The first trimester!

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I write this post on a sunny Saturday morning of the August bank holiday, thinking back to last years August bank holiday. Last year we were living it up in Positano on the Amalfi coast. We were with great friends enjoying summer in the Mediterranean. We had travelled light, and packed at the last minute as had become the norm for us (though still packing at the last minute today we have loaded the boot with masses of paraphernalia for just one night away, two hours down the road).

Last summer, we made the decision that the time was right to expand our family of two. Having returned from an adrenaline filled trip to Costa Rica, we had three weddings lined up, three weekends in a row. It was a month worth of excess – partying, eating and perhaps a few too many drinks. It was a fun time that was followed by a month of trying to eat healthy and get into shape.  August began and along came a few symptoms – breast tenderness, needing to go to the toilet at bit more and no period.  I figured I ought to consider the possibility that pregnancy was on the cards. One test and a picture message later, my husband and I were faced with a whole new experience. As most people do, we were keen to keep it quiet until we had a scan to confirm our suspicion. We did, however, tell our close family. I would have much preferred to do this in person but we were off on holiday with two of our closest friends and there was going to be no hiding it from them (the only alternative for them would be to believe I’d had a personality transplant) We were going to be in Italy – the home of Prosecco and cured meats.

So we went on holiday and had a great time. I had the occasional twinge of nausea and couldn’t manage a large meal but otherwise felt fine. The hardest part was needing to think twice about whether I was supposed to avoid something or not. This led to a very bizarre conversation in a restaurant/nightclub where there was a seafood set menu. Trying to clarify what they would be serving, we realised it would be swordfish. Knowing that this was a definite no-no due to the mercury levels in such fish we tried to request an alternative. The quote of the night went to the waiter who proclaimed “I have three children, and my wife didn’t avoid anything and my kids are normal”. Lets face it, what is ‘normal’ is very subjective, not seeing them for myself I couldn’t take the risk! Now I wasn’t militant about the food – I’d eaten some cured meats (it was impossible to resist), but I drew the line at swordfish, where there was a clear, scientific reason to avoid it.

After returning from holiday the symptoms really set in. I could now empathise with women who had expressed early pregnancy as being a tough experience. Though not actually vomiting, I felt sick for much of the time. I struggled to do the food shopping since I didn’t feel like eating at all. The shopping trolley would be full of rubbish – cup-a-soups, ginger biscuits, spaghetti hoops and rice pudding to name but a few. My husband reached breaking point when dinner was served one evening and it was one small tin of spaghetti hoops, split between the two of us, on toast. From then on his mum provided our dinner for the next 3-4 weeks (potato curry and pea curry). Our fruit trees were ready to harvest and I spent an evening reluctantly making batches of plum and damson jam with the nausea feeling at the forefront of my mind.  My first jam-making experience was supposed to be one of pleasure and pride at the outcome. I just felt relieved that I’d got it out of the way and could go to bed. I was falling asleep on the sofa at eight o’clock in the evening. We didn’t need to feel upset that we were avoiding social interaction with friends because it was the last thing I wanted to do anyway.

The relatives that knew found my pragmatic approach to the pregnancy at this stage a little strange. My medical background left me with the thought process that until we had the first scan I really didn’t see the pregnancy as anything more than a possibility. The scan, in my eyes, could show anything to be the case, and anything could happen in the lead up to this scan. We went to the booking appointment, which was very straightforward, and awaited our scan appointment. It arrived in the post on my day off. The first thing I felt was frustration at the fact it was for a day and time when I would be working. I rang and changed it to the only alternative slot that was suitable – the Friday morning that we were going on holiday for 2 weeks. We researched the option of having the scan privately but our rational sides took over when we considered the cost of this and the hassle that the results wouldn’t go straight to our midwife. Had there been an option, we would happily have paid a supplement to have and evening appointment within the NHS. This led to the realization for the two of us that there will be times when one or both of us need to make compromises for the family, which in all honesty I don’t think either of us were used to making where life and work was concerned.

