Bouncing and other funny stories

Ahhhh bouncing. How I miss you. How I loved a good bounce around back in the day. A bit of trampolining was my favourite. I mean I *really* loved it. Like going to my friend’s house and having a go on her trampoline and thinking she was the luckiest girl alive. Like the moment years of pestering finally paid off and I “persuaded” my parents (I now know this means whined them into submission) to get a trampoline for the garden. The pinacle of joy.  I joined every after school club possible and even made the trampolining team (that was for enthusiasm over skills, obvs). The fear and excitement and joy of getting a leotard on, and hair slicked back, ready to bounce in front of the judges. All eyes on you, your pointy toes and your major wedgie situation…

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Pretty much me

Remember:

Must point toes.

Must get arms up by ears and realllllly straight.

Must smile.

Try not to shake or you bounce off in a random direction.

You know what I never once thought about? Peeing myself. That’s right kids, I had complete and utter bladder control. I took it for granted. Today I don’t think I would make the team. I think the team would be mortified and the wedgie would be the least of my worries (although not insignificant :D).

Pelvic. Floor. There are few words in this world that trigger an immediate reaction in adult women, but I’m fairly sure those have to be number 1. You’re squeezing right now, aren’t you?

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Me explaining pelvic floor to Boddler using weird hotel art – he’s choosing to ignore me and singing Wind the Bobbin Up.

Pelvic floor muscles. The muscles that support your pelvic organs (bladder, bowels and uterus) and cover the bottom area of your pelvis. We all have them, we are warned about exercising them, during pregnancy we are reminded of the importance of the pelvic floor muscles on a regular basis by knowing midwives, but the truth is we rarely exercise them. Before motherhood you probably don’t have much need to. But, once you eject a bebe, whichever way that bebe comes out, your pelvic floor will take a hit and you need to work hard to restore it.

The wonderful NHS website states: “strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help stop incontinence, treat prolapse, and make sex better, too.”

So, it’s really quite important.  What I find really astonishing is the lack of support and follow up that comes as standard here in Britain for this critical post partum area. Over the channel, in my second motherland, la Belle France, the attention to rehabilitation of the pelvic floor is second to none. Every single French mother gets 10 physio classes offert to assist them in getting their muscles back to full function. As I understand it they even get a magical wand which is used to expedite the process. How can our neighbours so clearly recognise the importance of this therapy and over here you are laughed out of the GP for time wasting, or told by your midwife they will refer you, eventually, if it’s “really bad”? It’s like you just need to deal with it. Now you’ve given birth, well, you’re a bit broken and you’ll just have to get on with it. Sorry. There’s almost a stigma attached to it. Why do you need your pelvic floor anyway? You don’t want to be the next face of Tena lady?!

It doesn’t really sit with my image of superwomen who have grown and ejected a bebe whilst doing their day jobs. If anything, women deserve a double dose of support having done all of that and still operating alongside our male counterparts. We still run around after the kids, we still lift and push and do all manner of strenuous things despite having put our pelvis through hell. And if you do have some struggles, some discomfort, or leaking, what does “really bad” look like compared to “normal”?

 

 

When I gave birth the first time with the epidural, I had no sensation when I was pushing and I pushed seriously hard. Maybe too hard, if that’s possible. I almost exploded my eyeballs, and I ejected my catheter twice. Once the little guy was safely in my arms, and sensations restored, I had approximately zero bladder control for the first few days. Loss of continence, or incontinence, went on for a week or so and then gradually, and thankfully, started to strengthen. During those initial days I really thought I was broken. I panicked. How would I carry on with my life if I needed nappies for the rest of my days? I tend to cough and laugh quite a lot. Do I need to stop those things?! I asked the midwife if I would ever be the same. “Give it time. We will refer you to a physio if it’s necessary.” Well on the first count, she was right. Time is a great healer and it is true that these wondrous bodies of ours will rapidly rehabilitate themselves. Remarkably in a few short weeks (although it feels long in the moment) your bodily functions start to restore. However, it’s hard to ascertain if you’re completely restored, or as restored as you are going to get.  How do you know? I practised regular squeezing along with post natal yoga when I was ready, and there was a lot of focus on exercising the pelvic floor. I was also told squeezing whilst breastfeeding expedites the strengthening process, but it may also be because you’re doing  it so often it’s a good distraction from the nibbling and dribbling going on elsewhere.  In any case, the pelvic floor exercises are critical.

 

 

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Fast forward to my second birth and I did a bit of research before the madness set in. I want a functioning pelvic floor (and abdominals) now and, importantly, as I get older and my muscles naturally start to weaken. I don’t want to wait until I’m so broken that I can’t function.  I want the French treatment. I found a physio team that offer post partum therapy and the therapists are familiar with, if not trained in, the French techniques. The London-based physiotherapists I’ve found are called Mummy’s Physio. My experience with them so far has been very positive. Ok, pelvic floor physio is about as glamorous as it sounds. For us prudish Brits, and I’m really up there on the red face scale (I don’t even like wearing swimwear in “public”, perhaps this stems back to the leotard wedgie horrors… anyway I digress) it’s hard. No one particularly wants to be prodded and probed, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to discuss your pelvic function and honestly it’s hard to remember and to make time to do the exercises, BUT I know it’s so important.  And certainly the team at Mummy’s Physio (and I’m sure many others) will make you as comfortable as possible.

I urge you to do your exercises, wherever you are in the parenting game. Download the NHS app, Squeezy, to remind yourself to do them. And don’t be afraid to explore rehabilitation options with your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed. If you have private healthcare you may well be covered.

We are powerful women.  Let’s keep our bodies strong. 

Precious pelvic floor power to you all x

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You are worth it!

PS. In case you aren’t familiar with them, this is how to do pelvic floor exercises from the NHS website:

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your anus as if you’re trying to prevent a bowel movement
  • at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you’re gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
  • at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
  • then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
  • try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.

Baby-making

This post has been difficult to write. It is about baby-making. Hold that thought: I’m not going to tell you about the birds and the bees. I’m confident you probably have a rough idea of the physical actions required to get all the ingredients in the right place. What you possibly don’t appreciate is what an absolutely miraculous process it is, to go from having the ingredients to actually creating a little human bean.

