The value of complaining (even when others are worse off)

h07act0xagy-jordan-whittSometimes I find it so hard to say ‘I am finding this hard’. I would rather go through an experience twice than tell other people I am struggling.

But *deep breath* I am finding it so hard at the moment.

Nibs has either been sick or teething since October. As he sees me as a giant human handkerchief (snail trails of snot! Why that’s just what I always wanted to complete this look) I’ve been ill too. Winter so far has been such an unrelenting germfest I am considering encasing him in a bubble and just tossing Ella’s kitchen pouches through a hatch.

I respond to illness with the emotional maturity of a petulant three year. ‘NOOOO, this is so unfair. Why me???!!’ *Throws tissues on the floor* In the good old days being ill meant time off, throwing a pity party in bed with snacks and tv and not emerging until I felt better. Now being ill means juggling an ill grumpy baby who swings between climbing the walls out of boredom and howling on mummy. No bed, no tv, no down time.

I could cope with this if I had slept. But in addition to illness Nibs has been teething and waking screaming every two hours. Fellow mum’s trade sleep deprivation stories like warrior’s comparing scars. Pre motherhood friends are less interested in hearing you bore on about how tired you are… again.

There are other reasons as well. This time of year has never been particularly kind to me and mine. But mainly it’s the illness and lack of sleep.

Lately I feel…

Frayed at the edges
Like I am running on empty
Like I have nothing left to give.

Not great when you have a tiny being utterly dependent on you.

This is not the problem. Because it’s the weekend He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) will be on the case. And then I just have to survive the next week before he is off for Christmas. Everything is better when he’s around. Somehow around him it feels safe to share when I am finding things a bit shit. Everyone else? Not so much.

The problem is that it takes until I am drowning for me to mumble ‘Hey, this water’s a bit deep, eh?’

When I am hurting, my first response is to try and convince myself it isn’t that bad. When I am finally able to acknowledge it is that bad I then engage in a round of twisted comparisons.

You can’t complain about motherhood because you struggled with infertility, you should be grateful to have a baby at all.

You can’t complain because your baby wakes every two hours when your friends baby wakes every hour.

You can’t complain about finding it hard because you’ve got a loving and supportive husband. You’re finding it hard? Think of all the single mums out there.

You can’t complain about struggling with one baby when your friend has two.

You can’t complain about your baby because your friend’s babies died and they would kill to experience those sleepless nights you’re moaning about.

You can’t complain you’re finding it hard mothering an able-bodied child because your parents raised your sister who is disabled.

You can’t complain because your baby is safe, warm and fed. Think of those poor babies in Aleppo.

So it goes until I am throughly shamed and silenced. And so I don’t complain, I don’t ask for help until things get really bad and by then it’s almost too late.

Don’t get me wrong there is a value in recognising your privilege and feeling grateful for what you have compared to others.

But pain is not a zero sum game. If it was there would ONE person in this entire world who was objectively judged the worse off and had the right to complain and the rest of us would shut the hell up. If I am finding it hard it does not take away from my friend who is also struggling. There is room enough for both our experiences.

So this month I am going to try and speak up when I am finding things shit to people other than HWSNBN. Eeek!

I need to speak up when things are hard because naming a feeling helps reduce the intensity. It stops it from being trapped and magnified in the echo chamber in my head.

I need to share so that other people can know what is going on with me and step up to offer their support, if they want.

I need to be honest because this feeling that everything is a bit shit is just as valid as the feeling that everything is wonderful.

I want to speak about this because other people being open about struggling has made me feel less alone. And I hope by sharing this other people will remember it’s normal to find things tough.

Finally having a bitch as well as being necessary, helpful and normal can be fun too.

So *deep breath* I’m struggling. Anything you want to get off your chest, let me know in the comments.

The middle

The middle

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Credit: Mark Basarab

I have always loved before and after stories. Cinderella transforming into a princess. The ugly duckling becoming a swan. The hungry caterpillar emerging from it’s chrysalis.

And if asked I will talk to you honestly, happily and at length about my own before and after stories; afterwards. I’ll tell you about how I went from desperately trying to earn my place in the world to believing (most of the time) that I was enough. I will talk to you about what grief taught me about love. I will describe my struggle with infertility and how I lost three stone to access IVF and instead fell pregnant naturally.

The key word in that sentence above is afterwards. People tell me that admire my honesty in writing about the situations I have found hard. My reaction is always mixed: part proud but also part feeling like I have just pulled off a con. It’s takes courage to show somebody your scars, it another thing entirely to show somebody your wounds.

I am very good at talking about difficult experiences afterwards. When time has lent some distance and perspective and things are less raw. But sharing that brutiful (half beautiful/half brutal) bit in the middle of something I am struggling with? Ugh.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I cannot find the words to name what is happening to me.

When I am in the middle of something hard, I feel an expectation that I need to go away in private and figure my shit about before I can be in company again.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel so bruised and skinless that an inadvertent glance could hurt me.

When I am in the middle of something hard I feel stuck. I cannot go back and unknow what I have learnt. But I have no idea how to move forward.

When I am in the middle of something hard I don’t know the story ends. I don’t know whether I will triumph or fail. I don’t know what the meaning of this experience will be until afterwards.

When I am in the middle of something hard, the last thing I want to do is talk about it.

But that’s what I ask my clients to do every day. There is so much I could say about what is happening within me right now. But I am in the middle – so I don’t. Until now that is.

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I read this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, one of the writers who inspired me and it floored me. Yes, it is important to share our truth but what about sharing our unknowing. Why don’t we talk about the bits of our life that are still in construction. So inspired I am trying something new today. Even though thinking about hitting publish gives me a knot in my chest and that sinking sensation of being emotional naked.

Here are some things I am in the middle of:

Work

I’ve always been ambitious, it’s one of my defining characteristics. But when people ask me ‘when are you going back to work?’ I want to jam my fingers in my ears and sing loudly until they go away.

I don’t want to work again, ever. Despite the fact I love my job and staying home isn’t an option financially. I am desperately frightened that if I go back to work that ‘Push the river’ side of me, that relentless driving force will take over. And there won’t be any space for me or Nibs or anything other than pushing forward at all costs. Until I have figured out how I can work without letting it take over – I don’t want to go back. I expect my motherhood bubble will pop at some point and I may long for another identity other than mother and to exercise my intellectual muscles. But for the moment…

nope

Self-care

Having and mothering a baby has made me realise how abysmal I am at mothering myself. If I were an actual mother and child I would report me to social services for neglect. I have realised recently where this lack of self-care comes from. But I don’t know how to move forward and it makes me feel sad and stuck. Why can take care of other people, but not myself? I am starting to notice how much this is affecting my relationships with my husband, child, family and friends. And it the affect on them that is motivating me to change, not on me. That fact makes me feel even sadder. I am trying to go back to basics and ask myself daily what I need. But it is so hard and humiliating. Shouldn’t I have learnt how to take care of myself already? Is it too late to learn?

Body

I eat emotionally, always have done, and it’s becoming a problem. I eat as a reward, out of comfort, to console myself or just mindlessly. I worry that Nibs will see me and develop some of my habits. The worst thing about this, is that I successfully lost a lot of weight before getting pregnant through revolutionising my eating habits. When I was pregnant I was really careful about what I ate. But the combination of breastfeeding, tiredness, and boredom have meant I have been eating cake like it’s going out of fashion.

