Toddlers watching TV: It’s, like, totally fine, isn’t it??

Aaah, CBeebies. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! You have created a continual stream of benign, advert-free and (generally) educational children’s television. You lovely bloody geniuses!  I mean, where else can we find shows that explore emotional intelligence at a 3-year-old level, or encourage kids to use their imaginations to enjoy classical music, or even covertly teach counting through the cunning use of an eccentric beige character who has a love of stones?

That’s right, people, I love CBeebies. I’m not afraid to admit. And I let Bubs watch TV. Quite a lot.

*hyperventilates with the overwhelming fear of self-righteous parental judgement*

Joking aside, for some reason TV has recently been added to my “oh my God, am I ruining my child?” list of irrational fears. As I type this I can genuinely feel my anxiety heightening. We all have these moments. Panic sets in as a giant, bright red neon sign switches on in your mind. “DANGER: BAD MOTHER ALERT!” it warns, flashing violently.

But it’s weird I should feel that – even in a self-aware sort of a way – because almost everyone I know lets their kids watch TV. It’s a totally accepted, alright thing, isn’t it? Okay, some people choose not to let their kids watch any screens, which seems reasonable, but it doesn’t mean that they are kinder, more creative, better parents, does it?

IT DOESN’T, DOES IT???

No, it doesn’t. Breathe.

There is always something or other in the news linking behaviour to health issues. Not that it takes a genius to work out that if a child plays X-Box all weekend and doesn’t go outside at all then they are more likely to become obese (I’ll take that PhD now, please). But still there always seems to be some study saying kids who do/don’t do this are more likely to become underachievers/unhealthy adults/murderous rapscallions.

Like research on other parenting issues that can get a bit judgey (e.g. formula-feeding and the use of dummies) this stuff often gets simplified by the media. I mean “researchers have found possible negative outcomes to TV watching but these may also be due to socioeconomic factors” isn’t exactly clickbait is it?? No, we want a headline that goes something like “Children Who Watch TV Are Basically F*cked, Scientists Say.” That’s the one that will go viral.

The problem with this kind of sensationalist rubbish is that it draws a false divide. On the one hand there are children who are read to and sung to, who love books and spend a lot of times outdoors, who have oodles of face-to-face interaction with their parents; on the other there are kids who watch TV. Of course this also implies two kinds of parents; those who can be bothered and those who can’t. Bleurgh.

But what if your kids can be both kinds of kid? Or parents can be both kinds of parents? What if those of us who spend most of our time being very much bothered with entertaining and caring for our children sometimes just want to sit down for 20 minutes? What if that was okay?

My Bubs loves books. LOVES them. We were on a plane when he was about 10 months old and he was kicking off majorly, and what was the thing that finally calmed him down? Being read a book. (we did feel a flutter of parental triumph at that particular moment). Bubs likes drawing and playing outside and watching bubbles and singing and dancing and all that good stuff. But you know what? He also enjoys a spot of TV. He can actually sing the Pingu theme tune and points at the TV in delighted surprise every time the Ninky-Nonk/Pinky-Ponk bursts through the hedge in the Night Garden. It’s really very cute.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

Bubs is on an advanced reading programme.

However, I recently discovered that TV isn’t ‘recommended’ for kids under two-years-old and have been a slightly torturous inward debate ever since. Before they are TWO? Oops. That ship has well and truly sailed. I reckon Bubs was first introduced to CBeebies at around the 3 month mark (oh the shame!).

So I had to have a look at why these recommendations were put in place: “A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” We are told by the American Academy of Peadiatrics. Well, duh! Like, that is totes obvs!

It’s so black and white, I mean why does that statement mean no screen time whatsoever? NO TV OR ALL IS LOST! It’s as if a few episodes of Tinga Tinga Tales is somehow a gateway-drug to a hardcore TV addiction in which children become unable to imagine and create. I’m not saying this can’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does in homes where the TV is a third (first?) parent and no one talks about their day or reads or sings song. Sad face.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here. No one is advocating sitting your 4-year-old to binge watch an entire season of Breaking Bad. That would be properly awful.

Sometimes I let Bubs watch TV in really sensible way. I use iPlayer to select the programme and I limit him to one episode, just long enough for me to get something done (often a nappy change: TV is a Godsend for parents of pooey, wriggly toddlers).

But other times I just put it on because I can’t think what else to do. It’s only 10am and I’ve already read that book 5 times and sung my full repertoire of nursery rhymes. The day stretches out before me like a particularly shouty question mark and I just need 10 minutes to stare into space or check my email or something.

