Ministers declare war on ‘tough love’ in new parenting advice campaign

Generations of parents were given the wrong “tough love” advice about how to care for newborn babies, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has warned.

The Department for Health has launched a campaign called Start for Life designed to dispel myths, such as the idea that hugging a child too much makes them “clingy” or that crying babies should be left to “cry it out”.

Parents today are being encouraged to shower ­newborns with cuddles. And experts warn getting it wrong can ­damage a young child’s mental health with the effects continuing into adulthood.

Ms Atkins said: “As our understanding has improved, so too must our communication of that advice to parents.

“That is very much what the Start for Life programme is about. I think it’s very interesting that there’s a focus on hugging and facial expressions and smiles.

“The moment you see your baby smile for the first time is just a magical moment.

“The more we can help parents understand what facial expressions mean, for example, and what that may mean the baby needs, that is a really positive step forward for everyone.

“If we can give babies and children the best start in life, not only is it very good for them, it’s also really great for everyone else in the family.” Experts say a baby’s brain continues to form for the first two years after birth and interaction between parents and their babies is key.

But a Government-backed survey by Censuswide found 53% of parents believed they received unhelpful advice in their baby’s early life, such as being told to let a child “cry it out”, and 31% said they felt guilty today for following this advice.

Ms Atkins said: “There is more and more evidence emerging that the first 1001 days from conception are incredibly important when it comes to how a child ­develops, not just through childhood but into adulthood as well.”

Help will be available at 400 family hubs across the country and online as part of the £300million scheme.

Ms Atkins, whose son Monty is 12, said: “As a new mum I would have very much liked a bit of help and support after about 9.30 in the morning. Because I used to find I’d been up for goodness knows how many hours.

“And by 9.30 I’d run out of things to do and say and coo and cuddle, and I needed some advice on what more we could do.

“It usually involved taking him out for a walk and ­having a coffee, but if I had been able to do that and go to a family hub it would have really helped.

“This is as much about supporting mums and dads and grandparents as it is the child.”

The Department for Health scheme was particularly needed because the networks parents relied on in the past may no longer be available to them, she said.

“There used to be a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. As modern life means that we are perhaps moving away from our families for work or study reasons, we lead very busy lives with our careers and so on, we have to move with the times.”

The Start for Life programme would provide advice while family hubs could be a place for new parents to meet others facing the same challenges, she said.

“Particularly if you are a new mum with a first-born, that can be an interesting time and having such support and as many friendly faces around as possible can really help.”


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