Sleep training

Before I had Archie, I hadn’t given much thought to how I’d get him to go to sleep and I’d certainly never heard of sleep training before. About 4.5 months in and having endured 5 consecutive weeks of literally no sleep, the 3 of us were all completely miserable and my friend said I should consider sleep training. I’m so glad she did because it was a huge turning point and we’ve never looked back since.

sleep training

4 month sleep cycles

At around 4 months all babies go through a development change whereby their sleep cycles change and become more like that of an adult’s. It won’t always be hugely noticeable as some babies cope better with the change than others. For us, when Archie was just over 3 months old he started waking every 45 mins-1 hour in the night and was pretty much refusing to nap in the day.

I’ll admit that we made a few mistakes which didn’t help. Firstly, we never put Archie down to sleep when he was awake. Mostly we would feed him to sleep and in the daytime would hold him during naps or at bedtime we would have the fun battle of trying to put him down without him noticing! But after a while, babies will refuse to feed to sleep and so we began singing and rocking him instead but this quickly became exhausting when it took around 45 mins for him to actually fall to sleep.

He slept OK in the car but rarely slept in his pram. So after 5 weeks of literally no sleep, I was completely desperate and was lucky enough to speak to a friend who talked me through sleep training and ultimately gave me the push I needed to try it.

Sleep training in action

Sleep training is essentially just a way of teaching your baby to self-soothe so that when they wake up in the night they can soothe themselves back to sleep. It’s an important milestone for your baby to learn and some won’t need much encouragement whereas some will need your help to learn.

The very next day after speaking to my friend, we decided to put Archie in his own room and start sleep training. I appreciate not everyone would be happy to put their baby in his/her own room at this age (4.5 months) but we realised that we were all waking each other up in the same room and given we had a movement sensor/ monitor we were happy that he would be safe.

In terms of the sleep training method we used, essentially it goes like this:

  1. Put baby down awake (make sure they are well fed and dry first)
  2. Give them a kiss on the head and say “It’s night-time/ nap-time now” and walk out of the room
  3. If baby is crying after 2 mins, then go back in and repeat step 2
  4. Double the time you go back in each time, so after you went in at 2 mins, if they are still crying after 4 mins (6 mins in total since step 1) then repeat step 2
  5. And so on….

Essentially you can do any routine you want in step 2 but the key is to repeat it every time you go into the room and do not pick them up. That way, eventually they will understand that there’s no benefit in crying and they will fall to sleep more easily.

Of course, the above all sounds so simple in theory but in practice it can be very emotional and it will be very difficult for you to hear your baby crying and to not pick them up. The first few days were really tough but I made sure my husband was around for morale support and that made the world of difference. I also made sure I kept busy and away from his room (with the monitor) during the times when he was crying so I didn’t solely focus on it.

But to be honest, I was amazed at how quickly Archie took to it. Within a few weeks, he was mostly going down without crying at all (or very little) which I would never have believed previously. And even at the worst times, Arch would usually give in just before the 16 mins milestone (so 30 mins in total).

Nap times were probably the hardest because I would always doubt whether I called it wrong and maybe he wasn’t tired enough but it soon became a lot easier to know when he needed his sleep and his cues became more and more obvious (for him it was usually when he was becoming agitated for no apparent reason and when he rubbed his ears).

Sleep training on reflection

I completely appreciate that the above is not for everyone and if you’re not completely desperate and can find another way then that’s great. But for us, it was literally a life-saver. Sleep had always felt like such a battle and it was so draining that I never really felt like I was coping before. The change in Archie was also huge – his development came on massively as soon as he was getting the sleep he needed and he was generally just so much happier. We’re lucky that he’s been a pretty good sleeper ever since and the only downside is that he rarely sleeps anywhere but his cot which can be a bit inflexible but for us, we’d rather just work our days round his routine for a happier life.

 

Am I a good mum?

A little while ago, I was chatting to one of my mummy friends about what it means to be a good mum and how I hope one day I would feel like one. It got us chatting about self-doubt and how it’s so easy to feel like you’re the only one struggling at the time. When in fact it’s probably the furthest from the truth.

goodmum

I’ve touched on this before but becoming a mummy has led me to doubt myself more than at any other time in my life. I guess being a first-time mum brings with it a whole new vulnerability – it’s completely natural for you to have no idea what you’re doing but for some reason you can feel like a failure for being that way.

