Having a baby changes everything, including your most important relationships. Such a seismic event will make many of those relationships stronger, and sometimes, weaker. Yes, becoming a mum can be a really lonely, isolating time but if you have a supportive, loving tribe around you, you will flourish.
Being a mother is so overwhelming. Other mums understand the daily struggle. You don’t have to put on a front. Your mum friends won’t judge you if you haven’t managed to shower that day, brush your hair, or your house is upside down. Your mum friends are the first people you’ll turn to with feverish questions about any strange spots on your baby’s skin, the non-stop wailing, weird coloured poop. It’s a massive comfort to know that your best friends have your back when you’re feeling crap.
This September, I’ve been championing Mummy Social, an app that supports and encourages mums to be brave and get social with other local mums. Sadly, maternal loneliness takes a lot of us by surprise and Mummy Social wants all mums to know they are not alone. It can do you and your little one(s) – or not so little one(s) the world of good to get outside into the daylight and meet other mums who are on the motherhood journey too. Coffee is the holy grail when you’re a sleep-deprived mum.
I’m very lucky to have close friends who are also amazing mums. It does feel like you’re on this incredible, crazy journey together. I recently had a cinema date with a close mummy friend, minus the cinema. We ended up chatting for hours over wine and it was brilliant fun. It’s so important to feel that connection with another human being and sharing motherhood makes it all the more special. It’s quite surreal to watch your mini-me playing with your good friend’s mini-me.
It might be the end of September but it is definitely not the end of getting social! Mums supporting mums make the journey of motherhood a happier, healthier, easier and less lonely one. Maternal loneliness is real, it is all too common and we need to keep talking about it and do our bit to help.
As author Douglas Pagels says: “A friend is one of the nicest things you can have and one of the nicest things you can be.” Amen to that.
Download the Mummy Social app and if it’s something you’d like to get involved with, drop them a DM!
I’m on the red-eye shift as I cradle my nine-week-old son with one arm as he sleepily gulps his warm milk, pausing at times to make appreciative sighs before hungrily going back for more. With his ravenous appetite sated (for at least two hours I hope), he melts back into my now aching arm, drifting off to a satisfying slumber. I gaze in a trance-like state at his pink, perfect face, happy that he’s content before realising that I need to burp him. I gently sit my squirming baby on my lap with his back as straight as he’ll allow and proceed to rub and pat until I hear the glorious sound of a burp. He grimaces and squeals, deeply irritated at not being able to allowed to remain asleep. But he’s totally reliant on me to help him with his bodily functions until he’s old enough to burp and fart for himself.
I wrote this almost a year to the day ago. It seems crazy, starting a blog when your baby is just nine-weeks-old and yet, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I spent most of my twenties and thirties aimless, wanting more but not doing more. It’s the definition of madness to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Life gets in the way, you think, you get a job that pays the bills but it’s soul-destroying. You’re terrified of change. I’ve always wanted to start a blog and a long time ago I did. I published my first blog, excited to put my voice out there. I’ve always loved writing and I knew I was good at it. I got a horrible message straight away. I have my suspicions who it was but it was enough to knock me off course. Why would anyone want to read about what I had to say? I had no self- belief, my self-esteem had been battered by jobs, by men. I kept getting the same results.
Nothing changes if nothing changes. It’s beautifully simple. Life is simple, it is us that makes it complicated. Losing my job earlier this year has been the best thing to ever happen me. Once I got over the initial terror of not having a monthly income, I quite liked having days to myself – especially as a first-time mum – and no, they’re not really days to yourself. Getting to grips with being a new parent is tough. Your life is flipped upside down. You are exhausted, thrilled, frustrated, hopeless, happy, sad. It’s utterly life-changing and you know your life has changed for the better. Becoming a mum has changed me, from my core. I don’t sweat the small stuff, I hate drama and negativity. I spend my days enjoying life, enjoying Sonny’s many expressions, his funny sounds, holding him tight, kissing his soft pink cheek (that smells so good). Yes, he is annoying too. My living room constantly looks like I’ve been ransacked. Sonny delights in emptying drawers, cupboards, the bins. He screams and cries and it’s so, so hard. But there are also moments when you think your heart will burst.
