Baby development checks: Pincer grips, Cheerios and a thousand more things to worry about.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Be afraid, be very afraid. 

Through our letterbox this morning arrived a very important document. It was the letter notifying us of our son’s 8-9 month health and development check. I had been eagerly awaiting this as he is already 9 months old and, you know, I think he’s pretty well developed. However, I was not quite prepared for the Spanish Inquisition that lay inside the envelope.

Now, before I go any further lets just get one thing straight. I am eternally and overwhelmingly grateful to live in a country where my son receives a health and development check, free at the point of delivery, as standard. The NHS is quite a wonderful thing. I have been to hospital 3 times since my son was born (including the birth) and I have never had to worry about anyone handing me the bill. This is a brilliant part of our society and one that I’m scared will be eroded over the next decade if bloody ‘Dave’ and his school friends have anything to do with it (grr, arg). So I will proceed to have a good long moan with the proviso that you know I really really really love the NHS. Good.

So, the 9 month ‘Health and Development Review’ letter arrives. The title is enough to instill fear into the heart of any previously employed mother. Review? That’s what they do at work to see if you’re doing your job right or not. You know, they get you to fill in that crappy self-assessment form, which you always lie on because your boss is going to read it, and then there’s the meeting. *shudder* It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion that my parenting thus far is about to undergo a performance review. And guess what? There’s even a self-assessment questionnaire attached.

If you are a parent who has not yet received a questionnaire like this then I just have one piece of advice: DON’T LOOK AT IT. Leave it neatly folded in it’s envelope and put some time aside the day before your appointment to go through it with your baby. Granted, that will still give you 24 hours to obsess over the weird and wonderful list of accomplishments your baby doesn’t have but but you will marginally more sane than if you had been thinking about it a fortnight in advance. So, just ignore it as long as you can. It’s either that or be an uncommonly balanced individual who has no care for what health professionals think of their child and feels completely secure in their parenting abilities. Though, if you are that person I’m really not sure why you’re reading this blog. Can I read your blog please?

The reason I give out this sage advice is that a) the questionnaire is about what your baby can do at the point of the ‘review’ and b) because the amount of things that it asks if your baby can do is insane. I shall give you a few choice examples (if you are easily prone to my-baby-is-underdeveloped-paranoia look away now):

Does your baby pick up a small toy with tips of his thumb and fingers? (You should see a space between the toy and his palm.)

Well, that’s oddly specific for a start. I don’t if the person who compiled this questionnaire is aware of this but babies have quite small hands. How exactly am I supposed to observe said space? Should I crouch on the floor and crane my neck? Won’t that just freak him out? Also, have you ever tried to get a 9 month old to pick up the specific toy that you want them to have? Unless you complete this task in an entirely white room with no objects or furniture, I guarantee that they will charge off to play with a table leg as soon as you place the item in front of them. And believe me, I tried it today. Oh no, I am not above getting irrationally anxious about whether or not I can see a gap between a building block and my son’s palm.

Next question:

Does your baby say three words, such as “Mama”, “Dada” and “Baba”? (A “word” is a sound or sounds your baby says consistently to mean someone or something.)

Well, thanks for clarifying what a word is. Those brackets are really starting to irk me. And the answer is no, my son doesn’t have THREE WORDS at the age of 9 months. And even if he did, how would I know? He says “dadadadadadadada” a lot and, less frequently he says “mamamamamama” (encouraged enthusiastically by yours truly). Who’s to say when that random babbling suddenly turns into words? Not me. I know babies who haven’t had any language til they’re closer to 18 months. So, back off survey, alright? (Actually, I had words at 9 months and am still perversely proud of the fact, bleurgh).

And last but not least, the pinnacle of randomly specific infantile feats:

Does your baby poke at or try to get a crumb or Cheerio that is inside a clear bottle (such as a plastic soda pop bottle or baby bottle)?

Again, thanks for clarifying what a clear bottle is, would have struggled with that one. And, more importantly, what the fudge? In what scenario would I know the answer to this question? Why am I taking food from my baby’s hand and putting inside a vessel that he has no hope of retrieving it from? I’ve got it! They’re trying to trick us into doing this and then, when they see we’ve ticked yes, they will point their fingers in ours faces and say “Aha! So you torture your child with food they can see but have to hope of eating??” Enter social services.

Okay, maybe not, but what’s all this Cheerio business? There are actually three questions that refer to a “crumb or Cheerio”. What’s that about? You better not try this out with a Cornflake, mate, or the whole exercise will be null and void. You’ll have to start all over again. Crumb or Cheerio. These are your only options. I feel like Nestle paid someone somewhere serious money to get their branding on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire. I really wouldn’t put it past them. I have visions of mothers rushing out to buy the ‘multigrain Os’ just so that they can make double sure their child has that prefect pincer formation that the Health Visitors will be looking for. And if you think the supermarket own brand will suffice for this activity think again, cheapskate. 

Oh and by the way, you’re not supposed just fill in this form based on your existing knowledge of your own child; you’re supposed to observe your child doing all of it and “make completing this questionnaire a game that is fun for you and your baby”. Fun? Fun?? In what universe is attempting to get a 9 month old to complete a series of specific tasks fun? “Reach for the Cheerio darling, no, no, not the remote control, come back here!”

What makes this whole process even less fun is the dawning realisation that you will have to tick ‘no’ several times. It’s like someone is coming into your home and pointing out what your baby can’t do yet. “Oh, he can’t hold onto the sofa, bend down to pick up a toy and then return to standing?” Awkward.

The thing is that my rational mind knows that no one is expecting my Bubs to be able to do everything listed on the survey. I’m pretty sure that no baby can ever do all of it. They must put extra-advanced stuff on, you know, just in case. But if that’s true then I think there should be a little note stapled to the front of the questionnaire that reads:

Dear parent, we would like to reassure you that you’re baby is in no way supposed to tick all of the following boxes. In fact, if they did then it is likely that they would be one of those weird genius children* who take their Maths GCSE at the age of 8 and never truly fit in with their own peer group. Rejoice, therefore, in your own child’s uneven and average development; it bodes well for their future social interactions. Yours sincerely, the NHS.