The feeling that keeps on popping up that I should be over this by now? I know how to eat healthily. I have done it before. I have all the tools in my toolbox but still I keep self sabotaging. Sadly I think the issue is I can moderate my approach to food when other people are at stake – but not when it’s just about me. Instead I circle around and around this issue never progressing

Marriage

He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I have been in better places. Don’t get me wrong, we’re OK but we could be better. Lack of sleep and lack of time, as individuals and as a couple, has taken its toll. I find this immensely frustrating because as a couples therapist I knew that having a baby was one of the biggest stressors on a relationship and I had a chance to memorise the classic fight up close:

Stay at home parent: I love the baby so much but sometimes looking after him alone is so hard. I resent so much that your life continues almost unchanged whereas I am tethered to a tiny human being. You get to leave, to speak to other adults, to pee in private. I am never alone but I am so lonely.

Working parent: But you get to see it all: all the tiny ways he changes every day. I miss it. I miss him and you get to see him all the time and you don’t appreciate it. He’s growing so fast and I am not here. Plus work isn’t the holiday you think it is.

Repeat ad nausem

9 months ago I assured myself we wouldn’t be like that. Cue hollow laughter. We, OK being brutally honest, I have not been kind to HWSNBN recently.

It is so entwined with me not taking care of myself that I know that before I can reconnect with HWSNBN I need some time for me. To figure out who I am as a mother and individual after this immense lifechanging experience. If I am set boundaries and ask for my needs to be met; I will be a better partner to him. I am not in panic mode at the moment partly because I don’t feel like I have the headspace to panic. We are trying different things – some of which seem to be helping. We’ll see.

The future

I am very torn on if/when we should try for another baby. It took years, and years last time. And I am hyper aware I may not have years of trying left. I never want to go through that agonising desperation of trying and failing to conceive again.

But I am not ready. I am not even close to ready for signing on for the intensity of a newborn. Some days I look at Nibs and he’s so wondrous I can’t imagine not trying to give him his sibling. Some days he seems so big to me and miss him being a tiny baby in my arms with an ache in my womb. Then I have a dark day where I feel like the shittest mum alive and think I am never having any more children. 

So, this is where I am at right in the middle with all the mess and none of the glory. Watch this space.

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Top 10 tips to make breastfeeding easier

Top 10 tips to make breastfeeding easier

BREAST

Ah breastfeeding, one of nature’s greatest miracles. Yet for many of us breastfeeding can be difficult at first. Naively before giving birth, I thought that breastfeeding would be as simple as popping the baby on my boob and viola. *Insert hollow laughter here*

Due to a combination of a very sleepy jaundiced baby, latch issues and low milk supply (thanks PCOS!) I found breastfeeding tremendously tough. Nibs, my baby, dropped 13% of his body weight so we were advised to supplement with expressed breast milk and formula as I desperately fed and pumped every couple of hours to up my supply. Thankfully it all paid off and he began to put on weight. But during the first couple of months he still struggled to latch if he was tired or frustrated. To calm him down we had to give him a small amount of milk from a bottle enough to ease his frustration so he would latch but not too much or he would too satiated to breastfeed. In the first month I had cracked and bleeding nipples, milk blisters twice and, just when things were started to improve, thrush.

Breastfeeding was anything but easy at first.

I’ve been breastfeeding for six months now and I love it. I love that I can feed on the go. I love that there is no preparation and sterilising bottles involved. I love that it’s free. I love that my boobs work to provide food, to pacify and to aid sleep. I love that it is something only I can do for my baby (except maybe at 3am).

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I constantly marvel that my milk supply is responsive to growth spurts, hot days, and illness. I can never get over how magical it is that every day my body produces enough milk to sustain my baby.

As a pregnant woman, you are repeatedly told, rightly, that breast is best for mother and baby. Yet the UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe. Recently Jamie Oliver announced that his next campaign was going to be breastfeeding because ‘[breastfeeding is] easy, it’s more convenient, it’s more nutritious, it’s better, it’s free.’ Although Oliver is right that breastfeeding is more convenient, offers massive nutritional and health benefits and is free – for a huge percentage of woman it isn’t always easy at first.

I am really hesitant to publish this post as I don’t want it to seem like I am judging anybody for their choices. I am immeasurably glad that we live in a world where formula exists as without it my baby may have been very sick indeed. If your baby is fed and looked after you are doing an amazing job mama – whether it’s from a boob or a bottle or a combination of the two.

I also don’t want to put off any prospective mothers from breastfeeding by talking about the challenges. Many, many mum’s find that they and their baby take to breastfeeding very easily. Yet the more I talk to fellow mothers the more I realise that although we are often told about the benefits of breastfeeding, information about how to breastfeed is more scarce. This post is aimed at pregnant women who’d like to breastfeed and new mum’s who are trying to breastfeed and finding it difficult. Here’s what I wish I’d know about breastfeeding before I started.

1.Get prepared

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Your breastfeeding journey starts before giving birth. If we lived in a different culture, we would have see other women breastfeeding their babies every day. We would have witnessed their struggles in those first days, seen how they latched their babies, and over time we would have seen how breastfeeding became second nature. Prior to giving birth I’d only really seen a few people breastfeed when their babies were older. So I had the mistaken assumption that breastfeeding was simple as popping a nipple in your babies mouth. Don’t get me wrong for many women it is that simple. But for many of us at the beginning – breastfeeding is a skill and skills need to be learnt.

I read a gazillion books on birth. It was only a couple of days before the birth that I realised I should maybe read about breastfeeding. In my NCT class we spent four sessions on birth, and one on breastfeeding. Considering I spent 22 hours giving birth and (to date) I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours breastfeeding – this seems a bit of a misallocation of time!

In those sleep deprived newborn days as I struggled to get Nibs to latch I realised I knew almost nothing about breastfeeding. I found myself panickedly reading every book, articles and watching every video about breastfeeding I could find. 

The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding’ answered almost every question about breastfeeding I had. Ignore most of the popular parenting books as they often contain inaccurate and misleading information about breastfeeding like feeding to a schedule instead of on demand. Instead websites like Kelly Mom and Bellybelly are full of really useful articles and tips about breastfeeding. I would also recommend going to a breastfeeding drop in group prior to giving birth. Nothing beats seeing how other women feed their babies. 

Try expressing colostrum whilst pregnant but after 38 weeks as nipple stimulation can induce labour. Colostrum is like liquid gold, packed full of amazing nutrients to support your baby during those vital first couple of days. Your midwife can show you how to pre-express colostrum into syringes that can then be frozen. It’s really important to have some colostrum on hand if you or your baby end up needing some extra care after the birth.

2. Get comfortable

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Before starting a feed you want to make sure you are comfortable as it’s hard to know whether your baby will want a snack or a four course meal. 

Make sure your back is supported, elevate your feet if possible and use a breastfeeding cushion to help take the pressure off your shoulders. If your large breasted, like I am, you may want to have a muslin or hand towel which you can roll up and place under your breast to support its weight. 

When you are trying to establish breastfeeding, having skin to skin contact with your baby will help the release of oxycotin and your milk production. Initially and during growth spurts your baby will often cluster feed, which is like placing an advanced order for more milk, so you may find yourself sofa bound for a while. So get comfy mama.

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I often think breastfeeding is like preparing for a loooooong car journey. Pee before you start and make sure you have plenty of water, snacks, and entertainment handy.  I have a breastfeeding station by my bed and by the chair in the living room where I feed. This includes:

Nipple cream – apply generously after each feed and leave your nipples exposed. Hey postie! Do make sure your baby has actually finished feeding before applying, otherwise they’ll slide off if you have to relatch.

Muslins – for burping after feeds. It is a rule of motherhood that however muslins you think you’ll need add five more.

A large bottle of water – a breastfeeding woman could drain the great lakes in a second.

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Lip balm – yes you may not have showered for a week and have luggage sized bags under your eyes but your lips will look fabulous.

Something to eat – this is point where I should tell you to eat nuts and dried fruit. And yes if you scroll down to point 5 there is a whole section on feeding your supply. But if it’s an entire red velvet cake I won’t judge.

