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Meet Rebecca Cumming, the Derbyshire childbirth teacher who has helped thousands of parents-to-be

PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 August 2016 | UPDATED: 09:39 24 August 2016

Rebecca with babies

Rebecca with babies

as submitted

David Marley meets Rebecca Cumming, a Derbyshire mother-of-three, who has spent the last 21 years helping thousands of parents-to-be navigate the challenges of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood

Rebecca with Libby at baby yogaRebecca with Libby at baby yoga

‘I’ll put my phone on silent,’ smiles Rebecca Cumming as she relaxes in the kitchen of her stylish home in the heart of Duffield, near Derby, to chat about her life and experiences as a national childbirth teacher.

A gentle hum immediately diverts her attention. The noise is coming from her mobile phone, even though it’s been silenced, and over the next hour its pulsating rings and rhythms continue to demand her attention, bringing an avalanche of news and alerts from an online magical baby world provided by Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

Electronic chatter fills the room and Rebecca is visibly itching to engage with her online community of expectant mums and new parents. Tweets, texts and private messages bring joyful news of new births as well as calls for help from struggling mothers wanting information about breastfeeding and how to help babies suffering with colic.

Her excitement is infectious and she even greets enthusiastically a mundane request for information on a forthcoming antenatal class. The common thread to the online exchanges is the comforting reassurance that Rebecca – a woman who has spent the last two decades helping fathers- and mothers-to-be prepare for the joy of bringing new life into the world – is nearby and always happy to offer advice.

Baby yoga in DuffieldBaby yoga in Duffield

Responding to this demanding real-time online collective, made up of students, friends and colleagues, is all part of daily life for this teacher of childbirth and parenthood. To Rebecca – a very modern matriarch of antenatal care and assistance – this is a personal and professional calling and she replies to each request for support with the same elation and enthusiasm. Nimbly tapping a quick reply on her device, she laughs: ‘This can go on all day. I just love being part of it – after all is there anything better than hearing from a mother who has just given birth?’

Rebecca is a member of dozens of private online chat groups and forums – all providing opportunities for local people to share information and experiences about their pregnancy, childbirth and early days of parenthood with other mums and dads living in Derbyshire.

‘I’ve known parents to chat online from first thing in the morning about a breastfeeding issue, then pick up where they left off late into the evening. It is a great way to provide comfort and support for new parents on topics ranging from nappy changing to sleeping patterns. Long-lasting friendships are made during these interactions,’ says Rebecca, an experienced self-employed teacher with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – a charity that provides information about pregnancy and the first crucial months of parenthood.

It is nearly 21 years since Rebecca moved from Berkshire to Derbyshire with her husband Andrew, who runs a car leasing business. ‘I had just finished my training to become a teacher at the National Childbirth Trust when we came to Derbyshire,’ she remembers. ‘The charity was experiencing a membership lull and when I arrived there was only one antenatal course in the whole of Derby – which was being held every eight weeks. There was a lot to do and, along with a trainee teacher, we set about promoting the charity.’

Two decades later and it has over 90 volunteers and almost 900 members spread across five well-supported branches – Derby and District, High Peak, Chesterfield, Ashbourne and Amber Valley. Each branch provides a range of services for parents-to-be including access to a national telephone helpline for callers to seek emotional and practical support; opportunities to join local bumps and babies groups; and information about the charity’s nearly-new clothing and baby product sales and events. Last year over 400 people attended antenatal classes throughout the county.

In the last four years the birth rate in Derbyshire has increased dramatically, rising from 5,000 to 6,500 births per year. This has placed pressure on maternity services and has resulted in demand for antenatal classes reaching an all time high.

‘I’ve always been interested in the birth process,’ reflects Rebecca. ‘I went to NCT classes 25 years ago in Windsor when I was pregnant with my son, George. I had a difficult birth but thanks to an amazing class teacher, called Cynthia, I came out the other side feeling completely positive.

‘I went into parenting with a fabulous group I met through the classes and I am still in touch with many of them, even after all these years,’ laughs Rebecca. ‘Cynthia was my inspiration to do more. Having attended her course I wanted to help others. If I had not done the course I would have been terrified with my first birth.’

Rebecca, who originally trained as a hairdresser, started a modular-based training course with the NCT. ‘I loved working with people from my previous job so it seemed perfectly natural to me to follow this path. At that time there wasn’t a formal national childbirth qualification so I had to complete a series of written submissions over the next three years,’ she explains. ‘Two tutors marked my final work – and I was delighted to be recognised as an NCT teacher.’

Since then she has completed a diploma in antenatal education at the University of Bedfordshire and been appointed as a national assessor of NCT teachers throughout England. She regularly travels to other counties providing information and best practice on courses relating to baby yoga and subjects as diverse as birthing techniques and the first 24 hours in a baby’s life.

