The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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Breast is best?

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My happy baby boy doing Calvin & Hobbs – 12 weeks

This week is National Breastfeeding Awareness week and so I thought it time to share my thoughts on the whole thorny issue of feeding.

My baby boy is a healthy wee thing – he sleeps through the night and has done since he was about 8 weeks, he’s a big bouncing boy, holding his head up and smiling lots, and I have no worries at all about his health. I was lucky enough to breastfeed him from birth to now, without many problems, but since he was about 10 days old we have topped him up with formula, now almost daily, for reasons I will explain below.

When my baby boy was born, he couldn’t latch on for a day or two because he was so knackered from the birth and being yanked out after getting stuck. I expressed colostrum (or was expressed like a cow when I was too exhausted) and fed him with that and then on day 2, he latched on and it was wonderful. I’d feed him for as long as he wanted, when he wanted, and then we fed him every 3 or so hours when he came home.

I love feeding him – I do it quietly and calmly on a nursing chair in the nursery and its our time together. He smiles at me, I stroke his head, its a lovely bonding, happy time. I also feed him when he cries sometimes to calm him, and before he goes for a nap if he’s unsettled. I don’t care if certain people (looking at you Gina F) say this is a bad habit to get into as we both feel happier and calmer when we do.

But we had a problem quite early on. I am VERY annoyed that I got bad advice from the first community midwife who visited, who said I was feeding him too much (!) and that he should only be fed every 4 hours. This was terrible advice (everywhere I read newborns must be fed every 3 hours!) and in hindsight I was so sad to see we followed it to the letter, and in the app where we recorded breastfeeding, I saw we moved from every 3 hours to 4 on her advice.

Poor baby got quieter and quieter, never crying to be fed, and we mistook this for having a chilled out little baby, congratulating ourselves on how relaxed he was. Unbeknownst to us, he was actually weak and dehydrated, and at his first weigh in at the hospital he’d lost 14% of his body weight.

I was devastated, crying my eyes out, especially as he’d been feeding so well and we’d acted on bad advice. We had to go to the children’s wing of the hospital where we pleaded with them to let us take him home and feed him up (the alternative was him staying there on a drip). They said we just had to feed him up and asked us what we thought about formula. Initially we were very against it, but they needed us to feed him up and we would have done anything to make him better – I could hardly bear the guilt that I’d actively caused him to be dehydrated – so we agreed. For the hospital, they didn’t care HOW we fed him, just that he was fed enough.

There began Operation Military Feeding where I had to breastfeed him, then express and feed him that, then feed a top up of formula, every 3 hours. It was exhausting, but so worth it. The formula was a godsend – it gave him the strength he needed to breastfeed better. In 24 hours, our wee boy had gained 200 grams. In 3 days, he was crying to demand to be fed for the first time, hydrated and fighting fit, and discharged from hospital.

While it was a scary and sad experience, it was good in that:

1. It meant I expressed from 2 weeks in and realised the benefits of this – relieving painful engorged boobs, meaning I could feed him out and about by bottle if I didn’t fancy breastfeeding in public, and allowing The Chef to do feeds.

2. It made me get over my initial reluctance to give him formula and to understand the benefits of formula top-ups.

The fact is, the hardcore breastfeeding brigade would have encouraged me to keep breastfeeding him exclusively, and in fact the community midwives wanted me to wean him off formula as soon as I could. Their argument is that formula and bottle-feeding stops milk production, makes babies go off nipple feeding, and adds extra bacteria to babies’ stomachs.

But now, knowing I’d received bad advice before, I stuck to MY instinct as a mother and carried on with top-ups of formula as and when needed. The hospital too just wanted me to feed my baby, full stop, no matter how. In my case, top ups of formula made my baby breastfeed BETTER as it gave him the strength to feed, to cry and demand feeding for the first time, so he fed better than before.

Now, at almost 13 weeks, we top him up with formula almost every day. Either because he’s hungry and my milk is coming out too slow, or its in the evening and I just don’t have enough milk for him and he’s a hungry baby boy, or because I’m out and about and breastfeeding is impossible. I do still breastfeed him 5 times a day and The Chef gives him what I’ve managed to pump for his late night snack, but its never quite enough and he needs formula to satisfy his hunger.

