Saturday, 27 June 2015

How to make a papier mache jellyfish

My daughter's school is running a competition to encourage children and their parents to make some underwater resources for the classroom. 
The theme is sea creatures. 
There's nothing like a little contest to bring out the competitive mum in me. So, we I set to work to create a stunning jellyfish to hang from the ceiling.

Unfortunately, I'm not the most crafty of mums. But, I have to blow my own trumpet a bit and admit that I'm just a teensy bit proud of our efforts. This is such a simple project, that even I managed it.

All you need are:
  • a balloon
  • some bits of old newspaper
  • some plain flour
  • some water
  • some pink paper
  • a couple of old carrier bags
  • PVA glue
  • glitter 
  • aluminium foil
Here's what we did:
  1. Blow up a balloon and try to rest the bottom of it in a mug. Unfortunately, you'll find that as you add the papier mache, it turns a bit top heavy and it won't stay in the mug, but it's useful to have as a sort of base.
  2. Mix up a mug of flour with a few splashes of water to form a paste.
  3. Tear up your newspaper into thin strips and dip them into the papier mache paste. Then stick them onto the top half of the balloon.
  4. Once you've covered the top half of the balloon in newspaper, tear up bits of your pink paper and a layer of pink paper to the newspaper layer.
  5. Leave to dry overnight. It might take longer if you've used a lot of paste!
  6. Remove burst the balloon.
  7. Cut the carrier bags into long strips and glue them around the base of the papier mache jellyfish body.
  8. Decorate with glue, glitter and bits of silver foil.
You now have a beautiful papier mache jellyfish.

I'll keep you posted about whether we won anything. But it was a fun craft activity for my 4 year old and 2 year old.

What craft projects have you recently done with your young children?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Yes, I really did eat my placenta!

While I was pregnant I watched a programme where a woman ate her placenta after giving birth and became interested in placentophagy. So I began reading up on the subject with a view to maybe, just maybe, giving it a go.

We had the perfect glassware for a placenta smoothie!
At first, I admit, I was a bit grossed out by the practice. I mean, why would you eat your own waste?  But the more I investigated, the more it seemed to make sense. Although there is little scientific evidence to back up claims that consuming your placenta can increase energy, improve breastmilk production and prevent post-natal depression, I figured I didn't have anything to lose. After all, most mammals eat their after birth. They also lick their young clean, which I didn't really fancy doing - sniffing my newborn obsessively is the nearest I get!

So when I gave birth to Baby O I told the midwife I wanted to keep the placenta.

There are a few options available if you fancy eating your placenta:

  • You can pay for it to be encapsulated, or you can even encapsulate it yourself
  • You can cook it up into a lasagne or stew
  • You can blend it up with yoghurt and fruit and drink it like a smoothie
I opted for the smoothie because I wasn't sure if I would stomach the smell of my own organ being fried or baked. It seemed a bit close to cannibalism for my liking. Plus, I wasn't sure if any of the nutrients would be lost in the cooking process. For the same reason, I ruled out the encapsulation.

I bought a big tub of natural yoghurt and some frozen red berries in preparation and when Baby O was born the midwife put the placenta into a plastic bag, which we put into a plastic tub and popped in the fridge.

My placenta (with the cord attached)

The next day, I rinsed my placenta thoroughly and then cut off a couple of meaty chunks the size of a 50 pence piece away from the membrane side. I popped them into the blender along with the yoghurt and the berries and whizzed it for a couple of minutes before pouring them into a glass. I have to admit, it was yummy. You couldn't taste the placenta at all. I offered some to my husband but he politely declined.

Whizzing it up in the blender
I have to say, the hormonal monster who usually replaces me at about day 3 failed to emerge. But this could also be because this was baby number four and I was more relaxed this time round. I also felt like I had more energy. But again, this might just have been because I expected to feel this way and my new baby actually slept at night!

I chose to wash my smoothie down with a glass of bubbles to celebrate the new arrival
I had about three placenta smoothies, which didn't really make much of a dent into the entire thing. The rest was safely disposed of. Although, in hindsight, I wish I had tried to encapsulate the remainder. I'm now eleven weeks in and feeling a little weary.

Who knows if eating, or drinking, my placenta helped me recover from the birth? 