Then there are those times when, franky, I just want to watch some telly. I like telly. Other than the smorgasbord of delights offered on CBeebies the only TV show my son is aware of is Pointless, which I occasionally put on for us to watch ‘together’. What? It’s super educational man! I mean, who knew there was an element called Einsteinium? Huh?

I’m not pretending this is the ideal in parenting habits. But I’m not the ideal parent. I’m a human. Shock horror.

Based on the anecdotal evidence I have, I am pretty darn sure this regular TV watching will cause Bubs no long term harm. As a child I watched a fair bit of CBBC, and Neighbours, and then switched over to BBC2 for The Simpsons (those were the days!). Still, I have managed to grow up into a relatively emotionally intelligent person who holds a Masters Degree in Cultural History with Distinction. #justsaying. I also have a friend who, as the 3rd child, was pretty much plonked in front of the TV with a colouring book for much of her childhood. She is now, as well as just being lovely, a qualified doctor who’s taking a year out to do an art foundation course. Well-rounded much?

Don’t get me wrong, I think parents who don’t let their kids watch TV are awesome; I just wish my admiration wasn’t accompanied by a stomach-curdling dose of inferiority complex. It’s not their fault I feel this way, of course it’s not. It’s the fault of a society that has come to believe we must consult ‘experts’ at every turn. Every parenting decision must be scrutinised under the microscope of Research, conclusions reached and expounded. A one-size-fits all code of parenting.

What if we, I don’t know, made decisions based on common sense that were guided by our love for our children, as well as a healthy dose of realistic expectations of ourselves? I mean, isn’t that what most of us are doing?

Yeah, I thought so.

So, in conclusion. TV, it’s like, totally fine. Isn’t it?

________________

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Attention, Attention! Why all play is hard work.

Did you know that you’re supposed to talk to your baby? Well, you are. You should talk and talk and talk. All the time. At every opportunity you should be spouting forth nonsense in order to stimulate those tiny synapses. Or something.

Seriously, dude. Go and TALK TO YOUR BABY. DO IT NOW! Why are you still reading this? I don’t care if she’s asleep, go and whisper your shopping list into her little ear.

Of course, I jest. But it sort of feels like that sometimes doesn’t it? All the leaflets and webpages and well-meaning suggestions on engaging with your small, and perhaps as yet uninterested, person; it can be a bit daunting. There are pages and pages of this stuff. I came across one article whilst researching this post called ’50 simple ways to make your baby smarter’ (Google it if you like, I’m not going to dignify it with a hyperlink). It’s like, WHAT? Seriously? Make your baby smarter? Your BABY? The implication here is that you can also make your baby more stupid, by not following all 50 ‘helpful hints’. Bleurgh to that.

I kept seeing those articles about making sure your child was getting enough stimulation in the early days. It’s. Really. Important. *hyperventilates* One health visitor told me to talk to Bubs constantly. She used that word. I’m sure she didn’t actually mean constantly, but, you know, I was sleep-deprived at the time. Nuance wasn’t a thing.

So, I endeavoured to talk constantly to my baby, giving him a running commentary on nappy changes, shopping lists and antibacterial wipes. Let’s face it, I haven’t got much good chat these days. But still, we do as we’re told don’t we?  One NHS guide tells us

“When you cook, show them what you’re doing and talk to them as you’re working.”

Cooking is always used as an example. “Now, Bartholomew, I’m just sauteeing these onions and then I’ll tomatoes, thyme and a dash of salt.”  It’s a bit like being on Saturday Kitchen, except without make-up artists, an appreciative audience or getting paid.

Sometimes I just want to make some pasta. In silence. Who’s with me?

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“Can I interest you in some more plastic crap, madam?” The weaning paraphernalia you DO NOT NEED.

Buying stuff for a baby is a bit like buying stuff for a wedding. Ooh, that’s a nice white dress, £90, you say? Oh, it’s for your wedding day? Then it’s £900. Oooh, what a lovely small blanket. For a baby? Well, sorry the cost just doubled.

Weaning is the same. They will try to sell you stuff. So much bloody stuff. They will manufacture products in brightly coloured plastics and then  charge a premium for what are essentially smaller versions of things you already have. And you will go, oooh, that looks useful.

But, no! You’re wise to it all now, right? You’ve been in this game for at least four months and your box room/cupboard/garage is already stuffed all that superfluous new-born junk you bought and never used. They won’t get you this time.

Well, just in case, here’s a little tour through all the superfluous weaning junk you don’t need.

