10 things you really need to do once you’re on maternity leave, but before giving birth

Congratulations mum-to-be! You look great, really. Are you enjoying maternity leave? Not long until the baby arrives now, right? Well, maybe. He might come early, you might be hanging around for three weeks more than you thought. Whichever it is would you allow me to offer a little advice? These are things I want to say to every first-time mum when she announces she’s off on mat leave or approaching her due date, but often can’t because, you know, people don’t like being given advice out of the blue. But you’re looking for suggestions, aren’t you? Looking for what to do while you wait? That’s why you’re here. That makes you a captive audience so allow me to get this off my chest! Hurrah!maternityleave2

1 – line up breastfeeding support
Ok, maybe you’re not planning on breastfeeding, or there are medical contraindications in which case skip this one and go right to number 2. The majority of mums, however, are probably planning to breastfeed so do yourself a favour – get the information lined up now. Read up on it  for a start – ‘The Food of Love‘ is a fab book – lighthearted, funny, very very informative.

Research some support groups you can go to – the last thing you want to do is try to find out about these at three in the morning when you’ve been struggling all night and want to go talk to somebody. Try the La Leche League, Baby Cafe, your local maternity unit. Whatever is available. You can even go before you have the baby, that way it’s already a familiar environment that you’ve experienced before you’re sleep deprived, hormone-riddled and lugging a new baby and all their crap around with you.

And make a note of this: The national breastfeeding support helpline. Open between 9.30am and 9.30pm it is a fabulous resource.

2 – read up on the fourth trimester 
This is the period of time right after a baby is born when, in all other mammals, they should still really be in your womb, but have had to be evicted before their head got so big they wouldn;t fit through your pelvis. If you know all about it then you’ll be more inclined to accept some of the newbrn behaviour and just roll with the punches, rather than trying to get a totally dependent newborn to fit to a ‘routine’ just because your mother has been guilting you about what they did ‘when you were a baby’.

Here’s one as a start, and another, but just google ‘fourth trimester’ and you’ll be able to read up to your heart’s content.
3 – read up on ‘going overdue’
There’s a lot of pressure put on women to seek medical assistance when they go ‘overdue’ – but do you know when that is (42 weeks, by the way. NOT simply after your due date), what the risks and benefits are of doing something versus doing nothing, or how you’d feel about undergoing some of those procedures? I highly recommend making sure you’re fully informed of all the ins and outs so that whatever decision you make is an educated one and not a reaction to undue pressure being put on you by someone in a position of authority.
this article is quite helpful

4 – line up a load of DVD boxsets (I’ve made some recommendations in the past)
You spend a lot of time curled up on the sofa when you have your first baby (not so much with subsequent kids but oh well). Do yourself a favour and buy in some boxsets, subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Fire or NowTV. You’ll thank me later.
5 – join an online ante-natal group
Go to Mumsnet, Netmums, wherever. Find other mums due the same month. Talk anonymously, migrate to Facebook. Whatever you do you will be so grateful to have all these other women to go through it with you – the late pregnancy insomnia, the birth, the feeding issues, the late night/midnight/early morning feeds, the weaning, the walking, the potty training…
I’m still in my group from The Boy, it’s been more than four years now and we’ve seen each other through so much. Second and third babies, divorces, mental health issues, cancer, fertility issues, terrible twos, threenagers – I can’t tell you.  This is solid gold, diamond encrusted advice. Take it.
6 – book lots of exciting activities to do
Nothing worse than waiting around for that baby to arrive. Book things to do every day so you’re not just twiddling your thumbs and waiting. Far better to have to cancel stuff.
7 – get a massage or some chiropractor/osteo treatments.
This is not just in the name of self-indulgence, although this might be your last chance for a while. No. A good osteo-type treatment will help open up your sacroiliac joints helping prepare your body for labour and improving the likelihood of a straightforward birth.
8 – take some photos of yourself
I was inspired to take some photos of my mega bump one morning, not knowing I’d go into labour that night. I love being able to put the photos of my bump and my baby together knowing there was only 24 hours between them.
9 – find/go to baby groups
As with the online groups – friends in similar situations are what will get you through those early days and, as with the breastfeeding support groups, it’s much easier to go into those situations as a sleep-deprived, vulnerable new mum if you’ve been before and sussed out the parking, the location, the cost, the tea/coffee etiquette etc
10 – learn how to use all the stuff!
Do you know how to fold and unfold the buggy? Fix the car seat into the car? Run the steriliser? Swaddle a baby? Change a nappy? Do NOT let your first try at these complicated skills be when you have a newborn SCREAMING at you. I speak from bitter experience.
Also – find places for all the stuff to live, otherwise you’ll suddenly have to frind home for baby bouncers, moses baskets and god knows what else all in one hit.