Blogging for me is therapy. It’s a chance to sit down when Sonny is in bed and write about how I’m feeling. It has also opened up my world so much. I’ve been so lucky to meet some incredible, energetic and positive people. I’ve met blogger, author of Mumboss and beautiful mamma of two boys, Vicki Psarias aka Honest Mum. I’ve worked with some amazing baby brands such as Baby & More, Babease, Beaux Baby Boutique, and Kate & Moon. I got to experience the new Center Parcs in Longford with my family. I’ve blogged about first aid, sleep training and lately, meditation and self-care. So many opportunities are still coming my way and it’s all thanks to my blog.
Becoming a mum is undoubtedly the best thing to ever happen me. It’s so fulfilling, shaping a new life. It’s so joyful, seeing your son collapse in giggles because of you. If you are still reading, I am so happy for your company and I hope you will continue to follow my journey as my baby becomes a little boy. Maybe I can even inspire you to start writing or to think outside the box that you have created. Life is short, why would you want to spend it pleasing people, or working for the cash machine? I’m so grateful and lucky that I’m where I’m at. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. No, life is not perfect, I am not perfect – I’m human after all. But, it’s pretty close.
If you had three minutes to talk about how you were going to look after yourself for the next few weeks, what would you say? Would you run over the three minutes or would you run out of things to say after 30 seconds – as I did? When it comes to showing kindness, we rarely offer it to ourselves. We should talk to ourselves like a best friend, because, you are your best friend.
There are three steps to self-compassion. The first is to acknowledge your suffering – it’s what unites us the most. The second is to know that you are not alone, it’s known as our ‘common humanity’. There are 8 billion people in the world and just 15 emotions – an incredible statistic, isn’t it? The third is to give kindness. It is, as enthusiastic teacher Bridgeen Rea-Kaya of Immeasurable Minds, Belfast says, “always the appropriate response”.
Self-compassion is the first step toward compassion for others.
As well as a range of yoga classes for all ages and levels, Namaste Yoga Centre offers mindfulness meditation and workshops like the one I attended. I wasn’t dressed for yoga, I had been stuffing my face at a bloggers buffet beforehand so was bursting out of my skinny jeans. I slipped off my ankle boots, picked up a yoga mat and sat cross-legged on the floor. This wasn’t the most comfortable position, and we were invited to get chairs by Bridgeen Rea-Kaya, who is the perfect advertisement for mindfulness. She glows and has a warm, bright smile that puts you at instant ease. To begin, everyone had to introduce themselves and give a reason for why they were attending. Many of the answers were similar to mine, with some quite new to meditation and others wanting to deepen their practice.
Kindness is always the appropriate response.
Next, we lay on our mats for a body scan. We were invited to use pillows or blankets – which I made a beeline for. The point of a body scan is for you to focus on different parts of your body and develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations and thus relieve tension. She told us to watch out for sensations such as tingling and tightness. I know I carry all of my tension around my neck and shoulders. A body scan trains you to ‘just be’ with pleasant and unpleasant sensations. I didn’t feel anything too out of the ordinary but it was really nice to lie back, listen to a soothing voice and not be disturbed by a screeching one-year-old who is having a face-off with the cat.
In between mindful breathing and a few activities, Bridgeen read poems, one by Mary Oliver called Grasshopper was particularly special. I love poetry and studied English at university. I wrote a poem when I was 15 which won an award. I’ve always been a thinker, not the academic type, but someone consumed by thoughts, largely negative. That is changing.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
The best thing for tension is moving about. You know the Taylor Swift song ‘Shake it Off’, well, it’s the perfect example of a mindfulness song. So, we all started, quite literally, shaking it off, although sadly not to the pop princess. Usually, I’d need a few glasses of wine before considering dancing, so I went for it, secretly hoping not to bump into anyone in the class ever again. The next thing I knew, we were running around the room giving each other high fives. It was a bit awkward and strange, I’ll admit, but it certainly got us all giggling, albeit nervous ones.
