Hello…it’s me

It has been a while since I have written a blog post. A large part of that is due to my little bean napping less, but also around the same time life stepped up a notch, I returned to work 3 days a week and with adjusting to having a family/work life balance and having a somewhat demanding toddler on my hands I just haven’t prioritised writing. Also, if I’m really honest, I started to really enjoy being a Mum. Apparently I’m more drawn to write when I’m annoyed/frustrated/distressed! As my little one got older, we have grown to understand each other better, I feel more confident in the decisions I make on her behalf because she is now very good at letting me know if I’m wrong!

I want to return to writing though, as my journey seems to be moving away from focussing on how I can make my baby happy and a little more toward how I can find myself again, the woman who existed before pregnancy, child birth, breastfeeding, endless nights of pacing and unconditional love.

I’m enjoying feeling like me again. I remember in the early months of Boo’s life a friend telling me about the ‘newborn fog’ and how she thought each month that she had left it when another month would go by and she would look back and think “nope, I was still in that fog”. I feel like I have been in the fog for the whole year after having Boo. By no means am I unhappy with this, she was my entire focus and my energy was spent on making her happy, and I was so lucky to have the luxury to do this. Towards the end of her first year though I felt ready to find myself again.

In the months to come I am going to reflect on ways in which I have managed to reclaim myself and to explore and trial new ways to carve out time for me, to be just me. I am sure I will still write about parenthood joys and woes, but the focus of the blog is going to change, maybe…

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Breastfeeding Just Gets Better

Thanks for hopping on over from Baby Foote, here is my contribution for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt Day 1, ‘The Start of My Journey’. Sponsors today include Boobie Milk with a £50 voucher, Cherub Chews who are offering a breastfeeding necklace and Loveyush who are offering a breastfeeding scarf for our Grand Prize winner. Over £700 worth of goodies are up for grabs entries via the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

Breastfeeding Just Gets Better

Before I had my Baby last October I knew I was going to breastfeed. My Mum had done it, my sisters all breastfed, I just knew it was how I was going to feed my baby. I took heed of advice given “get lots of box-sets in, you’ll be stuck feeding for hours on end”. I had my nipple cream ready to go and had attended a local breastfeeding group so I knew where to go and who to speak to if I was struggling. I felt fully prepared for what was to come.

Fortunately for me when my baby arrived she was also happy to breastfeed without much issue. Her latch was good, she knew what she was doing, I was lubing the nips frequently, husband had mastered cutting up my meals and feeding them to me, so it all seemed relatively easy. That was until she got colic.

At just over two weeks old something changed in my baby. At almost every feed, after about 10 minutes she would start to crease up and windmill her little arms and legs as if in pain. She would then scream and scream sometimes for hours at a time. It was heartbreaking, distressing and wearing, for both of us. At six weeks old she got her first cold and with that came her first nursing strike. Around this time (I think linked to her cold) she would only feed while lying on her left side, so I had to learn the rugby hold, I don’t think I ever really mastered that one though! After a couple of days she returned to breastfeeding but now, to make matters worse, she became almost angry and highly distressed (expressed by yet more intense screaming) if I ever offered her a feed and she didn’t want it, which was a lot! I became anxious and temporarily obsessed about encouraging her to feed. Techniques trialled to get her to feed included lying down, standing up, feeding while walking, feeding while she slept, bottles, husband giving bottles, at that point I would have fed her upside down on a trapeze if she would take my milk! I felt completely and utterly rejected by my own baby, that paired with the constant screaming meant that I just hated breastfeeding, and at times my baby too.

I continued to breastfeed, in part because my baby refused the bottle, but I also couldn’t handle the fuss of sterilising bottles and offering milk that seemed to go to waste. I found the support of my own Mum crucial for surviving the difficult times, her experience meant that she was able to offer me the best advice I was ever given which was simply,  “have faith in the Baby”. She encouraged me to trust that my Baby would feed when she was hungry and to relax more when she declined feeds. Teaching myself to relax and have faith in my baby’s ability to monitor her own intake of food has been one of the most beneficial changes I have made as a parent.

I first noticed a change in our relationship to breastfeeding when my baby was about 10 weeks, she paused one day in the middle of the feed and looked at my face in such a way it suggested she was thinking “wow, have you been attached to this boob the whole time?!”, then she gave me the biggest grin, it was a beautiful moment. The 10 minute feeds reduced to 7 minutes (I never did get to put my feet up and enjoy box sets) and with a little more time the colic went away. My baby continued to berate me for daring to offer feeds when she wasn’t hungry until she was about 5 months old.

