The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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The Steps

My sister bought me the “Emma Press Anthology of Motherhood“, a collection of poems about family, children and mums. And there was one poem that stood out to me as being wonderfully evocative of the night I went into labour.

Obviously the realisation that it was a life-changing moment in our lives, a moment where we went from single and carefree – able to have impromptu beer garden sessions with in-depth conversations, and spend the whole next day on the sofa eating pizza, not knowing how precious a trip to the cinema or uninterrupted lunch were; to parents of a wildly demanding and amusing little boy, only comes with hindsight. At the time, I was screaming in pain and demanding someone come and get me pain-relief NOW. But now I can see that it was the moment my life changed beyond recognition and that makes me really emotional. We left the house as one thing and came back another, overwhelmed with love, wanting to shield him from the world, never to be the same again.

The poem is produced with kind permission of the author, Liz Berry.

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The Steps

And this is where it begins, love –

you and I, alone one last time in the slatey night,

the smell of you like Autumn, soil and bonfire,

that November the fourth feeling inside us.

There can be no truer wedding than this:

your bare hand in mine, my body winded

with pain, as you lead me to the car, to the

soon life. And we are frightened, so frightened –

 

Who will we be when we come back?

Will we remember ourselves?

Will we still touch each other’s faces

in the darkness, the white noise of night

spilling over us, and believe there is nothing

we could not know or love?

 


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Back to work – settling baby into childcare – week 1

So Mr S is almost 11 months and it’s time for me to go back to work, which has meant settling him into childcare.

And I have to be honest and say it is just about the hardest thing I have ever done. There have been tears – from me, from Schmoo, from The Chef. My first week at work involved 2 full, long days of childcare, where I know S didn’t sleep very well, was unsettled and confused and tearful. But my god, babies are resilient, adaptable little things, and I’m writing this feeling such an overwhelming surge of relief, just one week in, because I want to report (as support for other working mums out there) that he suddenly seems really, deliriously, happy.

After meeting nannies, visiting nurseries, and checking out childminders, we decided on a childminder at home with up to 6 other under 3s (with an assistant). This is because we liked the home setting – with a cot in a bedroom for S, lovely home-cooked meals and a familiar, home-from-home atmosphere. We also thought 4 or 5 other little buddies would be perfect for S as he’s a confident, sociable little boy who loves interacting with others, especially with elder children.

But you never know, do you. And last week I felt racked with misery and guilt, as he bawled with tears as I left him and did the same when I picked him up. Other mums and even the childminder said he’d stop as soon as I left, and I tried to hide my upset, but I couldn’t stop my own tears from falling. How could I do this to him? Was I RUINING him? He’d done so well so far, was it all going to gowrong? How could I be so selfish, picking my financial and professional life over this little boy, so so very little?

So I did what every guilt-ridden working mum would do. I googled “psychological effects on 1 year olds of childcare” and spent my next day off stuck to my iPhone, bursting into regular tears. I read studies – Norwegian, British and American – I even read studies of those studies. I read about increased levels of stress and cortisol, of insecure maternal attachments and increased aggression. To be honest, unless the studies had shown that children under 3 who entered childcare were positively affected in EVERY way, I would have found something to feel bad about. But there were mitigating factors of any downsides – positive family support that could ease any stress that unfamiliarity could cause, benefits of high quality childcare which I knew we’d carefully chosen, and the likelihood of increased sociability and cognitive development. So there was stuff we could do to help, and positives too.

The childminder was wonderful – reassuring, caring, texting me photos and updates, sending me his daily reports and being sympathetic to my worries. She also has the most incredible activity list and meal plans, and I think in my heart of hearts, while I was crippled by his tears at being left, I also knew one day soon he was likely to start loving being with the other little kids, doing finger puppets and hand paintings and reading stories. I just didn’t know if that day would be days, weeks or even months away.

So I thought about cortisol – about the stress that S might feel at being left in an unfamiliar environment after so long at home with mummy. And so, like the organised working mummy I am, and after reading every single blog post and forum I could find, I came up with the following Project Settle Baby In plan:

1. Lessen S’s stress by not being stressed or upset ourselves. Not doing too much on days at home or weekends, letting him sleep and relax. Not hugging him to death (too much). Being super positive about  this new situation to him.