Or something like that. Just a suggestion.

 

 

 

 

 

*Apologies if you have a weird genius child. I actually think that’s pretty awesome. But you know, comedy value and all that.

Lies, Damn Lies and Breast-feeding Workshops #2: The Converts.

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Dear Reader, I would like to relate to you a conversation I had with another mother, last Sunday morning after Church.

She had an older child, probably around four years old, and a six week old baby, so of course I chatted with her a bit. She seemed very nice (I am sure she is very nice!). Then we got onto the subject of breast-feeding. She mentioned that the health visitors in her area were quite clueless about breast fed babies because almost all of the women in her area formula fed. The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: Wow, I would’ve thought they’d absolutely adore you, if you’re one of the only breastfeeding women. I had the opposite experience, especially with midwives, I felt like I couldn’t put my son on formula, thought I’d be drugging him or something mad! He was under his birth weight at four weeks so I ended up having to.

Her: Yeah, well it’s what works for you isn’t it… *trails off*

Me: Well no, it was that I just didn’t have enough milk, there was an issue with my supply and it was actually the health visitor who told me to put him on it.

Her: Yeah, well, they say if you keep going it will eventually come in. But if it’s too much for you… *trails off again*

*awkward momentary silence*

(During the silence I wanted to say this: ‘Well, they say a lot things don’t they but they are bloody wrong! OK!? I tried really hard and, yes, it was too much for me because I had a hungry baby who I couldn’t feed and who screamed all the bloody time!’)

(What I did say) Me: hmm, yeah, well, I mean, I did give him some breast milk until he was 3 months but, you know… Well I’m going to get a cup of tea. Nice to meet you. *fake smile*

Grr!

Now, some of you less familiar with the subtle language of judgement may think I have overreacted to her comments. But, oooh, it was her tone. Her tone I tells ya! Just ever so slightly patronising and, even worse, sympathetic. Like ‘we can’t all do what’s best, but never mind.’

Most breast-feeding mothers I know have absolutely no judgement of us who bottle feed our babies. We do what works and most understand that sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t work. However, there are some who think they know why women stop breast-feeding. They think it just got a bit too hard so they gave up. That’s partly because almost everyone who breast feeds finds it really tough at first so there’s an assumption that you either grit your teeth and stick with it or you give up. This assumption implies that all women find it equally hard. But we don’t.

At one of the breast-feeding workshops I’ve written/ranted about previously (here) the workshop leader began by telling us a bit about herself, naturally.

“I first gave birth in the 1970s.” She declared. “I was the only woman on a ward of 26 who breast fed” *pause for nods of approval* “and I found it easy, I mean, I wondered why more people weren’t doing it. So I became a breast-feeding coach.”

Well, I don’t know about you but I think that is one of the worst reasons I have ever heard for teaching something. I’m teaching this because it’s easy. But it does neatly encapsulate the whole ‘if I can do it I don’t see any reason why anyone else can’t’ attitude that those few evangelical breast-feeders put out there. And why wouldn’t they think that? They went to the workshops. They listened whilst the healthcare professionals made it very clear that everyone can breastfeed; you just need the right support and technique. Right? Wrong!

I know this mum just believed what she’d been told. Not only about breast milk but also all the implied bad stuff about formula. And I know she meant no harm because, as a successful breast-feeder, she doesn’t know the crippling middle-class guilt that comes with not being able to lactate sufficiently. She has no idea that there is still a small part of me, for all my brazen ranting, that feels like a failure. If there wasn’t her ever-so-slightly-condescending attitude wouldn’t have bother me quite so much. And perhaps I should have shared that with her. I wonder what would have happened if in that moment I hadn’t reacted by making evasive manoeuvres towards the tea and biscuits but instead offered an honest account of my feelings. Ooh, but that’s a bit scary.

Next time someone put my hackles up by making a casual anti-formula remark maybe I’ll respond differently. Instead of staring at my shoes and mumbling something apologetic; or making a swift exit; or giving a lengthy and impassioned speech on why I believe formula was the best choice for my baby, thank you very much; I might just talk about how it felt when I realised my son had been hungry for 4 weeks. I’ll just be honest and share how hard it is not to feel like a failure. I’ll be vulnerable.

Yeah, that’ll shut ’em up!

The Script. Or how to read yourself.

As a new mother you will have the same conversations over and over again. You will hear the birth stories of others related in every form, from a one-sentence mumble to an unnecessarily detailed blow-by-blow account. You may share your own repeatedly, even if it makes you feel slightly nauseated. You will talk about sleep a lot. In fact, you will probably talk about sleep more than you actually sleep. You will discuss all kinds of things that you would have once considered non-subjects, like what’s up for grabs in the latest Aldi baby event and the fact that you’ve found sugar-free kids’ fruit yoghurts. (Seriously, I tried to enthuse to my husband about the yoghurt; he was having any of it!)

Your interest in and enjoyment of these conversations will yo-yo terrifically. One moment you’ll be ranting on with the best of them about this sleep technique or that annoying midwife; the next you’ll be staring absent-mindedly out of the window just wishing you could talk about something apart from babies!

Occasionally, you will get to talk about yourself. You will talk about all of the unparalleled upheaval you are encountering on a daily basis. Even more occasionally you may actually be able to say how you really feel. I do hope so. But when you’re sleep-deprived to the point of madness it’s not always easy to actually know how you really feel. Ok, well you do know you feel exhausted, but other than that.

In the first months with my little new born boy who had big blue eyes and the even bigger cry, I didn’t pay much attention to myself at all. Even when I got the chance to talk about how I was doing within myself I rarely took it. Looking back I notice that I had a few stock answers I would roll out. They were sort of like mantras I could repeat. I now call these sentences the Script and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent who has one.

