The balancing act of life: revisited

Just after I started blogging, and not long after I went back to work part-time after maternity leave, I wrote a post about balancing everything I do in a week, including being mummy, working as a researcher, doing housework, and having some time myself to go swimming, blog and bake etc. Then a while later, having settled into this balancing act a bit more, I wrote a guest post for The Family Patch on a similar topic. This last week has reminded me of these posts; as I’ve been thinking and reflecting on how the balancing act is working, I thought I’d revisit my thoughts from back then and write about my thoughts now.

Us chilling out on the sofa when Granny and Grandad visited recently

This week has been a lovely week. I’ve had a week of annual leave, which has meant my little boy and I have been able to spend a whole week together. It’s been so fun! We’ve not been away anywhere (Daddy gets less annual leave than me, well, pro-rata as I work part-time), but we just enjoyed a normal week of activities around town. It reminded me of being on maternity leave, and I’d almost forgotten how fun the groups are that I used to go to with him then. I joined my boys at their regular music group on Tuesday morning, we met up with friends, went swimming twice, and hung out at the park a few times.

At the park - what is this weird satellite dish thing?!

It’s not that we don’t usually get chance to do any of this, but it was so good to have a whole week of quality time, just Andrew and me. We didn’t have to rush off to the childminder on two mornings, nor did I have to race on with dinner straight after getting home in the evening from her house. Life has been more relaxed than the usual racing about making sure we’re in the right place at the right time with the right things packed in our different bags (i.e. no nappies in my work bag and no laptop equipment in the change bag). This week has really made me appreciate just how busy I’ve been working part-time as well as being a mum.

Recently over at BritMums, there’s been a discussion about whether mums can ‘have it all’, in other words can they have successfully juggle life with kids, work and time for themselves? I think there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. We’re all different with different personalities and different situations. As others commented on this BritMums discussion thread, I think it’s partly to do with how you define ‘having it all’. I mean it’s possible to have bits of time in your week devoted to kids, work, home and yourself. How you prioritise each of these, and things within these broad ‘categories’ will of course differ from family to family, and that’s not to say one family is any worse off for it than another. But I’m not sure it’s possible (for me) to ‘have it all’ in the sense that each of these categories would not end up being lived out to the full in the same way as they would with someone who didn’t have one of these categories in their life (e.g. didn’t have kids or didn’t work). Again, not that this is necessarily a problem, it’s just a question of what outcome one prefers to have, and therefore what has to give and take a little in order to get there.

Swinging in the sunshine

At the moment I know that the equation life = being mum + working + doing housework + having me-time results in a real balancing act. Some weeks I feel I pull this act off, other weeks I’m not so happy with myself for how I’ve handled it. This past week has brought it home to me how taking out ‘work’ from the equation has not only left me with more time for being mum and being myself (during toddler naps), but has meant less rushing around from one place to another, and less stress over getting ready for the day and for bedtime. I don’t think I appreciated just how hard this is until I didn’t have to do it for a week.

Must all good things come to an end? Unfortunately the good thing that was this week must come to an end, and I must go back to work next week. However, I don’t want to give the impression that I hate work or that I’m ungrateful for having a job, because these two things couldn’t be further from the truth. There are several good points about my job which I blogged about before. It’s just that I don’t feel I currently ‘have it all’ – I don’t have as much time with my boy as I’d like, and I don’t have the longer term motivation at work because I don’t have the aspiration to work my way up in an academic career (which is what many people with jobs like mine go on to do). But I know this feeling won’t last forever, and that’s what’s helping me through. My job runs until the end of this year, at which point I won’t look for another. I feel like my primary role in life at the moment is to be a mum, and in order to do this most effectively given our current situation, I would like to not have the extra pressure of a part-time job.

Learning our rainbow colours - in three languages of course 🙂

And finally, something that has encouraged me this week to be patient with how things are at the moment, and trust that this is not how it will always be. As I wasn’t at work, I was able to join in with the weekly women’s Bible study group at church like I used to on maternity leave. Andrew loves playing in the creche there with his favourite children’s worker Matt – he even walked into the room himself and started playing as soon as we got there. This gave me an hour to myself, and time to reflect on a short Bible passage that we read and discussed together. We looked at a chapter from the letter written by James, including these verses which spoke to me:

See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5: 7-8)

This reminded me that I can’t necessarily have things exactly how I want right now, and that I need to be patient. I’ve never been great with patience; it’s certainly something I need to work on and have asked God to help me with a lot. The analogy with a farmer in these verses was clear for me to relate to; I need to wait for the autumn and spring rains, the right moment when God says to me that now is the time to move on to the next thing He has planned for me. And until that time, I trust that He will give me the strength and perseverance to do my best at the balancing act of life.

The not-so-crazy world of toddler breastfeeding

‘That’s it, I’ve become one of those crazy ladies who breastfeeds their walking toddler!’ I said to myself (tongue in cheek) as we walked back from our first La Leche League (LLL) toddler meeting yesterday. LLL is a network of mum-to-mum breastfeeding support groups, which exist in many countries across the globe. We meet to have a chat about breastfeeding and other things in life, and it’s a great way to share experiences and tips, and generally feel like you’re not the only one breastfeeding your baby/toddler. Once every 2 months the meeting is specifically aimed at those mums who are feeding their child into the second year of his/her life, and yesterday was the first of these ‘toddler meetings’ since Andrew and I fell into that description.

Both of us enjoying a feed before bedtime

When I first walked into an LLL coffee morning with my 4-week-old babe-in-arms, I admit I was surprised to see several mums breastfeeding toddlers who were 1 or 2 or even older. At that point I was really struggling with breastfeeding: Andrew was slow to gain weight, we were having to supplement with formula, and I was having a hard time reconciling in my head the fact that I desperately wanted to breastfeed him, I enjoyed having him so close and bonding with him in that way, but knew I wasn’t physically producing enough milk – the baby scales said it all. (If you haven’t read our breastfeeding story from the start, have a read of this previous post.) So I thought it would be amazing if we could make it to the NHS-recommended 6 months; it never even crossed my mind that we’d still be going beyond a year. I thought that I could never be, wouldn’t want to be, and wouldn’t even need to think about whether I should be, one of ‘those’ mums. How wrong I was. So it is with my tail between my legs that I come to write this post, looking back at how I judged others on that first LLL day.

In my defence though, I would say that I soon realised that these ladies were in fact lovely, intelligent, friendly and welcoming mums, and the initial feeling of surprise and awkwardness on my part soon faded. The vibes I was getting from the NHS, through contact with health professionals and reading the ‘Birth to Five’ book that everyone gets given, were that breast is best full stop, that formula feeding is OK if you’re a breastfeeding failure, and that mixed feeding is…no hang on, what on earth is that?!  On the contrary, LLL immediately made me feel welcome, accepting me into the group with open arms, despite the fact that I brought formula to the meetings. It did help that I used a supplementer rather than bottles though (again, see previous post), so I was in fact breastfeeding, just with a little extra help.

(NOTE: one of the lovely LLL ladies has brought it to my attention though a nice comment that this last sentence could be misinterpreted from what I meant. I did not mean that LLL would not have welcomed me if I had turned up with formula and bottles. On the contrary, I knew after I’d been that this was not true. What I meant was that this was my (and maybe a general?) preconception about breastfeeding support groups. I felt awkward at first, but soon realised I was wrong. I meant it helped me that I didn’t have to go with bottles the first time until my preconceptions were gone. Hope I didn’t give the wrong impression on this in the meantime.)