I think partly it’s because looking around at the other mums they often look like they have it all together and you only notice when your own baby/ child is crying/ playing up.

Plus motherhood leads you to make so many different decisions and each time you have to make one there’s so much room for doubt. I’m a big believer that there’s no right way to “mother”. You have to make decisions that are right for you and your family. And only you (and your partner) are the ones that can make them. But the pressure when you’re making a decision for the most important thing in your life can sometimes feel a little much!

Almost a year later and I’ve started to open up more and more to a few of my closest mummy friends. And it’s clear that we are all in the same boat. Even with my nearly one year old, I still feel like I’m winging it every day. Every stage is new – weaning, teething, crawling, walking etc. – so it’s no wonder I don’t feel like a competent mummy yet. Do you ever get to a point where you feel that way I wonder?!

I look at my own mum and think of how amazing she is and how it all seems to come so naturally. But of course I never saw the early days when perhaps things weren’t as easy as they are now with 2 daughters who have grown up and fled the nest.

What I would say is the fact that EVERYONE has an opinion when you have a baby doesn’t help you to build self-confidence. I have no idea why but for some reason when women are often at their most vulnerable, people think it’s OK to judge and inflict their own (often strong) opinions on you – even strangers! And ironically, more often than not, it’s other women who have been first-time mums themselves once upon a time.

I hope that I never get to a point where I think I know better just because I’ve done it once (or even a few times). Because each person’s experience is different and each baby/ child is different too!

At the start of the year I vowed to believe in myself more. And if I’m being honest I haven’t done so well on that so far. We’ve had a raft of illnesses which seem to have set us back a bit and I’m fully aware that self-confidence isn’t something that happens overnight. But I am determined to work on it and I think the more honest I am about it is a decent starting point.

I once read that if you’re worrying about whether you’re a good mummy or not then the chances are the fact that you’re even worrying about it, means you already are one. I’m going to remind myself of this every time a bit of self-doubt creeps in and I’ll keep you posted as to how I’m getting on!

How to parent with your partner

My husband and I are one of those couples who always said we would never work with each other. We’re complete opposites, which is great for our relationship, but means we would drive each other crazy in a work environment. When we had Archie we didn’t quite anticipate how being parents would essentially mean doing a job alongside each other!! Learning how to parent with your partner is a definite skill and I’ll admit that we haven’t got it cracked just yet. But here are a few things we’ve learnt so far.

parenting

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  1. Don’t compare who has it hardest – it’s so incredibly easy to get into the trap of doing this because, like most things, the grass often seems greener on the other side. But trust me, it’s not useful for anyone and you could probably bicker about it until the end of time. What’s more productive is accepting that you both have it hard in different ways. Parenting is always about sacrifice and compromise. So try to see it from your partner’s point of view and the things they are having to compromise, as well as your own. Clearly this only works if it’s a 2-way street so feel free to refer your partner to this post if necessary!!
  2. Don’t feel you have to do everything together – in the early days in particular, you will probably want to do every nappy change, night feed, clothes change, bath etc. together and that’s fine until you’ve got the hang of it. But once you’re both perfectly capable of doing these things it’s important to give each other a break by sharing out the load. I know it’s not always practically possible but even if it’s just letting each other have a lie in every once in a while, it will remind you that you’re not doing this on your own.
  3. Accept that they might do things differently – yes in an ideal world they’ll do everything exactly how you like it but the probability of this happening is probably close to zero! As long as they’re helping then does it really matter that it’s not in the same order as you do things? And yes it might take them 10 times as long to change a nappy, but who’s it really harming?
  4. Be kind to each other – this was something my Auntie told me was the secret to a happy marriage. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt is not easy when emotions are heightened which they often are with a baby/ child around. However, it is so important to try and see things from your partner’s perspective and remember that they might not be finding it easy either.
  5. Don’t forget to communicate – this is where my husband will be rolling his eyes because I’m particularly bad at this one when I’m feeling stressed. I often assume he knows I need help with something rather than just asking. Which means I’m usually a bit more stroppy about it when I finally get around to saying something!
  6. Make time for each other – sometimes it’s so easy to just be parents and forget about the fact you’re in a relationship with each other too. Try and get out for the occasional date night or make the most of your evenings together. Sometimes having a couple of hours without your phones is particularly helpful because then there’s no distractions (Daddy Lowe – this one’s for you!!).
  7. Be a team – Have each other’s’ backs no matter what. Agree on how you want to do certain things (discipline, routines etc.) and then stick to it. For some reason once you have a baby everyone feels they can have an opinion on EVERYTHING and they’ll let you know about it. So make sure you stick to what you and your partner agrees on in the first place. This will be particularly important when your child is old enough to play you off against each other too!

