Are we there yet?

I’ve recently handed over my role as Editor of The Voice, quarterly magazine of the Cambridge branch of the NCT. I very much enjoyed volunteering for the charity in this way, but it was time to move on being as we no longer live in Cambridge and I would like to take on other things (mainly Sewn Down Purple Lane). During my time as Editor, I wrote quite a few articles, some of which I think are relevant beyond just Cambridge, so I thought I’d share some on this blog. First up is an article I wrote recently about our experience of long distance car travel with little ones. I hope you find it useful if you’re planning a long journey with young children soon.

The location of our boys’ grandparents’ (holiday) homes – Devon, West Midlands and Lake District – means that we’ve done our fair share of middle-to-long distance car journeys with them at various ages. Before kids, we used to catch the train down to Devon, but as the route means two (overground) trains as well as hopping on the tube across London, we haven’t fancied that with a baby, toddler, or baby and toddler, plus all the paraphernalia that travels with them for a week away. Cross-country (i.e. not through London) train services to the Midlands aren’t something we enjoyed even without kids. And for the Lakes, it’s handy to have our own car for getting around once we’re up there

Cumming car 1

Planning ahead

The first time we attempted the Midlands trip – which takes about 1 hour 45 minutes in good traffic – with each baby, they were 2-3 months old. As they were still quite unpredictable with feeding and sleeping, we couldn’t really tell when was the best time of day to travel from their point of view, so we just went for it and ended up stopping for a feeding break or two, even though we’d normally do this distance in one run.

For about the first 6 months or so, neither of them liked being in a car seat for very long awake, so we took it in turns to sit in the back and try to keep them calm and reassure them. Joel didn’t seem as distressed as Andrew did at the same age, probably because he had his big brother in the back with him too, pulling silly faces and chucking toys at him! If you have to drive alone with a rear-facing baby in the back, a mirror attached to the back seat’s headrest means they can see your face reflected in your rear-view mirror.

As they got older, we would usually time our journey for when they would normally nap or sleep (early afternoon or evening), since they both started to sleep well in the car, though Andrew is less likely to drop off now that he’s just turned 3. But neither of them have slept for the entire journey to Devon or the Lakes – about 6-7 hours with a couple of breaks in good traffic.

Entertainment central

Cumming car 2So what to do during awake time? As babies, toys attached to the car seat were handy, so when they inevitably got thrown out, whoever was sitting in the back could easily retrieve them. It’s also amazing how long games like ‘peekaboo’ and ‘pulling silly faces’ can entertain a bored baby in a car.

One of our best buys since having kids has been our in-car DVD player for long journeys from around the age of 1. It attaches to the back of the driver’s/front passenger’s headrest for back passengers to view, or on the back seat’s headrest if baby/toddler is still rear facing. I have also heard of iPads/tablets (which we don’t have) and a car headrest holder (available to buy online) serving the same purpose. The novelty of a new (to us) DVD or one not watched for a while has worked wonders at entertaining them in the car. Of course music CDs go down well too.

So far Andrew seems to be fine at reading on the go (something which makes me car sick), so a new magazine does the trick of amusing him for a good hour or so. We’ve also just got into playing the simple game of ‘spot the [insert colour] car [or other common/rare vehicle]’, particularly in slower moving traffic, and this encourages him to look out of the window and take in our surroundings. As much as we don’t like being stuck in traffic, watching out for emergency vehicles if there has been an accident is very exciting for a vehicle-obsessed toddler.

As they get older, I’m looking forward to playing more games, some of which we used to play as children on long car journeys, for example ‘I spy’ or making words with the letters on registration plates, and some of which I have discovered from friends or the book Are we there yet? by Jo Pink. One friend of my parents, who has two girls a few years older than Andrew, takes an Argos catalogue for each daughter on long car journeys: she sets the girls ‘tasks’ from the catalogue, for example they have to find the cheapest set of saucepans or the most expensive television, or they have to plan their dream bedroom or toy collection and add up how much it would all cost (if they were ever lucky enough to get it!) Apparently this keeps them amused for hours, and it’s totally free!

Expect the unexpected

Cumming car 3Apart from thinking about entertainment, it’s important to plan food, drink and other supplies when driving with little ones. We always take more than we think we’ll need, in case of hold ups, and a substantial packed lunch and other snacks mean we can eat and drink if stationary rather than having to wait to pull in at the next services. When travelling in winter we pack coats and sturdy shoes so they are easy to get at if we need to stop or were to break down. And in (warm) summer we take plenty of drinks. On that note, the potty is also handy to have close at hand

I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed every single moment of car journeys with the boys, but we’ve certainly learned how to make the most of them and try to avoid pitfalls.

