Interview – Amy Vogelaar of Love Parenting UAETwinsplus Arabia
Amy Vogelaar co-founded Love Parenting UAE in 2013 with Jasmine Collins. This year, Amy won the Time Out Dubai annual prize for Pre and Post-Natal Care.
“It was a complete surprise!” she tells me at an interview she kindly agreed to give for TwinsPlus Arabia. It’s only the fourth year this category has been included, and in other years it has gone to non-profit support groups. “I certainly didn’t expect to be winners – just being nominated is a huge honour!”.
While Love Parenting UAE is a fully licensed company providing a wide array of ante and post-natal care services, perhaps Amy is being modest about the support function that her own Facebook groups provide! I have learned loads from the endless articles she posts to her Baby Led Weaning and Love Parenting groups, in the last four years.
“Well, it’s all about the evidence,” she smiles, and this is what’s so interesting about all of Amy’s Love Parenting classes. A former midwife and resident of Bahrain and Oman prior to Dubai, she became interested in the ‘Baby Calm’ approach to parenting as originally set out by the British Doctor (not a doctor: Author/gentle parenting expert) Sarah Ockwell Smith. Realising that it helpfully provided a teachable structure to an approach she had instinctively come to practice with her own children, she trained herself up in the UK. Baby Calm led to Toddler Calm, and “…now there is a whole ‘Calm Family’ series, embracing pre-school to young person ages!”
The approach, and Amy’s entire philosophy, is based on parenting according to the evidence of what works.
Can you recall those school science lessons, conducting experiments and finding evidence? So her evidence is actual scientifically conducted studies with control mechanisms and peer-reviews. It’s the opposite of parenting according to what our mums and grandmums believed through tradition, popular doctors and hearsay (like Dr Spock – my own mum’s favourite!).
So I think part of the reason why Amy’s support groups on Facebook are so interesting is that she is constantly posting articles containing evidence as they come up. And she is also excellent at responding to queries on the groups too. She must be one of those magical people who can expand time, because I can’t fathom how she manages to do it all…
For those new to the approach, the ‘Calm Family’ approach is a gentle parenting approach, rooted in enhancing the connection between parent and child. “Rather than looking at problematical behaviour as a problem to be solved, we view that behaviour like the tip of the iceberg – you can’t understand it without knowing what is below it.” And that mass is a combination of the world as your child is experiencing it, how you connect to them and how they are developmentally capable of understanding and behaving.
I reviewed Amy’s Toddler Calm workshop in 2016 for TwinsPlus Arabia (https://www.twinsplusarabia.com/blog/workshop-review-toddlercalm-by-amy-vogelaar-of-love-parenting-uae). I ask her if she thinks the approach is different in any way for multiples families?
“Well the Calm approach is rooted in the belief that one size does NOT fit all, and what I love about working with multiples mums and dads is that they get that already!”
It is also an approach which stresses how difficult it is to be a mother today (and that’s multiplied for those in the UAE who are expats without our family close by), when as a species we are designed to raise children in a semi-communal environment. I remember in the workshop experiencing a huge relief at being reassured that my job really was hard, and that in even partially trying to do the right thing, I was doing brilliantly! Nothing beats being told you are doing an amazing job, and that your little ones’ behaviour is all completely normal! Following the Calm approach also places emphasis on allowing your growing little ones to have as much control as possible (and sensible!) over their environment.
I think as Multiples mummies we may be better at giving our tots a bit more control simple because we don’t have enough hands to hold them back or stop them a lot of the time!
I always think of Amy in connection with Baby Led Weaning (BLW), too. That’s is the approach to starting solid foods for babies that advocates giving lumps (chunks or slices) of whole foods from the start, abandoning the need for purees and then gradually adding ‘lumps’ until you get to regular food. Apart from making starting solid food easier and more enjoyable for babies and mummy, the key principle is the “division of responsibility:”
It’s your job as mummy to provide a variety of tasty healthy foods to your children. It is their job to eat it!
YES!! Mummies, this means no more excruciating trying to get a spoonful of puree into two or more closed mouths… no more bargaining to get a mouthful of broccoli in… It is very very empowering, both for mummy and for our babies.
“BLW as a movement didn’t exist when my two were babies – I made it up as I went along and in fact I used some mashed food and spoon-feeding too! I’m a great believer in taking what you need from any one approach! Personally I’m not dogmatic about purees or spoon-feeding. Do whatever works, but do honour your child’s appetite and hunger and let them choose how much to eat, what to eat and whether to eat it at all!”.
Again, the science shows increasingly that practicing BLW can be seen to result in healthier food choices in later years, and a lower incidence of diabetes. Let’s be really clear – it is probably too early in the BLW movement to claim a causal link between the approach and obesity, but the evidence for better food choices remains.
We chat a bit about the weaning and solid food needs of pre-term babies – as I explain that quite a few multiples babies arrive a little earlier than 40 week. Amy is clear that she always advocates discussing with your doctor about starting solid foods: preemies need to pay closer attention to their iron intake in the first year than full term babies. And in her experience, some preemies can have a stronger gag reflex and take a little longer to master self-feeding.
“If that means you need to start solid foods by spoon feeding initially – go ahead! Introduce lump (I would say finger) foods alongside, or later on. Our other mantra is that ‘food is for fun, until you’re one’ – meaning milk or formula always takes precedence in the first year.”
Actually, that is what I did with my own two – started with purees at six months then moved onto lump food and ‘real food’ from about eight months old. Personally, I love the approach – but you have to really ‘let go’ of concern about the waste, and the mess on the floor! But then there is waste and mess whatever you do, right?!
So, post this amazing Time Out recognition – what is Love Parenting up to and what is in the pipeline? Wow, there’s some fabulous stuff! Time is too short to go into everything, but in addition to regular coffee mornings Amy and her colleagues Jasmine, Katie McLean, Anna Piera and Gabby Pezo, the workshops and courses available are currently:
Baby Led Weaning
Mummy and Baby Yoga
Messy Play Classes for tots
And new courses starting imminently are Birth Story Listening and Evidence Based Birth®. Intrigued?!
Birth Story Listening is a specific skill – midwives are trained in elements of this – developed to help mums post-birth to share their experience, find the positive, and specifically change how they think of their experiences. Seeing as multiples mummies are more likely to have had a pregnancy with Obstetricians and hospitals practically part of the family, this might appeal to many of us! Me first in the line, please!!
And Evidence Based Birth®? Amy says this is going to be a workshop for both parents, focussing on how to maximise your chances of getting the birth experience that you really want in the UAE.
“It’s a real movement in the US right now, and it will be adapted here to provide a mixture of advice, ‘how to’ and ‘life hacks’ for interacting with doctors, hospital staff and the UAE system in the most effective way.”
Now, that sounds like something new.