There were two main lines in my Script that I remember saying over and over again. The first was “I don’t feel like I love him, but I know I do.” This would only be said to a select few, but even then I would say it in a breezy, optimistic voice, as if I were sharing some positive self-discovery. Or (worse?) offering reassurance to my nearest and dearest. The other, which probably came about from week 6 onwards, was “It’s funny because, I sort of know it’s easier now, but I don’t feel like it’s easier yet.” Nice little know/feel motif running through there, don’tcha think? What can I say? I’m a natural playwright.

So why was I saying these things? What purpose did they serve? Well, I think they were both really about convincing myself rather than anyone else. When you don’t get that instant rush of love as new mum it’s scary. So I just kept saying ‘I know I love him’, ‘I know I love him’. I’m not sure I really did know it. There was a small voice in the back of my mind saying “but what if I don’t?” and so I used the Script to counter that. And of course, to ward off the gnawing guilt that would raise its all-too-familiar ugly head whenever I contemplated this point.

It’s pretty obviously me repeatedly saying “I know it’s easier” was my way of trying to speak up over the harassed madwoman inside who was screaming “It’s not getting easier. WHY ISN’T IT GETTING EASIER???” And, much worse, it was a little stick to beat myself with. It’s easier now, what’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be enjoying this! The thing is it actually wasn’t easier. Ok, he had calmed a bit after the switch to formula because he wasn’t starving hungry all the time any more. Yes he did sometimes sleep for 3 ½ hours straight (big woop!). But I was tired. Really, really tired. I’d been at it for 2 months and there was no let up.

I wonder now what would have happened if I’d taken more notice of my Script at the time. If I listen to those words now they seem to be clear early warning signs. You know that you love your baby but you don’t feel it? So you can’t feel any love at the moment? Well that seems a bit crap. You’re getting a bit more sleep and there’s less crying but it still feels achingly hard? Hmm, that doesn’t sound great either. Do you think you might be depressed? You know, like you have been previously several times in your life? Duh.

But when a new mum is tearful and tired we all think it’s just exhaustion and hormones. Why wouldn’t we? Everyone gets tearful and tired. The image of postnatal depression is one where you are afraid of or repulsed by your child. Of course that happens and it’s awful. But PND can be a very subtle beast. You may not realise you’re in its jaws until you wake up one day and it’s as if of the lights have gone out.

So, do you have a Script? Anything you’ve been saying to friends and family repeatedly that you don’t quite believe? Anything you keep saying in the subconscious hope someone else picks up on it? Or have you heard a Script that you didn’t find believable recently? Mothers can be very good actors; we need someone to see through the performance every now and then.

 

Comparemybaby.com: The perils of late night Google.*

Put down the iPad woman. Put. It. Down.

Put down the iPad woman. Put. It. Down.

When I was pregnant I made a very wise decision. I banned myself from Google. Well, not from googling anything at all, but anything to do with pregnancy. I decided if I wanted to know something I would use the NHS website, ask someone or consult the comprehensive reference book that is ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’. Amazingly I pretty much managed to stick with it. In very early pregnancy I had some light bleeding, which I knew to be normal but was still obviously worrying. I am SO glad I didn’t trawl forums for advice. Can you imagine the horror stories? No thanks. I must admit towards the end I did search for ways to induce labour, and I tried them. They didn’t work, but that’s another post. Anyhow, you’d think that once my boy was born I would have carried on this sanity-saving rule. Think again.

Perhaps not as soon as he was born, but not long after, my search engine addiction began. I read research on co-sleeping; scoured a thousand baby-soothing techniques; searched every little thing to check it was ‘normal’. The weird thing is I didn’t even realise I was doing it; in my sleep-deprived haze it seemed totally reasonable to spend time obsessing about every tiny detail, every little decision, involved in day-to-day parenting. By week 10 I was in a bad place and I’m pretty sure this habit didn’t help matters.

Now, some people find Internet forums very helpful. They provide a community of people who are going through, or have been through, a similar thing to you and can offer advice and, more importantly, encouragement. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about a parent who is alone – maybe awake at 3am for another feed and wanting to occupy their mind – choosing to read through other people’s discussions in the dim hope that some ray of light will shine forth and suddenly they will understand this parenting lark a little bit better. It’s just not gonna happen.

The major problem with spending your mental energy on doing yet more online baby research isn’t so much that you will encounter mountains of conflicting advice that is likely to leave you even more adrift than when you started (though that is a big problem). It’s that you’re not giving yourself any head space. You could be looking at something you are interested in (you know, you, the person who exists in this world not only as a mother but an intelligent human being). But instead you are devoting the little brain power you have left to what you have been focussing on all day, and all night for that matter. It’s as if reading the news, catching up on celeb gossip or even watching silly videos of cats is something you just shouldn’t be doing now you’re a parent. In those first months our babies become so big in our worlds that they begin to be all we can see.

When my boy was newborn I hardly listened to any music. In fact, I did usually switch on the Chris Evans breakfast show each morning and the lively, benevolent company was very welcome (thanks Chris). But I never deliberately put on my favourite songs. This is very strange behaviour for me. I love music. I sing as much as I can and I am an unlikely but very passionate hip-hop fan. I don’t think I listened to any rap at all in those early days, despite it being the music that most pumps me up. I still don’t really know why, but I do have a sense that I wouldn’t let myself switch off from being mum. Whilst this was probably once a useful evolutionary instinct, when we had to protect our children from prowling tigers and such like, it is now highly unhelpful.

What’s more, continuously searching the internet for advice is a very clever way to undermine your own mothering instinct. You may think you know whether you ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be doing something. You may have a quiet inkling that you know what’s best for you baby, but only when it’s been validated by ten different websites will you give your own opinion any weight. Why is that? Us bloggers are emphatically not experts. Forums are filled with opinions but lack fact. Even more ‘official’ websites have their own agendas and theories.