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Is ‘baby led’ a bit misleading?

baby led

I love the ideas behind ‘baby led’ weaning. Waiting until your baby actually wants food and, therefore, escaping the vicious circle that is ‘mush on spoon à spoon in mouth à much spat out à mush on spoon again’ sounds like a reasonable proposition. Then there are the added benefits of not spending your evenings pureeing ‘batches’ for the freezer. Instead you just hand your baby a broccoli floret and let them suck on it for half an hour whilst you play Candy Crush. What’s not to love?

My health visitor was the first to explain the basics of ‘baby led’ to me. She was awesome; always really supportive and reassuring. She told me about the signs that your baby is ready for solids. They can sit in a high chair, has a gag reflex, hand-eye coordination and is interested in food etc. “You go with your baby” she encouraged me, and said that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t wait until 6 months as long as I was being attentive to Bubs’ needs. So, you know – baby is leading. Coolio.

Cut to a month or so later, when I attend a baby led weaning workshop at my local Sure Start centre. The nurse who ran it announced that ‘baby led’ weaning is waiting until six months and then only giving finger foods. To be fair, she did mention earlier weaning as an ‘option’ but it was clearly not recommended. It was a really useful workshop in a lot of ways, especially learning the difference between gagging and choking (that shizzle looks SCARY if you don’t know what it is). But I did not abide by the guidelines it laid down, no Siree. There were definitely some spoons and mush involved.

Still, Bubs eats almost everything with his hand nowadays; veg, cereal, spaghetti, you name it! And that makes things a lot easier as I can eat when he does. At some meals I even get to eat sitting down, using both of my hands, at the same time!!  #winning

So, I have no beef with ‘baby led’ as a method. Well, almost none. It’s just that I’m a bit irked by the fact that it’s called the ‘baby led’ method.

From what I understand (and I’m certain some of you will correct me if I’m wrong), baby-led simply refers to offering your baby finger foods etc from the beginning, rather than starting on puree etc. It also refers to waiting for them to be sitting, with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to swallow (okay, that last is pretty obvious, obvs). Then you have the whole six-month milestone, when they are ready for proper solids. Hmm.

If we’ve decided which foods we’re going to give our baby and what age they’ll be when we start, aren’t we the one’s leading?

I don’t know how else to put this, so I’m just gonna come right out with it: to me, the name ‘baby led’ just sounds a bit, well, smug.

Obviously the average parent chooses when and how to weaning their children based on a) what’s best for the child and b) what works for the rest of the family. So please don’t think I’m saying that parents who start with finger food are smug. I’m not. But what I am saying is words have power! If one group of people gets to say that they have engaged in ‘baby led’ weaning, whilst the other say ‘spoon-fed’ I think the latter might feel a bit belittled, or even disempowered.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a mother has a very big baby, who cannot get enough milk down himself. He’s depleted the breast milk supply and is a  formula fiend: hungry hungry hungry!! Say that mother does A LOT of research and decides to give him food bang on 17 weeks; just easily digestible mush on a spoon for the first while. Perhaps the baby is much more settled and happy after that, sleeps better, doesn’t cry as much… You see, to me that would seem pretty ‘baby-led’. But this mum might feel she isn’t doing the ‘right thing’, she might be seen as old-fashioned or, much worse, selfish for her decisions. She might even be told by a health visitor that she had “put her baby at risk”.

This is all hypothetical, you understand, and defo didn’t happen to someone I know or anything. Sigh.

No informed decision that a parent makes, lovingly or pragmatically, should be seen as inferior. I mean, come on guys, let’s not create an additional infant-feeding hierarchy. We already have ‘breast-feeding v formula’ pretty much nailed (insert angry comment below).

Terminology surrounding parenting choices often becomes value-laden. THIS way is the right way, and all others are what lazy/uninformed/bad parents do. Most of us know that is utter tosh but that doesn’t stop us from worrying that we are in the latter category sometimes. So perhaps we could choose our words more consciously. If it’s going to be ‘spoon feeding’ for the puree-first stuff then maybe the other approach should be called ‘finger feeding’ or something. Okay, that’s not the most inspired name but it’s a lot more accurate and not half as up itself!

Or maybe, perhaps, possibly, we might think about just not labelling ourselves in camps. Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting the only ‘method’ most of us actually stick to is trail-and-error (my new book Trial and Error Child-Rearing: the technique for parents who can’t be bothered will be in all good bookstores next Spring).

But that’s not enough is it? We have to have something to say about our choices. It has to be this guideline, or that book, or someone else who led us to our conclusions. We have to have thought it all through. Otherwise how will we explain ourselves?? I mean, imagine the scene:

Have you weaned your children?

