A Dubai clinic is offering nanny classes, putting both mothers and nannies more at ease.
School's in for Dubai nannies
In a leafy part of Al Wasl Road in Dubai, Corazon Romero, a nanny, is attempting to bathe her new charge. She's got all her equipment lined up by the bath - towels and nappies at the ready - and yet there is one thing missing.
There is total silence. No crying that would normally accompany a newborn's bath time because the "baby'" here is a doll, and Corazon is taking part in a nanny class run by Infinity Baby Care.
Two years ago, Jane Bevan, co-founder with Dr Michael Loubser of Infinity Baby Care, based at the Infinity Clinic in Dubai, gave birth to her daughter, Alice, and was shocked to find how little post-natal care there was here compared with in her native United Kingdom. "I remember thinking where do you go, whom do you see when you've got questions about looking after a tiny baby? There are endless books, but when you are juggling a baby and everything else you don't have time to refer to all those books, and it might not be a question you would make an appointment to see a paediatrician about."
In a country where home help is easily available but trained nannies are few and far between, Bevan decided to offer nanny classes on top of their ante- and post-natal classes and home visits. "Because," as Bevan points out, "they didn't exist anywhere else in Dubai. Here, you can have your nanny trained by a midwife who will teach her all the basics of baby care, from picking up and holding newborns, to bathing them and putting them safely to bed."
Anne Marpole qualified as a midwife 20 years ago in South Africa, and has lived in Dubai for the past 14 years. Marpole, who has two children of her own aged 12 and 10, helped devise the structure of the nanny class using her own professional and personal experience and the latest childcare recommendations. "We teach them from a safety point of view first and foremost," explains Marpole, "then we teach them the basic skills in caring for a young baby."
Employers are discouraged from attending the two-and-half-hour class, which helps Marpole strike up a relationship with the nannies. "I want the nanny to be open with me, so I create a very relaxed atmosphere that gets them to open up about what they don't know. If they are scared to bath the baby, for example, we focus more on that." She says.
During the class, held in a room equipped with nursery furniture and looking out on to a small courtyard garden, Marpole constantly refers to the relevant pages from a booklet, written by Marpole, Loubser and Bevan in very simple language with plenty of illustrations, which is given to nannies to take home. The booklet has been designed so the pages can be torn out and pinned up around the kitchen and nursery as handy reference points. "We emphasise to the employers that they have to go through the booklet with the nanny after the class and adapt it to their home environment," Marpole says.
Of course, one of the drawbacks of using dolls is that they don't cry or wriggle, but Marpole constantly notes to the nannies how the baby is likely to react. "Baby will be crying now," she says as they practise undressing a baby for bath time. "You mustn't be scared of crying. Do everything slowly and safely. All the time you must talk to baby, make baby clever."
Language barriers are a concern addressed in a variety of ways. Throughout the class Marpole speaks gently and in simple English. There are pictures of nursery furniture on the wall, which Marpole points at to find out from the nannies what sort of equipment they have to use at their employer's home. "I make it as practical as possible because I worry about the language barrier," says Marpole. At every stage she shows the nanny first then gets the nanny to show her. "I get them to return demonstrate - then I can gauge whether they have understood."
"It's definitely made my life a lot less stressful," says Belinda Garside, a Briton, whose nanny attended the course at Infinity. "I arrived in the country in April with a five-week old baby and a 14-month old. I found a nanny who was lovely but quite young and hadn't done anything with babies." She explains that she heard about the course through a friend and thought it would be perfect for her. "I wanted to trust my nanny enough that I could leave her with the baby for an hour or so. She came back from the course and was telling me what to do - it was brilliant! We don't get training like that as mothers - she taught me some things I didn't know."
Marpole doesn't bog the nannies down in childcare theory, but does explain in simple terms, and demonstrating with a doll and a travel cot, the latest medical advice such as the "safe to sleep" methodology established to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The nannies' needs to balance their childcare responsibilities with their other jobs such as cleaning are also tackled. "Your number one priority is baby, number two is the house. You may have to leave the ironing and look after the baby," Marpole tells her students. She explains that they can put the baby in a little baby seat, as long as they are strapped in, and discourages them from holding the baby all the time. "It is very important for you as a nanny when you are left at home with the baby that you can't hold it all day," she says. "If the baby is crying, you don't pick it up straight away. It has to learn to be happy and be alone - not alone in the room, but so it can see you but you are doing your jobs."
The course would seem to be particularly relevant to expatriates living here who rely more on their nannies because they don't have family to support them in those first difficult weeks. "By the second time, you need to entertain the older child so you have to get out," says Garside. "When you don't have parents or family here, it's very hard to find someone you can trust to leave the baby with in those early days."
At the end of the class, Marpole hands the nannies their certificates. "They are thrilled to get them," she says. The certificate also proves useful when nannies move on to other employers or leave the country to return home. "My nanny wants, ultimately, to go back to Sri Lanka and set up her own nursery," explains Garside, "It's a great starting point for anyone who wants to take their job further. It's nice to be able to help her as well as her helping me."
Bevan agrees: "To invest in your nanny here is just brilliant."
For more information contact the Infinity Clinic, 050 458 2633 or 04 344 8994, www.ihcdubai.com