Baby Development Courses: Snake Oil for new parents?

Friday arrived and it was time for the pre-booked tots playgroup/baby development session that Florence had gone to with some of her NCT friends. It looked quite fun so I said that I would give it a go. I was keen to do it as it was a relatively small group of about eight mums so wouldn’t be too cliquey and wouldn’t be awkward for me as the only man in the room. I had previously had a bit of an awkward experience when I met my wife for the last twenty minutes of a feeding group and it's clear that some mums are not comfortable with men attending these groups. But as this was only an hour, was a small group and there was people there I knew then I figured that it could actually be quite fun.

Unfortunately, the whole affair was again a little awkward. The Level 2 group of this baby development course was packed with about 20 mums and babies, I was a little late so had to squeeze into a corner next to the mum I knew. Leo slept for the first half of the session, I wasn’t sure about whether to wake him or allow him to sleep, in the end I let him sleep and didn’t really participate. I thoughts that if he was at home, I wouldn’t wake him so why should I wake him now just so I can do a bit of ‘baby yoga’ with him? That probably gave the impression I wasn’t too bothered about the course itself which wasn’t the case but nevertheless gave that impression.

In the second half, we were given plenty of activities to do, there was some slime that he could step in, coloured and textured material he could feel and some colourful feathers he could be tickled with. He hated it. Either that or he got really hungry and just gave up. I think it was probably a bit of both. Because he needed to be fed we ended up missing the last song and were the last people to leave the session. Even the instructor had started her new session.

On reflection, I think it was awkward as it was the first session and I didn’t know what to expect so I will go again but if its the same experience then I’ll probably call it a day for ‘baby development’. These groups seem to be set up as a social event for mums rather than for the benefit of babies. We rattled through so many different nursery rhymes and exercises that even I thoughts we were going too quickly never mind Leo. Leo loves repetition and doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. This course just felt they were trying to pack as much as they could in as quickly as they could. I’m not sure it ‘developed’ Leo in any particular way. 

Also as this was level 2 the social groups had already been established making it difficult (although not impossible) to integrate myself into the group (arriving a bit late didn’t help so that was partially my fault). Having said that I didn’t make much effort myself, but I don’t really feel the need to make new friends. I have a busy week myself and I am content having short conversations with members of the public who stop me to have a chat about Leo. I’ve also got friends I can meet up with in town for lunch or for a coffee if I get lonely. 

Finally, and I’m not sure if this is being too picky but I’ll write it anyway. The course leader always referred to the group as “mums” as in “OK mums, time for baby yoga!” I’m not sure if I’m being too precious but that irritated me a little. She clearly knew I was there and that I am most certainly not a “mum” but she kept referring to the group as mums. If the idea was to make the group as inclusive and as welcoming as it could be then using that sort of terminology is a bit of a problem. 

All in all, not a great experience but as only 2% of dads take Shared Parental Leave I shouldn’t be too surprised that baby development/ playgroups are geared towards catering towards mum’s needs rather than parent’s. I also think that on this experience ‘baby development’ slightly overstates the benefits of the ‘course’. Possibly a whiff of snake oil about this whole enterprise.

At this early stage I think I have made the right choice to focus on the things I want/like to do rather than replicating Florence’s leave and going to lots of baby development groups. This could be the thing that differentiates mums and dads. Next week I am planning on starting my tour of the regions museums and art galleries etc to get myself out and about doing things I enjoy but that Leo can take part in too. We’ll see how it goes!

David & George