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Some entertainment- aka phone/book/remote. There’s nothing worse than just getting your baby latched and realising Jeremy Kyle is on the TV and the remote is juust out of reach.

3.Position, position, position

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Finding a breastfeeding position that works is essential in the early days. Now I can feed sitting up, lying down and even walking around (with the aid of a sling). But in the beginning as I have huge boobs the rugby hold was best. It is worth experimenting with different positions because if your nipples get bruised changing position can ease the pressure.  Whatever position you prefer remember to make sure you are comfortable and bring the baby to the breast. In the early days latching was such a mission that I would end up contorted in the most ridiculous positions because I did not want to break the latch.

A lot of breastfeeding gurus recommend laid back breastfeeding. But as I always had to support my breasts it only became effective as my baby got older. If you can, try and master breastfeeding lying down as soon as you’re able. It revolutionised night feeds when I realised I didn’t have to sit up to feed. As you get more experienced experiment with feeding in a sling. Mama just got mobile.

4. Master the perfect latch

Ah the latch. Figuring out how to painlessly latch your baby can make or break your breastfeeding journey. A bad latch affects your milk supply but even worse also massacres your nipples.

Due to having a very sleepy newborn and huge boobs it could often take my husband and me half an hour to get the baby latched on. Nibs, our baby, would then feed for five minutes even with breast compressions, fall asleep and the process would start all over again. Fun times especially at 3am! On the plus side I quickly got very practised at latching and now I can practically do it in my sleep and often do.

How to latch your baby.

The C hold

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 20.58.57.pngThe C hold helps support the weight of your breast and position the breast enabling your baby to latch. Using your thumb and finger make a C-shape on the breast tissue around the nipple with your thumb positioned just above the nipple. You want to gently compress the tissue around the nipple so it flattens into a letterbox or sandwich shape matching the orientation of your babies mouth. Imagine your boob is a large sandwich you are feeding to your baby. You wouldn’t just shove it in their mouth, you’d compress it first.

Finally, using your thumb exert pressure at the top of the breast so the nipple pulls upward.

Tummy to mummy

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Via Netmums

Using your other arm, you want to position your baby for breastfeeding so they feel secure and supported. Lay the baby along your forearm with your hand supporting their neck, shoulders and back. Avoid exerting pressure on the back of the head as all babies have an inbuilt gag reflex. Your hold should be firm enough that you can manoeuvre your baby using just your forearm. Bring the baby towards the breast making sure that you are still in a comfortable position. You want your babies body to be facing you completely from their neck to their toes. Think tummy to mummy…

Nose to nipple and flipple

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Aim your nipple at the babies nose, brushing it gently. This should trigger the latch response and your babies mouth should open wide. When their mouth is open wide, use your thumb to flip the top of the nipple aiming towards the top of your babies palate. This triggers the latch response and the baby should begin to suck. Here are a couple of videos on the flipple or deep latch technique. It can take a couple of goes to get this right especially if your baby is a premature latcher like ours was (hur hur hur).

Your babies head should be tilted back, with their mouth open in a K shape with more of the nipple visible at the top of the breast than underneath.

Good latch vs a bad latch

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Midwives and lactation consultants love looking at your boobs and pronouncing whether it is a good or bad latch. But it doesn’t matter what they think – the most important method for distinguishing a good latch from a bad latch is how it feels to you. In the early weeks, latching can be intense, even painful as the baby starts to suckle but it shouldn’t continue to hurt after that. When your baby first latches, count to ten and if it hurts after that unlatch and start again.

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To unlatch put your little finger between the nipple and into your babies mouth to break the suction. Do not ever, ever, ever just pull your baby off your nipple. Learn from my mistakes people. Don’t give yourself niplash!

For more tips, watch these videos on latching a baby

5. Feed your supply

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If you want to establish your milk supply you need to eat well and drink water frequently. Frankly your body may not give you a choice as I found I was hobbit levels of hungry in the days after giving birth. Breastfeeding burns between 300-500 calories a day. So now is not the time to go on a diet but the cake only food plan can be fun but isn’t exactly nutritious. Moderation is key. You want to eat a balanced diet with plenty of protein, fats, fruit and vegetables and some carbs. As I was breastfeeding, my partner HWSNBN would do the bulk of the cooking or provide frequent snacks or refills of my bottle of water throughout the night. If you are struggling with your milk supply some foods or supplements can help increase your supply. Try:

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You could also try foods like:

  • Oats
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • And supplements like fenugreek
  • Brewers yeast, or
  • Blessed Thistle

Although not all at once (bleurgh). Out of all the recipes I tried these lactation cookies were actually a) yummy and b) increased my milk production, result.

6. Get support

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Timely support and small adjustments to your breastfeeding technique can make a big difference in the beginning. Ask for help early and often. As somebody whose relatively modest at first I felt slightly apprehensive about complete strangers manhandling my boobs in the hopes on improving my babies latch. By week 2 I didn’t care.

If you are really experiencing difficulties you need to talk to breastfeeding experts like a lactation consultant. My health visitor suggested I attend the trouble-shooting breastfeeding group at the Hove Polyclinic. They were amazing they took time to listen to me, watched me feed and offered loads of practical suggestions. But most importantly they boosted my confidence and encouraged me to persevere when I was finding things difficult.

Speaking to fellow mums who are struggling can be so helpful – but pick your tribe wisely. My NCT group and mum friends have been so helpful. I also am a member of a number of online breastfeeding support groups and love the Can I Breastfeed in it? Off Topic Discussion group.

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As well as professional support, make sure you have a good network of supportive family and friends around you. He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) did most of the early nappy changes, cooking and rocking the baby to sleep because I was feeding. He’d watch as they made adjustments to my latch and then remind me later when I was too sleep deprived to remember what to do. And when the 4pm daily dread of the evenings set in he’d remind me why we were doing this. 

7. Troubleshoot any problems

There is support and information out there to help you with any problems whether it’s: cracked and sore nipples or latch issues. Or over supply or under supply of milk.

The only one I can personally speak about at length is increasing a low supply. Many women think they aren’t producing enough milk because their baby cluster feeds or they can only pump a very small amount. But cluster feeding is normal and how much you pump is no indication of how much your baby is getting. Breastfeeding means you have to take a lot on faith. If your baby is gaining weight  and producing enough wet and dry nappies its unlikely you have a low supply.

But I did. I have PCOS which meant that my milk took a long time to come in and my supply was very low. I had to very quickly learn how to encourage my body to produce more milk. Here are my top tips for increasing a low milk supply.

If you want to increase your milk supply, forgot schedules and feed on demand. Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, so the more milk that is removed = the more milk that is produced. Ignore the parenting books that recommend feeding every couple of hours and feed your baby as frequently as they want and regularly offer them the breast.

Before feeding or pumping encourage letdown by massaging the breasts or putting a warm cloth on them.

Ideally strip you and your baby down to increase the release of oxycotin.

If you have a very sleepy baby tactics like stripping them, tickling them and nappy or burp breaks can help encourage your baby to take longer feeds.

Breast compressions by gently squeezing the breast can encourage a baby to take more milk towards the end of a feed. You should notice your baby beginning to suck again as the milk pools in their mouth.

If you notice your supply dipping try a breastfeeding holiday (despite the name there are lot less all inclusive cocktails than on a normal holiday sadly). Retreat to bed with your baby and plenty of food and water and just feed and nap, feed and nap.

If you need to pump remember that although breastpumps are amazing inventions, no pump is as efficient at extracting milk as a baby. Don’t get worried if you don’t get much milk at first it takes time. Remember when your baby is feeding on one side, the other breast will also be letting down. I found I expressed more milk when I fed on one side while pumping on the other using a hands free bra.

