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When you are pregnant for the first time, you go through the biggest life changes you’ll probably ever experience.  One of those is the way your body changes.  Whether your dress size alters or not, I think most will agree, especially if you have your first baby when you are 30 years+ and you go on to have more than one child, the impact will change certain parts of your body forever.

For some women this can be stressful.  However, with the right preparation and knowledge, you can minimise many of these affects and feel great about yourself.

Everyone talks about how important it is to make sure you eat the right things to give your growing foetus all the nutrition he needs, at his different stages of development.  I couldn’t agree more.  It is vital that you eat plenty of food full of vitamins and minerals, with the right sort of natural fats and sugars.  See footnote 1 in STEP EIGHT[1].  However, in my opinion, more emphasis should be on how important it is to look after yourself.

For some reason in our society, when it comes to women who are pregnant they can do no wrong (especially when it comes to eating the wrong foods or lack of exercise).  As long as baby is getting goodness in some form, it doesn’t seem to matter how much you eat or how little exercise you do.  All is forgiven because you are carrying a baby.  I’m here to say, not only does a very healthy way of life benefit your baby, but it also benefits you and can considerably reduce your recovery time after the birth.

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Exercise.

Aerobic exercise is extremely important during pregnancy.  Not only do you feel good, but you pump lots more oxygen through your body and into your baby via the umbilical cord.  Oxygen is key for brain growth, and a flow of oxygen is an extremely positive thing for brain development.  As baby grows and the bump gets larger women tend to do less exercise.  It is so important that you try to walk around as much as possible and keep yourself physically motivated. Maintain a good level of fitness and agility, and it will be much easier to physically ‘get back’ when you have had your baby.

Many people take up pregnancy yoga.  I loved it and my wonderful teacher, Lolly Stirk was key to my preparation.  Yogic breathing got me through labour, and I really enjoyed being flexible.

However, after the birth of my first son because I was too flexible and I suffered from dislocations, I couldn’t do yoga any more.  By the ninth month of my second pregnancy, I was wearing a girdle to stop my hips dislocating.  Not very pleasant.  For anyone who does not suffer in this way, yoga is fantastic and I can’t recommend it highly enough.  What is important to remember is that your pregnant body may not benefit from your pre-pregnancy fitness regime in the same way, and seeking advice as to what is best for you can really help.

Be careful not to take too much advise from your neighbour, either.  She may look amazing and still be rigorously exercising every day, but what is ideal for her may not be for you!  Some women love running, for example, and run for months into their pregnancy.  Others (myself included) couldn’t run after I was 3 months gone.  We’re all different and you must listen to your body.

You might find it useful to find someone who can tailor a health and exercise programme to your needs.  Someone who has experience with pregnant women and has knowledge in many areas of exercise and general well-being.  After my second pregnancy I discovered CO Fitness[2] – I wish I had discovered them before!  It’s about finding someone who listens to you and helps achieve your goals, no matter how big or small.

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Diet.

When you are pregnant, you are your growing baby’s entire source of nutrition.  Anything you put into your mouth or breath through your nose, or put on your skin (your skin being the body’s largest organ) will filter through to your baby.  All the blood in your body goes through the placenta every 20 minutes.  So anything in your blood, affects your foetus, quickly.  Also, baby is constantly growing, which is why he needs a constant source of food.  However, it is a fallacy that you need to ‘eat for two’.  Your baby does not need a higher volume of food.  He needs a higher volume of nutrition.  Most people find themselves hungry more often, rather than needing to eat larger portions.  The foetus pushing all your organs up into your rib cage, squashing your stomach, so that it’s capacity is less.  If you get into the habit of larger meals, of course, your stomach will do its best to  accommodate, but don’t kid yourself that it is all for the baby!

Something you commonly hear at girls’ lunch parties when pudding is offered, is “Go on, you’re eating for two!”  That chocolate gateau looks very tempting and tastes absolutely delicious, but do you think all that refined sugar is filling your baby with rich nutrition?  Well, you can think whatever you like, but I’m here to tell you that the biggest thing it is doing is adding inches to your thighs which you’ll have to work really hard to get rid of afterwards.  Now, you may not care a hoot about your waste line, and good for you.  I envy you!  If you are like me and just don’t feel that great about yourself if you go up a dress size, then I would advise you to really take care with your calorie intake.

Self-identity and self-esteem are two things which can take a massive hit after a couple of months of having your baby.  I have spoken about this in previous blogs[3], so I won’t repeat here.  However, I feel passionately about telling women how difficult it can be to lose weight after you have given birth and it’s much easier to try to resist the chocolate or puddings while you are pregnant.

People will tell you, “Don’t worry, it’ll drop off when you’re breast-feeding.”  Well, I don’t anyone who lost weight while breast-feeding.  It’s when most women are absolutely starving all the time and nothing accept stodgy, sugar rich food seems to do the trick.  I put on a stone while breast-feeding both of my boys, having hardly put on anything during pregnancy.  I’m someone who listens to my body.  I knew during pregnancy my baby wanted loads of fresh fruit, vegetables, fresh fish and meat, and loads of healthy carbs, like rice.  The puddings just sat like a lump in my stomach, didn’t give me anything but very short-term energy, and made me feel sleepy and sluggish fifteen minutes later.  I thought, if they are making me feel like this, they can’t be great for my baby either.  Once I was breast-feeding however, the amount of calories I was burning up producing milk, meant I couldn’t get enough sugar.  I spent a fortune on ‘healthy’ sweet things, but still, you can’t get away with cake every day at my age, without feeling it on your hips!  I had starters at every meal and snacks in between as well.  Within 24 hours of my milk drying up, however, my appetite halved, just like that.  I stopped eating as much, cut out a lot of the sugar, and as I had a bit more freedom from baby because he wasn’t tied to the boob any more, I was able to resume my daily two hour walks with the dog.  The combination of which meant over the next four months, the weight slowly dropped off.

All of this, of course, takes a certain amount of control.  And sometimes that can be really hard, especially if you are very tired due to disturbed sleep.  Again, this is why I highly recommend seeking advice from someone who can put you on the right track and support you, just for a few weeks, until you start feeling great again.

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Physical Recovery.

When it comes to how you are affected physically, everyone is different and it is totally unpredictable.  There are many little side affects, too many to mention here, but if you are reading this with stories about any experiences that you would like to share, please do, to help other mums out there.  Here are a few of the big ones:

- Stretch marks, weirdly, seem to be hereditary, so if your mum or sister got them, take extra special care.  There are some amazing products on the market and I’d stick to natural oils.  If you want to go for something other than normal virgin olive oil (which I used throughout both my pregnancies – the good quality stuff you’d put on your salads), then try Bio Care[4].  It has PurCellin Oil in it and I think it’s wonderful.  You can’t moisturise enough in my opinion, although some people don’t like using it at night because apparently it blocks your pores.  It’s a personal choice which I’ll leave to you.  Whatever you do, though, don’t leave it until you can see massive stretch marks.  Keep yourself really moisturised during pregnancy.  The older you are the more important this is, due to a reduction in the elasticity in the skin, particularly around the belly and top of the legs.

- Scar tissue is another thing that can be quite prominent if you have a caesarean-section.  I have friends who have had all their children by caesarean and have bad scar tissue which can be very uncomfortable.  I have no personal experience here, but there are many testimonials on line and ask friends and practitioners for advice if you are planning a caesarean or if you have just had one.