Bonus tip! – read all the stuff! Here are some of my suggestions/recommendations for really useful reading while you still have the time and brainspace to do so – enjoy! I may do a whole post on this if my list gets any longer, but for now…

http://www.positivebirthmovement.org/

The thinking womans’ guide to a better birth,

Gentle birth, gentle mothering,

Bump: How to make, grow and birth a baby

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Behind the birth story

So we’re coming up to the five month mark since our little girl joined our family earthside and, since she and I are healthy and thriving you might be excused for thinking that I would have no lingering concerns over her arrival.  Birth trauma is a bitch, though, if you’ll pardon my language and even the most outwardly straightforward births can leave a new mother with anything from a lingering sadness through to flashbacks, post-natal depression or even psychosis, because what so many people fail to recognise is that birth is not a purely physiological process.behindbirthstory

Bringing a baby into the world may happen through a physical process, but that physical process is brought about and supported by emotional and hormonal reactions. Other people* have written far more widely and knowledgeably about the birth process and, as I have no pretension to medical expertise, I’ll leave that to them.  No, I’m going to share something more personal. My daughter was born at home, as planned, with kind and caring midwives who had looked after me throughout my pregnancy. I laboured in a pool, birthed her with no medication at all, even gas and air, and my husband supported me through the whole thing. She had nothing to eat but breastmilk.

This is the story I tell to strangers. It’s all true. It’s just not all of the truth. Even now I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail, but she got her shoulder stuck on my pubic bone (shoulder dystocia). She needed resuscitation as she didn’t breathe on her own for ten minutes. Paramedics were called and responded with urgency.  We transferred to hospital where I had a haemorrhage and a general anaesthetic. She was given donor milk, hooked up to machines, given a lumbar puncture, roomed away from me for the four most painful nights of my life. She’s fine. I’m fine. But that’s not all that matters.

As mothers we have hopes for our births and our babies. Not every mother’s is the same as mine, but I hoped for calmness, peace, an intimate experience and a babymoon at home in my own bed with my new baby. I laboured for 8 hours, brought forth a 10lb baby with shoulder dystocia and had no pain relief. I worked damn hard for the outcome I wanted and I feel cheated. And sad – so so sad.

I’m not sure what I hope to achieve with this post. It’s not really informative, unless you’re desperately interested in my personal life. I suppose I’m just asking for understanding for any woman who doesn’t seem ecstatic about her birth, perhaps there’s a reason. Be sensitive. What she’s telling you might not be the whole story, so don’t assume. Don’t judge. Despite the outward appearance of calm and happy maternity perhaps she, like me, is dreading bedtime because it means being alone with her thoughts and a long, sleepless night of tears and bitterness.  Motherhood is a baptism of fire and it can take a long time to move out of the flames.


*I recommend Sarah Buckley and Ina May Gaskin if you want a beginner’s crash course in birth.

The journey of a lifetime – feeding my babies

Thanks for visiting from Adventures of a Novice Mum and welcome to my post for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt  “Day 1 The Start of My Journey”.

Sponsors today include Boobie Milk with a £50 voucher, Cherub Chews who are offering a breastfeeding necklace and Loveyush who are offering a breastfeeding scarf for our Grand Prize winner. Over £700 worth of goodies are up for grabs entries via the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.


The start of my breastfeeding journey was, as so many are, a rocky one.  After a difficult and traumatic birth, with the masses of medical intervention that I had never wanted, my poor body was tired and battered already. Add into the mix a constantly hungry, velcro baby and some very very poor support and you have the recipe for a broken mama.

I had so desperately wanted to exclusively breastfeed my baby and, after I had (as I saw it) ‘failed’ to give birth, it was even more important to me to succeed with feeding: to try and make up for the drugs he’d received, the being ripped untimely from his mother’s womb, the fact I was a sobbing, miserable mess who struggled to attach to him.  The hospital pushed me to use formula and, exhausted and fighting to the last, I eventually gave in, although I pumped and fed, fed and pumped as well – anything to escape the hospital and get back to my community midwives.

