Moving on

Blogging has fallen to the back of my mind recently with everything else that’s going on. I mentioned in a few of the posts that I did get round to publishing recently that we’re moving cities soon, but unless you know me in real life and have seen me recently, you won’t know much more detail than that. So I thought I’d share what we’re up to, and at the same time getting some thoughts down ‘on paper’ (so to speak) will help me think through things myself! With everything going on and all that I have to do, it’s hard to take time to step back and think.

For a while we had been thinking that at some point we would move out of Cambridge. As much as we love living here and the place has A LOT going for it, especially for young families, there are 2 major downsides for us: 1) it’s not very near our family, especially Tom’s side; 2) it costs an absolute fortune to buy a house here! We were very grateful to our parents who helped us get on the property ladder when we bought our small flat here a few years ago when house prices weren’t quite as crazy as they are now, but we knew that with me choosing to not work (for money) until at least Andrew is at school, there is no way we could afford to live anywhere bigger within the city. Our flat is actually OK for now, but we couldn’t imagine living here in much more than about 2 years time.

From Cambridge...
From Cambridge…

So Tom had been ‘passively’ looking for a job at a university in the Midlands – not spending too much time on it, but signing up to a few job email alert systems, to see if anything came up. After quite a while, when he saw one come up at the University of Birmingham that looked perfect for his skills and interests (time-tabling – he has that kind of mind!), he thought he might as well go for it, even though we weren’t thinking of moving right now. To his surprise, he was offered the job, and had 2 months notice to work at his current employer, which ties in neatly with starting the new job on the first Monday of the new year.

Now we have lots to sort out before Christmas, including packing and selling our flat. Thankfully we can live with my parents for a bit until we find somewhere to buy in Birmingham, and the commute won’t be too bad for Tom in the short term. This means we can wait until we have the money from our flat sale before going for anything at the other end, which makes things easier in terms of house moving chains and deadlines etc. We were told that the market in Cambridge is very fast at the moment, and sure enough within a couple of days of going on the market and after our first viewing, we had a good offer, followed by a higher one the day after, and more viewings until we said ‘no more!’ We and the people offering are going to make a decision on Monday, but if all goes to plan (I know that’s a big ‘if’ in house buying/selling!) then we should sell it soon and start the process of all the legal stuff.

So far packing hasn’t been too bad – I’ve been doing bits and bobs when Tom has taken the boys out and when they’re napping, and it’s amazing how much I can get done when I have no little ones around, I’m very productive! I’d already done some sorting over the past few months as we didn’t need everything that we had in the flat, so I feel like we’re starting at a good point and only packing stuff that really needs to go with us.

When I first heard that Tom had got the job, I didn’t know how to feel, and for a few days I was mostly upset at the thought of leaving everything that we love about living here: friends, church, groups, parks, distance from town, cycling/walking everywhere etc. But after the initial shock, I realised that of course in the long run there will be lots of opportunities just like these in Birmingham. And the main points are that we will be nearer family so (great) grandparents get to see grandkids with less of a trek, and we can more comfortably afford a family house, neither of which we can get here.

... to Birmingham
… to Birmingham

On Friday I had my first experience of saying goodbye to friends that we have really valued since being in Cambridge – in fact without them I’m not sure we would still be breastfeeding, so that means a lot to me. It was the last LLL Cambridge meet that we can make before Christmas, and it was sad to leave: I still very clearly remember walking into our first ever LLL meet in exactly the same room when Andrew was just 4 weeks old – here I was walking out with a nearly 3 year old Andrew and a 1 year old Joel. This is the first of many sad farewells that we will be making over the next few weeks.

It’s also been hard to think about handing over the voluntary roles that I do here in Cambridge. I started Nappyness library and meet-ups less than a year ago, before we knew that we’d move so soon, and if I had have known this, I don’t think I would have set it up. But I’m glad that I’ve been able to help some families in that time, even if I can’t help here in the future. I’ve just had an offer from 2 lovely mums who are happy to take Nappyness on, so I’m very pleased that this will still be available for local families to benefit from. I’ve also been in touch with a few ladies who started a library in Birmingham around the same time that I started Nappyness, but haven’t had chance to do much with it yet, and would be grateful for help when I get there. So that’s an exciting thing to look forward to as well. I’m also leaving behind my Editor position for the local NCT magazine, which has been a wonderful experience for various reasons. As nobody has yet come forward to take over from me, I think I’ll be helping out at a distance for a little while yet, with lots of help from the other existing team members.