Every month (unless we were away), Andrew and I turned up at the regular meetings twice a month. I got so much moral support and helpful advice, and I believe the LLL ladies have played a big part in helping me continue to breastfeed until now. Was there any guilt tripping involved, like would I have felt bad about giving up when these ladies are so pro breastfeeding? Not at all. In fact I would say I would have felt less guilty about giving up in front of them and less of a failure than I would have done in front of many other people, including my midwife, GP and health visitor. And the reason? Because the ladies there know just how hard it can be, just how emotionally exhausting it can be when things aren’t going right, and how there is way more to it than simply getting food from mum to baby. That’s where the health professionals got me down – for them breastfeeding was all about Andrew gaining weight. And that’s where I came to realise, through LLL, that I could still have all the other amazing bits of breastfeeding, alongside the physical act of getting calories from mum (or formula tin) to baby.

It was very clear to me from the start that my friends at LLL are all intelligent ladies, who want to do the best for their child(ren) and have read up on breastfeeding and related issues. They’re not just feeding their babies beyond 6 months for no reason, or to be deliberately provocative to their numerous critics (believe me, we would rather not have to deal with criticism). They know that breastfeeding until the child weans him- or herself is normal when you step out of our society for a minute and look at things from a more global or human evolutionary perspective.

Did you know that the World Health Organisation recomends ‘exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond‘? Somewhere in the NHS recommendation on breastfeeding the second part of the WHO’s statement has got lost. I suspect too that the large increase in bottle feeding a couple of generations ago also played a part in changing our society’s view on what is ‘normal’ when it comes to the age we should wean a child. As a researcher myself, I always look for references in peer-reviewed publications when anyone makes a claim about something that should be tested with ‘scientific’ methods, and that includes breastfeeding. As well as being a mum-to-mum support network, LLL has many publications about various aspects of breastfeeding, all of which are backed up by referenced research conducted by scientists and health professionals around the world. This makes me 🙂

A quick search on the LLL international website for what is a ‘natural’ age that a child weans from breastfeeding gives an interesting article citing various studies. Some have suggested that a natural age is to do with when the child triples or quadruples their birth weight (average 27-30 months); others have suggested it’s to do with attaining one third of their adult weight (4 to 7 years); others have suggested it’s to do with our gestation length (i.e. 9 months) (average 4.5 years); others have suggested it’s to do with the eruption of adult molar teeth (around 5.5 years). In other words, quite a while then.

Look at how big he is - but not too big to snuggle up to mummy

That is not to say that I do not respect other mums’ decisions to either not breastfeed at all or to impose their own time-constraint on weaning. Every mum and baby pair is different, and believe me I know how hard it is to establish breastfeeding – it took us that first 6 months to really get going, so I totally understand why so many stop. (I think the words ‘give up’ sound too negative, and I don’t want to invoke feelings of failure because there is enough of that around as it is.) I also understand that not every mum enjoys breastfeeding so doesn’t want to carry on longer than she feels she has to, and that does not mean she is any less of a good mum. As I said we’re all different, with different personalities, different experiences, different situations and different ideas about what we think is the best thing to do at any given time.

In our case, one of the reasons why I love it so much now is that it was so hard back then – I appreciate good times more when I have a contrast with bad times. Ironically, if I hadn’t have had the problems at the start, I might not have gone to LLL and therefore might not have learnt that children self-wean when they are ready (this is often after when is generally acceptable in society), and I might have already weaned him. Every cloud has a silver lining. In a way, because it’s not always been for us just about ‘food’ for growth, it makes even more sense to me to carry on for as long as Andrew would like to get the comfort and pure mummy-time that he’s always got from it.

At the moment he feeds for about half an hour first thing in the morning (in bed with us so we all get to stay in bed longer – no bad thing all round), half an hour last thing in the evening before bed which sends him to sleep, sometimes in the night if he wakes (though he’s generally a very good sleeper), and sometimes in the day if he’s upset or tired. I know exactly when he wants to feed from me, because he’s very good at doing the milk ‘sign’ (we’ve done baby signing, I really must blog that one day) and pulling my top down! He must have a need for it, otherwise he wouldn’t ask for it. As a mum I want to meet that need for as long as necessary, because that’s my role in life, and I’m proud of it 🙂

And as it turns out, I’m not that crazy for feeling this way about toddler breastfeeding, when I talk with those who feel the same. Does anyone else have experience of breastfeeding beyond a year? Do you think it’s too old to still be breastfeeding? I’d love to hear what you think, whether you agree with me or think I’m crazy.

A year in the swimming pool

Supporting him under the chest but letting his legs and arms move freely

It’s almost a year since I took Andrew swimming for the first time. He was just 6 weeks old, and loved it! I think at one point there was some advice floating around that you shouldn’t take a baby swimming before he/she had had their first three lots of vaccinations. But the latest NHS guidelines are that you can take them whenever you like. In fact, in my opinion, the earlier the better, because they haven’t lost their newborn natural instinct for water when they’re still just a few weeks old. As I wasn’t blogging back then, I didn’t write about our swimming trips together. Now they’ve become so part of our weekly routine that I almost don’t think about them as something interesting to write about, even though we both have so much fun and really enjoy them. So here’s a round up of Andrew’s first year in the pool, with particular emphasis on his first ever swim. All the photos were kindly taken by Grandma when he was 9 months old (until then I’d only been on my own with him so couldn’t take pictures). In a follow-up post (when I get round to writing it) I’ll share some tips on how to have a fun trip to the pool, some ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, what not to forget etc.

He loves the watering can at the pool - he tries to 'catch' the stream of water as it comes out

I remember our first swim like it was yesterday. It was quite an effort to get everything together and go at just the right time between feeds (naps weren’t his strong point so we weren’t too restricted by that), but it was all worth it when we got there. Back in those days I could lay him down on the fold-down changing table in the cubicle, knowing that he wouldn’t go anywhere. I got changed first, so he wouldn’t get cold waiting for me, and then got him into his little trunks. He was just about big enough by then to fit in the smallest size of Boots brand swim nappies which were on offer at the time so worked out the cheapest, and I’d bought a cool little pair of swimming shorts for him that were a bit big for his non-existent bottom (now he’s walking that has definitely muscled up!) Then I wrapped him in a towel, and, after I quickly got into my swim costume myself, took on the actually very difficult task of carrying a tiny baby, a rucksack, a nappy change bag, my handbag and a towel to the locker. That was nothing compared to juggling them all whilst trying to put the coin in the locker. We survived it though, and then headed through to the pool.

About to chase the toy octopus, just after I'd thrown it away from us

It was fairly busy in the small pool, but there was still plenty of room to get in gently down the shallow steps at the side. I introduced him to the water slowly, by sitting down on a step, holding him in one arm and using the other arm to pour water gently onto his skin with a cupped hand. After a few minutes of that, I eased us down into the water a bit more, so that he was completely immersed except for his head. He wasn’t at all phased by it, and was very happy for me to walk around and pull him through the water with me. Of course I was supporting him a lot, especially his head which was still floppy then. He was fascinated by everything that was going on – all the other boys and girls, the lifeguards walking round in bright yellow t-shirts, and the brightly-coloured bath toys like ducks and octopuses that were floating around. Incidentally, the staff at the pool have written a different name on each toy – so there’s Vinny the duck, Alice the octopus and Olly the bear etc. Not that he was really old enough to do much with these himself, but his little eyes and ears were clearly soaking it all up like a sponge. As he was so at ease in the water, I even tried splashing some water around him, and he loved that. It was just about the time when he was starting to smile, and I got lots of smiles and splashing that day. We only stayed in for about 15 minutes, because I didn’t want to risk him getting too cold, though the pool always feels lovely and warm to me, but you can’t tell what a baby’s perception of it is. As we got out, I wrapped him up in the towel again, and then we headed back to the changing cubicles to get dry and dressed. This time I sorted him first, as I can cope with the temperature and still being in a wet costume for a while. He fell asleep on the way home and napped well that afternoon. I soon discovered that swimming was a way to wear him out and guarantee a good nap.