2. Making drop offs short, affectionate, happy and sweet.

3. Talking to S regularly about “Auntie L” his childminder, walking him to her house to get him used to the journey, talking about what a nice time he would have there with her and his new friends.

4. Giving the childminder one of his favourite toys (sunglasses – go figure), and a bunny rabbit that I’d slept with for a week to cover in my scent. Adding that to his own sleeping bag and comforter in his cot for naps.

5. Asking the childminder for photos of her and his new buddies to keep at home to show him that they are part of our life now.

So after being utterly miserable for a week, when he seemed unsettled and upset and teary, we started this week positive and hopeful. And I don’t know if it was Project Settle In, or that babies are just incredibly adaptable and that they settle in quickly, or maybe he was just ill or teething or going through a developmental clingy phase last week, but today – only day 3 of full day childcare – things started brilliantly with the fact that apparently he only cried very briefly on drop-off, and then a friend of mine texted to say she’d seen him in the park with his new buddies looking happy, and then when The Chef picked S up, he was told he’d been laughing his head off, had been charming and sweet. The childminder has since said he was relaxed and chirpy all day, and that the other kids love him.

I cannot tell you how happy, how relieved I am. As another mum told me, babies can’t hide how they feel – if they are sad, you’d know about it. And my goodness what a happy baby boy I came home to today – laughing and cuddly and affectionate. My mum said this would make him love me even more and, having worried last week that he might hate me for deserting him, I actually think we both love our time together even more than we did before.

Obviously he might get tired and unsettled and ill again, and it might take him longer to deal with more days away from mummy, but I can now trust my initial instinct – which was that this is his new stage of development, and that he will love the new interaction and stimulation of organised games and buddies to play with. And looking at the childminder’s activity list – the trips and creativity and planned games, and I compare it to me at home, stacking the dishwasher and trudging round the park on a particularly unimaginative day, and I’m so excited to see how he develops and grows. On my day off, we will do our music class and then have a chilled out afternoon on the swings or in the park, our quality time in this brave new world.

But we shall see in the weeks ahead. Watch this space….


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A little word about PMS…ssssh

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Myself and a mummy friend were discussing this the other day – how much worse PMS is post-baby! And why no-one mentioned this to us beforehand?!

I am now a roaring lion, rage-filled and snappy, sending The Chef scuttling away to the kitchen. Then, I am suddenly prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing – sobbing into my glass of wine at The Voice, adverts about dog rescue; crying because I love my son so much or because the world is a sad place or because I don’t like our kitchen units. It is so ridiculous, so over-emotional, that I often find myself laughing at me crying, while crying, becoming a snotty crazy mess.

I googled this and was overwhelmed with the amount of forum posts asking whether anyone else found PMS worse after a baby. The answer is YES, it’s much worse.

A small bit of research revealed that it tends to be worse for new mums due to a combination of bad diet, lack of exercise and exhaustion – so it should get better after a while, and I expect it would improve if you went to the gym, took some vitamins – particularly B6 which helps if you’re run down -and cut down on the custard creams. Plus the first few times the new hormonal change is probably difficult for your body to process. Or so I’m hoping.

It is also apparently worse for mums who suffered from post natal depression. I think I may have had mild PND at times – or I was just over-emotional and very hormonal – so I am not surprised its been pretty bad for me.

And hey, yeah I know it’s not particularly dignified talking about periods or PMS but I wish someone had told me before I spent another month blubbing on the sofa…

If you want to read more about how you can cope with post-partum PMS, I found this article really helpful.


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Time: An update

I once wrote about Time on this blog – my son was very young and the gist of the blog post (I know you don’t have much time either, ladies) was that I was finding I didn’t have very much of it.

But now Mr S is almost 11 months, and I’m going back to work, and something most surprising has happened.