We have some experience on the subject. Babbler took quite some time and magic to make.  Before he appeared in the world, we had lots of waiting, prodding and probing, questions, tears, not a single positive pregnancy test, multiple rounds of IVF and we suffered a miscarriage of what might have been twins.

Making a baby can be quite a difficult «thing to do». And like all good things in this world, the more you want one, the tougher the wait, and the harder you fall when you don’t get one.  You can’t just have a baby.

Starting a family

Starting a family is one of those things that seems completely alien when you contemplate it for the first time, a far off pipe dream, something you do when you’re “older” and “ready”… One day, quite suddenly, the people around you start to get married and couple up, everywhere you look you see bumps, and buggies and babies, you eat your body weight in pink and blue cupcakes, you start to enjoy perusing the baby clothes in your favourite stores, you start waking up early and you realise that you would rather be snuggled up at home than out somewhere loud and sticky-of-the-floor.  You have a job, you have some semblance of a home and potentially even a car. BOOM, just like that you realise that the time has come.  You are “ready”. Exciting! Scary. Let’s go! What do you do?! Having paid close attention in sex education you know that anything more than touching fingernails with your partner in crime could result in a bebe, so grappling with that possibility, you throw caution to the wind *in a completely controlled way* dive in and commence le proces.

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Let’s make a bebe! One day goes past.  Of course you buy a pregnancy test and immediately start to feel nauseous, and you are frantically prodding your boobs, because you are fully expecting to fall pregnant on the first go. Except that it is rarely that straightforward. Sorry.  No, your cheap pregnancy test isn’t faulty. No, your expensive one that tells you in actual words, not lines, that you’re not pregnant isn’t somehow confused about the bit of urine it sampled. You’re just not pregnant. Not this month.  You feel a bit silly, perhaps a bit sad, but you pull your big girl pants up and crack on to the next month. After all, it’ll probably happen next month. And that fits in better because, well, you have got that party this weekend you really want to go to, and then there’s that wedding next month that you just couldn’t be pregnant for, so it’s all fine.  Good.

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true dat

In fact, if you check the NHS website, it tells you that 80-90 out of every 100 couples trying to get pregnant will fall pregnant within one year. One whole year. First, that is potentially up to 12 long and disappointing months of “trying”.  Each month is made up of a familiar cycle: it begins with the period (doom), then waiting for ovulation, the ovulating days, and then the phantom pregnancy times, also known as the “two week wait” – the days you spend waiting for your period. The days you wonder if you might, possibly, be making a baby.  Just FYI that’s about 168 days of the year that you’re waiting. That’s a lot of waiting for those with a propensity towards impatience…. Second, that means that 10-20% of couples will take more than a year to conceive. They may need help. They may never conceive.

They may never conceive. Have you ever thought you might not actually get to have children? It’s quite a dramatic leap to go from trying not to “accidentally” get pregnant by fingernail contact, to contemplating that you may actually never have a child.  I don’t remember that coming up in sex ed.

For some people, that’s perfectly fine. Ideal actually. But for others, that wasn’t in the life plan.  You assumed you could have children. Whenever you felt like it. As you start to look around you, you realise there are indeed many couples that don’t have children. You had perhaps assumed it was their choice, that they didn’t want to have any kids, but now this new knowledge makes you think twice.  You cannot assume anything.  If there’s one major lesson I’ve learnt through all of this it is never assume. Don’t assume that everyone can just have a baby.  Don’t assume that people have chosen their current situation.  It may look like they just don’t have kids, or haven’t got any yet, but there is almost certainly a story there, a journey. Also try to avoid asking. I used to think it was perfectly normal to ask newlyweds when they would be trying for a babe. It’s the logical next step.  Is it?  If they want to talk about it, they will do so in their own time and in their own way. It is not an easy one to talk about, it is personal, it is often complicated, and if there’s one major benefit of all that we have been through, it is the awareness of the struggle. The struggle is really real. We now have enough experience to put ourselves out there, if you need to talk.  We can, I hope, relate to, and offer support to prospective parents in all their shapes and sizes.  And I hope this post will help a little.

Unexplained infertility

According to the same NHS page, one in seven couples in the UK will suffer “fertility issues”.  Those may be complications, difficulties, bits and pieces that are missing or not working, or blocked, but perhaps could work, they just need some help. Then, of those one in seven, 25% will have what is known as “unexplained infertility”, i.e. the common causes of infertility are not applicable, but there is no other medical explanation available. So there’s something wrong, you don’t seem to be making the babies, but there isn’t actually a medical reason pourquoi.  i.e. there isn’t much that the doctors can do to help you. Technically, we fell into this category.  Years of “trying”, plenty of questioning, eating well, bouts of not drinking (alcohol may affect fertility) trying to be calm (stress may affect fertility) and keeping track of what was happening when (knowing when your ovulating can help to ensure you are targeting the right days), but all to no avail, meant we were inexplicably infertile.

What do you think? We were hoping to have a family together. Should we be together? I started to wonder if it meant we weren’t well matched as couple. Perhaps the French and Yorkshire genes just don’t work. C’est trop.  Rational thinking fell to the wayside as I watched bumps growing and buggy’s crashing into things around me. More scan pictures, more happy announcements, more people telling me they were winning on the fertility ferris wheel. Thankfully, we were very happily married, and everything was still quite new and joyous.  The monthly let down was really just a few hours of sadness followed by a rapid assessment that it was probably for the best, copious amounts of chocolate and realisation that I had lots more important things to do than having a baby that month.  Any misery I felt I managed to keep to myself, any misery Monsieur FF felt he also bottled, and we thoroughly enjoyed and relished spending time with our family and friends and their growing families.  We didn’t really talk too much about it.  Then time went on, our efforts became more concerted, our abstention from the vices of life more marked, and our patience for bebe FF increasingly failing.

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One of the hardest things about infertility struggles is knowing that people are rooting for you but that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to help.  Can you give me a baby? Nope. Our parents waited patiently for our grandchild offering, and waited some more, and then they quietly started to worry and then, once they knew that there was potentially some cause for concern, that we were trying, and were not getting, they offered their support and their love, but it couldn’t take away the angst we were experiencing.  It is so personal, so intimate, and yet once it is out there, it is so exposed.