And I’m really, really happy with this. It gives me the freedom to formula feed him now and then, to get The Chef to do a morning formula feed if I’ve had (a very rare) night out, and to make sure he’s getting enough food. As the Baby Whisperer Tracy Hogg says – in the 60s when formula was invented, the medical profession thought it was far BETTER than breastmilk and breastfeeding dropped right down to around 20% of mums as everyone was formula feeding, thinking it was the best thing ever. Nowadays, the medical profession thinks breastfeeding is best, but hey they change their mind about everything all the time (vaccinations, when a baby should be weaned, inductions, etc) so who knows if they will change their mind again, and formula is improving all the time so that one day it might be better for our babies than our own milk.

Breastfeeding is such a personal thing, and I KNOW my milk changes all the time – sometimes my boobs are huge and I am an impressive dairy cow, and other days my boobs are floppy and for no reason I can see I just don’t have enough milk and my baby isn’t satisfied with me alone. In the evening I know I have less milk (I know for a fact as I’ve pumped and seen I don’t have a full feed) – which makes sense as I’m probably tired and a bit dehydrated from feeding a hungry baby all day. Some days my milk is white, other days its translucent. Some days I’ve eaten something the baby doesn’t like or my milk is coming out too slow or fast as he cries and pulls away and he won’t eat unless I feed him from a bottle (expressed or formula).

For me, mixing and matching is great – I KNOW he’s getting nutrients both from me and whatever the formula is giving him, I KNOW he’s getting enough food, and as an added bonus for mummy, it allows me to pass over occasional feeds to The Chef or to have a leisurely pub lunch as I know I don’t have to breastfeed in a busy pub when I’m hot and its noisy, because I have a bottle of formula in my bag instead. I’m a responsible parent and I believe I’m acting as responsibly as I can, while giving myself some freedom and ensuring I’m not stressed or anxious (which is the worst thing for baby anyway).

And the fact is, while I know that he feeds better when it’s just the two of us in his nursery, quiet and calm, I also know my baby boy sleeps better in his cot rather than out and about in the pram, and loves nothing better than when it’s just the two of us alone at home, and if I acquiesced to his wishes all the time I would pretty much NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE and become a complete hermit. I’m not a robot, I’m not a dairy cow, I’m just HUMAN and I need my baby boy to fit in with me sometimes. And if he gets a bit of formula because I want to meet friends or need a lie in, and if he has to have a longer afternoon nap because we had a nice lunch out and he had to sleep in the pram, then he will be fine, and I’ll be happier for it, which in the long run is better for him.

So my problem with the hardcore breastfeeding brigade is their emphasis on EXCLUSIVE breastfeeding, and continuing with breastfeeding when it’s just not working, to the detriment of both mother and baby. I have a friend who had mastitis and was told to continue breastfeeding by a community midwife, until she ended up in hospital on a drip. I have another friend who thought she wasn’t producing enough milk in the evening, but who was told she should persevere to increase her milk supply, and whose baby cried all evening with hunger (for 3 months!) until a breastfeeding counsellor from the hospital confirmed she wasn’t producing enough milk and said to top up with formula. That little girl slept through the evening for the first time ever.

I do believe women should give breastfeeding a go (and it is such a lovely bonding experience for you and baby), but if it doesn’t work or isn’t enough, then you shouldn’t feel bad about using formula, which, after all, was once hailed as better than breast. One of the happiest, liveliest and biggest babies in my NCT class was formula-fed from birth as breastfeeding didn’t work at all.

The fact is, parenting and breastfeeding theorists are ALWAYS extreme it seems to me – never adopting a relaxed, try it and see approach, but advocating strictly one camp or the other. This just makes it confusing for mums who feel they can’t trust their own instincts, and puts undue pressure on women who are desperately trying to breastfeed and suffering because it’s not enough for their babies. At the end of the day, us mums know best – we do – we HAVE to trust our own instinct and go with what we think right, and not beat ourselves up for topping up with formula, or reverting to formula feeding when breastfeeding won’t do.