I have found that as the months have passed the experience of breastfeeding has become increasingly enjoyable for us both. When Baby learned to sit up independantly she could sit upright in my lap to feed which she much preferred. As she has come to understand language I can ask her if she wants milk and she can let me know if she does or not before I shove my gargantuan boob in her face. When she comes off from a feed I ask “have you finished?” and she has the ability to decide herself if she wants to latch back on or not. I no longer feel anxious that she will have a melt down in public if I offer her a feed. We have so many more tender moments when we breastfeed now, as she runs her fingers through my hair and touches my nose. I think we both just generally feel more relaxed, and feeding IS easy now, so convenient and enjoyable.

At almost 10 months, I am so glad that I continued to breastfeed, through the colic, the screaming and the three nursing strikes. It’s not always perfect, I’d prefer not to have to get up to feed twice a night and I must have exposed my nipples to hundreds of people by now as she pops on and off for feeds in the day. But you know what, I really don’t mind, it won’t last forever but my memories of this journey will.

Following on from my journey, please do hop over to #PositiveAboutBF to see how her journey began and be in with more chances to enter the grand prize draw. Remember you need to earn 50 points to be eligible, full details can be found on the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Site.

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The Problem With Sleeping Through

Now I want to make this very clear before I write on. Babies are not designed to sleep through the night.  Babies wake for various reasons including hunger and the want/need for comfort. Parents are often given poor information on the subject and this can lead to uninformed decisions about managing a babies sleep, often based on un-evidenced advice such as giving a breastfed baby formula before bed and attempting sleep training techniques from a very young age.  What would be much more helpful would be more widely shared information on the normality of baby sleep patterns.  A recent study by Swansea University suggests that 78% of babies age 6-12 months don’t sleep through, surely then, waking in the night should be classed as ‘normal sleep habits’ rather than problematic!  Again, it seems to be a Western-societal issue and is possibly linked to the culture of unpaid leave, having to return to work and having limited support, as the care of the baby is managed only by its parents rather than in a community as a whole.

However, sleep is very important to a baby’s development. Research from the University of Sheffield found that the notion of ‘sleeping like a baby’ is extremely important in declarative memory consolidation – such as retaining facts, events and knowledge.  Most babies need a lot of sleep to develop and grow.  Additionally, a good sleep for a mother is likely to greatly reduce the likelihood of the mother getting PND, not to mention the general sense of being able to manage with basic daily tasks (read more in this blog).

I strongly believe that some babies do have problematic sleep though, this could be classed as frequent waking, not being put down to sleep and really any sleep pattern that is having negative impact on the parents. When a baby is over 6 months (when they have a grasp of object permanence), then it is perfectly acceptable for parents to address their child’s sleep if they so wish.

Here are a few techniques that can improve sleep for babies/parents:-

Co-sleeping – when practised safely and sensibly co-sleeping can benefit both the mother and the baby. Particularly if an infant is keen to feed throughout the night as the Mother can lie next to the baby and get some much needed shut eye.

Pick Up/Put Down –  A method used by The Baby Whisperer (description of technique here). Seen as a middle-ground strategy where baby isn’t dependent on the parent as a ‘prop’ to sleep, nor are they ‘abandoned’.  It’s a technique that requires a lot of patience.

Controlled Crying – this technique is increasingly seen as controversial and has much conflicting advice around it. The NHS give this guidance and some of the articles against Controlled Crying are addressed neatly in this article. It generally sees good results but also requires some patience at the beginning.

I think it’s important to note that no longitudinal studies exist around any of these techniques. Therefore theories that children may develop negative sleep association due to one technique or another are just that, theories! There is no clear evidence to suggest that co-sleeping and feeding your baby through the night has a long-term impact on your child’s ability to self settle. There is also no good evidence to suggest that the Controlled Crying method alone would be traumatic to your child or lead to negative associations with bedtime.

What this boils down to is what feels right for you as a parent and how your baby responds to your choices. I have known people try everything and anything before trying Controlled Crying and then feel guilty to confess it worked for them. They should not be made to feel guilty for allowing their child and themselves some much-needed sleep. I am also aware that parents often feel like they are shamed into thinking they shouldn’t feed their child during the night, a completely ridiculous concept if parent and child are happy to do this. Unfortunately it’s just another area that people feel that it’s acceptable to comment and judge parents in all camps.

Do what is right for you. Don’t feel ashamed to try sleep techniques. It’s all just a game of trial and error anyway.