The final exercise was picking a partner and sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. We were instructed to tell the stranger next to us things we were going to do to look after ourselves for the next month. Three minutes is a long time. I rattled on about stuff like going for walks, meditating, having lunch with friends, doing yoga (a white lie), but I ran out of things to say. My female partner sat and listened, as she was instructed to. I felt my cheeks burn, I didn’t know what else to say. Still, she remained silent which unnerved me all the more. Eventually, sensing my awkwardness, she said that she wanted to give me as much time as possible to just talk about how I was going to look after myself. How little time we spend thinking about ourselves. When it was her turn, she spoke at ease about all the wonderful things she was going to do. My job was just to listen but I found myself biting my tongue when I felt compelled to interject with “oh, that sounds nice”, or “I’d love to do that”. The exercise taught me about the magic of listening, of making a person feel important, and of being, truly in the moment.
To be happy, we must practice gratitude. The brain has a built-in negativity bias that causes us to focus on bad things. This may have helped our ancestors avoid being eaten by a mammoth, but in this modern age, it isn’t helpful. We need to rewire our brains to focus on the positive. Yes, life is busy and stressful but, with mindful practice, you can change it. Of course you will feel fed up from time to time but the important thing is to respond with kindness. I’d absolutely recommend this workshop, it’s so important to love yourself – and shake it off.
Words are my currency so it’s not too often I’m stuck for them. However, I’m struggling to find the right adjectives to describe our three days spent at the newly opened Center Parcs in Longford Forest. We’ve made memories for life and it’s so special to share time as a family in such a magical place. Set in over 400 acres of willowy trees and lush landscapes, Center Parcs offers a wonderful woodland retreat. It has to be seen to be believed. As a permatired mum of a tenacious one-year-old, I’ve been daydreaming about our trip for ages. The danger with that, of course is that nothing can ever possibly measure up to your imagination but in this case, it did. Center Parcs is about a three-hour drive from Belfast, so makes the perfect stay-cay for families, couples and friends.
I was like a giddy kid at Christmas when I saw the Center Parcs sign on the way into the resort. We picked up our wristbands that double as a lock for your accommodation and lockers – what a brilliant idea as I am terrible for misplacing key cards. One of the most exciting things about going away – for me at least – is where you are staying. I love opening the door, running my hand over the crisp white bed linen, admiring the gleaming surfaces of the bathroom and enjoying an invigorating power shower. I was not disappointed, the decor is muted with a relaxing forest scene as a feature wall. We stayed in an Executive Lodge which had ample space for a family of three. There were two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, one with a bath and the other with a wet room. Our fluffy towels were beautifully rolled up on the bed which was a good size and passed the bounce test – that’s not just me, right? We had the most amazing view from our lovely, inviting lodge. There is nothing better than waking up to birdsong and forty shades of green. Sonny, who has taken a few tentative steps prefer crawling like a clockwork toy as his means of (rather effective) transport. He went about inspecting the lodge, stopping to vigorously tap various surfaces (it’s his thing), and he particularly enjoyed a luxurious bubble bath. The showers are amazing too and ladies, even the hairdryer works like a dream. There is even a vanity mirror with a shelf for makeup. I’d have been quite happy to spend the entire weekend in our lodge but I was also keen to experience the best of what Center Parcs had to offer and give Sonny the best time ever.
Everywhere in the resort is walking distance but you can hire bicycles with trailers for nippers so you can be where you want to be in a matter of minutes. Andrew and I had target archery booked so I could channel my inner Katniss Everdeen and Andrew, his inner Robin Hood. We dropped our little darling off in the amazing creche in the Sports Plaza. He immediately got distracted with a piano mat and didn’t even bother giving us a sideways glance as we wished him an emphatic goodbye. This was somewhat reassuring as we made our way to the Outdoor Activity Centre. I have never tried archery before but I fancied trying something new. We were given excellent instructions and it was time to try our hand at it. When you see archers in the movies, they make it look so effortless, it takes quite a lot of effort but it is very exhilarating when you release the arrow. I hit red on my first go, followed by the arrow missing the target completely. I soon got the hang of it and even managed to hit gold – not quite bullseye but I felt very accomplished. Meanwhile, my hubby, who has a competitive streak, did much better than me and even got a certificate for third place, which is going to take pride of place in his study. There are so many things to do, the difficulty is choosing what. You can try Laser Combat, Aerial Tree Trekking, and Stand-Up Paddle Board Tuition. For little ones, there is a Pirate and Princess Adventure, a Wizard Academy and a Chocolate Chef’s Academy – and so much more.
