ahead, I would not be able to book my training courses.
VB: How did taking care of twins and triplets become your specialty?
Maria Robertson: After studying nursing, I had an opportunity to move into caring for newborn twins as a maternity nurse, which proved to be a natural progression in my baby care career. Since then I have provided advice and hands-on help for over 24 sets of twins and have experienced everything that multiple care can throw at me.
VB: Can you give our readers a few examples of issues that cause parents concern, frustration, or anxiety with a newborn?
Maria Robertson: New parents expect to have a baby to wake up during the night but they don't know where the cut-off point is that their baby shouldn't wake up at night. The exhaustion level just builds and builds and they inadvertently get themselves into bad habits. In the first few months a new Mom thinks," This is normal, I have to get up to feed my baby," and that is true, but there comes a point when you have a four or six month old baby that weighs 15 lbs. who is waking up at night to be fed just out of habit.
Parents know their baby should be doing better at night but they don't know how to change the pattern. Parents have been getting up twice or three times a night for six months and they are genuinely exhausted and fire fighting at that point. They are simply getting the baby up, feeding the baby and getting the baby back to sleep as quickly as they can because that's how they have been dealing with it but they have no idea how to stop it. This is where I find most of the issues arise from - an overdependence on nighttime feeds.
When parents decide they need to deal with this issue in order to get a good night's sleep that's when they'll contact me and say, "I don't know how we're still feeding overnight or why my baby does not settle overnight but it's just happened." It didn't just happen. It happened from the very beginning but people don’t know where it should get better. You know there a lot of babies that will sleep through the night by their own accord but then there are a lot of babies that won't and the problem gets worse.
Inadvertently you are saying to your child that it is OK to get up at 3:00 AM and "please tell me when you are awake because I'm looking forward to seeing you at 3:00 AM". Obviously, this is not what we are saying to ourselves but this is what the baby picks up. "Oh Mommy is delighted to see me at 3:00 AM and she will give me everything I want at 3:00 AM." When parents get into that cycle, it just doesn't get better.
VB: What is the predominant question that parents ask you?
Maria Robertson: The first question that I receive from a couple who are expecting their first baby is usually from the Dad who asks me, "How quick can you make them sleep through the night?" This question comes from a deep routed fear because they have friends who have children who are two and four years old and still don't sleep in their own beds let alone go to bed at a proper time. Parents know they are investing in me to create the best solutions for their children's sleep routines. For me, it's always about good sleep habits.
VB: What is the predominant question that Mom's ask you?
Maria Robertson: For Mom's who want to breastfeed they are more likely to ask, "How do I know that my baby has latched on properly?" "How do I know that I will be able to breastfeed?" "How will it work?" "How will I know that I have it right?" "How do I know that I have enough milk?" There are so many questions in regards to breastfeeding.
They're not surrounded with new babies as teenagers and young adults. They have not observed breastfeeding so they have no way of knowing how to breastfeed but if they watch it on a DVD they believe they can do it not realizing that it is often more difficult than people realize. Then they feel like they're the only person in the world who failed to breastfeed their baby, which is not the case. Pretty much every mother out there struggleswith breastfeeding initially.
If somebody wants to breastfeed, I will back them 100% but if somebody says, "You know, I'm not really sure I want to do this," then I will tell them that their decision is entirely up to them. There's a lot of pressure on women to breastfeed and unfortunately, there is no support to continue breastfeeding.
VB: Have you noticed a growing trend in regards to baby care problems or issues?
Maria Robertson: You know I have and I think it stems from how we live our lives nowadays. We're waiting to have our children a lot later in life and we're also travelling more. We're away from our families as late teenagers because we go to university to get a good degree in order to get a good job. We're not surrounded by lots of Moms and babies. The link that allows us the opportunity or ability to learn from our peers and our families, sisters and cousins is broken. The first time many of my clients hold a baby is their own so their basic skills are very low and all they have to go on is their gut instinct.
Mother nature has provided us with a lot so we are well looked after in that sense but there is a realistic fear in parents today because they don't know who is going to teach them, show them, advise them, help them, and support them, and very often there isn't anybody. New parents don't know that support is available for them and some don't think that they need it, and then again, some people are not used to asking for help. Most of my clients are very slow to ask for help but they eventually do because they know they are at their wit's end. The big problem is that most parents wait far too long to get the help they need.