I was, however, one of the lucky ones. I had the most amazing support from my husband and mother, I found a good midwife at my local unit who helped me when I turned up in tears at 3am two weeks after giving birth, I also found a support group not too far away where gentle peer supporters listened to me endlessly rehash my birth and a trained midwife gave some decent advice on holding my baby so everything was more comfortable.

I was on my knees with exhaustion, traumatised, in pain, struggling to bond, but I gritted my teeth and kept right on going and gradually, after about six weeks, things began to improve.  I couldn’t believe that something that was supposed to come naturally could cause so many difficulties and 10 months later, when the chance was offered for me to train to become a peer supporter myself, I jumped at the chance.

Feeding my daughter

Feeding my daughter

It’s been a long journey, from that first attempt to latch my baby on post c-section, dazed, exhausted, ignorant – to here. Now I support and advise other women and argued with ignorant HCPs when I began feeding my second baby and they tried to offer unwelcome and poor advice as I fed her in the Neonatal High Dependency Unit after, yet another, difficult birth.

Things are gradually changing. Between my two babies the hospital started to seek ‘Baby Friendly’ status and when I had my daughter they offered her donated breastmilk to supplement my milk.  There is still bad information out there, though, bad advisors, ignorant HCPs who, despite being medical personnel, have received less training on the mechanics and biology of breastfeeding than I, as a volunteer, have.

My breastfeeding journey has been a bumpy one, but it’s promising to be a lifetime one that carries on long after my own children have ceased to feed from me as I support generation after generation of other mothers to feed their children as they truly wish to do, and what a blessing that is.


Following on from my journey, please do visit Just Motherhood to see how her journey began and be in with more chances to enter the grand prize draw. Remember you need to earn 50 points to be eligible, full details can be found on the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Keep Britain breastfeeding scavenger hunt 2015

10 really excellent gifts to buy a new mum

10 excellent gifts to buy a new mumAs you may have seen I was recently inspired to do a post on a Top 10 gifts to buy a new baby. Now, although this is super handy when going to visit this hypothetical infant, I do have to make the point that the gifts suggested there are in no way gifts for the mother (with the possible exception of Ewan the sleep sheep, if he works as he ought). So here are ten really excellent gifts you can buy a new mum to make her feel special, treated, looked after and not merely the battered incubator & milk bar for a new human.

1- Monkey mama twiddle necklace and teething ring
Now I do have to make a wee disclaimer – if your intended recipient is more yummy mummy than lentil-weaving hippy mama like me then this gift is no good.  For breastfeeding and/or babywearing afficianados, though, I would go so far as to call this (or similar) a ‘must have’.  The Boy was an inveterate biter – even before he had teeth he liked to give his stony-hard little gums a good work out on my poor, tender nipples.  I bought myself a wooden teething necklace and necklacewhen he got bitey pulled him off and handed him the ring – miraculously he would give his wee gums a good chomp on the ring, then latch back on peacefully.  The Girl is a tiny monkey and likes to have a handful of ‘fur’ when she feeds or is carried. Before I thought to get my necklace back out this was (preferably) a handful of T-shirt but (usually) a painful grip on the loose skin of my breast or a handful of hair, generally with kitten-sharp fingernails digging in or the strands becoming ever more twisted about her tiny, clammy fingers!

They come in pretty colours and different designs and, when you can’t wear much jewellery for fear of it being grabbed, it’s nice to have something to accessorise with.

2- L’Occitane almond shower oil
oilAfter both of my pregnancies I have developed very dry skin and this seems to be common amongst most of the mums I’ve spoken to. A lovely lovely friend of mine bought me this luscious shower oil after I had The Girl and I’m obsessed with it. It saves two steps in the showering ritual – so useful when you have limited time to shower – as it moisturises, washes and makes the best shaving lubrication I’ve ever used. Plus it smells absolutely divine, but is a very light, subtle fragrance so you don’t have to worry about it overwhelming your baby or obliterating your own mummy-smell for them.  A top gift for any new mum.  I can also recommend their lavender hand sanitiser as a handy out-and-about hand cleanser for post-nappy-changes. Smells 100x better than any other sanitiser I’ve used!