Adventures in the Lake District (part 2) #countrykids

When I started writing up our holiday, the blog post soon got too long. So here’s the second instalment about what we did in the second half of the week….

If you find yourself on holiday in the Northern Lake District with children, here are some ideas for activities that a family will enjoy, including places that are fun and allow children to let off steam in wet weather. I thought I’d also link up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill.


Again we awoke to the pitter patter of raindrops as well as little feet. But rain never stops play in the Lake District – it couldn’t, you’d never go anywhere if it did! We hung around at home for a bit longer than usual, waiting for hungry babies to feed and hoping the rain might ease off a little. It didn’t, so we headed to the World of Beatrix Potter attraction in Bowness. This was perfect for Andrew, and even his baby brother and cousin had a good crane of the neck out from the sling and buggy! He was fascinated by all the models of characters from her books, and we even got to walk round Peter Rabbit’s garden as the rain eased off. There was an activity trail too, which was a bit old for our kids, but would be great for school-age children.

The World of Beatrix Potter
The World of Beatrix Potter

After a browse of the gift shop and a souvenir present from Granny and Grandad, we drove back up along Windermere to Brockhole visitor centre where we ate our picnic in the sheltered picnic area – so very British 🙂 Apart from the indoor bit of the centre which has a nice cafe and tells you all about the Lake District’s history and geography, there is quite an extensive parkland on the shore of Windermere, with an adventure playground for kids, paths for walking for all ages, and a treetop trail (a bit like Go Ape) for adults.

Peter Rabbit's Garden
Peter Rabbit’s Garden

Nap-time today was spent in the car, starting on the journey home and ending after a while sat on the drive with Daddy in the passenger seat having a nap too. Our evening meal was out at Keswick’s bargain curry house during happy hour. Andrew charmed the socks off the waiters, and impressed them with his appetite and love of spicy food – when ordering a kids portion of medium-heat chicken curry for him, I was warned that the spice would be too much, but he wolfed it down.


As this was forecast to be the best day for weather all week, we decided to venture further afield to Ravenglass and ride on a steam train at the Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway. According to their website, it is “Lakeland’s oldest, friendliest and longest most scenic railway”, a narrow gauge one with fully functioning miniature steam trains. Andrew is into trains, particularly Thomas the Tank Engine, big time at the moment, so he was so excited to watch them at the station and then ride on one himself; on the return leg the train of carriages was pulled by a blue engine just like Thomas!


When we arrived at the other end of the line, we had a quick picnic on the rather windy area of grass behind the station, and then went on a walk down to a little church down by the river in the valley. Before we boarded to ride back to Ravenglass, Andrew and the babies got some badges for having a go at the activity pack that was given to children on the train. I added ‘on a narrow gauge steam train’ to my (mental) list of places where I’ve fed a baby!

As we drove home, the boys slept and the sunshine decided to come out properly, giving us lovely blue-sky views across the mountains in the distance, including Scafell Pike, the highest peak in England (which we climbed together as a family on a hot sunny day when I was a child on holiday in the Lake District).eskdale


To make up for the disproportionate amount of sun the day before, we had nothing but rain, rain and more rain! Granny and Grandad were happy to walk with Andrew into the town in the morning, and go to the park all togged up as well as dry off in a cafe afterwards. I needed to keep moving with Joel in the sling (with rain cover) so that he would go to sleep, so Tom and I had a pleasant, if damp, walk along the Keswick Railway Footpath. We got half-way along this disused railway which runs between Keswick and Threlkeld, an ancient settlement which became a mining area in the 20th century; we turned back after a 45 minute walk from Keswick because I knew Joel would want to feed in a little while.railway walk

The beer connoisseurs in the family fancied a lunchtime pint, so we headed up the road to the local pub less than a minute’s walk away and had a warming lunch. Nap-time at home was followed by playing with toys and games in the living room, watching the rain through the window. The day finished with us listening to the howling gale outside, rattling the old sash windows as we fell asleep.