Those that you share with know that you are trying, and that it is not working. It’s not funny. You don’t need to “try harder”. That doesn’t feel good.  It is impossible not to feel like a failure.  I was, at times, embarrassed. People would ask, casually, or directly, if we were planning to have children, and we would respond that we weren’t ready, or we weren’t really trying, or that we had a plan, something, anything, other than saying that we don’t seem to be able to have a baby.

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Would we ever have a family? Our respective families are sizeable, and for all accounts conception came without any issues for our parents.  There was no waiting, no struggles.  If you haven’t struggled to conceive, you simply do not know how it feels. I’m sorry.  You are lucky.  It’s not a case of “doing it more often” or “trying to be less stressed” or indeed “eating more salt”…

Just as another factoid, even if you hit the exact right times with the exact right mixture, and you’re under 35 (age is another major factor in the fertility Ferris wheel) then you still only have around 25% chance of conceiving. And let’s not forget, conception doesn’t necessarily equal a bebe.

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IVF

So where do you go from inexplicably infertile? In our case, we were advised to “try” IVF, in vitro fertilisation, as a means of identifying where things were working and where things might be going wrong.  What is IVF?  Technically:

During IVF, an egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with sperm in a laboratory. The fertilised egg, called an embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to grow and develop.

Actually: you have a controlled menopause, loads of injections, you are stimulated to produce as many eggs as your ovaries can muster, more injections, then the eggs are vacuumed out of you whilst you are sedated, they are mixed with the contribution from your other half or a sperm donor.  A few days later, if all is well, the mixture is then returned to your womb, in the hope it will get comfortable and decide to stick around.  Your mixture might be 3 days or 5 days old, and could be fresh, or frozen.  You are instructed to take a pregnancy test around 14 days later, and not a day before.  This is the “two week wait” or “2ww“.  Websites are dedicated to it. Chatrooms go into overdrive on the topic. Sensible, rational, intelligent women have been known to lose their actual minds during this period.  It is ROUGH.

But, at the end of the day, or a long IVF cycle, you may end up with a stock of fertilised blastocysts, or even better a BFP – big fat positive pregnancy test – or, even better than that, an actual bebe.  In equal measure, in fact, a slightly higher probability, is a BFN or indeed a pregnancy ending in miscarriage.

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I don’t recommend taking IVF lightly. As something we “tried” it wasn’t like taking a car for a test drive.  It is by far the most invasive, uncomfortable and emotional experience I have voluntarily walked into. However, I am so grateful that (a) I got the opportunity to experience it, to pursue our dream of starting a family and (b) I am now able to better understand the difficulties and challenges many people face on their own journeys.

Miscarriage

The word fills me with sadness. I am just one of literally billions of women that have suffered a miscarriage.  One in every four women suffer a miscarriage. Miscarriages come in all shapes and sizes, none any more manageable than the others.  There is not a scale of horribleness for a miscarriage, depending on when it was or how it happened, the reality is that – in every single case – you had hope and you lost it. It slipped away. And it was out of your control.  Losing something you really want is never easy.  It is utterly devastating. Before 20 weeks it is known as miscarriage, and after 20 weeks gestation, still birth.

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According to the NHS:

For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

But, sadly, it is not as simple as just brushing it away and starting again.  This isn’t just a medical process that had a bit of an unfortunate ending. You have to wait until you are emotionally fit.  You have to wait until you are physically strong enough and your body is prepared to try again.  For the women that aren’t “most women”, they may suffer multiple miscarriages.  Every pregnancy after a loss is wrought with anxiety and fear, every trip to the toilet could spell the end. Pregnancy is much less joyous when it’s filled with fear and questioning. You dare not get excited, you don’t know what to think, even though every cell in your body is screaming at you that it’s working on something miraculous. There aren’t really any words for the feeling of losing that miracle.

I’m mindful here that I can’t speak to how it must feel for a man to lose a baby, for a partner to lose a baby they weren’t carrying.  As the carrier, your body is reminding you every moment that passes that it couldn’t do its job, for whatever reason.  It takes a long time for that feeling to subside. A part of you is lost forever, in the same way that a part of you is exposed as it wanders around in front of your eyes.

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For anyone out there going through a loss, sending strength, and hope.  There is no plaster that patches up the pain, or drug that can block the dull ache you are feeling, but there is always looking forward, and upwards.

Through the difficult times we experienced, the things I valued most were the family and friends that took the time to sit with me, to listen, or to let me be silent. The friends that brought us some food when we didn’t feel like cooking, that invited us for drinks when we had not had a drink for a while, that showed up on the doorstep when we didn’t feel like getting dressed. The comments and support from the heart, allowing us to grieve and recover rather than jumping forward to what happens next. *Thank you to our friends and family that stood by us, shared their positive energy and hope and enabled us to move forwards.*

When you miscarry, you lose a piece of your heart and you make a dent in your relationship. What we also experienced, however, was a feeling of solidarity and a new level of caring we hadn’t felt before. Monsieur FF was so closely by my side through the horror show that was our drawn-out miscarriage, I could literally lean on him at any moment. His strength lifted me, as I was close to falling. We took some time out, some special memories away from our daily routine to realign and refocus. It seems like a lifetime ago back then, but we truly didn’t know if we would have a family. We agreed to start an adoption process. We agreed to go on a mad holiday. And we agreed we would not give up hope or each other. Our miscarriage made us stronger. We don’t mark any dates or talk about what happened now, for better or for worse, we move forward and, as it happens, we are in the incredibly fortunate position to now have had multiple babes.  It seems that we struck the jackpot, not once but twice.

Good luck and we are here if you need us.

Breastfeeding: the sequel

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Love this by Amen Photography

I have blogged before about the mad journey that is breastfeeding and the wondrousness of boobies (here is the first instalment). Since then I have enjoyed the consequences of breastfeeding (read: saggymcsaggerson babylons) and I have produced a second Bebe, that I have also been feeding with my boobs. Even writing it like that reminds me how mind-boggling it is to nourish a human bean with something produced by my very own breasts. Crazy. (Obviously growing the bean in the first place is pretty stupenduous, but this part you can actually see with your own eyes!)

As I alluded to in the first post written last year, I am entirely mindful that this is a very sensitive subject. Plenty of new mamas don’t breastfeed, either out of choice or because it’s not physically possible, or for many reasons they start and then have to stop, or have to modify what they are doing to suit their babe. No one journey is the same and whatever happens, having a happy, fed bebe is all that matters.  

