The wonderful world of cloth nappies

As it’s cloth nappy week 2012 this week (there seems to be an awareness week for everything these days!), I thought I’d squeeze in a quick post (note: I wrote that before I realisd how much I could go on about it…not such a quick post in the end!) about our experience of cloth nappies. I still don’t have loads of time or energy for blogging at the moment, but hopefully this offering will keep you amused for a while.

Sometimes Andrew enjoys sitting playing with just a nappy on

When I found out I was pregnant with Andrew, there were lots of things to think about, and I have to say nappies were not high on my priority list of thoughts. But I do remember briefly reading about nappies in one of the free magazines I got with the pregnancy bumpf I got at the start. It was there that I saw an advert for cloth nappies. Then a couple of months later, my mum mentioned them, as a colleague of hers at work was considering selling the ones she had used for her girls when they were younger. I said I wouldn’t mind looking at a sample of what she had on offer, so she very kindly let us have a few samples of a couple of different makes and styles.

Again, sitting and playing in a nappy, though this photo was taken in January so it was a bit chilly, hence the cardy

At about the same time, a friend of mine happened to post something on facebook about how much she loved cloth nappies, so that got me curious and I asked her for advice too – she warned me that she could go on for hours about it, so we should go round for dinner one evening when her kids were in bed and she would go through it all with us. Both these experiences were very useful, and I was persuaded by what I saw to have a go at using them. Also, Tom, being Tom, decided that he would have a go at doing a rough estimate of how much money there was to be saved by comparing the price of disposables with the cost of water and electricity for washing cloth. He worked out that on average we would save LOTS by using cloth over the course of a few years (for Andrew and potentially more kids), even taking into account the cost of buying cloth in the first place.

The first time we tried them on – at about a month old: does my bum look big in this?!

However, we still had a couple of reservations, like we live in a small flat with no tumble dryer and so weren’t sure whether cloth nappies would dry very easily/quickly in the winter, and whether we would handle that much washing in the early days of getting used to a new baby. But then my parents said that for our ‘cotton’ wedding anniversary (2 years), which was in the August before Andrew was due in the January, they would buy us a set of cloth (cotton!) nappies. Perfect. In fact Mum got a great deal with her colleague with the second hand ones, so it cost a fraction of the price of a new set, and we were spared the cost altogether. If things didn’t work out with drying etc., I wouldn’t feel as bad as if they/we had shelled out for brand new ones. We also decided that we’d start off with newborn disposables for a few weeks, or as long as it took to get used to life with a newborn, so as not to put too much pressure on ourselves during that time.

A selection of our Motherease set: top left – folded nappy for newborn size; top right – unfolded nappy for bigger bottoms; centre – fleece liners for wetness absorption; left side – small and medium wrap; right side – medium and large wrap (all very funky designs)

I’m so glad that we did what we did, because it turns out that cloth nappies are no trouble for us. We have a set of about 20 Motherease shaped toweling nappies with popper fastening, plus lots of fleece liners for repelling wetness away from his skin, about 15 Motherease popper-in boosters which keep the nappy going longer, organic flushable liners to catch poo so it is quickly and easily removed from the main nappy, and about 5 waterproof wraps of each size (S, M, L) with popper fastenings to go over the top of the toweling – with various funky designs with animals from various ecosystems e.g. rainforest, savannah, pond. These are suitable from birth to toddlerhood, as the front of the towel nappy folds down to create a smaller nappy at first, and then over time you can stop folding it down and use the full nappy size; you just start with a small outer wrap and then progress to bigger ones as baby grows into toddler!

Close up of unfolded nappy – incredibly easy to fasten with poppers, at different positions all the way along to allow for growing bottoms!

Andrew likes wearing them, and although they are more bulky than disposables (which he wears overnight and occasionally if necessary), it doesn’t seem to have stopped him moving around. He was quite an early walker, cruising from about 9 months and walking confidently a week after his first birthday. I remember reading in the free magazine I mentioned above (which shall remain nameless) that one of the ‘cons’ of cloth nappies was that they were ‘less comfortable’ for baby than disposables. I thought ‘How can they claim that?! Did they do a survey and ask a load of babies/toddlers whether they preferred the comfort of cloth or disposable?! I think not…’ As far as I can tell, Andrew has no complaints. For me, I like the soft and pure feel of the cloth next to his skin, compared to the seemingly soft but full of chemicals disposables. He has only had a mild nappy rash once, and his skin is lovely and smooth still on his bottom.