Surely as long as our babies are well fed, that will lead to a relaxed and happy baby and happy mum too?

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On Time

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My baby boy – five weeks of fun

There is something ironic about writing about time when I am hurriedly typing before the baby wakes up. Yes, to summarise, time – I don’t have very much of it anymore. So, let’s cut to the chase:

Things I don’t have time for anymore:

  1. Taking off chipped nail polish
  2. Reading (all forms – books completely, Sunday papers, full articles in magazines)
  3. Lazy chats with friends (calls and texts are perfunctory – where are we meeting, when, Ok see you there)
  4. Wearing make up
  5. Watching a TV programme of more than 30  minutes
  6. Shopping / trying on clothes
  7. Showers or baths that last more than 7 minutes
  8. Chilling in a beer garden for a pint, maybe two, oh go on three
  9. Drying hair
  10. Putting away things I use often, leading to an increased (but quite homely) state of clutter throughout the house
  11. Shutting the door before using the bathroom
  12. Non-essential DIY and chores
  13. Extended kisses and cuddles with The Chef
  14. Pottering and general farting about
  15. Writing well thought-out blog posts

A typical day

7am – wake up to baby crying, go to nursery, marvel as ever at what a gorgeous little angel he is, marvel at how he can be crying that much already, pick up baby, smell baby’s bottom, panic at level that crying has risen to, stick boob in baby’s mouth. Relax.

7.02am – wish I’d actually had time to pee, get a glass of water and something to eat. Realise am starving.

7.04am – wish I could actually breastfeed hands free and therefore increase entertainment options. Sigh. Lift iPhone with available hand, craning neck painfully, scroll through Facebook and twitter and Mail Online. Pray Kim Kardashian will one day discover maternity leggings. Do online shopping – supermarket food, clothes that will actually fit me (maternity clothes looking ridiculous sans bump, pre-preggie clothes too tight), baby bundles on eBay for ever growing offspring.

7.45am – baby comatose. Chuffed. Have a cuddle and cover him in kisses. Wipe off milk sick from clothes / face. Put him on play matt to kick about.

8am – I’m freeee! I’m freeeeee! Ok I have like 15 minutes before he realizes I’m not there so:

– run to kitchen, make toast, and tea lots of tea, put on tray

– tidy living room from last night’s slump on sofa, wash baby clothes, marvel at how many clothes baby gets through, put on dishwasher, marvel at how many cups of tea and cake have been consumed since last time

– wash and sterilize breast pump and put on tray

– hear baby crying, bollocks, run back to nursery

8.15am – lovely playtime with cute baby boy

8.45am – not so lovely playtime with slightly grissly windy baby boy, trying desperately to wind him down. Give up and stick boob in again.

9am – swaddle baby boy, play sheep wave music, pray he drifts off, tiptoe out…

I’m freeeee! I’m freeee!!! Ok I have like 45 minutes before he realizes I’m not there so…

 

 

This routine repeats itself throughout the day. To be specific, and according to my new friend Gina Ford, it repeats itself 6 times a day at intervals of 3 – 4 hours. Every second, every minute of my day is accounted for. I constantly look at the clock. I am constantly rushing, constantly planning what I need to do, working back from the next feed. I often have to drop everything for a crying baby (and my son is incredibly chilled out, I’m really really lucky). I can’t sit still and relax, until I hit a wall around 8pm and then literally cannot move. My life revolves around feeds – if I’m not breastfeeding, I’m expressing so The Chef can feed him. I am jealous of people who can sit in beer gardens whiling away hours. I forget to have lunch, forget to call friends, forget birthday cards and replying to texts. It gets to 2pm and I’m still unshowered and in PJs. I understand why my mummy friends send such short succinct texts and feel bad for getting annoyed before. I only have 2 pairs of trousers which actually fit me (but that’s a different story).

And I have written this thing in approximately 17 minutes and my baby is waking up so I have to rush off now…

…But as I said, time – I don’t have very bloody much of it…


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38 weeks and the due date approaches…

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38 weeks today and I’m feeling…well..uppy, then downy, then uppy again. Poor Chef.