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Pure happiness right there

As I said last time, this is just me talking about my journey.  I’m lucky / unlucky / weird / blessed / happy to have the chance to breastfeed again. However, I must say that living this a second time, it has been decidedly harder than the first time. Strange, as you would think boobs get used to it (they certainly look like they do) and as a second time mum, most likely I am already equipped, mentally and wardrobiley, for the job. Turns out not really.  Well, for me at least, the difference I think is down to (i) the bebe and (ii) the circumstances.  I consider these differences a bit below and then I will introduce you to my favourite breastfeeding clothing, in particular The B Shirt.

The Bebette journey is not the same

The bebe part: No pregnancy is the same, “they” say (the older wiser types) and the same goes for all that follows. This Bebette that we have, this little ray of light, is a petite lady who doesn’t gobble like her big brother. She is delicate. It’s more like she’s taking afternoon tea, or a small glass of champagne, than glugging a gallon of milk; I can almost see her little finger up in the air. Bebette can’t easily cope with the fast flow of milk that I have. She wants a skinny pizza with a side of dust, not the Super Mega menu with XL stuffed crust and extra deep-fried cake, and a beer or 10….

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The problem is that boobie milk systems need some sort of regulation – if Bebe is fussy, you end up with your boobs getting very confused about all this nibbling and they lose track of how much milk to actually make.  This, in my case, led to a bout of (very painful) mastitis (more on this below).  It has also resulted in the washing machine going into overdrive with milk-sodden clothing.  Poor Boddler has had the shock of his life a couple of times when he has come to inspect “Sista mulk” and been sprayed in the face himself. Luckily he has goggles.

After the double whammy hospital adventure we enjoyed last month, I’ve also spent a lot of time pumping this time round. Jeez, the hospital pump is hard.  Massive shout out to all the mamas out there that have had to pump, whether to encourage their milk production, or because their babe is hospitalised at birth or afterwards, or because their babe simply won’t latch. It is harrowing.  But massive cheers to the NHS for providing nourishment for hospital mamas, this really makes a huge difference.  Also, whilst pumping is hard, it is a little intriguing to see how much milk you are making – as a mildly competitive person, I kept challenging myself in hospital to make more and more, gallons of milk, feed my Bebette until she rolls out of hospital…. FYI I lost, but it was a good challenge.

As a side note, any newish breast feeders reading should be aware of the symptoms of mastitis (NHS link here).  When it happened to me, it escalated quickly, my boob felt bruised and sore in the morning, it was a bit red, then more disconcerting was the crazy headache and flu-like symptoms I developed that afternoon: I got fever and the shivers and ended up calling 111 the next morning, a Sunday (again!) and was able to get a prescription for antibiotics very rapidly for later that day. Hot showers, continuous feeding if you can, and massaging helps, but as soon as you feel fluey or sick, you need to get medical help asap, as it can be very painful.  *Shout out to my GP mama friends that helped me (and continue to help) with sound advice through these struggles.  Legends.*

The ease with which you can breastfeed may also be influenced by the circumstances, like whether you already have a child running around, and the time of year: last time I was breastfeeding it was spring – summer; I had little vests I could pull down, and limited additional clothing required in the warm weather (yes, yes, U.K. warm so you still needed a second layer…). I also had the time to sit down and wasn’t likely to get a ball lobbed at my head whilst I was feeding.  Shocker! Back then, Boddler was so greedy I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a hand in pulling my top down to get to the food himself. There was almost no spillage or regurgitation. The whole feeding process was quite straight-forward and manageable, except for the odd leak and the teeth *panic face*.

Bebette is quite a different kettle of fish. She likes the warmth and comfort of my boobie area but is less bothered about the actual milk. She also feels more delicate, has a sensitive stomach and needs to be carefully positioned for her feeds.  This is in contrast to Boddler who was like a magnet to the nipple. Bebette needs a compass and guide dog and tends to fall asleep whilst feeding.

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Like my maternity wear this time round, I was armed with a bit more knowledge of what was required for nursing a babe. However when I went through my box of neatly organised maternity clothes (read: pile of clothes shoved in a corner that I wasn’t expecting to see for a loooong time) I couldn’t really find any good feeding tops in there. Just a lot of vests and the odd mamalicious or seraphine number. I had a couple of big shirts but, I confess, I hate ironing. So I am not wearing those.

the B shirt

A good feeding top requires stretchiness and also must be a material that can be scrunched up (or down) without being too thick, and without preventing bebe from breathing or making her get too hot. This time round I also have a decidedly more flabby tummy, and it certainly looks more traumatised with my new tiger stripes second time round. I am acutely aware when I try to cobble together my own feeding clothes (ie two tops on top of each other, one pulled down and one pulled up) there is a very high chance of embarrassing flab-flashing.  I am already getting my boob out, I don’t particularly want to extend the nudiness any further.

So, there’s a legit need for something new – where can I find a good breastfeeding top? After lots of googling in the middle of the night I found my answer.  Say bonjour to The B Shirt. The B Shirt is a breastfeeding dream – it keeps your tummy covered whilst you discretely locate your milkers and latch your bebe on. The B Shirt is stretchy and warm, long enough to cover you and your bottom, and it washes well. And it can deal with frequent washing too. But best of all, the B Shirt does good things.  It supports women that are struggling – more on this below.

The top comes in three basic colours; white, grey and black. No garish flower patterns or bold horizontal stripes that make you feel even more ginormous over here.  The boobie “flap” opens upwards discretely, without a full-on untangling or déshabille exercise, revealing two neat little boobie holes, so you won’t be flashing side boob either. It’s not rocket science and yet it is genuinely so hard to find anything even close to suitable for the job. This has been my saviour.

I particularly like the B Shirt because: (a) a couple of real mamas, who themselves have breast fed and supported numerous other mamas with breastfeeding, set up the business not only to help nursing mamas generally;  but also to raise awareness, funds and provide tops and support to breastfeeding mamas out there who are statistically less likely to continue to breastfeed. According to their research, a major reason women stop breastfeeding is embarrassment. Isn’t that sad?

81% of new mothers start off breastfeeding when their babies are born, however when their babies are just 6 weeks old only 36% are still breastfeeding. This means that the UK has some of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world.

