Pregnancy diary: week 23 – swimming

I’ve been meaning to write a post on swimming in pregnancy for ages: in fact since before I was pregnant with this baby, because I was so impressed with how it helped me in pregnancy with Andrew that I wanted to share it with others who are (or will be) pregnant. This week isn’t particularly special in terms of how much I’ve swum, it’s more that I’m writing it now because nothing else has sprung to mind, and swimming is such a normal part of my weekly routine that I often forget about it. So here’s what I have to say about swimming in pregnancy.

Between about weeks 6 and 18, I can’t deny that I did less swimming than usual, because the sickness took over my life and forced me to take things a lot more easy than normal in terms of exercise. Before I had Andrew, I used to swim 3 times a week for about half an hour (60 lengths or 1 roughly mile). Obviously I had a gap of about 2.5 months after he was born when I didn’t swim, but since then I’d been managing to fit in about 2 half hour swims a week (not including the once a week I go with Andrew), which was as much as I could fit in around the times our local pool is available for public swimming and Tom is around to look after Andrew. This dropped to once a week when I started being sick with pregnancy; instead of half an hour of 60 lengths front crawl, I managed to do about half this and just breaststroke. I used to go in evenings, but as this was the worst time of day for the sickness, the only time I could make was a Saturday in the late morning. I didn’t enjoy it as much when feeling sick, but it was the form of exercise that made me feel the least sick – walking and cycling were worse, though I still had to do one of them most days. And it did make me feel refreshed for a short time afterwards, I guess because I always feel refreshed when I’ve been for a swim.

I thought it would be a good idea, given the theme of this week's post, to take a photo in my swimming costume. Incidentally, this has been a very good costume, it's still going strong half way though my 2nd pregnancy. It was from Mothercare maternity range, though I'm not sure they still do it. I wish I had a photo of me in the pool, but as I go on my own, there's nobody to take it!

Since about 18 weeks, although I’ve still not been feeling great with the lingering nausea, I have managed to get in one more swim in the early evening most weeks, even if only for 20 minutes. At about 20 weeks I did find that my energy level started to slowly increase, and I’ve been able to generally do more stuff (though I’m trying to remember not to go all out with my newly re-found energy and wear myself out again – easier said than done when life is so busy!) I’ve always found that swimming is a great way to feel energised. Whenever I’m feeling a bit lethargic or tired, although it’s an effort to get to the pool when I’m like that, I know that I feel so much better with 10 times more energy when I finish the swim, so it’s worth it in the end. This has certainly been true in pregnancy, perhaps even more so than usual. So I would definitely recommend swimming as a way of boosting your energy and feeling more positive about the tiredness at times when you inevitably feel low in pregnancy.

Swimming has always been something that gives me some ‘me-time’, time to be alone and think, to calm down after a busy day or to wake myself up slowly in the morning. When I’m under water, just hearing the sound of water swooshing around my ears, I find it helps me block out all the other noise of daily life and just concentrate on what I’d like to think through, for example my day at work or what activity I’m going to do with Andrew tomorrow. This is particularly important in pregnancy I’ve found, and even more so this time when I’m so busy with all the things that I try and fit into an average week, including running around after an active toddler. I’m very grateful to Tom for letting me have this time to myself, and I really appreciate just how important it is to me.

At the moment I still don’t feel particularly heavy, but I know it’s rapidly approaching that time, if this pregnancy is anything like the last, when the bump will suddenly grow a lot very quickly. When I was pregnant with Andrew, I found that swimming was the most comfortable form of exercise after about 30 weeks, because it isn’t weight-bearing. The time I spent in the pool was amazing, as it was the only time when I could forget just how big and heavy I felt on dry land! I still did quite a bit of walking, because that’s how I got around Cambridge without a bike, but it became quite tricky towards the end of pregnancy, when I would get a sudden pain in my hips and have to stop for a while. Swimming wasn’t at all painful though, even when doing breaststroke which uses the hips a lot.

Another good point about swimming is that you don’t get all sweaty whilst exercising. Given that I generally feel so much warmer in pregnancy already, I really don’t like getting even hotter when walking or cycling. This was less of an issue last time, because I was heavily pregnant in late autumn and winter when it was cold, but this time (if we get a proper summer!) it’ll be harder on this front. Swimming will be my way of cooling off.

In general I’d say that swimming is a great way to keep fit, both aerobically and for toning muscles. In pregnancy I found, and I’m finding again this time, that it’s a particularly good way to keep fit when your body is carrying extra weight and working extra hard. In my last pregnancy I swam right up until the day before Andrew was born (I didn’t have time on the day he was born as the midwife came in the morning and by the afternoon I was starting to get contractions and he was born at 10.22pm), and I intend to do the same this time. The midwife who was with us in labour and delivery said that she could tell I was fit for a pregnant mum, and I reckon all that swimming paid off in how quickly and smoothly labour went. I’m hoping the same will happen again, though I know complications can unexpectedly happen.

If I haven’t convinced you by now that swimming in pregnancy is a great idea, I’m not sure what else I would have to say! I know I’m biased in that I’ve always loved swimming and done a lot of it, but I think it can be something for everyone, because you take take things at the pace you want. I totally understand that some people are not too keen on wearing just a swimming costume in public, and that might get even harder in pregnancy as the body changes shape. I’ve personally found that having a bump is a great conversation starter in the pool, as others are amazed to see a pregnant swimmer pacing up and down the lanes, overtaking some of the other swimmers on her way!

Next week I get to see baby again at an extra scan that we’re having, as part of doctor training (I wrote about this back at week 14 – I can’t believe how time is flying, it seemed like ages until 24 weeks back then!) So there’ll be another picture to see/try and figure out. I’m looking forward to it 🙂

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!

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