Is it the float or the octopus I'm going for, Mummy?

After that first week, we’ve been swimming more or less every week until now, and I have no intention of stopping this. It’s interesting to look back and see how he’s slowly developed his swimming over time, just like he’s developed in other areas (like moving on land, eating, babbling etc.). At first it was just a case of me holding him and walking around the pool, just like I would on land, supporting him quite a lot. I would use one hand to splash him gently, or play with a toy for him to watch, but generally it was a gentle introduction to the concept of swimming in the water himself.

Heading over to the wall to have a go at jumping in and mummy catching him

As he gained strength from all those growing muscles, he became more able to support himself, so I was able to give him less support, little by little. I went from full arms holding him to just holding him with two hands (or sometimes just one) underneath his chest as he is front down in he water (he much prefers ‘front-crawl’ to ‘backstroke’!) When he was about 5 or 6 months old, I started doing brief dunkings, where I would count to three, and on three I would lift him out of the water and then down again so that his head went under for a second, and then lift him up again. He has clearly learned what this means, because now when I start counting, he’s already jigging up and down in my hands, smiling and laughing ready for the dunk; when he comes out he has a lovely look on his face too, clearly enjoyment. I should say that I’m not a swimming teacher myself, though I’ve done a lot of swimming (competitive and leisure), so I feel confident that I know my and his limits at each stage, and we’ve worked up to this over several months, little by little. Every parent and baby pair is different, so I can’t say that what’s right for us is right for everyone. If you don’t feel confident letting your baby go under or only holding them loosely, DON’T DO IT!!

Chasing the toy octopus! Lots of splashing, but getting the idea that he can move forward by kicking his legs and moving his arms

I came across a great website called uSwim. It gives lots of info and advice on how to teach your baby to swim. Of course it’s Australian – they are so into their swimming over there, and also getting kids into swimming from a very early age. With the help of the videos and ‘lesson plans’ on the website, I’ve been trying particular techniques with Andrew. I haven’t bothered being as strict as sticking precisely to a lesson plan, mainly because he is still so interested in everything else going on that keeping his attention for specific things at specific times is nearly impossible. Instead we ‘go with the flow’ and see what happens.

Nearly got the octopus, just in time before the wall got in the way!

So far from uSwim we’ve been doing quite a few ‘front floats‘, some ‘back floats‘ (though as I said before he’s less keen on backstroke swimming), hanging onto the wall whilst mummy lets go and lets him feel the buoyancy of the water (he’s got amazingly strong arms), jumping from the side in a sitting position into the water, sitting on a float and jumping off it into the water, and a fair amount of singing and general splashing. Oh and I can’t forget his favourite, the toy chase, which does what it says on the tin: I throw a toy like a rubber duck a little way away from us, and he loves to swim and get it, admittedly with me giving some support underneath his chest, but he has got a good idea that moving his arms and kicking his legs in a ‘baby-stroke’ kind of fashion does get him somewhere slowly.

About to go for a dunk!

As he gets even stronger, I’m looking forward to seeing his swimming ability develop even more. The main thing for us is that we both find it so fun, and that’s what I’d always hope is the case for him. I don’t want to force him to do something just because I like it, but so far he has convinced me that he loves being in the water just like his mummy. Watch this space for more updates on what we’re doing in our weekly swims.

All worn out after a fun swim. Off to the shower!

Top up your toddler with vitamins and iron – the green way

Yummy scrummy in my tummy 🙂

When I came across this recipe for Green Risotto, I thought what a great way it is to get toddlers eating the vitamins and iron that are found in spinach and peas, which are not always the most popular of foods amongst our littluns, though I’m glad to say that so far (I’m aware this can change) ours has shown no signs of being fussy, and it surprises me sometimes just how much of all kids of different foods he’ll try and polish off. At the moment for him it’s more a case of he can’t (in great quantities) rather than he won’t eat spinach, because he only has two teeth (I think he’s put all his developmental effort in mastering walking recently), so I have to cut it up very small for him otherwise he can’t seem to ‘gum’ it very easily like he can other foods. But at least he’s not against the flavour. Peas are definitely one of his favourites – not sure whether it’s the fun of picking them up one by one and perfecting his pincer movement, or the flavour, but all I care about is that he eats them.

The veggies are whizzed up in this risotto, so even the most suspecting toddler won’t be able to see actual pieces of veg, just a lovely thick bright green sauce. And let’s face it, bright colours are so appealing when you’re a little person – that’s why all their toys/books/clothes etc. are brightly coloured. I thought it would be a good idea to share this recipe on the blog, for anyone who’s wondering how they can get those all important vitamins and iron into their littluns who might not be too keen on eating visible plant life.

Do you think I can eat it with this spoon Mummy?!

The recipe is based on one from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew got for his birthday from Uncle Matt and Aunty Helen, along with a gorgeous little kids’ apron for when he’s old enough to help me cook. The book is a fantastic mix of snacks, mains, breakfasts and puddings, all beautifully illustrated with Paddington Bear doing bits of cooking. I’d definitely recommend it if you’d like some child-friendly recipe ideas, for getting them involved in both cooking and eating. This recipe was about half the quantities that it said for 4-6 people, and it served two adults and a hungry toddler just right. It would also freeze well, but I didn’t buy enough spinach this time to make double and freeze half; I’m already planning on doing that next time. I used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan, because I forgot to buy the special cheese and we always have the ordinary stuff in the fridge – it worked fine. I also replaced the butter with olive oil, because we were running a bit low and I needed it for the other recipe I was making that night (post to follow…) So that’s enough of an intro…. on with the green stuff!

Look at my grogeous Cath Kitson apron

Ingredients

  • 500g spinach
  • some dried or fresh mint leaves (how much is up to you – depends how minty you want it)
  • 125g frozen peas
  • 500ml vegetable stock (I used reduced salt stock)
  • 50g cheddar cheese
  • 1 onion
  • olive oil
  • 150g rice (I don’t usually buy risotto rice on the grounds that ordinary long grain rice tastes nice too and is considerably cheaper when you’re on a budget like us)
  • basil leaves (optional)

Method

  1. Wash the spinach and cut off any tough stalks.
  2. Put it in a saucepan of boiling water for just a minute, to blanch. Drain, keeping the water.
  3. In the same water, cook the peas and drain. Liquidise the spinach, mint and peas, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary (whoops I burnt out the motor in my aging liquidiser doing this! Time for a new one I think).
  4. Heat the stock and grate the cheese.
  5. Chop the onion finely. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat, and cook the onion until soft. Add the rice and stir for a minute or two. You should hear the rice crackling when it’s ready for the next stage.
  6. Add 2 ladlefuls of stock and watch, stirring often, until it is absorbed into the rice. Carry on, a ladleful at a time, until the rice is almost completely soft but the risotto is still creamy. This should take about 20 minutes.
  7. Now stir in the spinach, mint and pea puree, and half the cheese. Add the basil leaves if you have them.
  8. Serve with the rest of the grated cheese.

I polished off my lovely green risotto
Green monster! (He had a bath straight after this... and turned the bath water green!)

Let it snow

There must be hundreds of mummy bloggers out there in England who are posting about their baby’s/toddler’s first taste of snow (figuratively as well as maybe literally?!) I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and share our first family experience of snow.