The weather was balmy too. I almost didn’t pack any sunscreen as the forecast was for heavy rain. The sun shone for the majority of our stay and even if I forgot anything, it wouldn’t matter as there is a brilliant ParcMarket in the village where you can buy groceries, baby essentials and mummy essentials, like wine and chocolate. There are great restaurants to cater for every taste too. I absolutely love that there are Ella’s Kitchen feeding stations in them – with free grub for hungry little infants and toddlers. We dined at Bella Italia which has a delicious array of food including thin and crispy pizzas, lasagne and risotto. It was so tasty and the waiting staff were so friendly. There is a play area for kiddies so you can eat your meal in relative peace. I got all dressed up as I rarely get the chance to anymore. So, I felt pretty damn good. My lovely bubble was burst when I glanced up from my menu and saw another mum wearing exactly the same dress. We studiously avoided each other’s gaze, even though we kept running into each other for the rest of the weekend. Thankfully, we weren’t twinning in The Pancake House the next morning. The pancakes, by the way, were absolutely unreal.
It is so difficult to condense our experience into a blog but I can’t not gush about the Aqua Sana spa. It is quite simply the best spa I have ever been too. Andrew, not one to dole out praise too often said it was “amazing”. Aqua Sana is inspired by the natural world and offers 21 hot, cold, herbal and meditative experiences across four zones: the Nordic Forest, Hot Springs, Volcanic Forest, and Treetop Nesting. Oh yea, and there are outdoor hot tubs, rain forest showers and reflexology foot spas. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a smiling lady who offered us a shot of Prosecco or orange juice. You can probably guess which one I chose. We were given luxurious robes and towels and we padded into this paradise of unparalleled relaxation. We bathed in the outside infinity pool and then enjoyed the views of the forest from the hot tub. I’d recommend the waterbeds. You could easily spend an entire day here, or life.
So, more fun stuff. The Subtropical Swimming Paradise is a jewel is Center Parc’s crown. It is Ireland’s largest water park and features an awesome family wave pool and rides for adrenaline junkies. I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to anything which could be deemed adventurous but recently, I’m developing an appetite for things I would not have previously considered. I knew I had to do something and wasn’t brave enough for the Tropical Cyclone – which Andrew tried and loved. I thought the Wild Water Rapids looked quite fun and something I could handle at a push. With Andrew on Sonny duty, I cautiously teetered over to the slide, the frothy waves waiting to engulf me. I ignored the ‘you can’t do this!’ voice, held my breath and pinched my nose, one down, I survived. About five to go. I saw the next slide. I can’t do it. An attendant saw my sorry plight. I really wanted to get out but I couldn’t. Meanwhile, youngsters a quarter of my age greeted me looking slightly bemused and threw themselves down the steep slide. I was half mortified, half terrified, looking like a stranded sea lion. The lovely attendant spoke to a lifeguard who told me I just had to go for it. I had to swallow my fears and swallow some water as it turns out. He offered to hold my hand, I reckoned that was way too pathetic, even for me. I went for it and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was even quite enjoyable. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere. Sonny, meanwhile, adored the water, splashing and kicking, so happy he made lots of high-pitched squeaks. Memories of that sound and his toothy grin will stay with me forever.
On Saturday night, we dined at Rajinda Pradesh. Sonny was pretty zonked from the day’s activities so while he slept in his buggy, our taste buds were treated to mouthwatering Asian cuisine. Some menu highlights are satay-style chicken wings and Malaysian beef rendang. The service was impeccable and the food was superb. We rounded off the night at Huck’s American Bar and Grill with a few gins for me and Guinness for him. Sunday morning dawned and it was time to pack up, or rather, chuck things into bags. I (over)cooked a fry-up in the spotless kitchen, feeling a bit bad for using the gleaming oven. We had a little time before home so we took a rowing boat out on the lake. Sonny was not a fan of his life-jacket, even though he looked utterly adorable in it. Despite Andrew’s protestations that he could row, we hugged the banks for about half the time we were allotted. Thankfully, we were towed out into the middle of the lake and soon we were gliding, Andrew doing all the work while I tried my best to keep Master Sonny calm. Back on dry land, Sonny had a well-earned nap while we had frothy lattes at The Coffee House overlooking the lake. It was nice to reflect on our incredible time, in between batting away wasps. Meanwhile, Sonny enjoyed eating jam directly from the jar. Before hitting the road, we bought Sonny a little memento of his visit – a dragon soft toy from Just Kids.
