How Plunket helped my babies

New Zealand’s Plunket Society has a long history and a great reputation – for good reason. Mother of three Pippa Henderson reflects on specific ways Plunket supported her and her growing family, demonstrating how this iconic Kiwi organisation is staying true to its original vision.

If you mention Plunket to a non-Kiwi they don’t know what you’re talking about – or even what they’re missing out on. Mention it to Kiwis, and they’ll instantly conjure up images of a kindly nurses weighing and measuring babies and offering support and advice to those with babes in arms. It’s an institution here in New Zealand, having proven itself as a trustworthy source of encouragement and information for generation after generation. For those in the messy throes of raising young families Plunket represents a solid benchmark, a navigational necessity, and a listening ear. For those like myself, who have, or are, moving on from that stage, the mere mention of Plunket is more than likely to evoke a sense of nostalgia and a grateful smile.

Plunket was founded in 1907 in Dunedin by child health visionary Sir Frederic Truby King, who, along with a group of influential Dunedin women pledged to form a society to carry forward the vision for a new health regime based on the support and education of mothers. These days, Plunket summarise their three strategic goals as: healthy tamariki, confident whānau and connected communities. It’s a vision that’s easy to get behind. Small businesses and large organisations alike connect with Plunket’s desire to help young families. 

For me, as a mother of three children now aged 10, 7 and 4, Plunket has provided five key means of support.

  1. Reassurance This was crucial when I had my first child. She was born by Caesarean section in Wellington in 2007. I had a very helpful husband, but little in the way of family support. There were so many new skills to learn and develop. It wasn’t always easy to gauge what was normal, whether I was reading my baby correctly, and doing all the right things at the right time. During that time, as I as I recovered from surgery and found my feet, I was unable to drive, or even walk further than our gate – we lived at the top of two steep hills – so the fact that the Plunket nurse came to me was invaluable. Every visit from the Plunket nurse gave me precious reassurance that I was doing what I should be, and, more importantly, that my firstborn was thriving.
  2. A sense of community My Plunket nurse set me up with a PIN group, which stands for Plunket in your Neighbourhood. It was a group of about ten mothers from the Island Bay area who had all had a baby within a month or so of each other. We were aged between 19 and 46, and came from a huge range of backgrounds and careers, but as we came together once a week in each other’s homes all our differences became insignificant. Friendships formed quickly due to the way we laughed and cried together and helped each other through one of life’s biggest transitions. No longer in the work force, but missing it, I remember fondly thinking of my PIN group as colleagues, working together for the same goal.
  3. Reference and reminders Parenting is a bit easier second time round; your confidence has grown, and you’ve learnt to trust your own instincts. But it can come as a surprise if your second baby is a different size or temperament than your first baby. Many parents find themselves checking back in with the experts and their reference books to make sure everything is okay. This was the case with our second baby, a boy, who grew at an astonishing rate of knots. By six weeks he was 6.6kgs; completely off Plunket’s height and weight charts. The wonderful thing was, this didn’t concern them. Their expertise triumphed over their reference books, and once again, they gave me the reassurance I needed. My baby’s growth was tracking smoothly, and his height and weight were in proportion, and that was what really mattered.

I sought advice from Plunket once again when it came to toilet training second time round. Strangely I’d forgotten how the process worked, and besides, boys are different to girls! Plunket armed me with a toilet training information pack and, crucially, a Buzz Light Year star chart to stick up in our bathroom. It worked a treat, and our little boy was honestly dry in no time.

  1. The big picture Third time round I was less dependent on Plunket, but I still really enjoyed their visits in the early days, and my visits to their Plunket rooms as time went on. Even though I knew what I was doing the Plunket nurses were still interested in how my little ones were tracking, and had the answers to any questions I produced. There was one Plunket nurse in particular who I really admired. Her three children had all grown up left the nest, and her stories gave me a whole new perspective on the precious, yet chaotic season I was in. She taught me not to sweat the small stuff, and strongly encouraged me to plant a large number of fruit trees to sustain my children when they’re teenagers. Oh, and to get quick at whipping up large batches of scones to fill their ever-expanding tummies!
  2. Precious records It’s not just my own children’s Plunket records that I treasure but mine, and my husband’s – that neither my mother nor mother-in-law could bear to throw away. These are great little windows into our formative years. Reading through the handwritten comments from the mid/late 1970s gave me a fresh perspective of my devoted mother, and mother in law, and all they’d done for us. These old Plunket books also read as a form of report for 0-5 year olds, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into aspects of our different personalities emerging at such a young age.

So, a heartfelt thank you, Plunket, for helping make this wild and wonderful parenting journey more manageable. I take my hat off to all your extraordinarily devoted and capable staff that travel from Cape Reinga to Bluff to offer up crucial words of support and reassurance to millions of mothers, right when they need them the most. You are living out the vision of New Zealand’s pioneers of health, and ensuring our future is at least as bright as our past.

I’ll conclude with an extract of introductory text from the front of my 1978 Plunket Book, which offers great timeless advice to new parents – including the importance of plenty of attention and a happy home – proving, once again, Plunket’s devotion to the Kiwi family.

“Best wishes to you and continuing good health to your baby. From the very beginning he is a separate person, growing and learning with astonishing speed. He was completely dependent on his mother for everything before he was born and he is hardly less so now. You will still be the centre and focus of his life for years to come.

Most of all he needs the support of your love for him. One of the most important lessons he has to learn is as to who and what he is. Babies learn who they are and what they are from the ways in which they’re treated from those around them. They develop feelings that they are liked, wanted and accepted, because they have been liked, wanted and accepted. An infant learns that he is these things, not from being told so, but only through the experience of being treated as though they were so.

Lots of things will interest you as the months go by. Please regard the Plunket Nurse as a friend and discuss all these matters with her. She is also vitally interested in your baby.

Your family doctor would like to keep in touch with your baby too and will be pleased to arrange for all the immunisations at the appropriate age.

If you live in an area where there is not yet fluoridated water your baby’s teeth will be stronger and healthier if you give him the right amount of fluoride each day.

Though your doctor can immunise your baby against infectious disease there is no immunisation against accidents. Only a mother’s carefulness can protect her baby. He should be guarded from burns, scalds, from sharp objects, and highways, ditches and ponds. And as he grows he should be educated about these dangers.

Parenthood is a happy time and happiness in the home provides your baby with his best opportunities for growth and development.”



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