- Down below is obviously extremely stretched.  I highly recommend perineum massage as a preparation.  It’s a natural way to give the vagina more ability to stretch without tearing, so there is likely to be less damage and of course less discomfort.  After birth, do not underestimate how important your pelvic floor muscle exercises are.  The best tip someone gave me, was to do them whenever I thought about them, whether I was standing in a queue at the bank, driving somewhere, or watching TV.  You don’t need to set aside a special 5 minutes every day.  If you don’t do them, you might be surprised at what happens the next time you go on a trampoline!  And it definitely benefits your sex life!

So, in summary, look after yourself!  Once you are a mum, or even as early as when you are pregnant, you might become extremely selfless, which happens a lot.  Of course this is Nature’s way, but if you don’t feel good about yourself it’s hard to feel utterly content inside.  The happier and healthier you are and feel, the happier your family will be.

ImageMany women work up until their maternity leave starts, and for some it is the first extended leave from the workplace that they have ever experienced.  The idea of maternity leave – a paid holiday – sounds fantastic.  The idea of having at least three to six months off with your new baby sounds even better.  The reality, however, can be incredibly stressful.

Stressful?  Not working?  Don’t be silly, you might be thinking.

I would like you to imagine a normal working day.  How many people do you interact with?  How often do you need to shut the door to concentrate on something important?  Are you a pro-active person who gets satisfaction from completing your ‘To Do’ list?

Now imagine waking up thinking the same way, but by the end of the day you have not managed to meet up with anyone, the computer and phone have remained untouched and you have not done one thing on your ‘To Do’ list.  When baby first arrives this is fine, because everyone knows new mums are meant to lie back and do nothing.  After four or five weeks, however, you might feel a little differently.

Take this scenario: Baby is a couple of months old, your partner comes home from work as usual, looks at you and his precious baby lovingly and asks, ‘”So, what have you guys been up to today?”  “Nothing…” you think to yourself flatly.  We’ve slept.  I’ve changed some nappies, managed one load of washing and fed the baby so much my boobs feel like they’re about to fall off, but he doesn’t want to hear about that!  You shrug your shoulders, “Same old, same old!” you manage with a wry smile.  “Oh, so you didn’t manage to ring the gardener or buy the groceries?  Never mind darling, I’ll get a takeaway and maybe you’ll find time to call tomorrow,” he offers, supportively.  Meanwhile, you are feeling frustrated, exhausted and useless.  You start to look at yourself and make comparisons.  You think about the stimulating conversations you used to have, discussing exciting deals you were both working on, and how now you feel like you have nothing interesting to contribute.  How you used to meet him for drinks and dinner with friends after work and the fun you had together, knowing you could lie in bed all weekend if you wanted.  Now nights out seem more unrealistic than flying to the moon.  (At least you could probably take the baby to the moon with you!)  You remember how you used to organise everything at home and at work effortlessly, while keeping up with friends.  Now just one of those seems a struggle.

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It is an incredibly difficult time because you are drawn to this little bundle with the strongest instinct to protect and provide and yet often, muddled in are feelings of guilt and frustration which murky the whole picture.

Don’t worry, I’m here to tell you that all of these feelings are normal and that mental preparation can make a massive difference, allowing you to really enjoy this period of your life, instead of it being frustrating and stressful.

Mentally prepare yourself for what is about to hit you as much as you can.  How, you might ask?  Well, it simply involves thinking about how different your days will be and being ok with that, rather than battling against it.  With enough preparation, you should be able to really look forward to baby and the lull your life will take, rather than resent it.  No matter what stage of life you are in, try to fully immerse yourself in motherhood when it happens to you.  Having a baby in your arms, but wishing you were out on a Friday night or working on the latest big deal, is like living in a the perfect house in the worst location or having your dream job but hating everyone you work with.  The idea is fantastic, but before long you are miserable.

One of the first things to come to terms with is that most of us are control freaks.  Even if you are not when it comes to controlling other people, most people are when it comes to controlling themselves and their own time.  Having to let go of this can be very challenging, especially if you have not thought about it before it happens.  Secondly, the exhaustion can take its toll.  Not because it’s more difficult than what you’re used to, but because it’s different.  Instead of being exhausted from mentally or physically challenging work, often being stimulated by others in the workplace, you are exhausted from the lack of sleep, and your inability to have any time for yourself.  On top of all that, when you most need to rest, baby will probably need you – it’s just sod’s law!  It’s the inability to rest exactly when you want to, which can be the most challenging part.  Consequently most mums will agree that it is much more exhausting being a full-time mother, rather than going to an office every day.  If these facts are surprises for you when baby arrives, they can be very stressful.  Prepare for them and it is a lot easier.

The combination of just these two factors, without anything else, is enough to make many mothers want to go back to work.

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The argument about whether women should go back to work or not, now that Feminism has created so many opportunities and ‘equal rights’ for us, is something which I imagine will be with us forever.  If you are in the lucky position where you do not need to go back to work, and are undecided, I would advise you not to make any decisions before you have your baby.  When I was pregnant with my first, I expected to be back at work within six months, with a full-time nanny in tow.  By the time six months had passed, the idea of leaving my baby made me feel sick.  I was very lucky to be able to make that choice and I chose to stay at home.

If you know you are definitely going back to work, enjoy hanging out with baby 24/7 while it lasts!  You may take 3, 6 or 12 months off work.  Whatever it is, it’ll go by in a flash.  I understand that your partner will want ‘you’ back and probably feel a bit rejected particularly if you are breastfeeding, and of course it’s important to try and create a balance in your life.  However, it’s impossible to be everything to everyone.  Be where your heart draws you, communicate well with your partner, make him understand what your needs are, and try to listen to his.

Many women who want to stay at home get caught up in their frustration.  If you are one of these, please try to search within yourself for a possible solution, so that you can have the best of both worlds.  If being with your children is possible financially and is something you enjoy, you and your children will benefit so much the more you can be with them.

If you want to be at home but don’t know what to do outside of your existing career, try to think of this time as an opportunity.  Pregnancy has allowed you to break from your work.  It is the only time when you can have a break and no one asks any questions, so make the most of it!  Use it as a chance to have a go at something different or pick up a hobby you loved when you were younger or you haven’t had time for since you’ve been working.

No matter how much you love your newborn, everyone needs time for themselves.  Everyone!  Some women feel guilty if they have the urge to spend some time away from their children.  DON’T!  No matter how much we love them, we all need time for ourselves.  I knew I wanted to be at home with my baby, but having had my own business, the feelings of frustration, which I mentioned at the beginning of this blog where very prevalent for me and I knew I also needed something else.  My job to date had been as an independent, self-employed film producer, which I couldn’t see myself doing successfully, part-time.  So instead I started writing and researching the development of the human brain, from the womb, throughout childhood and into adulthood.  I not only found it fascinating, it made me understand how my child’s brain was developing and why they find so many things frustrating as they grow, as their bodies are capable of more than their minds.  It was what led me to start writing these blogs, two years later.

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If your existing career is not something you can do part-time or from home, or if you want to change your career path, it can be very hard to think of what else might stimulate you. Keep your eyes and ears open to anything that appeals to you, or is suggested to you.  Be open to new ideas and think about what you love to do.  The latter stages of pregnancy, particularly when it’s uncomfortable to move, can be a very good time to think about what you really enjoy doing and what you think might work as a part-time job or new career which you can fit around your children. Thinking about what you like to do when you are relaxing is a good start.  It might be something as basic as reading or writing, talking to people, laughing or eating.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but if you can identify the number one thing you enjoy, try to think of doing something which includes that in some way.  The happier you are, the happier everyone is around you.

What I find amazing is when parents find a new lease of life, working or creating in a totally different way from anything they have done before.  For example, I am about to launch a Children’s Charity called Boo Bods, bridging the gap between creativity as a hobby and a career.  Now, if I was still embroiled in the film industry I doubt very much if I would be doing this and already we are helping people.  It feels fantastic.