I’ll be the first to admit that the above is so much easier said than done. In fact, my husband will be laughing reading this saying “yes, you might want to listen to your own advice!” But it’s all a learning curve! So if you have any other pieces of advice, please feel free to share 🙂

Bottle feeding shame

Until recently I wouldn’t have been brave enough to share this photo. I hated the thought of being judged because I was bottle feeding. Looking back, I know that most of it was driven from my own paranoia and my own insecurities. But if you’ve ever wanted to breastfeed and not been able to then I’m sure you will know that it can be a bitter pill to swallow.

bottle feeding

I never knew my desire to breastfeed until it didn’t work out for me. I’ve talked in detail about my journey before (see post here if you’re interested) but essentially I had a very hungry baby and for whatever reason I just couldn’t seem to satisfy him with my own milk. And it was seriously taking its toll on my mental health. Despite some unhelpful comments from a few health professionals (and a few fellow mummies in fact), I had an incredibly supportive family around me, including my husband who ultimately made the decision I was too afraid to make. We started to introduce formula (at around 4 weeks) and we combination fed until Archie was about 3 months old, at which point he decided he’d rather just have formula.

So that’s how our bottle feeding journey began. And almost 9 months later, as much as I still feel a sadness that breastfeeding didn’t work out, I know that we 100% made the right decision for us. Archie was a much happier baby, so much more content, and has thrived ever since.

But for a long time I remember feeling ashamed that I was bottle feeding. I dreaded people asking the question as to how I was feeding. My answer always involved a detailed explanation as to why breastfeeding didn’t work out as if to justify my choice. But it never felt like a good enough reason.

If I went out on my own, I remember timing my outings so we were never out of the house for more than 2 hours (which is how often Archie needed feeding) just to avoid having to feed him in public. I would carefully place the bottle I took (for emergencies) at the bottom of my bag so that if I opened it no one would see and hopefully no one would know.

I was nervous about seeing friends that I hadn’t seen in a while because I didn’t want them to judge me. I didn’t want them to assume I’d taken an “easy route”, especially because they hadn’t seen the impact the whole experience had on me.

And what’s crazy is that apart from a handful of people, most had never judged my decision. It was mostly self-inflicted driven from my own paranoia and the feeling that I was a failure.

Of course, the constant endorsement of breastfeeding doesn’t help. I completely understand the need to promote it but sometimes it feels it’s at the detriment of the mothers who can’t or choose not to. Yes encourage those who can and who want to but there doesn’t need to be a counter effect to that. And often the praise handed out to mums that breastfeed can feel like a critique to those who can’t (or don’t want to). It would be great if there was equal support for both. The fact that the NCT can’t cover it as part of its antenatal course says it all.

So for any bottle feeding mums out there that are struggling with this too, I want you to know that bottle feeding doesn’t define your ability to be a good mummy. You never need to explain yourself or worry about your explanation being good enough. As long as your baby is happy and thriving that’s all that matters. Well actually that’s not entirely true, YOU matter too. Your happiness is just as important. So don’t waste time feeling bad/ ashamed/ any other negative feeling. As long as you are making the best decision for you and your family then ultimately you are doing exactly the right thing and should be proud of that. And I, for one, think you’re doing a great job.

10 things I would tell my pregnant self

With pregnancy comes a whole host of emotions. As much as it’s one of the most exciting times of your life, it’s easy to spend a lot of time worrying about things that are largely out of your control. Here are 10 things I would tell my pregnant self….