Close up of folded nappy – an inner line of poppers turns into the outside when folded over – clever 😉

It does annoy me slightly that he grows out of trousers around the bottom more quickly than tops, and dungarees just never seem to fit right these days, but I see that as the fault of clothes manufacturers rather than the cloth nappies – it seems it’s a disposable nappy world when it comes to toddler clothes. I’ve learnt to buy (or mention to people who like to buy him clothes that it’s best to buy) stretchy bottoms like joggers or stretchy jeans. Unfortunately dungarees just don’t seem to fit him these days, though they weren’t too bad up until a year old. He’s not exactly fat either, but he’s got a more muscly bum now he’s walking than when he was a baby of course. On my never-ending to-do list is ‘write to toddler clothes companies saying that I’d like to see designs suitable for cloth nappy wearers’ – maybe one day I’ll get around to it. I’d also love to have the time to make some clothes for him myself, as that would be the perfect fit. Anyway enough about clothes. He looks so cute toddling round in with his padded bum (great when he was learning to walk – extra cushioning for inevitable mishaps!) and the designs on the wraps are so cute too.

Nice and cushioned – this was taken at about the time he started pulling himself up, and it was good to know he had a nice padded bum to fall down on (though of course he’s sitting on a soft bed here, but you get the point)

Of course there is more washing than if we were to use disposables, but now we’re in a routine, we hardly notice the extra time spent on nappies. I say ‘we’, because I am fortunate to have a husband who helps a lot with the housework, especially now I’m back at work (well, he always did do lots, particularly when I was working all hours to finish my PhD!) Our routine is as follows: Tom empties the nappy pails (usually once every 2-3 days now), puts them in the washing machine, and turns it on or puts in on timer depending on when I will be around to do the next bit; once they’re washed, I do the hanging out to dry and putting back in the nappy stacker to use again. In fact the extra time spent on this seems like nothing compared to how often we’d have to buy disposables if we used them all the time. As we live in Cambridge, most of our trips to the supermarket we do on foot or bike; it would take many more trips if we had to pick up big bulky packs of nappies every time. We are also very lucky that our childminder is fine about handling cloth nappies. We send Andrew there with a couple of clean ones, and he comes back with a couple of wet/dirty ones in nappy sacks that we then empty into our pail at the end of the day.

Flushable liners – they come on a big roll, and are easily torn off one at a time using the perforations you see here. They are thin and feel like fabric (as opposed to paper – hence the photo against the light to show they’re see-through), but very strong when wet so they don’t disintegrate, though still degrade once flushed away. This makes it very easy to get rid of poo!

I know that cloth nappies are not for everyone – it must depend on so many different practicalities of everyday life. We have been very lucky with various things (like the gift of nappies, our routine suits washing over shopping, our childminder supports us). But I hope that by sharing our experiences, it might encourage others to just have a think about whether they could give them a go. Plus I’ve done my bit for raising awareness this week. I’d be interested to read other mummy bloggers’ experiences of cloth nappies (good or bad), so why not post a link down there with the comments if you’ve written something on this. I’ve also just entered a competition on the cloth nappy info website to win some more cloth nappies with some very cool designs – Jubilee inspired 😉 So who knows, I might be adding a few more to our collection soon. Happy cloth nappy week! 🙂

New bright orange wrap – a recent photo I took trying to capture the wrap and the fact that Andrew was having great fun waving a union jack around – neither came out very well because he kept running towards me!

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!

The proverbial two birds and a stone: wheat-free and baby-friendly cake

Spiced clementine, almond and ginger cake

Here’s another recipe from Sainsbury’s Little Ones, which is one of my favourite sites for recipes that all three of us enjoy and are relatively easy and cheap to do. As I was browsing through, looking for something that Andrew would like to eat as a snack, I came across this one, and noticed, by looking down the list of ingredients (it wasn’t particularly advertised), that it was in fact wheat-free too. My mum-in-law is wheat intolerant, so I’ve been on the look out for recipes that she can eat too, and I’ve ended up killing two birds with one stone by baking this recipe (don’t worry, no feathery friends were harmed in the making of this cake!)

I hardly need to point out these days that I adapted it slightly – a little less sugar, and only two thirds of what the original recipe said, mainly because I only bought that amount of almonds. It’s the almonds that replace the flour to make it wheat-free, and they also make it lovely and moist, if a little fragile. It rose surprisingly well; I know a common problem with wheat-free stuff is it can be a bit brick-like! I think the key thing was whisking the eggs for as long as the recipe says, as this really made the mixture increase a lot in volume. The flavours are specific to this time of year, and although I’d never thought of boiling and liquidizing clementines to put in a cake, it works really well and gives such a lovely fruity flavour – a great way to sneak fruit in without a fussy toddler knowing! (Not that I have that problem with Andrew… yet!)