With part-time work, however, comes the need to be very organised with your time, so that there is over-all harmony and balance in your life.

Balance is incredibly difficult and something I am constantly reassessing in my life to try and get right.  Children like clear boundaries and when you work part-time they are constantly asking whether you are working today or not.  However, children are very adaptable and I think it probably affects us (with the guilt that we are not giving enough time to them!), more than it affects the children.

What I have found key is to make sure that when I am working, I am working, and when I am with the kids, I am with the kids.  This is relevant whether you work full-time or part-time.  Again, it’s about clear boundaries.  It’s easy for the children to learn (even if they don’t want to!) that when mummy is working, you don’t disturb her.  However, asking them to be quiet for 10 minutes while mummy quickly finishes an email or a phone call is a lot more difficult.  If I try and squeeze in a bit of work when it’s my days with the kids, the result is usually that I don’t do the jobs as well as I could and everyone is frustrated.  Of course, having full days to yourself may not be a financial option for you, and in that case, you’ll become a master of grabbing the minutes when they are distracted or asleep, but it’s tricky to feel truly fulfilled when that’s all the time you can muster.

If you can, try asking for help, so that you get the time you need.  If you start to feel suffocated by the lack of ‘you’ time, do something about it before it really starts to have a negative impact on you.  See my previous blog, STEP SEVEN in Mentally Preparing to Have your First Baby: Prepare yourself to be able to ask for help & to take time for yourself.  You’ll be surprised how many people want to help you out if you ask them.  Keep a note of anyone who offers to babysit, so you and your partner can go to the movies one night, or anyone who is around in the day and can give you a couple of hours.  If I don’t make a note, I can never think of who to ask when I really need someone!

You are about to HAVE A BABY!  The joy you will bring each other, the laughter, the cuddles…  There are too many wonderful moments to even start.  They can bring you contentment and fulfilment in one.  They can make you have real perspective and look at life in a totally different way – if you let them.  Like with everything in life: the more you put in, the more you will get out.

For some people, a life full of children keeps them busier and happier than any full-time job.  Others find being at home does not suit them, or their financial situation makes their decision for them, and they go back to full-time work.  As I always say: you must do what works for you, be happy with your decisions and make the most of every day, no matter where you are or who you are with.

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The focus in all my blogs is mental preparation, because people don’t talk about it. Even though physical preparation is as equally important, I wish there was more of a balance.  I believe there is too much emphasis on the physical side, especially with the first baby.  In fact, if women prepared as much mentally as many do physically, they would be a lot better off!

Saying that, to prepare for the physical ordeal, which will probably be the biggest of your body’s life, cannot be underestimated.  For example, I swear by Pregnancy Yoga.  Even though the practice hardly got a look-in second time round, yogic breathing helped me successfully get through both my labours, drug-free.

Women do all sorts of things to prepare physically, but how much to they think about how pregnancy and birth is going to physically affect them?  Once people know you are pregnant, for example, they always encourage you to eat more, “Go on, have some more cake, you are eating for two!”  Eating and how it will affect you (people only seem to talk about how it is going to affect your baby), is one thing that I wish was discussed more.

First of all, you do not need to ‘eat for two’.  It is a fallacy that you need to double your food intake when you are pregnant.  Change your diet so it more healthy and toxin free, yes; increase certain foods high in particular vitamins and mineral relative to the development of your baby, yes[1]; increase your healthy carbohydrate intake, yes; eat little and often, yes[2]; but increase the volume, no!  Think about how nutritionally valuable every bite is.  If it’s not good for you, it won’t be good for the baby either.  However, its negative calorific affect will be particularly bad for you.

The stress women encounter when they put on a lot of weight during pregnancy and then can’t get rid of it, is real and heavy.  People try to make you feel better and say, “Don’t worry it’ll fall off when you breast feed”.  I don’t know who this happens for, but it certainly didn’t happen for me.  I put on weight when I breast fed, both times.

At the same time, pregnancy does create cravings and awful nausea, which can often only be stopped by eating.  And as we know, when you need to eat, you really need to eat!  Often the snacks available when these pangs hit are not the healthiest, and I also know how nothing deals with hunger better than a good old bit of stodge!

So what is a girl to do?  First of all, decide if this is a problem for you or not.  It may not be.  Then look at your diet and how healthy it is.  Whether you care about the extra pounds or not, your baby’s development relies on what you put in your mouth.  If you decide that your diet is not as healthy as it could be and that you are someone who cares about those extra wobbly bits, here are a few suggestions:

  • Try cutting out as much refined sugar as you can.  It has only one benefit: a short energy spurt.  You are then left with an energy dip and the calories on your hips!  Sometimes, a piece of chocolate is the only fix, and little and often is fine, but after every meal, or as your regular snack throughout the day, is not.  If it is chocolate that you need, then try the 70% cocoa ones instead of a Cadbury’s bar.  Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, even though it has caffeine in it, has anti-oxidants in it too and is a relatively healthy alternative.
  • Try and cut out the really fatty foods.  All processed and ready-prepared foods are a no-no.  Convenience foods are the worst – apart from a piece of fruit!  Buy healthy snacks and always have them in your bag.  You know what works for you: healthy crackers, vegetable sticks, fruit or health food bars.
  • If you are one of these people who is good at controlling what you eat, one thing which is worth trying is a wheat free diet.  What, no bread or pasta?!  No cakes or buns?!  If you think of most of the naughty things you eat, nearly all of them contain wheat.  These days, as long as you are not egg intolerant, there are many, much more healthy alternatives for nearly everything naughty and sweet.  They use natural ingredients as sweeteners, and rice or quinoa, or some other substitute, instead of wheat.  They are a bit more expensive but taste much nicer and are much better for you, full of nuts and natural ingredients which taste nice and are really good for your growing baby.  Some people believe that if you are on a wheat free diet while you are pregnant, your baby is likely to be smaller.  I have no idea how they can prove this accurately, and whether this is a good thing, but it may have been a contributing factor as to why I had small babies (6lb 2oz and 6lb 7oz).  I am a bit sceptical.  I have had a wheat intolerance for years and so my wheat free diet had nothing to do with being pregnant.  In fact, I probably waivered a bit more while being pregnant, because every now and again, I just ‘fancied’ something!  All I know is that a small baby means a small head, which is definitely beneficial during childbirth!

You may be one of those people who just loves to eat and does not care about the odd extra pound.  The point is, as long as you are giving your baby all the nutrients he needs, if you put on weight as well, that’s your choice.

The message I’m trying to get across is that it may not be as easy as everyone would have you believe to loose the weight.  It usually takes a year before you feel anything close to your previous self.  If you ever get completely back.  What do you mean ‘if’ you ever get back.  Well, pregnancy brings all kinds of delights which people don’t like to talk about, in the form of stretch marks and excess skin around your stomach, not to mention the drooping boobs after feeding stops.  I encourage any mothers reading this who have stories, to please share them.  It’s so important women know what to expect.  With all the hormonal rubbish going on, we don’t need any other nasty surprises!

There is no doubt that the more weight you put on during pregnancy, especially if you are a slightly older first time mum, the more of an impact it will have on you physically.  Nature intended for us to start pro-creating when we reached puberty.  Nowadays we are leaving it so late that many new mothers are closer to menopause.  We all feel the affects of age once we hit our 30s and so to ask our bodies to perform it’s most arduous and staining of tasks at this age or older, is a big deal, not to be underestimated.  Also remember that our skin is not as elastic, and with age come other health complications.  So if you are an older mum-to-be, take all of this into consideration, look after yourself more than ever and give yourself a break when you need it.  There is nothing the body can’t do, as long as you look after it and don’t take it for granted.  I love being an older mum.  I’m nearly 40 and so I am not searching for my own journey like I was 10 years ago.  Instead, I can give myself much more to my children and I feel I have a lot more I can teach and show them.  There are definite pluses for having kids later on, as long as we look after ourselves physically, and keeping our weight down will really help with that.