In recent years I’ve come to a state of annoyance and frustration whenever snow is forecast, because it’s usually meant disrupted travel plans and worrying about whether we will make it to see family at Christmas. Having spent quite a lot of time working in Switzerland for my PhD, where they not only ‘cope with’ but positively ‘know how to get on with’ snow as part of everyday life in winter, I often moan about England’s pathetic malfunctioning when a few flakes of the white stuff fall on her green and pleasant land. It’s not that I’m against snow in general – give me a skiing holiday and I’m as happy as they come (anyone offering?!….thought not), but when I have to go somewhere or do something that’s goodness knows how many times more dangerous because of the snow, that’s when I get annoyed with it.

But this year’s snow has softened me a little, and changed my perspective. Well, it’s not the snow itself that’s changed me (I’m not letting it have too much credit), but rather the fact that I have a toddler to enjoy it with now, of course. When we first lowered him down onto the crunchy white layer covering my parents’ drive yesterday, he didn’t quite know what to make of it. After a few gingerly steps came the inevitable fall on the bum, nicely cushioned by his many layers of clothing and the fluffy stuff itself. Then came the inevitable exploration with bare hands (he won’t keep gloves on for more than about 10 seconds), leading to the inevitable tasting trial. Sorbet, lovely! With our help he managed to walk all the way to the front door, leaving a trail of oh-so-cute footprints.

That was yesterday; this morning was even more exciting, waking up to see a thick (for this country) covering as far as our eyes could see. I’m glad we’re staying in a house with a big garden, I couldn’t wait to get togged up and step out into the pristine snow. Andrew wasn’t too sure, but then again the snow did come up to almost his knees, and for someone who’s only just mastered walking in general, it was no easy task trudging through the sticky crunchy snow. Plus he was a bit tired, in need of his morning nap. It wasn’t long before the covering was no longer pristine, covered in footprints from Daddy- to toddler-sized, and a snowman was making his way into existence. While Andrew looked on hesitantly, Granny and I built him up, which was so easy because the snow was lovely and sticky – perfect for snowman making! A few sticks, stones, and a carrot later, and ta-dah, Mr Snowman was complete. Sorry, almost complete – just a hat (of course a Blues one – Birmingham City Football Club) was needed to finish him off.

Although I was somewhat stressed about the drive west to my parents, seeing the sky getting greyer with every mile, in the end I was pleasantly surprised about how excited I was by waking up to lots of snow, and how much I enjoyed playing in the snow. I loved watching my newly walking boy become fascinated by a new experience. It made me think back to my childhood memories of snow, and how much fun I had, and therefore I temporarily forgot all the adult anxiety and annoyance that has dominated snowy days since I had to actually get stuff done. Let it snow I say! (Just not on our journey back home today, please.)

Exciting times: first shoes

On Tuesday Andrew, my mum and I went shopping for a very special reason: Andrew needed his first pair of shoes.

He’d been cruising around any furniture or object that was stable enough (or not) for a few months, and we kept thinking that unaided walking must be just around the corner. The actual moment of what I would call proper walking (i.e. more than a few steps) came a couple of days before his first birthday. We’d just got home from the childminder’s. Andrew was standing by the washing machine, putting toys into it and closing the door, and I momentarily turned my head to open some post. A few seconds later I turned my head so he came back into view, and the next thing I knew he was walking towards me. I couldn’t quite believe it at first, but he carried on and I greeted him with a big hug when he reached me. His grin was as big as mine. After that, there was no stopping him. By his birthday he was toddling about everywhere, and handily Granny and Grandad’s present to him was just what he needed: a year’s worth of shoes! I was VERY grateful for this, having gulped after previously seeing the price tag on kids’ shoes. As Granny was coming over again in the week, we decided to make it a shoe-shopping date, and the three of us go into town to buy them together.

The day came and I was incredibly excited, much to Tom’s bemusement – ‘It’s only a pair of shoes, so why all the going on about it?’ he dared to utter after the umpteenth mention of the subject. ‘Ah but it’s his first pair of shoes, his FIRST pair of shoes, don’t you think that’s exciting?’ I replied. Granny arrived whilst I was at work in the morning, and she and Andrew came to meet me at lunchtime. After a yummy lunch of pasta at Carluccio’s, we headed to Clarks. On being lifted out of the buggy, Andrew was instantly showing off his walking to the sales assistant, and making a beeline for the snazzy electronic foot measuring machine. Ah that was a blast from the past; it reminded me of shoe shopping as a child. But for such little feet (and such a wriggly body) the manual foot measure was needed. The patient assistant had clearly measured little feet before, and knew that the reaction of scrunching his feet up rather than laying them flat on the measure was normal. After a little encouragement, we had the size sorted: 3 1/2 G.

Then came the choice of shoe. Clarks do a Cruiser range, designed as first shoes when babies are doing some crawling and some walking – supportive but still softer soles than older kids’ shoes. For our little messy pup I wanted to get a dark colour, otherwise they would just show the dirt that he’s bound to get on them. That narrowed the choice down somewhat, ruling out the funky but not very practical pastel blue and checked yellow models. I realised that here I was doing exactly what I used to wish my mum wouldn’t do – only allow practical shoes; it’s the kind of thing you only understand when you’re now the mum. I went for a brown leather shoe with a velcro strap and a dinosaur on the side and the strap. Andrew didn’t seem too fussed whichever he got, and was more interested in trying to defy Granny’s attempts to stop him climbing on the foot measuring machine (complete with a ‘Please do not let your child climb on this’ notice).

Just checking the fit
Trendy dino design

As part of the first shoes buying experience, Clarks take an instant photo of the proud new wearer of the shoes, and stick it on a pack with various goodies including a height chart and a shoe size card so parents can remember their toddler’s ever changing size. We were vary happy with the experience, and walked out with smiles all round. When we got home, Andrew had to practise walking with his new footwear on, because, as they had warned in the shop, it takes a bit of getting used to walking with shoes on when you’ve not done it before. It was interesting that he seemed to regress slightly and wobble lots, but then soon got the hang of it again, and even managed his first toddle outside to wave goodbye to Granny when she left.

My first shoes

Watching Andrew figure out how to walk, seeing his wobbly first attempts after he got his first shoes, reminded me of a couple of verses in the book of Psalms in the Bible. Psalm 37 says:

The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand

Just like I follow Andrew when he’s walking, and hold him up when he’s looking particularly wobbly and about to fall, so God does the same for me in a less physical sense. For me it’s more about God helping me through my daily tasks, and even though I often get things wrong, He’s with me all the time, helping me to cope and not fall down into a heap of despair. Psalm 121 also says something similar:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

I love this verse, and I often think about it through the modern song(s) based on it. Again it speaks of a God who always watches over me and doesn’t let my foot slip, like I try and protect Andrew’s foot from slipping by watching where he’s walking, but the difference is God is perfect, unlike me. It’s at times like this, when I see our baby making it to significant developmental milestones that I reflect on God’s awesome creation, and what an amazing thing this little life is that we are in charge of bringing up. As I watch over Andrew and do my best to make sure that he doesn’t fall, I stop and think about how God is doing even better for me (and Andrew), and that makes me smile 🙂 I guess not everyone reading this will know the God who I know and love. Please do get in touch if you’d like to ask me more questions about my faith as a Christian. I’d be very happy to let you know more about it.

Mummy was very excited, and Andrew sat still just about long enough for us to take this picture with his new shoes on!

What a difference a year makes!

Yes I know the title is obvious when we’re talking about a baby, but when Andrew turned 1 year old last weekend, it made me think back over the year, and how much he (and we!) has developed. I can remember the first week of his life almost like it was yesterday, and there are many other memories from the 12 months that particularly stick in my mind, for example the milestones he reached like smiling, crawling and walking. As I hadn’t braved it into the world of blogging when he was born, I didn’t share our birth story on this blog. So I thought I’d do a ‘then and now’ post – first look back at his actual ‘birth day’, and then contrast it with the same day a year later, his first birthday.