Ingredients

  • butter, for greasing
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • 8 (about 400g) clementines, whole and unpeeled
  • 4 eggs
  • 100g sugar
  • 3cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 200g ground almonds
  • ½ tsp baking powder

    Ingredients for the cake

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 190°C, fan 170°C, gas 5. Grease a 22cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

    Greased and lined springform cake tin - it turned out to be a bit small (I do have bigger ones, but it's a long and unimportant story), hence the extra 'muffins' you see below!
  • Wash the clementines and put in a pan. Cover with water and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for 1 hour, adding water to make sure the pan doesn’t go dry. Drain and allow to cool.

    Clementines simmering
  • Quarter the clementines and discard any pips.

    Boiled and cooled clementines cut into quarters and de-pipped (not that there were many pips)
  • Place in a blender, still in their skins, and purée until smooth.

    Clementine puree
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric hand whisk in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 6-7 mins.

    Sugar and eggs whisked for about 6 minutes - the mixture increased A LOT in size!
  • Fold in the clementine purée, ginger, cinnamon, almonds and baking powder.

    Dry ingredients and clementine puree folded into mixture
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and cook in the centre of the oven for 1-1 ½ hours. Check if the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre. If it comes out clean, it is done. Allow to cool in the tin before removing.

    Big cake and two small muffins just out of the oven
  • Dust with icing sugar.

    Finished cakes dusted with icing sugar

This went down really well with Andrew and Tom, though his mum isn’t here to let me know what she thinks. I’d love to hear if you have any tasty wheat-free recipes, as it’s an area of baking that I haven’t really ventured into much at all.

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.

Baby-proofing hat and mittens

Just a quick post to share a quick craft project that I did the other day when Andrew lost a woolly hat! He has some lovely knitted head- and other-body-wear from Tom’s family, but he also likes pulling them off, even when it’s cold. Unfortunately the hat he was wearing at the start of a walk into town was nowhere to be found at the end of the walk. On the same walk, he also lost a mitten, but we found that one near home on the way back. This incident prompted me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – sew on some ribbon to his hat and mittens to keep them on. For the hat, this meant two shorter bits of ribbon, one on each side, to tie in a bow underneath his chin to keep it on. For the mittens, this meant a longer length of ribbon, each end sewn on to a mitten, so that it could go through the arms of his coat and stop the mittens getting lost even if they fall off his hands.

Matthius the bear modelling the hat and mits before baby-proofing began

The hat and mittens are modelled here by my glamourous assistant, Matthius the teddy bear, who, unlike Andrew, stays still enough for me to take a good photo! They were given to Andrew by my cousin, which incidentally makes her Andrew’s first cousin once removed – something I had to look up when figuring out family relations when Andrew was born. I love the little ears that make Andrew look so cute in the hat, and the little paw prints on the palms of the mittens 🙂

Ribbon ready for baby-proofing

I measured out the ribbons on Andrew, allowing quite a bit of extra length, partly because you need it for getting the mits on and off, but mainly for growing room.

Close up of the stitching on the hat

To make sure the ribbons were strong enough to withstand tugging from baby hands, I folded the ends of the ribbon over so that they were double thickness, and stitch round the three edges touching the inside of the hat/mittens with blanket stitch. I then added a square of back stitch about 2mm in from the edge of the blanket stitching.

Close up of the stitching on the mits

I think the square of back stitching looks clearer on the photo of the mittens than on the photo of the hat. This should mean that they are really secure and won’t be easily lost!

Matthius modelling the hat and mits after baby-proofing was finished

Matthius was kind enough to model again once I’d done the sewing. We tried out the adapted hat and mittens when we went to the park between Christmas and New Year. As you can see in the picture below, we didn’t lose them, especially the mittens, which dangled from his coat as he gripped the elephant see-saw thing and happily rocked to and fro. Smiles all round – Andrew stayed warm, and I was glad my baby-proofing worked!

Andrew wearing his hat, and mittens safely dangling!

Remembering Christ in Christ-mas

As a child I remember the feeling that Christmas was *finally* here, after what seemed like weeks, even months, of waiting. Now as an adult, I can’t believe it’s come round so quickly, and I find myself thinking where did those weeks and months fly by to? I guess now there is so much to do in everyday life, so much to distract me from concentrating on one particular thing. Though this year more so than recent years, I’ve noticed a kind of return to a slightly more childlike anticipation of Christmas, no doubt due to having a child of my own now, and experiencing the fun of several parties in the build-up to the day itself. It’s through all this partying that I’ve been reminded, more obviously than before, of the joy that this time of year brings, and of the reason why.

