Remember that old chestnut from the playground? Well, it seems that sticks, stones, parenting forum posts and Twitter can all hurt – and often badly – in this age of the internet, the TWEETS, the LIKE, the SHARE, the COMMENT clicks.
I have been doing my job for over 20 years. I have a huge amount of experience and many hundreds of babies filed away in my heart (many of whom are now at university, secondary school or primary school). For the first few years of my job, the internet, thankfully, was not available to the majority. It started as a drip and turned into a raging torrent, and now only very few areas do not have access to it in some form.
Internet Forums for mothers flourish, and some of them are kind, well informed and supportive. However, new mothers, teetering through the early weeks of parenthood, often take to the interent for advice, for a little reassurance, wanting to be told that they are not alone in their sleep deprived state and that they are doing a great job. Expecting a kind nurturing arena to greet them, they start by tentatively posting a comment, waiting for gentle spirits to answer their cries for help, only to be met by a modern day equivalent of The Lorelei.
In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano’s theme in one of his most famous poems, Die Lorelei. It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks.
Mom’s “support” network? It is often more like being thrown to the Lorelei. It makes me reel when I read comments posted by mothers about other mothers. Critical, judgmental and crushing in their reponses – not one of them having a clue about what mental or physical condition the enquiring mother may be in, how close to postnatal depression or post -partum psychosis she may be, how many weeks or months she may have been without rest or how many hurdles she may already have jumped. They pour out their hatred, their poisonous remarks and their bigoted opinions without, for a single moment, considering how this might impact on the original poster.
I have little or no time for those who hide behind psydonyms on ranting parenting websites, only joining in the collective bullying when they see a juicy fight in sight. I post on one or two forums, always using my real name and with my contact details at the end should anyone have anything they’d like to ask me in person.
Playground bullies are cowards, but they are bullies with a face. Cyber bullies are bigger cowards, as they quivver with misplaced, anonymous indignation about someone else’s beliefs, smashing out hateful comments on their keyboards day and night, showering new mothers with judgment after judgment, accusation after accusation and blinkered opinion after blinkered opinion.
These people have never met; they don’t know the first thing about each other yet there they sit on their thrones, “Queen Mums” shall we say, wearing the Crown of Perfection whilst sitting at their computers, writing vile and hurtful comments about parenting choices made by others.
Did these same mothers not ever have a bad day? Did they not arrive home with their newborn feeling just a teeny bit overwhelmed at the responsibility they now bore, the epic journey on which they were about to embark? Did they not feel that they too needed to reach out to other mothers and fathers to be told, “It’s OK love. It’s tough being a parent, but you’ll adapt and learn and even if you need to ping the odd comment on here we will respond with love, kindness and support, don’t you worry.”
So – the next time you see a thread on a forum and you wince, why don’t you climb on board and post one comment, just ONE COMMENT, to say “You are amazing. You are a mum. And you know what? Your baby thinks you are the best mum in the universe and that’s all that matters. And if you live near me, why don’t I pop over for an hour or two, with a bag of sticky buns and you can put the kettle on?”
“Oh, and I don’t mind whether you have decaffinated coffee or herbal tea – or even a glass of bubbly!”
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
I can recite the whole book, well almost, word for word, and the pictures still make me feel a calm and a peace I cannot describe.
Over the next few days, hundreds of families will be hunkering down for the Christmas break. For many it will be a scaled up version of Whacky Races, driving around the country with the car groaning under the weight of gifts to give or gifts received, visiting friends and relatives, spending hours sitting in traffic only to be gleefully handed yet another mince pie or sausage roll on arrival at their destination – and having to muster up the rictus smile as you not-quite-so-gleefully polish it off before being ushered in to the twinkly grotto that was once their sitting room.
Love it or hate it – it’s here and it’s here to stay, and thank God for that. I love the smell of the real tree that I insist we buy, and cover at least 30 miles to identify as MY tree. My poor husband has to suffer this every year we spend at home for Christmas, driving me miles from pile to pile of miserable trees, wincing as I make the nice man undo the netting again, shaking it out as I prowl around it rather like a sergeant major inspecting his troops, and with an equally critical and dissatisfied face. “Nope, that’s not my tree”, I say and, after two or three further scrawny or deformed specimens stand shuddering in front of me, I will jump back into the car and onwards to the next unsuspecting victim until I end up with the tree that calls to me, and the tree that ultimately is just the right one for this year. Some people visit relatives, I visit trees! I love it.
