Bringing Up Baby – it’s all in the moves

Ania Witkowska (Dip IBMT)*1 was born in London and raised her family in Manchester. She is a Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist who specialises in the perinatal period working with parents to be, parents and babies in individual and group settings. She also runs professional training workshops and offers supervision. She has a private practice based in Berlin, Germany, teaches internationally and offers sessions via Skype. You can connect with Ania via her blog and website at

We are privileged to have Ania write for us as part of the Growing Families blog series.


As a Somatic Movement Educator and Therapist I spend a lot of time trying to dispel myths and encourage people to see things from a different perspective. Our value systems are intrinsically based on a premise – that there is a hierarchy of mind over matter, or that the brain is superior to the body which has been repeatedly challenged. In recent years there is a growing body of scientific research that demonstrates the complex and sophisticated relationship between brain, body and mind. But though the researchers may be excited by the detail of these new ‘discoveries’, this knowledge really isn’t so new. Every parent is witness to the egalitarian process of development as they play with their babies – but it can be hard to appreciate something when you know little about it.


Our babies grow and learn through movement. The developmental movement sequence that takes us from curled up to standing up is not just about building muscles and practicing balance. As we move we also build our neural connections, we experience and express emotions, we learn how to connect and focus in our world. As each pattern elicits and integrates particular reflexes it teaches us something more about ourselves and creates new possibilities for relationship and communication.

So how is it that the baby books seem to consign this rich and informative dance of development to a simple series of movement milestones? They encourage parents to race through that first year anxiously waiting for each seemingly miraculous achievement rather than relaxing and sharing in the fascinating process of getting there. Worrying when their child is not yet doing ‘whatever’ and unaware of the experiences a baby needs to have to support this moving journey.


It’s not just about the positions a baby can get into, it’s about how they get there by themselves that makes a difference. A process of yield, push, reach and pull, identified by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen*2 underlies each new achievement and allows babies to pace themselves, to find their safety before taking a risk. Building their confidence as well as their ability.

It’s not that hard to gain this knowledge, with guidance the body remembers, it just needs a bit of encouragement and a comfortable floor to roll and stretch out on. When parents try a movement themselves all kinds of things come to light. For example if a parent has tried to crawl on their belly like their baby they will know that the movement is initiated by a push from the big toe so they can see the disadvantage of wearing socks that will slip and frustrate their efforts. They will notice how hard it is to belly crawl on a carpet and how impossible movement becomes when their body is stiff and tense. This information will help them provide their baby with an appropriate environment and to intervene sensitively recognising the difference between effort and total frustration. And if they should join their baby down on the floor to try it out with them, their child will see the whole body movement and recognise it, will be encouraged by this moment of connection and empathy. Their relationship will deepen.


But, as The Cat in the Hat would say, “ …that is not all, oh no, that is not all…” You see something magic happens when we take some time to experience our physical sensations, to notice how we feel rather than focus on what we think. We slow down, take care of ourselves and are better able to deal with the demands of caring for a baby. In a world which trains us to look outside ourselves and our own experience for answers exploring the movement patterns helps people to look inside, activate those mirror neurons and trust the wisdom of their body. Acknowledging the value of these intuitive responses builds parent’s confidence and enriches their experience and enjoyment of their new role. It really is a win – win situation!

Much has changed in childcare practice and I look forward to the day that every 12-year-old will explore the developmental movements in their biology lessons. Until then however why not join me in working to ensure that an understanding of the process of movement development and how it underpins relationship and learning becomes standard knowledge for parents and anyone who works with them.


*1  Institute for Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy

*2  Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen is the originator of Body Mind Centering™



Ania Witkowska
September 2016




Relaxation, Preparation, Shared Experiences – and some Yoga!

We are so pleased that Helen Holmes of Yogabellies has been able to sponsor our event in Manchester this October.  Yogabellies are an Acorn sponsor of “Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff”, a not-for-profit event for families and the professionals who support them.  I had the pleasure of meeting with Helen earlier this month to find out more about Yogabellies, and Helen’s own experiences of pregnancy, birth and the early days!


Helen lives in Sale with her husband Gary and their two boys who are six and two.  She has worked as a teacher in Trafford with children with mental or physical health difficulties, teaching them when they are unable to attend school, and then helping them to get back into mainstream education.  Sadly, staff changes and big changes to the service meant that following maternity leave with her youngest son, Helen was desperate for a new direction, and an alternative that fitted in with her family life.