Birth day

A couple of hours after birth

A birth story might not be every reader’s cup of tea, so I’ll try not to waffle on or get too gory, but if you’re not in the (what might be quite a small) crowd of birth story fans, please feel free to skip this section.

On the morning of Tom’s birthday, we woke up as usual at 7am, and Tom went off to work. I had been on maternity leave for two weeks already, and was 4 days over my due date, getting bored of being pregnant, and wishing ‘Baby C’ would put in an appearance. But I’d had no signs of labour. The midwife came (as planned) at 12 noon to give me and baby a check-up as we were overdue, which involved having a membrane sweep (as I promised no gory details, you can read about this on someone else’s website here). She told me I was already a few centimetres dilated, so baby should be on the way soon.

At about 2pm I had what I think was my first contraction (I say ‘I think’ because it wasn’t as massive and painful as I had been expecting, bracing myself for the worst pain ever). It was short and I didn’t feel anything again for about half an hour. From then until about 7.30pm, I had irregularly timed contractions that were quite painful, but not so bad that I couldn’t bake Tom a birthday cake to take my mind off them. I emailed Tom to say that I was having irregular contractions but that there was no need to rush home. He turned up at home earlier than usual, because he couldn’t concentrate knowing what I had told him, and it was his birthday anyway. But we were losing hope of baby and Daddy sharing birthdays, thinking that this could be a long haul (my first baby, not having had any signs of labour until now etc.)

At about 6.30pm we decided to get a take-away curry, rather than go to the restaurant itself just down the road. Curry had become our staple diet that week, trying (along with pineapple and raspberry leaf tea) the old wives’ tales for natural labour induction. We sat down to eat at 7pm; half an hour later we were about to settle in front of a DVD, with me perched on a hard dining chair, arms over the back of it. Just as I sat down, I felt and heard a big splash beneath me and lots of kicking from Baby C – my waters had gushed all over the chair and floor! In antenatal classes, we’d been told to phone the hospital as soon as my waters broke. So Tom did, and they told us to come in for an assessment, even though we might get sent home again if all was OK.

My contractions were still irregular, but as we got in the car, they suddenly got much stronger, more like what I had braced myself for, and more close together. We arrived at the Midwife Led Birth Unit (MLBU) in the Rosie Maternity Hospital and were promptly shown to a room. I was so pleased because I’d heard that it quickly gets full, though I knew we might not be staying. The midwife assessed me by asking when my contractions were and taking various swabs; the outcome was that I wasn’t properly in labour yet, and because we lived so near the hospital, I could go home and be in a more familiar environment. I wasn’t too keen on moving very far, because just as the midwife was filling in the paperwork, my contractions suddenly got even more intense and more close together.

The next thing I knew, the midwife was going through my ‘birth-plan’ (more like guidance notes than a plan really) and asking her assistant to fill up the birth pool. I was on all fours on the bed, answering questions and asking for things like a drink and help in taking some layers of clothing off, in between the contractions. Just as I was about to ask for the gas and air to be set up, the pool was ready, so I got in for pain relief instead. Not long had I been in the pool when I felt the urge to push – this was a completely instinctual feeling, and my head was saying ‘this can’t be right, it’s too early in labour to push’, but my body was just doing it. The midwife was lovely and said if I wanted to push I should push, and that I knew what I was doing far more than any examination she could do of me would tell us. I liked her faith in me, but still thought it was crazy to be pushing already.

After a few more contractions, I started to believe it more, and thought I might as well go with it rather than resist. I carried on like this for a while, until the midwife made a bet with me (well, no money was involved) – if I got out, baby would be delivered more quickly than if I stayed in. She could see that I was ‘relaxing’ a little too much in the soothing water (it was hardly what I’d call relaxing, but I saw her point), and I wasn’t pushing as effectively as if I were ‘on land’. So I got out, and no more than 10 minutes later, out came our little baby; we soon confirmed my gut feeling that it was a boy, as he was lifted up and placed directly onto my tummy. Timings are all a bit of a blur to me as, needless to say, I wasn’t clock watching, but the one thing I know is that he arrived at the very memorable time of 22.22.

A few minor procedures later (cord cutting, stitching and cleaning me up etc.), and we were enjoying those amazing first minutes as a new three person family. We decided that the names we had chosen before birth were still a good choice now that we’d met him, and so we named him Andrew James. Whilst we were sitting tummy to tummy, he did the very instinctual thing of climbing up and lunging towards one of my nipples, then latched on and started what turned into a very good first breastfeed (you can read more about this here).

After a while I started to feel sick, and placed him in Tom’s arms to give them some bonding time, before I was actually sick. Unfortunately this was a reaction to the injection I’d had that helps deliver the placenta more quickly and less bloodily (stopping gory talk now), which is quite common, apparently, though I’d not heard of this in all the antenatal literature I’d read. I had a shower, which helped me feel a bit better, whilst my boys bonded some more. We then dressed Andrew up warm in some tiny cute clothes that the midwife picked out of our bag for him, and headed across to the post-natal bay for the night.

Tom made sure we were settled and then headed off home until the next morning. Andrew was fast asleep, so I laid him in the ‘fish tank’ which was right next to my bed, and lay down myself at the edge of the bed, close enough to put my arm in and hold his little hands and stroke his little head. I couldn’t sleep a wink, I just lay there watching him and holding him. All he was doing was sleeping, but somehow it seemed absolutely amazing. For me that night was a (long) moment in which I couldn’t stop thanking God for His incredible generosity in giving us this new little life, a perfectly formed miniature us with mini limbs and mini organs all working together to sustain life.

Birthday boys together (0 and 27 years)
Back home at 1 day old

Birthday

A year later, our day started much earlier; gone are the days of lie-ins – the 7am start of the year before seems like an absolute luxury! After trying in vain to settle Andrew back to sleep with various things like feeding, rocking and head stroking, I decided he must be so excited about his birthday that getting up and playing was our only option. I did the early shift until breakfast, and Daddy took over after that, allowing me an extra hour in bed to regain some energy for my cake-icing extravaganza. Andrew was also persuaded (with not much effort) to have a much needed nap, otherwise I was fearing a lunchtime meltdown.

After our naps, my boys went out to a Dads’ event at a local Children’s Centre, and left me mixing up copious amounts of butter and icing sugar, to ice the cakes that I’d baked the day before (if you haven’t spotted my creations yet, see here). Icing aside, the fact that my littler boy and I could go for a few hours without each other is very different from the year before, when we spent all of the time he was outside of me cuddling and feeding. Although I miss him when we’re apart, I find that I really appreciate some me-time, especially if I know he’s having fun and bonding with Daddy.

Whilst I was in the middle of cake creating, my parents arrived, just in time to help with the washing up and other bits of cleaning. Not much has changed there in a year! When Tom and I had left for the hospital, the kitchen was messy with washing up, which all disappeared and didn’t reappear for a few days after the birth, thanks to our parents. That still seems to be one of their main occupations when they visit.

Back to the birthday celebrations, we headed off to a local pub for lunch. I love the fact that Andrew is such a good eater that we don’t have to worry about taking baby food out with us for meals, because he’ll happily munch away on a small(-ish) portion of an adult meal (it’s amazing just how much he can pack away into his little tummy!) He only has 2 teeth, but that doesn’t deter him. This time he tucked into a bowl of scrummy pasta with tomato sauce and cheese – much bigger than his first ever meal of breastmilk the year before, but on a similar scale of scrumminess, judging by his enthusiasm on both occasions. Sitting still has never been his strong point, and the interesting sights of the pub were soon beckoning him down from his highchair. He walked from table to chair to table and even brushed near the bar. Gone are the days of holding him like a newborn babe in arms, except when he wants to feed, then it’s acceptable to snuggle up to mummy. But that hardly ever happens anywhere other than home, and even then he’ll often wriggle and get into all sorts of funny positions when still latched on.