Breast milk with all its magic properties is sitting in boobies, ready to go, like a cup of fresh water in the desert, or (more relatable) a delicious steaming pot of coffee on a grey Monday morning, and yet it’s not being served because the barista is embarrassed about the cups he is serving it in. Meanwhile there’s a ginormous advert for Starbucks, with a cup that runneth over, right outside. You get the point.

Money from the sales of the B Shirt and donations will go towards getting those mamas in need the right clothing to do this important job, without feeling embarrassed.  I concur that this top has reduced my embarrassment levels, which are all the higher when there’s also a toddler running around and therefore the possibility of large scale accidental flashing, and much more rushed boob-accessing. A comfortable, affordable top that does good beyond helping you on your breastfeeding journey – pretty epic. (b) it’s called the “B” Shirt – the logo is boobs – it’s like we were destined to be together! And (c) the ladies that came up with this beauty are located in Totnes, which is a magical place in Devon I happen to know thanks to my musical sister and her man who are very happily located there. Side note: it is glorious and definitely worth a visit. (d) they also sell reusable bamboo breast pads which are great.  Another winner, comfortable and environmentally friendly.  Boom.

The one thing missing at the moment with the B Shirt is sleeves, although I expect sleeves are in the pipeline along with more colours.  I also don’t think the lace trim is particularly necessary, but equally it adds something to remind you where the flap is – tired mamas need all the help we can get!  The only good feeding top I’ve found with sleeves is a Seraphine bamboo top, which is super soft, but I can’t find the link to that now, and as far as I’m aware Seraphine doesn’t boast the same mission and aims as the B Shirt so I would rather spend my money with the Totnes ladies.

I’m teaming my B shirt with the Bravado Seamless Nursing Bra, available from John Lewis.  It’s a bestseller and I can see why – super comfy, supportive, and easy to get up and down. Also very easy to wash.  Feeding bras have caused me as much angst as the tops, but this bra has done the job and even comes with conversion kit so when you are done feeding you can continue to wear this.  Unlikely, for my fried eggs, but I appreciate the opportunity.

So, that’s me done on breastfeeding take 2 (so far) and what I’m wearing.  I hope this is helpful and good luck you wonder mamas!

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I leave you with this thought of the day.  Really orange carrots.

 

Bronchi Bébés and the bladdy amazing NHS

The last few weeks have been a far cry from our usual pre-Christmas shenanigans. Both Boddler and Bebette were taken ill, and not just poorly with a Christmas cold, they both had collapsed lungs, also known as chest infections, also knows as pneumonia, bronchitis, also known as hospitalisation and – in Bebette’s case – intensive care. It was horrific.

This post is about that experience and – given the nature of the events – probably won’t be as light-hearted as usual. It wasn’t really a funny situation. Actually it was certainement the most terrible thing I have ever experienced. As I write this I will cry as I try to process what happened, which I’ve been politely blocking.

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Northwards we go

The story begins when we optimistically / naively thought we could take our babes on a “quick trip” up North to visit family and friends and do a bit of Yuletide celebrating. I had been fretting about the long car journey (usually 4-5 hours) with Bebette who, up until then, in all her 7 weeks had not managed a car journey *ever* without screaming her head off. I mean the simple sight of the car seat sent her into meltdown. I spent the day packing and prepping a routine to attempt to get her to the North, without our ear drums giving up their day jobs.  Btw the key element of the plan is a bath, which she hates, but exhausts her sufficiently to fall into a deep sleep.

By some miracle my travel baby plan went… to plan, and Bebette slept the whole journey. As did Boddler. Peace. For 3.5 hours (quickest drive ever – thanks Papa FF). We could not believe it. Little did we know that karma was waiting just round the corner. The next days we had some joyous celebrations and visits, until Boddler went to bed and developed a mad temperature. Actual temperature unknown due to my inability to pack a thermometer. We got ourselves so worried, Papa FF went off to borrow Auntie Em’s thermometer at 3am, which obviously confirmed what our hands were telling us – he had a raging temperature and was looking sick as a dog. We cuddled everyone together until daylight and then the next day – a Sunday – we dashed to purchase another thermometer (there were no Braun in the ear ones left, so we got a head scanner – we do not recommend the scanners – Braun in the ear is the way forward). Of course it was Sunday so the doctors was shut, meaning I spent the day frantically scanning Boddler’s head, assessing his behaviour, and consulting friends and family to try to determine what level of panic I should be reaching.  Boddler was coughing a bit, seemed to be wheezy, and breathing quite rapidly, had a gunky eye, was teary and clingy.  And hot. The best advice I got was to “look at the child not the number” i.e. stop freaking out about the temperature and look at how your child is coping with the illness. There wasn’t much I could do about the situation other than wait to see if anything got markedly worse – however every dose of calpol seemed to have a magic effect and Boddler went from lethargic to pelting around the house.  Just to add to the stress, Papa FF had to voyage over to France to say goodbye to his Bonne-Maman.  We had agreed to stay behind in the interests of a peaceful sendoff, but that meant I was left with the two babes and a worried Papa trying to assist from afar.

Out of hours 

Boddler was gradually getting worse and was clearly pretty poorly. A call to 111 confirmed he was indeed unwell, based on all their questions, and ideally should be checked out in person by a medical professional, asap. However I also had 7 week old Bebette, who was very fussy and frankly couldn’t really be left on her own for more than 5 minutes without having a meltdown. I was with my parents, one of whom needed to be in work the next day and the other who has recently had a double knee replacement.  Quandary –  Do I (a) go to the hospital in the middle of the night on a rainy Sunday, with a sick and tired Boddler, tiny un-immunised Bebette, and a tired Grandad, or (b) not sleep a wink, worry all night, fear for the worst until the morning and hope to visit a local doctor asap? Just as I thought I had made my decision, Boddler started to vomit immediately after being given a dose of calpol, and I could not for the life of me understand from the instructions whether I could safely give him another dose or not. I knew then that we had to make the middle of the night doctor trip, even though an appointment at 11pm on the other side of Sheffield was far from ideal. Off we journeyed with Grandad F as my man of the hour, and Boddler did another big vomit upon exiting the car, just to confirm we were doing the right thing.