Having seen and heard Christmas greetings in languages other than English, this got me thinking about the word Christmas from a linguistic perspective. It struck me that English is one of few western European languages in which we get a rather obvious reminder of the reason for celebrating Christmas in the word itself. The word in several Romance languages comes from the Latin natalis (meaning ‘natal’, ‘of birth’) or nativitas (meaning ‘birth’, or, if with capital ‘N’, ‘birth of Jesus Christ’) – e.g. Italian Natale, French Noel, Spanish Navidad, Portuguese Natal. The German word Weihnachten comes from the Middle High German ze wihen nahten (meaning ‘on holy nights’) (ah MHG, how this reminds me of undergrad days in Nottingham!). The Scandinavian languages use a word which comes from Old Norse jol (the name of a pagan religious festival which became equated with the Christian celebration of Christmas) – Danish jul, Swedish jul, Norwegian jul, Icelandic jol (it’s also where English Yule comes from). The Dutch word Kerst(-feest/-mis), like the first syllable of English Christmas, comes from the Latin word Christus, originating from Ancient Greek Khristos (meaning ‘the anointed one’), which derived from the Hebrew word Messiah (meaning ‘anointed’).

A knitted Nativity - not sure where Joseph is?! Andrew's first Nativity set

OK, I hope the less linguistically inclined of you (and even those who share my interest in etymology) are still with me. The point that comes out of all this word dropping is that Christ is the reason why we celebrate Christmas. In their words for the celebration, the Scandinavian languages don’t mention this at all, the Romance languages kind of implicitly hint at this (it’s about someone’s birth – Jesus’, if you know Latin), likewise German mentions that it’s something to do with holiness, but English and Dutch explicitly put Christ at the beginning of Christmas. Here the English language makes up somewhat for its inadequacies, inconsistencies and general strangeness.

So who is this ‘Christ’, the ‘anointed one’? The Bible tells us that God’s son, Jesus, was born as a baby boy into our world, so that he would later die, crucified on a Roman cross, to make up for all the wrong things that we as people do, which separate us from God. This baby boy was God’s gift to us, a far greater gift than any of those we’re going to unwrap from under the Christmas tree this year. This gift was also undeserved – Jesus Himself had done nothing wrong, but He took on all the wrong things done by people, and died for our sake. The story doesn’t end there though; Jesus not only died, but also rose again from the dead. This is something I can write more about at Easter. For now let’s stick to Christmas, and the amazing gift from God that we are celebrating. But what does all this mean on a personal level? The one thing God asks of me (and anyone else who believes in Him), is that I follow Jesus, by committing my life to Him and putting Him at the centre of everything I do. Jesus has already made up for all the times I mess up (and continue to mess up), so that I can have everlasting life with God, even after my time in this world. I think that’s absolutely amazing!! (If a little mind-blowing!)

In all the busyness – both fun and annoying – at Christmas time, it’s quite easy to forget Jesus, even though it’s His birthday. I recently heard a simple but clever little way to remember Christ at Christmas. (This isn’t my idea – credit should go to Matt Philips of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge!) A tradition that many people observe at Christmas is hanging candy canes on the tree (apparently, if you believe Wikipedia, the candy cane was originally thought up by a German choirmaster who wanted to give sweets to children at his church at Christmas, but felt he needed to justify this by making the sweets in the shape of a shepherd’s staff, to remind the kids of the shepherds in the story of Jesus’ birth). When candy canes hang on the tree, indeed they look like a staff. But if you turn them the other way round, they turn into the letter ‘J’ – a cool little reminder of Jesus 🙂 We hung one on our tree at home, and when we arrived at my parents’ house, their whole tree was decorated with them. I definitely have a great way to remember Jesus this Christmas.

Happy Christmas everyone! I hope you enjoy all the fun, and can maybe take some time to remember Christ in Christmas.

Candy cane on our tree...
...turned upside down it turns into the letter 'J'
Candy canes on my parents' tree

One week, five Christmas parties

It was the week before Christmas,

and all through the city,

toddler groups partied with festive songs,

wearing outfits that were oh so pretty.