But more than this, I love the memories that my parents left me of all our Christmas Pasts. I remember hand-bell ringers coming to our home in Somerset when I was barely a toddler; I remember carollers coming to the door to sing their little socks off in the infamous snowfall of 1962-63, when we were snowed in for days and the whole of the Mendips were covered with snow so deep that you couldn’t tell field from hedge, nor hedge from road. I remember the 12ft snowman I built with my father on the lawn. I remember Jack Frost on the inside of my bedroom windows the smell of the long, slow smoulder coming from peat slabs in the huge fireplaces in the dining and sitting rooms.
I spent my first few baby/toddler years in Somerset but I grew up in Cornwall and we were lucky enough to have hundreds of huge pine trees on our land. We were able to organise the annual ascent to lop off a suitable candidate year on year, dragging it homewards for the laying out of the (inevitable) non-functioning tree lights and the excitement of dragging the huge metal trunk, bursting at the seams with three generations’ worth of fragile and whisper-thin baubles, bells, icicles and figurines all made of glass. My mother would put Kings College Cambridge Choir on on the Radio in the kitchen and ban us from coming in for at least four hours, leaving my gently simmering father to keep us entertained with the dressing of the tree whilst she created a work of art with royal icing peaks, minature trees, skiers, snowmen and other such characters on a huge square Christmas cake she had made earlier in the year; we were never allowed to see it ’til Christmas Day.
Away in a Manger, O! Come All Ye Faithful, O! Little Town of Bethlehem … “oh why won’t these frikin’ light WORK!”, mumbles my father as we giggle and run around him, covered in wreathes of tinsel.
Several hours later and well into his 3rd exasperated G&T of the evening, the switch is thrown and the lights leap into a rainbow of light, up and up and up through the branches reaching all the way up the 15 foot stairwell. A resounding round of applause from my mother, cheers of delight from myself and my two brothers and a sigh of relief from my father as he heads off to the sitting room, his mission completed.
Box after box of trinkets are laid out on the dining table as we scrabble to find our personal favourites and start gently placing them on the eagerly awaiting and rather needly branches.
The tree almost completed (and almost certainly going to be tidied up once we have gone to bed) Mum brings through home made sausage rolls, the first of many, which we hoover up between bouts of artistic flare. A low humming and harmonious sound resonates through from the large front door. “Once in Royal David’s City ….”. We run in our slippered feet and throw open the door to find our lovely Cornish Carollers lined up and giving it their all. We invite them all in and give everyone a glass of mulled wine or a beer, some sausage rolls, mince pies or a mini Cornish Pasty and they sing and sing and sing. Carols at the beginning, Cornish pub songs towards the end of the evening and the end of the wine! As a tip-of-the cap to my elderly grandmother, they’d always sing “I love the White Rose in its Splendor”, and for me “Little Eyes, I Love You”, and I would blush and hide behind my mother.
At 9pm they would weave their way back up the drive, singing into the trees until we could hear them no more. We went scampering eagerly into the sitting room. Installed by a roaring log fire, looking sweet (doubtless!) in our little PJs and dressing gowns, we are seated in a little row with pen and paper to write our letters to Father Christmas. After penning a pack of lies about how good we have been all year and the gentle reasoning by my mother that Father Christmas probably won’t be able to fit a real white horse down the chimney, nor a real flying saucer for my little brother, nor a James Bond Aston Martin for my older brother, the letters are folded and one by one popped into the flames, wathing the letters fly up the chimney in flakes to be collected at the top by the Cornish Elves. My father wore a special red waistcoat and (don’t ask me why!) a red fez complete with a tassle for this particular ceremony.
We snuggle down in one or other of our beds, red faced and excited about the morning to come. My mother slides in next to us and out comes the book.
In a low and lilting voice that I will hear in my heart every Christmas Eve for the rest of my life, she began:
“T’was the Night Before Christmas, when all through the house”…
So, for all of you mums and dads out there who are just starting out your lives as parents; don’t underestimate how much of your Christmas tradtion will go into that nestled head on Christmas Eve. That heavy breather who paddles through to your room at 4am tomorrow morning, again at 5am and 6am until you are dragged from your slumber and downstairs to the excitement of the stocking, that little stage-left whisper into your dreams, “ARE YOU AWAKE? MUMMMEEEEE?”, is a very excited little person indeed – and you are the memory makers!
So, here is the book – and I can hear my mother saying this as she kissed me goodnight every Christmas Eve until her last Christmas.