What's on the menu? I'll have some scrummy pasta please!

A brisk walk back from the pub was followed by a present-opening-athon at home. Not that he had any idea of what was going on, and was more interested in playing with the wrapping paper, gift bags and packaging, with the occasional glance at the goodies within them. Daddy enjoyed sharing the limelight with his (relatively small compared to Andrew’s) pile of presents too. It occurred to me that here our toddler was, making up his own mind about what he wanted to do. Even though we had decided to open presents, because that’s just one of the things you do on birthdays, he wasn’t going to sit still and do it orderly, and why should he, it was his birthday after all. This independence was such a change from the utterly dependent on us newborn who arrived the year before.

As the signs of the dreaded ‘overtiredness’ started to make an appearance, we skillfully (after a year of getting to know the signs) averted a meltdown moment by whisking him out in the buggy for a nap. Like sitting, napping has never been one of his strong points, though I do remember just how much he slept just after he was born. They say babies get worn out from labour just as much as mums – how they know that I don’t know, did they ask the babies?! His sleepiness didn’t last long.

The day wouldn’t have been complete without the consumption of the aforementioned cake, but not before we sang Happy Birthday To You (once for Andrew and once for Tom). This year we actually got to eat the cake on the birthday, whereas the cake I’d baked last year for Tom, as a distraction from contractions technique, didn’t get eaten until the day after. Andrew joined in too this year.

Bathtime and bedtime (mine that is 😉 ) drew closer, and family made a move homewardbound. The action this year was definitely centred more around the middle of the day, not like the quiet daytime and sudden action-packed evening featuring the birth. The little fella was zonked and (without precedent) went straight to sleep when his head touched the mattress after a short feed. I wasn’t too far off a state of zonkedness myself, so Tom and I decided that staying up til 22.22pm to mark the official year of Andrew living un-umbillically-attached to me was probably not wise. Again I ended the day by thanking God for the blessing that Andrew is in our lives, and that he (and we) survived the year and is thriving. Then my head hit the pillow – at least I got more sleep that night this year than last.

Birthday boys together (1 year and 28 years)

One special first birthday cake

Apart from the fact that Andrew is one year old (where did that last year go?!), I can’t believe that I’ve actually made my first ever birthday cake for a child of my own. This is a special moment for me, because I’ve been looking forward to it for so long. My mum used to bake amazing birthday cakes for me and my brother – my all time favourite has to be the swimming pool in the shape of an 8 for my 8th birthday swimming party. So I’ve wanted to carry on the tradition with my own children for quite a long time. And now I finally got to do it 🙂

I came up with this idea one day quite out of the blue. I think I was just out walking with Andrew in the buggy and it came to me. It’s basically 3 classic sponge cakes (20cm round) cut into the letters ‘o’, ‘n’ and ‘e’, and then decorated with buttercream icing in different colours and sweets. Here’s a break down of the process, based on Delia Smith’s classic Victoria sponge recipe, and cupcake icing from Cook with kids by Rob Kirby.

Ingredients

cake

Ingredients for the sponge
  • 220g self raising flour
  • 220g sugar
  • 220g margerine
  • 4 eggs
  • few drops of vanilla essence
  • 3 20cm round cake tins, greased and lined at the bottom with greaseproof paper

    Three 20cm round cake tins greased and lined with greaseproof paper

icing

  • 260g icing sugar
  • 165g unsalted butter
  • red, blue and green natural food colouring

Method

Cake

  1. Blend the margerine and sugar together until pale and fluffy.

    Margerine and sugar blended together
  2. Beat the eggs, and then add to the mixture little by little, beating thoroughly as you go.

    Beaten eggs added to the margerine and sugar mixture
  3. Add the vanilla essence.
  4. Work in the flour until you have a smooth pasty mixture.

    Flour added to the mixture, to make a smooth pasty mixture
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the 3 cake tins.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

    Three sponges just out of the oven

Icing

  1. Whip the icing and butter together until you get a pale, fluffy ‘cream’.
  2. Split the cream into 3 roughly equal portions.

    Icing evenly split into three bowls
  3. Add a few drops of each food colouring into each portion, until you get a strong colour.

    Three bowls of icing coloured with different food colourings

decoration

  1. Once the cakes are cool, remove from the tin.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut a hole in the middle of one cake to make an ‘o’, then a hole in the edge at the centre bottom of one to make an ‘n’, then two holes, one just higher than the middle and one at the right side on the edge, to make an ‘e’.

    'o n e' cut out of the round sponges
  3. Spread the icing to completely cover the cake, including down the sides where you cut bits out.
  4. Add sweets to decorate.

    Finished cake - 'o n e'
'o' - milk choc buttons in the shape of a star with some pinky/red writing icing (not very visible here) around the edge of the star
'n' - jelly beans and white writing icing make some bunches of baloons
'e' - white choc buttons with hundreds and thousands on them (I LOVE these!) and some orange writing icing to contrast with the blue buttercream

The cakes went down well at our teatime party with family. The red food colouring tasted slightly of pepper (as in red pepper) to me, probably because it was paprika extract (no artificial E-numbers on sale these days!) But the men didn’t seem to mind it, and ate it anyway! I stuck to a piece of the blue ‘e’, as the white choc buttons are my favourite. Andrew also had a small piece of the ‘e’, after we sang Happy Birthday to him, and he really enjoyed it, munching away on it happily. My first go at kids birthday cake baking seemed to go successfully, so I’m happy 🙂

I’m going to try and fit in another birthday related post soon, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this part of Andrew’s first birthday.

Smiley Happy New Year cookies

My sister-in-law gave me a fab cook book for Christmas. It’s called Cook with Kids, by Rob Kirby, a top restaurant chef who also visits schools as part of a charity; one of his schools is the Great Ormond Street Hospital School, so he spends lots of time teaching ill children how to have fun cooking. His recipes are perfect for getting kids involved with helping to bake and cook, and they are so easy to follow that, as one reviewer on Amazon put it, ‘even her husband can use the recipes’! They range from snacks to main courses to sweets/puds/cakes and even drinks.

I can’t wait for Andrew to be old enough to help me bake, but for now I’m happy to try out these recipes on my own, though Daddy did bring Andrew over to the kitchen to have a look at what I was doing for this one – you’re never too young to get interested. Some of my early but quite distinct memories are of being in my grandma’s kitchens and helping them bake. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved baking, and I’m sure that has come from being introduced to it early.

I thought I’d start the new year by baking a classic kids favourite – Smartie cookies 🙂 Well, as regular readers will know, I never follow a recipe exactly, so they are in fact M&Ms cookies, because I’m all up for buying supermarket own brand products where available, and I could find own-brand M&Ms but not Smarties. As they are pretty much the same thing (Smarties are slightly bigger), M&Ms won the cheapness prize and got to star in the cookies. So here we go…

 Ingredients

Ingredients for the cookies
  • 230g light brown sugar
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 170g butter, softened
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 450g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 185g bag of M&Ms

Method

  1. Combine the brown and caster sugars, butter and vanilla extract in a large bowl until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

    Butter, sugar (2 types) and vanilla extract combined until smooth and creamy
  2. Gradually add and beat in the egg and egg yolk, making sure you mix them in thoroughly.

    Egg and egg yolk beaten in to mixture
  3. Add and fold in the flour, baking powder, and two thirds of the M&Ms, combining everything to form a dough. Do this carefully as you need to keep the M&Ms whole.