Good news is maternity leave is wonderful, giving me time to put my feet up, do some “grooming”, see friends, and sort out the house in wierd and wonderful ways that only an expectant mother could come up with (we must plant herbs! we must fill the freezer with ready meals! we must buy drawer storage boxes!)

Also good is the fact that my liver function seems to be settling down and out of the last 3 blood tests (am human pin cushion), 2 had gone down to almost normal, and only the last annoying one had crept back up a little. But hopefully I’ll be left in peace until baby decides to make an entrance.

Bad news is the hormones, the tick-tocking of  time to d-day, are making me rather irrational and emotional.

I have previously spoken about people discussing your first child’s arrival as a sort of armageddon. Having recently finished NCT and gone to a Bumps & Babies class, I am filled with the impression that in the weeks following the birth I will be a shell of a woman, unable to do much more than make a sandwich and brush my hair, on a good day. I’ve been advised to avoid visitors for the first 2 weeks to allow us time to settle into things. Food shopping, cooking and basic personal hygiene appear to be impossible tasks. Certainly, having read Look Mummy No Hands description of breasfteeding round the clock, it would make sense to prepare for the worst.

Will it really be that bad? The Chef doesn’t seem to think so, and having suffered from insomnia for much of my life (see this post I wrote for The Happiness Project London on being a “troubled sleeper“), sometimes I think I will cope pretty well. But I can imagine that after the highs and excitment of the first few days, the hormones and tiredness will kick in, as will any problems with breastfeeding, and we’ll just have to take every moment as it comes.

The other thing I’m finding, is that I keep getting told all the things I should be doing now BECAUSE WE WON’T GET TO DO IT AGAIN FOR AT LEAST 18 YEARS! (That was a direct quote from my NCT teacher). Way to put on the pressure. I’ve been told to:

  • Go to the cinema lots
  • Have date nights
  • Eat out
  • See friends
  • Sort out all the things wrong with the house as you’ll never have time later
  • And…somehow find time between all the above to nap, have baths, and read.

And being someone who is probably more suggestive to other people’s opinions than most, I’ve been running round like a headless chicken trying to do all the above at once. Phew. So a couple more weeks before baby decides to show up would be nice.

Which brings me to my final worry. The Birth. It is becoming more tangible every day, with my belly swelling and the bump moving lower, and the little stabby pains in my pelvis I didn’t have before, and the shock of every twinge making me think IS THIS IT?!

And it’s scary at times, really overwhelmingly emotionally scary. And it could utterly overwhelm me if I didn’t try to stop it. Because although I’m calm and controlled and an active-birth-yoga-hypno-birth follower, there is a little part of me that wonders whether when the time comes, maybe I will just not be able to handle it, will thrown my fricking frankincense out the window while screaming for an epidural NOW. And I know that won’t be the worst thing in the world, but it’s the fear of the unknown that gets me.

I want to be able to let go completely, to give my body over to this baby to make its way out as it knows how to do (a girl in yoga class described the birth of her first child as being like when you vomit – an abandonment of your body to instinctive urges), to accept the feelings of my body splitting open, with a certain calmness and power. But how do I know if I’m strong enough or powerful enough? How will I be able to follow my primal instinctive side when my brain is telling me that MY BODY IS ABOUT TO RIP OPEN?!

I don’t. I’ve done my best to prepare and the rest will be up to me, The Chef, our midwife, and my body. And perhaps a large glass of red wine.


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A medical update & thoughts on dealing with obstetricians

As some of you may know, I was recently sent to an obstetrician to see whether I might have obstetric cholestatis (OC), in which case they may have induced me early (around now actually!) due to possible harm to my baby. This led to a dramatic turnaround in my original birth plan and was a real eye-opener in terms of learning to expect the unexpected.

Well, the good news is that it is very unlikely I have OC as my bile salts are fine and my symptoms aren’t very suggestive of it. But the original tests still show a high ALT (liver function) test which is abnormal, and the weight of medical science suggests that this is a bit odd. That’s pretty much all I know, but I’m beginning to think its just a wierd symptom of pregnancy, of baby causing all sorts of problems. But in terms of hard, cold facts (which, as a risk-averse control freak I always like to be in possession of), I’m yet to know why I have this or what it means to me or my baby, so until we know more I am in a state of limbo, not knowing whether I will be able to have the natural birth I want, and worrying that things will get worse.