VB: In my daywhen you brought a baby home from the hospital you asked your Mom to spend a week with you but I guess that's not the 'norm' anymore.
Maria Robertson: Well it's nothappening very often because of many reasons – they do not live in the same country, county or town. In some cases, parents are no longer with us or not in a position to be of any beneficial help. In the past ten years, I have seen grandmothers coming by for the afternoon and holding the baby for half an hour but that is all she is able to do because of her age, condition or other matter. It's sad when Moms don't receive that input from their mothers to advise and support them.
VB: The dynamic in the family structure has greatly changed.
Maria Robertson: Absolutely. The other side of the coin is Moms are having children when they are younger and their Mothers can't help them because they themselves have full time jobs putting in 60-hour weeks. This situation is having a negative effect on many women especially those that feel very isolated and don't realize that there is a support network that exists for them.
They're so embarrassed if they have any form of PMD (Postpartum Mood Disorder) symptoms and I believe that PMD is just not discussed enough. Depression is a very natural process or part of the 'baby blues' but it's deciphering what are the 'baby blues' and what is more serious. If PMD is discussed openly, it can be treated and managed very well. Again, it's lack of education and lack of the family support network that's been missing for a while now.
VB: Do you find babies are raised differently in other countries?
Maria Robertson: There are many cultural differences and it's important that I recognize and respect those cultural differences. If a family has a particular way of doing something and it's not dangerous and falls within the guidelines, for example SIDS, I am comfortable with what they are doing. Some cultures use duvets and pillows in the baby's crib where the baby can overheat very easily and at this point, we need to look at this situation from a safety point of view and amend our ways. As long as the baby is not in any danger, I will still stand back and respect other people's cultural values. Values are built from a strong family dynamic and there are cultures that still have grandparents, parents and children living under the same roof. They have a support system and I quite admire that this still exists.
VB: Are there issues or problems between Dads and newborns that you address as well?
Maria Robertson: Absolutely. It's very important to involve Dads from 'day one' as much as possible so that baby and Dad have skin-to-skin contact, which they love. This is especially true when Moms feel compelled to breastfeed and Dad is automatically isolated. Dads need to have one-on-one time with their baby so bonding can be seamless. Getting them involved in other things like burping and changing the baby's diaper will over time become a natural process. If your baby is bottle fed with formula or expressed milk, Dad can feed the baby – it doesn't have to be Mom all the time.
It is vitally important that Dad be incorporated in the baby's life from day one as opposed to six months down the line when Dad is sleeping in the spare bedroom, never sees his wife, and the relationship is suffering or is non-existent.
Bringing a baby home can be a difficult and transitional time for Dad. It's very important for Mom's to recognize that Dads need to be involved in their baby's life and not just for five minutes a day but on a continual basis with an actual role in raising their baby. Dads can't just be good at cuddling and 'mushy' with the baby – they need a job to do. If this is stripped away from them, they will lose interest and that is not a good thing. Moms need to try and encourage their husbands to be involved as much as possible.
Some Dads are nervous with a baby. They think they are going to hurt or damage their baby because they have never held a baby before. Dads, just as much as Moms, need encouragement, guidance and support.
VB: Do you think that parents are too involved with social media in trying to obtain information for problems they are experiencing with their newborns?
Maria Robertson: Yes. Yes. Dr. Google as I call it. I think it's wonderful for someone who is isolated to have access to support groups and networking chat rooms but I also think it's a double-edged sword. It would be very, very easy for someone to take a quick downward spiral if they started accepting online advice in how to care for their baby. Moms need to realize that the advice offered is just one person's point of view and not necessarily the right answer for you.
The other thing you should be mindful of is the fact that you can become a hypochondriac in a rather short period of time. Babies are very small and can get ill very quickly but 9 times out of 10, the symptoms are quite normal. It's OK for your baby to have diaper rash or posit (small and gentle spill of vomit) because that's what they do. It doesn't mean they're throwing up. A lot of parents get alarmed when a baby posits but really, it's not a big issue.
VB: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Maria?
Maria Robertson: I get home about 8:15 A.M., have a very quick breakfast, say "hello" to my husband and my dog, and then disappear to bed as quickly as I can. I generally sleep for five to six hours then head straight to the officeto make my telephone calls, answer my emails and finalize promotional details for upcoming events - and other times I'm out the door to do a home visit. In the afternoon I cook dinner, take care of the household, walk the dog with Neil, watch TV for a half hour if at all possible, and then I get prepared for work to see my two babies.