With the promise of better weather, we made the short journey to Whinlatter Forest Park, where we played on the adventure playground and went for a walk through the woods and down, round, and back up the hill. It had been so windy the night before that there were bits of tree everywhere: branches that had fallen off, one which had to be chopped off just before we walked past because it was was hanging off precariously, and even a whole tree that had come down across the path, which we had to climb over with two buggies and two sleeping babies (one in a buggy and one in a sling attached to me) – that was quite an adventure in itself! The Forestry Commission, who manage the park, were out and about clearing up and sorting out all the damage to trees.whinlatter 1

whinlatter 2

Having walked up an appetite, we had a lovely homemade cake in the cafe, which unfortunately had no power, we think due to a tree falling through cables, so they could only do tea and coffee by boiling water on the gas hob rather than with the electric coffee machine. We headed home for lunch, packing and naps. Later in the afternoon, we nipped over to the park, where Andrew got the hang of swinging his legs with the rhythm of the swing, copying Daddy’s movements on the swing next to him. For our final evening we had a pub dinner just up the road, a great night to end a lovely holiday.park

Places to visit on twitter

The World of Beatrix Potter Arrtraction: @BeatrixPotter

Brockhole Visitor Centre: @brockhole

Ravenglass and Eskdale Steam Railway: @rersteam

Whinlatter Forest Park: (Facebook) Forestry Commission

I’m linking up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill’s blog.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Adventures in the Lake District (part 1) #countrykids

Last week we had our annual spring holiday in the Lake District. It’s very handy for us that my parents have a holiday home up there, which they let out for much of the year, but also take weeks for themselves and family. This time the four of us went up with my parents and my brother and family – 6 adults and 3 kids – good job the house sleeps 10. It is situated in Keswick, which is in the northern Lakes on the northern shore of Derwent Water.

There are plenty of activities for the whole family in and around Keswick and further afield. As we had 2 babies with us who are feeding quite a lot still, we couldn’t easily be on the go for too long at a time, so we did a mixture of very local outings and some which required more travel, of course with frequent feeding stops throughout the day. I kept a mini diary of what we did, and here it is written up in (hopefully) intelligible form along with photos. If you find yourself on holiday in the northern Lake District with children, here are some ideas for activities that a family will enjoy, including places that are fun and allow children to let off steam in wet weather. I thought I’d also link up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill’s blog.


Having travelled to my parents’ home in Coventry on the Thursday evening, we set off up north after breakfast. We had one of the easiest journeys up there that we’ve ever had. We stopped twice at services for toilet/food/drink; the second stop was at the Tebay services on the M6 – this is like no other service station that I have ever visited. Secretly I was quite pleased when Joel started whinging for food not far from it, because I knew that Andrew would be in his element in the soft-play area, which would help him let off some steam during an otherwise sedentary day in the car.

On this occasion I spent most of the stop in the car, as that seems to be the most reliable place to get Joel to feed. But Tom sampled the deliciousness of the cafe, which prepares fresh snacks and meals using lots of local produce – I’ve tasted it before and was very impressed, not like your average bacteria in a bun or cardboard sandwiches at services! The highlight of my trip there this time was the family changing room, which was clean and easily fitted the four of us, with a spacious change table for Joel, a little person’s toilet and wash basin for Andrew and an adult-sized toilet and wash basin too; this kind of thing makes such a difference when you’re travelling long distances with little ones.

When we arrived in Keswick, Andrew set about exploring the house, which we think he vaguely remembered from last year. Despite having slept quite a bit in the car, the boys were tired come dinner time, so a quick bath and into bed was the next step. Tom and I then went for a short wander through the town for a leg stretch and fresh air whilst Granny and Grandad babysat. It felt very weird to be on our own without the kids.


Views from Friar's Cragg
Views from Friar’s Cragg

After the car journey the day before, we all decided that staying very local was the order of the day. A leisurely get up, involving Andrew going in to Granny and Grandad’s bed to play with the iPad and listen to music, was followed by a relaxing breakfast. We then headed down to the lake, which is about 15 minutes walk from the house. The land around Derwent Water is managed by the National Trust, and in particular we like the area called Friar’s Cragg, a rocky outcrop where you get some stunning views of the lake and surrounding hills. We were not disappointed by the views there on that day.

We also stopped to look at the ducks on the pebbly beach where the rowing boats are available for hire, and Andrew had great fun running after them. He kept shouting “ducks running away” as he followed them around, as if he was surprised by this cause and effect! As the weather was fairly warm and bright, we stopped for a coffee and cake at a lovely cafe overlooking the lake and even sat outside.

Andrew at lake chasing ducks

In the afternoon we went back home for lunch and then Andrew napped and the rest of us rested. Later on we nipped back into the town to have a mooch around the market which sells all sorts of things from food to crafts to old books to clothes. Amazingly all three children were in a good mood and not feeding/sleeping at the same time just before dinner, so Grandad got his camera out and we had a family photo shoot with some cute results.


