She’s shared the homes of Hollywood celebrities and media magnates, and is now one of the world’s most sought-after baby sleep consultants. Dionne Christian talks to Kiwi baby expert Dorothy Waide about her famous clients, her new book and her advice for fatigued, time-poor parents.

Oh, Dorothy Waide, where were you 10 years ago when my husband and I desperately needed help with a newborn who wouldn't feed or sleep and, no doubt overtired and starving, cried continuously?

Back then, Waide, a baby sleep consultant and Karitane mothercraft nurse, was travelling from New York, where she helped a "delightful couple" and their two young children, to work with expectant first-time parents in Australia. The delightful couple? Hollywood royalty Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The expectant first-time parents? Russell Crowe and Danielle Spencer.

You might not have heard of Waide, but in the last three decades or so, as is her manner, she has quietly and efficiently become one of the world's most sought-after baby sleep consultants. While she has shared the European, American, Asian and Australian homes of Hollywood celebrities, media magnates and leading businesspeople, don't dare call her a "celebrity baby whisperer or nanny".

With good humour and grace but nevertheless firmly, she'll explain while she has worked for the rich and famous, many of her clients are ordinary mums and dads from a range of cultural and economic backgrounds. She'll also add that she is not a nanny but a fully trained and qualified maternity nurse who is hired soon after the birth of a baby, usually on a short-term basis of up to six months, to educate and support new parents in all aspects of their newborn's care. There are differences in the qualifications of maternity nannies, professional nannies, nannies, nanny/housekeepers, au pairs and mother's helpers and it would be useful if this was pointed out. Done.

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"I think the number one concern of all parents is doing the right thing for their child and that doesn't change whether they're famous or not," Waide says. "We have lost having a 'village' around us to help us raise our children. Modern families are often so far apart; there are no grandparents or aunts and uncles to help out. That's where I come in. I'm not the baby whisperer - the parents are - but I'm there to offer support and provide advice and guidelines on the big concerns like sleeping and feeding.

"The thing about parents in the public eye is you have to realise that is part of their job; if they're actors and they're making a movie then they're at work and the same applies when they're making public appearances but when they're at home, they're at home dealing with the same types of issues and worries as everybody else.

Dorothy Waide says all parents, whether in the public eye or not, have the same concern: Doing the right thing for their child. Photo / Supplied
Dorothy Waide says all parents, whether in the public eye or not, have the same concern: Doing the right thing for their child. Photo / Supplied

"Okay, they might have a bit more money but that doesn't necessarily mean it's all smooth-sailing for them because it can bring different pressures. I can tell you that it's far easier to work for people who are used to having money than those who have recently come into it. The newly-monied tend to think they're a bit above the rest of us."

She recalls dining with Douglas and Zeta-Jones and not daring to say too much when she first arrived in 2000 to help with their son, Dylan. By the time she left, after assisting with their daughter Carys, she says it was like any other family mealtime with everyone chatting, laughing and good-naturedly debating the issues of the day.

And working for Russell Crowe with his reputedly volcanic temper? Waide shakes her head and says "Russell and Dani" were some of the best parents she met. She describes Crowe as a hands-on and devoted dad who isn't given enough credit for the work he does in the community. "Sure, he's supposed to have a temper but we've all got something, haven't we? I did have words with Russell but only on two occasions and, both times, he was quick to apologise. From what I saw, he's a wonderful father to his boys."

Now back in her native New Zealand, Waide has released her first book, You Simply Can't Spoil A Newborn. Study the title and you'll get a strong hint as to why her book could be a game-changer in terms of the way we raise our children.

Dismissing from the outset the commonly-held belief that you can spoil a newborn, she wants us to re-think how we approach the first three months of new parenthood. Picking her words carefully, Waide says she is disturbed by some of what she's read lately about teaching newborns to sleep and feed.

In her opinion, there hasn't been enough emphasis on the importance of back-to-basics nurturing, loving and devoting quality time to new babies. It's all been about regimentation, leaving babies to cry it out, and trying to fit them into an existing life rather than altering the lifestyle to accommodate vulnerable newborns.