So, on the Friday morning we arrived, me with a full bladder, for our scan. It was a surreal experience to see this little baby for the first time looking so perfectly formed at only 10cm long. Unfortunately the picture doesn’t reflect just how lovely she was (not that we knew she was a girl at that stage). She was wriggling so much the picture looks like a seahorse. Our relatives were waiting with baited breath for that first glimpse of their future grandchild/niece, and even they agreed the picture was a little ‘interesting’. From this day onwards I relaxed about the pregnancy and we fondly referred to the little one as fuzzball, or fuzzy for short.

 

And so we went on holiday…..

All I want for christmas is a good night’s sleep!

 

IMG_1876_1024There is so much to say about sleep! So I will need to break this into multiple posts. Otherwise I will be even shorter on sleep.

I cannot remember the last time I had a really good nights sleep. What is a good sleep? For me, it’s a period of approximately 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, with nothing on my mind. Though I’m not sure when this may next be occurring! Many have told me “you’ll never sleep the same again”. Though I still live in hope. During my pregnancy the most frequently given advice was “get as much sleep as you can before she arrives”. I tried my hardest to follow said advice. However, having a gigantic tummy, a bladder that seemed to have shrunk to the size of a pea and a baby with a full head of hair providing me with terrible heartburn led to some bad nights’ sleep.

Then, like a whirlwind, Amelia arrived. She doesn’t sleep like a log, and for the first few weeks behaved like the princess and the pea with respect to where she would sleep. As a result, for most of the last five months I have rarely had more than 4 hours continuous sleep. The sleep I do get is very light with frequent waking to check she is ok. I am very fortunate to have a husband that really helps out where he can, and two sisters who took turns to come and stay during the first weeks. Whilst here they were helping with more than their fair share of night feeds. In addition, we had plenty of grandparents willing to come and provide cuddles whilst we napped. I was really lucky to have such good support. I am breastfeeding Amelia and this does add to the pressure as even if I had expressed milk I needed to make sure I was feeding or expressing regularly. This was to ensure I maintained a good supply, and so that my breasts didn’t feel like they were ready to explode (which would be the case if someone had kindly undertaken a nightfeed or two)!

In preparation for her arrival we got all the right equipment for sleepy times – moses basket, swaddles and Ewan the dreamsheep (who had nothing but rave reviews). Fast-forward to night two with Amelia. Trying to get her to settle we decided it was time to introduce her to Ewan. Daddy spent the early hours of the morning (around 3am) frantically searching for AAA batteries to bring Ewan to life. We were not as prepared as we thought and their first meeting had to wait for the grandparents to bring us batteries the next day. We spent many hours over the first few nights sleeping (uncomfortably) on the sofa, in her nursing chair or on the lounge floor. Once Ewan was alive and kicking he did, and continues to, provide some assistance.

We couldn’t convince her that the moses basket was a good place to sleep. At times she would agree to sleep in the bassinet top of her pram (bought with the benefit that the bassinet could by used as a travel cot, we had no idea just how useful it would be). Most of the time she was only happy to sleep on us or snuggled up in our armpit. We went against all advice for safe sleeping most of the time (unless my health visitor is reading this, in which case we followed all advice) – she was sleeping in the bed with us (she was never more comfortable than sleeping on our mattress), we were falling asleep on the sofa with her on our chest and we were putting her down on her side (she hated being on her back). We knew it was not ideal – I was ashamed to admit it and found myself being very defensive and having to justify myself when we did tell people. We were staying up late and not retiring to the bedroom with her until past midnight.

Then one friday, when she was about one month old, my weekly copy of the British Medical Journal landed on the doormat. By chance it had an article about cot-death and included statistics showing increased risk with having baby in bed with you, and sleeping on the sofa with baby. Combined with tiredness we realised it was time we established some routine and safer sleeping practices.