If you have to pump when you’re away from your baby, looking at photos and videos can help the milk flow more freely.

Prioritise pumping in the morning when you are well rested and milk supplies are at their highest.

Try a powerpump where you pump for ten minutes, rest for ten, pump for ten and then rest for ten. This mimics cluster feeding and causes an increase in milk in a day or two. For other pumping tips check out Kelly Mom

8.Master feeding on the go

I still clearly remember the first time I breastfed in public. I was so nervous as I tentatively took my boob out under my breastfeeding cover and gingerly positioned my baby. At the time Nibs would often refuse to latch so I worried I’d be sat there trying to force a nipple into my screaming babies mouth as his flailing limbs whipped away the cover exposing me to the world.

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Thankfully things have got a lot simpler since then. Now breastfeeding when I’m out and about is so ridiculously easy I barely think about it. I have never got any comments or looks although this may be because I live in ridiculously tolerant Brighton. As you’d expect I have views about feeding in public, namely my babies need to eat surpasses a strangers discomfort about seeing a nipple. But I get that some women aren’t so gung ho. 

If you are worried about exposing yourself, try feeding in front of a mirror at home. If you have smaller boobs, you may be surprised how much your babies head covers.

The first time you feed in public try taking a friend or partner along for moral support. I found it so much easier at first when HWSNBN was there to provide moral support.

If you feel self conscious you can use a breastfeeding cover, a scarf or a muslin tucked into your top or lain over your exposed boob.

I put my brake on my buggy and rest my feet on the wheels and use my nappy bag laid over my lap to support Nib’s body while I feed. This breastfeeding cushion/bag looks amazing.

Replacing your wardrobe with breastfeeding friendly clothes is a) expensive and b) a faff as there aren’t that many good options out there. There is another way. Join Can I breastfeed in it? which is full of women posting pictures of breastfeeding friendly clothes they’ve found on the high street.  Top tips include dresses in stretchy fabric or with wrap necklines. When wearing seperates I wear a loose top over a nursing vest so when feeding I pull the top up and the vest down, allowing both my boobs and stomach to stay covered.

9. Get equipped.

Breastfeeding is the lazy girl’s friend – all you really need is boobs. But at the start these products can help support you as you get breastfeeding established. 

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  • Breast pumpExpressing milk can help you catch up on your sleep and give Daddy/Grandma a turn preferably at 3am. I used to go the bed early and HWSNBN would give the 12am feed which would give me a couple of hours of uninterrupted sleep. Bliss! Buy the best pump you can afford and ideally get a double pump. I have this Medela Freestyle Double Electric Breastpump with Calma and it’s brilliant. The pump mimics the letdown response and you can increase or decrease the intensity. It also has a battery and is ridiculously light-weight so you can pump while on the move.
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  • Hands free pumping bra. If you’re going to pump more than a couple of times a week, get a hands free pumping bra. This bra means I can pump when making dinner and even pumped while on the M25 (not driving I hasten to add). But it also means you can pump when feeding your baby on the other side which increases the amount of milk you express and by multitasking cuts your feeding and pumping time in half. Winning!
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  • Breastfeeding cushionAfter back labour my back was ridiculously sore. The My Brestfriend feeding cushion saved me. Unlike some breastfeeding cushions it’s firm keeping the baby in place and straps around the waist meaning it doesn’t need repositioning throughout the feed. It even has a handy pocket for water, snacks or a phone.
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  • Lanisoh HPA Lanolin creamDon’t go for the imitators buy this, use it religiously and your nipples will thank you. Yes it’s expensive but it’s worth every penny. And it even works on cradle cap.

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  • Sleep bras. I lived in sleep bras to stop the girls from aching early on in pregnancy. These help keep breast pads in place, protect sore nipples from rubbing and allowed me to feed using the clip down straps.

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  • Reusable breast pads. Initially I was using Lanisoh disposable pads. But I found that the pads would get crumpled throughout the day and sometimes stick to my boobs. So I bought these reusable breast pads. They’re ridiculously soft, absorbent and you can wash and reuse them.

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  • Lip balm. When breastfeeding your lips will get Sahara level dry.  My lovely friend Sarah sent me this lip balm which I used religiously.

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  • Water bottleI was drinking so much water at first I just kept refilling a 2 litre bottle of Evian water. When my thirst calmed I bought a couple of Eddy bottles and keep one by my bed, one by my feeding chair and one for when I’m out and about.db0e4ba4a49ffba21f4257a8cb27b700
  • Food you can eat one handed. But crucially food that you can safely drop on your babies head. See point 5 above, feed your supply people.

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  • Feeding app. As a breastfeeding mother you have to take on the faith that your baby is getting enough milk. After having a baby that had lost a lot of weight initially, I found the Feed baby app which allows you to record how long your baby feeds really useful. Yes, it was a tad disheartening to realise I’d been feeding for 8 plus hours in week 3 (aka the week my baby discovered the boob). But it was also mega reassuring to see how long he was feeding for and how over time he became more efficient. This app is brilliant as you record which boob you last fed from, as well as wet and dry nappies, medicine, growth and many other things. Plus my geeky husband loved that you could export all the data as a CSV file.

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  • EntertainmentWhether it’s your phone for those middle of the night questions to Dr google, or your kindle to catch up on your trash fiction, you need some entertainment. For two weeks following the birth my brain for the first time in my life was too fried to read so instead I reverted to TV. My boxset of choice was Absolutely Fabulous because it was a) hilarious, and b) I’d seen it a bazillion times before so it didn’t matter that my sleep deprived brain could barely follow the back of a shampoo packet.

10.Be kind and give it time

The single most important information about breastfeeding I received was this:

It can take up to six weeks for you and your baby to establish breastfeeding.

In those early days when I was finding breastfeeding very hard, the thought of those six weeks kept me going. As each week passed, I promised myself I’d breastfeed another week. And I did. Through sheer bloody mindedness I pressed on until almost without noticing over time breastfeeding became easier. By six weeks I was thrilled that breastfeeding had become almost second nature.

At time those early weeks seemed endless. But looking back I realise that even though it was hard it was such a short proportion of my and his life.

I have now been breastfeeding for six months and intend to continue for as long as my baby wants to. Considering I used to cry to my husband every evening during those first couple of weeks about how hard breastfeeding was – it’s been quite a journey.

At the beginning lost in a miasma of hormones I was really tough on myself. Breastfeeding seemed like a skill everybody else had mastered so easily. What was wrong with me that I found it so hard? It wasn’t until I sought out support that I realised that lots of other women found it difficult initially. I just needed to be kinder and give me and my baby time to master breastfeeding.

 

If you are reading this and struggling, please ask for support. Be very kind to yourself and remember you are doing an amazing job. You got this mama

I hope you’ve found these 10 tips helpful. Now I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments what advice you’d give to breastfeeding mamas.

 

Newborn baby essentials for first time parents

 

NewbornSo you’re having a baby. You’ve read all the books, your due date is looming and you’ve bought everything you’ll need for yourself postpartum but what does your newborn baby need? Before you give into that excited urge to buy all the things (yes, those baby shoes are gorgeous, and no they aren’t really necessary) remember newborn babies don’t really need much beyond a boob or bottle, something to wear and most importantly a pair of arms to hold them. However, there are some essential products out there that can make your life as a new parent a thousand times easier. As an *ahem* experienced parent of a four-month old, here are the newborn baby essentials I could not do without during those early days.

Water wipes

Have you tried to wipe meconium aka tar off a baby’s bottom using nothing but a bit of cotton wool and water, after 48 hours of no sleep while your baby screams like you’re cutting off an appendage? Learn from my mistake – get water wipes. A mix of water and fruit extracts they are safe to be used on newborn bottoms and they won’t leave you picking off bits of cotton wool off a tiny behind. Pro-tip: liberal applications of coconut oil after every nappy change makes meconium wipeable.

