As a mum of three young children, Holly Willoughby has experienced all the joys, frustrations and tears that come with being a busy working mother.
And while the TV presenter doesn’t claim to be a trained childcare expert, after having successfully battled through the early years with her children, she wants to share her hands-on expertise of childrearing with other parents.
So she’s written a new parenting guide, Truly Happy Baby… It Worked For Me, packed with her own candid experiences of, and practical tips on, everything from feeding and sleeping to looking after yourself.
“I know from first-hand experience with my three babies that one-size-fits-all parenting doesn’t work,” writes Willoughby.
“So this book is to help parents find out what will work for them and their baby. I’ve included all the information and friendly advice I wish I’d been given before I became a mum for the first time, alongside the routines, short-cuts and tips that worked for me.”
Willoughby, 35, whose children are Harry, seven, Belle, five, and Chester, 21 months, says she hopes her book will empower new mothers to trust their own “mummy intuition” and confidently look after their children in their own way during the year after birth.
“We all have that intuition, we just need to learn to tune into it.”
The former Celebrity Mum of the Year, who’s married to TV producer Dan Baldwin, says all three of her babies were very different – the first, Harry, was a “fairly straightforward” baby, while Belle was nearly six-weeks premature, and little Chester had terrible tongue-tie and reflux.
Willoughby says that while she had no problems breastfeeding Harry, she was happy to ‘top him up’ with formula so they could both get some sleep. Belle was successfully breastfed too, but Willoughby had problems breastfeeding Chester, and admits: “I soon realised that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it doesn’t work out.”
So her youngest son was bottle-fed expressed breast milk, and then formula.
She stresses that mums should feed however they’re most comfortable, and shouldn’t feel guilty if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, as it didn’t for Chester.
The book contains advice on all aspects of breastfeeding – checked, like all the other advice in the book, by medical professionals – and also outlines reasons new mums may choose to switch to formula.
And in addition to plenty of feeding tips and troubleshooting advice, she suggests: “Be prepared to have lots of muslins around you.
“And tie your hair back, because if they can see it, they will throw up on it.”
As well as advice on sleep routines and safer sleep practices, Willoughby recommends a video monitor, admitting that although she was sceptical about them at first, she tried one for Chester and is a convert. She also loves baby sleeping bags, and bedside cots with sides that roll up and down.
She used one with Chester when he had reflux problems in his early weeks, and slept downstairs with him to avoid disturbing the rest of the family.
“He just wasn’t able to be that baby who sleeps, feeds and then sleeps,” she recalls.
“It took me hours to feed and settle him back to sleep, then he’d be waking soon after to start the whole process again.
“Moving downstairs was the only option that worked for me and that particular baby.”
Willoughby outlines the tests babies undergo after they’re born, and warns mothers to take medical advice before rushing home after the birth.
She recalls how just minutes after giving birth to Harry, her husband mentioned he’d just bumped into TV presenters Tess Daly and her husband Vernon Kay having a tour of the maternity unit.
In her “adrenalin-fuelled postpartum euphoria” Willoughby suggested her husband invite them in to meet the new arrival, but he “quite rightly pointed out that it might not be the best time given the doctor was still stitching up my vagina”.
Half an hour later, Willoughby got up – and passed out.
The This Morning presenter discusses development milestones, toys and games, and stresses the importance of talking to your baby and pointing things out.
Remembering a rare occasion when the kids weren’t in the back of the car when she was driving, she says she realised she was muttering “Car… car.. fire engine…” because she was so used to pointing out vehicles to Harry.
“See… you do become a crazy woman!”
Looking after you
New mums need to make keeping themselves healthy and well a priority, says Willoughby, advising them to seek practical and emotional support, and not to hide their often-tumultuous emotions.
“I used to announce quite frequently that, ‘I’m going to have a cry now’ and promptly burst into tears,” she admits, while stressing that being emotional is a normal phase that won’t last forever.
Overall, Willoughby points out a mum’s intuition is her most important tool in the first year after giving birth, and declares: “No parent on the planet gets it right all the time. I certainly didn’t, and more often than not the questionable decisions I made were not my own.”