One of the first things was to work out how to convince her to sleep in the moses basket. We couldn’t. So we resorted to fooling her. If Daddy gave her a night feed he would lie her on the mattress for the moses basket whilst feeding and we would rock her to sleep on it. Thus when we put her back down she did not realise she was not in our bed or our arms! We were also recommended the Sleepsense guide by a colleague of Daddy. We read it and the most interesting part was learning about baby sleep patterns. It was really helpful to appreciate that a baby’s sleep cycle lasts 40 minutes and that babies up to 3 months (thereabouts) need to nap after 90-120 minutes of being awake. Armed with this knowledge we were able to manage Amelia much better. We were able to recognise irritability associated with tiredness and anticipate it. We developed a bedtime routine which ended with aiming to have her asleep by 8pm upstairs. It was tough for the first week and we were up and down the stairs like yo-yo’s trying to settle her to sleep. We would rock her and pat her bottom, and try to put her down drowsy but not asleep. We didn’t let her cry, as you’re not supposed to do this at such a young age. But she gradually took less time and less intervention to settle to sleep. The harder part was the daytime napping. I was frequently going against the advice and feeding her to sleep. I would then be stranded for long periods lay on the sofa with a sleeping baby on my chest. If I moved she stirred. If I put her down she cried. It was difficult for guests – they had come to visit and have cuddles with her, and I was being militant about it being time for her to have a sleep. But it was worthwhile persisting because we rarely have a grumpy baby as we anticipate her tiredness. Plus we are getting time to be adults in the evening.

 

Anyway, sleep tight for now and I will talk sleep again soon!

Weaning!

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About 3 or 4 weeks ago Amelia started waking more at night. When I say more I mean it got to the point where for several nights she was waking every 2-3 hours. This followed a period where she was starting to sleep longer and a few nights even treated us to 5-6 hours straight from midnight onwards. Frustratingly this was also accompanied by a refusal to take a bottle (having done so really well previously). This was becoming really tiring. Especially since I recalled asking someone what the best baby age was for mum and dad. Their answer had been “4-5 months because they are more interactive, still not mobile and sleeping more”. After extensive googling and chatting to fellow parents I was even more confused! Was this the start of the wonder months, change in sleeping habits, or ready to begin weaning. The only one I felt I had any control over was weaning.

I had always been set on waiting until 6 months to wean Amelia. To those who questioned why, or blamed the health visitors for changing their minds so frequently I didn’t have a clear answer. However, what I did know from reading leaflets, websites, etc. was that the feeling was a baby’s gut was not well developed until 6 months, and early weaning increases the risk of food intolerance and gut problems in later life.

Pretty much everything I read seemed to suggest that baby was definitely not ready before 17 weeks – the gut is certainly not ready and there may be too much pressure on the kidneys too.  At this point I thought about myself – I am certain my own mother did not wait until 6 months to wean me, and I know that she was a big fan of rusks to help her kids sleep through the night (she had 6 in total – I don’t blame her for wanting a good nights sleep!).

So I procrastinated, thought about it, chatted about it to anyone that would listen, rambled on whatsapp at 3am to my fellow nocturnal mothers! I made a plan that I would wait a couple of weeks, see if things improved and if not would start the weaning process. I downloaded some ebooks (see recommendations page) and read about how to wean. My decision was made when one of the big supermarkets had a baby event on. The baby rice and baby porridge was discounted and this spurred me on to take the plunge. So last week I started. Day 1 was baby rice for dinner – she gobbled it up! However, she woke every 2 hours that night and didn’t poo for 24 hours. I then tried porridge – she seems to enjoy this even more, it doesn’t constipate her and she seems to sleep well after having this at dinner. Well most of the time she sleeps better.

This week we have started with a portion of puréed vegetables each lunch, in addition to the porridge. I opted for vegetables after having read that trying vegetables with a slightly more bitter taste first may be helpful in ensuring they like a wider range of food in the long run. I have also been adding some breast milk to the purée to provide some familiarity to the taste. So far we’ve tried potato (didn’t seem to enjoy much), carrot, parsnip and courgette (which she surprisingly loved!). I have also given some small tastes of banana and papaya.

Last night she slept from 7.15pm until 3.20am – best run she’s had yet, so I’d say weaning is going well. Though it’s funny how I still feel slightly ashamed to tell people that I’ve started weaning and she’s not quite 5 months yet. I overhear other mothers saying “I’m waiting until 6 months”, and I think fair play but Amelia is loving food, getting some more sleep, and now I don’t feel quite so guilty as she stares at everyone longingly whilst they’re eating!