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp

I read so many pregnancy and baby books covering theories from as attachment parenting to sleep training. The one book I want to buy and give to all my pregnant friends is The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp. If you have a baby that is colicky, cries uncontrollably or turns from an angel into screaming bat-baby come 5pm (raises hand sheepishly), this book is for you. You can read more about the theory in this blog post but to summarise here. Pediatrician Dr Harvey Karp argues that unlike other animals babies are born before they are developmentally ready because of the size of their heads in relation to the pelvis. This means that the first three months are a fourth trimester outside of the womb as babies need to rapidly develop to function in the outside world. All babies had an evolved calming reflex to keep them from damaging themselves or mum in the womb, and if we can recreate these outside of the womb we can calm babies in minutes. These are called the five s’s: swaddle, side or stomach, shush, swing, suck. I was sceptical at first but the five s’s helped calm our fractious newborn in minutes. You can watch Karp in action here. The next five essentials are all ones that use the five s’s.

Co sleeper

My lovely friend Claudia lent me her co-sleeper which is a crib that attaches to the side of the bed. It was godsend for three very important reasons:

  1. Newborns have really odd breathing patterns and frequently take very looooong pauses in between breaths. A co sleeper allows you to check on your baby without leaving your bed. This saves you from diving across the room twenty times in one night in a move I like to call the ‘Why isn’t my baby breathing dive? Oh no, he’s fine.’
  2. Breastfeeding is made so much easier once you can do it lying down. No more getting out of your warm bed, arranging pillows behind you or even sitting up to grab your baby. Instead release boob, roll baby onto boob, doze while baby sucks then roll baby back into the co-sleeper. Or yaknow…
  3. Don’t. My sure fire way of waking Nibs up whether I wanted to or not was to put him down after breastfeeding. The way he reacted was as if I had lowered him into the pits of hell not an expensive, lovingly crafted crib. I had a choice hold him for twenty minutes until he’d fell into a deeper sleep or lie him next then very gradually inch him back into his crib. Having the crib as his back meant I didn’t have to worry that he would roll out of bed when feeding and he felt close to me. Which brings us nicely onto the…

Sling

I bought a Moby fabric sling initially. It may have been the sleep deprivation or the fact that I have worse block designs skills than my son. Who is four months old. But I could not put it together without putting my baby down, which defeated the point, as he’d then wake up. I needed a sling that I could strap my sleeping baby into using only one hand.

Enter the Beco Gemini which even this mama could put together in her sleep. What I should have done before buying this was: go to a sling library and try on a couple before buying. What I did: ask my friend Jo sling obsessive which one she recommended for a novice like me. Both He Who Shall Not Be Named (HWSNBN) and I love it because the crossing straps distribute the babies weight and Nibs can be worn in a number of different positions as he gets older. The sling is brilliant for getting housework done while his Nibs naps. It allows me to get out and about without worrying if the buggy will fit through doors or on buses. And at grizzle o’clock it calms him down and will, if the stars are aligned, even send him to sleep if we walk around swiftly with him in the sling.

Ewan the dream sheep

White noise is a parent’s best friend. Whether it’s the dishwasher, car or even the sea, white noise mimics the sound of the wound and sends our baby Nibs into a deeper sleep. My little sister bought us Ewan the Dream Sheep which emits a soothing red pulse and has a number of different white noise tracks to choose from. Our favourite is a track we’ve nicknamed the haunted womb.

Gro swaddle

I was decidedly anti swaddle before having a baby. They seemed so restrictive and Victorian. Until I witnessed how my sons flailing limbs would wake him up multiple times a night and read about the Moro instinct. As soon as he was swaddled, he calmed down his little face relaxing and the swaddle seemed less like a medieval torture device and more like a full body hug. I credit the swaddle with helping our son sleep like less like an actual baby and more like a metaphorical baby from early on. We loved the Gro Ladybird Spot Swaddle for being so simple even this mama could use.

Love to Dream Swaddle

Now Nibs is a little bigger we’ve graduated to this Love to Dream Swaddle which is like a swaddle just for his arms. This helps restrain his natural impulse to violently batter himself in the face with his arms as sleeps. Plus when he’s wearing it he looks like he has wings providing many a hilarious photo opportunity.

Swing

Here’s the thing. As a new parent you get many a piece of useless advice of which the mos useless is sleep when your baby sleeps. The problem was like many newborns Nibs would only sleep when in motion as he was used to being lulled to sleep by the constant motion in the womb. In utero his most active time was 2am when all was still and I was trying to sleep and he commenced his kick mummy in the ribs done. So unless I mastered sleepwalking/sleep driving that advice was pretty useless. Until we bought the Joie Serina 2 in 1 Baby Swing second hand on ebay, aka the best money I ever spent. Save the money you could spend on a bouncer and get this electric swing. Like magic the swing on its most vigorous setting would send him to sleep in minutes allowing me to nap too. It also comes with white noise, vibrates, the swing works in two directions, and the seat can be taken off and used as a bouncer too. Seriously buy this, you won’t regret it.

Products for your first aid cabinet like:

A thermometer – ideally the no touch scan thermometer so you don’t have to keep your wriggling baby still while you check for a fever.

Nosefrida – this ridiculously gross invention the Nosefrida Nasal Aspirator allows you to alleviate a congested nose in seconds with the aid of saline drops and a suction tube. Its disgusting but essential especially if you have a baby in the season of the snot aka winter like we did.

Metanium – the yellow Metanium is like kryptonite for nappy rash. Most of the time we use a thin layer of sudocreme on our babies bum. But when he had a nasty nappy rash due to thrush a thin layer of this cream cleared up the rash in days.

Isofix base

Three door car + sleep deprivation= going anywhere is a hurry is a hassle. When you add in a screaming baby its amazing how a simple procedure of threading a car belt through a car seat becomes mensa level difficult. Get a Isofix Base for your car seat and you simply clip and unclip the car seat from your car. I held off buying one for three months until I finally gave in on the advice of my very wise friend Katy and I wish I’d done it a lot sooner. 

1,000 muslins

Nibs is a silent posseter. You’ll be holding him and suddenly your lap will be suspiciously warm. Before giving birth, my mother in law asked me how many muslins we had and I naively replied ten and she gave me the look. The look that meant haha, you’ll learn.

Within days of the birth we were on ebay ordering more and now I think we have close to 50 at least. Muslins are great as well as clearing up posset and protecting your shoulder when burping, they can be used to swaddle your baby, to tuck under your boob for hands free feeding and as nursing cover. Ours where just cheapo ones but if I had the money I’d get these gorgeous Faye and Lou Rainbow Muslins. 

Trial amazon family membership  

No matter how well you prepare by reading helpful new parent lists like this and faithfully buying everything on them (right? Right.), once the baby arrives you’ll realise, always at 3am, that you’ve missed some essential item. Amazon family have a free month trial with next day delivery, £20 off when you spend over £60 and deals on nappies and other products. It was ideal for those middle of the night ‘I need new bits for my breastpump’ purchases.

A village  

*Mounts soap box* Postnatal depression is at a record high in this country. And I strongly believe its because we aren’t meant to raise babies alone. It takes a village. At first I tried so hard to show that I could do it all. Hadn’t I longed for this? Then why was I finding it so hard. Things became easier when I started asking for help from my loving partner and co-parent HWSNBN, from my parents and his, from my sister and new mum friends. Workout what you need whether it’s food or a spare pair of arms so you can shower – and ask for help prior to giving birth.

Fellow survivors of the newborn stage, what would you add to the list? Mummas and dad’s to be, you got this!