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"When a couple gets together, they form a circle but when a baby arrives, that relationship becomes a triangle, with the baby at the top and that's just the way it is and has to be for at least the first 12 weeks of that child's life," she says. "People say, 'I can't do that; I don't have time!' I say, 'you've just had a baby, brought a new life into this world, so make the time!'

"Whether you are living in a Hollywood mansion or on a remote farm in rural New Zealand, my core message to all parents is simple: you simply can't spoil a newborn. It is impossible to shower your baby with too much love."

Dorothy Waide helped Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, with their children Carys and Dylan, now 12 and 14. Photo / AP
Dorothy Waide helped Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, with their children Carys and Dylan, now 12 and 14. Photo / AP

Waide favours what she calls 'nurturing within arms' when babies are cuddled and rocked and spoken to with soothing words but it comes with a rider: only do what you can do if the baby is in a cot. She's also pragmatic enough to release making time in a time-poor world can depend on each individual family and the corresponding demands so her down-to-earth advice is given as guidelines which can be personalised to suit particular situations.

She is most certainly not a fan of "one-sized fits all" parenting advice and thinks there's been a bit too much of this lately. "I'll be honest: the right-wingers don't like me because I'm not about regimentation nor do I have a conservative approach to maternity nursing and the left-wingers aren't my greatest fans either because I say things like it's okay if babies cry, because it's a cue for their parents that they have a need that needs responding to. I seriously want to know why we can't look at the pros and cons of both types of approaches and just bring to the centre the best of both. Surely we just want to give our children the best possible start? You could say I'm a centrist."

Most of her business has come from personal recommendations and, more than a decade after she left their employ, Douglas and Zeta-Jones happily wrote the foreword for her book, saying things like, "We can honestly say we never found a baby-related problem that Dorothy was unable to solve" and "Her enormous sense of warmth, love and a down-to-earth philosophy always made us feel safe in our role as parents".

It probably helps that Waide has the often-neglected qualification of life experience. Born in Tokanui, where both parents worked at the psychiatric hospital, she was the second youngest of four girls and one boy.

The family moved to Papakura but mum and dad divorced when she was young. She says it wasn't the easiest of times; money was short and her mother often away from home, working at Kingseat Hospital. As a youngster, she liked helping with the family meals and cleaning the house and loved being with younger children.

"Was my childhood good? Was it bad? I don't know and who can say? I think it's like most things in life - it's what you make it."

Deciding to be a cook, Waide applied to join the Royal New Zealand Navy but between leaving school aged 16 and enlisting, she heard about Karitane mothercraft nursing and knew that was the career for her. She describes the training as being delivered in a strict and hierarchical environment, where trainees worked long hours learning all they could about caring for newborns from a range of households.

Among the celebrities to have sought Dorothy Waide's help with their new arrivals were Danielle Spencer and Russell Crowe. Photo / AP
Among the celebrities to have sought Dorothy Waide's help with their new arrivals were Danielle Spencer and Russell Crowe. Photo / AP

Even back in those days, she says she regularly saw young children who had been abused and it broke her heart. She figured she'd eventually get married and have a family of her own but it didn't work that way.

After her training and initial work experience, Waide headed overseas and, ideally qualified, started on her lifelong vocation. She returned and worked in an office but, even being more settled, says she never met the right person. She returned to Britain and full-time maternity nursing, building up a formidable reputation as a woman with the uncanny ability to calm even the most fractious and unsettled babies.

"Do I regret not having children of my own? No, most certainly not. The journey I have been on in my life has been incredible and I've been so fortunate to assist so many families and go on their journeys, too. It's allowed me to build up the knowledge and experience I have today. For me, this is very much a vocation, a calling."

When she returned to New Zealand five years ago to establish a more permanent home base, Waide did look at career alternatives. She consulted a career adviser who gave her forms to send to friends and past employers asking what they thought Waide's skills were. "And every single one came back with much the same thing - I should be doing the work I'm doing. It couldn't be clearer so here I am!"

You Simply Can't Spoil a Newborn (Bateman $39.99) is out now.

- Canvas