    Flour, baking powder and M&Ms added to form a stiff dough - I used my hands to bring it together as it got too stiff for a spoon
  4. Once you have formed a cookie dough, roll this into a sausage about 7cm across, place this onto some greaseproof paper, and chill it in the fridge for 2 hours.

    Dough rolled into a fat sausage, put on greaseproof paper, ready to go into the fridge for 2 hours
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C – think about this before the next step.
  6. Once the dough is really firm, take it out and slice it into thick rounds, about 2cm wide, using a warm serrated knife and placing the cookies on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper as you go along.

    Cutting in progress - dough out of the fridge, sharp serrated knife warming up in a tub of hot water, and lined baking sheet ready to take the cut cookies
  7. Bake the cookies in the oven for 15 minutes. After about 10 minutes, take the cookies out and quickly press the extra M&Ms into the top of them in the shape of a smiley face. Pop them back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

    Cookies out of the over after 10 minutes, with smiley faces just added
  8. Once the cookies are done, take them out of the oven and cool them on a wire tray.

    Smiley cookies ready to eat

They are best eaten as fresh as possible, so I had to try one just after this picture was taken and they were still slightly warm… yum! As there’s quite a bit of sugar in them, Andrew can’t have a whole one, but I did let him have a small taster, and it’s definitely the kind of thing I’ll bake with him when he’s older. Happy New Year!

The hardest but best thing I’ve achieved in my life

Starting this blog in December meant that the first month’s posts were predominantly Advent- and Christmas-related. So with the start of a new year, it’s time to introduce a few topics that are more on-going. A new year always makes me think back over the highs and lows of the previous year, and 2011 was for me an amazing year – the best so far I have to say, of course thanks to Andrew. I also think about what I’ve achieved in the year, and in 2011 came the hardest but best thing I’ve achieved in my life so far.

It must be the PhD, I hear you say? But wait, that was 2010, right? Up until 2011 I probably would have said it was my PhD. But then Andrew came along, and with him a very strong, instinctual desire to breastfeed no matter how many problems came our way when we tried to do it, a desire which wasn’t even present during pregnancy. 11 months later, and I believe that breastfeeding Andrew is my hardest but best achievement so far. I must acknowledge that I couldn’t have done it without the support of several people, in particular Tom (who made it clear every day that he would support me in whatever I decided to do about feeding), my parents (who gave us so much practical help around the flat so I could concentrate on feeding), and our friends who prayed for us all during the hard times.

Since I now feel very passionately about breastfeeding, I know this will feature quite a bit on this blog. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m one of those people who bang on about ‘breast is best’, full stop; you’ll see that from experience I know that breastfeeding is not black and white, but rather there are many, many shades of grey, with every mum and baby pair having their own breastfeeding relationship.

So to start with, I think it’s best if I share our breastfeeding story to date. This is in fact a bit of a cheat of a post, because I’m posting an article that I already wrote which is published in the latest issue of Breastfeeding Matters, the regular magazine of La Leche League (GB). I’ll say more about this organisation in future posts, but for now let me give you the background behind my passion for breastfeeding….

Breastfeeding Matters magazine - January/February 2012 (Do you recognise the handsome little fella on the front cover?! Photography credit: Mark Galloway aka Grandad!)

Making the most of what we have

It must have been around 30 weeks into my pregnancy, when I saw that the NHS-run antenatal classes we were about to attend had an optional breastfeeding workshop running one day quite soon. I’d thought that I’d like to breastfeed; my mum had breastfed my brother and me until around 8 months, and I’d read about the health benefits for baby. But I guess I always had it in the back of my mind that I had small breasts and so wouldn’t be surprised if I couldn’t. So I thought it was worth going to the workshop; after all, they would know if breast size would likely affect my ability to feed. Indeed it was helpful, and I came away with knowledge of latching baby on, feeding on demand, and various other important things. Most importantly in my mind, though, was the assurance that it is very rare that a woman cannot physically breastfeed, and small breasts certainly didn’t matter. Excellent, I thought.

Andrew arrived 4 days overdue (clearly he was waiting to share his birthday with his daddy!), in a much faster time than I’d expected for my first baby. At 7.30pm my waters suddenly broke, then my labour progressed very quickly, with Andrew arriving at 10.22pm. I had no pain relief, other than being in a pool for about an hour, but that seemed to slow me down, so the midwife suggested I get out, and he was delivered without complications soon after. She put him straight onto my tummy, and after just a few minutes, he lunged quite spectacularly across to my breast, latched on, and began sucking. Great, I thought, my baby knows what to do!

12 hours later we were home, and things went well for 3 days. I breastfed on demand, whilst my husband, Tom, and my parents did everything for me. On day 4, Andrew became very unsettled – he wanted to feed literally all the time, and when I desperately needed the toilet or a shower, Tom could do nothing to settle him for that short break from me. Although I’d heard that feeding constantly in the early days was normal, I wanted some reassurance that Andrew was OK. As my midwife was on annual leave until day 6, Tom, rang her team of colleagues, who advised us to go to a breastfeeding drop-in clinic (which was on day 5), where I explained Andrew’s unsettled situation, and that I didn’t feel any changes in my breasts, like my milk hadn’t come in. They assured me that it would, and advised us to have lots of skin-to-skin contact; they knew that my midwife would come tomorrow to assess Andrew. After another sleepless night, we were greeted at the door bright and early by the midwife. She looked him over and was happy with his appearance. But her expression turned more worried as she put him on the scales; she couldn’t quite believe it, and checked it again 3 times. He had lost nearly 20% of his birth weight. She sent us to A&E, as this was more than the normal post-birth weight loss.

I cried most of the rest of that day, sitting in hospital, watching them do all sorts of tests on my little baby, and thinking that I had failed as a mother already at less than a week. The doctor explained that he was dehydrated, so they would have to keep him in hospital and give him formula milk through a naso-gastric tube every 3 hours until he improved. We were lucky, though, that breastfeeding was not ruled out altogether by the doctor’s introduction of formula. First, he told me to continue breastfeeding as much as possible; second, the hospital’s infant feeding specialist came and looked at Andrew’s latch, which was good in her view, as well as my breasts, which she admitted were small, but she hand expressed something from them, albeit still colostrum at 6 days. As I was clearly physically and emotionally exhausted, she asked whether I wanted to carry on breastfeeding. Since Little Miss Determination should be my nickname, giving up on this was not an option for me, despite the exhaustion. Her suggestions were to use a supplementary nursing system (SNS) (see pictures below), and express with a pump between feeds, as these would make sure Andrew got as much breastmilk as possible and build up my supply. She’d even brought an SNS to the ward, and fitted it onto me for his next feed. Although this was a bit sneaky (because the doctors wanted him to be tube fed), it was the best thing that had happened for 3 days – Andrew fed amazingly well, latching on and draining the SNS of formula in no time, no problem. He had that lovely drunken full look, and I felt better already knowing that he was being nourished, but still getting whatever colostrum I had.

SNS (supplementary nursing system) - a bottle that hangs round mummy's neck by a cord, and out of the lid (which is at the botton when hung) comes a length of thin tubing, which is taped for each feed to the breast, so that the loose end of the tube sits on the nipple. As baby sucks on the nipple, he gets all the mummy milk available, plus the formula in the bottle. Quite ingenious if you ask me!
Andrew (4 months) and mummy enjoying a feed, with the SNS around mummy's neck

By the next day, his dehydration was back down to the higher end of normal. The question of discharge came up, and between discussions about his blood test results, Andrew yanked out his naso-gastric tube in a moment of arm flailing! It was as if he was telling the doctors: “I don’t need this tube, I can feed like a big boy, thank you very much! And now I’d like to go home, as would my mummy.” We were discharged that evening. Great, I thought, we were back on track with feeding.