Well I think my poetry leaves a lot to be desired, but this certainly sums up the week Andrew and I (and Daddy) have just had. It started last Monday morning, when we went to our usual group at Chesterton Children’s Centre. We eased ourselves in gently to the party week, as this was not so much an organised party, but rather the refreshments had a Christmassy feel to them, some of the toddlers wore Christmassy outfits, and we sang Christmas songs at the end. Back home for some lunch and a power nap (Andrew that is), we then headed out to Rhyme time at Barnwell Road library for a proper Christmas singing session. But when we arrived, complete with a tub of oat and banana muffins to share, it came to my attention that the Christmas party was in fact the following Monday! Thankfully I wasn’t the only baby-brained mum who’d got mixed up. Oh well, not to worry, we joined in with the usual, all-seasonal songs.

Playing with (jingle) bells (jingle) bells on Monday morning

Tuesday’s party fun is reported here second hand, because that’s when Daddy and Andrew time happens each week. My two boys toddle off together to Little Music Makers, a music (obviously!) group run by Chesterton Parents’ group. According to my music group correspondent / photographer (aka Tom), great fun was had by all at the Christmas special. There were toys and party food (including some oat and banana muffins – they get everywhere!), as well as the usual singing and dancing (I’ll say more about that in another post sometime). Father Christmas even turned up, with presents for all the little ones. Andrew didn’t seem too fussed either way about this strange man with a white beard in a red cloak, and proceeded to use the nicely wrapped up book he was given as a teething toy!

Meeting Father Christmas - Andrew didn't seem too bothered either way!
Playing in the tent

Wednesday arrived and I woke up feeling excited because I had the afternoon off work so that we could go to the much-anticipated Little Sheep Christmas party. (Before I went back to work, Little Sheep was our regular Wednesday afternoon group – it takes place at Holy Trinity Church (Cambridge), and is a little different from most baby/toddler groups, because as a mum (or dad) you get to do an activity each week like craft, wine tasting, Zumba, hearing a talk, learning infant first aid etc, while your baby has fun with the other babies in the creche provided.) We clearly weren’t the only ones who had heard about how amazing the party would be. When we arrived 10 minutes before the advertised start time, the church hall was already filling up, and I heard later from a friend that the queue to get in just 10 minutes later snaked back into the busy shopping street on which the church is located. As more and more babies and parents/carers/family/friends piled into the hall, the singing began, led by a very enthusiastic lady called Rebecca. There were all sorts of songs – Christmas classics as well as the usual favourites, some of which were adapted to make them more seasonal (I thought ‘Father Christmas had a sack, ho ho ho ho ho… and in that sack he had a cow, ho ho ho ho ho… with a moo moo here and a moo moo there…’ was quite ingenious!). After a couple of quieter songs to finish off with, my friend Cat (who organises Little Sheep) gave a short ‘thought for the day’. She shared with us the lyrics of the song ‘What if God was one of us’ – here are a few lines…

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face? …

If God had a face
What would it look like? …

We (Cat and I, and other Christians) believe that answers to these questions were given over 2000 years ago, when Jesus was born – God’s name is Jesus, and God’s face looked like that of a human baby boy, who grew into a man. That’s the reason for all this celebration at Christmas – all the parties are for Jesus’ birthday! No party is complete without special food and drink, and the Little Sheep party was no exception. There were all sorts of yummy cakes, biscuits and mince pies, as well as some mulled cranberry juice, which we tucked into while the little ones played and the big ones chatted. Father Christmas managed to turn up again; he must be so tired with all this travelling round to different parties every day. Andrew was less impressed this time as I sat him on the big red man’s knee (oh dear!)

Andrew shakering to and me singing 'Away in a manger' (click picture to play video)
Andrew fascinated by Rebecca as she danced around and led the singing (photo courtesy of Hannah Duffy Photography)
More shy on this occasion with Father Christmas - Mummy had to sit in on the photo too (photo courtesy of Hannah Duffy Photography)

Come Thursday we needed a rest from our packed Christmas social schedule, but by Friday we were raring to go again. Andrew and I joined the Cambridge babysigning group a couple of months ago for 5 weeks, but then I went back to work and we couldn’t commit to every week before our routine settled down. (I’ll definitely do a whole post sometime on babysigning.) But Bethan, the tutor, kindly invited us back for the Christmas special. We learnt some seasonal signs like reindeer, sleigh, Father Christmas, angel and Jesus, and had lots of fun singing and signing to Christmassy songs.

Eating Father Christmas' hat at babysigning (I had just offered him some pastry from a mince pie!)

