The biggest parenting and pregnancy stories of the year

If you've only time to read one thing, make sure it's this round-up of the most important parenting developments of 2011, from the change to baby and child painkiller doses to caesareans on demand

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Caesareans on demand and home births

Receiving big coverage was the change to caesareans guidelines in the UK in November. You’re now able to choose to give birth by c-section on the NHS.

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Home births also hit headlines in November when it was revealed that NHS cost-cutting reduced mums’ birth options, meaning only 2.5% babies are now born at home, despite 11% of mums hoping for a home birth.

In the same month, some newspapers printed headlines claiming home births were the more dangerous option for first time mums. This prompted the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) to express concerns that women having their first baby may not look into a more natural, midwife-led birth for fear of rare complications arising. The NCT called on the Government to make more amenities available to give mums-to-be greater choice when it comes to labour.

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When your baby’s 6 months old, it’s time to start weaning, although you may have already begun if you have a hungry baby!

Early weaning debate

Findings by scientists from the Department of Health stirred a debate at the start of the year. The findings suggested babies could benefit from weaning earlier than previously advised – at 4 months rather than 6 months. Not only did this contradict official weaning guidelines, it also went against the current advice that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

MFM went behind the headlines to find out what the researchers were saying and, more importantly, what it all means for mums.

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Parenting styles – Tiger Mom or Serenity?

2011 saw two parenting attitudes hit the headlines. The first arose in January, in a book by high flying mum-of-two Amy Chua, titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Amy claimed that Western attitudes towards parenting were too soft and that the strict discipline and rules often found in Chinese parenting produced more successful adults.

On the flipside, Australian Doctor Brian Caplan recommended a more relaxed approach to raising children, nicknamed Serenity parenting. Dr Bryan’s book Selfish Reasons to have More Kids suggested a more-fun-less-stress approach.

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Paracetamol can be given from 2 months, ibuprofen from 3

Painkillers for babies and children

In February, we were warned not to reach for the paracetamol or ibuprofen so quicky when our children have a fever. In a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that many parents were accidentally giving their children the wrong dose.

But it wasn’t until December that official guidelines for liquid paracetamol, including Calpol, were changed in the UK. With the cold and flu season well upon us, make sure you’re up-to-date on the new guidelines.

Penicillin doses could also be ready for a review, so we’ll keep you posted on any changes that 2012 brings.

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Family finances and benefits

The economy’s been the star of the show this year – or at least the baddie in the pantomime. Families have been on the frontline of many of the changes and cost-cutting measures.

To get the year off to a shaky start, we were told by the Family and Parenting Institute that families would be hardest hit by Government cuts. These included the abolition of Child Trust Funds and the Health in Pregnancy grant.

The Government has attempted to alleviate the stress on parents in some ways, including extending the availability of free childcare. It was found that many parents could not return to work because of the soaring costs of nurseries and childminders. 2011 also saw the launch of the new Junior ISAs for children’s savings.

In January we reported that 250 Surestart Centres were at risk of closure. Since the coalition was formed last year, 124 have been shut.

For our part, MFM money savers sees us hunting down the best money-off deals every week for parents, so don’t miss our latest finds!

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Will job prospects for women suffer or is 20 weeks’ fully paid maternity leave a valuable idea?

Maternity and paternity rights

2011 ushered in big changes to maternity and paternity leave and rights. Mums and dads are now able to share their leave after the birth of their baby. We asked a lawyer from Which? to explain what the new paternity leave rules mean and what you’re entitled to.

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Changes for dads

As well as increases in paternity leave, 2011 has seen plenty of changes for dads.

In the modern family, one in seven dads is the primary carer and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has recently released a booklet to advise dads on how to get involved with their partner’s pregnancy and birth. There have also been suggestions that dads should be legally required to sign their baby’s birth certificate – current law requires only the mum’s signature. Someone better tell our politicians if this comes in!

But not all the changes have been positive for dads. A review of family law has dropped plans to make it a legal requirement for divorced dads to have access to their children. Dads’ groups, such as Fathers 4 Justice, have been fighting to have a law passed to ensure fathers have the right to a meaningful relationship with their children if their relationship with the mum breaks down. This appears to be a step backwards.

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Education

The big news in education has been fears over the lack of places in primary schools around the country. Not all areas are experiencing record number of pupils but some councils are struggling to cope with demand.

A few schools have been looking into “flexi-schooling” this year, but is it something that would work on a large scale?

Changes brought in by the new government in 2011 include plans to simplify the “nappy curriculum”, while schools minister Nick Gibb has suggested calculators should be banned from primary school after fears we’re raising a “sat-nav generation”.

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We all know juggling family and work isn’t easy, especially if you’re a single mum and a French minister!

Technology, the internet and social media

Everything’s moving at record pace in today’s hi-tech world and while mums are reportedly embracing the smartphone, it’s our little ones who are truly comfortable with all the new technology. In January we found out that modern toddlers are missing traditional milestones by the age of 5, but are excelling at digital skills – making them better at playing computer games than tying their shoelaces.

We may have chuckled at this amazing video of a baby confused that her paper magazine won’t work like a iPad, but many parents are getting worried their children are becoming addicted to technology. And as the boom for apps for the under 10s grows, we predict the explosion in the app market to continue well into 2012.

Mums are using the internet more and more, so we spent many happy hours in 2011 reading through your blogs to find our ultimate top 50 mummy bloggers.

At the end of 2010, one mum was already using Facebook to name her baby, and in February 2011 we predicted babies and toddler were going to make a big splash on Facebook and Twitter. And it looks like we were right – Facebook pages are popping up for unborn babies and the social media site now has a facility to include your due date. We’ve also been loving the celebs who’ve bypassed the paparazzi by posted their own intimate family photos on Twitter for the public to coo over.

Taking things a bit too far, you may also remember the babies named “Like” and “Facebook” this year. And with a tenth of children unable to ride a bike, perhaps a focus on the traditional skills wouldn’t go amiss in 2012?

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Health

One health concern that’s come up again and again this year is our children’s weight. In December we heard that a third of children are leaving primary school either obese or overweight. We’ve even been encouraged to ditch the buggy as much as possible and make children walk.

It’s not just childhood diets that are under scrutiny. We have been urged to lose weight and get healthy before trying for a baby. One of the big reasons is babies born to overweight mums have been found to put on excess weight when they’re still in the womb.

Omega-3 fish oils made the news regularly this year, with new studies finding eating them in pregnancy could lead to a reduction in postnatal depression (PND) as well as a lower chance of our baby developing allergies.

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Vitamin D has been recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women and in October, a big-name cereal brand announced it would be adding extra vitamin D to its cereals to help prevent rickets – a Victorian disease that’s made an appearance again in the last decade.

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