The Christmas when she handed the book over to me.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all few like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night
Hello Babble Readers: This lovely review was sent to me prior to a father wanting to post it on various mummy websites. I asked if I could share it on my own website. He said he’d be delighted if I did:
“Let me start by saying this – I don’t regularly write posts (this is my first) and I’ve not been asked or paid to write this post. It will seem that way…but it’s not. Hattie isn’t a family member, and nor is she a friend. She is however, someone who I’m now very fond of – you get that way when lovely people make miraculous things happen.
We first met Hattie nearly two years ago. We were recommended her by Kathryn Mewes (the three day nanny) as we were looking for someone to help get our 10 week old son to sleep. We couldn’t put him down without him crying. We’d not had a problem with our daughter when she was a baby, but it was a different story for our 2nd and we admitted we needed the help. Having him sleep in our arms was nice – but tiring and limiting.
So Hattie arrived. We were dubious about whether she could make a difference in the 5 hours we had booked her for. I mean – how could she? We’d tried everything.
Magic dust. That’s the answer. I’m convinced. I mean, Hattie did talk to us about our son’s daily routine, and she did give my wife some top tips to bear in mind when breastfeeding him. She also helped us to spot signs when he was getting tired so we knew when he should be put in his cot. She gave us a huge jolt of confidence too – that we were doing the right things and that our experience was quite common etc. Then, at some stage, without us seeing, she must have sprinkled a load of magic dust on our son’s head and for the first time he slept on his own, in his cot. That night, after she had left, we gingerly followed the same routine. The result? He slept….so long we had to wake him for his next feed. We had the whole evening to ourselves to cook, chat and eat.
From that day, he has been a brilliant sleeper. No trouble. No fuss. No tears. Just an absolute delight. For the last two years. Genuinely, an incredible result.
So it was an obvious decision to ask Hattie to come back when our 3rd child was 10 weeks old.
The result? The same. Well – nearly. Baby number 3 is a bit more fussy and less chilled than our second. So he needed a couple more days to get used to the routine but he quickly picked it up and now sleeps well during the day and at night.
Why did I bother writing this post? Well I know how much I debated whether we could afford to pay for Hattie and whether she would really make a difference. So I know what other parents will be thinking.
My experience of using her twice? Do it. Book her up. You will not regret it. She is very experienced and knowledgeable, and she gets results. Not only that, she is a genuinely lovely person. (She also does as amazing impression of crying babies!).
The benefit we have from three children sleeping from 7pm far far far outweighs Hattie’s costs. It is the best decision a tired parent can make! I would happily chat to anyone should they wish to get in touch.”
C.E.O. & Founder of Lifetile.com
Once a Wish, Twice a Kiss, Three you’ll never grow old,
Four for a letter, Five something better and Six you’ll never grow old!
It’s definitely winter now. I brushed my teeth last night and the rinse water from the tap made me wince it was so cold; at the weekend my husband, smitten with the same bug I had last week but (natch) 10x worse than mine, weakly requested a Green & Blacks Hot Chocolate, as clearly that was the only thing that would save him, as he huddled on the sofa in front of a roaring fire; I had a strange urge to start making jams, chutneys and temptingly dark, gravy laden casseroles. Yes, it’s definitely November and double definitely the onset of winter!
Now, much as I love kicking my way through the last piles of autumn leaves, smelling the vestiges of cordite from the November fireworks drifting away on the damp air, I do dread the arrival of the latest feast of bugs, viruses and infections with my little charges.
As we snuggle down into that lull between Halloween/Guy Fawkes Night & the first ghastly rendition of Noddy Holder shouting Merry CHRISTMAAAAAAS from the doorway of every high street shop, our tube trains, buses and shop door handles are generously transporting a veritable smorgasbord of nasties to pass backwards and forwards within the populus of London over the coming weeks.
In my experience, a baby with a cold can be one of two things: completely “unbovvered” yet streaming steadily, rather like a chocolate fountain at a wedding reception, or completely without external drainage symptoms yet hot, miserable, inconsolable and very, very “bovvered” indeed.
It is distressing for a new mother to watch her little, unsullied new arrival rallying against their first invasion of the dreaded winter cold virus, but it is worth remembering that each cold, each interloper to their systems, will help to strengthen their immunity for next time round.
Very young babies, of course, cannot be treated with the vast array of cold remedies that the drugs companies relentlessly peddle to gullible adults, but they will have an army of anti-bodies in place both from their time in the womb and possibly further enhanced if you were able to breast feed for any amount of time. Remember, our bodies are amazing and have taken millions and millions of years to evolve into the fascinating and complex beings that we have become, but babies under 3 months of age need to be checked when they are poorly, so a quick visit to the GP is a good idea and will help to reassure you that, apart from being snotty and grizzly, all is well.