Birth, motherhood and me

So I had a baby! And as expected I have many thoughts about birth, motherhood, and babies.

On birth

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Birth is like an event horizon. When you’re pregnant for the first time, it is almost impossible to visualise what lies beyond it. But one of the things I forgot is even if I was exceptionally unlucky, at most it would be 72 hours out of my life. I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about the birth. I wish I had thought more about what would happen afterwards.

As a mum-to-be you hear a LOT of labour horror stories. Looking back now, it’s amazing how much of my memory of the labour has faded replaced by what came afterwards. Yes, it was painful but I had a baby at the end of it.

I find it interesting how much of being ready to give birth is about physical readiness versus psychological readiness. I spent the day before I went into labour sewing Nib’s mobile. ‘It’s the last thing on my maternity leave to do list.’ I announced brightly to HWSNBN. Somewhere in my head a tick had been placed on the list and there was just one last item:
Have a baby.

I woke up at 1am contracting three minutes apart. But I’d had Braxton Hicks for days so I wasn’t sure this was it. Then half an hour later I turned over in bed and my waters broke with a sudden pop and I knew it was time.

Our NCT teacher told us your waters breaking wasn’t like in the movies – it just a trickle. DUDE, it was exactly like in the movies. It felt like I had Niagara falls in my knickers and out of the biological indignities that were to come it was almost the grossest.

The grossest was the vomiting. Imagine having a contraction, perhaps the worse pain you have ever experienced and as you are trying to breathe your way through it you projectile vomit. Again. The midwives were thrilled ‘open mouth, open cervix’. I was less than happy. I’d never imagined I’d met my child covered in green bile. But nobody ever said labour was glamourous.

As somebody whose always been self conscious about her body I worried beforehand about how I would feel lots of strangers seeing it. I can’t count how many people saw my poonani, nor did I care.

I had gathered together so many supplies for my birth – aromatherapy oils, playlists and birth balls. What I actually wanted was a dark room, a bucket to throw up in, to be on all fours, and for HWSNBN to push on my spine so hard it gave him bruises.

Which brings us to… back labour. From the moment I woke up contracting and felt that Nibs, after being in the optimal position since week 20, had turned so his back was grinding up against mine, I knew I was in for a rocky ride. Back labour feels like the baby is trying to exit via your spine. It isn’t only extraordinarily painful but the pressure is almost unbearable and it turns out is visible from the outside. HWSNBN described afterwards as like a scene from alien as my coccyx pulsated and bulged outwards.

There are lots of things you can do to try and turn a back to back baby. I tried them all (not knowing that he had the cord tangled around him and he was stuck). Being in the birth pool helped for a bit. Being in on all fours helped for a while. But as he descended I began having back to back contractions. I would breathe my way over the hill of a contraction and just as the pain began to fade the intensity would slam back up to the peak again. I was getting tired and we had a choice. Stay at home for another hour and try and turn him or transfer to hospital. I asked to be examined. If I was in transition I’d stay at home and bear it out. But I was only six centimetres. I cried, despite the midwives comforting me. Six centimetres at home in this time was amazing, they said. But I was done – we made the decision to transfer.

Before labour in our long discussions I’d asked HWSNBN to be my advocate as I have been known to be less than assertive. But apparently (I have no memory of this) when everybody was milling around the ambulance, they kept offering me pillows and water for the journey, I snapped ‘JUST DRIVE.’ They did.

Putting my clothes on and leaving the house was hell. I had to stop for each contraction. I kept my eyes closed in the ambulance. And I didn’t even care as people stared at me as I waddled through A + E or in the lift up to the labour ward as I panted sucking on the gas and air.

In hospital I had an epidural which alleviated some of the pain but none of the pressure – thanks back labour! However, the contractions began to space out so I could breathe in between them.

It became clear that the baby wasn’t coping very well as his heartbeat was dipping during contractions. I could tell that the doctors and midwives were worried. All I could do was lie there helpless and ask over and over again ‘Is my baby OK?’ 

A lot of the things I worried would happen did. I got transferred to hospital, the pain was, at times, so unbearable I lost control during contractions, I tore. But in the end only one thing mattered that my baby was safe and well. When his heartbeat kept dipping, if a scalpel had been in reach I would have cut him out myself.

My labour was short by first labour standards at around 20 hours. But it felt like no time at all – the day a brief window of light before the darkness fell again. Midwives kept changing shifts and I’d look at the clock and see that hours had passed.

In labour the world retreats. The room had one of the best views over Brighton but I barely saw it. There was nothing but this small room, this breath in between contractions, this baby and me working together so he could be born.

You never forget the midwives who delivered your child. During the long night and day and night I was in labour we had lots of different midwives. I was so glad that it was the last two who delivered my baby. They were brilliant, compassionate, open about what was going on, and so encouraging as I pushed the baby out.

As the baby was getting so tired and his heart wasn’t returning to normal in between contractions, they gave me half an hour to push him out. I put my chin down and focused. Although I knew that after an epidural it can be harder to push – there was no doubt in my mind that I could do this. One advantage of having back labour was I always felt the pressure of baby. And as I began pushing I could feel the baby moving down with each push and even when he finally flipped round the right way in my pelvis. As he was crowning and I was panting through the stinging, doctors barrelled into the room with a gurney. They took one look in between my legs, told me to ‘Good job, carry on!’ And left again.  

As soon as I saw him I knew it would be OK. He was silent, a colour not found in nature and a midwife was furiously palpitating his back as the other worked the cord free as it tangled around his neck. I cried and I think they thought it was because I was worried. I wasn’t. I knew he was OK, in a weird way deep down in my bones. I cried because he was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

They put him in my arms and we just stared at each other and I thought ‘Oh, there you are.’ There was an immediate feeling of recognition, like running into somebody beloved I had not seen for centuries. He was tiny, blanched white and smelt of clementines. His eyes were universe dark and he had an expression like he’d been here before. We stared at each other for hours and he didn’t make a sound.

I pushed out the placenta, they sewed me up, people came and went but HWSNBN and I just stared at this perfect being we’d made and he stared back in a trifecta of love.

On postpartum

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Apres the birth was the biggest high, followed by the deepest come down of my life. There were moments of being caught up in the most blissful love bubble ‘Look what we made. I love him so much my body can barely contain it.’ and moments of being snagged on the rocks of despair ‘This is so hard. I can’t do this. I’m a shit mum.’

I didn’t think motherhood would be easy. But when I imagined it I saw it through the filter of  pre-baby me. Well rested, non bruised and not on a hormone crash from hell me.

A friend described it best when she said postpartum is like being in a car crash and then being handed the most precious and fragile being you ever saw and told not to drop him. How can you look after somebody else when you need looking after yourself?

As we walked up to the postnatal ward, I heard another mum being bought in howling. Just the sound of another woman in labour made me feel like I was going to throw up again.

Word up to all the expectant mothers, even if you don’t tear you’re going to feel bruised and tender for at least ten days post birth. Good thing you’re not going to be spending a huge amount of time sitting on your behind breastfeeding a newborn. Oh… wait. To add to the mix I had a huge purple bruise from where Nib’s head had engaged in a prolonged battle with my spine, that meant putting any pressure on my back was toe-curlingly painful. Breastfeeding involved arranging an elaborate system of pillows and a piles cushions around and under me while the baby howled for his dinner.

Ah, the post labour poo. Read this mamas-to-be and god be with you.

Good friends bring pressies for the baby. Amazing friends send pressies for the baby and for you. My lovely fairy godmother Ros sent me a postpartum package including tinctures and arnica, cool packs and a savoy cabbage. Yes, really. It was hands down the best present I received.

Night sweats – because what every woman wants to do with less than ideal pelvic floor control post birth is ask herself the question in the middle of the night ‘Is that puddle I’m lying in pee or sweat?’

