A place to celebrate all things cute and cuddly

Babytalk is Ireland’s first festival of expert advice for parents, says Margaret Carragher

A place to celebrate all things cute and cuddly

FOR parents who want advice about babies, “there’s no such thing as a silly question,” says Rachel Lane, who is staging a new Babytalk Festival, in UCD, from February 22-23.

As a mother, Lane, who is organising the festival with Marie Dunne, understands the frustration of new parents. “There is no shortage of information out there,” she says. “But a lot if it is advertising in disguise, which is not what new parents want or need.”

With Dunne planning a family, and Lane expecting her second child, they felt the time was right to organise an entertaining and informative baby festival celebrating pregnancy, birth and new parenthood.

The pair run event and graphics company Curious Design. “The event has been designed to ensure that a wide range of topics are covered — from conception, pregnancy and birth to infant nutrition and baby’s first year.

“Plus, lots of baby-related products and services,” says Dublin-born Dunne.

Recalling her pregnancy with her two-year-old daughter, Juliet, Lane says “Babytalk is the type of festival I wanted to go to myself, but couldn’t find.

“For us, one of the most important considerations is that it is welcoming and inclusive. Everyone can come along — from those just considering starting a family to expectant parents and extended families. Grandparents even get free entry.”

Despite the support and encouragement of family and friends, Lane, a Dubliner living in Arklow, says new motherhood is “a bit lonely and isolating, because there’s just so much you don’t know.”

Like many new mothers, she sought information online and found it in a variety of Facebook groups and parenting forums.

“It is so reassuring to talk to other mums who are going through the same experiences, whether it’s with teething problems, night feeds, whatever. You feel you aren’t alone,” she says.

Now, with all manner of baby-related information available 24/7, the Babytalk festival will feature a panel discussion chaired by childcare expert, Niamh Healy, on how to recognise and avoid the pitfalls in online parenting.

Other speakers include consulting psychologist and Newstalk contributor, Dr David J Carey, who will talk about the changes a baby brings and how to help older siblings adjust.

Aromatherapist, doula and birthing instructor, Mary Tighe, will give an overview of options available to women giving birth in Ireland, and advice on how to access further information; and childcare counsellor, Sue Jameson will discuss common parental worries, infant sleep patterns, and the many myths about baby behaviour.

Then, there are forums on women’s health and fertility; the foods to eat and to avoid during pregnancy; and an overview of labour with options for pain management.

There’s also an ‘Irish daddies’ section, with advice for fathers and partners about common parental worries, supporting mum through pregnancy, labour and birth, and bonding with baby afterwards.

Talks run for 25 minutes, with time allocated for questions. Talks are designed to be clear, accessible and informative.

But, as Lane says, “there’s more to Babytalk than baby talk.” The entertainment and demonstration line-up for the weekend includes a children’s comedy and magic show, with RTÉ jr presenter, Reuben the Entertainer; ‘sling and dance’ sessions for parents and babies in a sling; and ‘Mini Music,’ an interactive musical for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Then, there’s family yoga classes and play-sessions for babies, wobblers and toddlers. Dunne’s comedian and author husband, Colm O’Regan, will be performing a stand-up show based on his bestselling Irish Mammies books.

Having spent three years fine-tuning the event, Lane and Dunne have considered all the requirements for a stress-free day, with free car-parking, buggy-parking, baby-changing and feeding areas, goody bags to take away, and a café.

The festival promotes a strong ethical policy, emphasising transparency and accuracy of information, including careful observation of the WHO international code of marketing of breast-milk substitutes when choosing sponsors and exhibitors.

“We think that giving advice and information to new and expectant parents is a huge responsibility,” says Lane.

“So it is very important that sources are unbiased to guarantee that the information is genuinely in the best interests of families. We wanted to create something different, a fun experience where people can come together and celebrate little people and parenthood.

“It’s a big deal, this parenting malarkey — a life-changing time, full of excitement, joy, laughter, tears, tantrums, pooey nappies, dribble, worry, questions and, most of all, love, and that is what we want to celebrate,” Lane says.

The Babytalk Festival will take place in O’Reilly Hall, University College Dublin, February 22 — 23. www.babytalkfestival.ie

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