The weekend arrived, along with time for some rest at home. Monday saw the last of our Christmas parties; this week really was the Rhyme time Christmas special. As we entered, damp and soggy from the rain, we were greeted by cheerful Bobby and Ruth, who were dressed up in costume and tinsel. The songs we sang were specially selected for their Christmas theme, and then we heard a story about a pirate (not so Christmassy). After all the musical and rhyming fun, there was plenty of food to share, and Andrew had his usual excitement looking at all the books, which he absolutely loves (clearly my son), and pulling himself up on the perfectly-sized mini cat-face chairs!

Looking at the books after the Barnwell library Rhyme time Christmas special

One week, five parties, many songs, lots of food and stockingfuls of fun! Have you had fun at Christmas parties that you’ve been to? Did Father Christmas turn up at yours too?! (He gets around, you know.) I think it’s fantastic that there are so many parties we can go to in celebration of Jesus’ birthday, because he was a special little baby who went on to do amazing things. This is Andrew’s first Christmas, and he’s certainly had a great introduction to what a fun time of year this is. As he grows up, I’m going to make sure he learns about the reason why he has so much fun at Christmas.

Stollen – another taste of Christmas (this one’s for babies too)

Another one of my favourite foods at Christmas is stollen (being German it should be spelled with a capital S, but I guess it’s become anglicised enough now to lower case it). This bread-like cake with dried fruit and marzipan has all the good bits of a traditional English Christmas cake, but without the sickly sweet white royal icing, and is generally much lighter (in colour and stodginess). Once again, German trumps British Christmas food. I’ve eaten a fair few stollen in my time (and been through, several times, the inevitable family joke of being a thief – stollen/stolen – it’s all the same to those who don’t sprechen Deutsch; incidentally it’s pronounced something more like ‘shto-luhn’ – ‘o’ as in ‘pot’), but this is the first time I’ve ventured into producing a homemade one. As there is very little sugar in the dough, it’s great for Andrew too, though I left out the nuts, and only put a small amount of sugar-laden marzipan into his ‘stollen bites’.

This recipe is based on one from Delia Smith online. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s read previous baking posts on this blog that I adapted the recipe – no almonds (not great for Andrew), mixed dried fruit instead of separate amounts of raisins, currants, apricots, cherries and dried fruit peel (why bother when Mr Sainsbury can do it for you?), plain flour instead of strong white bread flour (other recipes I have seen for stollen don’t insist on bread flour, though see comments below), and simply dusted with icing sugar to finish instead of a glaze with lemon juice (I’m not overly fussed about lemon and all the stollen I’ve had from Germany just had icing sugar on top).

Ingredients

Ingredients for stollen

This recipe is enough to make 1 large one. I made double this, because you can’t buy smaller packs of marzipan, and stollen is great to freeze, so I made 2 bigger ones and about a dozen small ‘bites’ for Andrew; half of all this went in the freezer.

  •  150 ml milk
  •  50 g caster sugar
  • 2 level teaspoons dried yeast (not easy-blend)
  •  400 g plain flour
  • 110 g softened butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 200 g mixed dried fruit
  • 200 g marzipan
  • icing sugar, sifted, to dust on top

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Warm the milk, until you can just still dip your little finger in it.

    Milk warming up gently by short blasts in microwave
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar along with the dried yeast and leave it until it forms a frothy head of about 1 inch.
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 0 minutes
    Warm milk, yeast and sugar: time = 30 minutes

    Frothy milk, lovely yeasty smell
  4. Meanwhile sift 350 g of the flour together with the remaining sugar into a mixing bowl, and make a well in the centre.

    Flour and sugar with well in centre
  5. Pour the milk and yeast mixture into this, then add the softened butter and beaten egg.

    Milk mixture, eggs and butter added to well in flour
  6. Mix everything together either with your hands or with a wooden spoon – until the mixture is well blended and leaves the side of the bowl cleanly.

    Wet and dry ingredients mixed together to form dough, still quite wet and sticky
  7. Then work in the fruit, distributing it as evenly as possible. Knead the dough on a work surface for 5 minutes until it is springy and elastic.
    Dough ready for first round of kneading

    Wet dough from bowl after kneading on a very well floured board
  8. Now leave the dough in a warm place, covered with clingfilm, until it has doubled in size (the time this takes can vary depending on the temperature – it could take up to 2 hours).
    Dough covered in cling film ready to prove
    Dough in oven on minimum temperature, just right to prove

    Dough after proving in warm place for about 1 1/2 hours
  9. Turn the risen dough out on to a board floured with the reserved 50 g of flour, and knock the air out of it and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

    Kneading the dough (thanks to Tom for photography!)
  10. At this stage roll or press out the dough to an oblong 10 x 8 inches. Using your hands, roll out the marzipan to form a sausage shape and place this along the centre of the dough, finishing just short of the edges.
    Flatened dough with marzipan 'sausage' (bit of a flat one!) on top

    Small circle of dough with small blob of marzipan - I then folded the edge of the dough into the centre over the marzipan, and placed it down on the baking sheet to hold the dough edge in
  11. Fold the dough over the marzipan and carefully place the whole thing on a baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for expansion.