The initial diagnosis at 11pm was a chest infection, high temperature and some difficulty breathing aka a trip to the Children’s hospital for at least a few days oxygen and antibiotic support. Urgh. Poor Boddler. And poor us as we were not prepared for this. Despite walking around like a bag woman I had not actually packed any useful survival items, particularly not for myself. If you need a glossy scented lip balm or foot massage oil,  I have 5, but clean undies, deodorant and water, negative. By now it was 1am and we were waiting at the Children’s hospital to be seen again. In amongst the drunk teenagers, and sick little people, the triage nurse kindly asked if I had realised that Boddler had a “very high” temperature (oh really? we were actually just passing and thought we would nip in for shits and giggles!) – after a little bit of drama during which Boddler decided calpol was poison, he eventually took it and kept it down, and so perked up no end.  He discovered a whole host of joyous toys to play with (*hospital toys are possibly not the most prudent option if you want to avoid more germs*) – and by the time he was seen by the young doctor on duty, around 2.30am, he was almost back to his normal self. Diagnosis now amended to viral infection with calpolic treatment and basically go home.  I have to say at that point Grandad (who had rocked Bebette into a peaceful sleep on repeat for the past 3 hours with his guns of steel) and I sighed with relief and headed back to the car and home.

Btw – side note – exiting an empty car park at 3am on a Monday morning, with a screaming Bebette and whimpering Boddler was bizarrely one of the most excruciating experiences I have had of late. I didn’t know what was still to come, but at that moment, both me and Grandad, who wouldn’t say boo to a ghost, were using expletives I wouldn’t begin to repeat here, in our attempts to try to find the exit, which seemingly was somewhere in the sky and at an angle that no one could reasonably be expected to manoeuvre into unless they were driving one of those tiny smart cars for ants.  RIDIKCULOUS. Then the car park ticket didn’t want to go in the machine, nor be read, having been rained on and squished beyond recognition by my derriere, and I genuinely contemplated glugging the bottle of calpol and throwing myself under the stationary car wheels.

Home, Boddler breathing and Duchess

Anyway, *trying to hide rage problems* we then spent all day Monday taking it easy and waiting for Papa’s return. Calpol continued to work / mask the extent of Boddler’s sickness.  A bit of a fresh air the next day and we were off back down South to the quiet safety of our own home. Alas, as we arrived at home, at 11pm, Boddler suddenly started to gasp for breath and vomited again. This time he was really struggling for breath, and we knew we needed urgent help. We calmed him down, helping him to breathe and cleaned him up, whilst we called 111 and they sent an ambulance.  After a slightly fraught discussion about who should do what, and Boddler intervening with cries of “MUMMY” in a full yorkshire accent, I was loaded into the ambulance with a weepy hot Boddler, my purse and phone and not a lot else. We arrived at our local A&E with a terrified little Boddler who had decided that every piece of equipment posed a threat to his life and even the oxygen finger reader was number 1 worst enemy.  He was just in his nappy (massive error on my part, why I thought a blanket was sufficient is beyond me), and we were sitting in the waiting area trying to catch a urine sample (too bizarre for words).  After another dose of calpol, Boddler was back in action at the hospital toy station, and at around 4am had made a new friend called Duchess, who politely informed him that he shouldn’t throw anything inside (“my mum says throwing is for outside only” – so true Duchess, I entirely agree) and was mildly shocked when Boddler started chasing her around the hospital and his nappy fell down. Ploof. It was the highlight of my night.  The doctor was again erring towards sending us home with a virus assessment, but I insisted they wait to review Boddler once the calpol had worn off.  Papa FF arrived with Bebette who needed milk urgently, and we all watched as Boddler deteriorated and suddenly was in the emergency room requiring oxygen and nebulisers. Giving small children nebulisers is like a form of extreme torture and anyone that has had the horror of being present during the process will confirm it is sickening to witness. Of course there is good reason for administering such things but it is deeply unpleasant holding a mask over your child’s face.

Fast forward to us being admitted to a ward and Boddler getting a hearty dose of antibiotics, more oxygen reading and beeping, and dodging his oxygen mask at any opportunity.  Time for another quandary: Boddler was not well and had defaulted to screams of “MUMMY” for all communication needs. There was no way I could leave him.  Papa did his best but Boddler was having none of it, it was Mummy or meltdown.  Bebette, who by this time was doing little barking coughs of her own, really did not need to be in the hospital full of germs for extended periods of time.  And our fellow ward friends did not need to have a new baby screaming in the middle of the night. Very reluctantly I sent off my tiny 7 week old baby with Papa, with instructions on locating the frozen milk stocks.  I pulled up my bed next to Boddler, along with a mega breast pump, a hearty supply of snacks and water and tears running down my cheeks.  You cannot be in two places at once.

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Activity walls of joy in the hospital

The next morning, Boddler was absolutely on the mend, playing and exploring, but my Bebette was looking decidedly worse for wear.  Papa had brought her in against our original plan, knowing she wasn’t quite right, but not wanting to alarm me before he got to us.  After I took her in my arms and noticed how quiet she was, and one of the nurses confirmed “that bebe doesn’t look well” I panicked and rushed her downstairs to A&E, where we spent the day being observed. Another long day in bright white lights, listening to the hustle and bustle and drama of a busy A&E.  Ultimately the conclusion was yes, she is poorly too, yes she has bronchiolitis, yes she has a temperature, but there’s not a lot that can be done so go home and rest. Boddler was simultaneously released, so we breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed home, to shower and bed.  We are done! What a nightmare.

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Bebette ups the ante

Alas, the relief was short-lived. After a trip to the GP with Bebette the day after A&E, and confirmation that her oxygen levels were fine, Bebette and I had a troubled night, with her feeding very little, doing little barky/ choking type coughs, and seeming again out of sorts, spiking temperatures. By Saturday morning she was visibly working hard for her breath and couldn’t feed comfortably.  (I made a video so if anyone is concerned and wants to see what a baby working for breath looks like, especially around the lungs and chest area, just get in touch and I can share it – it was useful to film to compare with the previous day to see that it was getting worse).