Are struggling with a parenting related question right now? Fingers itching to tap that magnifying glass and scroll away? Stop. Breathe. What do you think? What do you feel about what’s best for your baby? Is your answer kind? Is it vaguely balanced and sensible? Then it’s probably a good answer and that’s the best you can hope for. If you’re looking for the right answer then, sister, you came to the wrong show. Trust me, I know. And if you still feel uneasy why not try talking to an actual person? Radical, I know, but worth a shot. Pick someone you trust and who will listen and isn’t likely to push their own opinion.

I have now reinstated my anti-google rule. In fact I generally try to avoid reading anything ‘advicey’ about babies. The good news is my son doing pretty well and doesn’t seem to have noticed that he is being deprived of any influence the internet might have on his upbringing. I know that when I need help there are plenty of people I can ask. I also know that other stuff is happening in the world outside of my baby bubble because, guess what? I now have time to read the news! (Though that’s less because I’ve switched my internet habits and more because my baby actually sleeps now, Alleluia!)

So trust yourself, you don’t need a thousand other mums to agree with you.

And just to finish I’d like to say that if you’ve googled late at night and somehow reached this page of my blog then I should point out that this is the exception that proves the rule. You are engaged in a totally healthy and not at all energy zapping activity. Carry on as you were 😉

*other search engines are available

The Tyranny of ‘Tummy Time’.

We’ve all been there, it’s 5:30pm and your baby’s starting to get the early evening grumps. You do a nappy change, maybe give them a feed and jangle their favourite shiny toy above their face for a bit. Before you know it it’s 6pm and you realise you’ve made it through another day. Hurrah! Perhaps your partner arrives home from work to give you a break/bring you that hot drink you’ve been craving for the last 8 hours. But wait, just as you settle for a ten-minute sit-down the cold horror of realisation hits: you have forgotten to do tummy time. Again! Will you ever learn??

When I was pregnant I heard the term ‘tummy time’ being thrown around a fair bit. I didn’t really know what it was but I suppose I had a vague idea that it was time letting your baby lie on your tummy and have a cuddle. Something like that, I can’t say I thought about it much. But by the time baby boy was, around 6-8 weeks old I thought I should probably google it (this is not a good idea, never google it, never). I found a very nice little video on babycentre.com about babies having time on their tums, it was informative and no pushy. But wait! There was a newborn in the video. But my baby had been alive for well OVER A MONTH! Epic mum fail.

Once I found out what tummy time was it seemed to be everywhere. It seemed to be the number one essential activity you should do with your baby. My son hated it. There’s always lots of advice about ‘how to’ with these things and I remember some of it saying that you shouldn’t leave your baby on their front if they get too distressed, so I was like, ‘Ok, 2 seconds it is!’ The funny thing was that he had pretty good head control, he just didn’t really get it yet. As you can imagine I was completely chilled out about it all and felt safe in the knowledge that each baby develops at their own pace. (sense the sarcasm, dear reader)

If your child is this happy doing tummy time then congratulations, you have found the Holy Grail of babies.

If your child is this happy doing tummy time from the get go then congratulations; you have found the Holy Grail of babies.

And so it was that tummy time became one of the main focusses of my crippling anxiety. I just hadn’t done it right and now my baby was impaired by my ignorance! Ok, well I wasn’t that melodramatic but my stomach turned every time I thought about it. When I look back now it seems a bit comedy how worried and embarrassed I was. At the time there were few laughs.

I kept seeing posters that said ‘by 3 months your baby should be spending at least half an hour a day on their front’, or that it was ‘essential to your baby’s development’. And then there was all that crap about ‘flat-head syndrome’. Because, you know if you’re not doing tummy time with your baby you’re obviously leaving them flat on their back all day with no movement at all. Arg!

I remember when tummy time would come up in conversation with other mums. It elicited two very different responses. The first was to instantly flip their baby over and demonstrate the incredible neck lifting skill they had cultivated and then act like you weren’t showing-off. These were not my fave mums. The second response involved a flash of stress in the eyes – you know that God-I-should-be-doing-that-but-I’m-not look that parents often have – followed by something along the lines of ‘oh, I haven’t been doing that very much’. These words were often said in hushed, conspiratorial tones, as if divulging a deep, dark secret.

But the fact is that if I had tried to get my son to spend half an hour a day on his front at 3 months it would have meant half an hour’s more crying every day and, frankly, I couldn’t take that. But, naturally, I felt selfish for not doing it. Because, of course, me not wanting him face-plant on his play mat, wriggling helplessly and crying could only be interpreted as selfish. Hmm, perhaps there was a flaw in that logic.

With hindsight I know that if you see a sentence that begins with ‘by X months your baby should be…’ it’s time to turn the page, close the book or click that little x at the top of the browser window. Seriously guys, we don’t need that crap. Since when was tummy time a thing any way?

Go and ask your mum if she’s heard of tummy time. No? Now, have a look at you and your siblings, are any of you unable to roll over? Probably not.

Yes, yes, I know, I know! Tummy time was introduced as a concept somewhere around the 1990s, when parents were advised to put their babies on their backs to sleep, as a way of ensuring that they developed all of their core muscles. Blah blah blah. I’m not saying don’t do it. I carried on with it. I even managed to let him struggle for a minute or two before I swooped in for a cuddle. Sometimes. But some days I forgot and some days we only did it for 30 seconds. Guess what? My son is 9 months old and he can crawl and pull himself up on the furniture and sit up and all that good stuff. 6 months ago he was not doing half an hour a day tummy time.

So what was all that worry for? Absolutely nothing. Next time around I think I’ll see tummy time as something else to do when I can’t face waving another jangly, shiny object or singing another song. I will certainly do it as often I as I remember, but I will try not to make forgetting a failure. Because ours babies will get there, they always do.

Photo source: http://www.nhs.uk/start4life/Pages/baby-activities.aspx

Where is the Love?