As we made our way back to our car, my heart hurt a little. I really didn’t want to leave this magical place. I didn’t want to return to reality. But, all good things must come to an end and we made our way back to Belfast. We made some amazing memories which are safely banked. There is nothing better than seeing your little one smile and he did that a lot at Center Parcs. As my hubby said, “We’ll be back.” I will certainly hold him to that. I highly recommend a trip to Center Parcs whether you are a family, couple or bunch of mates. It’s special – you’ll never want to leave.
I was lucky to have an uncomplicated pregnancy. I didn’t gain much weight despite binging on Fruit-tella and doughnuts. I had no morning sickness. My ankles didn’t swell and I didn’t feel uncomfortable until the last few weeks. My darling, lazy son Sonny didn’t come on his due date, preferring to extend his cozy stay for another week, while I waddled around our home looking like a hot mess, cleaning windows (so unlike me) and anxious to see his little pink face. I was booked in for an induction so I prayed for my waters to break, trying the usual things that are recommended, curry, herbal tea, and a little red wine. I waited for signs, had a false alarm, furiously scrolled on my phone, sighing loudly at unhelpful comments “you’ll know”. Heck, was that true. My contractions started in my lower back on Sunday evening. I was on all fours crying like a total wuss while my husband (unhelpfully) massaged my back like he was shown in antenatal classes. As my contractions got closer together I called the hospital, sobbing from the acute pain. That was nothing – mother nature had a lot more up her sleeve – was this some sort of karma for having an easy pregnancy? As a first-time mum, nothing can prepare you for what labour is going to be like, no matter how many hypnobirthing books you read. The pain was excruciating but, somehow, I sort of coped with gas and air. Sonny arrived in the birthing pool at 10.10am on Monday weighing 8lbs and 7 oz. I remember the sun streaming through the windows – Sonny was a fitting name. I had only minor tears thankfully and it wasn’t long before I everything returned to normal. I was lucky. Many, many women suffer complications and experience birth trauma. Many women suffer prolapse with symptoms of bladder and bowel dysfunction, urinary stress incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction and in some cases, fecal incontinence. It’s horrifying. While I didn’t suffer any issues, it doesn’t make any less passionate about highlighting them.
Mind the (tummy) gap
Still, when you have a baby, you feel invincible, like you can face just about anything. I mean, you’ve carried a human being for nine months – and pushed it out. As I climbed the stairs to the clinic where I was to have my Mummy MOT, I thought (and panted) to myself, “well, it can’t be that bad”. Well, you’ll be very glad to know it wasn’t. A Mummy MOT is a specialist postnatal examination for women following both vaginal and caesarean deliveries. Giving birth is an endurance test that requires a massive amount of effort. While it’s a natural process, it’s obvious that giving birth is going to take a massive toll on our bodies. A Mummy MOT assesses how your posture, pelvic floor muscles, and stomach muscles are recovering after birth. Up to half of all women experience weakness in both the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor muscles after pregnancy and up to a third still have a gap in their tummy at eight weeks post birth which can cause instability or poor core strength leading to women developing pelvic pain or bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunction. Sobering stuff. Following your Mummy MOT, you are given a personal exercise and activity plan.
I sat down with my lovely physiotherapist Sally Laverty. We went over my medical history and I gave her the details of my birth and if I was having any postnatal issues. My body is fairly unscathed but lately, I have been experiencing what can only be described as a ‘creak’ in my lower back when I twist and some pelvic discomfort when I sit down. I had to perform simple exercises like bending over, squatting and lunging. So far so good. Next was the examination part. I lay on a bed and Sally felt all around my torso, establishing weak, tight spots. Sally also felt around my neck and shoulders, commenting on the extremely tight knots. Yes, I have a bad habit of hunching over when I am nervous or anxious. I knew what was coming. The Mummy MOT includes an internal pelvic exam and so you are required to remove the bottom half of your clothing. It’s really not as bad as it sounds. Believe me, I am the most squeamish, scaredy-cat you will ever meet. For some context, it takes longer than a smear test but it isn’t as uncomfortable. To be honest, the worst parts of the Mummy MOT were my tight muscles being pressed and massaged. An hour elapsed fairly quickly and Sally gave me exercises to do at home to strengthen my body – and even develop a six pack! A few hours later, an email pinged in my inbox and Sally listed her findings. In the interests of openness (and doing Sally justice), I’ve listed them below.
