Die liebste Überraschung des ‘Liebsten Blogs’ – Danke schön!

The loveliest surprise of the ‘Loveliest Blog’ – thank you!

Being a total newbie to this blogging malarkey, I had no idea about blog awards – what they are and how they work. So when I was nominated by fellow mummy blogger LowImpactMama for the Liebster Blog award, I was very surprised, not just that someone had nominated me, but that such a thing even existed. I came across LowImpactMama’s Low Impact Parenting blog via the Mumsnet bloggers network, and I have enjoyed reading her posts about greener living whilst being mum to a toddler (who’s sadly been sick recently, but appears to be on the mend now, hooray!) I too try to be as ‘green’ as possible and I have a toddler, so I’m keen to pick up lots of tips and learn things from her very readable, well-written and interesting blog.

Once the initial surprise was over, the linguist within me was immediately drawn to the fact that Liebster is a German word (meaning loveliest. dearest, nicest… things along those lines). A quick thank you reply to the nomination comment on the blog and a tweet later, I suddenly thought that I should probably Google this, to find out exactly what it is. From a quick scroll down the first page of results, I soon realised what I needed to do….. and this is me doing that here and now.

The Liebster Blog Award is given to up-coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.

The rules for the Liebster Blog Award are:

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog: done (before I realised the next steps…)
2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you: done – see above or here’s the link again for Low Impact Parenting
3. Copy and paste the blog award on your blog: done – it’s in this post and I’ll work on putting it on the sidebar soon (I’m planning on doing some rearranging at some point anyway)
4. Reveal your 5 blog picks: see below. I have to say it was quite hard because most of the blogs I’ve been reading since getting into blogging are obviously much longer established than mine, so they already have more than 200 followers for sure. The ones I’ve gone for here are those which look like they’ve been going for not too long, or the number of twitter followers that author has is less than 200, as that’s easy to find info. Sorry if I’ve got anything wrong here….
5. Let them know you chose them by leaving a comment on their blog: (off to do that now…)

My five blog picks are the following…

Old Policehouse is written by Grace, who welcomed me very kindly into the Mumsnet Bloggers network, leaving me a lovely comment straight away. She is mum to six kids (wow, amazing lady!) and they live in an Old Policehouse along with her husband and various pets. I love her writing about family life, and I’m sure I can learn lots from her as a more experienced mum than me.

Made by Yours Truly is packed with gorgeous crafts ideas. I’ve come across it a few times through Mumsnet, and was particularly drawn to it recently by the post on how to make a Hobby Horse – I would love to do that one day! Yours Truly certainly knows how to transform old or boring things into fun and funky things, mostly for kids.

Miss Magpie Makes is written by Beth, who also has lots of fantastic craft ideas, mainly tending towards needlecrafts, which is why I came across the blog. I share her love of finding bits, bobs and shiny things (hence the Magpie name), and I’m looking forward to reading more of her ideas of what to do with them.

The Adventure of Parenthood is written by Bex, who writes about all the things that she’s realised she has lots to say about since becoming a parent. I can totally identify with this feeling – that was also one of my reasons for starting a blog, and I too feel like being mummy is a real adventure. Her little one is younger than mine, but I was particularly drawn to her most recent post about going back to work part-time, because I had the same kind of feelings about leaving my baby.

Truly Myrtle is written by Libby, who I actually know from life before we both started blogging, but I just came across her blog recently through Mumsnet. Although very new, this blog has already got lovely ideas for knitting, sewing and generally making stuff – I like the look of the handmade giveaway that’s currently on offer. One day I’d like to give knitting a go and maybe the tutorials coming soon will inspire me.

How to turn a pound of carrots into lots of scrummy muffins

A pound of carrots gets turned into....
.....delicious carrot muffins (with cream cheese icing on some) 🙂

I’m not one to turn down a bargain, so when I saw a kilogram bag of carrots for less than a pound at the local greengrocers, I shoved them into my basket without thinking anything other than ‘oooh it’ll be a good excuse to make carrot cake if we don’t get round to eating them all before they start to go off!’ We had a good go at them: roasted carrots one evening and grated carrot in a pasta dish another. But a combination of going away for the weekend and getting through the big bargain cauliflower I also bought meant that carrot cake was definitely on the cards this weekend.

In the end I made some carrot muffins on Thursday evening, brought forward by the fact that we were going to a La Leche League breastfeeding support group meeting this morning and I wanted to take some snacks to share. Plus I’d been meaning to have a go at the recipe I’d found in Cook with Kids by Rob Kirby (a book previously mentioned on this blog). As these kind of cakes freeze well, I thought I’d double up his recipe and use a whole pound of carrots! This amount made 24 muffins, so there were plenty to take to LLL this morning and have some for the freezer at home.

