Tackling the baby goods industry, one everyday item at a time.

There are millions and millions of baby products on the market at the moment, and many of them are very stupid indeed. Take, for example, the special container to fill with water to rinse your baby’s hair. Guess what is special about it? It has a lip so that you can pour with precision and not get any water in your little one’s eyes. That’s right … it is, in fact, a jug. Except that it has a label on it with a baby and therefore costs three times the amount of a normal jug. So when Which? published their list of the 10 least useful baby products recently, I couldn’t help but wonder how they had whittled in down to just 10.

When Wills and Kate announced that they were having a baby, I heard a news item that said business analysts expected the baby industry to grow by millions of pounds. I wondered whether they meant that people will want to have more babies and therefore spend more money (and if so, it seemed to me to be a really silly reason to have a baby). In fact, they meant that people will just be flogging loads more stupid baby products.

In order to lend a bit of balance to all this consumerism, here is my top 5 list of everyday items that can be converted into perfect (and very cheap) baby products:

1) wooden spoons – perfect for sucking, biting, banging and generally just wreaking havoc.

2) vitamin tubs – either leave your pills in (if there is a safety cap) or use an old one with rice (quiet option) or lentils (if you are feeling hardy) in it.

3) silver blankets (the ones you get in first aid kits) – endless entertainment plus it doesn’t rip into little bits like tin foil.

4) face flannels – use the basic supermarket ones for protecting your carpet during nappy-free time or just for mopping up milk, sick, or whatever else takes your fancy – all for much cheaper than a muslin.

5) fleece blankets – they may not have bunnies sewn on the corner, but cut up adult fleece blankets do as good a job as the baby version for much less.

6) yoga ball – my personal saviour and the only thing that means can can get a bit of shut-eye, sometimes anyway. I’ll leave it to your imagination!

Please add your own suggestions below – it might save someone a few pennies!

Co-sleeping: a choice or a necessity?

I have a confession to make: I co-sleep with my baby and I love it.

Once again, I find myself doing something that most manuals, health professionals and (mostly well-meaning) onlookers say I shouldn’t even think about. And once again, I find myself doing it not out of choice, but out of necessity. Luckily it seems to work for me too.

Any British parent whose child is under 25 will know the NHS (National Health Service) view on co-sleeping. For those who don’t, let me say this: sleeping in the same bed as your baby is, in their view at least, to be avoided at all costs. They warn against it as part of the safe-sleeping campaign to reduce cot-death. Whilst I recognise that the campaign has vastly reduced occurrences of SIDS, the recommendations are so wide-ranging that there is nothing to suggest what exactly has helped.

Here it is from where I am sitting: I am writing this at 8.45pm after putting Anna to bed at 7pm. In that time she has woken up and required re-settling twice, so if she continues at this rate I will have to get out of bed and rock her back to sleep 17 more times tonight. Now I could do that, put her back in her cot every time and never have to co-sleep. Or, I could take her into my bed when I go to sleep and she will probably “only” wake up 3 or 4 more times (I realises how ridiculous that might sound to those blessed with a good sleeper). My days in banking taught me to do a quick cost-benefit analysis in these situations and the co-sleeping option comes out top every time. In fact, I’m not sure I could get up 17 more times even if I wanted to!

With all the advice to the contrary, it is easy to forget that co-sleeping is natural and still very common in many other cultures. A baby spends nine months in the womb and then we expect it to suddenly sleep alone in a cot all night, so why are we all so surprised that co-sleeping could be a solution?

Don’t get me wrong, every evening I still hope that tonight is the tonight and she will stay asleep in the cot just a little bit longer. However, the main thing is that I want Anna to know that there is somewhere warm, safe and close to Mummy that she can sleep if she needs or wants it.

Retiring the Pump

Last month I fed Anna her last ever bottle of breastmilk, sterilised the pump and packed it away in the loft. My milk supply very quickly dwindled to nothing rather as if my body had never really got into the whole “producing-milk” thing anyway and was really quite relieved to stop.

Actually, though for a while I was apprehensive about stopping, when I finally did the only thing I felt was relief. I had almost stopped several times in the last few months but, at the last moment, each time I decided just to persevere another week or two. Finally, when Anna was about six months old, I stopped and haven’t regretted it. The time was right for me and her to move on to other things.