Yes, I have.

What method did you use?

Oh, I pretty much stuck to the give-them-some-food method. You know, food in the mouth, swallowing it and then pooing a bit later. Then some more food after that at some point.

Great, where can I get the book?

Sigh.

What do you think? I ‘baby led’ an accurate and helpful name? Maybe you’ve felt judged for you weaning choices, either way? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or.going to my Facebook page.

Weaning: To purée or not to purée, that is the (tedious) question.

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puree

How old was your baby when someone of a previous generation said something along the lines of ‘he could probably do with some food now’. 3 months? 4? And what was your response? Did you look at them, aghast at their out-of-date information, and make it quite clear that the guidelines say no food before 6 months, thank you very much? Perhaps you smiled and made that non-committal ‘hmm’ sound we all have in reserve for when we don’t agree with older relatives but wish to avoid a pointless confrontation. But maybe you did agree. Your baby had been staring at up as you munched on your cornflakes that morning, with a look of strained longing on their face that very morning. Oh God, maybe there are right, maybe I’m starving her!!

When I was little, the recommendations were to wean babies on soft, mashed food at 3 months. Soon after that the guidance changed to 4 months. But now the NHS has assessed the research and decided baby-led weaning is the thing to do. And for that you have to wait until your baby is six months old.

But what is this baby-led weaning you speak of? Well, it basically means no purees, no mush, just straight onto normal grown-up solids. Not oven chips or a tikka masala, obvs, but normal fruit and veg and pasta and bread and all that good shit. In fact, in a video I was shown at a ‘weaning workshop’ a six-month old chows down a chicken leg. An actual chicken legs. Obvs the little thing has hardly any teeth, so it’s more a chicken lolly-pop (*gag*) than anything else, but you get the picture.

To be honest my first thought was ‘6 months?’ Six. Whole. Months? 26 weeks?? That is approximately 180 days of constant boob or bottle. So either your baby is attached to your body all day long (exaggeration alert) or you’re stuck in the tedious cycle of bottle washing, sterilising, formula buying and all that expensive nonsense. And that wasn’t my only objection. From pretty much the moment he exited my womb Bubs was hungry. Like, HUNGRY. And he let us know. Oh boy, he let us know. That scream. *shudder* Even when he was guzzling formula he still very often wanted copious amounts every two hours. Any hoo, as you may have guessed I didn’t make it to 6 months, alert social services immediately

But whatever my uninformed objections are, at least the guidance on weaning is pretty straight forward, you know, no mixed messages or anything…

Um, hold on a minute, I may be incorrect on that point.

When Bubs was about 4 months old I went to a weaning workshop put on at my local sure start centre (free at the point of delivery guys; you gotta love the NHS). The lovely and well informed nurse began by saying “NO FOOD BEFORE SIX MONTHS and, basically, then you can give them anything.” She gave us info about the ‘signs’ that your baby is ready for food and we watched that video. She answered our questions and it was all quite helpful. But as the session went on she started to say things like “ABSOLUTELY NO food before 17 weeks.” Wait, what? That’s a lot less than 26, right? I mean I only have a B in maths GCSE but even I know that’s, like, well different. Then she started to add “and if you do it should be SAFE WEANING, which is just pureed fruit and veg”. Purees? What? Confusion strikes!

I understand really. The nurse was aware that not all of us (me) would wait that long and she wanted to give a bit of information about what was safe for our babies. Fair dos. But then the books get involved too. Those darned books.

Enter, Annabel Karmel.

Karmel is the Gina Ford of weaning. By that I don’t mean that she recommends that you impose an anally retentive, unrealistic regime on yourself and your baby (sozzers Gina, truth hurts), but that hers is the go-to book for weaning. And good for her, I say! (Except not good for you for putting your name to a food range that includes E numbers; not cool Annabel, not cool) This was the book half of my friends bought and found very helpful. Though I think they pretty much just read the middle bit that gave them a little plan of which solids gradually. ‘At 6 months they can have everything’ is a bit vague, to be fair, so it’s not surprising that they wanted some guidance.

But here’s where it get’s tricky. After all the baby-led stuff we’ve been told about, Karmel’s book tells you to introduce totally smooth food first. That’s right folks: purees are a-go-go. Yes, with this method it’s all mushy pears and baby rice. But you’ve still got to wait until the baby is six months old.  Worst of both worlds, anyone?

May I interject at this point and just ask WHAT THE EFF IS BABY RICE? ISN’T IT JUST GROUND RICE? WHY IS IT A THING???