We packed our bags (being a bit more organised after the night with Boddler and nappy-gate) and dashed to A&E where Bebette was promptly put on oxygen and then opti-flow oxygen.  She hadn’t had any food for a good 16 hours.  Papa took Boddler back home for nap time and food, thinking all was under control.  Then the seriousness of Bebette’s situation really hit me. In my arms, she got very worked up with someone fiddling with her mask and then, suddenly, the colour drained from her face, she closed her eyes and passed out.  My heart fell through my stomach – I mustered a scream sufficient to get most of the emergency team into the room rapidly. Bebette’s forehead flashed spots of angry red and I looked around to see if anyone could explain what was happening, and to gauge if this was somehow normal… all I saw were terrified faces and at that moment I lost a piece of myself. Someone grabbed Bebette from my arms and started to rub her and pat her back, until her colour started to come back and she opened her eyes. There was a huge, collective sigh of relief and most people disappeared from the room as quickly as they had appeared, except the core team who continued to fuss around her and confirmed she needed to be admitted to the ward asap (we had been waiting for a bed for a long time).

I didn’t know what to do other than texting Papa to tell him to get in the car straight away.  I didn’t write much more because I couldn’t compute what was happening to our little lady or what we could do.

PICU

Fast forward a few hours, and a botched transfer up to the ward (it would have been perfect comical material if it wasn’t my beautiful daughter being jostled around) and Bebette is not improving. There’s a lot of talk about the “worst” part of bronchiolitis being days 3 – 5 of the illness. But of course it’s hard to determine when the illness officially begun.

Bebette is getting more and more frustrated by the masks and wires, she’s hungry, she’s absolutely knackered and almost certainly feeling like absolute rubbish as well. The lights are bright, the noise is loud and disturbing, she’s telling us she has almost had enough, and we are starting to really panic.  We start mobilising friends and relatives to look after Boddler because we need to be with Bebette.  Together, Because it is really serious.

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The paedeatric consultant, the same woman that discharged Alex two days prior, was brilliant and explained to us that there were two potential routes forward; one presupposing this is the worst day of illness, and that Bebette starts to improve, then more oxygen, more monitoring, antibiotics, lumbar punctures to check for bacteria in the brain (she did explain this in more detail to allay the immediate heart attack reaction – but as I’m clearly not a qualified medical professional I am just giving you the layman’s highlights) and hopefully home soon… the other was more terrifying yet, sedation, intubating, travelling to another hospital where they had paedeatric intensive care, … The consultant clarified that by intubating Bebette and allowing her body to rest, and a machine to breathe for her, we were giving her more chance to fight the virus, whatever it was that was causing her lungs to be infected and one of them partially collapsed.

As the time went by, the doctors multiplied, they came and observed the little lady, frowned, muttered, and eventually decided on the second option. Cue more sobbing from this mama, as I saw my tiny baby girl being wheeled up to theatre to be knocked out and intubated. Then the anaesthetist team pitched up and this is where the experience got even more crazy: we were made to feel very safe, very comfortable, to the point that Papa and the team were cracking jokes.  Terrible jokes, but jokes nonetheless. Everything that was happening was clearly explained to us, we were offered a hot drink whilst they were doing their work, we reviewed the X-rays with the consultant, and the next thing we knew we were in an ambulance, it was 2am, Bebette was safely tucked into a little space rocket, and again we were being offered a biscuit and a drink for the journey.  As a tired and hungry breastfeeding mama, I actually needed that biscuit.  It was just so thoughtful.  The chap leading the team and driving made everything seem normal and explained we were going to have the blue lights and sirens on just because “we will just get there a bit faster – don’t worry about it”.  The South Thames Retrieval Service even gave Bebette a little teddy, which she had with her all through the journey and which is now in her bed.  The service and the team were just fantastic.

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Socks were also critical to keep tiny tootsies warm – we were lucky enough to have a newly knitted selection.

So we arrive with our entourage at Denmark Hill PICU and are greeted by another team of legends who tell us to go and sit in the parents room whilst they get Bebette comfortable. Thirty minutes later we are allowed to see her and she is all wrapped up, with her little teddy, and her special fox blanket from Grandma that I managed to grab on the way out of our house, what felt like days ago.  She has wires and tubes and tape all over and I find that I’m sobbing again, feeling crap and useless, my poor tiny little scraggle and I can do nothing to help her. I’m a waste of space. I’ve had a daughter for a grand total of 8 weeks and I haven’t looked after her well enough.  I haven’t told her how much I love her and how much I want to love her.  I don’t know her yet.  Not being able to take my baby in my arms was heartbreaking.  Seeing her tiny body frozen, rhythmically breathing but, to the uninitiated eye, lifeless, …. I can’t even find the words.  We have not had enough time.  My body aches to hold her and feed her and to comfort her.  I can’t look at Papa FF.  I feel broken.

I knew she was as safe as she could be, but she wasn’t with me, and it felt all wrong.  I was simply not prepared for anything like this to happen.

For what was left of that night, Papa and I curled up on tiny sofa chairs and tried to sleep, between tears.  By this time we had mobilised family support and had anxious relatives waiting to hear what was going on, but we couldn’t really provide much by way of update. Those days were the scariest days of my life so far. I just did not know what could happen.  The team in the PICU were unbelievably fantastic, supportive, reassuring, took the time to talk to us and answer Papa’s 4,590 questions (one of them who was partially deaf had a lucky escape and missed half of the French inquisition) and were generally mesmerising to watch in action. There was beeping coming from all angles, tubes everywhere, and a cleanliness regime so strict that I found myself day dreaming about antibacterial soap and wearing a giant glove.  During this time, I desperately wanted Bebette to keep getting my milk and so was frantically pumping at regular intervals. If you’re breastfeeding and in hospital you get meals to keep you going. At first I was non-plussed by this, but by the end of my stay I was positively salivating at the thought of my steamed fish and chips and chocolate custard pudding.  Any stress-related weight loss that occurred in the early phases of the drama were rapidly recovered thanks to the NHS food supplies, and Costa christmas coffees.

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We were sent home to get a proper nights’ sleep, and whilst we attempted some sleep, Bebette took matters into her own hands and extubated herself. What that means is she ejected her breathing tube, without asking the doctors to help her out. Forgive the lack of technical lingo. This would have been extremely stressful for the poor nurse caring for her that night, who had insisted we go home to rest, and who herself was 36 weeks pregnant, but she so kindly waited until morning to give us a courtesy call just to let us know what had happened and to tell us not to worry.  As Bebette was managing fine without the breathing tube, she didn’t need to have it reinserted (good news) but she had skipped the drug weaning process which required her to have small doses of various drugs until she was ok without them, rather than going from a high dose to nada cold turkey (not so good).  She spent a day or so frantically and silently crying (very bizarre, poor lamb had no voice), wide awake, which in hindsight was her withdrawing from the drugs.  I had convinced myself she was just very grumpy after so much drama and so many nappy changes, which btw she continues to absolutely hate. Her poor bottom was red raw from the antibiotics and she was just fed the fred up.

