The mothers who reckon their guru knows best

They don't come with manuals – but you can certainly buy a few. As a controversial Channel 4 show puts rival parenting techniques to the test, Rebecca Armstrong meets the women bringing up baby
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'The Continuum Concept' Devised by Jean Liedloff

What is it?

Published in 1975, The Continuum Concept was inspired by the child-rearing techniques of the Yequana, a tribe of Amazonian Indians. The book's author, Jean Liedloff, noticed while staying with the Yequana that their way of caring for babies was profoundly different towestern notions of child rearing. She believed Yequana children seemed happier than their peers in the developed world.

The book focuses on the practices of Yequana mothers, including maintaining constant physical contact with babies by carrying them in slings during the day and sleeping with them at night and breastfeeding on demand. The mother is encouraged to get on with her day, ensuring that babies are not at the centre of their mother's attention.

Is it any good?

According to Liedloff, when the book launched, it was met with mixed responses. "One of the first women who read the book when it first came out said to me: 'I wouldn't dream of carrying around my baby all the time. It would be like lugging a sack of potatoes.'"

Critics call the Continuum Concept time-consuming, suggesting that babies in constant contact with their mothers or care-givers become clingy, and that many mothers need time away from their babies. Fans say that babies in close contact with their mothers absorb information about the adult world, and benefit from being close to their mother's heartbeat and body warmth.

What do the parents say?

Jane Gorley, 33, followed the Continuum Concept after the birth of her daughter, Raven, 10 months ago. "Most of the time I'm quite busy so I found that it was just easier to have Raven strapped to me all the time. I just could not cope with the idea of being home at specific times of day.

"Having her sleeping in our bed meant that I got enough sleep straight off the bat. I was waking up to feed her several times in the night but I just rolled over, fed her and then we both went back to sleep."

'The Common Sense Approach' devised by Dr Benjamin Spock

What is it?

Dr Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care was a 1960's best-seller thanks to its flexible approach to bringing up babies. Dr Spock, an American paediatrician, promoted the idea that babies need love and affection and that it is impossible to spoil them. He maintains that mothers instinctively know what is right for their babies. Parents are encouraged to forget strict rules and are told to get to know their children as individuals. Dr Spock studied psychoanalysis to try to understand children's needs and family dynamics and his work is the result of his findings.

Is it any good?

Blamed in some quarters for encouraging permissive parenting – and its negative results – in 1960s America, Dr Spock has also been accused of creating a culture of instant gratification. Fans site Freud's theory that babies need a high level of attention shown to them in order to be emotionally stable later on, and there is evidence to suggest that mothers who want to hold their babies, but can't, are more prone to post-natal depression. Dr Spock was committed to equality for women and the editions of Baby and Child Care issued in the mid-1970s were edited to refer to babies and children as both he and she.

What do the parents say?

Virginia Ironside, 64, followed Dr Spock's liberal ethos after the birth of her son. "The zeitgeist, when my son was born, was very much 'pick up your baby if he cries, feed when he cries, dance attendance'. It was very, very liberal. No smacking, a lot of explaining. There was a huge reaction in the Sixties and Seventiesagainst the sort of upbringing that a lot of people had had in their own childhoods that was very strict. We were indulgent to our children and I can't see anything wrong with that. There were limits – he wasn't staying up until 10 o'clock at age three – but on the whole we ate together, that was always fixed, and if you treat children with respect, I think they behave."

'How to Enjoy Year One' devised by Rachel Waddilove

What is it?

Maternity nurse Rachel Waddilove has looked after babies for 30 years and, last year, wrote The Baby Book. Treading a line between Gina Ford and Dr Spock, Waddilove's methods incorporate routine, and the idea that babies shouldn't be the kingpin of family life. She tempers her advice with suggestions for alternatives.

Waddilove says she is a fan of "healthy discipline". Like Ford, she advocates letting babies "shout it out" – letting them cry for 10 minutes – but also recommends spending time with a baby in the dark if he or she finds it difficult to get to sleep.

Is it any good?

Waddilove has followers in high places. Her book carries a glowing endorsement from happy client Gwyneth Paltrow, who employed Waddilove after the birth of her daughter. "Rachel's flexible yet structured schedule was just the thing for our daughter ... Using Rachel's techniques, Apple was sleeping through the night," says Gwyneth. "She was able to nap in her cot and in her pram, and her advice from breastfeeding to parenting was invaluable."

Some mothers find her approach overly strict and there are countless unflattering blog posts devoted to her, with comments such as: "Her 'assvice' is terrible ... She has no business writing a parenting book," appearing regularly.

What do the parents say?