Note I have nothing against induction for medical reasons, I know how common they are, and I know that many inductions can lead to wonderful, natural births. Although I also know that something like 70% of inductions lead to epidurals (many are done at the same time) due to the sudden, quick contractions that don’t build up gradually as they do in natural labour, making you work super hard to cope. I also know you need to be monitored in hospital so my prefence for privacy at home for as long as possible, for active movement, would be reduced. Although as I say, I’ve heard some wonderful stories about brilliant induced births where mums managed to move around and have lovely, natural (and blessedly very quick!) births.

The obstetrician started by telling me: “Its my job to worry; and I get worried about heavily pregnant women with abnormal liver functions walking around in late pregnancy.”  Which hinted to me that he was thinking about induction. At this, I burst into tears, and when he asked me why I was so against induction (he seemed genuinely surprised), I explained I’d just rather things happened naturally, given all I’d read about the body’s natural production of oxytocin, and my hypno-birth/active birth preparation, although of course if there was any chance my baby could be harmed I’d induce at the drop of a hat.

I also asked him what was causing the dodgy liver function, and what harm it could do to me or my baby, and it transpires that he didn’t have a clue. It was an anomaly. It could be anything, possibly a virus that I’d picked up, but it was unlikely that we’d find out what it was. I suggested a liver scan (thanks to some great advice, as always, from twitter mums) to see if it was something as simple as the baby kicking my liver, and he proposed a raft of blood tests to check for things like hepatitis.

So, subject to the tests showing up something specific (unlikely), or the ALT levels increasing to a worrying level (fingers crossed), or me starting to feel ill (I feel great), or the baby stopping moving (baby appears to be doing a daily marathon inside me so no worries there), then I suppose I can carry on happily until labour starts naturally. Which is great news. The consultant isn’t seeing me again for another 2 weeks which shows he can’t be that worried. And I’m doing all the natural things to induce in the meantime – long walks, gardening on hands and knees, raspberry leaf tea.

However, I’m not sure we would be here in this relaxed “lets wait and see” situation if I hadn’t made it clear that I was against induction, and hadn’t asked a raft of questions about why my wierd liver results were a problem. So my tips if you find yourself in a similar predicament are:

  1. Find out as much as you can before you see the consultant. Ask your GP for information, speak to your midwife, ask twitter and find out what you can from the internet (although don’t panic if you read anything bad).
  2. Be clear about your personal choices for birth – you shouldn’t be pushed into something you don’t want to do if it isn’t necessary. If you’d rather only induce if absolutely necessary, make this clear as it won’t be assumed. I’m amazed at how many women I’ve seen on mummy forums saying they actively want to be induced even if its not clear that there’s anything specifically wrong.
  3. Ask lots of questions – if they want to induce then WHY – why are you or your baby at harm? What is wrong? If they don’t know, the next stage should surely be more tests – blood tests, ultrasound scans of your organs.. If you don’t know what you’re dealing with, how can you properly evaluate the risk?
  4. If you do find out you might need an induction, don’t panic or get upset, speak to other women in your NCT group, or email Natalie at Tell Me A Good Birth Story, to put you in touch with other women who have had happy, successful inductions, to hear some positive birth stories. It may not be what you planned, but with a little mind-change and some planning you can still have the birth you want.


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My Anti-Plan Birth Plan

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At 36 weeks, I’m now contemplating the realities of labour and birth and, for the first time, getting really excited about what lies beyond – the adventures of babies and crying and breastfeeding and what on earth are we doing?

But for now, I’ve written my birth plan and shown it to my midwife. It describes the ideal birth of my dreams, mirroring the ones I’ve read about from Ina May Gaskin, in Maggie Howell’s fantastic Birth Preparation book and from stories read out at my Active Birth yoga class. This means:

  • Staying at home for as long as possible, using homeopathy, movement and massage
  • No inductions / sweeps unless medically necessary (and I will pester them to tell me why so)
  • A water birth
  • No pain relief (although I am tempted by gas & air)
  • No interventions unless medically necessary
  • Staying in control of the process, asking for full information and time to assess risks and make decisions
  • Privacy, music and candles, dim lights, encouragement but no time pressure
  • Letting the cord pulse until it stops
  • The moon on a stick.