Needed to get that off my chest. I’ll continue.

It’s not just Annabel Karmel who still insists on basically making smoothies for your baby in the first month. Lots of books do. Including the one pictured below, which I was given whilst pregnant. Under the heading How to Wean Your Baby we are told that ‘first foods should be more like thick milk’ (#babyrice) and weaning is a “process” from liquid to solid. One could forgive a new parent for feeling like they’re getting mixed messages at this point!

pure ebba

I think you’ll agree that both the level of glamour and expression of joy seen in this picture accurately represent the average mother-of-four at tea time on a Tuesday evening.

 
To complete the muddled mixture of over-bearing instructions, throw in the advice of umpteen friends and family members (wewere told to feed them as soon as they hit 16 lbs; oh baby-led is the perfect way to do it; can’t you just give her a bit of banana??; oh, don’t give them ANYTHING sweet, it leads to obesity).

I was (sort of) lucky with weaning in that a) I had a pragmatic and supportive Health Visitor and b) I didn’t really give a shit. Early in my parenting ‘journey’ I had gone right into the middle of crazy town, oft to be found on Worry-about-every-tiny-decision Street and I-can’t-do-this Avenue, but by the time Bubs was five months I was out onto the open road heading towards How-Wrong-Can-it-Really-Go’sville.

Because here’s my assessment: Pretty much everyone who is now old enough to have a child was weaned at 3 or 4 months on mush. But also LOADS of babies have been in situations and times when pureeing wasn’t an option, ergo baby-led happened. In my current circle of friends some went hard on the baby rice, whilst others committed solely to finger food. And now? Well, all of our babies are healthy and they all eat food. And they are all, at times, fuss pots. Because they are toddlers, and that’s what happens when a human begins to discover it has free will (more on that in a later post).

Knowing that there are plenty of healthy babies who are Strictly-Karmel and another swathe who chomped on chicken legs before they could crawl made me think “Well, they both must be fine then!” Rebel that I am, I gave Bubs solids at 5 months (which he loved, btw) in both finger food and puree form. At the same time. What can I say? I’m just crazy like that.

So, whilst I should add the disclaimer that I have literally no expertise in weaning, or child nutrition, or really anything TBH, I want you to know that if your decisions about what to give your baby when are based on the welfare of that child then they are probably fine. Aren’t they?

 

What do you think? Maybe I’m being too blase and should get my facts straight? Or perhaps making decisions about weaning drove you up the wall. Did you have lots of unwelcome advice? Or would you have liked a bit more? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or heading over to my facebook page

This post is part of my ‘welcome to weaning’ series. Get the rest delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing above. (Yep, up there on the right, you know, where it says ‘subscribe’).

 

 

Welcome to Weaning.

The inclusion of this photo serves no purpose. But I have an intensely cute son and like to show off about it now and then.

The inclusion of this photo serves no purpose. But I have an intensely cute son and like to show him off now and then.

For a while now I’ve been trying to write a post about weaning. Where to start is the hardest part. I mean, it’s a pretty big deal. From the age 4/5/6 months (the controversy begins) you will have to feed your child actual food. No more milky one-stop-shop for you, good folk. Oh no, now you have to think about stuff like balanced diets and how to persuade a 9-month old to eat something that a) doesn’t taste like banana and b) isn’t covered in yoghurt. Some find this process quite fun; a new sensory adventure with their little one. Others see it as the next in a long line of ‘what-the-eff-am-I-doing?’ parenting moments.

Well aren’t we lucky, then, that there is such a clear, reasonable consensus on how to wean a baby. I mean, it would be a nightmare if, say, there was massive disagreement as to when you should start, how you should start etc. Oh wait, there is? Bums.

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Yes, that’s right folks, here’s yet another ‘issue’ to add to the long list of things-there-seem-to-be-a-thousand-experts-in-who-all-have-different-opinions. What have we had so far? Sleeping, breast/bottle feeding, routines (or not), discipline, going back to work, crying… Sigh.

But fear not! For I am here to tell you the secret of successful weaning. Are you ready? Because it may just blow your mind… *drum roll*

Just feed your baby, with food!

It’s crazy but it’s true. It could be baby food, it could be ‘adult’ food. As long as it’s real, actual food and not something developed in a lab using mostly E numbers, transfats and monosodium glutamate, then you’re probably fine.

This theory of mine is based purely on anecdotal evidence and the knowledge that every grown-up alive today was weaned at some stage, many of them in very haphazard ways that followed no guidelines or ‘expert’ advice. All of these people are, as afore mentioned, alive today.