Going out? The buggers know!!

Due to not living close to family my husband I have had limited ‘us time’ since the arrival of our bundle of joy, well that and general exhaustion! I’m not usually one for going out loads, I enjoy the comforts of my own home, make up free and wearing pyjamas comfortable clothes day in and day out, but as our beasty approached 7 months I felt the desire to actually leave the house, just the two of us, sans baby.

The perfect opportunity arose with an invitation to a wedding reception.  It was in my husband’s home town so we had willing Grandparents to babysit too.  Sorted.  A new dress was purchased for the occasion and we packed absolutely everything to ensure things went smoothly, cuddly bunny, dummy, blankets, bottles, black out blind. It was a simple plan, I would do hair and make up late afternoon (much time was required for this due to lack of practice) we do the usual bedtime routine and get the munchkin into bed by 7pm leaving enough time to put our clothes on and go. Brilliant. Easy.

Except it wasn’t.  Our bambina decided that arrival to the in-laws was the most perfect time to get sick! Not just a little bit snotty sick, oh no, this was fever, nose snot so thick it could be mistaken for treacle, complete loss of ability to sleep, nursing strike, proper full-blown poorly sick. Therefore before we even started our evening out I was sleep deprived, covered in baby gloop and now anxious about going. No amount of make-up was going to hide the deep bags under my eyes although I discovered snot can work to your advantage when trying to style hair, who knew?! Needless to say, our evening out that night was brief and for me at least, sober. Boo!

It’s OK I thought, she’s got that out the way now, time to try again, so I planned a date night with the bestie in Bristol.  This time the Husband could stay at home and make sure that a settled night was had by all.  Once again though, my little monkey decided the previous night was the best time to pull an all-nighter! Bleary eyed I made it out, I had a lovely time but by 11pm I was ready for my bed with a belly full of fine Italian food and wine. Yummers. I patted myself on the back for being sensible about not getting too drunk.  The child however (who had in fact slept peacefully for her Father while I was out) clearly felt that I deserved a late one, just like the old days, and decided to wake for a lengthy period in the early hours.

I took to Facebook for a good old whinge (like you do), only to discover that my friend’s child had done a very similar thing.  She was due to go out for a nice evening with her husband, but before they left her son had fallen and created a rather fetching hole in his head. Dinner was off the cards.  It seems that I am not alone in having my well-earned evenings out sabotaged by my mini-me!  They seem intent to either prevent you going out at all or at least pull off some kind of outrageous stunt that ensures you feel utterly horrid and guilty the whole time you’re out.  I have learned that this is a well acknowledged (yet to be named) phenomenon amongst parents alike.

How about ‘Sababytage’? That could work… “Oh man I was going to join you for drinks last night but I was sababytaged, sorry”.

SABABYTAGE

Noun:

 Any plan spoiled for any reason by your own juvenile offspring

The question is how do the buggers know we are going out and why are they so determined to sababytage any chance of fun we may have?!  I do NOT have the answer to this, but if you do please let me know, or better still, tell me how I can leave the house for a night out undecteted by the beasty…I need some Gin!!

The Parenting Experiment

Before I entered the world of parenthood I was blissfully unaware of the stark truths that lay behind the parenting door.  I believed (as parents want you to) that parents know what they are doing.  Perhaps they have a strong passion or inclination toward a particular form of parenting, but generally (I believed) natural instinct kicks in and we follow those to produce a happy well-rounded little person.  So confident was I about this, that when my Husband asked me when I was 5 months pregnant “after we have the baby, what’s the plan?”, I laughed in his face.  What a ridiculous question I thought!  Isn’t it obvious?!  We simply raise said baby…  Yes, that is the plan.

What I’ve learned thus far (almost 8 months in), is that ‘plans’ and ‘children’ do not mix.  The reality of this hit me first during labour.  In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth I was advised to create a ‘birthing plan’.  I carefully took my time over this, trying not to be too specific so that I wouldn’t be shocked when those ‘plans’ didn’t quite happen.  Well, I may as well have used that plan to mop up my waters, it would have been more useful.  The only person that looked at that plan was my Husband for about 30 seconds before it became apparent that this ‘plan’ wasn’t ever going to materialise.  Goodbye low lighting, goodbye classical music, hello about 20 odd people up my bloody chuff!  I’m only glad I didn’t laminate the thing, so it could mock my pre-birth naivety.

