Bringing up baby, as prescribed by Penelope Leach

December 26, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

British baby expert Penelope Leach likes the United States, thanks to our lack of royal babies.

In England, "I get asked to royal-watch all the time. When Prince William put his Wellington boots down the toilet, I got calls all weekend" -- calls from the press, asking how Charles and Diana should discipline the heir apparent. Ms. Leach wouldn't say; she's a professional, and the Waleses aren't her clients.

Neither is the Duchess of York, who left her infant with a nanny for six weeks, in strict violation of Leach laws. Should Fergie have abandoned Beatrice?

"God knows! I have no royal charter."

But Ms. Leach has a yuppie charter; her four books, including "Your Baby & Child," have sold more than 2 million copies and made her the female equivalent of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton.

Now Ms. Leach, like Mr. Brazelton, has her own half-hour TV show. "Your Baby & Child," which premiered Dec. 2, is broadcast on cable's Lifetime channel at 9 a.m. weekdays. Unlike the avuncular Mr. Brazelton, Ms. Leach neither cuddles nor coos ("That would have been an easy audience-grabber"). Instead, she sits very straight on a floral couch and answers parents' questions. Her answers prove that, on camera as in print, Ms. Leach is currently our leading pediatric quipster.

Samples:

"I don't want to come down on you, but you've used a word that is to me as a red rag is to a bull. That word is 'count.' . . . There is no point (cords in neck standing out) in learning to count 1-2-3-4-5."

"The best head start that you can give [a baby] is the certainty that he is a loved and lovable child."

"The baby will bond with you."

(To new parents): "Face it, kids: There is going to be no going back to 'normal.' "

Ms. Leach can be earthy, calling engorged breasts "two extremely overheated melons," and she can be tough. To mothers planning lightning returns to work: "If you're going to have the infant and go quickly back to work before you get to know him, really, I wonder why you have him at all."

This is what Ms. Leach would call "a really big iss-yew," and one on which she is at odds with Mr. Brazelton and others, who tend to emphasize quality child care. In magazine articles (though not in books), Ms. Leach has said a baby needs a mother or one person to serve as a mother-substitute for the first months of life; day care won't do.

Not exactly a popular view among two-career families, but Ms. Leach doesn't care. "You know, you can't be in this business if you're going out for the easy votes."

Child-rearing a la Leach is tough but rewarding. Ms. Leach nursed one baby and bottle-fed the other (medical problems). The breast-fed daughter is an anthropologist, the bottle-fed son an energy expert, like his father.

The private Ms. Leach "cooks with passion," gardens and remains "goofy" about babies, whom she continues to find fascinating. "Why else don't we dump them on the tops of mountains? They're a hell of a nuisance."

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