Anyway, the story is nearing its close now with a joyous happy ending, as the strong little fighter massively improved in the following days. Blood tests confirmed she had RSV virus, strains A AND B.  This had developed into a lung infection aka bronchiolitis. She did not have a bacterial infection and therefore no lumbar puncture required.  She was very much on the mend and fighting fit after her 2 days in ICU and night in high dependency.  We were in hospital for a total of 7 days from the second A&E visit, and I barely left her side or the hospital room for that time. I couldn’t do anything except stare into space, chat to the nurses in awe of their life-saving skills, mutter as I hooked myself up to the milking machine, question my value to society, and eventually get excited for the steamy, starchy, soggy surprise that was coming my way at 8am, 12pm and 5pm every day.  I can still hear the beeping machines.

Taking Bebette home and cuddling up with Boddler last Saturday was the most glorious thing that has happened to us.  These last weeks have been about realising how lucky we are to have our children and each other, how brave and strong those children are, how fantastic our health service is in emergency circumstances, how much support we are lucky to have from people around us, and how much we should REALLY appreciate every day we get, as parents, partners, members of a family and members of society.

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Please always be grateful for your little ones, please keep a close eye on them during the bronchi season (details and symptoms can be found here) and please don’t hesitate to seek help and get advice from the experts if you are in any doubt about the health of your bebe.

For anyone reading this that works for the NHS, thank you. There aren’t words that can really do this justice, but you are all amazing and we are so grateful.

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An extra special family snap (photo credit: the awesome Russ Jackson Photography)

Baby Stuff #1

Babies are expensive. Everyone starts to tell you this about a minute after you announce your happy news. You nod politely but secretly imagine yourself laden with baby joys in one hand and a full purse in the other. After all, you are a master shopper.  Bargains fall into your hands.  Shopping is easy.

When your bump is sufficiently secure and protruding, you will start the exciting task of equipping yourself for ze bebe.  This involves reading endless blogs, signing up for every advisory webpage under the sun and, primarily, mothercare and mamas and papas, reviewing endless “must have” lists and seeking individual and personal recommendations from anyone who has ever been in close proximity to a child.

It is at this point you start to realise that, yes, everyone was quite right: if you survive the birth, you may be bankrupt.  How can such a small thing require so much stuff??

This is the first of a series of blogs on baby stuff.

#1 Sleeping

Let’s start with the simple stuff. When you think of a baby, how do you imagine them?  Peaceful, angelic….snoozing.  You usually imagine them asleep, right? So it probably doesn’t cross your mind that your baby might not actually sleep. Of course he will sleep! I’ve seen lots of them, it’s all they do!

How wrong you are.

You get all the basic sleep devices for a tiny human being; a moses basket, maybe a crib or a cot attached to your bed, or separate, ready for the big move after 6 months (!!).  You get the special mini sheets and blankets and cushions-for-ants. Maybe even a dangly musical mobile, and the special sheep – you know, Ewan the Sheep, the fluffy white, glowing noise machine that pretty much everyone and their uncle recommends… (see pic!)  But that’s just the start, my friends.  You see, the baby won’t actually want to sleep in the basket when it is bed time. Or in the crib.  Ewan the blessed Sheep won’t help. In fact, there is only one sleep thing baby requires and that is to sleep on mummy.  He doesn’t care about white noise, soft sheets or mobiles. He wants warm, milky, sweaty, tired mummy.

By the way, it is strongly recommended by the NHS, the midwife, the health visitor, your mum etc. that baby does not sleep with or on you.  PANIC FACE. What do you do?  You’re extremely sleep deprived and insanely protective of this little thing.  Ok, it makes sense that they should not sleep on you or in your bed – what if you fall asleep or roll over? It’s logical and safe advice not to do it. Except logic isn’t necessarily prevalent right now.  Your baby literally won’t sleep anywhere that’s not you. And just as a reminder, you haven’t slept yourself in what feels like a decade.  You are literally delirious from sleep deprivation.  Every time you feed the little babe they fall asleep on you.  So what the heck do you do?  This was the situation we found ourselves in. To make matters worse Bébe FF wouldn’t sleep on his back at any time, so even when we managed to get him to sleep somewhere that wasn’t on mummy (or daddy, or grandma) then we had to wedge him onto his side.  Not as bad as him sleeping on his front, but still not ideal.

If sleeping problems happen to you, you may need the next level of sleeping device.  And you guessed it, there are loads to choose from, they all claim to work miracles and they come with a hefty price tag.  There’s the baby swaddles that claim to work miracles (we found certain “normal” blankets worked well and secured Bébé FF nicely), baby sounds and smells (lavender and camomile) and then there’s the memory-foam-based-item-that-feels-safe-and-snuggly to essentially wedge your baby into a position that they feel safe enough to sleep in like a womb (like the cocoonababy, the sleepyhead, etc, although sometimes towels will do).  Why someone hasn’t invented one in the shape of boobs I do not know.

In our house, le must ‘ave for sleeping baby is the “Lambie” – a lambskin that bébé can snuggle into, that keeps him warm or cool, and travels around in all sleeping devices as a constant.  He loves it.

Oh and one last thing – when they are asleep safe and sound in their cribs or cots or baskets, with their sleepyheads, sleeping music and sleeping suits, you will then need a baby monitor to check – roughy every 2 seconds – that your bundle is, in fact, asleep.

A baby monitor is essentially a walkie talkie.  Except baby monitors do so much more.  They are literally all singing all dancing… you can get ones with a camera and screen and a light show and musical accompaniment, including white noise, classical music, ones with a safety mat alarm thingamy (I’ve heard these are more hassle than they are worth) – the choices are endless.  Naturally, the level of technical wizardry is proportionate to the level of $$$ you will be handing over.  This may be one that Daddy decides is his domaine.  Mr FF made the executive decision on ours (BT) because, you know, even though it is a baby monitor there are technical things like batteries involved so best to leave it to the experts…

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Unknown baby winning at sleep.  FYI probably not a safe sleeping device.