3- Paperwhite Kindle
Chances are the baby will be keeping her up at night, so an e-book reader with built-in lighting is ideal for entertainment during those long night feeds. The light won’t wake the baby or the erstwhile snoring husband and an e-book reader is so much easier to manage one-handed than a ‘proper’ book, lovely though they are.  Just check she doesn’t have one already, but this would be an ideal ‘group’ gift, say, from an office to a mum about to go on mat leave. If you need any more persuading, why not read my post on 9 reasons why a mum needs an e-reader?!

4- Photobox vouchers and/or a photo frame
One thing there will be a surfeit of that first year is photos – photos of the baby, of mummy with baby, daddy with baby, Great Auntie Joan with baby etc. Why not buy some vouchers for an online photo printing site so they can immortalise those memories in a photo book, album or on a wall.

5- Jewellery (esp personalised to the baby – fingerprints/birthstone etc)rings
This might be one for the baby’s co-parent to purchase as it’s likely to be a bit more expensive.  The (lovely) Man has bought me two rings, one for each baby with their birth stone in and they nest together. I adore them probably more than my engagement ring because they symbolise my darling babas.  There are all sorts of options for meaningful jewellery – Not on the highstreet has some great ideas for fingerprint jewellery, but there are usually local jewellers who will do this for you which makes life easier in terms of getting the baby’s fingerprints!

If you want something engraved with a name then I adore Dino Daisy who does quirky little pendants and bangles stamped with the letters and images of your choice and for a very reasonable price. Although delivery is a little slow (due to being made to order) her customer service is great and she does her best for you.

6- Photo shoot
Again a great idea for a ‘group’ present, a photo shoot, or series of photo shoots, makes a lovely present for the whole family so they can immortalise their new addition and the new shape of their family.

7- Massage
After nine months of pregnancy and then giving birth and a possible hospital stay followed by sitting in funny positions to feed and constant carrying, bending and lifting trust me a massage would be a welcome gift. Try and find a masseur who’ll come to the house to minimise stress for the new mum and make sure you offer to be there for baby jiggling purposes so she can really relax!

8- DVD boxsets/subscription to a streaming service
My baby was born just a few days before my birthday and my lovely sister bought me a NowTV box and subscription to Sky Entertainment for 3 months – it was bliss. I watched so much crap. If something like this is beyond your budget, why not try one of these boxsets I recommended – she’ll be grateful of the TV on demand!

9 – A cleaner
No new mum should have to be worrying about cleaning – even tidying is too much sometimes and nothing makes as much mess as being post-partum and having a baby. Buy her a few hours with a good cleaner for the first couple of months and she’ll love you forever!

10 – Food!
See my post ‘How to support a new mum‘ – she’ll either be ravenous, or have no appetite but in great need of nutritious food (and cake). Look after her properly and come bearing food and you won’t be turned away!

‘I want to be alone’ – why privacy in birth is so important

Disclaimer – I have no medical training whatsoever. I am, what’s known in certain circles as, a ‘birth geek’: basically a lay person who has done so much research into the subject of birth that in some areas she may actually be better informed than select medical professionals.  I would always recommend that you do your own research and make your own decisions based on this.


privacyinbirthProbably my favourite music radio station is my local – JackFM. It plays a nice mix of music, no repeats, has sarky jingles that make me smile and the presenters seem to be a sparky bunch who genuinely have fun together.

Part of the on-air banter spilled onto my Twitter feed today where Trev suggested his pregnant co-presenter, Caroline, give birth in a live broadcast. Despite my inner voice of logic and reason shouting at me that it was merely banter and to ignore, my inner birth geek galloped over to her soap-box, hopped up and told Trev off for treating Caroline like a lab rat, posting a link on privacy in birth.

This was the link I posted.

Basically you need the same conditions to give birth as you do to orgasm: peace, privacy, the chance to focus on your body and what it needs.  Plus privacy in birth is a Human Right! I know Trev was just being funny, but the cultural norm of giving birth in hospital, surrounded by strangers, bright lights and medical equipment is pretty much the furthest we can get away from the ideal conditions for birthing, hence the rise in intervention and traumatic births.