I'm glad I tried it and I think if I ever have another baby, which is highly unlikely, I'll probably do it again.

Did you eat your placenta? Would you? How was it for you?

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A positive home birth story

Whenever childbirth comes up in conversation, it generally involves horror stories with women trying to outdo each other about their life or death experience.

Well, it isn't always like that. Some women are blessed with truly positive experiences. I'm one of them. I gave birth to my fourth child at the beginning of April (hence the lack of updates recently) and it was another amazing and empowering experience.

O was 8 days overdue and I opted to have a stretch and sweep done to see if we could encourage baby to make an appearance. I wasn't particularly bothered about being overdue, but I was keen to avoid induction. My older three were beginning to get impatient though!

1 week overdue and waiting...

After the sweep, I took my 7 year old, 4 year old and 2 year old to the skateboard park, play park and we had an ice cream by the beach. I was a little uncomfortable, but I wasn't sure if this really would be 'it'. When we got home, we had tea and I decided to run a bath to see if it would ease up my niggling pains or even kick things off properly. It did neither. So I started getting the children into bed.

Finally, as I was nursing my 2 year old to sleep at around 8pm, I suddenly got some pretty decent contractions. They were coming every five minutes, so at around 8.30pm I decided to call for a midwife. I have a history of very quick labours, so I didn't want to hang around. I also called a student midwife friend who had expressed an interest in watching a home-birth (insurance issues meant she couldn't participate) and my mother.

I jumped in the bath again and had a cup of tea and a chat to my friend and then asked her to leave so I could relax and find the right headspace. The midwife when arrived at about 9.15pm and I invited my student midwife friend back in to observe what the midwife was up to. Things were all very calm and relaxed. The midwife did a couple of basic checks and concluded that I was 6-7cm.

The midwife was due to finish her shift at 10pm and just before she clocked off her replacement arrived. As they were chatting through the handover I could feel the contractions start to really intensify. I focussed on the music I had chosen and the candles that were burning around the bath and breathed through the contractions, allowing myself to moan, which helped to relax my body and ease the tension that was building up as the contractions peaked.

Just after my first midwife left I began feeling the urge to push, so I got out of the bath and eventually found a comfortable position on all fours, with my arms leaning on a stool, to deliver my baby.

As I felt him descend further (although I didn't know it was a he at that point), my waters went and with the next contraction his head crowned. I slowly breathed him down. I have a history of tearing so I needed to control this bit and let him out as slowly as possible. The next thing I knew, I could hear a muffled snuffly cry and then I felt something stick out. I asked, 'what was that?' and my husband replied, 'his arm!'. It seemed like forever until the next contraction came, but when it did I was able to deliver the rest of his head and then his body.

My beautiful son was then passed through my legs and I sat down with him on my chest. He seemed a little bit stunned and his breathing was laboured with some foam at the mouth, from where he had obviously swallowed some mucus while trying to cry before he was properly out. However, after some skin to skin he quickly recovered. I offered him the breast, but he wasn't particularly fussed so we just enjoyed more cuddles while we waited for my body to release the placenta.

Attempting our first feed.

I had opted for natural third stage because I don't see the point of taking drugs to deliver the placenta when I had managed to deliver the baby with no help at all. It took a little longer than it probably would have done had I opted for the injection, but I wasn't in a particular hurry and it meant my husband had plenty of time to wake up my oldest son so he could cut the cord.

My 7 year old has been around, pretty much, for the births of all his siblings. When he was two, he was downstairs watching Fireman Sam when his sister was born and when he was four, he came home from nursery, literally minutes after his brother was born. We had asked at the time if he wanted to cut the cord, but he preferred to watch daddy do the honours. This time round, he was determined that he would be the one to separate his new sibling from mum.

My eldest cutting the cord with the assistance of my lovely midwife.

So while I was enjoying some skin to skin with my gorgeous newborn, my husband went to wake up my eldest son to ask if he still wanted to cut the cord. He was overjoyed at the prospect and came through to meet his new brother and release him from me. It was an amazingly intimate family moment, despite the fact that it took several attempts for the scissors to actually get through the cord. Once the cord was cut and the placenta was delivered, my eldest and youngest son enjoyed some cuddles while I went to get examined and to double check I had not torn. And - for the first time - I had escaped with just a minor graze.

