Most new parents know the feeling - the exhaustion of yet another two am wake-up call from a distressed newborn. And the flood of questions that follow – ‘what do they want?’, ‘why won’t they stay down?’ and, most pressingly ‘how long will this go on for?’

For the fortunate, their babies will grow out of this early so-called ‘cry-fuss’ behaviour, but for one in five families it continues to be a troubling problem. It’s a scenario that can lead to increased risk of a premature end to breast feeding, child abuse and behavioural problems in later childhood including feeding problems and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. And for sleep-deprived Mums it can be a precursor to postnatal depression.

As a mother herself Dr Pamela Douglas was well aware of the emotional and physical toll newborns can take on new mothers. As a GP she had heard enough stories to realise it was an all too common problem:

‘My interest in the area is certainly borne out of my own experience of being a mother and out of the stories I have heard in all my years in general practice... particularly heart-rending stories, year after year after year, from new mothers about the difficulties that they face in the first months of their new baby’s life.’

Dr Douglas identified a key issue in helping affected families – namely, the tendency for various health disciplines to approach the problem through their own filters, often leaving the family with diverging or even conflicting information.

‘New parents receive a great deal of conflicting and confusing advice, and they have to go to different health providers as they try to find the kind of help that they are looking for... It is that gap that I’ve been very passionate about addressing.’

In 2009 Dr Douglas was awarded a RACGP Foundation grant to review all the current data on cry-fuss behaviour from both health practitioners and patients. Her findings then led her to run a pilot program that took a holistic approach to the problem, offering weary and often desperate mums and dads practical, evidence-based advice and information on feeding and sleeping for their newborns. In 2014 the success of that pilot program inspired Dr Douglas to author a book for new parents called The Discontented Little Baby Book, much appreciated for its down-to-earth advice. As one reader posted, ‘I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For parents, it’s the wisdom and information you need in the first year of your baby’s life. For caregivers, it’s a wonderful guide to improving your relationships with your patients by listening to them and being able to communicate in an effective and respectful manner.’

The previous year, together with psychologist Dr Kao Whittingham, Dr Douglas established a dedicated Brisbane clinic called Possums for Mothers and Babies, with the aim of educating and supporting new parents through evidence-based research and resources.

Both her clinical experience as a GP and her research have left Dr Douglas with a strong conviction about the importance of the general practitioner in providing first line assistance to young families under pressure.

‘I think there is a tremendous privilege in being a generalist doctor in the community because we are invited, very deeply, into people’s lives and there is a real satisfaction for me in that,’ she says. ‘There is also an intellectual challenge associated with being a generalist that I think is quite unique. It means every working day we are integrating knowledge from multiple fields of research and responding to our patients on multiple levels’.


All quotes taken from article ‘The written word’ Good Practice Jan-Feb 2015 issue 1-2

Douglas, P. The Discontented Little Baby Book. Queensland: University of Queensland Press, 2014


RACGP Chris Silagy Research Scholarship 2009

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