For me this blog post is a record of what this time was like for us, and something to look back on when we’re all settled with a new life in Birmingham. We both believe that this move is what God wants us to do, and that He will guide us through it all, even though it may be stressful and upsetting at times. He’s done it in the past in our own individual lives, and as a couple, and now as a family, and we can look back at how well His plan has worked so far, which gives us confidence for the future. Jesus doesn’t promise that following His way is easy, but He does promise to be with us, and that is an amazing truth to hold onto in unsettling times like this. I felt particularly comforted when we sang these words at the women’s midweek Bible study group this week:

Faithful one, so unchanging
Ageless one, you’re my rock of peace
Lord of all I depend on you
I call out to you, again and again
I call out to you, again and again

You are my rock in times of trouble
You lift me up when I fall down
All through the storm
Your love is, the anchor
My hope is in You alone

Breastfeeding support: accurate info, practical help, listening ears

I am absolutely convinced that every mum needs support if she is going to reach her breastfeeding goals. Breastfeeding involves many factors (physical, hormonal, emotional, social, psychological etc.) that come together to create the unique journey of a breastfeeding pair comprised of mum and baby; the same mum can even have a completely different experience with two (or more) different children. Sometimes these factors create a very favourable situation, making the breastfeeding journey relatively straightforward, but in other cases these factors cause issues that make the journey a very difficult one.

The mums who do have a difficult time obviously need support, and I’ll come on to where you can find this in a moment. But even those who have no major issues need a certain amount of (perhaps subtle, in the background) support in the form of, for example, a helpful partner and/or family who understand why breastfeeding is important and how it works. As a society, we can all give moral support to all breastfeeding mums by making them feel welcome and normal in public places, not making them feel self-conscious and like they have to hide away. This is one of the most fundamental ways of supporting breastfeeding mums in general.

But on an individual level, what if you do encounter problems? What can you do about it, and where can you go to get support? The first thing to remember is that you are not alone – many mums experience issues ranging from relatively minor/temporary/easily fixable problems to more overwhelming/long term/unbearable problems. The second thing to remember is that there are sources of support out there, even though you might have to be quite pro-active in searching them out at a time when you’re already feeling exhausted. Our experience of breastfeeding could have been a lot worse and a lot shorter if we had not been lucky enough to find the right support at (more or less) the right time. I see breastfeeding support as encompassing three different aspects: accurate information, practical help, and listening to emotions.

Well done, you've found another scavenger hunt logo! Keep reading for more tips, blog links and chances to win some cool breastfeeding-related prizes!

The obvious place you might think to look for support would be your midwife and/or health visitor. In our experience they were mixed in how helpful they were, and I know that this very much depends on the individuals and how much breastfeeding-specific training they have had and how recently they completed it. I gave birth in a midwife-led birth centre, and it was a very positive and empowering (as is currently the buzz word in birthing) experience. I cannot fault the support of the midwives there to get breastfeeding off to a good start: they allowed me to have a completely natural birth with no pain relief except a pool; Andrew was delivered straight onto my tummy and breastfed almost straight away by latching on of his own accord; we were not hurried onto the post-natal bay and were allowed lots of skin-to-skin time; they checked on us a lot during the night after he was born, constantly asking if I needed help with feeding, and even suggested I wake him after he’d slept so long without a feed – this was really important to stimulate my milk supply.

But we were only in hospital for about 12 hours after the birth. The problems came when I went home and we were in the care of my community midwife. She was (unfortunately) on annual leave during Andrew’s first week. Of course everyone needs a holiday and I’m not complaining about that, but when we rang her team because we were concerned that feeding wasn’t going well, we did not get the support we needed. Later that week he was admitted to hospital with dehydration and significant weight loss, and I felt let down by the community midwife team care.