My mum basically did baby-led weaning accidentally in the 80s because, well, she just did. I was chowing down a sausage as finger-food well before my first birthday. Meanwhile, some people’s parents were reluctant to give them anything that had the slightest hint of a lump in it until they had a full set of molars. And guess what? We all lived to tell the tale. Huzzah!

So, that’s the short version. But I realised recently that the reason I can’t seem to compose a bloody post on weaning is because there’s too much to say. So, the next few posts on here will all be weaning-related. A theme to start the new. I know, right, how thought through is that??? Ranting and hilarity will inevitably ensue.

Hold onto your highchairs!

What are your thoughts on weaning? Are you a regimented puree-er? An ardent baby-led believer? Or a bit laisse faire about the whole thing? Let me know by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or going over to my facebook page.

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The Second Trimester: Don’t believe the hype.

Annotations my own.

Extract from an NHS email. Annotations my own.

In the early days of pregnancy, when nobody at work knows, you’re experiencing new levels of grumpy, and the faintest whiff of food makes you dry-retch (or worse); there is one, great shining light at the end of the hormonal tunnel. It is a beacon of hope, a promised land of glowing skin, glossy hair and boundless energy; it is the second trimester. *angelic choral overture*

Everybody tells you that the first 12 weeks are the worst and you’ll start to feel better soon. Your boobs will stop feeling so odd; the not-just-in-the-morning sickness will subside and you won’t be so face-meltingly tired all-of-the-bloody-time. Huzzah, that sounded pretty good to me.

So, around week 13, I began to anticipate this change. I looked forward to not feeling the need to make my husband to list of the ingredients of every meal he cooked for my personal approval (‘no, don’t put any of that in, and can you bake those rather than boil them‘ Bleurgh to me). I thought that I would start making it to 3, maybe even 4pm without feeling physically sick with tiredness. The best was yet to come, the time would soon be here when I could, you know, really start enjoying my pregnancy.

But, Dear Reader, I have some shocking news (that you will in no way have guessed from the tone of the last three paragraphs and the image above):

IT DIDN’T BLOODY HAPPEN!

Week 13 came and went, but I thought I had been a bit optimistic and change was just around the corner. But as weeks 14, 15 and 16 went by and I still felt like utter crap, I began to doubt the ‘second trimester’ line.

It’s no wonder I was sucked in. The promise of respite in that much-celebrated middle stage of your pregnancy is EVERYWHERE. Women tell you about it, magazines tell you about it, the books tell you about it. My NHS emails told me about it. The NHS I tells ya!!

Dear Reader, even the pregnancy Bible itself, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, puts ‘more energy’ at the top of its ‘what you may be feeling’ list. Honestly, what’s a girl to do??

what to expect 2nd trimester

You may point out the massive caveat directly before the words ‘more energy’, but I’m not gonna lie to you, I always go straight to the bullet points. That’s what they’re for, right?

And I’m not the only one with whom these words did not chime. Loads of my friends had the same experience; watching for the magical week 14 and then seeing it pass by without out feeling one bit better. There are legions of us all over the world, crying out in an impassioned chorus:

“Where are our thick, luxurious manes? Where are our gorgeous strong nails? Where is our clear, radiant complexion? Where, oh where, oh where is our bloody energy boost???”

There is not much I can do about it now, of course, except get the word out to others. Unsuspecting newly-pregnant women, clutching their bump-books and eagerly awaiting the illusive glow. Don’t be fooled! Our bodies, like our babies, don’t read the bloody books! You will not be on a predictable timetable. It just don’t work like that.

Thinking about it, pregnancy is a really good time to ease into the idea that human biology is unpredictable and you just have to go with the flow sometimes. Even if the flow is vom-tinged or very, very cry-y.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Dear Reader! I didn’t have a completely miserable pregnancy, not at all. For me, the fog just took a little longer to lift.

When I was about 18 weeks pregnant I remember talking to another pregnant woman in church one morning. She was about 2 months ahead of me and she asked how I was feeling. I looked at her with wide, bag-laden eyes and said “Rubbish”. Or something like that, it was church so I probably didn’t swear. Probably. She instantly replied “20 weeks, 20 weeks and you’ll start to feel better, honestly.” At the time I didn’t much believe her. I had heard all this crap before. I knew she was being sincere but I just couldn’t get my hopes up again. The whole ‘2nd trimester debacle’ had broken my little pregnant heart.

But Lo! What light from yonder window breaks? ‘Tis the 20 weeks!! ‘Tis the half-way line.