*SPOILER ALERT: This post contains references to the plot of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s not like there are any major twists but, you know, just in case you care.*

Recently I watched the movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s one of those films that follows multiple story lines of vaguely connected characters, all of whom in this case are ‘expecting’ in one way or another. It has a cast made up loads of actors you recognise but can’t name (except J-Lo and Cammy D, obvs). It’s not exactly ground-breaking but I quite enjoyed it and the writers were thoughtful enough to include a couple who are adopting and someone who has a miscarriage. However, I found the end a bit hard to take.

The film takes a comedic look at the stresses of pregnancy and getting ready for your first child. It mentions incontinence, wind, bloating and the sudden panic of realising you are actually going to be a parent. The climax of the film is obviously the arrival of the babies and we are left with a little montage of happy parents cooing contentedly over their offspring. Because, you know, the worst is over now, right? One woman, who had a rough pregnancy with none of the ‘glow’ she was promised, has an emergency c-section and is then pictured sitting up in bed after it, cradling her child. She the says something along the lines of “I’ve found my glow, he’s my glow!” Feel free to vom.

What it looks like after you birth in a movie.

What it looks like after you give birth in a movie. Check out the immaculate ponytail.

In reality, you are more likely to look like this.

In reality, you are more likely to look like this.

Hollywood has a lot of answer for. Take rom coms, for example, which end when the couple finally gets together or, maybe, gets married. Happily ever after will now ensue, we are led to believe. But of course that’s not what relationships are like. They can expose your flaws and vulnerabilities, there can be many ups and down and sometimes they just feel like hard work. You know, a bit like having a baby.

After I had my son I’d hear people saying stuff like “as soon as you hold that baby in your arms it’s all worth it” and feel a pang of (you guessed it) guilt. I didn’t feel like it was ‘all worth it’, not by half! Don’t get me wrong, I was glad my baby was finally here and I wouldn’t have changed that, but this didn’t erase the trauma I felt from the birth and difficult recovery. A smarting perineum and a crying baby are not a fantastic combo for the ‘wow, isn’t this just the best?’ perspective. No siree Bob!

I had expected an over-flowing, all-consuming love to come bursting forth. But it didn’t. I knew I loved my son but it took me a while to really feel it. Those bloody women on the films who are all happy and glowing the moment they hold their baby seem to feel it, so why didn’t I???

I don’t really remember the moment my son was first put into my arms, which is a bit sad. I hadn’t slept for 32 hours and was jacked-up on diamorphine (that be some good stuff). Also, because I had an assisted delivery in theatre he was taken through some scary double doors as soon as he was born to be checked by a paediatrician. I didn’t get the instant skin-to-skin contact that birthing coaches et al bang on about in antenatal classes (and no I don’t think that’s the bloody reason for the delayed-love reaction, sod off).  I remember hearing him cry from the next room and breathing huge sigh of relief. He was ok. I also remember being wheeled from recovery to the ward with him cuddled on my chest. I definitely had a feeling of pride and contentment, but I don’t really feel like I met him until much later. Like, 3 months later.

I know so many mums who felt the same. They didn’t get that instant love that they had expected. I’m sure many more felt like it but we’re afraid to say. That is how a mother should feel, isn’t it?

I should say here that I am not talking about feeling no bond at all with your child. I certainly felt affection and a duty of care from the beginning. Some women are unfortunate enough to not even have that. That may have negative feelings towards their baby, referring to them as ‘it’ etc. If this sounds familiar to you then please don’t be ashamed; there is so much love and support out there for all of us. Tell someone, or at least go to my ‘help for you’ page.

So, while I was content to be a mother and had some lovely moments, I wouldn’t have described myself as happy in those first weeks and months. In fact, the predominant feeling I had was one of overwhelming anxiety. Should I feed him now or wait? Is it bad to co-sleep? Why won’t he lie on his back? There were a thousand tiny decisions to make every day and I found myself buried under them. Reflecting now I can see that the worry was blocking the love.

But I have good news for you, Dear Reader, the love came. Around the 3 month mark your baby’s personality emerges suddenly from beneath the squishy floods of newborn flesh. They might begin to laugh and, if you’re lucky, sleep a little better. Suddenly I was loved up. I went from intellectually knowing I cared for my boy to being totally besotted with him. He is, in my humble opinion, the best person on the planet. #justsaying

A lot of what got me out of the anxiety cycles was simply recognising my lack of confidence and then noticing that I could actually look after my baby. It had been a few months and he was still very much alive and kicking. The tiny decisions were just that; tiny! I didn’t get there on my own, not even slightly. I had to be admitted to a mother and baby hospital ward, where the loud-crying assessment I mentioned above was made. They exercised a bit of tough love in encouraging me to take on all of the baby care I could manage. I found I could manage quite a lot really; once I stopped telling myself I couldn’t manage at all. Funny that.

So if you felt or are feeling a lack of love with a capital L please know you are not alone. It doesn’t make you a second-rate mum. In fact getting up every two hours to feed and wipe the bum of someone you’re not even yet truly, madly, deeply in love with yet is actually pretty darn impressive if you ask me.

In conclusion, give yourself a break. That is all.

 

What about you? Did you have an instant bond with your baby? Did you get that rush of love? Or did it take time? Share your experiences in the comment section below, go to my facebook page or tweet me @aafew.

Supply and Demand: When the ‘let down’ is a let down.

Wowza, turns out A LOT of you have had similarly frustrating experiences with breast-feeding. Thanks so much for the response. So, time to get specific and talk about the issue that particularly effected me: supply.

When Bubs was a newborn he screamed. A lot. Yes, I know they all do that, but, phew, not quite like this. Honestly, nurses on a post-natal mental health ward were wide-eyed at his fits. When my Health Visitor heard him bawling directly after a feed she just turned to me and said. “Yes, that’s a hungry baby.” Up to that point I hadn’t really grasped the idea that there just might not be enough juice available to fill him up. The thing is that there was definitely some milk there. I didn’t know that it was supposed to be squirting out by now. I didn’t know that he cried more than most. He’s a baby. I just thought I wasn’t very good at coping with it all.