In September 2014 she bought the Yogabellies franchise and classes kicked off in January of last year.  Helen teaches three classes a week – pregnancy yoga, “belles” which is a relaxing and gentle class for women only, and mum & baby yoga.  Pregnancy yoga is specific to pregnant women: all of the postures used are safe in pregnancy, and relaxing blends of essential oils are diffused during the class, before which there is chance for a herbal tea and a chat.

Helen explained that it’s not all yoga though.  She likes to have a focus topic for each class, and these have included birth, the postnatal period, what to pack in your hospital bag, the “baby blues”, sharing birth experiences and the first few days with a new baby.  Helen encourages women to think about what support they might need during birth and to talk to their partners about that before the day arrives.  Other key topics have been optimal cord clamping and gentle caesarean birth.

“It’s all about women supporting women.  We have coffee mornings on occasion, it’s about building a community.  The Yogabellies teachers across the country all support each other as well.”

When it comes to thinking about the birth, Yogabellies classes include birthing breathing, relaxation and hypnobirthing scripts – all, as Helen says, to “get women in the zone”.  “Even women who have gone on to have a caesarean birth say that the breathing techniques helped them to stay calm.”

Helen says that she has learned so much more about birth since getting involved with Yogabellies.  “I was quite naïve when I had my boys – I have learned so much more now.  I encourage women to research and get information on all of their options.  If I did it again I’d go for a homebirth.  My sisters were both induced and had caesarean sections, so I thought that was the norm.”


So what, in Helen’s opinion, are the things that new mums most need?

“That’s a really hard question, because women are all different.  People say that you need to hibernate in bed for days after the birth, but personally I’d have been climbing the walls!  I had to get back out in the world.  Cabin fever hits me!

I would say though don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.  If you want to breastfeed, read around the subject, and definitely ask for support.  Think about who you want to have visiting and don’t be afraid to say no to people.  If someone turns up with a meal they have cooked for you, accept it!  With your first you are still learning to put yourself and your family first, ahead of other people or your career.  It is a learning curve.

I also think it is so important for partners to be educated in the signs of PND and other potential problems so that they can spot them straight away.”


And what about new babies?

“Babies have simple, basic needs: food, love and to be cared for.  It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – the ones on the bottom are crucial before you can tackle the ones at the top.”

Abraham Maslow, American Psychologist


And how do Dads and partners fit in?

“It is so important to communicate as a couple.  Your partner needs to be told how they can help.  Be aware of how distressing it can be for your partner to see the person they love in pain.  Talk to them about how they can help, give them a role in the birth and the early weeks.  Empower them to feel useful and involved.”


What did Helen find was the hardest part of those first months with a new baby?

“I remember my eldest screaming in the night and me going in to Gaz and saying ‘I can’t handle it anymore, you take over’.  I felt so lucky to have him there to help.  Those early weeks would have been so much harder without the support of my family close by.  Going back to work later on was hard, trying to juggle everything.  You do learn to cope with the tiredness though, and it does get easier.”


What has Helen learned since becoming a mother?

“I say ‘no’ now to people – I was a people pleaser before but I’m not anymore!  I am better at sharing my own opinions!  I have different priorities, my boys and my immediate family always come first.”


Through her work as a teacher Helen has specific insights into the mental health of her children and family.  Along with Bernie Meagh of MATTAC (Manchester and Trafford Therapy and Counselling) Helen has set up The Parenting Hub, working with families & schools to support children in managing and understanding their emotions.  Helen says of her parenting style “some people talk to their kids when the kids are acting out, but Gaz and I talk to each other and try to think about what we are doing and how it is affecting them”.

On the MATTAC website Bernie and Helen explain that they understand the challenges and pressures that both young people and parents face in life today.  They believe if parents have the tools to help young people understand and manage their feelings then this will increase their emotional resilience and increase their ability to learn and achieve their goals.

It sounds to me that mums attending Helen’s Yogabellies classes will get a lot more out of it than simply the ability to wrap their legs around their heads.  Although when it comes to childbirth, that ability is not to be underestimated!


Helen Calvert
September 2016

Bonding, Touch and Tuning In

Samantha Chater of Babistic Baby and You was one of the first people to take an “Acorn” sponsorship package for the Growing Families conference, and has been a consistent supporter of what we are trying to do with this October’s not-for-profit event in Manchester.  We have a number of friends and contacts in common so I was keen to meet with Samantha and find out more about her business and her own parenting journey.  I was expecting to discover a lot about her background, skills and the courses she offers, but I didn’t think it would be relevant to me personally.  After all, my children and now 5 ½ and nearly 3.  How wrong I was…….