Babies cannot blow their noses or sniff, so they resort to frequent (and usually very generously shared) sneezing bouts. As messy as this becomes, it is their only way of getting shot of the gunk. If their are particularly bunged up and you can visibly see a bit of a dried up blockage (just as well I’ve eaten before going into this much detail!), you can use a nasal aspirator to suck out any obstruction which may help your baby breathe more easily.
A properly supervised and safe steamer in the baby’s bedroom, a nice warm bath in a steamy bathroom at bedtime and keeping them away from drafts will all help to keep the worst of the symptoms at bay.
Saline drops can help to clear the way if bunged up and a dab of Vaseline under their noses if they are streaming will help to avoid that button of a nose getting sore with the constant wiping.
Avoid using the heavily scented vapours such as Vicks, Karvol or Olbas Oil until your little ones are over 3 months of age.
No-one knows your baby better than you, so if you feel that, apart from a very icky runny nose, he is really not quite himself, take him to the GP to confirm that it is just a common cold.
Do not buy over the counter medication without first consulting your GP and, if you are breast feeding, make sure you are having plenty of fresh fruit and veg in your own diet to further boost his recovery.
Give feeds as often as they need it if they are struggling and give them lots of love and cuddles until they are bundles of health again. Not unlike the way I handle my husband really, but I guess you get to drink the Green & Blacks Hot Chocolate yourselves!
Now, I am not an expert in PND but I have helped many cleints who have experienced it. Luckily, a combination of my knowing enough about the signs and having an amazing support network of incredible women in my life, these mums were able to get the help and treatment they needed. Many mothers out there have not, and they have struggled or are indeed still struggling with postnatal depression in some form; some of these are new mums, some will have been wading through treacle for many months, unaware that they are ill, feeling too ashamed to admit that they are drowning in misery, that they don’t feel over the moon at being a mother, that they cannot bond or feel any love towards their new baby.
Having a baby is a tremendous change, followed by months/years filled with challenges, testing times and huge responsibilities. In my role as a postnatal coach, I offer all new mothers a service which offers mothers and their partners the time and space to adapt to those changes by offering as much guidance, encouragement and help at home as their budget allows.
Over the past few years, I have been gently gathering a lovely network of ladies around a lunch table every few weeks. We are all self-employed, we are all passionate about what we do and we are all connected in one way or another to the world of babies.
This Babble is to introduce you to Elaine Hanzak, one of my Ladies Wot Lunch gang.
On 26th November 2013, I arranged to meet up with Elaine on one of her many visits to London where she was due to meet with the Royal College of Midwives about pushing for better support for those suffering with Perinatal Illness.
With the same punchy sparkle that is sprinkled upon pocket rockets such as Kylie Minogue, Elaine arrived at a little cafe north of Oxford Street to have lunch with me. Petite, pretty and beaming from ear to ear she bounded over and gave me a welcoming hug. We sat down and chatted for well over an hour about her life, her challenges and her humbling experience of recoveries from both puerperal psychosis (Postnatal depression at its most terrifying) and the sudden death of her partner not long before. Sadly, her appointment came around all too quickly and she was gone before I had had time to draw breath. Like all good speakers, she left me wanting more, so I quickly got in touch again and invited her to join my burgeoning little lunch group. I am honoured and delighted that she now puts in a regular appearance when she is in London at one of her many demanding events, getting to know the rest of the group and bewitching us with her stories.
Elaine is now an inspirational speaker on overcoming loss and it has been wonderful getting to know her, hearing her tales which swing me from tears to side splitting laughter in the course of one lunch time. She still leave me wanting more, more, more!
Elaine advises and speaks to audiences who are looking for ways to improve their lives; to health professionals, mothers and family support groups plus at corporate events. Elaine delivers keynote presentations on overcoming loss, postnatal illness and mental health issues drawing from a raft of informative case studies, personal experiences and anecdotal information passed on to her via this website and her public speaking engagements.
She is the author of two books.
Eyes without Sparkle – a journey through postnatal illness’ (Radcliffe 2005) describes the authors development of and recovery from puerperal psychosis, the most severe form of postnatal depression. In theory she ‘had it all’ – strong marriage, lovely home, supportive family, good teaching career – so why did pregnancy result in her becoming a self-harming psychiatric patient?