[1] I took Zita West pregnancy supplements throughout my pregnancy, because they change each trimester, relative to the development of your baby.  Also, make sure you have plenty of Omega 3 Supplements, rich in DHA which is vital for brain development.  Zita West do a very good one, specific for pregnancy.  www.zitawest.com

[2] Think about the fact that your baby is growing continuously, and so to eat little and often is the best way forward if you can.  When I was pregnant I was told to aim for 6 small, nutritious daily snacks and light meals.

I am not alone in believing that Nature never intended for women to raise their babies on their own.  There are modern day accounts of African women who were brought up in a tribe-like environment and breastfed by one of several lactating women within their extended family.  I believe that we were meant to share all parts of child rearing.

Modern day mothers can often feel exhausted by the daily exertions of bringing up one or more children.  They can experience trouble with breastfeeding and find it hard to juggle all areas of their lives.  Why is child-rearing so much more stressful for us than our mammalian relatives?  The Gorilla, the closest to us, lives in closely-knit communities who work together in a family unit.  It is the same with most animals, and yet the human being, who is meant to be at the top of the food chain, often thinks that if they can’t manage on their own, they are a failure.  In fact this is a new phenomena mainly concentrated in the big cities.  If we look at our history, the importance of the family unit has been very strong. The advent of easily accessible, affordable methods of transport, and careers for women outside of the home, however, have changed this for a lot of people.  With women’s need to feel self-fulfilled and financially independent, many of us have moved away from home and cut ourselves off from our most important resource of support and security: family.  I envy those of my friends whose parents are at hand to babysit on demand, and love having their grandchildren to stay.  To have the odd night of uninterrupted sleep, and the freedom to explore your own interests without having to fork out money every time you leave the house, would be so liberating.

However, I think modern day perception has become distorted.  It seems fine to have grandma over every day to look after the kids, all the way up to teenage years, but a nanny?  Well, that can be seen as an unnecessary extravagance.  Unless parents go to work, surely they are more than capable?  And yet working parents have time to themselves every day, on their commute to and from work, at lunch, or just time at their desk, without being demanded upon by their kids.  So when are stay-at-home parents, whose families aren’t at hand, meant to have some time to themselves?  Luckily it is very acceptable to send your child to nursery school.  This is perhaps because children enjoy the companionship of other kids their age, learn simple skills and are introduced to learning, away from their parents in a safe and happy environment.  Yet this ‘acceptability’ does not sit comfortably with me.

There is nothing wrong with a parent wanting to look after their children on their own.  In fact I embrace it 100%, and do it myself.  But I need a bit of time for me, as well, and I don’t have family around the corner who I can call upon – I know I am not alone.  Being a full-time mum is wonderful but it is also exhausting, and we have no holidays.  What people without kids consider a holiday, parents see as great fun but relentless, because without school or nursery we get no time off.  What doesn’t help is that we can also be martyrs, insisting on doing everything ourselves; and of course there are the financial restrictions, which means paid help is not an option for everyone.  The result can be that we can forget about what’s important to us.

Once women have children, especially if family members or willing close friends are not around to offer help, their own interests can go by the wayside.  They forget about what they used to love doing, and do not prioritise their intimate relationships because it all costs too much money in childcare.  It can be hard to justify expensive help to sit on the sofa and read a book, have a snooze, go swimming or watch your favourite film.  Many people would feel guilty and most of their friends would probably frown upon it (weirdly, especially those who are also mothers).  It is so wrong.

If you were asked, “Who do you think is the happier and healthier person: someone who looks after themselves, works hard but also makes sure they relax and does something for themselves at least twice a week; or someone who works hard, is always tired, never has a moment to themselves and feels guilty because they have a short temper?” which one would you choose?  So many mothers I know would put themselves in the latter category, and yet, you write it on paper and pose the question in this way, and you’d think you were working for some tyrannical boss!

Ladies, (or gentlemen!) if you are the main carer of your child, TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF AT LEAST TWICE A WEEK.  If you are reading this as pregnant mother-to-be, mentally decide NOW to do this.  We are NOT MEANT TO DO THIS ALL ON OUR OWN!  Weeks or even months can go by before you suddenly realise how frazzled you are, from tiredness and a sudden lack of personal identity.  People would probably advise that if you even start to feel this way, make time for yourself immediately.  I say, make time for yourself, BEFORE you feel this way!  Don’t forget the impact hormone imbalance will have on you when you give birth.  If you feel happy in yourself, emotionally you’ll be more balanced, and balance is one thing which everyone strives daily to achieve.  Parents find it particularly difficult because they are always putting their children first.  As a pregnant woman, you can mentally prepare for this and promise yourself, that for the good of you, your child and your partner, you will endeavour to keep up with the things you really enjoy.  If you don’t have family at hand, and financial restrictions mean you can’t pay for help, try asking friends, you might be surprised how many of them would love to look after your baby.  If that is not an option for you, talk to your local health advisor or social worker.  The Community is there to help you, you don’t have to be alone.

You can also do a surprising amount with your baby.  Newborns are very mobile and sleep a lot.  As they get a bit older, it can be a bit more tricky to take them out and about, depending on how good they are at sleeping ‘on the run’.  So make the most of it while you can, if this is something which is important to you.  My husband and I are quite sociable people and love to travel.  So, when our first was tiny, we travelled a lot and accepted invitations whenever we could take him with us (breastfeeding does tie you to baby!).  By getting him ear-protectors[1] we could even take him to gigs or music events which allowed children.  A lot of people like to slow down and not socialise as much when they have kids, which is fantastic if that suits you, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.

Live your life and be happy.  Your kids will be happy just to be with you.

And remember: if you do feel lonely, isolated or frustrated, reach out for help.  We are not meant to do this alone and isolation with a newborn baby can bring on depression.  It is important to acknowledge how you are really feeling rather than putting on a brave face, because if you don’t, eventually the whole deck of cards will come tumbling down.  Look after yourself, do things for yourself, and remember, every now and again, to put yourself first.

Tiffany Newton

Follow me on Twitter @TiffNewt


[1] Peltor Kids Ear-Protectors. http://www.peltorkids.co.uk

My mantra, which those of you who have been following my blogs will know, is, ‘Listen’ (to yourself, your partner and your baby) and ‘Let baby Lead’.  The ‘Baby Industry’ has grown into a monster worth billions of pounds, selling you everything from technique to toiletries.

BOOKS

You may already have been overwhelmed with the amount of books out there, telling you how to do everything under the sun, which is fine until they start contradicting each other!  No knowledge is wasted, however, as long as you assess and then make judgement calls, because you can’t follow it all.

In my previous blog (Step Five), I talked about getting to know yourself, so that you can work out what will suit you the best.  An author might suggest a way of doing things that is highly recommended by twenty mothers and half a dozen celebrities, but unless it suits you as a person.  If it means rearranging the way you do everything in your life, I think that’s just too hard!  There are amazing books out there with invaluable information, wisdom and experience, it just a matter of finding the ones that suit you.  These are the top few from my library:

- ‘What to Expect when You’re Expecting’[1] and ‘What to Expect the 1st Year’[2].  I found them very helpful encyclopaedic, factual guides with no fuss or frills.