I have found I now DO have more time. I’ve made my own time - wrung every last minute out of the washcloth of life. I am now the Master of Time – I control time, I plan time, I break it up into itty bitty pieces, I multi-task, I do things in 7 minutes I never dreamed I could fit into such a small window – like having a shower, sending 3 emails, 6 texts, making & eating breakfast and emptying the dishwasher.

If I find an unplanned 5 minutes of spare time while waiting on a platform, or while S naps - oh what a luxury! I will take that 5 minutes and do something useful – like sorting out the receipts in my wallet or re-organising a cupboard.

I can leave the house at 10.30am for a 10.50am music class that is 17 minutes away – I get there quickly because I now walk with a pram as fast as a cheetah on speed, and I can manage to pop into Boots for formula, Cargo for a cushion cover, and Tesco for milk, and STILL find time to chat to my NCT friend before class starts.

I live my life by to-do-lists and reminders and diary entries. If I lost my iPhone, I would be lost, full stop.

But that’s not to say I don’t use time as DOWN time. I need my down time to have energy for when S is awake and for all the housework that needs to be done before bedtime – these cupboards won’t re-organise themselves.

I am a watcher of The Real Housewives of Beverley Hills, I am a reader of historical fiction and Nora Ephron. I am an eBay queen and a social media lurker. I try to find time each week to call a good friend and to facetime my mother.

I suppose I am just a mum – this is what we do. This is what my mum did and her mum did, all the way down the line.

I can’t even imagine what I’m going to do with the 40 minute commute to work – such a wonderful amount of time. The possibilities are endless, or I might just spend the entire time googling the JoJo Maman Bebe website…


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9 months – and a baby changes into a boy

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Almost 10 months old, with a return to work on the horizon, and it’s a time to take stock, and look forward to the future for possibly the first time since the wee man was born. It’s a month for lists and top 10s, so here’s what I’ve discovered lately:

1. By this age, he is ready to explore. He doesn’t need me so much, he wants to socialise with other adults and babies, and he needs SPACE to crawl, climb and discover the world. Our house suddenly feels far too small, too restrictive for him. And nappy changing – which now has to be done while he is standing or sitting or doing ANYTHING except lying down – has become a battle of wills. Play groups - especially soft play – is the place he loves to be most and is my saviour, especially if they make a decent coffee.

2. It is incredibly easy to lose touch with friends in the first 9 months of parenthood as any sort of travel in London with a small baby is a nightmare, and in the evenings often you’re too knackered to do anything. And trying to catch up with a baby in tow is impossible – I’m halfway home before I realise I didn’t get to ask how my friend is. But now I’m missing my friends so much – the laughter and the gossip and the mutual ranting – and really want to restart my social life. Emails to arrange nights out and play dates have been flying out of my inbox, although some of them are in the newborn baby bubble now too, and January is maybe not the best time to start socialising again…

3. Going back to work in lots of ways will be easier than staying at home. I won’t again have that 4pm-dark-outside “what on earth should I do with you wee man” sense of dread and lack of imagination. For 4 days a week, meal plans and food shopping and coming up with fun things to do will be someone else’s concern, and I feel confident that I’ve found someone who’s absolutely brilliant at it. And for the 3 days a week I see him, I will not take a single second for granted.

4.  I wish I were more imaginative and creative with activities, but when he’s fascinated by remote controls, it’s easy to get lazy.

5. Not sure where my son has developed a “mwah ha ha ha” fake Dr Evil laugh.

6. After 9 months, we finally had our turn of early morning high temperature and rash A&E trip, and all-night scream fest due to an ear infection. I have never been so upset and so scared. But it ended as quickly as it began, and I feel like we’ve passed some parental right of passage. The Chef and I worked as a team and dropped everything – including New Year plans – until the wee man was alright. You just do don’t you?

7. I am delighted by the demise of the baby puree and the onset of sandwich lunches – so much easier. Just can’t wait for the fish fingers. And while I’m at it, does anyone actually make their own fish fingers?

8. Gina Ford has seen me right when it comes to sleep routines throughout baby’s first 9 months. He’s now down to one daily nap from around 1-3pm and sleeps through from 7pm until almost 9am. Some of this is probably because of me and the routine I started when he was just days old. But the more I see the more I believe babies are all about nature rather than nurture. He’s just a great sleeper. And probably because he just won’t stay still for a second when he’s awake!