Tight hip muscles, notably hamstrings, piriformis and adductors.
Some increased muscle tone on the left of the pelvic floor.
3.4/5 muscle strength on a pelvic floor contraction.
Poor endurance of the pelvic floor muscles.
Good recovery of the abdominal wall (only a 1cm separation of the rectus abdominus muscles with good tensile strength of the linea alba underneath.
Flaring of the left rib cage.
I’ll admit, I haven’t heard of some of the terms used and I giggled at how much ‘rectus abdominus’ sounds a lot like a dinosaur. ‘Poor endurance of the pelvic floor muscles’ made a lot of sense seeing that during labour, I wasn’t pushing. Well, I was pushing, but I certainly wasn’t using my pelvic floor. On a serious note, I was blown away by how comprehensive the assessment was. Here I was, being smug about how my body had ‘snapped back’ while all these underlying issues were going on. It’s a very serious matter and if I take my health seriously, it’s up to me to be responsible – especially if baby number two was to come along. Sally also recommended that I drink more water (which I’m terrible at) take probiotics, do yoga each evening and use a meditation app like Calm – “body scans are fantastic,” she said. Sally says some women can feel quite emotional after a pelvic exam as it’s a release of tension. I didn’t experience a surge of emotions but I definitely felt a lot lighter.
All mums should have an MOT
Maria Elliot, mummy, physiotherapist, and founder of The Mummy MOT says: “All mums should have an MOT. Pregnancy takes a lot. The body is lengthened and stretched and then you deliver your baby with a person you’ve never met. Pushing weakens the pelvic floor so it’s important to do postnatal rehab exercises.” She says the most common postnatal issues women experience are prolapse symptoms, which is akin to heaviness and dragging and fear of organs falling out, pelvic floor weakness and urinary incontinence. Some women even have pelvic girdle pain up to 12 weeks after giving birth.
Maria’s mission is that women’s postnatal issues are resolved or fixed before going back to work. She recommends that women book their Mummy MOT between six and eight weeks for a vaginal delivery and before 12 weeks for a caesarean. Her message is clear – postnatal rehab works. As a new mum, I couldn’t recommend a Mummy MOT enough, in fact, I’m going to make sure I tell every mum I know about it. Your baby is everything, but so are you. Self-care will make you the best mum you can be, and don’t we and our babies deserve the best?
One of the most challenging obstacles of parenthood is getting your baby into a bedtime routine. For the most part, it’s trial and error, but establishing good sleep hygiene early on will make you and your little one’s life a lot easier (and happier). It really is a lottery as to whether you get a ‘good sleeper’. Some babies can sleep for 12-hour stretches, while others can wake up every hour. Speaking as a first-time mum, my little boy Sonny took about eight months to get into a routine. As a newborn, Sonny was a very noisy sleeper. He was also a colicky baby and used to writhe around his cot, body popping. He fed every two-three hours. As someone who loves their sleep, and would regularly be in bed for 10.30pm before having a baby, this was a major shock to my system. Still, I coped with coffee, napping during the day when Sonny slept and just knowing this phase would pass, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. However, if you already have a toddler or older children in the house, I know naps will be nigh impossible. But, you cope. We’re superhuman like that.
Like any new mum, I hovered over my little bundle, listening for his gentle breathing, placing my quivering hand on his chest, watching it rise and fall. You imagine every worst case type scenario there is. I was hyper-sensitive, worrying about SIDS, questioning every sound. “Is he too warm? Too cold? Is that a rash?” Still, babies survived before guidelines even existed so you do your very best and if you’re not sure, always ask for help. Although those days with my eyes on stalks are a blurry memory, I got through it and could maybe even do it again.