- ‘The Continuum Concept’[3].  This book gave me a fascinating insight into how they raise children in the Amazon and converted me to carrying my babies rather than putting them in a pram.

- ‘What Every Parent Should Know’[4].  Invaluable knowledge about the physical and psychological development of the human brain.  It helps you understand what your baby is capable of, when and the importance of intimate interaction early on.  It also informs you about the dangers of controlled crying.

- ‘The Happiest Baby on the Block’ and ‘The Happiest Toddler on the Block’[5].  These books helped me understand the importance of replicating the environment of the womb, while giving information about behavioural development and how to deal with it.

These are a good start for anyone, but everyone has their own taste and you must find yours.  It’s important to always bring your own opinions, likes and dislikes to whatever you read.  Don’t believe everything and trust your own instincts.  Try to look within yourself for the answers.  It is always reassuring to have an experienced voice nearby, but when if comes to the big decisions about sleeping and feeding routines, for example, these should be made by you.

Be confident in your preparation and you’ll be confident when baby arrives.  Know yourself, listen to your baby and the rest will fall into place.

The industry, however, only starts with the books.  Then you’ve got all the ‘things’ you can buy.  Cots, clothes and lots and lots of clutter!

MY ESSENTIALS

When you move into a new house, you rarely buy all the new furniture until you move in.  How are you going to know what fits otherwise?  It’s the same with babies.  Until baby arrives it’s hard to know what you’ll be really want.  Everything changes from the moment he’s born, so try to keep your purchases to a minimum before he arrives.

With my second child I got rid of anything that I didn’t need and took up loads of space (mainly because we live in a flat in London and don’t have much space!).

This is my list of what I used and needed, from birth all the way through, with tips and comments:

Hospital Bag:

-       A couple of newborn baby grows

-       Baby blanket or warm outside baby garment

-       New born nappies

-       Cotton pads for cleaning baby’s bottom

-       Baby’s towel (if you are giving birth on a hospital ward)

-       Sanitary pads

-       A few pairs of big, comfy (granny) pants for after you have given birth (you won’t be very comfortable down there, remember, so make sure they are big and lose)

-       Change of clothing for you, including very comfy trousers (I wore leggings or tracksuit bottoms)

-       PJs for you

-       Dressing Gown or towel (if you are giving birth on a hospital ward)

-       Your music or creature comforts to make you more comfortable

-       Your wash bag with lovely soap or shower gel and shampoo

Baby’s Sleeping:

-       BABY BLANKET.  Make sure it has holes in the material so if it goes over baby’s head he can still breath.  When baby is a bit bigger, usually once he starts moving and rolling over, you may want to use a baby SLEEPING BAG.  They are particularly useful when it’s cold, because blankets come off them, baby gets cold and then wakes up.  Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t like having any blankets on him.  If the bedroom is warm and he’s wearing a full baby grow, that may be enough.  Think about how warm you are.  If you’re warm, he probably will be as well and remember nappies are really good insulators!  Neither of mine like covers on them.  In fact they are naked and uncovered whenever it’s warm enough!

-       If baby is in bed with you:

  • A BED GUARD, to stop them rolling out of bed.  Both of mine slept in bed with me for months, in between me and the bed guard (as Dad may not be as sensitive to baby’s position in the bed and could roll on baby).
  • CO-SLEEPER.  A really good way to start to move baby out of your bed.  They are the same height as your mattress, so it’s like a little bed, right next to your bed.  Baby can still smell you and hear you, so they are comforted, but you have you both have your own space in bed.  As they get bigger, even if they might want to be right next to you, your movement does disturb them and vica versa.

-       If baby is out of bed:

  • MOSES BASKETS.  Moses baskets are very expensive and only last a few weeks, because baby grows so fast.  If you think a cot is a bit big and not very cosy for baby, but you want to avoid the cost of a Moses basket, you can put something like a Snuggle Nest[6] in your cot.  They are particularly useful if your baby doesn’t like swaddling.  Snuggle Nests are very light-weight, and have little raised cushions either side of baby which you can remove as he gets bigger.  As it’s so light, you can easily carry it around with you, for baby to sleep in for a few hours during the day or if you go out for dinner.  I still use the mattress of mine as a changing mat.
  • COTS.  As far cots are concerned, where do you start?  Or do you?  My second son has never had one.  He was in my bed, he’s now in the co-sleeper, and from there he will go into a big bed.  My first son had a massive cot (over a metre long), which was his bed (when he wasn’t in my bed!) until he went into a normal single bed.  If you get a cot, budget and aesthetics will dictate your choice.
  • NIGHT LIGHT.  When baby is first born they like the dark (they have just come from your womb).  However, they learn to be afraid of the dark and as they get older often ask for a light.  I bought a night light which you plug straight into the socket.  It has a light sensor, so it automatically comes on when it is dark and turns itself off when it is light.  It means my son can see his room and orientate himself if he wakes in the night or needs the loo.

-       Changing Baby’s Nappy.

  • CHANGING MAT.  For baby number two, I used a waterproof changing mat, a towel or my Snuggle Nest instead of a changing table.  If you have lots of room, it’s quite nice to have an easily accessible table at the right height with everything on it.  However, they take up so much room and many of them do not work as a piece of furniture afterwards.  However, you can get beautiful ones in all materials, textures and colours.  Personally, I would rather have nappies etc. on a shelf and a mat I can whip out and use any time I need it.  I also don’t want to have to go to the bedroom to change his nappy.  I have one mat downstairs and one mat upstairs.  When you are first home, it is very important that you have access to a changing mat or table in the same room, or at least on the same floor, as where you are spending most of your time.  The more you walk (especially up and down stairs) when you have first given birth, the longer it will take you to heal.
  • NAPPIES.  I have always used organic, gel-free nappies.  They are more expensive than Pampers and Huggies, but the skin is the largest organ in the body, and I do not want a large portion of that being exposed to chemicals for the first two years (or more) of my babies’ lives.  I used organic cotton washable nappies from Green Baby, for my first baby for a year.  They were brilliant and saved me loads of money.  They are a bit more bulky and you do have to carry around soiled nappies, which loses its novelty, but I only stopped using them when he was 1 year old and the poo was proper adult poo.  If that got past the nappy liner onto the nappy, I didn’t want to be carrying it around all day!  Since then I have used many chemical free brands.  My favourite at the moment is Moltex, which are also biodegradable.  The most affordable and easily accessible are Nature Babycare which you can buy from supermarkets and which are eco disposable, breathable nappies.  The only time I use Huggies is at night once baby is about 8 months old.  As there is no gel in the natural nappies, they do not last 12 hours if your baby is drinking during the night; and you do not want to be changing nappies which might wake baby.
  • COTTON PADS or WIPES.  I don’t like wipes because they are full of chemicals.  There are now Water Wipes which are chemical free, but I rather resent spending a lot of money on that, when I can just as easily have a bowl of water next to my cotton pads!  I admit that wipes are great for travelling and when you’re out and about.  I use Sainsbury’s Little Ones ‘eco’ wipes which are paraben free.  At home, however, my cotton pads, water bowl and nappies are on the radiator cover downstairs and in his room upstairs.  They take up no space and are not expensive.
  • NAPPY BAGS. I don’t buy nappy bags.  I use old Sainsbury’s bags, and wrap up the nappy a few times.  If a nappy is full of poo, it stinks whichever way you look at it, and the perfume on the nappy bag doesn’t hide the smell for long!  Nappy bags fit neatly into your changing bag so people like them.  It’s a personal preference and one extra thing to spend money on.
  • OIL & NAPPY RASH CREAM.  I use olive oil (the same that I put on my salads – don’t use vegetable oil) on baby’s bottom, every time I change his nappy.  I bought a little pot (an inch in diameter) and dispensed some oil into it.  You can get little squirty bottles from Sainsbury’s and other shops, which you might find easier.  For nappy rash I use Weleda baby ‘Calendula Nappy Change Cream’, which I really like as a natural choice, although I also have a little pot of Sudocrem in my bag, in case he has really bad nappy rash.  If it’s just a bit spotty or blotchy, I just use oil, if it’s red I used the Weleda cream, but if it isn’t shifting, and it’s raw, looks uncomfortable and isn’t shifting, I use the Sudocrem cream.  As with all things that are painful with babies, (as I mentioned when discussing breastfeeding) if you let nappy rash go untreated it just gets worse.
  • CHANGING BAGS.  People have massive changing bags, with every pocket and zip for every requirement, and they range in price from about £20 (some changing bags are hundreds of pounds!).  I have a sturdy cotton bag which I got at a book launch, in which I have a bottle of water, nappies, cotton pads, oil and nappy rash cream, a small towel and change of clothes.  It fits inside my day bag when we go out, instead of being an additional bag, which I have to carry.