Whilst my parents cooked us dinner, Tom and I set about sterilising the SNS in our microwave steriliser (which we’d been given before the birth along with an electric breast pump and bottles, as I thought I might need them when I returned to work). However, disaster struck, and the rubber band holding parts of the SNS together melted a hole through the plastic – it was no longer usable. It was Friday night, and despite my mum’s best efforts to google an SNS supplier, nowhere would deliver until at least Tuesday, plus we knew the infant feeding specialist was away for a few days. We had no alternative but to bottle-feed him some formula after he’d fed from me. That was it, I thought, he’d get nipple confusion and not stimulate my breasts enough to improve my milk supply.

After at least some hours sleep during the night, it occurred to me that we could contact La Leche League (LLL) Cambridge, as they might know where we could get an ‘emergency SNS’ at the weekend. I’d heard of LLL, as their website had come up whilst I’d googled breastfeeding in my antenatal research on the subject. Tom rang one of the contacts, Mary; not only did she know a lady who used to be a Medela rep and had an SNS for demonstration purposes, but she also offered to drop it round to us there and then. Within the hour we had an SNS, and Andrew and I were back in business as a breastfeeding pair, all thanks to Mary.

By day 14, Andrew had regained his birth weight. Also on that day I managed to squirt some milk into my eye whilst hand expressing, and the drops that followed were runnier and more opaque white than the creamy colostrum. What an amazing feeling, the almost 2 week wait had been worth it and finally my milk had come in, though not in great quantity.

Over the next month or so, Andrew started to settle into a daily rhythm of feeding, sleeping and being awake, whilst Tom and I tried to figure out how to manage the mixed breast/formula feeding. We wanted to make it as close to demand feeding as possible, though that seemed trickier with formula than if we could rely on breast milk alone. However, Andrew’s weight gain slowed down, and he gained only a few ounces maximum between each of his weekly weigh-ins, which our health visitor advised so we could keep an eye on him. We increased the formula supplement little by little each week as we didn’t want him to plateau on the baby-weight graph. Andrew and I also went along weekly to the breastfeeding drop-in clinic, as well as the fortnightly LLL meetings, to get support and remind myself why I was persevering when it was so easy to feel like there was no point giving him next to no breastmilk. During the clinic when Andrew was 8 weeks old, Mary (who volunteers there as well as LLL) was holding him; as he was showing off his wide smiles, Mary noticed that his tongue looked quite anchored towards the back, and it preferred to move to one side. She suggested that we could see a tongue-tie specialist, as she wasn’t an expert. I’d heard of tongue-tie, but nobody at the clinic or hospital had ever suspected it in Andrew, as I’d had no nipple damage and his latch seemed good from the outside.

We decided to get a private lactation consultant, Ann, who specialises in tongue-tie, after two GPs told me something along the lines of “oh well, you’ve breastfed for 8 weeks, that’s great; he’s on formula anyway, so there’s no point referring you to an NHS tongue-tie specialist if it’s a posterior tie and snipping it might not make a lot of difference”. Ann came to our flat when Andrew was 10 weeks old, and did a 3-hour assessment of his mouth and my breasts. Not only did she diagnose a 50% tongue-tie in Andrew (and incidentally an 80% tongue-tie in me, even though I was exclusively breast fed), but also breast hypoplasia in me. This is basically underdevelopment of the breasts, so there is insufficient glandular breast tissue. In LLL’s online article ‘Supporting Mothers with Mammary Hypoplasia’ (Cassar-Uhl, 2009), breasts are likened to a ‘milk factory’, and in the case of hypoplasia, the ‘“milk factory” is either missing key parts to its assembly line or is absent altogether’. In my case, there clearly was something happening in the assembly line, but perhaps there weren’t enough key parts to produce enough milk to satisfy Andrew’s growing appetite.

My breasts are small, I knew that, but this was the first time someone was totally up front with me – Ann said that their wide spacing and bulbous nipple and areola that merged into each other were signs that I had a medical condition which meant I was unlikely to produce enough milk, even if I tried really hard (which I felt I was!) She snipped Andrew’s tongue-tie, and showed me how to latch him on to make sure as much of my breast went into his mouth as possible. No wonder his latch had always been praised by others – my small nipple-cum-areola fitted into his small mouth no problem, so no darker skin was visible outside. After Ann left, I felt a sudden sense of built-up tension being released, and I slept for the rest of the evening after Tom got in (except when he woke me to feed Andrew before his bedtime).

For the next month or so, Andrew gained 7 or 8 ounces each week, and we went from weekly to monthly weigh-ins. I felt like I had more milk in terms of what I could express, though obviously I couldn’t see how much he could get out of me, but his sudden increase in weight gain suggested that it was more than previously. The snipped tongue-tie must have helped on a practical level, but I also think that the release of tension I’d experienced helped on an emotional level.

Now that Andrew is nearly 4 months old, I’d say that we’re making the most of what we have. I know my milk won’t be enough to drop the formula completely, and I’m coming to accept that there’s nothing I can do about my breasts, that’s just me. Don’t get me wrong, though, I still have days when I resent the faff of sterilisation and formula preparation, and wish I could just go out not worrying about how much milk to take. I see myself as a breastfeeding mum, who’s giving her baby all the goodies in breastmilk, with some extra calories in the formula milk (which at the end of the day isn’t awful – Tom was bottle fed and turned out alright, well, I married him!) Ann said I deserve a medal for persevering as long as I have given what was stacked against us; but I haven’t carried on for any prize other than seeing my son develop and grow after giving him the best possible start I can. Andrew has always been an alert, interested and bright little boy, even when he was admitted to hospital with dehydration – the doctor noted it on his discharge document. So even though he’s not exactly heavy for his age, we’re not worried about his development, and he’s reaching all the milestones as he should. And anyway, breastfeeding for us isn’t just about food for growth, it’s about the bonding and comfort we both get from being snuggled up close, which I wouldn’t change for anything right now, and (give or take the interesting distractions now that he’s getting older) I don’t think Andrew would either.

Update

Since writing this piece when Andrew was nearly 4 months old, I’ve continued to breastfeed him, and he’s now over 11 months. If someone had have said to me at 11 weeks that I would still be breastfeeding at 11 months, I would not have believed them! My goal was to get to 6 months if possible, but when we got there, and he started eating solid food, I found I started to enjoy breastfeeding him even more. I think the reason is because I feel less pressure on myself now that I know milk isn’t his only source of energy. He loves his food, and will eat most things we offer him, shovelling it in messily with his hands and chewing away merrily. So I know that this food is complementing the goodies that he’s getting in my milk; more so than ever, breastfeeding is less about ‘feeding’ and more about snuggling up for quality time together, and me comforting him if he’s upset or calming him down if he’s agitated. He generally has one feed first thing in the morning, and one last thing before bedtime, though if he’s ill or upset, he sometimes wants more during the day or night.

There have been times over the past few months when I’ve worried that he was losing interest in me and my low milk supply, as he wanted fewer feeds. (One particular time turned out to be he start of a tummy bug, which Andrew and I only got mildly compared to Tom – probably due to the immunological help that we, the breastfeeding pair, give each other 😉 ). A LLL Cambridge leader, Justine, reassured me that this is quite normal at his age, even in babies whose mums haven’t had supply issues, as they start becoming independent, crawling off to explore the exciting world around them, and dropping feeds particularly during the day. This gave me confidence to carry on, and I’m happy to continue to meet his needs for as long as he would like me to, even if that means into toddlerhood.