pregnant self

  1. Forget about your due date – this is so much easier said than done but if you can find a way to relieve the pressure of your due date then your last few weeks of being pregnant will be a much more enjoyable experience (Read my earlier post – The Waiting Game – to learn from my mistake on this!).
  2. Set up all “baby” equipment and practice, practice, practice– trust me, there is nothing worse than venturing out for the first time with your baby and realising that you can’t put the pram up/ down. Or needing to sterilise bottles/ breast pump and getting into a state because your sleep-deprived mind can’t read the instructions. You might feel silly doing it without a baby in tow but it will be a lot easier than trying to work it when said baby is there with you, and mostly crying at you in frustration (babies are not overly patient in my experience!).
  3. Try not to stress too much about labour – whatever happens you will find a way of getting through labour – whether that’s with pain relief or without, vaginal or C-section, home or hospital birth and so on. None of it really matters in the end as long as you and your baby are OK. And as much as having a rough plan of how you’d like it to go is useful, it’s most likely going to deviate away from that at some point so try to just go with what happens in the moment and be confident in your own ability.
  4. Enjoy the time before your baby gets here – sometimes it’s easy to think solely about the future when you’re expecting but it’s also important to live in the here and now. Your world is about to be turned upside and there are a huge amount of positives that go along with that. But there’s likely to be a few parts of your “old” life that you’ll miss – time to yourself, date nights with your partner, lie-ins etc. – so try to just enjoy those last few moments as much as you can.
  5. Don’t underestimate your instincts – this goes for both during labour and when your baby is here. You know your body and your baby better than anyone so trust your gut no matter what anyone tells you.
  6. There’s no need to over-plan – I remember visiting a number of nurseries when I was heavily pregnant and spending so much time worrying about how I’d cope when I went back to work. And I hadn’t even met my baby yet! Just take each stage as it comes because you may feel differently when it actually happens and no one can predict the future.
  7. The hardest trimester is yet to come – this isn’t meant to scare you but just a reminder that you’ll go through a lot in the fourth trimester – your body will still be recovering, you will deal with a ridiculous number of hormones and you will be trying to work out how to keep your baby happy (/alive). Be kind to yourself. Accept it’s not going to be an easy road but that it’s just a phase and it will get easier.
  8. Remember you’re not alone – sometimes it feels like you need to do everything yourself to be a good mum but it’s just not true. You will need the support of your family and friends. Whether that’s physical support through helping with day-to-day tasks or mental support by being someone you can talk to. Finding mummy friends with similar aged babies is also really helpful. I’ve made a couple of life-long friends in my NCT group who have saved my sanity on many an occasion and just having that reassurance that you’re not alone in your thoughts/ feelings will be such a godsend.
  9. Have a breastfeeding back-up plan – health professionals (and probably many others) will tell you that if you really want to breastfeed you can. But what they often forget is that there are 2 parties to satisfy here and you can’t always predict what your baby is going to do or how you’re going to feel when the time comes. Have a back-up supply of things you will need to bottle feed (bottles, steriliser, and formula) just in case.
  10. Believe in yourself – go into motherhood with confidence, knowing that you can do this. Yes you’ll get things wrong along the way but so does everyone. There will be plenty of differing advice/ opinions from those around you but have the confidence to do what you feel is best and don’t be afraid to go against the crowd.

Do I have a job?

Today marks the day I am officially unemployed. Having decided that (for the time-being at least) I’m going to be a stay-at-home mum has led some people to question whether I have a job at all. Here is my response.

do i have a job

As someone who has been pretty ambitious and career-focused so far in my life, being classed as “unemployed” may seem like a bitter pill for me to swallow. And yes whilst it does irk me that some people believe I’ve taken the easier route by choosing to be a stay-at-home mum, as anyone who’s been one knows, it is without doubt one of the hardest but most rewarding jobs around.

Prior to having Archie I was a marketer for a financial services company in London. It was a fairly high pressured job and I worked long hours on top of a 3 hour daily commute. I’ve always been someone who’s pushed themselves mentally so I enjoyed the complexity of the industry I worked in. Going from this environment to being a stay-at-home mummy has taken some real adjusting for me.

From the outside in, it probably seems that the hardest part of my day is dealing with a tantrum or changing a dirty nappy. But in fact the lack of mental stimulation and adult conversation combined with time to overthink and over-process information has actually been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with. There is no switching off and a constant background worry because ultimately I’m responsible for someone’s life and well-being. And that someone is one of the most important people in my life, who I love more than anything in the world.

Of course a huge perk is that I have the privilege of watching my son grow up and see his little personality develop. I know how lucky I am to do this. But I wouldn’t say that it’s easy. Not that a working parent has it any easier either.

Being a parent means there are sacrifices you have to make. There is no such thing as having it all and I truly believe there is no perfect solution. Like with everything, you just have to do what you feel is best at the time and for your situation.

And right now, this is what feels right for us. But I’m also fully aware that this is likely to change. And there will possibly come a day when we will need to re-balance things. In the meantime, I just hope that I can still be the best mummy I can be by being a stay-at-home one.