-       Feeding:

  • If you are breastfeeding, initially, you don’t need anything!  (Apart from plenty of water and munchies for you!)
  • BOTTLES.  Once you start expressing, introduce formula or drinking water, you’ll need bottles.  I used Aveda for my first baby, and Tommee Tippee for my second.  I did try a glass one with an organic rubber teet, which I used and liked until it smashed on the floor!  The other problem with them, is the way the teet is made.  All teets have holes in to allow the circulation of air.  The organic ones, however, don’t seem to have any kind of valve, so if you have a baby who likes to squeeze the teet while drinking (like mine!), the milk goes everywhere.  People like them because of the concern with the plastic in the normal bottles slightly dissolving into hot drinks.  You will have to make your own judgement here.  In the end, the glass bottle didn’t work for me because at 5 months baby was holding his own bottle and therefore dropping it, and once it had smashed I wasn’t going to replace it.
  • SIPPY CUPS as early as you can.  I think mine started on them at about 6 months old.  By 8 months he was drinking out of a cup or glass at every opportunity.  I encourage this, although it is messy so it depends what he is wearing and if I have a bib or change of top to hand!
  • BIBS.  I encourage my second child to feed himself which is very messy.  So if he’s eating squashy food I put him in what looks more like something he’d wear for art, called ‘In The Pocket Baby’.  It’s brilliant because he can squash banana all over himself and his clothes are not trashed!  Otherwise any bib will do, although I do recommend the ones with a pocket, so food falls into it, rather than onto their lap or on the floor.
  • NON-BREAKABLE CROCKERY.  Non-breakable bowl and cup and eventually kiddie cutlery once they are bigger, to get them used to using cutlery.
  • Feeding CHAIR or high chair.  I bought a Stokke chair called a Tripp Trapp for my first, which is fantastic and you adapt it as they grow, by taking away bits.  When they grows out of it as a high chair, you can lower the seat so it is a normal adult chair.  They do not have a tray, so baby gets used to eating at the table from day one, and it is a lovely wooden piece of furniture in your kitchen.  My second baby is used a portable canvas seat from Phil&Teds, to begin with.  It screws onto the kitchen table and takes up no room.  It is easy to store, and light enough to put in your suitcase.  Now that he is one year old, and was climbing out of the Phil&Teds one, he is in my first’s Tripp Trapp.  For very young babies who can not sit up properly on their own, the fabric bouncy chairs are great.  Try to always feed them from the floor.  If you put him in his chair on a table, so you can sit in front of him, be very careful.  Babies can bounce a lot and before you know it, he’ll be bouncing himself off the kitchen table!

-       Transportation:

  • CARRYING DEVICES.  When it comes to carrying your baby, there are slings, wraps and other contraptions, like Baby Bjorns.  I love slings.  See my  previous blogs (‘Step Two’ & ‘Me Wearing Slings…’).
  • PRAMS.  I would highly recommend not buying your pram until you have your baby, and if possible, borrow a pram initially until you know exactly what you want.  I didn’t use a pram for either of my babies until they were about 6 months old, instead I carried them everywhere.  By the time we bought one I knew exactly what I wanted: a Maclaren.  It’s one of the lightest, while also being sturdy, and it folds up small.  If you travel a lot or have limited space in your car or at home, they are amazing.  My only complaint is that they are hard to push one handed.  However, the fact that it has two separate handles rather than a bar, means you can attach many more things to it, which is useful.  There was some controversy about it being unsafe in 2009, when children in America put their finger in between moving parts which resulted in severe injury[7].  I have only had a good relationship with mine, but have always kept my fingers and my children’s fingers away from any moving parts!  Even if you want to carry your baby for the first year, I would recommend introducing a pram by six months.  Just like feeding with a bottle, if you don’t introduce the pram at all until they are much older, they might not go in it when you want them to, which is a nightmare.  Prams are incredibly useful as a portable place for your baby to sleep, and when you are out shopping to carry all your bags!  They definitely have their place, but I know that I would have bought something different from what we ended up with if we had bought one before baby arrived.
  • PRAM COVERS.  If you use your pram a lot when it is freezing cold, you will need a cover for your pram to keep baby warm.  I used a sheepskin seat cover, which he sat on and then covered him with a sheepskin rug.  You can get brilliant all in one seat covers which attach to your pram and they slip in to.  If I were to do it again, I would buy one of those.
  • CAR SEAT.  There are a million for sale out there.  I would recommend signing onto ‘Which?’ when you are ready to buy and see what is the best at the time.  Safety standards are always changing, designs are improving (especially with regard to fixing them in the car and removing their covers when you need to wash them).  Remember, the hospital won’t (or shouldn’t) let you leave unless you have a baby-seat fitted in the car you are taking baby home in.  I would recommend fitting the seat in the car before you go into labour, otherwise you’ll be standing in the street, holding your newborn baby, while your partner is f-ing and blinding trying to work out how it works!  It’s worth knowing that most car seats are not fitted properly because people do not read the instructions correctly.  It’s so important you do, because they can be very infective if they are fitted incorrectly.

-       Medicine Cabinet:

  • PRO-BIOTICS.  I swear by them, especially if you do not breastfeed your baby for the first year, it gives them a real boost to their immunity, until their own immune system is formed.  I am using Udo’s Choice Infant Blend, at the moment but there are several very good ones.  Ask your local Health Shop which one would be best for your baby, considering his age etc.  I also take them daily.
  • MEDICINE.  I never leave home without Calpol (Paracetmol for kids).  If your baby has high temperature, it works miracles.  You shouldn’t give any medication to a baby younger than 3 months old and never give more than the recommended dose.  Many people don’t believe in painkillers.  I weigh up the pros and cons: is one dose of paracetamol better than hours of discomfort for your child?  I think so, but you must decide what is best for your little one.  There is also Nurophen for kids, which is great a painkiller.  You shouldn’t give it on an empty stomach and you can give it together with Calpol if your baby is in pain and has a fever.  Always seek professional medical advice if you are unsure about anything.
  • VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS.  It is not advised to give your baby supplements on an on-going basis, but just when they need a boost.  So as soon as mine have a runny nose, I give them a dose morning and night.  Most have quite a lot of added sugar, which is best to keep away from if possible.  The best sugar-free one I have found is Nature’s Plus’ ‘Baby Plex’.  It is a bright yellow liquid that really stains, so beware when giving it, as it’s rare not to get it on something!
  • KARVOL.  When they get a cold, put some on their chest and on the pillow and it really helps them to breath.
  • SALINE NASAL SPRAY.  If your baby is really bunged up, they get so frustrated when they can’t sleep because they can’t breathe.  The saline nasal spray really works, if you can get them to hold still long enough to use it.
  • HUMIDIFIER.  If you have a young baby when it’s winter, you might be plagued with one cold after another, which is often accompanied by a cough.  The result: a lot of sleepless nights.  A humidifier can prevent that.  They are amazing.  I have the Vicks Humidifier and if my babies ever have a cough I put it on next to their bed and usually they don’t cough at all.
  • COUGH MIXTURE.  There are no medicated cough mixtures for children.  You can buy Nelsons’ ‘Children’s Cough Syrup’, but it doesn’t really do anything.  The most effective one I’ve found is Korres’ ‘Honey Base Syrup’.  It has a strong aniseed taste, however, so some children don’t like it.
  • TEETHING POWDERS.  TEETHA by Nelsons and INFANTS’ POWDERS by Ashton & Parsons are natural teething powders.  If you use them alternately they are more affective.  People use Bonjela Infant, I never have, but I think it’s very soothing for the gums.
  • ARNICA.  I always have Nelsons’ Arnica cream for the inevitable bruise when someone knocks their head, it works a treat.
  • THERMOMETRE.  I have a Geratherm which has always been very good, there are lots of different brands on the market.
  • HOMEOPATHY.  I have the basic 18 Remedies box, although I have to admit I rarely use it.  I find homeopathy often doesn’t work very quickly and can be quite hit and miss.  It is one of those things that you need to invest the time into if you want to be affect with your analysis and remedies.
  • TOOTHPASTE.  Once baby starts eating sugar, even if he only has one tooth, it’s good to try and introduce brushing their teeth.  To begin with, until they are 18 months or so, that means giving them their baby toothbrush with a tiny amount of toothpaste on it (if you put too much it’ll end up all over your bathroom!).  The Health Visitor gave me Sanderson 0PH1000 as my second baby’s first toothpaste.  For my first son, I have always used Aquafresh milk teeth, because he seems to like the taste better than the others.

-       Bathing.

  • BATHS & MATS.  Hopefully you already have one of these in your house.  If you only have a shower, you’ll need a baby bath.  Many people choose to use baby baths anyway, so they don’t use so much water.  For my first son, I used large bathing sponges: I filled the bath an inch or so, so that the sponges were soaked with water and then lay baby on top.  I then moved onto a baby bath and once he was sitting up I put a non-slip mat on the bottom of the bath.  Once I discovered how wonderful it was having a bath with him, however, I just bathed him with me.  So lovely, I really recommend it, especially when you’re still breastfeeding.  A feed in the bath, lying there peacefully together is a magical moment.  My second son always bathed with me, until he could sit up, then he started to have a bath with his brother sitting on the non-slip mat.
  • SOAP.  Don’t use any soap on your baby for as long as you can.  No matter how good it is, it dries out their skin and when they are tiny they don’t need it.  I only ever use natural soap without chemicals.  You can buy it at most Health Food shops.  One brand of liquid soap which I adore is Apivita[8], made in Greece.  They have a chamomile and honey shampoo which is particularly good for scabby scalp or dry skin.

I’m bound to have missed out something, but hopefully this will be a useful check-list for you, with some helpful hints.  If anyone has any comments or anything they would like to add, please do let us know.


[1] By Heidi Murkoff, Sharon Mazeland – Workman Publishing.

[2] By Heidi Murkoff, Sharon Mazel, Arlene Eisenberg, Sandee Hathaway – Workman Publishing.

[3] By Jean Liedloff – Da Capo Publishing.

[4] By Margot Sunderland – Dorling Kindersley Publishing.

[5] By Dr. Harvey Karp – Bantam Dell, Random House Publishing.

[6] Made by a company called ‘Summer’.

This morning on BBC Breakfast news, following an article published in the Daily Mail (Herald Sun) yesterday, they discussed controlled crying, which really struck a nerve.

The reason I started researching the development of the human brain, over three years ago, was because of the pressure I felt from well-meaning people, encouraging me to use controlled crying with my new born baby, so that he would ‘learn’ to go to sleep when put into his cot.  I felt like by using controlled crying, I would be putting myself first, and not the needs of my baby.  I know, as well as any woman who has suffered sleep deprivation, how disabling tiredness can be.  If you drop, the whole castle falls over.  When your baby is new born, however, I believe in my heart that every parent should comfort their crying infant.

My research led me to Margot Sunderland’s book, ‘What Every Parent Should Know’[1].   It gives the results of studies which show how stressful it is for your tiny infant, to be left and ignored.  The stress hormone, cortisol, flows around your baby’s body, even when they have ‘learnt’ to stop crying.  They are still stressed at being left, but don’t cry out because they are ignored.

There are two sides to each story.  Gina Ford[2] will tell you that controlled crying and a strict routine is the way to raise your baby.  However, how can you ignore the research and test results?

Another doctor who believes that controlled crying is dangerous is Dr. Penelope Leach.  In April 2010, BBC Breakfast reported on Dr. Leach’s findings[3], which claimed that leaving your baby to cry harmed the development of your baby’s brain.  Today, BBC Breakfast news has raised the topic again, based on the Daily Mail (Herald Sun) article yesterday, which comments on Wendy Middlemiss’ research from the University of North Texas[4] .  She argues, just like Margot Sunderland, that levels of cortisol stay high in the babies a long time after they have stopped crying.

Margot Sunderland’s book also talks about the long-term side effects: addictive personality, inability to deal with stressful situations, an instinctive ‘fight or flight’ reaction to stressful situations, and attachment issues in relationships.  She argues that the babies are always trying to replace the comfort that was not there when they cried in the night, with a cuddly toy, for example.  This is why, it is argued, as adults they are more prone to having addictive personalities: they are always trying to replace that comfort.

This blog is a bit of a departure for me.  I do not believe in telling anyone what to do.  In general, I believe a happy mother means a happy baby and you must do what works for you.  However, on this matter, I have decided to be more outspoken, because of the biological facts that accompany it and because I feel so passionately that so many parents act in ignorance.  You don’t have to agree, but you should be making an informed choice, knowing the possible consequences, rather than just following the crowd.

  • Get ready to be selfless.

Life without children is incredibly selfish.  We are generally used to being the ones making the decisions which affect us moment to moment, day by day.  Losing this can be the biggest shock for mums, once the novelty of having baby has worn off.  It is unbelievably hard to become a happy, utterly selfless person over night. However, if you give yourself time to prepare for this before you have your baby, this mental preparation will set you in great stead for when he arrives.

Ironically, when you allow things to ‘just happen’ and then ‘go with the flow’, it can actually empower you by making you feel in control, because you are happy to ‘just be’ letting external forces flow.  It’s one thing putting somebody else first for a week, but this is long term.

When baby first arrives, it’s important not to feel like you need to make anything happen.  Don’t have any other responsibilities which you need to take care of, until you are ready to.  Think about what needs to be looked after when baby arrives and make provision for it, so you don’t have to do anything for at least a month.  Spend time just ‘being’ with yourself.  Don’t feel guilty if you don’t ‘achieve’ every day.  Remove all expectations of anything else going on in your life.  People might read this and think I’m talking about clearing your desk before going on maternity leave or cancelling other regular activities they usually do, but it’s all the little things as well.  Then the irony is, you don’t want anything going on, because it’s too stressful when baby arrives to have to think about anything else, and yet within a few weeks many women need some additional stimulus.  When you’re cooped up in the house, day after day, just you and baby, if you don’t prepare for this isolation and lack of external stimulation, you might find it hard.  It’s weird, because you have no time for anything else because of baby, and yet after several weeks you can feel lonely and frustrated.  Good preparation before hand, however, can really help because it isn’t easy and a lot of women find it hard to get the right balance, especially those who stay at home as baby gets to 6 months and older.