The midwife stayed on to do her checks on both mum and baby before checking I was OK as I showered and got cleaned up. I then sat in my own bed with my newborn son and a cup of tea.

This is likely to be my last birth and, I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a totally relaxed but empowering experience and I'm just a little bit sad that I'm unlikely to experience childbirth again. Still, onwards and upwards to the next stage in our lives.

Welcome to the world Baby O.

I'd love to hear your positive birth stories.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Ten reasons I'm not ready for my due date!

Yesterday was my due date for my fourth child. I must be the only pregnant woman who is willing this baby to hold on for a little while longer. And possibly the most disorganised mother-to-be in the country.

I'm not ready yet!

Here are ten reasons why I need to stay pregnant for just a few more days - well, maybe another week.

1. I haven't finished work yet. I'm self-employed and I bill by the calendar month. So when I told my biggest client that I would be taking some time off, I thought it would be helpful, and easier, to work right up to the end of March. But I have to compile some stats reports based on social media traffic in the calendar month of March. So, really, I need to write that report on April 1. So, baby can't actually make an appearance until after then. In fact, it had better wait until I've sent the invoice!

2. I haven't done any nesting yet (unless you count the Easter Nest Cup Cakes I made with 4 year old B at the weekend).

3. I haven't finished compiling my labour playlist. I've started, but the music isn't in the right order and I haven't added all the right tracks yet.

4. My favourite midwife is on annual leave until after the Easter weekend. And, I'd really like her to be on call to deliver this baby because I'm not particularly keen on one of the other midwives on the team. And, my favourite midwife has missed all my births so far.

5. This is the last time I'm going to be pregnant. Ever. It seems so final. I'm not sure I'm ready to evict this small being yet. I just want to enjoy the kicks and the hard, round ball that is currently preventing me from tying my shoe laces for just a few more days. I don't feel like I've had enough time to appreciate it yet.

6. I haven't finished washing the baby clothes yet. We haven't even washed the car seat covers.

7. I haven't cooked any meals for the freezer. So if baby arrives now, the family will starve - or just have to live on takeaway, crisps, breakfast cereal and Easter eggs.

8. I'm too knackered. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of nights I've managed a full night's sleep in the last four and a half years! If it's not my 2 year old trotting in halfway through the night and then kicking me in the back for an hour or so, I'm just waking up randomly thinking about all the things I still have left to do!

9. I haven't stocked up on post birth painkillers. This is my 4th and they say the after pains get worse every time. The were pretty horrific last time round so I really need to stock up on painkillers if I've got any hope of getting through the first few days.

10. I've not done enough perineal massage! I honestly really planned to do some this time. I've torn with every birth, so I kind of really should have had a go. It's just, I've been a bit too squeamish and there's always been something else to do.

It's not all bad. Even though I'm planning a home birth, I have actually packed a just-in-case hospital bag. I've even bought a tarpaulin to protect the bathroom floor and dumped a pile of old towels in the bathroom. I've even put a disposable bed mat on our mattress in case my waters go.

How prepared were you for your baby's birth? Do you get more complacent the more babies you have?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lessons I have learnt from my World Book Day costume saga

World Book Day - the perfect excuse for crafty and organised mums to show the rest of us up with their wonderful hand-made children's costumes. And a wonderful way for shops to cash in on fancy dress outfits.

I'm not particularly crafty and when I suggested making an outfit for my eldest, he quickly changed his mind about what he would wear and suggested I buy him a onesie. So we went with option two - spend our money in the shops.

Here are a couple of lessons I have learnt from this year's World Book Day:

  1. Check your dressing up box and suggest possible characters before giving your children free-reign on deciding what they will dress up as.
  2. As soon as you find out the date and the theme, agree on a character and start trawling eBay or Amazon for outfits.
  3. Talk to other parents and suggest swapping outfits (the outfit your child wore last year might be perfect for their child this year - and vice versa).
I failed massively on numbers one and two and only thought about number three when it was too late to do anything about it.

I also faced an additional challenge this year. Not content with just asking parents to send their children to school as a book character, this year, my kids' school added an additional theme: animals.