Tomorrow night I am speaking at a 'Mom to Be' class that is taking placing at 'Babies R' Us' in Oakville, Ontario. I have partnered with Carrie Kelley, the Program Director of 'Mommy Connections Halton Region' that provides a Mommy Support/Network group. (For more information, please click on Mommy Connections, which also covers all regions of Ontario).
The parents that I am presently working for knew they would require structure in taking care of their twins because Mom plans on breastfeeding and going back to work. They also knew they would have a difficult time coping with twins, sleepless nights and demanding jobs. This was smart, forward thinking. The goal is to have days that are pretty predictable for the rest of her maternity leave, which will provide her flexibility as to how she enjoys them. Moving on from there, I will advise them on the next logical step, which will be putting the twins on solids.
I will be with this family until early next year - a total of 5 to 6 months which was their personal preference. Other people book me for a week. It's very much up to the individual in terms of what they want to learn, how much they want to achieve, and what their ultimate goal is.
VB: Are there items in your babycare 'Maria Magic bag' that you just can't do without?
Maria Robertson: Swaddle is probably the one thing that is going to come up as a bone of contention because there are inconclusive and varying aspects to swaddling. I don't ever want to stop swaddling because I have seen the calming effect it has on babies. Babies are born with a startle reflex and that's what disturbs them in their sleep. They startle themselves and then they get upset, start crying and we end up feeding them not because they're hungry but because they're crying. I swaddle the arms and not the hips or legs because that is where most of the contentious issues exist in terms of restricting movement.
VB: It is important to note that the Canadian Paediatric Society has not taken a stance either way.
"The benefits of a good night's sleep are almost impossible to grasp if you have a baby that does not sleep well."
The New Mummy Company 2012
Maria Robertson: Parents need to be respectful of the baby's sleeping environment. In the beginning, you can have a baby who will sleep in front of the TV set, while the vacuum or dishwasher are on and while the lights are on, but I believe it is a good idea to show your baby the difference between daytime and nighttime, and give them a proper bedtime, nighttime environment.
The benefits of a good night's sleep are almost impossible to grasp if you have a baby that does not sleep well. A baby that has a good night's sleep will be happy, healthy, smiley and full of energy. Parents need to approach their baby's bedroom as a protective, sleep environment. Parents need to do the best they can within their means, for example, some parents live near the airport, train station or highway, so we need to be creative in how we make that sleep environment conducive. Once parents understand that their baby is not sleeping well because it is being continually disturbed with light and noise, they experience a 'light bulb' moment and finally get it.
VB: Parents have given you a number of nicknames - “Maria Poppins,” “a parent's comfort blanket”, “my sanity” and, on the hit ABC talk show 'The View', actress Amanda Peet when interviewed by Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Sherri Shepherd, and Whoopi Goldberg, described you as a "baby whisperer" and "toddler whisperer". How does that make you feel?
Maria Robertson: I had no idea that was going to happen.
Maria Robertson: I was at home with Amanda's husband, David, and it was my last day with them. I was watching 'The View' and just like everybody else I had absolutely no idea what she was going to say. There I was with my chin on the floor listening to her talk about me and all the while, I was saying to myself, "You're not supposed to be talking about me; you're supposed to be talking about the movie."
VB: You know I saw that show and I had no idea that the "Maria" Amanda Peet was talking about was you – and here we are today in an interview.
Maria Robertson: When somebody takes the time to speak about you in such a positive way – well, that was wonderful. Amanda asked me to return in the summertime and so I didon more than one occasion. I really enjoyed working with her. There are not many people in my industry who have clients at Amanda's level who go on national television and say to the audience that, "…today is a very sad day because Maria is leaving us." Hearing these words meant so much to me – and they will always mean so much to me.
People have commented to me that, "Amanda calls you the baby whisperer but she also mentioned that you were the toddler whisperer. Can you help us with our toddler problems?" It's good that people know that it's not just tiny babies I can help them with but their toddlers too.
VB: The testimonials from your clients read like never ending accolades and their words practically lift themselves off your web page and dance in front of me. You have provided your consultancy services to prestigious people. Can you name a few countries where you have travelled to take care of the little ones?