The way I dealt with this was by writing and researching (much of which is within these blogs!).  It instantly worked for me because it gave me something else to think about and be interested in.  I could do it whenever I wanted to and there was no pressure, or stress attached.  It can be difficult to think of something to occupy and excite you while being at home with baby, on an on-going basis, which is why so many women look forward to going back to work, at least part-time.  This way they get a bit of their old lives back, and they seem to be restoring the balance.  For those of us who choose to stay at home full-time, it can be more of a challenge to find that fulfilling ‘occupation’ to delve into for a few hours here and there while baby is sleeping or at nursery.  This is your challenge.  If you can afford not to go back to work and you really want to stay at home with your baby, but are feeling a little unfulfilled and frustrated, I urge you to spend a lot of time trying to find something you can do from home.  It may be a real departure for you, but that can be the most exciting part!  Look at me, I was a film producer, and now I’m a writer.

  • Listen to your baby.

While you and baby are getting used to each other, you need to put a lot of time into just hanging out and enjoying the fact that at last, after about nine months, you’re meeting your child, and it’s time to get to know him.  If you were to meet your child for the first time as a teenager, you wouldn’t expect to click with him over night.  It’s the same with your baby.  Remember: BABIES ARE REALLY GOOD COMMUNICATORS.  As adults we associate crying with pain.  For babies, however, it is how they communicate with us – and it works!  If you listen to your baby, I mean really LISTEN to him, he will tell you all you need to know.  It’s like learning a new language: on day one you don’t understand a word, but little by little you become fluent.  Like learning any language, the more time and effort you put in, the more you’ll get out.  The key is to think about crying as a language, rather than an alarm call, so that it does not stress you out.  Each time baby cries it will be a process of elimination as to what he wants, until you can identify his different cries.  When a baby is in pain, he sounds very different from when a baby is tired or hungry.  Most of the time he’ll just want you, some of the time he’ll be tired and a lot of the time he’ll be hungry.  Some babies cry when they have a dirty nappy, a lot don’t, so you may have to keep an eye on that!  If none of these seem to be the answer, seek medical or professional advice, and certainly do not leave hospital or wherever you give birth, until baby is calm and you feel relaxed.

Babies are rather particular!  For example, they like to eat and sleep when they like to eat and sleep!  You have to decide whether you are going to tell them when you want them to do this or allow them to tell you.  Me and my babies have always got on better when I let them lead the way!  Whether you are a routine person or not, babies like a rhythm to their day.  I never set a routine for my babies, but before I knew it, together we worked out when they liked to feed, and how often, or when they liked to sleep and how often.  It might change weekly or monthly, as it usually does, but if you keep listening to baby, together you’ll just work it out so that both of you are happy.

Remember, that as baby gets older and his intellectual capabilities increase, his awareness and ability to like or dislike certain things will change his behaviour.  Nothing stays the same for very long with children because they grow up so fast!  Knowledge and preparation, to anticipate how they will grow and at what age they will mentally be capable of what, is unbelievably valuable.  If you only read one book, I highly recommend ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’ by Margot Sunderland[1].

  • Prepare by reading about the development of the human brain and body.

If you understand when different parts of your baby’s brain develop, so you know what they are mentally capable of, at what stage, it helps you to communicate in a way that they can understand.  It reduces a lot of frustration on both sides!  For example, you allow your 6 month old baby to play with a noisy toy, but then decide it is too loud and take it away.  Until your child is about 3 years old, he won’t be able to understand this.  When they are tiny, their thought processes are black and white.  Set strong, unwavering rules and boundaries, and your baby will understand what he can and can not do.  Try and tell him he can do something one minute, but not the next, and he will cry in frustration.  Obviously this behaviour is for an older baby, but there is a lot of fascinating material in Margot Sunderland’s book which will allow you to understand your child’s behaviour much more easily from day one.

  • Know yourself to know what will work for you.

I have many friends who have successfully raised children, controlling when their babies sleep and eat.  If you have read a few of my blogs, you will have gathered by now that I always let my babies lead me, so I cannot advise on what I do not know.  I am very aware, however, that my methods may not suit you.  The important thing is to think about what kind of a person you are, how you and your partner live your lives and how much you want to change that.  One of the reasons why I liked feeding on demand and carrying baby in a sling, was it meant for the first few months, baby came around with us almost as if he were still in the womb!  He just slept and ate, discretely, wherever we were.  There were no prams to worry about, only a nappy changing bag.  Often people didn’t even realise I was carrying a baby!  Does this sound like it may suit you?  If so give it a shot.  If not, what do you think would suit you better?

It’s amazing how often we take ourselves for granted before we have children.  Ask yourself some questions like 1) What are you biggest likes? 2) What are your biggest dislikes? 3) Do you like being in control? 4) How do you react when you are out of control and stressed?  5) How can you calm yourself down?  If you’ve never thought about it, it may be a while before you can answer truthfully.  Before baby arrives, first of all think about how you imagine being with your baby.  1) Do you think you’ll carry him in a sling or use a pram?  2) Do you think you’ll feed on demand or control the times of his feeding? 3) Do you think he’ll sleep in your bed or in a cot?  Then ask yourself certain questions about your personality.  1) Do you like to feel close intimacy with others for long periods of time? 2) Do you mind feeling slightly exposed in public? 3) Do you think you’ll want anyone else to help you with your baby? 4) Do you like having anyone close to you when you sleep?  Of course, the answer to these questions may change once baby arrives, because having a child changes so much about you.  You won’t really know how you are going to feel and what is going to make you feel most comfortable until baby arrives.  However, just the process of asking these questions and being aware of them, will put you in the right frame of mind.  You will make certain judgement calls and decide to make a few plans, but if they don’t feel right once baby is born, just change them.  Nothing is permanent and it’s all a work in progress.  As long as you feel calm and content, the rest will fall into place.

My husband and I were determined that as much as possible, the kids were going to just fit in with our lives, rather than the other way round.  As the babies have got older, naturally things have become a bit less spontaneous and slowly but surely they dominate more of your lives!  However, for us at least, it was a natural change which happened a) to make our lives easier and b) because we really like hanging out with our kids.  Everyone evolves differently with the introduction of children.  It’s the way you do it, which can either feel very natural or a real shock!

  • Does his timing suit you?

As baby grows, if he is used to hanging out with you, and eating with you, they’re more likely to go to bed a little later, but his means they’ll also get up later as well.  You can’t have it both ways and late starts in the morning suits us better!  If he is naturally an early riser (like our second) by the time he’s a toddler, moving his sleeping and eating patterns so that they work better for your lifestyle, becomes much easier.  As I said in my previous blog, treat it like jetlag.  For several months baby no.2 was in bed about 7pm.  Admittedly it was nice having quiet time in the evening with my husband, but I couldn’t handle the 6/6.30am wake up call, because I wanted to still have a life in the evenings!  (Some may call me over optimistic, but hey!)  Over the past week I have shifted his schedule so he’s more in tune with the rest of us, by having a mid-afternoon nap and then going to bed around 8.30pm.  Now we’re waking around 7.30am, which is much more like it – long may it last!!  I’m one of these people who really needs my sleep, so that extra hour means I can go to bed at 11pm and still function the next day.  Without it, a part of my life doesn’t feel in balance, because we’ve always enjoyed socialising or watching movies in the evening.  It is very hard to maintain a balance so that you feel like each part of your life is being satisfied, but the more you work at it, like anything in life, the more is achievable.


[1] Published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 2006.

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