Here come the inevitable adaptations… The original recipe had nuts in (chopped walnuts and ground almonds), but I simply left these out, adding in some more sultanas for the walnuts, for two reasons: choking hazard for Andrew and his breastfeeding buddies, and ladies with nut allergies at LLL. I halved the amount of sugar in the cake, and they still taste lovely and sweet; I also made half the amount of icing, with the intention of doing half the muffins plain (more toddler-friendly) and half iced (more adult-friendly), but (as usual with icing recipes I find) there was enough to ice nearly two thirds. They went down well with the toddlers and mums who made it through the snow this morning.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 100ml olive oil
  • 220ml natural yoghurt
  • 8 drops vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp orange juice
  • 520g self-raising flour
  • 4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 500g carrots, grated
  • 200g sultanas

Icing

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g cream cheese

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Whisk the eggs, sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add in the yoghurt, vanilla extract and orange juice and combine the ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Put the flour and cinnamon into another bowl, then add and fold in the egg mixture until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Finally, add the carrots and sultanas.
  3. Fill two muffin trays (x12) with mixture, then cook in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. You can tell they’re done by poking a skewer into the centre of one and it will come out clean if they are done.
  4. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool them on a wire rack while you make the icing. Do this by creaming the butter, sugar and cream cheese together in a bowl.
  5. When the muffins have cooled, spread some icing over the top of each one.

I love carrot cake, and so does Andrew it seems, but Tom is not so keen. I can see why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea (or slice of cake), because we usually think of carrots as savoury, even though they’re actually quite sweet. Do you like carrot cake? Have you tried any other kind of vegetables in a cake? I once tried courgette cake, which was nice – didn’t taste anything like courgette though!

Muffins before icing came along

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

Yummy scrummy in my tummy 🙂

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

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

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

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

Look at my grogeous Cath Kitson apron

Ingredients

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

Method

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

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

One of many reasons why I love breastfeeding

In all the avid weather-forecast checking and essential supplies packing on Friday before we went away for the weekend, and then the not-so-anti-climax of the snow, I almost forgot to write a quick post on the experience we had at the end of last week at the doctors surgery.

Andrew was due his MMR jab and two boosters of those he had as a baby, so we had an appointment with the nurse – lovely lady, and such a shame that all the littluns must leave thinking she’s just the meanie who sticks needles into their thighs. We toddled into her room, Andrew looking round at all the fascinating equipment. Whilst she and I talked about the injections, like what to expect afterwards, and whether he was allergic to egg (one of the vaccines is cultivated in egg apparently), he managed to open a cupboard labelled ‘Diabetes’ – well, fair game, it didn’t have a catch on it like at home! I quickly whisked him away before he grabbed any needles himself.

Then came the hard part. Andrew smiled a the nurse just before she did the mean thing, and his smile quickly turned into a cry. ‘That hurt!! How dare she stick something painful into me!’ I saw written across his little red face. But I knew I had something up my sleeve (or rather up my jumper) that would calm him down. When he saw that a nipple was on offer, he lunged towards it, latched on, and sucked hard, occasionally letting out a little whimper but soon got back to sucking. It worked so well, and it was so good to see him instantly much happier after that initial cry. The nurse looked glad too, so much so that by the third (and final) injection, she let him just carry on sucking from the previous one while she actually injected.

This experience reminded me of a very good reason why I’ve continued to breastfeed. Given all the problems we had in the first months of Andrew’s life (if you haven’t read our story, see here), I really didn’t think that I’d still be feeding him mummy milk at these vaccinations when he had his first lots back at 8, 12 and 16 weeks (I think that’s what they were…. he was little at least, I know that much). It’s not just jabs that this mummy tool comes in handy – it’s also great for calming him down after any knock or bump that upsets him, which is starting to happen more often now that he’s walking (still a bit wobbly). I guess my main point in all of this is that breastfeeding for us is not (and never has been) focused on ‘food’ in a calorific sense, but rather on the comfort and bonding that we both get out of it. And I’m pretty sure Andrew would agree with me.

Exciting times: first shoes

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

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

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

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

Just checking the fit
Trendy dino design

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

My first shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One special first birthday cake

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

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

Ingredients

cake

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

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

icing

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

Method

Cake

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

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

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

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

    Three sponges just out of the oven

Icing

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

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

    Three bowls of icing coloured with different food colourings

decoration

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.