The story takes us through her formative years to show how her character and expectations developed. A difficult pregnancy, traumatic birth and several extremely stressful events culminated with Elaine’s breakdown. In a very honest and moving account we can see how she looses her grasp on reality and daily living as the psychosis sets in and the affect it has on those around her.
We are given an insight into life in a psychiatric ward and the treatments used. We experience the effects of good and undesirable actions of staff which have considerable impact upon her. We are supporting her all the way back to her slow but ultimate recovery.
General comments about the book are that it is not just about postnatal depression but anyone who is a mother, a carer, a health professional or anyone who has been at the end of their tether, male or female. The underlying aim of the book is one of hope and the belief that it is possible to suffer from a mental health problem but make a full recovery.
The second book, which she has just seen launched in September:
Another Twinkle in the Eye: Contemplating Another Pregnancy After Perinatal Mental Illness (CRC Press, September 2015)
Every year 35,000 women in the UK suffer from postnatal depression. It follows that at some point further on they are likely to ask the question ‘Do I/ we want another baby?’. This guide will support parents and professionals in that decision making process, and in planning for another pregnancy and the postnatal period if the decision is yes. It will also consider the implications of deciding not to have another child.
This supportive guide for parents and professionals considering a further pregnancy following perinatal mental illness includes ‘real stories’ from people who have made these decisions, with practical advice and examples of good practice from experienced healthcare professionals
Both books are available to order on line and you can find out more about Elaine and the amazing trail she is blazing for mums at her website:
I recently had the privelege of working with Kathryn Mewes, The Three Day Nanny. I have known Kathryn for a number of years both professionally and as a friend, so I was delighted when she announced earlier this year that she was expecting a baby and flattered when, early on in the pregnancy, she asked me to help her settle into her new role as a mum and guide her through those first bumpy weeks.
I have to say, it was a little daunting for me. Kathryn is well known for her Three Day Nanny Book and TV series on Channel 4, one series which has just finished its run and an earlier one aired some two years ago. I wondered whether working with someone who is a personal friend would be a wise thing on which to embark!
Whilst I am very confident in what I do and have vast experience of working with tinies in and around London, I wondered how it was going to pan out – telling the Three Day Nanny what to do and trying to get her to let go of the control for a few weeks , whilst helping her get to grips with the unpredictable and completely “out of control” feeling that a new baby hurls at many new parents.
Kathryn, very sensibly, had decided to have her own lovely mum move in with her immediately after the birth. I always feel that this is a very special time for mother and daughter to spend together; precious moments that never come around again. A time too short but definitely a period where many new mothers feel slightly shell shocked, often sore and exhausted and certainly not wanting their home frequented by well meaning friends, eager to meet the new arrival. It is a transitional stage where a new mum is catapulted into her role with no training, no experience and not knowing what to expect. At least having her own mum by her side, Kathryn was able to recover, rest and allow herself to be cared for during her recovery from, what turned out to be, a very difficult and prolonged birth experience.
I joined Kathryn at her home after a couple of weeks and met my new charge. Little Harriet – a twinkly eyed, petite and gorgeous little girl peeped out from her cot to greet me.
Kathryn was interviewed by The Sun, in the early weeks, for another published article and also twice on Breakfast TV – once just before Harriet was born and again with Harriet as the star of the show. On both occasions, Kathryn was very open and honest about her experiences. This is often not the case and many mums feel they must gloss over their birthing experience or their first few weeks as a parent. If their birthing experience was bad, if they did not bond immediately with their new baby, if they felt breast feeding should be as easy as falling off a log , they frequently feel huge waves of guilt, immense pressure to “succeed” in everything they do and this can lead to a loss of confidence, self doubt and feelings of failing their babies.
In my role, I am not there just to help mothers implement routines, teach good sleep habits or take over with a new babe, but to boost that confidence, get them back on the log and then coax, cajole, giggle, reassure and coach that mum through the maze of conflicting advice, the exhaustion, the sleep deprivation, the loss of control and, once she is able to “ride without stabilisers”, I give her a final push and watch her peddle like mad.
Little by little, Kathryn realised that the wonderful advice that she gives to her clients, her sensible and creative ways of teaching parents how to cope with unruly kids, how to implement routine, structure and control were hard to put in place with a two week old baby. She often talked, before the birth, of having “a vision” of how things were going to be. We did laugh about her visions – we had to! Visions of feeding Harriet at a certain time every morning, then her vision of a leisurely shower whilst her baby sleeps soundly in her cot, putting on her make-up, drying her hair, pulling on her wellies, popping Harriet in the buggy before striding out with her lovely dog, Bertie, for a breath of fresh air, returning via Waitrose with something healthy for lunch and in perfect time for Harriet’s next feed. Some days we nailed it, others were spent pacing around with a very unsettled and furious bundle who clearly was going be the Vision Destroyer that day!