When we came out of hospital the second time, and I was trying my hardest to give breastfeeding a go as well as continuing the formula supplements that the paediatricians had started, my community midwife told me that I should only keep him on the breast for 20 minutes at a time every three hours and then top-up with a bottle, to give my breasts time to ‘fill up’ again. At the time I believed her, but having read more about how breastfeeding works from La Leche League (LLL) resources, I know that this is rubbish! Breast milk is constantly being produced as soon as some leaves the breast – it’s more like a continuous stream than a bucket you have to fill, then empty, and then wait for it to fill again before taking any more out. Our health visitor wasn’t much better – with her it wasn’t so much the inaccuracy of her advice rather the lack of her visits. She came a couple of times, checked I was in a fit state to look after my baby, and then left us to get on with it. I could have made the effort to ring her, but by that time I had started to get support from my local LLL group and thought that was much more worthwhile than keeping in touch with a busy health visitor – these mums had time for me whenever I wanted advice (more on this in a moment).

However, the most crucial support we received in the first week was from the infant feeding specialist midwife at the hospital when we were on the paediatric ward. Looking back, it was, ironically, good that we went back into hospital. She introduced us to the SNS (at-breast supplementer that I talked about in my last post). Without this way of supplementing, with Andrew still getting as much breast milk as I was able to produce, I don’t think we’d still be breastfeeding today. This midwife’s support was helpful and, most importantly, she gave us accurate information.

So the moral of the story with health professionals is, in our experience, don’t be afraid to question their authority and seek a second opinion – in many cases their training on breastfeeding is very basic and often out-dated because it does not feature prominently in current training (even for midwives and health visitors). If you’re anything other than a perfect textbook case, you might find they give, out of ignorance, inaccurate or downright misleading information.

As I just mentioned, I got amazing support from my local LLL group. This is an international organisation represented in many countries across the world. In Great Britain there are groups who meet in various cities, towns and villages across the country. The mission of LLL is ‘to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.’ This is exactly what I found when I went to my first coffee morning, after I was lucky enough to meet one of the volunteer leaders at a breastfeeding drop-in clinic who encouraged me to come along as she knew I was struggling.

A flyer for our local LLL group, with lists of meeting and coffee morning dates inside, hanging on our notice board so I know where to meet each week 🙂

From what I’ve heard said by others, breastfeeding support organisations like this and others (e.g. NCT) in the UK can be seen as an exclusive group of well-off ladies who bang on about ‘breast is best’ and look down on those who feed their babies formula without persevering through difficulties. In my experience, nothing is further from the truth! I took formula (in the SNS) to meetings and was not shunned; I’ve seen mums take bottles to meetings and were not shunned. In fact it is mums like me that are made to feel particularly welcome, because mums at LLL meetings who have overcome problems themselves know exactly how it feels to be under all the different pressures and prejudices associated with how you feed your baby. All these mums wanted to do was help me in how I chose to feed my baby, by giving me accurate information, practical help and a genuinely interested listening ear when I was in floods of tears. At no point did I think that I would have been thought less of in that group for bottle feeding Andrew. Now they are some of my most respected mummy friends. I always look forward to seeing them once a week for continued support now that we’ve overcome our initial breastfeeding struggles and are into the toddler feeding stage, which comes with its own difficulties, such as the judgement from others that it’s not normal (it is normal – I’ll write more about this next week).

So the moral of the story with breastfeeding support groups is don’t be afraid to go – whatever your circumstances, your age, your income, your background, your breastfeeding journey (or lack of) so far, there will be other mums who would feel privileged to be able to help you in the way you need it most to meet your breastfeeding goals. It’s not just LLL groups (that’s what I had access to here in Cambridge); there are all sorts of other local groups run by mums for mums. Other organisations with such groups are the NCT and the ABM. Children’s Centres are a good place to look for these groups, as many of them meet there, or have links with the centres who put their leaflets/posters out. A google search would probably bring up a few hits in your local area. Or your midwife or health visitor might be only too pleased to pass on information about such groups if they are rushed off their feet with a huge caseload!