So far, so unrealistic?

Maybe not. But we all know life does not always go to plan and only a very small handful of my friends had a blissful, empowering birth experience. Most had surprise illnesses and complications, some had real horrors. All seem pretty unfazed by the whole thing, which shows as long as you have a happy healthy baby at the end of it then how you got there probably doesn’t matter.

Add to this the fact that we also know that pregnancy has a lovely way of throwing spanners in the work and lo and behold, at 35 weeks I was diagnosed as having possible OC (obstetric cholestatis) from tests done after I mentioned that I had been itching. OC is basically where your liver doesn’t work well and doesn’t filter out bile salts properly, which stay in your body causing incredible itching. The bile salts in turn can harm baby by increasing the risk of late-stage stillbirth, so you are normally advised to induce at around 37-38 weeks.

To sum up, therefore, my peace n’ love hippie birth – all surges and turning down the pain dial and breathing in golden light – may well now turn into an induction-cranked chemical fest which has all the potential of turning into an intervention-filled nightmare.

Thing is, I’ve been itching since day 1, given my hives and excema (lucky me) but it’s never been the on-hands-and-knees-ripping-off-skin-til-4am type of itching – mainly on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet – that OC sufferers describe and I actually feel really, really good right now. So the fact that my body might be letting me down is annoying. While my bile salt tests are normal, my liver function test (ALT) is high so they still worry I may have it and need to monitor me carefully. I have accepted that I can’t do anything to stop it and obviously if the baby is in danger (and as long as I’m sure I have all the information to allow me to weigh up the risks myself) then we will induce and intervene to get baby out safe.

But something interesting has happened since I’ve found all this out. After initial panic, worry and tears (heaven help a hormonal lady with a google search button), and taking several days to get my head round the fact that I could be induced several weeks before I thought I would have my baby, I found an acceptance, a letting go of expectations and plans, which has actually made me feel liberated, calm and in control. So back to the theory behind my original birth plan.

Yes, for a planner like me, the idea of things happening sooner than I expected, at a time when I can’t control it, was at first terrifying. But I moved important appointments forward to my 37th week (well – my hair won’t colour itself), leaving week 38 and onwards entirely free. I wound down at work so I could leave promptly if required. I washed all the baby stuff, had a lovely lunch with my best friends, finished all the odd jobs round the house (or rather got The Chef to help). I read the birth stories I wanted to read, played the hypno-birth CD on repeat, packed the hospital bags.

So now, I feel ready. And more than that, I have discovered a new sense of purpose, a new open-mindedness that I didn’t have before and which I believe will make me stronger for what lies ahead. A very clever friend of mine said to me that all this OC stuff was actually a good thing because it was teaching me perhaps the most important lesson of motherhood:

That nothing can be planned. Expect the unexpected.

At our first NCT class (more later – actually really enjoyed it), we were shown a photo of a doctor-led medical labour ward room – as opposed to the midwife-led nest we’d all come to want – and asked how we would feel about that being the place we were told we had to give birth in. While most of the couples appeared to hate the thought of such an industrial, medical environment, choosing words like “anxious” and “worried”, I went straight for a card that appealed to me. It read:

IN CHARGE

And on the back of this was marked the hormone that I’m aiming to harvest more than anything – OXYTOCIN – the hormone of love and labour.

Straight away I realised my mind set had changed. That, having first embraced a natural, instinctive birth, I now knew that if I need an induction, an epidural, hell if an entire team of scrubbed up consultants came in and told me I had to have an emergency caesarean, then I would probably be able to stay in control, to make this birth the way I wanted it to be.

So that’s my birth un-plan. Wish me luck!

For More Information…


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My Hospital Bag

35 weeks on Saturday, all baby stuff bought or borrowed, and I’m now planning what to take to the hospital with me (while simultaneously harshing The Chef’s mellow with random home improvement requests).

