The Happy Baby Project

A happy baby needs a happy mum


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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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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:

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  • 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