I expected to get postpartum depression (ever the optimist). I didn’t. What I did experience was postpartum anxiety. It did not last long but it felt endless at the time. A lifelong sleepaholic I suddenly had horrific insomnia my thoughts racing so fast I could not follow them. I jumped at every sound convinced that there was something wrong with my baby. After a couple of days of me not sleeping more than an hour at a time, HWSNBN took Nibs in the other room promising to bring him in for feeds. But every time I closed my eyes I heard the baby crying. Yet whenever I went to check, he was fast asleep. ‘He’s OK.’ HWSNBN would tell me. But I could not shake the conviction that he wasn’t and that I had to be hypervigilant to prevent anything from happening to him.

The insomnia did not help. My baby was sleeping, my husband was sleeping but I could not sleep except when the exhaustion grabbed and I fell into darkness for a hour or so. I haunted the flat like a little ghost. During one conversation in the middle of the night I realised I was so sleep deprived it felt like I was having a stroke. I could tell I wasn’t making sense but I couldn’t articulate that thought. I could not articulate anything.

Day fucking five really sucked. Mention into the other mums and you get the shudder of been there, endured the hormone crash. In perfect storm of shittiness events conspired to make mine pretty awful.

Picture the scene me manic from not sleeping more than a hour at a time when the midwife comes to weigh the baby. I’d expected that he would have lost some weight. He was still quite jaundiced, sleepy and had to be woken to feed and throughout the feed. But the night before he’d fed almost constantly – surely he was starting to put weight back on? I knew as soon as she placed him on the scales that something was wrong. ‘He’s lost too much weight.’ But he was feeding constantly the night before, I said. ‘Yes, he was feeding constantly because there wasn’t enough milk. We need to see how much milk you’re creating and make a plan to get his weight back up and if that doesn’t work we’ll admit him into hospital.’ I pumped and we stared at the measly amount of milk that dribbled out and then she wrote out a plan: breastfeeding every three hours, expressing breast milk and then supplementing with formula. I could barely hear her at this point over the siren blare of my baby is starving and it’s all my fault.

After she left, HWSNBN was sent out to get formula and pumping equipment. ‘You’ll be OK?’ He asked as I stood in the doorway, rocking the baby and weeping. There was nobody I could call to come sit with me. My family were over the other side of the world. His were an hour and a half away. And as I tried to feed Nibs it became clear that the milk wasn’t coming. I felt like the shittest mum ever. How could I have missed that he was starving? He cried frantically until his little body was exhausted and he fell asleep in my arms. This was the nadir.

HWSNBN and I embarked on the fatten the baby up plan. I’d breastfeed on one side and express on the other while HWSNBN fed me sips of water and food. After the baby had finished we’d offer him the milk I’d expressed earlier and then formula if he was still hungry. Before setting an alarm to wake up in an hour and half and do it again. I remember it being hard but I also remember the love and that feeling of being on the same team.

I’ve always been notoriously talented at hiding when things are wrong. My leg could be hanging off and I would still insist that I was ‘Fine. Oh that? It’s nothing. Tell me about you?’ Birth robbed me of that skill – I lost my filter entirely. I sent out messages into the ether to my friends spilling my emotional guts. The responses, ah me, they make me want to cry even now. They were so lovely. In my vulnerability came honesty and connection. Sadly the filter is firmly back in place now. This is one thing I miss from the postpartum period.

Weigh in day arrived. The midwives wanted to see a weight gain of 60 otherwise we’d be admitted to hospital. Luckily the January genes for putting on a shit-ton of weight are strong and he had gained 300. I tried and failed to not cry on the midwife.

Like it had never been the anxiety began to fade and I slept for three blessed hours in a row and it was wonderful. I’m not sure why it went. Was it simply hormonal and the hormones had began to fade? Or was it emotional? It wasn’t until the midwives told me that my baby wasn’t putting on weight that I realised I had been carrying the fear from the birth that my baby was not OK. Plan fatten baby up gave me somewhere to challenge my anxiety and like that it dissipated. Looking back I realise how lucky I was in comparison to other women whose babies were seriously unwell. But at the time my anxiety seemed so real, so valid.

On breastfeeding

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I thought breastfeeding would be as simple as take boob, pop boob in babies mouth, baby feeds – done. Insert hollow laughter here.

Breastfeeding is one of the hardest things I have ever done. None of it was easy. In the first three weeks I cried almost daily about how hard it was. The temptation to say fuck it and only give him formula was almost overwhelming. But a small voice inside me said just try another day and I did.

If I wasn’t supported in the people around me I would not have persisted. From the kind midwife who suggested giving him a tiny bit of expressed milk to satiate his hunger, then breastfeeding him when he was so hangry he refused to latch. To all the other women my friends and at the breastfeeding clinics who said yes breastfeeding is really, really hard but it gets better. To HWSNBN who did everything so I could feed our baby. From bringing me endless glasses of water and food, to changing nappies and taking him around the park so I could give my sore boobs a rest. And for encouraging me to keep going when things were tough.

The first challenge I faced when it came breastfeeding was physics. Nibs was born on the small side and my boobs are anything but small. He’s seven weeks old now and much to my little sister’s amusement my boobs still dwarf his head.

The second challenge was genetics, I was the most uncoordinated person I know until I met… my son. Latching was like trying to touch opposing magnets. In the early weeks it would take up to half an hour and HWSNBN’s help to get him to latch. Where he would feed for a couple of minutes and fall asleep, and then the whole process started again.

The third challenge was medical. I have PCOS which means that my breastmilk supply is lower than average . Nibs like many babies had jaundice which equates to one sleepy baby who doesn’t really want to feed. As breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis, having a sleepy baby who didn’t really want to feed meant my already low supply dwindled further.

My boobs the day milk came in two words: rock tits.

They say breastfeeding isn’t meant to be painful. Seriously? Tell that to my fucking nipples. It gets less painful as your nipples get more desentised but still sometimes when he latched I have to count to ten.

Getting newborn to latch is like trying to put a sock on a snake.
‘Hey baby, here’s the nipple.’
Baby turns head in the opposite direction.
‘Baby the nipple, it’s here.’
Baby bobs frantically headbutting nipple.
Baby manages to get nipple in his mouth (yay), and his hand too (no).
Baby latches on and while latched whips his head back and forth still searching for the nipple. Yep Nipple whiplash, it’s a thing.

Years ago I read about Melanie Klein’s theory of the good/bad breast and the concept of splitting. I thought it was bullshit. But Klein was right on. Sometimes Nibs loves the boob and sometimes he hates it. Being a mother is about being able to withstand both.

The breastfeeding books speak about being in a comfortable position. But I’d stay contorted in the most awkward positions because I had finally got him to latch and who cared that I was bent double over my baby. And if the remote control was out of reach well, love meant enduring Jeremy Kyle.

I’ve breastfeed through thrush, engorgement, blocked milk ducts (twice), cracked nipples… I’m just waiting for mastisis and then I’ll have the full set.

In some ways, having to introduce a bottle so early was a blessing in disguise. It has meant that HWSNBN can feed the baby and have that bonding time together. Even better it means I get a blessed hour off. Bliss

The best thing about my breastfeeding app. It tells me how long I’ve been feeding for and which breast I last fed from. The worst thing about my breastfeeding app it tells me how long I’ve been feeding for. 8 and a half hours! No wonder my arse is numb.

Cluster feeding was demoralising as hell and it hit in week three just as HWSNBN headed back to work. Unless HWSNBN or his mother were there, I couldn’t eat, or wee or even take a sip of water. I didn’t leave the house for days because he would not stop feeding and as he was finally putting on weight I did not want to interrupt him. He still cluster feeds at night but it isn’t all day so I am so thankful for it.