I’ve seen hospital bag lists on numerous brilliant blogs (see Mums Make Lists or The Mummy Adventure) and also on various preggie Apps and retail sites (see Mothercare’s) but I have to say…

….I find the whole thing slightly ludicrous.

It feels half way between packing for a romantic minibreak – do you think the blue or the grey nightie would suit me best while I’m on all fours mooing like a cow? –  and packing for Armageddon; as if we will be stranded in a crevice a la 127 Days, having to rely on lavender oil and arnica to get us out alive.

Only women could come up with pre-labour grooming routines and hospital outfit ideas, as if our babies push happily through our opening cervix only to cry in disgust at an un-waxed bush.  However, I too have booked in for a pre-labour haircut, manicure and eyelash tint. Mock me all you like ladies, but I’m not the only one.

Friends of mine have got pre-labour spray tans, eyelash extensions, and bikini waxes (ouch). They’ve planned their labouring and day-after outfits to the last detail. Mummy forums* and blogs discuss the perfect baby going-home outfits and the most glamorous nursing tops.

Why on earth do we put pressure on ourselves like this? I guess it’s all part of this perfect family fantasy which we bought into as little girls. You know – the photo of you propped up in bed holding cute baby in novelty hat, husband’s proud and loving arm around you while you look, all glowing and wise, to the camera? Or the photo of you holding baby for his first trip home, him in perfect cutesy matching outfit, you both looking on in awe?

My own mother wasn’t impervious to this pressure either. She bought some fancy lace babygrow thing from Paris to clothe my 1 day-old self on the way home from hospital. This is captured in a gorgeous photo – me, angelic in said white lace gorgeousness, held by my proud father.

Oh, apart from the giant poo stain that soaks through the lace, covering the entirety of my lower region.

Let’s face it ladies. We will just have pushed a baby out of our bodies with great pain and effort. We will be pale, with bloodshot eyes, greasy hair, floppy boobs and bellies. We may not have had time to get our immaculately-packed hospital bags out of the car in the first place. We will be so excited about our new babies that we are unlikely to give a toss whether our toenails are painted or our outfit matches.

So, with this in mind, and with the emphasis on comfort and familiarity, here is what I’m planning to take with me:

Mummy bag:

  • Medical notes
  • Stuff to get to hospital & labour in: nightie from Primark (£3.50), Uggs, dressing gown – if I’m in the birth pool I guess I’d want to be naked
  • Stuff to make me comfy during labour: Cushions from home (I bought 2 for £7 from Primark),  Pillow from home, Throw (£7 from Primark)
  • Stuff to make the room nice (wishful thinking): Iphone and mini speakers, iphone charger, LED candles
  • Snacks for labour: fruit juice cartons, bottle water, healthy snacks, bag of Starburst, chocolate
  • Pain relief and comfort stuff: Tens machine (borrowed), Avene water spray, lip balm, flannel, handkerchief and Lavender oil, frankincense (yes, yes I know, but it works honestly), ear plugs, eye mask
  • Stuff to wear afterwards and the next day: cheap black knickers, comfy socks, nursing bras, nightie, slippers, cardigan, leggings, loose dark vests & shirts from Primark –  all very cheap
  • Post-birth  essentials: Arnica for bruising, nipple cream and pads, maternity pads
  • Flip Flops for shower
  • Dark towel
  • Magazines for hanging around
  • Hair bands & toiletries
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Plastic bags for laundry
  • Camera and charger
  • Boxers, toothbrush, socks & contact lenses for The Chef

Baby bag:

  • 4 x sleepsuits
  • Going-home outfit – yes I know but still succumbed as they can be so cute. Bought this one:

Product Image

  • 4x muslins
  • Hat
  • Cardigan
  • Blanket
  • Coat
  • Nappies (at least 24), H20 extra sensitive water wipes (thanks for the tip Look Mummy No Hands), cotton wool, nappy cream
  • Car seat

*baby forums should be avoided if at all possible. I’ve found them to be full of slightly hysterical women of the type who buy nappies in bulk at 10 weeks pregnant, or who moan about gaining 2 pounds in the first trimester


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Remedies for a Bad Back

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I’m 32 weeks with a huge bumperoo, and had some good news lately. After lots of R&R and a lovely relaxing babymoon in Kent (thanks to The Chef!), I’m feeling healthy, happy and rested. And a 32 week scan revealed an incredibly fat baby (top 97 percentile tummy size!), and no longer a vertically-challenged placenta, but one that has moved up and beyond my cervix. Hurrah.