These are not only stressful in the immediate situation, but lead to all sorts of knock on effects like difficulty breastfeeding, PTSD, difficulty bonding and post-natal depression for mothers and a whole slew of medical difficulties for babies ranging from forceps injuries to not receiving cord blood, from not being populated with the microbiome they should have received from their mother, to major medical distress. We don’t even know about the long-term effects of using drugs like syntocinon, which mimics the love-hormone oxytocin, though some research suggests it may promote the development of depression in later life by messing with a baby’s brain chemistry.

Yes, there are undoubtedly some cases where hospitalisation, observation and medical intervention are definitely the best option, but to suggest that birth is a form of entertainment and sod what’s best for the mother? That’s a worrying extension of the kind of thinking that has produced ‘One born every minute’ – a programme which seems to go out of its way to terrify women by portraying the most dramatic, interventionist births it can find.

In one of my birth prep sessions with a hypnotherapist it was suggested that we only have our partner present if we were comfortable pooing in front of him.  Perhaps I will propose that Trev live broadcast himself having a crap and then Caroline can decide if she wants  to revisit the topic of a live birth. Somehow I think not…

For more on this topic I have created a list of useful links. If you’re pregnant, or supporting a woman who is, I recommend reading these.

Hormones in labour & birth – How your body helps you – Sarah Buckley

Giving birth in a stable might be a better option than a labour ward – Milli Hill

Failure to Progress – A satirical parallel of giving birth under observation

Through the clouds

Don’t worry, despite the fact that The Man has been ear-bashing John Lewis customer-service for the last 45 minutes today’s post isn’t another unexciting installment of the ongoing saga of the broken washing machine.

What I want to talk about is something that’s actually a little bit difficult to talk about, but I don’t think I can go on with my plans for this blog without explaining something about my recent past.  Let me start by saying that both my children were planned and very much wanted.  The Boy arrived as soon as we made room for him in our lives but our little girl kept us waiting. And waiting. And waiting.  With a couple of false starts I was starting to wonder if we’d ever have a sibling for our boy, but then he turned round one day, poked me in the belly and said “Mummy got a baby in her tummy”.

He was right and very shortly after the little pink line came the unrelenting nausea and the depression.  I don’t know how much the depression was linked to the fact I couldn’t keep any food down, how much to the birth trauma I experienced having The Boy and how much was just the pregnancy hormones having a bloody good laugh at my expense, but it came silently, swiftly and quickly took over.

Mild disputes at work had me in sobbing heaps on the floor and calling The Man in despair because I couldn’t cope.  I feel ashamed to think of it now, but more than once I clung to my two year old boy; crying into his soft blonde hair as he patted me on the back and tried to reassure and comfort me.  Everything felt so black and hopeless.  Every person I spoke to except The Man and my lovely midwives felt like an enemy and I even shied away from being honest with them until things got so bad I couldn’t hide it any more.  I ditched everything I had been working on – my clients, my sub-contracted work with Mumsnet that I loved, this blog which I had put so much work into.  The only way I could cope with just putting one foot in front of the other was to excise every responsibility and expectation except for the very bare essentials.

I broke down in front of my husband, my midwife, my GP. I got referred to a service for expectant and new mothers experiencing mental health difficulties. I confessed how I was feeling to a couple of trusted friends, to my online ante-natal group (and on that note do take a look at the post one of them wrote about the importance of a ‘Tribe’ on her blog Another Bun) and slowly – very slowly – I started to feel the darkness fall back a little.  As the sickness eased and the remaining jitters from work-related anxiety receded my happy, horribly optimistic self returned and peace resumed in our little house, but it wasn’t without its casualties.

As I look out at my future post-babies I now do it from a completely blank slate of no clients, no Mumsnet Local-editorship and a missing nine months’ or so worth of blog posts. Just as sadly I also lost a friendship when my careless words of hurt, hurt the person I said them to.

Luckily for all of us, once the clouds cleared they stayed gone, even after our darling girl was born I managed to stay (mostly) sane.  Now I’m trying to work out my next steps and holding on tight to the friendships that survived. Post natal depression is well known now and well publicised, but ante-natal depression less so.  There is help, you will be taken seriously, but firstly you need to recognise that you are struggling and that how you are feeling is not normal and you don’t have to keep feeling that way.


For more information I highly recommend the wonderful PANDAS who can offer advice and support in this situation and around all issues of mental health pre- and post-natally
Ante-natal depression support
Or talk to your GP or midwife