‘I never thought in a million years that I would be where I am now,’ she smiles. ‘I must have taught around 2,500 couples and now I’m even teaching the children of the people who attended my courses when I first moved here.’

Her philosophy and approach to teaching is typically practical and down-to-earth. ‘I’ve always thought that having a baby is a bit like driving to London on the motorway – some people go straight down and are absolutely fine, while others hit roadworks and have a bit of a delay,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve taught people from all walks of life – a typical class is a mixture of people ranging from 16 to 47 years in age from all social groups. It is a unique experience – age, class and wealth all go out of the window when everyone starts together!’

It is common for attendees of Rebecca’s courses to have had little or no previous interaction with babies and children. ‘Lots of people who come to my classes may never have even held a baby before; even fewer will have experience of changing a nappy or washing an infant in its first few days,’ she explains. ‘It is important to remember that becoming a parent can be a challenging transformation. The first 12 weeks can be a difficult, fearful time and some mothers struggle with stitches and breastfeeding.’

Rebecca’s NCT classroom-based interactive teaching offers a ‘signature’ introductory antenatal course, which takes four weeks to complete over six to seven sessions. It covers issues such as pregnancy, parenting, labour, building ongoing support, the role of birth supporters and caesarean births. Couples can also elect for fast-track ‘essential’ courses, which offer information over a shorter, more intensive period. ‘Most teachers are mothers – and all are women, although we do have a male chief executive officer at our headquarters. But this is very much a parents’ charity. For many years fathers did not even attend births – things have changed for the better and now dads are increasingly playing an important role in the preparation, birth and upbringing of their children.’

Some parents come back to Rebecca for a second course when having further children. ‘Most second-timers like to attend additional courses to improve their relaxation, stretching and breathing techniques. I teach at the Western Centre in Duffield and at Number 28 in Belper. I host two classes of mother and baby yoga a week – mums come along with their babies for 90 minutes of stretching, singing and having fun. We always finish with tea, cake and chat!’ she explains.

Parents who have attended Rebecca’s courses are quick to praise her work. Helen, a mother of two boys from West Hallam, says: ‘I attended the relax, stretch and breathe classes during both of my pregnancies and baby yoga with my first child. William is now three-years-old and Thomas is 18 months. Rebecca provided sound advice on all eventualities that could occur during labour and gave great breathing techniques and coping strategies to divert thoughts away from pain. Some of these I have used since on trips to the dentist!’

Kate from Mickleover, mother to 11-year-old William, adds: ‘Nearly 12 years ago I attended one of Rebecca’s antenatal classes. The best thing for me was the information, which helped me to cope when I had to have an emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic. I felt calm because I knew what was happening. I also felt inspired by Rebecca to train to become an antenatal teacher myself!’

The National Childbirth Trust is proud of its branches and teachers in Derbyshire. The charity’s head of education, Clea Harmer, says: ‘We’ve got a great team of practitioners and volunteers in Derbyshire, helping mums and dads through the crucial first 1,000 days of being a parent. We’ve had a strong presence in the county for years and we hope to continue our work there for many more to come.’

In 2014 Rebecca was appointed to chair the maternity services liaison committee at The Royal Derby Hospital, a panel she has served on for the last 15 years. ‘We have had a great input into the development of labour wards at the hospital over the years. We helped to recommend how £240,000 should be spent and now have a lovely birth centre in the hospital. We speak regularly to consultants, midwives and health visitors about how mothers should be supported when they are giving birth at the hospital,’ she explains.

Rebecca is also involved in the region’s local supervising authority, which inspects hospitals to ensure care is provided in a safe way for expectant mothers. ‘We aim to assist midwives to ensure high standards of care for mothers going through the birthing process. We produce reports to improve standards. We have recently visited King’s Mill Hospital in Mansfield and other colleagues have been out to Chesterfield,’ she explains.

She believes passionately that NCT classes help to bring people together and have a long-lasting effect. ‘I love it when people post pictures of their children on Facebook. My children are now making their own mark in life – George is an accountant in Derby, Toby is at Loughborough University and Herbie is studying at Ecclesbourne School in Duffield – and I still love telling my original NCT parents about how they are all doing,’ she laughs.

Rebecca’s enjoyment for life does not end with childbirth teaching, she is also a passionate enthusiast of walking, running, cycling and skiing. ‘I didn’t learn to ski until I was 40 but now I take every opportunity to have a go. I also have a dog and love to be out and about discovering Derbyshire. Walking along the Chevin, near Belper, is a favourite place,’ she says. ‘Three years ago I cycled with three friends from Morecambe Bay to Bridlington. We stayed in local B&Bs along the way and raised over £3,000 for a breast cancer unit. Our next challenge is to cycle along Hadrian’s Wall!’

A typical NCT signature course costs £170. The NCT offers subsidized places for less well-off attendees. For information on a local course email Rebecca on cummingwoodside@aol.com or call 07850 342866

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