Samantha lives in Timperley with her husband Dave and six-year-old son Dominic.  She started her professional life in Performing Arts, and trained in Massage and Reflexology ten years ago whilst living down in London.  She was doing Performing Arts work alongside other jobs, juggling a number of projects including teaching baby gym, music classes and toddler classes.  Samantha eventually gave up the Performing Arts when she had Dominic, and at that time did a bit of baby massage with him, attending a class with a friend in the hope that it would help with Dominic’s colic.  The course was from the International Association of Infant Massage, and Samantha says it all connected back to her own training in holistic health.  “It felt like a calling, I did the IAIM training straight away when Dominic was only four months old.”  Babistic Baby and You went live in May 2011, when Dominic was less than a year old.

The baby massage training fitted in with Samantha’s own ethos of parenting, and she went on to specialise in reflexology for maternity, postnatal and baby, and baby yoga.  Samantha says there was a “buzz” about hypnobirthing and that felt like the perfect next step.  She trained in the Mongan Method originally, but when Samantha and her family moved to Manchester she found the Wise Hippo Hypnobirthing Programme.  This was recommended to her by Suzy Ashworth, a neighbour from London who had been a case study for Samantha’s training in baby massage.  Samantha fast-tracked the Wise Hippo training, having already trained in the Mongan method, and then put it all together in one course for Babistic Baby and You.  “The rest is history”.


Classes provided by Babistic Baby and You provide continuity for families through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.  Samantha takes a non-judgemental approach – she wants to provide useful tools for families, rather than a strict agenda of what they “should” or should not do.  It was her husband Dave who came up with the name “Babistic” as an amalgam of “baby” and “holistic”, and the website styles the classes “for bump, birth and beyond.”  Baby reflexology and Baby yoga are also part of the Babistic Baby All in One course – giving parents so many tools with which to bond with and help their children.


So what does Samantha feel are the things that new mums need the most?

“To feel a connection with others, to feel like they are not alone.  Social media can help with that – it can also be a hindrance!  I always tell parents not to get involved in parenting debates online.

It is important for mums to have the tools and techniques for getting to know their baby, and helping baby with any problems he or she might encounter, such as colic.  Bonding is an ongoing process, and sometimes parental expectations can be unhelpful.  I encourage guilt-free parenting in a supportive, safe and non-judgemental environment.  Empowering parents to know that they are the expert on their baby, and that one size does not fit all.”


What about new babies, what are their most important needs?

“To be listened to.  Stop, don’t rush in: babies are all different and it is important as parents that we are led by baby, by what they are communicating to us.  If we know what is normal and have realistic expectations, we can watch for their personal cues and tune in to our children.  Babistic techniques help parents to get to know their baby – we discuss respect for baby’s needs, the importance to baby of having his or her needs met; we talk about allowing baby to give permission and to feel valued.  Newborn babies are fully aware human beings.  They have the right to say yes or no to any technique that we wish to try with them.”

mother hold feets of newborn baby

Do new dads tend to get involved as well?

“I encourage mums to share the techniques with their partners so that dad can get involved if it’s his thing.  It has got to be something you want to give.  I think it’s important to let dads find their own way.  A child will have different expectations of each carer, and that’s okay.  Dads can make mistakes and that’s okay too.  They need to build their confidence.

The same goes for grandparents – if they want to get involved and try out the techniques that’s great!  I have a few Nanas attending my classes.  It is great if grandparents can understand the baby led fundamentals.”


Growing Families:  Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff is very much focused on the postnatal period and the early days with baby.  What was the hardest part of the “fourth trimester” for Samantha?

“Colic kicked in for Dominic when he was two or three weeks old.  It was hard.  I felt helpless and angry.  I couldn’t help my baby.  My husband and I became snappy with one another because we were so exhausted.  Breastfeeding was hard as well.  I thought it would be easy but it wasn’t.  I expressed for as long as I could, but not being able to breastfeed was my biggest disappointment of that time.

At the time I didn’t get offered the right type of support – better support may have saved our breastfeeding journey.  Through the knowledge I have gained over the years I am now able to signpost new mums to excellent support in the area.”


What has Samantha learned since becoming a mother?

“Patience!  Some things I thought were important before I had Dominic are not important now.  I have learned to be mindful and in the moment, and not to waste those lovely opportunities – although I am not always successful with that!”