Before I started Bubs on formula I was pretty much breast-feeding all of the time. All. The. Time. I know this because of the hazy sleep-deprived memories of constant suckling, but also because in those early weeks I can find no photo of me with him where I’m not breastfeeding. Not one.

Here's a typical example.

Here’s a typical example.

And another. (note the mystery bruise)

Oh yeah, and this one.

Oh yeah, and this one.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Also this, in which my boy is giving the finger to all of the unhelpful advice.

Sometimes a girl has to multitask

Sometimes a girl has to multitask.

See, every bloody photo. I wasn't joking!

See, every bloody photo. I wasn’t joking!

Okay, I’ll admit, there are a few pics of us asleep too. But you see my point. I remember someone remarking sympathetically that I was doing a lot of breast-feeding. I also remember hurriedly snapping something back along the lines of “well it should be on demand do I just so it as much as he wants!” I got a bit defensive, mainly because I had no idea what I was doing and I didn’t want anyone to realise that. A mother should be able to feed her baby, right?

I know that many women find that breast-feeding eventually becomes a close, warm, cuddly time of connection with their baby. I know that it’s hard for everyone and there is always a degree of ‘pushing through’. This was not my experience. No amount of resolve on my part could have made a difference. My baby rarely settled satisfied in my arms after a feed. He often just kept sucking until he tired himself out and fell asleep. Or resumed his regularly scheduled screamathon. Even now I feel a pang of guilt when I think that he was hungry all that time (you know, whilst I’m having a break from feeling guilty about formula feeding), though there was no reason I should have known that. He wouldn’t sleep alone because he wanted to be close to the source. He cried so much because he was trying to tell us something. Like “I’M F**KING STARVING OVER HERE WOMAN!”

Seriously, the very day I started to give Bubs formula a near-magical transformation occurred.  He cried about a fifth of the amount he usually did. I was so indoctrinated into the woes of bottle-feeding I actually worried I was drugging him or something. Drugging him. With food? Sigh.

Recently my sister-in-law has had a lovely little girl. Thankfully breastfeeding has generally gone well for them but, of course, the baby has the odd day when all she wants is to be nursed, you know those golden ‘upping mum’s production’ days? Fun. My wonderful sister-in-law says these are the days when she feels the most overwhelmed and on the edge. She realised that this must have been how my boy was behaving for the first month of his life. Putting it like that clarifies for me how hard I did try, and that helps to quieten the guilt a little. What’s more, I know I’m only one of thousands (millions?) of women who has had this experience.

So why no supply? I think for me it was a combination feeling traumatised by his birth (not awful in the scheme of things but, you know, forceps and operating theatres were involved, bleurgh) and the pain from an infection I got in my stitches. No one realised I had it for a while and by the time we did I was having to breathe through the pain (thank you Voltarol!), lie only on one side and go to the loo with a walking stick. Bleurgh again.

Let’s just take a minute here – I could only lie on one side and was in pain with every movement. But I still breast-fed. On both boobs. Oh the ridiculous contortions I made that young lad go through to get a few insufficient glugs of milk!! And I’m not saying this to show off – no no! This wasn’t a triumph of motherly love, it was a consequence of the fact that I thought giving your baby formula was basically like feeing them McDonalds! If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself to get some bloody Aptimil and go to sleep.

The fact is that the pain, trauma and antibiotics were giving my body and mind a lot to cope with when it should have been concentrating on getting that milk out. At a time when the best thing you can do is be relaxed (ha ha) my body was tensed against pain. So the ‘let down’ didn’t really happen how it should! It all seems pretty much like common sense now but in the haze of confused, tired, early-parenting the ‘breast is best’ mantra was heavily etched onto my psyche.

With all the “everyone can breast feed” chatter it’s hard not to feel that if it doesn’t work for you it’s because you didn’t ‘stick with it’ or that you’ve done something wrong. But this stuff happens a lot and it’s not anything you’ve done or haven’t done. One particular midwife kept telling me to eat more. “We’ve got to look after mum.” She’d repeat. The thing is that she never actually asked me how much I was eating. The answer was loads. Nobody has to tell me to eat 2,500+ calories a day twice; I am fine with that! Oh, butter and whole milk you say? Ok, well, if I must (nom nom). Oh and people kept lecturing me about how to breastfeed properly, how to get a good latch etc. This was usually before they’d actually observed me feeding, at which point they’d say something like “oh yes, that’s very good”. One midwife who observed my side-lying contorted breast-feeding described my technique as ‘expert’. So, I knew that the mechanics were not the issue; it was the fuel supply that was out. Grr, arg.

So do bare it in mind if you’re expecting or know someone who is. Sometimes you just ain’t got the juice. And that’s fine. No harm will come to your baby. (true story, a Health Visitor told me so!)

What’s your story? Share in the comments below, give a tweet @aafew or…

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Lies, Damn Lies and Breastfeeding Workshops.

Arg. We hate 'SHOULD'.

There’s that ‘should’ again.

Are you pregnant? Have you been to any breast-feeding workshops yet? Well, you’re in for a treat! Let me give you a little preview.

I went to two breast-feeding workshops when I was pregnant. One was run by the NHS at the hospital I gave birth in, the other was part of the (otherwise excellent) NCT antenatal course my husband and I had booked onto. They were very similar. Well, one was more awkward and strange than the other, but that’s another post entirely. The information they gave was almost exactly the same and was arranged into two distinct halves. First half: why breast is best (and, implicitly, formula is bad). Second half: why breast-feeding is basically a lovely, easy thing that is natural and instinctive and great.

Hmm, you may well know where I’m going with this.

At the time these workshops seemed pretty helpful (though one was totally odd, will have to post about it now I’ve mentioned it twice). The workshop leaders demonstrated how to get a good latch and all that so I felt pretty good about it. You know, before I actually had a baby.

Before I go any further, and before I am bombarded by ardent breast-feeders, nothing I am about to say should discourage a woman from trying to breastfeed. It is obviously a good thing to do, for all kinds of reasons. So if you are doing it then hurrah! That’s not what this is about.