We woke up to pouring rain, the kind that soaks you through in just the seconds that it takes you to run to the car to pack it up! So to get our fill of exercise and fun we headed to Penrith leisure centre for a family swim. The small pool was perfect for the little ones, and the adults took it in turns to swim some lengths – I did a quick 30 lengths which was great as I don’t get much chance to swim properly these days. Whenever we’re with family we take advantage of the extra pairs of hands and get as much swimming in as possible so that Joel’s experience is as close as possible to Andrew’s at this age – we used to go once a week but I can’t take them both on my own now.

On the drive back we stopped at Reghed Centre – what’s that? In their words: “Well, we are a number of things really, but the four things we pride ourselves in is being a destination for family, food, the outdoors and arts & culture.” It’s actually run by the same people that run Tebay services (Westmorland Ltd). The two things we went for were lunch – a yummy freshly cooked selection of mains and lighter bites (I’d definitely recommend the flatbreads) – and soft play – Andrew adores this at the moment he’s just like a Duracell bunny going up and down and round the play area again and again.

Worn out, we headed home, and after quite a late nap to recharge the bunny’s batteries, we nipped over to the park opposite the house as it had stopped raining by then.

View from the park (on another day - it was more miserable weather than this)
View from the park (on another day – it was more miserable weather than this)

To be continued in another post…..(this one got too long!)

Places to visit on twitter

Tebay services and Rheged: @tebayservices

The National Trust: @nationaltrust

Penrith Leisure Centre: @Penrithleisure

I’m linking up with Country Kids over at Coombe Mill’s blog.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Pregnancy diary – week 15: thoughts on nursling (self-?)weaning

It’s that time of the week again, when I sit down and ramble about what’s going on in our pregnancy world this week. According to the various pregnancy week-by-week guides that I flick through (online or in print) every now and then, it’s normal by week 15 for most ladies to feel better from any sickness that they’ve experienced. As you may have guessed, I’m still feeling sick and haven’t stopped being sick, though thankfully not as often as in earlier weeks. But then I’ve never laid any claim to being ‘normal’, and some would advocate (probably Tom the most strongly) that I’m not ‘most ladies’.

What is ‘normal’ anyway?! The statistician in me (the one who was taught all she knew during the PhD) understands that every ‘normal distribution’ is a curve – some lucky ladies are in the thin end at the left and suffer no or hardly any nausea and sickness (lucky them, she says gritting her teeth), some not-so-lucky ladies are around the peak of the curve and suffer nausea and sickness for about 14-15 weeks, and some unlucky ladies find themselves in the thin end at the right and get the nausea and sickness thing real bad and/or for ages. So far I’m hanging around to the right of the peak, waiting to see whether I’ll slide any further down into the gloomy far-right of the curve, or whether I’ll be spared from the descent.Anyway, normal curves were not the intended topic of this week’s diary. At the end of last week, I borrowed a book from Cambridge La Leche League (LLL) group’s library called ‘Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding during pregnancy and beyond‘ by Hilary Flower. Of course I haven’t had time to read it all yet (if I ever will), but by flicking through the bits I was most interested in and was drawn to the most, it’s given me lots of information and things to think about. Let me try and trace my thoughts back to a while ago…

There was a point in the breastfeeding journey that Andrew and I undertook when getting to 15 weeks seemed like a big achievement, let alone 15 months! For the first 6 months of Andrew’s life, I never for one moment imagined that I would still be breastfeeding him when I would find myself pregnant again. As the months went by, Andrew was still keen to breastfeed, in fact even more so than he had been just before he was introduced to solids around 6 months, presumably because he wasn’t so hungry for the milk. So I continued to meet his need, and never thought about me being the one to wean him – I wanted him to carry on until he initiated the weaning himself. Then an embryo-sized spanner was thrown into the works of this plan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good spanner – obviously this was my own doing (with help from Tom), and we’re extremely happy that I’m pregnant again – we just weren’t sure how quickly this would happen. One of the first things that crossed my mind when the tests showed up positive was ‘now I’ll have to wean Andrew – how will I do that, and how will he take it?’

So far I’ve had mixed feelings about breastfeeding during pregnancy. Andrew still feeds for around 20 minutes first thing in the morning, around 20 minutes before bed, and wants a few other shorter feeds during the day if it’s just the two of us at home (he’s usually too distracted when we’re out, and has been since about 4 months old!) He hasn’t woken in the night to feed for a few months. The hardest thing about this feeding pattern has been any feeds in the afternoon and evening when I’m so sick. I’ve only been able to feed him lying down at any time of the day, but the nausea and sickness has made it incredibly hard to stay motivated. That said, I generally still enjoy the morning feed, as it slowly wakes us both up and I get to lie in bed for a bit longer, and in some ways giving in to the top-tugging, milk signing and whinging in the afternoons is actually by far the easiest option – it keeps him happy and in one place for 5 or 10 minutes, and again I’m lying down during that time.