Upon bringing my little bundle of tiny fresh baby home I realised that I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing.  So focussed was I on pushing her out that I hadn’t really considered ‘what next’.  The natural instinct wasn’t quite at its strongest following labour, childbirth and a whole 11 hours post birth of wide awake and feeding baby.  What became really apparent to me and my Husband at this point was that we were basically making it up as we went along.  How often should she feed? Does she need a bath? Is she supposed to be able to lift her head like that?!  Why the hell is she pooping black stuff???  We didn’t know, we were too tired to read about it, and all knowledge we had previously had slipped away in a sleep deprived oblivion.  And so it began, the parenting experiment!

An Experiment in Action
An Experiment in Action

The experimentation is an ongoing joy, and covers pretty much all babying areas:-

  • Crying – Yeah, babies do this a lot!  All you can do is try out various different things in the hope that one of them stops said baby from crying.  Clean nappy, check. Not too hot/cold, check. Full up, check.  Being cuddled, check.  That’s the basic checks done, let me tell you this, sometimes those things can all be accounted for and your baby will still cry.  Sorry.
  • Sleep – Things that may guide your baby to sleep may include some,all or none of the following; feeding, rocking, pacing, singing, putting them down, picking them up, going out in the car/sling/pushchair, allowing naps, preventing naps, music, white noise, silence.  Through much desperate experimentation we discovered Lady Gaga (see previous post), and after she hit 4 months we learned that she actually would nap, but only if we put her down.  Phew.
  • Feeding – Do you breastfeed?  Can you breastfeed?  Can baby?  Is formula the best way for you? Or combination feeding?  Would a formula feed make your baby sleep longer at night (for us not a chance in hell)?  Would a dream feed bring you a more peaceful night? How much, how often, who best to do it…?  More recently we’ve had the joys of weaning too, though this is more openly a big experiment it has still caused stress in other ways and prompted previous rants!

The more I talk to other parents about this the more I realise that it is all just one big experiment.  None of us know what the frig we’re doing!  NO ONE EVER HAS!  Parental knowledge is a ruse, an illusion, a hoax!  Sure you can read a book, seek advice, but even the application of these to your own child, in your own setting is one massive experiment, and all too often a failed one.  That’s why there are so many books out there and so much unsolicited advice!

So here I am, still at the beginning of my parenting journey and the experiments have only just began.  I have decided to just embrace this venture, perhaps if I ever have another I will have some kind of clue what the hell is happening (unlikely).  I shall willingly accept that just giving something a go to ‘see what happens’ is OK, it’s more than OK, it’s what we’re all bloody doing anyway.

Is She Good? – Not a helpful question for a new parent

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since having a baby is “is she good?”. I find this question both confusing and annoying, even though I know it’s rarely asked with any malice. This question was particularly difficult for me in the early months, and here’s why.

From the ages of about 2 weeks to 4.5 months my baby cried, a lot! At first it was due to wind/colic, but even when we got on top of that she continued to scream most of the time. She wouldn’t be comforted by feeding, she only ever breastfed for hunger (and still does) and if I dared offer her a feed when she wasn’t hungry she would scream as if I was trying to murder her. I was lucky that she napped in the day but she just would not sleep in the evenings, often not going to sleep until 2am or 3am. The only things that stopped her crying was The Ohio State Marching Band soundtrack and Lady Gaga (I will love Gaga forever for giving me a break from endless screaming). The music alone wasn’t quite enough though, oh no, if we wanted her to sleep we had to pace and dance around for a looooooong time. Great for initial post baby weight loss (cake counteracted this), but terrible for my mental state. My baby seemed to hate everything we did and everywhere we went, she hated the car and the car seat, her baby bouncer, the pram, the sling, being put down and being cuddled. It almost seemed that she hated life itself and that she hated me.

I experienced some dark times in those early months. I found the hardest time of day was gone midnight when my husband had gone to bed, in those hours I felt so alone and helpless. I didn’t like my baby much at times, in fact, sometimes I hated her. Then I hated myself for feeling that way toward my baby. I can now understand how people come to shake their baby, something before having one I just couldn’t fathom. Sometimes I just had to put her down and walk away for both of us to calm down. I would have a cold glass of water, take some deep breaths, count slowly to 10, prep myself and get back to it, trying to remain as calm and soothing as I could muster. I wondered at times if I had Post Natal Depression, but really I think the way I felt was a normal response to sleep deprivation, having to deal with a screaming baby and having no idea what the hell I was doing.