I tried my best to persuade her to take thing easy, but for those who know Kathryn either in person or from the TV, I am sure you can believe that this was like trying to nail jelly to a tree. By her own admission, she wanted to “prove me wrong” – she wanted to do it all, and do it all perfectly. After one further week of aiming for her Superwoman status, she hit a wall. Overwhelmed at the endless hours spent rooted in her feeding chair, unable to answer emails, deal with enquiries on the phone, catch up with her admin, prepare dinner, or even walk the dog she realised that it was time to stop pulling at the proverbial leash and come to heel! Bertie was systematically disembowling every soft toy in his basket by way of protest at the lack of walkies and driving both Kathryn and I potty with his over-exuberance. He was harder work than Harriet in those few weeks!
Over time, she relaxed, as much as The Three Day Nanny ever can, into the predictable unpredictability of her days. She embraced the fact that not every day will be the same, nor will every day be a bad day. She accepted that babies, no matter how much Hattie Time they have, are often tricky, grumpy, moody and demanding and dealing with that is part of being a parent and by relinquishing that need for complete control was, for the time being, a much more realistic way of dealing with her days.
I am returning to Kathryn later this week to review Harriet’s routine, see how things are going in general and catch up with their progress.
Kathryn’s birth experience resulted in her finding it hard to bond with Harriet in the early stages, but bond she did and now, looking at them together, she cannot imagine her life without Harriet in it. Come to think of it, nor can I!
Kathryn was featured in a double page spread in last Saturday’s Telegraph.
You can read the full article here:
Recently, whilst my husband was out for the evening smashing a little ball around a squash court, I snuggled down in front of my log fire for a bit of what might be described as a “busman’s holiday” evening. For months I have had a documentary saved on my Watchlist called, simply, “Babies”. My husband being about as interested in this as he would be with catch-ups of Downton Abbey, I decided to wait until he was out for a suitable amount of time so that I could enjoy it without the inevitable verbal interjections from someone who would rather be watching Conan the Barbarian or the Star Trek boxed set!
Four babies named Hattie (good choice!), Bayer, Mari & Ponijao are filmed from birth until they are a year old. They grow up in very different environments, namely San Francisco, Mongolia, Tokyo and Namibia.
It was a fascinating insight into how, despite all the perceived Health & Safety issues which most parents spend every waking moment fretting about, each of these babies grow, roll, crawl, learn, topple, bump, cry, explore, laugh and … eventually … stand on their own two feet. Literally!
Concerns about swaddling (should we or shouldn’t we?) hit the hysterical forums on a regular basis in the UK, yet in Mongolia (where, let’s face it, it is pretty chilly) it is commonplace. Sophie the giraffe, reputedly the best-selling teething toy of all time, is replace in Namibia by a discarded and meatless sun-baked bone which is picked up from the ground and chomped on, whilst another baby lies on a colourful throw on a bed as the family cockerel wanders past, inches from the transfixed baby’s face. Feathers are fluffed, clucks are clucked and the baby is fascinated, not scared. Another wanders around outside the Yurt without a stitch on, sitting and patting two bored, dozing goats before clambering over them to his next adventure.
The documentary goes on to show a bigger brother (possibly 2.5-3 years old) antagonising his little baby brother by repeatedly flapping a cloth across his face resulting in short but heartfelt objections from the baby. The tormentors are not reprimanded constantly and the baby seems to make his feelings understood by having a shout!
The film moves gently and fluidly through the evolution of each child, ending in the crescendo that is equally the pride and the sorrow of every parent I know … baby’s first steps. Pride in the achievement: the leap, the effort that it has taken to learn; the sorrow as they recognise that their little one, once attached by their earth chains to the floor until this momentous point, is now growing up and off to discover their new world.
I found it immensely moving and reassuring. Beautifully and simply it shows that, despite all the gizmos and gadgets of the modern world, for all the fussing and analysing, for all the “by XX weeks/months your baby should be doing” hype, they all get there in the end. There is no rush, no schedule, no expectation that one baby will walk before the other.