Heidi Scrimgeour, 31, was initially overwhelmed by advice after the birth of her son Edan, who is nearly three. She has another son, Zack, who is almost one.

"When my first son was born I read every child-rearing book going and lost the plot completely.

"I got a reputation for being able to quote chunks of all these books because I got so obsessed with them. Waddilove's approach seems to be a lot of common sense. She says having children is part of the rest of life and that life carries on after having children."

'The Contented Little Baby' devised by Gina Ford

What is it?

With its focus on routine, The Contented Little Baby Book, first published in 1999, promises to teach parents how to get their baby to sleep through the night by the time they are 10 weeks old. An experienced maternity nurse, Gina Ford gives strict instructions to her readers: babies are not to be fed on demand, babies (who are fed and winded but over-tired) can be left to cry for up to 10 minutes, and a strict routine is of paramount importance.

Is it any good?

Few childcare experts divide opinion like Ford does. Known as the " Queen of Routine", her approach is the antithesis of laid-back parenting, and criticisms levelled at her include accusations that her methods place the mother's need for control over a baby's needs. Yet her loyal readership of fraught parents craving a respite from childcare chaos has sent her books to the top of the bestseller charts.

Earlier this year, Ford demanded an apology from the parenting website Mumsnet over defamatory posts on their discussion forum. "I have devoted my life to helping mothers," she said.

What do the parents say?

Zelda Burborough, 36 used Gina Ford's The Contented Little Baby Book after the births of her children, Rafferty, 2, and Isabella, six months. "I thought Gina was fantastic, and my son was a very happy, contented baby. If I hadn't had Gina Ford I would have gone mad by now. "

'Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect and Communicate With Your Baby' devised by Tracy Hogg

What is it?

Dubbed "the baby whisperer" by a Hollywood executive client, Tracy Hogg, maternity nurse and child-care adviser, offers parents an easy-to-remember routine. Following the "E.A.S.Y" method, parents are advised to let their baby Eat; then keep them Active before letting them Sleep and getting some You time.

Another Hogg acronym, S.L.O.W – Stop and remember that crying is a baby's language; Listen to a baby's cry to decipher its meaning; Observe a baby's actions and gestures; the "W", to remind parents to evaluate " What's up", is designed to help parents understand why their baby is crying. Her book is also big on the importance of respecting your baby. "Just try to remember that this is a little human being in your arms, a person whose senses are alive," she says.

Is it any good?

Hogg, who died from cancer in 2004, cared for more than 5,000 babies during her career. Her clients included Jodie Foster, Cindy Crawford, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael J Fox, and fans say her advice is simple to follow. But some readers complain that her ideas are presented as fact rather than opinion, that her book contains confusing information – such as " never tickle your baby's feet" – that isn't explained, and that her tone is arrogant.

What do the parents say?

Jo Daly, 33, has been using Hogg's book since her son, Finn, was born 13 weeks ago. "Tracy Hogg's book looked to me to be the most flexible and reasonable of all the baby books I read during my pregnancy. It's well written and the narrative style is very friendly. It makes you believe that if something goes wrong, it's not the end of the world. When you're sleep deprived, your husband's gone to work and you've got sore tits, that really is what you want to hear."

'Feeding and Care of Baby' Devised by Dr sir Frederic Truby King

What is it?

The New Zealand health reformer and promoter of the child welfare movement, Dr Sir Frederic Truby King, first applied his childcare model of strict feeding times and fresh air to baby calves before recommending his methods for human babies. Sir Frederic's approach stresses the importance of discipline, letting babies sleep on their own, strict routine and few cuddles. His adherence to routine appeals to those who like their lives to be organised.

Is it any good?

Baby expert Claire Verity says by using his routine, babies will sleep through the night, in their own beds, within a month. Scheduled feeds and his fondness for breastfeeding also have their merits. The other elements of the 1950s approach – limited contact with the baby, leaving it in the garden in a pram – are anathema to the majority of 21st century parents. "How could anyone treat a newborn baby like this?" is the response to this method of parenting on a discussion board, while another reads: "Good luck to the children who are starved of love and affection ... and the delusional people who promote it."

What do the parents say?

Hannah Armstrong, 31, is following a traditional routine in bringing up her son Rex, five months old. "My older sister and my mum are very laissez-faire about child-rearing; letting babies go to bed when they like, having them in bed with you. I rebelled against that. Come seven o'clock, I want to go out to dinner and be the old me. The only way I could do that and be fair on Rex, is to put him to bed at the same time every day, in a routine. I wasn't soft because after Rex was born I could see the whole thing descending into chaos, with him shrieking through dinner every night."

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