Last, but not least, I could not write a post about breastfeeding support without giving pride of place to Daddy and grandparents. I definitely could not have got through the hard times without Tom, my amazing husband. He has done everything possible to support me whilst breastfeeding, including practical help like making sure I had drink and food in the early weeks when I was constantly feeding, and emotional support by being my person to cry on at any time of day or night (he got very wet in the early weeks!) and making it clear to me every step of the way that he would be behind me 110% with whatever decision I made about feeding, whether I chose to persevere with breastfeeding or switch to bottle feeding. He never pressurised me either way, and has found many ways to help me and bond with Andrew without doing the feeding, for example bath time has always been Daddy and Andrew time. He understands how breastfeeding works (mainly from how much I rabbit on about what I’ve read about breastfeeding!) and is happy that I still feed Andrew now at 16 months – he knows it’s a natural thing because he sees on a daily basis how much Andrew and I get out of it. He also knows that I am now very passionate about sharing our experience of breastfeeding and supporting others, and doesn’t complain when I talk at him about it in the evening after a hard day at work 😉 Basically, Daddy is the best! He’s the most important source of support that I had and still have for breastfeeding.

Daddy with Andrew (aged 6 months)

But if your baby’s dad isn’t around for whatever reason, there’s no reason why you can’t have another person, for example your mum or another family member or close friend, to be that rock of support. I am also blessed to have very supportive parents who have been behind my decision to breastfeed despite tough struggles every step of the way. I guess they know me so well that they know there’s no point getting in the way when I’m determined to do something. In the early days and weeks they helped by doing lots of practical stuff for us, like housework, shopping and cooking, and they still do these things when they come to visit every few weeks on average. They too understand how breastfeeding works – it helps that my mum breastfed my brother and me at a time when there was much less support for it than there is now. This was particularly important in the early days: they weren’t the kind of family members who would come round and insist on constantly cuddling baby and questioning when I knew he wanted feeding; instead they of course enjoyed cuddles, but respected that I was the primary person who Andrew needed access to, to stimulate my milk supply and feed him as much as necessary. They knew that doing the housework themselves was more helpful than taking Andrew off my hands so that I could do it. Having people around you who understand these things is very important. Support is only helpful if it’s the right kind of support.

Granny and Grandad with Andrew (aged 14 months)

I hope that this post based on our experience of support for breastfeeding has been informative. Why not hop over to some other blogs and read about other sources of support that mums have found helpful? There are some links below, and more on the main website, where you can also find out more about the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2012. Don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize.

Breastfeeding in England – Breastfeeding support groups

Mama Geek – Breastfeeding Support – Why it’s important and where to find it!

My gorgeous boys – Breastfeeding: Where to get support

Breast 4 babies – Ten Things My Midwife or Health Visitor Never Told Me About Breastfeeding

Diary of the Milkshake Mummy –  Together everyone achieves more

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Grobag Gro-ing Places Chair Harness

Just recently there have been a few occasions when we’ve thought that a travel high chair would be a good idea. Usually cafes and restaurants have them when we eat out (not that we do it that often, and the kinds of places we go to are family friendly), but we’ve been a bit stuck when going to lunch in the home of friends who don’t have kids. When Andrew was less independent we could manage with him on our lap, but now he wants his own portion and the chair to go with it, squirming and wriggling for freedom from the harness that is his parents’ arms.

I’d heard about travel high chairs but not really looked into it until Andrew’s friend and her parents came for lunch, and brought with them hers. They had a Totseat in a very sensible greeny colour with a strong pattern, so food would not be too obviously visible. So this prompted me to do some Googling, and I ended up buying a Grobag Gro-ing Places Chair Harness. I’ve not done any reviews yet on the blog, and I wasn’t asked to do this, so it’s more just about me telling you how useful we’ve found it rather than an actual review.

Basically it is a piece of fabric with straps and clips that fit over almost any adult chair that has a back to it. You can tighten and loosen the straps to fit each chair and your growing child.