Maria Robertson: Dubai. Egypt. Europe. I am booked up very much in advance and that is why I find it difficult to slot people in at the last minute. I get a lot of phone calls from people who tell me they have a two-week old baby and want me to stay with them for the next two weeks. I would love to be in a position to help them but I am booked well in advance. I canassist them on a consultancy basis or arrange for a memberof my team to support them.
VB: Are you looking to expand your company?
"I love my profession because I can take parents who exist in a rough place with a very unsettled baby to a wonderful place of calm, routine, and happiness."
The New Mummy Company 2012
Maria Robertson: I am. It's becoming apparent that I cannot service all the requests that I am receiving. Obviously, from a consultancy level I can but then there are people coming to me who require 'hands on' services for a day or night or for a couple of afternoons. Being committed to nights for one family right now and for another family at the beginning of the year – I can only commit to one family at a time. It would be nice to have more ladies in my employ as the demands grow. I have received many resumes but I have very high standards and I am a perfectionist when it comes to the services we provide parents.
VB: I imagine parents have so many questions they would love to ask you. Have you ever thought of writing a book or perhaps a 'Baby Whisperer' Column for a magazine or newspaper?
Maria Robertson: You have just taken the words out of my husband's mouth. He has been on me for a very long time to do something at that level.
VB: You should. I believe your words of knowledge and sound advice would echo around the world.
I love the profession that I am in because I can take parents who exist in a rough place with a very unsettled baby to a wonderful place of calm, routine, and happiness. There is a very strong bond between me and my clients. They welcome me into their home but more so they welcome me into their child's life. Then they welcome me into their hearts and talk about their worst fears and biggest nightmares. They are saying things to me they wouldn't say to their spouses because they know I hold their trust in high regard. My clients know that I will not judge them or tell them that they are doing the wrong thing without being respectful, compassionate and tactful in my approach.
I do build up a trust bond with my clients because at the end of the day they trust me to give them the right information and get them out of the pickle that they are in. At the same time, I trust them to do the things that I know they need to do, for example, if Mom wants to return to work in four weeks we have to deal with this issue and stop feeding the baby through the night as of now.
VB: Parents have to allow themselves to be completely vulnerable with you because that is where the truth exists.
Maria Robertson: Yes, in order to find the underlying cause of issues we do have to build up a bond of trust and sometimes that can take a few weeks. Then again, there are people that are quite anxious to start right away. They're like 'Tigger' bounding into your life and never letting go. Those are the people that you have a lot of fun with because they have no problem laughing at the silliness that occurs.
VB: Maria you offer so many wonderful services and packages for new Moms – Home from the Hospital Package, Consultancy Services, Sleep Training Courses, tailor made packages, Mother's Day packages, and Relocation Packages. Receiving a gift certificate for one of your services as a Christmas gift would put an enormous smile and sigh of relief on any new Mom's face. How can people get in touch with you to obtain packages and services?
"When I know that Mom and baby, after a very long period of time, have finally had their first night of undisturbed sleep - that's the best part of my job."
The New Mummy Company 2012
Maria Robertson: People can get in touch with me via my cell telephone number or email on my website at www.newmummycompany.ca. When people come to me with a problem, I will always offer them a home visit as this gives me a much better snapshot of the issue, and seeing people in their own environment always gives me more information than a phone call or email ever will.
VB: Maria, what's the best part of your job?
Maria Robertson: The job satisfaction. When I know that Mom and baby, after a very long period of time, have finally had their first night of undisturbed sleep - that's the best part of my job. I feel incredibly lucky and very fortunate to have the ability to change people's lives in such a beneficial way.
When my job is done and it's time to go – that's the hard part, but then most parents keep me on as a consultant so I still get to hear how everybody is doing and see their smiling faces. The hardest part for me is when parents ask me to stay beyond the contract period and I have to decline because I have other contracts to honour.
VB: The parents who were lucky enough to receive Maria Robertson's services spoke of her with high regard and were envied by other parents because their infants matured into excellent sleepers, great feeders, and well-behaved, contented children. Their success is directly attributable to the sound start in life made possible by 'The New Mummy Company'. As Krissie, a new Mom of twins from Edinburgh, Scotland stated "…everyone needs a Maria!"