Why “breast is best” didn’t work for us

Whilst pregnant with Archie I knew I wanted to breastfeed but I was quite adamant that I wouldn’t put pressure on myself in case it didn’t work out. Fast forward to 2 weeks after his birth and I felt like I had no other choice.

feeding bottle shallow focus photography
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Breastfeeding a very hungry baby

Following Archie’s birth we stayed in the hospital for 24 hours and during that time I was given an amazing amount of breastfeeding support. I left feeling fairly confident that we had the latch right and that breastfeeding would actually work out for us. I remember feeling relieved as I know there is a lot of research to say that “breast is best” and, like every mum, I wanted the best for my baby.

Unfortunately I was completely naive to the fact that it’s not just about getting the latch right.

A few weeks into exclusively breastfeeding, “cluster feeding” was becoming a daily occurrence. Every night Archie would feed continuously from around 2pm to around 1-2am. In fact my hungry little monkey would scream the house down unless he was attached to my boob or asleep! This was “fine” (I use the word loosely!) until my husband went back to work and did his usual 14 hours a day, meaning he got home and I’d barely had a drink or anything to eat, having been “chained” to the sofa all day.

I found the crying extremely hard to deal with.  I felt like it was a reflection on me. Like he was constantly angry at me because I couldn’t satisfy him. Like I just wasn’t good enough.

Although it was only a few weeks, it felt like a lifetime and I feared this was my new life now. Add in (what felt like) a million hormones and a body which was recovering from an intensive labour and I’ve never been more of an anxious wreck.

But despite all of this, I was convinced I didn’t have a choice. Scared I would be a failure. Not as good as the other breastfeeding mums.

This blurred vision wasn’t helped by several health professionals who urged me to keep going, using phrases like “if you formula feed your baby it’s like giving them McDonalds”, “give your baby a roast dinner, not a Big Mac” (yes this was said by different people not just one).

The road to combination feeding

Luckily for me, I had a family who could see the impact this was having on me. The shell of my former self I had become. And not only that, but the unhappy baby I was trying (unsuccessfully) to satisfy. About 4 weeks in, my husband couldn’t take it anymore – he went into the kitchen, made up a bottle of formula – and ultimately made the decision that I couldn’t bring myself to make.

The transition to combination feeding wasn’t a smooth one. Archie’s tummy struggled with the different consistency of formula and experienced horrific wind and reflux. It was excruciating watching my baby in pain and the guilt I felt “because it was my fault” was unbearable.

A couple of weeks in though and we finally got into the swing of things. That’s when I realised the impact the experience had on my bond with Archie. I was finally starting to “like” my baby which I know sounds so awful but it was hard to like someone who just screamed at you for the majority of the day.  And the change in him was profound – he was so much more content and didn’t spend every minute of his day feeding or screaming for food. Don’t get me wrong he still fed a lot and I spent most of my time breastfeeding or preparing bottles but he was definitely happier and it felt more manageable.

The end of breastfeeding

About 10 weeks in I still had a very hungry baby and I was quickly losing faith in my milk so I was topping up more and more with formula. Shortly after, Archie refused to breastfeed and it was a difficult pill to swallow but it was clear what he was telling me. Initially I felt some resentment. Why didn’t my baby want my milk anymore? Why did he not want that comfort from me at least?

But ironically as we moved to formula feeding I felt the bond between us grow and grow. It no longer felt like a battle – him telling me he was hungry and me not being able to satisfy. I could see his personality developing and it was then I realised that there are so many more ways in which I can provide for and comfort him beyond that of feeding.

The right to choose

I’d be lying if I told you it was a perfectly happy ending and I was at peace with our feeding journey. I look back and I’m disappointed that I wasn’t further supported by the health professionals. I was told that if I moved to formula then my baby might prefer it and refuse my milk which horrified me at the time. But as my mum rightly highlighted, so what if he does, doesn’t that just mean you’ve made the right choice?

And that’s just it isn’t it? We live in a day and age where we’re lucky enough to have a choice. Why isn’t it acceptable for you to choose what’s right for you and your baby? Instead I experienced so much guilt and felt like a failure. Something which, even with the perspective I have now, I still find lingers. Because ultimately does it matter how you fed your baby as long as they’re happy and thriving? And as long as you’re happy and coping?

Personally I think not. As mums we’re the ones that know what’s best for ourselves and our babies. Sometimes we just need some encouragement to embrace that during a time when everything else feels out of our control.