So, breast is best. Well, yes, that is the research based conclusion that has been drawn over some decades. I think the idea that the milk produced by the human body, tailor-made by nature, is superior to anything even the cleverest of us can manufacture seems pretty reasonable. My problem is that everyone at the breastfeeding workshops was already at a breastfeeding workshop. They had chosen to sit in an uncomfortable chair, for two hours, in the evening, whilst heavily pregnant. This may be a clue that they are already intending to at least give breastfeeding a good go.

But no, half of the workshop (over an hour in both cases) was devoted to listing the benefits of breastfeeding. We had to take it in turns to give a reason why breast-feeding is important. You know, like school.

“Yes, Mary, that’s right, your child is less likely to become obese.” “That’s right, Brian, children who are breastfed are less likely to get ear infections.”

Irrefutable fact???

I feel this may be slightly exaggerated.

Good, well, thanks for that.

We then had to share reasons why you wouldn’t breast-feed. At one of the workshops (the weird one) I said “Well, some people might want to drink and smoke.” This was not well-received. Not at all. The breastfeeding coach turned to me wide-eyed and said “Breast milk with alcohol and nicotine is still better than formula.”* I muttered something about this is not being a personal reason, just an example. Then I stared at the floor for about five minutes.

In fact, the whole ‘reasons why not’ section was definitely just an exercise in refuting any statement we made. At one point during the NHS workshop the midwife leading it had a five-minute exchange with a woman about how it was possible to find comfortable nursing bras for every size.** The woman had already been all over trying to get a fitting that didn’t give her back ache, but that’s no excuse.

Any way, you would leave those rooms with no doubt in your mind that breast-feeding was the far far far far far superior option for the health of your child and your bonding relationship.

The second section, basically a ‘how to’ could have done with borrowing some time from the pro-breast feeding drilling because it lacked detail and, frankly, any relation to reality. But here’s a quick round-up:

1) The main reason women give up breast-feeding is lack of support (so we did a bit about how our partners could support us, fair enough).

2) Breast-feeding is natural and the baby knows what to do. Cue video of a newborn baby pretty much latching themselves on to their mother. Lots of cuddly moments and mums saying how happy they were that they breastfed.

3) A little demo of different breast-feeding positions, with photos and a very light doll that bears little to no resemblance to the weight and shape of a newborn baby.

4) Constant reminders that it shouldn’t hurt if you get it right. It’s all about the latch ladies. And you do not need nipple cream. No no no.

I shall stop here to briefly mention that in an unscientific survey carried out by myself it was found around 97% of women, those who continue and those who don’t, find breastfeeding pretty darn painful for a good few weeks, even months.

This is omitted from the information given, as is any mention of the serious issues that can arise from breastfeeding.  I heard nothing about mastitis or any painful infections that could occur. Nothing about blockages in milk ducts. Nothing about the sheer exhaustion of being the only person who can feed your baby. Nothing about other ways to soothe your baby so that you don’t feel like they are constantly stuck to your boobs. Nothing about how a traumatic and/or physically taxing birth and recovery can effect your milk supply. Nothing about the fact that for this reason and others some women’s milk doesn’t come in at all, or not sufficiently for your baby to be satisfied; that was my problem and I had no idea it was even a thing until 4 weeks in.

So, generally sort of informative but not particularly helpful. The main reason I say this is that if you have any of the issues I’ve listed above, or one of a thousand other reasons means you can’t/decide not to breastfeed then you feel like utter crap. I suppose they want to keep it positive in order to encourage us all to try. But if you encounter any problems (and most do) the memory of these workshops becomes utterly discouraging.

Here are the messages you have been given: Your baby is less likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you breastfeed AND almost everyone can breastfeed if they give it a good try and have support. This, my friends, is the combined moral of sections one and two.

Now, let’s flip that around: Your is baby is more likely to develop all kinds of health issues if you don’t breastfeed. If you’re finding it difficult you’re probably not trying hard enough or you just need more support.

Oh, hello guilt attack of the highest calibre, what an depressing surprise!

When my son was 4 weeks old he was still below his birth weight. I just didn’t have enough milk. And I felt like a failure. I couldn’t feed my child. Except that I could, I just had to do it with a bottle and some powder. And you know what? It was the Health Visitor who actually advised me to make the switch. After months of midwives insisting it was the last resort, another healthcare professional actually recommended formula feeding. In 2 days by son put on 300g and had exceeded his birth weight. After this she said to me that I could decide what I did from here on in: breast, formula or combination. Mostly importantly she added “Whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby.” The magic words.

“No harm will come to your baby.” And it hasn’t, he is such a happy healthy bundle of fun and light. He is the proof that formula is fine.

So, you know, if you don't give your baby breast milk, it's probably because you don't think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that'll be it.

So, you know, if you don’t give your baby breast milk, it’s probably because you don’t think they deserve the best start. Yeah, that’ll be it.

By all means promote breast-feeding. Educate those who don’t feel confident. Involve partners and provide support. This is all great stuff. But maybe, somewhere in all of this, remember that some women decide that breast is not best. Not in their circumstances. They don’t decide this out of ignorance or neglect. They aren’t lazy or uninformed. They still desire, and will maintain, a close bond with their child. So maybe somewhere amongst all the unnecessarily pushy advice there could be one small disclaimer: whatever you decide, no harm will come to your baby. 

Or how about this: Breast is best, but formula is fine! That is surely a research based slogan? Not sure the NHS will be adopting it any time soon though.

The way in which advice is delivered can have major psychological effects on mothers. Surely if I’ve noticed this then so has someone who can influence the way we provide parent education? The best gift you have give a baby is a happy mother; not one stripped of all confidence, feeling guilty and doubting herself. So maybe it’s time for a change. Who’s with me?

What was your experience of breast-feeding support? Wonderful? Terrible? Leave a comment below, go to my facebook page, or tweet me @aafew 

* I reckon this is probably not true.

** This is more likely to be true but, again, probably not.

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This post is linked up to:

And then the fun began...