9. Which brings me onto lack of cuddles. Is it only girls who like to cuddle their mums? The only cuddles I get is when he’s half asleep mid- or post- nap. I now wish I’d cuddled him more as a newborn.

10. He seems bored of all his toys all the time. But if I kept buying new toys each time I’d be skint and our entire house would be overrun. So play groups and play dates are brilliant, as is making something like a treasure chest of normal everyday items to play with (see below).

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7 months old – and some time-saving tips*

So, I’ve just spent a blissful 2 days with Betty Soo**, one-time contributor to this blog, NCT teacher, home-birth legend and mother to 4 chickens, 3 kids, 2 dogs and a cat. And I watched in awe as she multi-tasked through the day, seeming calm and in control at all times, with 3 well-fed, well-played and happy children. I was amazed when she told me she’d redecorated the house and was studying for an A-level, while looking after aforementioned small people and holding down 2 part-time jobs. It’s amazing she managed to get herself dressed in the morning, but I can confirm she was not only dressed, she showered too, and I even think I saw a hint of mascara…

I have to say it was the kick up the bum I needed. Now Schmoo is 7 months old, sleeping through (mostly), and napping regularly during the day, it’s time I made a bit more of my day and managed to find time to do things for me – if only some admin, blogging, or sorting out the house, and maybe just maybe I can start writing that book…. I often find myself in PJs at midday, or wanting to take Mr S out for a walk but realising I’m neither dressed nor clean so I can’t, or spending his naptime showering or clearing up, thus having no time to do anything at all. Being in PJs til lunch used to be nice but now I just get frustrated and feel like I’m not making the most of my day.

Now I’m never going to be as domesticated as Betty (in one memorable 10 minute “break”, I found myself sitting reading Hello magazine while she got out the Pledge and dusted – dusted!), but there are 2 things I picked up from the visit that have helped ENORMOUSLY since:

1. Eat your meals together

Not only is this nicer, and probably teaches the wee man about socialising and mealtimes, but it means you don’t forget to eat and you don’t waste precious nap time hurriedly buttering toast, etc. I can’t quite manage it for tea-time as it’s too early for me, but I now make both our breakfasts and lunch together. For breakfast, I put on toast and make tea while I make him his porridge and fruit and and after I’ve fed him that, I leave him some finger food to play with while I eat mine. It means he has to wait slightly longer for his food, but it’s teaching him patience I reckon, and if he gets too grouchy I can also put him in his highchair with a banana in his Clevafeed (see below) while he waits. I also try to have lunch with him too. It does feel a bit odd, turning to my dining companion and asking how his day has been, to get only gurgles in response, but hey we have fun.

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Clevamama Clevafeed – shove in ripe banana or pear, give to baby, voila 5 minutes of peace

2. Make tidying up a part of playtime

You really don’t want to spend nap time tidying up so, it sounds so obvious (like putting on a jumper to save heating…), but I now allow myself time to let him kick around while I tidy up his meal stuff, his bath stuff, or his toys. He’s perfectly happy and I make sure I keep an eye on him, and it means the minute he’s asleep my time is my own. I also think putting toys in the storage basket and taking them out is a good lesson for him in tidying up and can even be made into a game.

3. Tidy up as you go along

Tidying up in small bits means you don’t get overwhelmed and you don’t spend precious time tripping over things. Just throwing the toys back in the box before naptime saves a massive tidy up at the end of the day.

4. Shower and get dressed as early as you can

You could do it before baby is awake, but to me that’s like going to the gym before work in the morning – something I know would be very virtuous but I am now old and fat enough to accept ain’t ever gonna happen. I mean shower and change while he’s kicking around after breakfast if you can (’tis what the jumperoo was invented for, n’est ce pas?) or during the first nap. I’ve been guilty of using that time to eat breakfast or just sit and respond to emails etc, but I find if I get up and go, then I have more time later on in the day.

*This is a guide for babies who are over 6 months and you are getting a bit of sleep finally. Before then I could easily be in my PJs til 4pm, having barely achieved as much as making a sandwich in a day, and I reckon that’s perfectly acceptable.