Recently, I brought Sonny to a Settled Petals sleep workshop. It was somewhat fitting, that he dragged his bedtime bunny. Now, a plucky one-year-old, he is sleeping 12 hours at night. Yes, I’m very lucky (for now) but his daytime naps are irregular and some days he doesn’t nap at all. While he goes down anytime between 6pm and 8pm, I would like his bedtime to about 7pm. In our house, Sonny’s bedtime routine begins with drawing the blinds, a warm bottle, a bath (not every night), a book, and then popping Sonny in his sleeping bag and putting on Ewan the Dream Sheep, which we’ve used since the first night he came home. It also has a red light, which is supposed to remind baby of being inside the womb. Sonny also can’t sleep without his beloved Jellycat grey bunny. It’s recommended you don’t put any toys in your baby’s cot before they are six-months-old though.
Certified Sleep Consultant Susan Wallace is incredibly knowledgeable and the workshop was full of mums, a dad, beautiful babies, and curious crawlers – Sonny being the worst offender. Tea, coffee, and buns are offered at the start, the latter was snatched from my hand by Sonny and promptly disintegrated into a thousand crumbs on the yoga mat we were sat on. He spent the rest of the class, being a little nuisance, wrestling me for my notepad and pen. I still picked up on some of Susan’s many excellent points. Susan set up her business just six months ago and has since worked with 231 families who have booked into the service for either sleep, baby yoga or massage.
Susan began the class explaining how are our modern sleeping patterns mirror how our ancestors slept. When we slept in groups, individuals would wake up at 1.5 hourly intervals to check for danger and tend to the fire. Susan says we enter light sleep frequently throughout the night and do a full body ‘scan’, this is to check if we are too hot, too cold or if we need the toilet. If all is well, we’ll just drift back to sleep. Little babes, of course, will scream the house down until their needs are met.
Susan says that we, as adults, use ‘sleep props’, the most obvious being our duvet. It would seem very strange to us to lie down in bed without pulling something over us. Babies need props too. Strategies that we employ include feeding and rocking to sleep. It can be very difficult for a baby to self-settle if they are used to either of these, nonetheless effective strategies. Self-settling is the holy grail. It’s worth pointing out that babies don’t make melatonin for six to eight weeks. And when they do, breastfeeding mums will want to avoid feeding their baby milk containing cortisol at night and milk containing melatonin during the day. Another thing to be aware of is ‘sleep pressure’. And I’m not talking about the pressure we feel to get our babies to sleep! Sleep pressure is an unconscious biological process that makes us want to sleep. without enough sleep pressure built up, we (and babies) won’t be able to settle or sleep for long. This is were nap time comes in. The first nap of the day is the easiest as there is enough sleep pressure built up from the night before. However, if a baby has a really long morning nap, there won’t be enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap, resulting in your baby getting overtired, making them even more awake come bedtime. It really is a quandary. With that in mind, a shorter morning nap is to be encouraged so baby has enough sleep pressure for an afternoon nap. Susan says the last nap of the day predicts when a baby will wake up.
As well as understanding the science, there are practical things you can do to help boost your baby’s melatonin. Susan says that night lights aren’t the best idea, especially the ones that emit a white or blue glow. A red glow, she says, is “less detrimental” to sleep so choose lights and light up toys with care. Buy blackout blinds for the nursery and your own bedroom if necessary, play continuous white noise and remove stimulating toys. If you breastfeed, you can buy a Meemoobaby Meelight that attaches to you for night feeds.
If you have a colicky baby, add the bedtime bottle to the start of the routine and keep baby upright for at least half an hour. If you use formula, stir the milk, don’t shake it. This might sound obvious but I always shook the bottle, thinking I needed to do that to mix the formula. You don’t. Susan says to hold your baby over your right shoulder to get gas up.
For the first three to four weeks, Susan says to hold and touch your baby as much as possible – and keep it up. She says that slings are brilliant for keeping small babies close to you. Swaddling is also beneficial for the newborn days – although getting the technique right is very important. A fascinating article by Green Child Magazine highlights a 2017 study published in Development and Psychopathology. It found that infant touch “can affect babies at a molecular level, and the positive results can last for years.” The article also states that babies who do not receive adequate human interaction and especially the loving touch, can become depressed or anxious and are prone to anti-social behaviour in later life.