Ssshhh to the Shoulds.

And another thing! Yes that’s right, dear reader, two rants about baby books/advice/information in less than 24 hours. That’s how I roll!

If you have never read a piece of information that said your baby “should” be doing something that it isn’t yet then I’m pretty sure you’re in the minority. (But congrats to you, you have the mythical unicorn child).

For me it is sleep. When my son was tiny he woke pretty much every 2 and a half hours. This was for the first, maybe, ten weeks, so pretty normal but still exhausting. As you may imagine I spent rather too much time googling and looking up baby sleep solutions. We all do it – even though basically it’s up to our babies when they decide to sleep and wake- we cling to the hope that there must be some sure-fire technique to give us a stretch of sleep more than 3 hours long. So, any way, I’m reading this stuffand I find some helpful and unhelpful hints, many of them contradictory (see previous post for effusive anger on that point) but I also find this helpful little factoid:

“By about six weeks your baby could be sleeping for at least one stretch of up to 6 hours.”

Well really? Could he? He bloody isn’t! The problem with telling us that ‘some babies’ do X at X weeks is that if our baby isn’t one we either feel cheated or, worse, that we’ve failed in some way (there goes that guilt again!)

Currently, I am sick of reading that by six months “your baby shouldn’t need to be fed in the night-time”. Shouldn’t he? What if he is hungry in the night time? My baby boy wakes up when he is hungry and he doesn’t go back to sleep until you give him food. You can cuddle him, you can give him a dummy, you can leave him to cry, but nothing will soothe him because, guess what? He’s hungry! The books say he shouldn’t be because he’s 8 months old now, but he is, so there!

I write that last paragraph as if I don’t worry that I’m doing something wrong in feeding my boy in the night. Of course I do. Because when you’re a first-time mum it’s hard not to doubt yourself, especially when the “experts” dole out their shoulds and shouldn’ts so liberally. But I don’t think the sleep stuff is as harmful as the other developmental ‘milestones’ we’re told about.

Next time I see a ‘at X months your baby should…’ sentence anywhere I am going to give myself two challenges. The first will be not to panic, or at least not to respond to my panic, if my baby boy isn’t doing whatever he ‘should’ be. But the second is not to feel any pride if he is. A healthy, happy baby is an achievement to be proud of but beyond that if we start congratulating ourselves on the milestones then we will inevitably berate ourselves when our babies don’t meet these imagined deadlines. Worse, we will promote a culture in which mothers with babies who walk at 15 months rather than 12 will feel ashamed.

So many of us were professionals before we were mums and this skews our vision sometimes. We see milestones as targets to be met, rather than just stuff that will happen for our babies at some point.

There are no shoulds or shouldn’ts when it comes these little humans; they just do what they do, and we can trust them.

Burn the books!

Are you reading any baby books at the moment? How’s that going for you? Are they offering you an affirmation of your innate parenting ability? Are they giving you handy hints and tips without being dictatorial? Are they offering you useful guidance that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed or inadequate in any way? Oh good, that’s great.

Wait? What’s that you say? These books aren’t affirming your parenting choices? They are making you feel confused and inadequate? You do feel overwhelmed by the mountains of advice you’re receiving from all of these ‘helpful experts’. Well then, my friends, I’ll tell you what to do with those books; burn them!!

Ok, scrap that. Please don’t actually burn any books. In general I find not-doing-stuff-the-nazis-did a solid rule to live by. But if we’re not going to burn them we should definitely bin them.

That’s right, you heard me. Bin them! That book you read when your baby was five-days-old that told you feeding on demand would lead to childhood obesity: bin it! Or the one that told you leaving your baby to cry would cause long-term psychological damage (you only wanted to go to the toilet but now you’re wracked with guilt) bin it! Don’t give it to charity shop, don’t pass it on to a pregnant friend, put it IN THE BIN. It’s not useful. It’s rubbish, garbage, waste I tells ya! (though it should be noted that it’s waste that’s widely recyclable so put it in the paper bin, but, you know, that’s still a bin).

My problem is less with the demanding specifics of some baby books – though I have a thousand issues with those – than with the cacophony of conflicting advice that is just waiting to leap out of the bookshelves and into the dazed and vulnerable minds of new parents. Even more so that the doling out of this advice is big business. If a book is successful it spawns a sequel, or the author starts putting their name to products. Is this all for the benefit of parents? I begin to think not.

There are a million ways to be a good mum but I am yet to find a book that acknowledges this, let alone one that details a few different choices side-by-side without making a value judgement on any*. As it is, if you choose the ‘attachment parenting’ approach and co-sleep with your baby you’re likely to feel self-conscious about being judged by those who have read that this is dangerous. Then again, others are likely to fear judgement from you because they choose to put their baby in another room early on because you’ve read that this is damaging. The thing is, we don’t judge each other half as much as we judge our ourselves. And this internal awareness that everything we do is potentially wrong just fuels the anxiety and (yep, you guessed it) guilt that can so easily take hold of us as new parents.

I co-slept with my son for the first four weeks because it was the only way any of us slept, then I moved him to his own room at 10 weeks because he was bloody loud and I was completely exhausted. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t read anything about either of these decision, no books, no websites, certainly no forums. Because, 8 months in, I see that they were both the right thing to do at the time; for all of us. But I was constantly questioning myself, feeling selfish or lazy for not trying harder to ‘do the right thing’, bleugh!

The truth is, most of us don’t subscribe completely to the theories and methods of any one parenting style. We do what works. And if the birth of your first child weren’t the most exhausting, surprising, heart-wrenching emotional roller-coaster of your life you may just be able to take what you needed from these books and casually disagree with the rest. But I couldn’t, and I don’t know who many who could.

This is why I have stopped reading about how to take care of babies. I know how to take care of my baby. I’m really good at it. And so are you. Yes, you. And if there’s a book making you feel like you’re not then bin it. Just bin it!

*I really hope a book like this exists, if you know of one please comment and recommend.