From the Shakespeare quote above you may be able to deduce that I did indeed feel A LOT better in the second half of my pregnancy. And I know I lot of women who experienced carrying a baby as a game of two halves, rather than three thirds. I didn’t get the heavy, achey crap at the end either even though Bubs was 2 weeks late (I know a lot of you do, sozzers). I felt crap for the first half and pretty good for the second. Simples.

So there you have it. My body, like my baby, did not behave in a textbook manner. With hindsight that is no great surprise. But then, that’s sort of the nature of hindsight isn’t it? Hmm, moving on…

If you have a pregnant friend, or a friend who may get pregnant in the future, or you have friend who has a friend who may get pregnant in the future, will you do me a favour and pass on this pearl of wisdom:

Pregnancy is often talked about in trimesters. You may experience it in this way, but you may not. Your experience may be more akin to halves, or quarters, or sevenths for all we know. Because you’re you and your baby is whoever they are, and there is only one you-and-your-baby. So, you know, don’t believe the hype.

Cheers.

 

How was it for you? Were you a textbook pregnancy? Share your experiences by posting a comment below, visiting my facebook page, or tweeting me @aafew.

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And then the fun began...

Making a Millstone Out of Milestone.

millstone

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 was sleep. When my son was tiny he woke pretty much every 2ish 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 (or even one hour long for some of us, solidarity sisters!). So, any way, I’m reading this stuff and I find some helpful hints, but mostly unhelpful ones. For example, 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? Bubs is now 11 months old and each night is different. Some glorious, wondrous nights he sleeps through. Aaah, bliss. But on others 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 (gggrrr, the books!) say he shouldn’t be because he’s almost one. But he is, so there. Also, to be honest, sometimes it’s just bloody easier to feed him. Every now and then I muster up the energy to so half-an-hour’s soothing in the dead of night, but I usually have to feed him eventually any way. So why waste time? Whatever gets you through the night, that’s what I say!

I write that last paragraph as if I don’t worry that I’m doing something wrong in feeding my boy in the night. As I don’t get that “oh, are we doing it wrong?” pang on a regular basis. 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 half as harmful as the other developmental ‘milestones’ we’re told about.

We parents can drive ourselves mad with movement and speech milestones. That’s one of the reasons the Ages and Stages Questionnaire winds me up so bloody much. If you believe your child ‘should’ have been doing something months ago that they still aren’t then it is difficult not to let the anxiety fairy in. Mothers may feel themselves become self-conscious in groups of children of a similar age, as if their child’s stage of development reflects on them. We seem to have created a timetable for rolling and crawling and standing and using words. This timetable can become a tyranny. Because ‘milestone’ timings are just averages. That’s all. Instead these milestones become millstones around our necks (thanks, I’m pretty proud of that one), weighing us down with worry.

Now, before you scroll down and type furiously into the comments section, I am not saying that if an 18-month old can’t sit up or make noise we should just ‘you know, give the kid some space man!’ But we all know loads of kids who took longer than average to roll-over, start speaking, pick up a bloody Cheerio between their thumb and forefinger or what ever. In the end they got there and it just wasn’t a big deal!

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 Bubs 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 approximated 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 very few concrete shoulds or shouldn’ts when it comes these little humans; they just do what they do, and we can trust them.

How do you feel about milestones? Have you been unduly worried about your child? Or maybe they flagged up something you’re glad you know? Comment below or Tweet me @aafew

Getting Deja Vu? Back in the annals of time (well, actually, in July), when my blog about 3 followers, I wrote a post called ‘Ssshh to the Shoulds’. And seeing as a) it is apparently #archivesaturday b) a few more people might read it this time round and c) I just really really hate the word ‘should’ being applied to children, I thought I’d rejig, rename and reblog it. So, there you go.

Mummy Mantra #5: Some things we’ll just never know.

well never know

If you had to describe your parenting experience in 3 words would one of them be ‘unpredictable’?  Do you find that whenever you detect and begin to ease into a pattern it suddenly changes again? It’s like as soon as you say anything out loud (e.g. ‘he has a really reliable nap in the mornings now’) it just stops happening. Mildly exacerbating, no?

My previous mummy mantra was all about sleep. ‘All babies sleep eventually’. I did mention in that post that Bubs was sleeping pretty well these days. So, guess what happened that very night? Wakey wakey, mumsy!! What a fool I am!

Now, this time I’m pretty sure I know why he’s waking. It’s the obligatory bi-monthly snuffly nose fortnight. He’s currently pulling of the snot-moustache look with some aplomb and I’m pretty sure it’s that that wakes him up. (Can I take this opportunity to thank Calpol for all it’s done for parent kind??) However, there have been other times when I’ve had no clue why, after 5 nights of sleeping through (aaah, sleeping through, those magical words) he suddenly decides that he needs two feeds a night again. Good one.