In my job, I am often lucky enough to revisit some of the babies (and their lovely mums) months or even years after I have left them. I keep in touch with my ex-clients through a little on-line group so I get the news flashes about the first smiles, first roll-overs, first crawls and first words. I recently worked with twins for 7 months (from 4 weeks of age). One of them rolled over for the first time at 6 months – yet the baby bibles state that your baby should do this at 3 months. The other twin tried it at 6 months but didn’t like being on his tummy, so resigned from that activity until he was nearer 8 months. They both started crawling at about 10 months (often only backwards!) and were up on their feet just after their first birthday.
So – the moral of this babble is: please don’t be competitive with your babies. They will all learn in their own sweet way and will be running you ragged before you can say “Don’t press that button!”
From the minute they are born, babies are constantly growing and developing in front of your eyes. Many of their developmental leaps take place in fairly predictable chunks and you may find that these changes happen without your being aware of them.
For the first few weeks, first time parents are frequently lost in a new and confusing fog of the unfamiliar lack of sleep, endless advice and opinions from others and hugely variable “factoids” from questionable websites. However, babies experience growth spurts at approximately 3 weekly intervals and during the first fraught weeks those little developments can be missed if you blink.
The first growth spurt happens at around 3 weeks from the baby’s due date. The 2nd is at around 6 weeks, then 9 weeks, then 12 weeks and so on. When your baby seems to be feeding and sleeping (or shouting) on a day-to-day basis, it can be hard to recognise exactly what is going on on the inside, so this little babble might help you better understand the changes that your little one is experiencing.
Typically, a breast-fed newborn will feed approximately every 3-4 hours and settle well to sleep with a nice full tummy shortly afterwards. Just as you feel you are seeing a pattern in the chaos, your baby will throw you a curve ball and begin demanding food as frequently as every 1-2 hours. By feeding more frequently the actual growth spurt (which usually comes a few days after this change in feeding behaviour) will have all the fuel it needs. Once his demand is met, he will then get on with the important job of developing his next stage, be that perception, muscular or digestive development.
During these growth spurts, your baby may rapidly gain weight or lengthen in a very short time. Coupled with this, physiological changes occur in your baby’s brain which may result in him being unusually fussy, sleepy, short-tempered or clingy. You may find that the baby-grow that seemed to swamp him just last week is now stretched to capacity with his little toes curling into the feet of the outfit and you have to stretch vests to get the poppers in the crotch to meet. Thighs start to chub up, the prominent belly button is now receding as that little tum fattens up around it and the orange-shaped face is now lengthening and the back of his head is starting to change shape to accommodate the increase in the size of his clever little brain.
Week 3+: Those little eyes which may have looked rather swollen (think Rocky!) from birth begin to blink open more often, looking through a fuzzy veil at the world around him. His tolerance for a little kick-about on his play mat is increased to more than a few minutes. This is a good moment to start introducing a little tummy-time, using favourite toys or a mirror strategically placed to keep his attention.
Week 6+: Your baby will start to “map” your face, gazing intently at your features and starting to mimic your facial expressions. He may stare at simple patterns around him so place some black and white patterned books next to him on his play mat, introduce more brightly coloured toys and walk around the house with him showing him pictures on the wall. Any day now you should start to get your first “true smiles”.
Week 9+: Nappy/clothes changing time become much more challenging now. They start to twist and reach out for items on the changing mat (rather like dressing an octopus!), their hand/eye co-ordination starts maturing and object recognition comes on in leaps and bounds. That mobile over the cot can now be wound up and he will spend time kicking happily about underneath it as it bobs and sails over his little head. Giggles start to come more frequently and the long sleepless nights suddenly all seem worth it!
Your Tiny Small is growing up fast – you’ll have to run to keep up with him before you know it!
Autumn has well and truly arrived and the opportunities for lolling around on a blanket in the park or enjoying a cappuccino beside the Thames are becoming a distant memory. With winter around the corner, the time spent outdoors with a newbie becomes less appealing and cabin fever looms.
Many of my first-time mums ask me about how and when to start getting out to some fun classes to entertain their new babies. My answer is usually it’s better to wait until baby is about 6 weeks old or more. Whilst a newborn baby will enjoy interacting with you for short periods at home, they may find a room full of new faces/music rather overwhelming until they are more able to cope.
I am acutely aware that it can seem frustrating to be at home for weeks with a new baby, but you can provide your own entertainment by taking them for a nice walk in the buggy with the hood down during their awake time and create your own gentle colourful games at home for a while.