I remember one horrible day when I was determined to get to my baby yoga class, just so I could spend time with other adults, that my baby screamed at the top of her lungs the whole morning and the whole journey over. As I parked up and went to pick her out from the car she was still screaming screaming screaming, so I snapped and I shouted at her “WHY WON’T YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!”. There was a very brief pause before she began to cry again, this time a traumatised, distressed cry, obviously terrified that her normally warm and calm Mummy had turned into a shouty monster. The shame washed over me and all I could do was cry. My yoga teacher and the other Mums in the group that day were amazingly supportive, and helped to build me up a little. My Mum and my Husband were also wonderfully reassuring around this time, I’m not sure without my family and friends if I would have coped at all. I have certainly learnt that a decent support network is key to surviving when you have a new baby.

As you can see, I wasn’t in the best of places in the early months of motherhood. So you can see why when friends or strangers asked me “is she good?”, that I struggled to think of an appropriate reply. Strangers don’t want to hear that you think your baby may hate you, and most of the time I didn’t want to share that at 1am the night before I had seriously considered abandoning my baby in the garden just to give me some peace and space. Often when I was asked this question my baby would be in full blown cute mode (she was absolutely adorable for about 15% of the day) and I would mutter an awkward reply while a oidig eye contact, stating that she can be very cute but she can also be a bit difficult sometimes too… I had a weird sense that I had to be a bit honest about it even though all too often the conversation stopped there anyway. The question caused a horrible moment of self reflection, a reminder of the difficulties, forcing me to decide if I was going to label my baby as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, thinking then to what that meant about me as a mother. Really I think it’s a bloody stupid question. A ridiculous, unhelpful, thoughtless question. There, I said it!

My baby daughter and I found our way through that time and thankfully it didn’t take all that long (although it felt forever at the time). I learned her quirks as she learned mine, and we found our ways of communicating and understanding each other. I also discovered Baby Einstein (see previous post) and the Jumparoo! Now I am out of that hazy, self-deprecating mist I can see that the question isn’t a piercing one, it is not really demanding that you confess your baby’s dastardly deeds, or a request of a list of their saintly acts. It’s simply asking, “how are you finding motherhood?”, which is perhaps a much more pertinent question. One could answer honestly without making a judgement on their parental ability or their babies tendencies toward ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I know had I been asked THAT question, my reply would be “a bit of a shock actually”, and I would have felt comfortable that I was being honest without sounding like a terrible person.

So today I am making a polite request of you, if you see a new Mum (or Dad) and you want to make light conversation, please don’t ask if the baby is good, please just ask something as simple as “How are you?”, where the question is far less loaded.  Many Thanks.

Feeding and Weaning My Baby – A Rant

I’m going to have a mini* rant, and I apologise in advance because it will probably annoy people but I’ve got to get it off my chest.
I feel a bit sad that I don’t feel I can express my pride for breastfeeding without it being perceived as some kind of attack on those who formula feed. I have breastfed my baby for over 7 months now and it has been really frickin hard work at times, but I’ve managed to work through that and I am pleased that I have and that I have managed to meet my baby’s needs with just my body. Please know that my pride in succeeding in this is not a judgment on other people who have not been able to do this.

I feel pressure from some family and friends to stop breastfeeding now. I’m often asked when I’m going to stop (I haven’t planned any of this so I don’t know), and I can tell there is a suggestion in that question, that it should be soon. That if I keep breastfeeding past 6 months that it’s a bit gross, I’m being a hippy, my baby will get too attached. I don’t feel like I hear the question “how long are you going to formula feed” to other mums?  I have also felt pressure on how I should be introducing food. I have felt the stares in my Mummy group as I fed her a purée, with comments such as “she’s probably wondering why you’re feeding her toothpaste”. It was said in jest, but I could tell everyone was horrified that I wasn’t giving her bits of cucumber and rice cake.

Why oh why is our society so passionate and judgemental about how we feed our babies in general?! Why can a Mum not follow her instincts, or do what she has to do due to limited other options, without others smugly commenting?! I honestly don’t care how you feed your baby, as long as you are both happy with it. Why can’t people just be happy to let me and my decisions pass without a judgmental comment?

So…without having to explain my decision or reasoning I tell you this. I breastfeed my 7 month old and I am proud that I have achieved this! I will breastfeed until I so feel that I should stop or my baby decides to stop. I introduced food to my baby in the form of purée initially. I then gave her some finger foods for breakfast when I felt she was ready.  She now eats a mixture of purée and finger foods at almost every meal.  She has water with every meal too.

Dinner Time
Wow, I feel better for that. Perhaps this could be a thread that you just unashamedly share how you feed/dress/carry your baby.

*mini rant is now giant. Sorry again