**Not her real name, obvs


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6 months old! Gadgets to make mummy’s life easier…

So Schmoo is 6 months, with 2 little teeth, eating 3 meals a day including chicken, lamb, beef, cheese and fish (hake and cod no less). He’s still sleeping through the night pretty well although we’ve reintroduced the late dream feed to make sure he gets enough milk as it was hard to get 500-600mls in him a day, when all he wanted was banana and mature cheddar! I’m still breastfeeding first thing in the morning and last thing at night which I love and don’t want to give up yet, but he’s on Aptamil 3 for his mid-morning and mid-afternoon feeds, as well as for top-ups before bedtime and the dream feed. He’s a whole lot of fun now – laughing and shrieking and grabbing and generally making me laugh, especially before and after bathtime where he goes MENTAL.

But anyway I wanted to tell you about 3 things that have made my life easier – as you know I’m all about the gadgets*:

1. The neckerchew

Invented by 2 mummys from my home town Edinburgh, this mops up the copious amounts of dribble that pours out of Mr S’s mouth permanently, and also gives him something to chew on given he’s teething constantly. It’s great because it’s round his neck so he can’t drop it and it’s something less to worry about taking out the house.

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2. The Moby Wrap

I didn’t have a great time with wraps previously (I had, and got rid of, the Close wrap because it was just too complicated to work and Schmoo was always a little lop-sided in it; and the Babasling didn’t really fit him either), but I’ve always found the Baby Bjorn easy to put on, but terrible on your back, so I just took the pram out all the time. But the problem with prams is 1. sometimes you go places (health clinics, baby classes, etc) you can’t take a pram 2. baby wakes up the second you get in the door.

So, I found a second hand Moby Wrap for £25 in Fara and tried it the last time I went to the baby clinic. It’s made of soft cotton and, while it’s a little complicated to figure out how to wrap it, it’s not too hard and after a few attempts I got it right. There is something lovely about having Schmoo so close to me, and I think he loves it too. (Although we both keep each other very warm in it, so Summer might be a bit sweaty!).

But the BEST thing about it, is that, on the way home, rocked by the movement of my walk and calmed by the beating of my heart, he laid his head just gently on my chest and fell asleep. And he slept. And slept. And slept and slept. And even when we got home (which is when he’d wake up if he was asleep in his pram), he kept sleeping on me for another 40 minutes, allowing me to catch up on Breaking Bad,

He likes it so much that I can take it to parties, and wrap him up in it on me to have his afternoon nap (alternative = push him in pram until asleep which is always a pain). I worry sometimes he likes it so much that the doesn’t like napping in his cot so much but I make sure I take him out in the pram too to mix it up.

And for me, it’s so much better than the Baby Bjorn as its ergonomic and doesn’t hurt my back. I can’t explain why but he’s just at a good position on me that doesn’t hurt, and I can walk long distances, hands-free, without any discomfort. I’ve also heard the Ergo baby carrier is good for this too.

Here’s me and Schmoo having a nap / watching Breaking Bad.

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3. The Phillips Avent steamer / blender

I am now the Queen of Purees. Were I to die tomorrow, my tombstone should read “She Came. She Saw. She Pureed.”

Now he’s on 3 meals a day, that’s a lorra lorra purees, especially given for 2 of those meals he has a savoury puree followed by fruit puree. So, I’m ordering veggie and fruit boxes from Abel & Cole, plus some meat and fish, and cooking up Annabel Karmel recipes a few times a month and batch freezing them. But still, I find myself whipping up fruits and veggies constantly.

So the Avent steamer and blender in one is brilliant. I basically take whatever fruit and veg are handy, peel and dice, then steam for a few minutes, flip the carton over and blend it all together. And you can then shove it all in the dishwasher. Definitely saves time and washing up and is strangely satisfying in a strange way.

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* None of this is sponsored by the way, I don’t really believe in stuff like that, unless it’s something I was going to buy anyway (so if anyone wants to give me a Tidy Books bookcase that would be lovely. Ahem).

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