Some people might say that stopping breastfeeding is selfish. After all, I was fed up of the discomfort of pumping, the effects on my body and the time it took to prepare the kit and sit there producing milk. I was doing it because, as I have said before on this blog, I wanted to give Anna the very best nutrition I could provide… and also because I wanted to be able to say that I had breastfed up to the magic six-month mark. If anything is selfish, it is precisely that: I wanted to be able to tick the breastfeeding box and I wanted to make sure that I had nothing to feel guilty about. It was just a good job that that happens to coincide with what is also best for the baby.

If I have another baby, I will breastfeed them too, but I will do so because I have chosen to rather than because I feel pushed into it by a variety of midwives, campaign groups and well-meaning friends and family. Just after I stopped pumping I caught myself trying to explain (unprompted) to a fellow mum why I was no longer breastfeeding. When I say unprompted, I mean totally unnecessary and really quite ridiculous when I write it down:

Me: Anna is getting grumpy: it must be time for her afternoon bottle.
Other mum: Oh right.
Me: Well yes, you see, I did used to breastfeed but…(you can either imagine the rest or just insert the contents of many of my previous posts!)

So I have a new resolution: I will never explain to anyone why I feed Anna the way I do again. I don’t need to because it my decision, made for the good of both of us. And also, I might start being known as the crazy woman at playgroup who doesn’t stop talking about her breastpump.

Breastfeeding, consider yourself well and truly put to bed.

(As for what I will write about on here, watch this space!)

Why Labour Was Harder For My Husband

Last week I wrote about my own experience of birth and why I wanted to write my own story. If you missed it, you’ll probably want to read that post first.

Here in the “mummy blogging” world, dads are often forgotten, and sometimes we assume that they have an easier time that us mums. My husband is not one to complain and he would always say that I have it harder than he does, but in some ways the birth of our daughter was actually harder on him than it was in me. Not physically perhaps, but emotionally.

Don’t take it from me – read his story here.

Ben had all of the anxiety, stress and fear of the unknown that I did but without the grounding effect of maternal hormones and the calming effect of the gas and air. They do say that is harder to watch someone you love in pain than it is to be in pain yourself. I know that Ben would have done anything to trade places with me.

It makes me sad that Ben still feels considerable regret about parts of his role in the labour because, as far as I’m concerned, he was amazing throughout.

My perfect and terrible experience of childbirth

Last week I wrote a post about the birth of my daughter, Anna, for a great site called Blogs for Babies. Anna is now six months old and it seemed the right time to write an account of those few days (yes, it took DAYS). Actually, part of me is surprised I wrote it at all. I’m not one to recount the details of my many health problems because, as my friends and family know, if I did I might never talk about anything else!

The birth was long, induced and assisted, but it culminated in a healthy and beautiful baby. I have read account of similar births where women feel that they have failed their baby and themselves by needing medical assistance and it really gets me down. How on earth have we come to a point where we have the means to make childbirth easier and safer, but when we need it, we feel as if we haven’t fulfilled our natural purpose?

In many ways, it reflects the way that parents are made to feel about many of the decisions involved in bringing up a child. Dummies, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, formula feeding… And probably many many more that I am yet to discover!

After six months, I am no less of a mother to Anna because I needed a forceps delivery, or because I couldn’t breastfeed her directly, or because I still can’t get her to sleep in her cot (but more of that another time).

You can read more about Anna’s birth here. Comments very welcome as always!

4 Things I Wish I Had Known About Breastfeeding

I did a lot of preparation for the arrival of my daughter. I read the books, went to classes, scoured the internet to find out what my baby was doing during each day of the pregnancy… you know, all the normal stuff. Nothing could have prepared me for the crippling sleep deprivation or the alarming increase in laundry, but what I really wasn’t prepared for (and could have been with the right information) was my experience in establishing breastfeeding.

The four things I wish I had known are not secrets and in fact with hindsight some of them seem just common sense, but like lots of other new mums, I had no reason not to take the images of maternal bonding and instant latch-on at face value.

1) I wish had known that everyone would have an opinion about how I feed my baby. Not just that, but an opinion about why she wasn’t latching on, why my milk hadn’t come yet and what I should be doing differently. I wouldn’t mind if it weren’t for the fact that 99% of those opinions were based on their own situation and not mine. I have to admit that the unrestrained opinion and judgement from all sides took me by surprise.

2) I’m not saying I would have done anything differently, but I wish I had been more informed about the effect that pain relief could have on my baby’s ability to breastfeed straight after birth and my milk supply. As I attempted to feed my baby, midwives told me that it might well not work because she was sleepy after the diamorphine I had during my 40 hour labour. An informed decision about pain relief would have made it easier to come to terms with the potential effects.