How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it must be a growth spurt’ come out of your own mouth? Or said ‘maybe she’s teething’? Or agreed with a friend over coffee that it must be a ‘developmental phase’ as they are ‘processing so much new information at the moment.’? I mean, there’s got to be an explanation. Riiiiight?

In the modern era we are used to having our questions answered. Gone are the days of long drawn out debates in the pub over which actor played So-and-So in that Bond film, or which year it was that Channel 4 came on air. Nope, our pocket Google-machines have rendered all that unnecessary (other search engines are available). Even at work where we may face knottier conundrums there is usually, eventually, a satisfactory answer to whatever the problem is.

So, when faced with our baby’s crying/not eating/being hungry all the time/not sleeping/being in a right mood, it’s understandable that we think we should be get to the bottom of it all. The books (arg, those pesky bloody books again) encourage us to think that way. ‘How to soothe a crying baby’ promises the chapter title, followed by basically a ticklist – hungry? dirty nappy? tired? bored? etc. When we have exhausted these lists and our baby is emphatically not soothed it can be more than slightly disconcerting. ‘What had I missed?’ We ask ourselves.

But, the truth that we all come to learn, Dear Reader, is that sometimes, we’ll just never know. By the time Bubs is old enough to explain why he was so screamy on that night back in February, or why one day he went from eating whatever I put in front of him to throwing most of it on the floor, he won’t remember. In fact, I’m not really sure he remembers now. Babies don’t work like that.

As loving parents we all want to solve every problem our children will ever have. But we half of the time we won’t even understand what the problem is. We’ll just never know. A wise woman (OK, my therapist) said to me last week ‘you can’t solve an emotion’. Sometimes there’s nothing to solve, no question to answer. So we’ll just carry on trying out best. And that’ll be good enough. Promise.

Mummy Mantras #3: We do what works!

we do what works

 

Dear Reader, this #mummymantra is perhaps the closest to my heart. This is probably because it works in two ways. First, it stops us judging/torturing ourselves. We can’t always do what the books, or the guidelines, or our in-laws say is ‘best’. You will be told that ‘every baby is different’ and that ‘you know your baby best’ until the cows come home, but you will also be told in a thousand subtle ways that what you’re doing is wrong. Not directly, not necessarily by an actual person, but by the acres of advice that piles down upon new parents these days. So it’s helpful to remember that most of us, in the end, just do what works for our family. For some the idea of controlled crying provokes a shudder of dread; for others it is a lifeline and the key to getting your evenings back. The former parents may end up feeling like they are ‘giving in’, whilst the latter could worry that they are being neglectful. Neither is true, of course. We just do what works.

But, unfortunately, it’s not just our inner-guilt factory that churns all these feelings up. There are a few real Judgey McJudgepants out there. Whether it’s an evangelical breast-feeder or a Gina Ford devotee, there are some parents (I’d say less than 1%) who really do think their way is best. But the problem isn’t these people, really, because they are a tiny minority and, frankly, they are a bunch of self-righteous knobs. So there. The real problem is that we often worry that we’re secretly being judged by way more people than just the narcissistic 1%. My big thing is using a dummy. I’ll do a whole post on it another time, but basically I use a dummy to get Bubs to sleep, and sometimes just to pacify him if we’re in church or the supermarket and nothing else is working. I often get worried that I am being judged for this. And that’s mostly because BC (before children) I was totally judgemental about dummies! But now I just do what works! And the thing is, no one actually cares whether or not I use a dummy. In fact, loads of mums I talk to are jealous that my baby will actually take a dummy! And others just know I’m doing what works. So, good. Jog on.

‘We do what works’, then, can become a great thing to say during parent gatherings. It is a blanket statement of non-judgement. It says “yes, I moved my baby to their own room at 10 weeks, but I think it’s great that you still co-sleep, it seems to be working well”. Or whatever; you get the picture. I’ve done loads of things you’re ‘not supposed to do’ and I know my friends don’t judge me for it. Because if you manage to get through the first year of your baby’s life and never diverge from the guidelines then, bloody hell, you deserve a medal, or admission to some kind of band of elite parenting ninjas. And if you don’t manage that then you’re just normal, and you can be my friend.

What’s your #mummymantra? tweet me @aafew, or leave a comment below, and the best mantras will be retweeted and featured on the blog later in the week.

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