    Two bigger stollen and several baby stollen bites, ready for second round of proving
  12. Leave it to prove in a warm place until it has doubled in size again, then bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

    Daddy stollen, Mummy stollen, and baby stollens ready to go into oven after second round of proving
  13. Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes before lifting it on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

    Stollen and baby bites looking golden brown, just out of the oven (they only took 20 minutes to cook in our fan oven)
  14. Dust the top with the icing sugar to finish.
    Finished Stollen, complete with snowman
    Marzipan snowman - I had a small chunk of marzipan left, so I made a decoration to go with the snowy look of the icing sugar dusting

    Andrew's stollen bites - no icing sugar added 😉

You can probably tell from the photos that the stollen turned out quite flat. I suspect this is because I didn’t use strong white bread flour (its ‘strength’ holds the air bubbles from the yeast better). But they taste delicious, and Andrew loves his little baby bites too. Plus we’ve got another loaf and some bites in the freezer to enjoy in the New Year.

Do you have special foods that you like to bake/eat at Christmas? Are there cakes/biscuits/other sweet things that remind you of childhood or being with family for Christmas? Do you prefer Christmas foods traditional in other cultures more than those in your own? I’d love to hear about other foody traditions at this time of year. It’s special occasions like this that really inspire me to bake and try out new recipes. I hope you’re enjoying reading about my Christmas baking adventures!

Balancing act

My day starts when our alarm clock (aka Andrew) goes off at about 6am. I get up, play with Andrew for a while before giving him a milk feed around 6.30am, and then it’s family breakfast time at 7am. After that, it’s time to get washed and dressed. When we’re ready, it’s at that point that things have to be done differently depending on the day of the week. My brain is (usually) conscious of the next step:

  • it’s Monday/Friday = no rush, play with Andrew some more before putting him down for a morning nap, then do some things around the flat and get ready to go out for the rest of the morning;
  • it’s Wednesday/Thursday = pack up some lunch for Andrew and myself, put nappies in the change bag, wrap us both up warm in coats/gloves/hats etc., and walk round the corner to Tracy’s (our childminder) to arrive as she’s leaving for the school run at 8.25am, then cycle to the office;
  • it’s Tuesday = leave Andrew in Daddy’s capable hands and head straight off to the office for the morning;
  • it’s Saturday/Sunday = have some family time, then do some housework or go to church.

We’ve been in this routine for over a month now, since I started back at work half-time after 9 months of maternity leave, and it seems to be working. Two and a half days a week I work as a post-doctoral research associate (fancy name for the fact that I do research and have a PhD). I’m based in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, as the resident phonetician in a lab of psychologists and neuroscientists. The project that I’m working on is looking at how children with a language impairment perceive rhythm and pitch in language and music. I should go into that in detail in another post, but for now I’ll stick to the balancing act of being mum and going out to work.

Before I went on maternity leave, I loved my job and felt very privileged to have been offered it, given the competition for academic jobs when funding is relatively limited. I planned to go back part-time after 9 months, though I found it hard to return once those months were up, because I enjoyed spending so much time with Andrew when on leave. There was a feeling of being torn between two jobs I loved doing, and there still is most days. Being with Andrew all day really makes me happy, but I do see advantages to going out to work too. I thought I’d share some of the things I like and don’t like about splitting my week in half.

At the office I get to drink hot cups of tea, eat my lunch when I like, and there’s not a nappy in sight. As I work in town, it’s very handy to pop out at lunchtime and go shopping for a few bits without the buggy. I have such lovely work colleagues who are great friends and make the office environment a happy, sociable and productive one. It feels good to know that I’m taking part in research that ultimately aims to get to the bottom of something that affects many kids, and one day may make a positive difference in individual lives.

My computer is easy to spot if you know what Praat looks like on screen 😉

People talk about being able to ‘use your brain’ again and get ‘mental stimulation’ at work after having a baby, and that is true to the extent that I get to put to use my ‘training’, i.e. the skills for research that I gained by doing a PhD and continuing in an academic job. But I would say my brain gets put to good use looking after Andrew too. I mean there’s no training for being a mum, so you figure things out as you go along, and that uses a fair amount of brain power I find. All the things that I’ve started to think about and get interested in since having him certainly keep me mentally stimulated. An example is doing my own ‘research’ on baby-related matters, by reading up and talking to other parents about issues like breastfeeding. I can do this either at groups when Andrew is with me and happy to play with the toys and other kids there, or at home when he’s asleep and I need to put my feet up. So I feel like I get enough brain usage on both Andrew days and office days.