But the latest problem I’ve had to deal with – which seems fairly common for this stage of pregnancy – is a bad back. I’ve had lower back and pelvic girdle pain, shooting pains in my pelvis from my sacroiliac joint popping out, and incredibly tight, stiff, tense back muscles from carrying the weight of El Bumpo.

While I’ve accepted that this is likely to happen on and off until baby arrives, I thank my lucky stars I’ve avoided SPD, and I’ve found several things that have helped me that I wanted to share:

  • I’ve found reflexology absolutely amazing. It gives a holistic solution to problems, dealing with both emotional and physical issues. For example, my wonderful reflexologist suggested some of my back problems stemmed from weeks of stress over Christmas, and worries about money and nesting, which caused my upper and lower back to tense up. That something which at its most basic was a very relaxing “foot rub” also diagnosed anxiety and digestion issues, shows what a powerful thing it is. I have no idea how it works, but for me it really has. I see Shirley-Ann Foster in Kingston.
  • I also do a monthly preggie massage with Shirley-Ann which relaxes me and allows me to get a good night’s sleep.
  • I’ve seen an osteopath for my back which was good, but I’ve found preggie physio really beneficial as all our body’s muscles are linked and a problem in one place often stems from issues in another. I had lower back and pelvis pain which turned out to be due to tight thigh muscles which needed to be stretched out. Agonising shooting pains in my pelvis were due to my sacroiliac joint popping out which needed to be slotted back in place. And now my lower back and pelvis pain is caused by several things, including the baby putting pressure on my thorax capacity and upper back (which has also made my breathing similar to Darth Vader), and the bump pulling my weight forwards, making my back strain to keep me upright. Physio massages are painful but brilliant for loosening up and getting a comfortable night’s sleep. I see Helen Keeble at the White Hart Lane Clinic, Barnes.
  • My physio also tried some acupuncture on me which was amazing. Based on traditional Chinese medicine, but adapted for the Western world, it works by pushing a needle into your muscle, causing the muscle to contract around it and then to relax. It also causes a small wound which sends healing waves to the area. Finally, the points can respond to different body issues – the points in my back where I was most tight responded to my bladder median. Surely not surprising that having to wee 100 times a day might have caused problems….
  • Stretching exercises have been amazing in trying to keep flexible. Try a few of these at the bus stop / train platform / at your desk:
    • Pelvic tilts
    • Cat stretches
    • Front thigh and calf stretches
    • Bum squeezes
    • Upper body and shoulder twists
    • Pelvic floor squeezes
  • Preggie yoga (and pilates I’d imagine, although I found it too difficult to do with a big bump) has really helped in stretching me out and limbering me up, the breathing and repetition making me more flexible. I see Natalie Meddings at the Garage Studio, Barnes.
  • Really practical comforts are:
    • Hot-water battles
    • Ice packs
    • Dream Genii pillow to sleep with
    • Deep heat creams (I also used Marmot Fat cream  – apparently an Austrian muscle and joint healer!)
    • I’d imagine any chemist-bought muscle relaxing creams and heated pads would help massively both for bad backs and for labour
    • Hypno-birthing relaxing CDs to breathe the pain away.

Finally, and I’m having to remind myself this all the time – TAKE IT EASY. After frantic nesting for weeks, I spent pretty much the whole of last weekend in bed, watching Modern Family on the iPad, and it did me the world of good. As a couple of lovely blog comments have already taught me, this really is the only time I can ever put my feet up, treat myself and relax, as the next time I go through this, I’ll have a mental toddler with a giant belly running round. I’m trying not to feel guilty about cancelling social arrangements, delegating housework, or asking friends to give me a pillow to sit on.