In discussing all of the techniques with Samantha we inevitably discussed my own parenting experiences with Edward and David, my regrets over how little I was able to hold David when he was first born, and the fact that I used to give Edward a massage every night when he was a baby but I haven’t done anything like that since.  Samantha discussed how massage can be reciprocal, now the children are older they can learn techniques to use on me and on each other, as well as deciding whether they would like a massage themselves.  We talked about how David in particular likes to be in control, no doubt due to how many medical procedures he had when tiny, so may not appreciate massage, but might like to massage others.  As always, it has to be child-led.

Samantha recommended the book “Once Upon a Touch”, storytelling massage for children.  Talking to her encouraged me to re-connect with touch and bonding with my children, and to remember the benefits that baby massage had for Edward and for me.  It seems that it is never too late to tune in.


Helen Calvert
September 2016

The amazing benefits of baby swimming

Aqua Nurture in Cheshire is “the perfect place for parents-to-be, new parents and young families to swim, learn and grow together”.  We are delighted to have Aqua Nurture as Sapling sponsors of Growing Families: Facts, Fiction and Other Stuff, our not-for-profit parenting event in Manchester this October, and they will be exhibiting there on the day.  Aqua Nuture is also home to Puddle Ducks Greater Manchester who provide aqua natal for mummies to be, and award winning baby, toddler and children’s swimming classes, all in the purpose built hydro pool.  Here the Puddle Ducks team explain just what are the benefits of baby swimming.


Baby swimming is one of the most amazing experiences you can share with your baby!

Babies have a real affinity with water. They spend nine months in the womb, and many expectant mothers are now choosing a water birth as the most natural introduction to this world. Water is recognised as a warm, supportive environment during labour and provides a natural transition for your baby from the womb to the “outside world”.

Babies can be taken baby swimming from birth, they do not need to have completed their injections and very young babies love the freedom, massage and gentle exercise that the water offers.

The benefits to both parent and baby of swimming together are immense:

  • Plenty of eye contact
  • Plenty of skin contact – it’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby
  • Helping you and your baby feel relaxed and confident in the water
  • Makes swimming a fun and socially stimulating activity (for both you and your baby!)
  • Even parents who can’t swim can enjoy relaxing in the water with their baby

There are further benefits for water babies too, especially if you join a fun, progressive class:

  • It is the only time your baby can be completely independent (when experiencing gentle submersions)
  • Only in the water, can a baby move freely and develop actions they wouldn’t otherwise be able to in their first year of life. This gives “swimming babies” the opportunity to develop crucial higher brain functions, core muscle development and co-ordination far earlier than they would otherwise be able to
  • Even though gentle, baby swimming classes provide a complete physical work-out: strengthening your baby’s heart, lungs and respiratory system, which again aids development of the brain
  • Regular swimming often improves eating and sleeping patterns
  • Learning to respond to key words (within a few months) can make your baby sharper mentally, increasing levels of awareness and understanding as well as improve communication between you
  • Encouraging a baby to take regular exercise from such a young age is also an extremely healthy routine to instil which may prevent childhood lethargy

But most importantly of all, baby swimming should instil a love of water for the rest of your child’s life.


Baby swimming is an entirely safe and gentle activity, but coming to classes often provides a parent with the necessary support to enable them to relax and enjoy the experience. Good baby swimming teachers are trained to understand the needs of both parent and baby, and are also qualified in lifesaving and resuscitation skills.

Classes can vary, so take time to find a class that will give you the experiences that you want – whether this is just water familiarity or a more progressive approach; and whether the style of the class is relaxed and fun, or more formal and regimented.

Specialist baby swimming classses follow a clear and progressive structure and will usually involve some underwater swimming for your baby. However, the emphasis should be on parents and their babies having fun, with no baby being forced to do anything against his or her wishes.

The best baby swimming classes are full of carefully designed but simple activities, gentle submersions and are packed full of songs. Songs and rhymes provide gentle stimulation and are the most effective way to communicate with your baby. Repetition is fun, reassuring and promotes learning.


Puddleducks Greater Manchester
September 2016

Growing and Grooving

I have been enjoying Liz Osler’s Little Groovers classes with my youngest son since he was a baby, and I was so pleased when Liz said that she would like to be one of the sponsors for this October’s Growing Families event in Manchester.  The not-for-profit event is for new and expectant families and the professionals who support them, and is taking place on Thursday 6th October in Manchester city centre.  You can find out more information here:

Liz wanted to take one of our “Seedling” sponsorship packages, which meant that she wanted to sponsor one of our six breakout sessions.  I thought she might take the one on Doula Care, or perhaps Babywearing, but she surprised me by saying that she would like to sponsor our session on Parenting Under Pressure, which is all about what happens when added stressors are put upon the parenting journey, such as premature birth or disability.