It is made out of a lightweight but strong fabric, which very handily folds in on itself into a little carry bag (a bit like one of those cagoules that folds into itself). That way there’s no way you can lose the bag to carry it in. This is useful when you have a toddler and your eyes are not usually kept fixed on the same task for more than 30 seconds because said toddler has toddled off. I like the fact that the fabric is patterned, so that food spillages are not too obvious. But it’s also machine washable and also just easily wipeable after a meal. Let’s face it, it’s going to get messy! The first time I got it out and tried to fix it onto a chair, it looked quite complicated. But once I’d followed the instructions and had a couple more goes on my own, it soon became easy. The hardest part was getting Andrew to sit still for long enough for me to tighten the strap around his waist.

As Andrew is only 13 months old, he is a bit low still on adult chairs, so we find that we either have to give him a cushion to sit on, or one of us adults holds his plate off the table in front of him at the right height. I’ve got used to eating with one hand since having a baby, so that doesn’t particularly bother me – I can still get on with mine and hold his plate.

I’d say this chair harness is very good value, and we’ll certainly have it with us when we’re out, just in case we need it. It’s so compact that it slips into the change bag easily along will all the other paraphernalia. I didn’t buy many items of baby equipment until I’d either tried one out through a friend, or lived with Andrew for a while to see what would really be useful. There are so many things out there that we’re told we ‘need’ for baby, but it’s not always a case of ‘needing’ everything. This chair harness, however, has definitely been worth it, and it’s hard to imagine not having it now, as it makes our mealtimes much more pleasant for everyone when we’re out and about. Andrew gets to feel all grown up in a grown-ups chair, and we get to eat without a toddler’s body crossing the flight path of our fork from plate to mouth.

Ruth’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along quiche

Having noticed recently that all the recipes I bake are in fact my own adaptation of someone else’s, I decided that I really should be brave and just take the plunge into coming up with my own stuff. I’m also aware that copyright is a grey area here – how do you decide if an adaptation is ‘significant’ enough to be able to reproduce it? I hope I’ve not crossed any lines so far, always crediting where necessary and always adapting in a way that I believe is significant. So my future baking posts will be coming from a more personal perspective, which will inevitably include some disasters and hopefully more than a few successes.

To start this new era off, I thought this quiche recipe would do the trick. We had one of Andrew’s friends and her parents round for lunch last weekend (the postponed date mentioned in a previous post). After a busy week in which I was barely organised, I was looking for inspiration one evening. Seeing my stressed searches through books, Tom asked if I could do one of my ‘lovely quiches’ (his words not mine). Perfect, I thought, and as I opened the fridge I saw that there were a few bits and bobs that needed using up and would go together well in a quiche – I could just make it up as I went along. Here’s what we ended up with….

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 150ml soured cream
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • couple of handfuls of mushrooms, chopped
  • ball of mozzarella, chopped into cubes
  • 5 slice pack of good quality cooked chicken, chopped
  • shortcrust pastry…..I used 1 pack of ready rolled (about 300g I think) – I had little time and I’ve had bad experiences making pastry so don’t like to do it in a rush
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Lay the pastry into a quiche/tart dish, making sure you push it firmly down into the edge at the bottom, and leave a good couple of centimetres spare overhanging at the top as it will shrink slightly.
  3. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper and a heavy-ish object like a cake tin (that fits inside the dish) on top of the pastry (I don’t use baking beans). Bake blind for about 20 minutes, removing the paper and cake tin about 5 minutes before the end, until there are no raw parts showing on the pastry case.
  4. Meanwhile heat some oil in a pan and fry the leek and mushrooms until the leeks ar golden and the mushrooms are darker.
  5. Mix the leek, mushrooms, chicken, egg, soured cream, milk and black pepper in bowl.
  6. Once the case is ready, pour in the filling, and scatter mozzarella over the top. It’s also possible to get the case and filling ready ahead of time, chill them, and put them together once you’re ready to bake (I did this at the weekend so that I could go for a swim before our guests arrived).
  7. Return to the oven and bake for around 35-40 minutes until the filling is cooked solid and the top is nicely golden.

Our lunchtime was completed with some roasted carrots, parsnips and potatoes (olive oil and some dried mixed herbs). Everyone enjoyed it, particularly the little ones around the table. Anyone got any good ideas for what to put in a quiche/tart like this? I think it’s a great way to put a few ingredients together that are lurking in the fridge and cupboard waiting to be used up.