Creating an environment that is similar to being in the womb is key – which for an adult is like being in a hammock (nice). For the first six months, nothing should in the crib or Moses basket other than a sheet over the mattress, to reduce the risk of SIDS. If you choose to co-sleep, ensure there are no pets in the bedroom and do not drink or smoke. Also, never fall asleep with your baby on a sofa. After six months, you can place a comforter, toy or just a t-shirt you have worn for a few days and tie it up in a knot. Your baby will be immensely comforted by your scent.
You can also look out for sleeping cues like rubbing eyes and looking away, which babies tend to do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Also, Susan says, batting your baby’s bum is a good way to comfort them as it reminds them of bobbing about in the womb.
From nine to 12 months, your baby may experience separation anxiety. You can help combat this with sleep training using ‘The Chair in the Room’ and ‘The Kissing Game’. There is also the ‘Wake to Sleep’ method, which encourages infants to self-settle if they are early morning larks – of which 10% of babies are.
I hope this blog is helpful to new mums or mums who are experiencing sleep issues with their little ones. Susan offers a wealth of information in her workshops and I’d highly recommend them. Susan works closely with families who need a little extra help too. She also offers baby massage, baby yoga, and children’s yoga classes, all of which are known to increase sleep quality in children.
I learned an awful lot from the workshop, it was absolutely fascinating. Yes, all babies are different and unpredictable but having knowledge is very empowering and it’s also comforting to know that you aren’t the only mum or dad going through a rough time.
This blog post will be short and sweet, much like my son’s new haircut. Sonny was born with a shock of black hair. I had really bad heartburn but I don’t know if that’s related or just an old wives’ tale. I thought this fluffy ‘baby’ hair might fall out to be replaced with new hair but it didn’t. It just got lighter. Both my husband are both follicly blessed. I have thick, coarse hair that needs a professional blow-dry to look shiny and bouncy while my husband – now a silver fox – has healthy, thick hair. I too was born with lots of dark hair. As a child, my hair was my crowning glory – or so my mum says. But, it’s been through a lot since then, from bleaching, colouring, ironing (yup – a clothing iron!), then various straighteners until I bought my first pair of GHD’s – a complete godsend. I love getting my hair coloured and see it as a real treat. But, I can understand why little ones might be frightened by someone coming at them with a pair of scissors.
I remember as a young girl going to a hair salon for a ‘trim’, as opposed to a ‘cut’. The instructions from my dear mum was to get it trimmed, I should point out. But then, somehow, I ended up with most of my thick, chestnut mane lopped off. I’ve no idea how this came to be but I went from feeling quite grown up to feeling traumatised. Sure, it would grow back but I still felt like I’d lost a limb. I think as adults, we get our hair cut to signify a new chapter in our life, much like the song ‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair’, you cut out whatever negativity is going on in your life, such as an ex, for example. Women are emotionally attached to their hair, they wear it like an armour. You’ve heard the phrase, having a ‘bad hair day’. You feel good when your hair is done, my mum would testify to this – her hair is always immaculate, and so would most of the women I know. Most days, my hair is scraped into a top knot, but when it’s done, I feel my best.
Sonny, unfettered by traumatic experiences in the hands of a hairdresser, took his first trim like a man. He seemed completely unfazed by his locks being snipped off at my regular salon Paul Meekin Hair. I looked at Sonny, propped up in the barber’s chair, feeling teary, proud and totally in love. I brought a little bag to collect his tawny hair clippings, which I’ll keep in a little memory box. Later, I came across an article online of things you should do to prevent your baby’s first haircut being a ‘traumatic’ experience. It hadn’t even occurred to me bring an iPad or snacks or some of the things suggested. So, either I got off very lightly or maybe going to the hairdressers isn’t so bad after all. My husband goes to the barber every four weeks while I’m lucky if I get my hair cut and coloured three or four times a year. If Sonny’s hair grows as fast as mine, I’m going to have to sell a kidney… but, finances aside, Sonny getting his first hair cut was a stress-free experience for us both. It did help that Paul’s two cute little dogs were running around at his feet, fascinated by my squealing with delight, grinning baby. They say the first cut is the deepest, but for us, it was the sweetest.