Mummy resting and Andrew feeding before going to bed

At least I didn’t have the added complication about worrying whether breastfeeding was even compatible with a healthy pregnancy, as one might think, because I’d heard that it is perfectly possible, and I even know a couple of ladies who have done it, through going to lots of LLL meetings over the past 15 months. Indeed this is exactly what the book Adventures in Tandem Nursing confirmed when I started to read it. Although one might think that breastfeeding could lead to complications, particularly miscarriage in the early weeks, because of the hormones involved, research gives little indication of how this could happen from a molecular biology point of view, though more research could be done on this. Of course complications do happen in pregnancies with an older nursling involved, but it is not clear that this is due to the breastfeeding itself and it wouldn’t have happened anyway.

It is lovely to read a well-researched book that paints a picture of breastfeeding during pregnancy being ‘normal’ in the sense of ‘natural’ (even if not the ‘norm’ in our society) and not something to worry or feel weird about – it’s nice to know that I’m ‘normal’ in some respects even if not all 😉 In fact the picture painted is not only of breastfeeding during pregnancy being a natural thing to do, but also ‘tandem’ nursing – i.e. breastfeeding two children of different ages simultaneously (either literally with one on each breast, or one after the other within the same period of time). However, the book does point out that tandem nursing is a big commitment and not for the faint hearted! … and that choosing to wean your older nursling (I adore that term, it’s so cute!) before baby’s arrival does not make you a bad mum – every mum needs to make her own decision taking into account the needs of her newborn, her toddler and (believe it or not) herself.

I have known from the start of this pregnancy that weaning my current nursling  is the only option for us. My milk supply was low with newborn Andrew (you can read our story here), and it is unlikely that this will dramatically change to the extent that I would have a sufficient supply for two nurslings. In ‘normal’ supply cases, it is perfectly possible to produce enough milk for two, but given my breastfeeding experience so far, I am not convinced that this is me (again I’m showing my abnormality). It is likely, however, that by feeding Andrew for this long, I’ve increased the amount of milk-producing breast tissue that I have, and so I may have a better supply than last time (given also that we’ll get any potential tongue-tie issue sorted asap this time). This is also one of the reasons that I have been motivated to feed Andrew for this long – every extra day that I feed him will hopefully lead to more milk production for his sibling. Whether I’ve done enough to be able to exclusively breastfeed without the need for formula supplements remains to be seen – I’d say I’m optimistic that it’s made some difference, but realistic that exclusive breastfeeding probably won’t happen.

The next step is actually doing something about weaning Andrew. Part of me is still hoping he will self-wean. According to my trusty borrowed book, it is fairly common that a breastfeeding toddler will wean her-/himself whilst her/his mum is pregnant again. In a couple of scientific studies on breastfeeding during pregnancy cited in the book, around a quarter to a third of the toddlers who started off breastfeeding in their sibling’s pregnancy self-weaned, and a similar number were weaned by the mum, leaving around a half to a third who continued to breastfeed alongside the newborn. There are certain changes that occur in the make-up and quantity of the milk during pregnancy, and these are thought to be a trigger of self-weaning. In the first few months of pregnancy, the milk is likely to become more ‘salty’ and less ‘sweet’ as the proportion of various salts and sugars changes in the composition – this is sometimes called ‘weaning milk’ (this name bodes well for us then). By around 20 weeks (half way through the pregnancy) the milk supply often declines considerably, so there is much less available for the nursling. These two factors may convince Andrew to give up on his own…..

Not looking much like giving this up yet....

If not, there will have to be a plan B, involving input from me! But so far, thinking about weaning is as far as I’ve got, so there isn’t currently an action plan B, just a metaphorical plan B. I’ll have more of a read of this book and talk to my LLL friends to get some practical ideas, and update you when I have more to say.

This pregnancy feels like a journey for three people, not two, and I’m aware that it’s my responsibility not only to look after and out for the baby inside me, but also to do the best I can for my nursling. I didn’t think I’d be the one to wean Andrew, but in the interests of all three of us, I know that is now the best option (if he doesn’t do it himself!) I’m sure Andrew will cope with standing aside and letting his brother/sister take over the role of nursling, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to help him cope and be the best mum I can be to him.