Big boy on a trike - at a group where there is a great outdoor play area so Andrew can unleash all his energy

My Andrew days are fantastic because I get to see him develop and start doing things he couldn’t do the week before. He is such a good-natured baby, so I get lots of smiles and cuddles. There’s never a dull moment as he’s so active too, making me and himself laugh at the latest thing he’s managed to find/do/get stuck in or under. We go to fun groups where he can toddle around, play with different toys, sing, hear stories, make things and get messy, whilst I get a cup of tea made for me (which might go cold admittedly) and can chat with other mums (and dads) about the joys and woes of parenthood. I get lots of fresh air and exercise, which comes naturally in our routine because we walk everywhere.

Wrapped up warm for a ride out in the buggy to get to a group

So that’s a lot of good stuff so far. The hard part is having to split my time between the two jobs. I worry that I’ll miss out on one of Andrew’s ‘firsts’, that I’ll be impatient with him because I’m too tired after a day or two in the office, that he’ll miss me either lots or not at all when I’m gone (the former being detrimental to him and the latter to me and my identity as his mum). I also worry that my heart might not stay in my research like it was, that I’ll be too tired to function properly, that I’ll not do my research to the highest standard I set myself. These worries on both sides basically come down to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, and by splitting my resources it might not be possible to do either job at 100%. So far I’m pleased to say that none of these worries have actually been an issue, but they are always in my mind.

Look at me, I'm so good at standing. Mummy loves watching me grow up and do things like this for the first time.

When I think about it, I’m not splitting my week exactly in half. In fact I’m a full-time mum, and always will be, as I do my mum thing before and after going out to the office (including in the middle of the night if he wakes up – what am I supposed to say? ‘sorry Andrew, work tomorrow, no soothing back to sleep for you tonight’); walking out the door to go to work doesn’t stop me being mum. I just do interesting research for about 19 hours a week on top of that. I’m happy with the way things are for now, but it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the future, especially as my contract ends in December 2012 (the research one that is – I don’t think Andrew will terminate my contract as mum anytime soon 🙂 )

Andrew loves 'helping' me hang the washing up to dry

Baby-(and adult-)friendly oat and banana muffins

I was looking for a recipe for some muffins or little cakes that Andrew would enjoy. I’m not against him having some sugar, because I think if I completely deprive him of treats now, he’ll only rebel and go for it when he’s older anyway. And that’s what cakes are – treats – to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle (I sound like something off the back of a crisp packet or chocolate bar!) Tom and I like our cakes and puddings, but we also eat a varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg, and we can’t go for a day without some exercise. So that’s what Andrew is becoming accustomed to as well. That’s enough of an intro – I could probably write a whole post it seems on this topic. On with the recipe….

It’s based on one I found on the Sainsbury’s Little Ones website. This is a great collection of recipes suitable for babies, toddlers and adults. More of these recipes will no doubt feature in future posts, as I’ve tried several of them already and would love to share more. I adapted it slightly (basically less sugar and half oil / half milk instead of all the oil) to suit Andrew better. So, here we go.

Ingredients

  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats, plus extra for decoration
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 100g sugar
  • 125ml oil- I used olive as that’s what we have in
  • 125ml milk
  • 2 medium-ripe bananas, chopped small

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC, fan 160ºC, gas 4. Prepare a muffin tin with paper cases (I used a big muffin tin for Mummy/Daddy-sized treats and a fairy cake tin for Andrew-sized treats).
  2. Sift the flour, oats and baking powder together (I didn’t sift the oats – how is that possible?!)
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, oil and milk together until pale and fluffy.
  4. Fold this mixture, and bananas, into the flour and oat mixture.
  5. Spoon the combined mixture into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the extra oats over and bake for 15 minutes until the muffins have risen and are golden. (I found that the bigger muffins needed more like 20 minutes, whereas the small ones were fine with 15 minutes).
  6. When cooked through, transfer to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for three days (if they stay uneaten for that long!) or freeze.

Andrew approved – he ate one for a snack on not long after I baked them on Sunday. Tom was also impressed, so I’ll definitely be baking some more of these, and it’s handy that they go in the freezer to have a stock for when I don’t have time to bake them fresh.