Her choice reminded me that we don’t all come in neat little boxes.  Just because she runs a jolly music class for babies and tots doesn’t mean that Liz has not experienced parenting under pressure.  I had the privilege of interviewing Liz this week and she explains here why she chose the session that she did, and how she has been affected by her own growing family.


Liz lives in Sale, Cheshire, with her partner and three children – eight year old daughter Myla, five year old son Tom and 15 month old little girl Stella. Her mum was a music teacher and she studied piano and oboe from the age of six, and did an Arts based degree in Fashion and Textile Design.  This is where she met her partner, Pete, and they then moved to London.  Veering away from art and music, Liz went into publishing and Pete a career working for a stock exchange.

Then about 6 years ago they decided there was “more to life than staring at a screen” and they took the decision to both quit their steady jobs, sell their house and move their family to Manchester.  Pete had qualified as a clinical hypnotherapist whilst living in London, and once in Manchester began practising both privately and within the NHS, and Liz started Little Groovers.  They are now both doing what they really want to do, although the two of them being self-employed means a lot of “tag team parenting”!

Liz says that “Little Groovers is all me; I’ve arranged and recorded the music, invested in stacks of percussion instruments, made the website… everything!”  She now has Nicola on board as a second session leader, and between them they do classes every weekday in the south Manchester area, as well as private parties.

Little Groovers boy

Since having her youngest daughter 15 months ago Liz is taking a break from doing additional work in the evenings, but for some time she worked for two funded organisations that provide social opportunities for children with special needs. She facilitated music sessions for autistic children, and another social group for children with cerebral palsy and other complex needs. She describes “magic moments” such as watching a non-verbal young man demonstrate a sense of rhythm with the ‘boom whacker’ instruments, and children telling her that they “love making music”.

But it was the birth of her son 5 years ago that gave Liz a real insight into the additional pressures that some parents are under.  Tom was born 5 weeks premature – he was born very quickly, was diagnosed with jaundice and had to stay in hospital for a week.  He was then readmitted to paediatrics for another week – his jaundice was worsening and he was not putting on any weight – Liz describes him as being “so tiny”.  She knew that something was wrong but found some healthcare professionals hard to convince.  It was only after she stopped breastfeeding Tom at six months old, and he had worsening stomach problems, that he was finally diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy (after Liz did her own initial research).  Liz says it was “ages before he stopped looking like a little old man” and started to put on the weight.

When Tom was only 4 months old Liz had to go back to work, which she describes as being “very hard”, particularly because in her words he was a “rubbish sleeper”, not reliably sleeping through the night until he was 18 months old.  Liz describes how she felt guilty about her daughter Myla, Tom’s older sister, because “I tried my best to be a ‘good mum’ by attempting baking sessions, crafts, trips out with Myla and her constantly crying baby brother but I was always so tired and grumpy and frustrated by the situation”.  We agreed that this is a common feeling amongst mothers when they have a second child.

So I asked Liz what she feels new families need, from the perspective of someone who has been parenting now for over eight years?

“Someone to say it’s going to be alright, it’s just a phase.  This too shall pass.  Just after I had Stella my Mum became very ill and had to go into hospital for 3 months, and you just sort of have to crack on, and you just realise that the poor baby isn’t getting the time and attention that her siblings had but it isn’t doing her any harm.  In fact she seems to be the most confident of the three!  With your first you worry so much that you’re not doing it right.  It’s easy to say when you look back, but it’s all just a phase!  Sleepless nights, teething, ‘velcro’ babies….And we’ve got plenty of phases to come haven’t we really – including the teenage phase!”

Little Groovers girl

Liz is also on the committee for Delamere Toy Library which is an independent charity working in partnership with Trafford Borough Council. It offers an inclusive play environment where parents or carers can relax while the children play with a wide selection of toys. Many of the toys are purchased specifically to meet the needs of disabled visitors.  Amongst the groups that the library runs there is one for children with special educational needs, and one that is run by grandparents for grandparents.  The organisation’s website states “At the Toy Library we provide toys plus a supportive listening ear to all families, carers and professionals in the area. We work closely with parents and carers of disabled children and professionals.”

Sounds like a much needed resource for parents who are facing some pressure.


Helen Calvert
July 2016