I quickly learnt to prioritise in those brief moments when I wasn’t physically attached to Nibs. Have a wee, drink water, eat something and perhaps if you’re really lucky nap. Fuck housework.

Some babies are into fast food. Feeding my baby is like trying to feed a narcoleptic drunk gourmand who ordered the fucking tasting menu goddamn it and he will finish it. Even if it takes him three hours actual time (thirty minutes effective feeding time) A sample feed looks like this.
Feed frantically for four minutes.
Fall asleep.
Get put down.
Howls indignantly.
Come back for a two minute soupcon.
Fall asleep while possetting on self. Handed to daddy.
Howls while rooting on daddy’s nose.
Repeat until mummy declares the boob restaurant is closed. Baby does not understand language yet so ignores this.

Stuff Nibs hates:
Being put down
Having his nappy changed
People touching his feet
Having his cheesy armpits cleaned
Being stripped naked
Falling asleep on the boob and waking up to discover the boob is no longer there.

Stuff I will do to get him to feed (because I am eviiiiiiiil):
See all of the above

They said it takes six weeks to get breastfeeding established. By week four it was noticably easier (barring the really painful thrush episode). It’s the end of week six now and I finally feel like we are in a rhythm. What I would say is you need to what is best for your baby AND you! Whether that’s breastfeeding, combi-feeding or giving formula your emotional and physical wellbeing matters too.

On motherhood

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Pre motherhood me would judge the fuck out of some of the choices I’m making. Mother-me would pour me a gin, give me a hug and tell me I’m doing my best.

Having a child unearths a lot of shit from your psyche. I am not somebody who likes being dependent and I hate asking for help. Having a sister who needs extra help, I think I made me grow up fast and decide that I didn’t want to burden people by being too needy. Since having a baby I am physically, financially and emotionally dependent on the people around me and I hate it. I feel incredibly uncomfortable which I think indicates growth.

It takes a village to raise a child. We aren’t meant to do this alone.

You will welcome the people who come over and want to hold your baby. You will want to worship the people who come over with food, pop a load of laundry on, and make you a drink while you hold your baby.

There are a lot of nasty jokes made about mother-in-laws but mine has been amazing. In those early days when I was a walking zombie and later when HWSNBN went back to work she would come over every couple of days and help out.

Being a mum eclipses everything else. I lose hours staring into his eyes. There isn’t a to do list anymore.

Being perpertually late person naturally is exacerbated by having a baby. Leaving this house is like martialling an army. An army that waits until you are just picking up your car keys before pooing up it’s back.

Saying it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t also wonderful. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

One day he may be 33 too and taller than I will ever be, but he will always, always, always be my baby.

During the birth, he was born but a new me also emerged. I am not sure what mother Rowan looks like. But I can’t wait to find out.

Sometimes you have no choice but to put your screaming child down and have a wee. It doesn’t make you a bad mum – it makes you somebody who values continence.

On marriage

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When I met HWSNBN I was 21. I wasn’t sure I wanted to even get married, let alone have children. I never chose him thinking about what kind of father he’d make. Luckily those qualities I fell in love with as a partner map perfectly onto being a dad.

My bestie asked me what I was doing for Valentine’s day and I replied sarcastically that HWSNBN and I were playing the ultra romantic game of pass the screaming baby. But it’s true I have never loved HWSNBN more than when he sees me pacing with a screaming Nibs and says ‘Let me take over for a bit’ and I go cry-sob in the shower. It isn’t roses and chocolates but it is love.

On the dark side, I have never hated him more when he complained in all seriousness ‘I never got out anymore.’ The baby was four weeks old. Complaining to a new mother about never going out, is like bitching to people in a famine regime that the size of Quality Street tins are a bit skimped. Know your audience!

I don’t mind admitting that HWSNBN is better at settling him that I am. He seems less affected by Nibs’ crying whereas to me it’s like an alarm saying do something! One of the downsides of having boobs is that I use them as a pacifier. Whereas HWSNBN has a whole host of tricks at his disposal.

It’s ridiculous that dad’s only get two weeks of paid paternity leave. I was lucky because HWSNBN works for himself he could work from home most days or ask his mum to come down when he wasn’t able. I don’t know how other women do it. 5.30pm has become my favourite time of day.

I am a better parent with him around.

On babies

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I never knew much about babies and to me they all seemed alike. Tiny, sleepy bundles that looked and acted like drunk old men. Now I have one I see the differences.

The first night Nibs threw up every half an hour gobs of yellow mucus. I sat and watched over him terrified he would choke and drown. It was first experience of motherhood that sometimes there is nothing you can do but bear witness and be there for your baby.

If you have a baby that screams uncontrollably for hours, it can almost unbearable. The one that helped was imagining the screams were him talking. Very loudly. For hours.

It’s OK to think your child looks a bit weird sometimes. Sometimes I think he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Other times I think he looks like a cross between Pob and a monkey.

The principle of the fourth trimester governs many of my early parenting decisions. Nibs has gone to never being cold, or hungry, or not held to experiencing all of those things. No wonder it is overwhelming.

He loves staring at me the most. Followed shortly by the curtains.

Nibs hates to be put down. If he could he would cling to me (preferably) or Johnny at all times. At 7pm when I’ve been feeding for hours and he’s howling, I would do anything to be alone. I miss having my body to myself. But sometimes in the dead of night when I feel his warmth on me I think nobody will ever love and need me like you do and it makes me want to cry with the tenderness of it all.

You can’t spoil a baby. A child yes, but not a baby.

Babies noises are deceiving. Throughout the night he will frequently sound as if he is choking on his own vomit only when you turn on the light – there is no posset to be seen. Paradoxically when he does posset it dribbles from his mouth silently like Bishop at the end of the Aliens movie. Frequently while fast asleep he will emit a sleep screech that is so terrifying it alone makes me glad I religiously did my pelvic floor exercises. We’ll just settle him for the night when he will start hiccuping in his sleep. Loudly. His favourite thing to do is lie there asleep making snuffling, snorting and burbling noises. HWSNBN calls this his ‘look mummy I am sleeping. Look at me sleep. I iz very good at the sleeping’ noise. I call this fucking irritating. Other times I will wake in the night and he will be lying silently in the dark staring at me. #mybabyiscreepierthanyourbaby

Babies are gross and because you love them you become gross too. He has possetted on my hair, stomach and nipple. Once he threw up on his fist then sucked it like it was a lollipop. I took a photo. Sometimes I don’t even know myself anymore.

When pregnant I read in the newborn book that babies feed on average every two hours. That’s not too bad, thought me. At least your getting around two stretches of sleep. What I didn’t realise is that’s two hours from the start of the feed and by the time you put them down you have forty-five minutes before the whole cycle starts again.

You win some, you lose some. I hesitate to write this because I am so tempting the baby gods to curse me for my hubris. But Nibs sleeps absurdly well for a newborn. WINNING

I expected the nights to be bad – but the first fortnight aside they have been bearable. The evenings on the other hand… ah dios madre. When the clock turns 5pm my angel child turns into the bat baby from hell. He has a full agenda of screaming and feeding or screamfeeding and he isn’t going to stop until he’s done. This is coincidentally the time when my reserves and patience are at their lowest. Luckily it is also the time when HWSNBN comes home. 

The days are long but the years are short. As I write this Nibs is six weeks old. He is smiling and burbling. He loves to be held upright so he admire the curtains. He’s grown almost 30 centimeters. I can’t wait to witness the little person he grows into.

I thought I would have this strong feeling of ‘mine’ when I saw him. But he doesn’t feel like he came from me. He feels like a gift from the stars and the sky and I am just looking after him for as long as he will have me.

They didn’t say it would be easy, they said it would be worth it. And it is so worth it.