Babies love to look around at the lovely autumnal colours of the trees above them, the swaying branches on a blustery day or simply the bright colours of items on the shelves in toy shops or department stores. At home, you can tie a couple of brightly coloured ribbons on a length of bamboo, or make some glittery pom-poms (fancy dress shops are great for this kind of thing) and leap around the room like an Olympic Event Cheerleader as baby gives you marks out of ten. Strictly Come Dancing, eat your heart out! Use empty containers and fill them with objects (like those pictured above) such as little bells, pom-poms, pasta and buttons and show them to your baby as they sit in their bouncy chair or snuggle up beside them on the bed.
Once your babies reaches 6 weeks, they will be more receptive to new sensations, sights and smells. They will have thundered through their 2nd growth spurt and over the next week or two you may see they are starting to “map” your face when gazing at you, their inquisitive little eyes flicking from your eyebrows to your nose, your mouth to your eyes and back again. If you start to pull faces, poke out your tongue or make cooing noises, you may start to notice your baby trying to copy you. It is an enchanting time, and the very beginnings of a basic form of communication.
As newborn babies cannot really cope with being awake and happy for more than about 1.5-2 hours at a stretch, it can seem daunting to try to calculate how to get to a class on time. This is partly why I encourage mums to wait a while until the baby can feed well in a shorter time and cope with staying awake for 30-45 minutes at a stretch.
Once your babies are more comfortable in their own surroundings and showing a regular interest in patterns, light & shade, music and interaction with you – then is the time to seek out the baby-friendly activities in your area.
You’d better brush up on the words of “Wheels on the Bus”, “If you’re happy and you know it” and the “Hello Song” before you head out though!
Newborns: After almost 20 years with them, I still continue to be amazed at what perfect little human beings they are. I still love cleaning those teeny tiny feet with miniature curly cashew-nut toes and seeing their little eyelashes grow.
I recently read another fascinating fact:
“A baby has around 10,000 taste buds, far more than adults. They are not just on the tongue but also on the sides, back, and roof of the mouth. Eventually these extra taste buds disappear.”
When I talk to first time mums about the importance of healthy nutrition during the weeks following the birth, they often ask about what foods they should or should not eat. Explaining that breast-fed babies get trace elements of everything the mother eats helps to emphasise how essential it is to have a varied diet. Your breast-fed babies eat what you eat!
A few months ago, on the advice of our osteopaths at Clapham Osteopathic Practice, my husband and I started making our own Green Smoothies. We bought ourselves a well written book to read up on the nutritional advice and scientific facts about green smoothie making. Then we took out our Kitchen-Aid liquidiser and stood, rather nervously, looking at the bags of glowingly healthy and 100% organic fruit and veg we had decided to use. Fresh organic spinach, chard, bananas, papaya, mango and a bag of Spirulina powder. With trepidation, we peeled and seeded the items that needed it and then put great fist-fulls of the greens into the blender, added a good dollop of Coconut Water and WHIZZZZZZ!
The resulting mug full of green goop looked less than appetising, but we nervously took a gulp each. It was superb. Had we been blindfolded for this taste test, we probably would have assumed it was a simply fruit smoothie with a slightly fresher edge to it.
We are now hooked. For the past few weeks we have opted to have a box of organic fruit & veg delivered from Riverford Farm (www.riverford.co.uk) so that we never quite know what we will get, we can add to our order as the mood takes us and we get the variation needed in the green element. I have begun encouraging my mums to try making their own smoothies at home.
It always makes me laugh when I see their faces the first time I present one for them to try – like a child confronting a plate full of cauliflower and broccoli for supper! However, a couple of sips later and I have have a new convert. All those vitamins and minerals in one glass – and raw – nicely blended with the sweet naughtiness of fresh fruits.
Coming to the end of a 4 week postnatal package with a lovely mum, I opened her fridge to see a large green smoothie in a glass – ready for action! I had introduced this mum to this idea a couple of weeks ago and now, without any further encouragement from me, she is a convert.
You don’t have to be breast feeding to benefit either! The drinks will help boost your flagging energy levels and help you cope with the on-going broken sleep over weeks and months. Your immune system will get a massive boost and your insides will thank you for reaching for the glass rather than that next chocolate muffin or packet of sugar soaked biscuits.
The book we bought was by Victoria Boutenko and is called Green for Life. Whilst I am not quite going to her extremes of a raw diet lifestyle (I love my own cooking far too much for that!), I am really feeling better for the daily injection of pure and natural goodness in a glass.
Better than a ‘flu’ jab!