3) It sounds silly now but I think I really thought that if I followed the instructions and took help from the midwives, then everything would go swimmingly. Baby in a straight line, nose to nipple … baby opens their mouth and the rest is history. The books and classes dealt with some problems that might come up (engorgement, mastitis) but nothing as fundamental as what to do if the baby just never opens their mouth! The experts who I asked for help simply followed the same steps as I had religiously memorised from my breastfeeding leaflet and when they didn’t work they had no plan B. As a result I, being unprepared for this scenario, was also stumped.

4) I wish I had know that it would be hard, really really hard. The video we were shown at our antenatal class showed a woman give birth and then successfully start breastfeeding as if it were as simple as making a cup of tea. I’m not exaggerating – it was the breastfeeding equivalent of those wartime propaganda campaigns. I was about to give birth to my first baby, I’d had a healthy pregnancy and I just wanted everything to go well, so why wouldn’t I believe it? It would be perfectly possible to give women realistic information whilst still telling them all of the benefits of breastfeeding, then they could cope more effectively if it doesn’t happen immediately and probably more would persevere.

I don’t blame the hospital staff, midwives, books or the internet for the fact that my baby could not take milk directly from me. Even if I had known all of the above, I don’t think she would have had more breastmilk than she has had via a breast pump. However, more knowledge would have allowed me to spend more time in those first few weeks enjoying my new baby, and less time worrying about why I wasn’t like the lady in the video.

Bottle-feeding: Is the Tide Turning?

Below is part of a post that I recently wrote for an American website about breastfeeding. It isn’t particularly pro-breastfeeding because, although I fully agree that ‘breast is best’ and have done what I can to give my baby breastmilk, I do not like some of the negative things associated with being a breastfeeding advocate. I agree that some good work is done, but unfortunately there is plenty of material – on the internet and otherwise – that attempts to make mums who cannot or choose not to breastfeed feel like failures.

In the last few weeks the tide has started to turn. The pro-breastfeeding views are still there, but more and more people are prepared to voice support for mothers regardless of their feeding choice. MP Jo Swinson’s comments about the right for mothers to choose prompted numerous open minded newspaper articles on the topic, and the blogging world has (perhaps coincidentally) seemed to follow suit. I’m not saying that the battle is over; merely that it is comforting to know that extreme views about bottle-feeding are not universal. The post below (and this blog in general) is my contribution to an argument that shouldn’t really exist at all, but sadly continues to rage.

Breastfeeding in Public: a view from across the pond

It might seem strange for me to want to write about breastfeeding in public. After all, I am an outsider when it comes to the whole idea. For reasons best known to my baby girl alone, I pump exclusively (she was never able to latch on) and there has never been an issue of ‘decency’ with giving a baby a bottle in public view. However, many of my fellow breastfeeders – those who do it conventionally – don’t have such an easy time when feeding out and about. If a mum cannot feel at ease providing her baby with the best food there is when and where it is needed, then surely something is wrong. And whatever is at fault, it certainly isn’t the breastfeeding!

I live in the U.K. where legislation was passed in 2010 to make it illegal to ask a woman to stop breastfeeding in a public place (actually it says you can’t “be treated unfavourably” but it often amounts to the same thing). Great! Problem solved? Not quite … passing a law isn’t the end of the road as far as being breastfeeding-friendly is concerned. It might stop people asking you to leave, but it doesn’t stop the looks, comments and generally being given the cold shoulder. The fact that some places put up signs saying that they welcome breastfeeding just goes to show that the overall consensus is not a happy one.

The feeling of being judged for doing your best for your baby is horrible, but very common, for new mums. If you formula feed, there are those who think you should be breastfeeding. If you breastfeed, (some) people think you should be doing so somewhere else. Whilst I might sit in a cafe worrying that others are condemning me for using a bottle, the breastfeeding mum on the other side of the room might well be experiencing something similar but for a totally different reason. It seems you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The problem is not the legislation, but neither is it the whole solution. Breastfeeding needs to be accepted as a natural and mutually beneficial way to feed. In the same way, mums who choose to use a bottle need to feel at ease with their decision too, as long as it was made with the right information and for the right reasons. I can’t think that there are many cafe owners who would be prepared to take on the mighty force of an army of united mums!