And instead of checking our overflowing dressing up box to see what we already had, I made the schoolgirl error of asking my older two what they would like to dress up as. (Un)luckily, they had pretty clear ideas. Initially, the 7 year old wanted to dress as a crocodile from Roald Dahls' 'The Enormous Crocodile', but when I mentioned making a head-dress out of cardboard and paint, he quickly changed his mind to the monkey from Roald Dahl's 'The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me'. The 4 year old wanted to be a tiger, so I suggested one of her favourite books, Judith Kerr's 'The Tiger Who Came To Tea'.

This should be simple, I thought. We already have masks. I just need to track down two onesies in the style of a monkey and a tiger. And if I can't find anything, I'm sure I can cobble together some brown trousers and a brown top and some orange clothes that can be adjusted with some black permanent marker pen.

 Ha, ha, ha, ha! My two were set on a onesie and they were unimpressed at my Plan B. And, it seemed that every other parent had a similar idea. The result was that I spent all day yesterday (last minute queen that I am) traipsing around various outlets: Matalan (Disney heavy), Home Bargains (a cat and a dog), Lidl, Tesco - nada.

I then spoke to a friend who mentioned she'd seen a tiger onesie in Asda. So off we trekked. There were two left. One in 9-10 and one in 3-4. Bingo! - OK so it's a tiny bit on the small side but I have younger siblings who will make good use of it.

Tiger for the 4 year old sorted, monkey to go. Surely, it couldn't be to difficult to find a monkey onesie suitable for a 7 year old. We tried Sainsbury's. No luck.

By now, it was time to collect them from school, so I decided to try my local fancy dress and toy shop, Jackman's. There were two monkey outfits: toddler size and adult size. I began to prepare my eldest for the home-made back-up plan, but we decided to try the only two other shops in our town that sell children's size clothes: Peacocks (which had a wolf outfit) and then M&Co. And there is was. A size 5-6 monkey onesie. It's pretty short on the legs, but other than that it was perfect. And it will be well-used when the younger ones grow into it.

It might be time to start preparing our outfits for Hallowe-en - unless there are any other dress-up days before then?

What outfits did your children wear for #worldbookday? And how did you manage to sort out their costumes?

Friday, 27 February 2015

Becoming a proper comper - 1st win is a maths prize!

It's just a couple of weeks after challenging myself to become a proper comper and I've already won something!

Earlier this month, the lovely people behind the Ladybird Books blog posted about how you can help your child learn maths during their first years of primary school. And they were offering the chance to win one of three sets of Ladybird I'm Ready...for Maths! sticker workbooks and flashcards. All you had to do was comment on the blog about what your children love about maths - or what they find tricky. I am proud to say that I was one of the lucky winners.

Maths has never been my strong point, so I'm really keen that all my children get the basics early on in a fun and enjoyable way so they have the foundations to tackle more complex work as they get older. The Ladybird blog post, by Ladybird Senior Editor Nicola Bird and Ladybird Editor Jane Baldock outlined what sort of things children learn in maths when they start school and suggested ways of supporting their learning at home.

My daughter started school in September and this information was really helpful - and reassured me that some of the things we are already doing are along the right lines. At the moment, we play games where we work out how many sweets or cakes are in a packet and how many each person should have so everyone has a fair share. She also enjoys baking and I take the time to show her how we measure out ingredients and count the correct number of eggs for our recipes.

I'm really looking forward to introducing the books to her - she'll be over the moon with my win.

And they'll be really helpful as my younger son, who is currently two, starts on his school journey too. At the moment, we are introducing maths to him through plenty of number songs and rhymes and we take any opportunity to count all sorts of things: cars parked along the road, books on the shelf, hats in the drawer etc.

I think we've already been doing something right. My eldest son is already in his last year of Key Stage One at school and maths is his favourite subject. He enjoys playing times tables challenges in the car and when we are out shopping, he loves working out how much we will be charged and how much change we should get back. We're now trying to challenge him with bigger and bigger numbers - but I'm now worried I'll soon struggle to keep up with him!

I'm really pleased with my first prize in my comping challenge. I wonder what the postman might bring me next!

How do you introduce maths to your children? And have you had any comping successes recently?

Friday, 20 February 2015

A personal account of natural term breastfeeding

My four year old daughter has not nursed since before Christmas, so I think our breastfeeding journey has ended.

That's the thing with natural term breastfeeding: the end is so gentle that you hardly notice it at all. It's a bit like growing, you don't notice it until you realise that the sleeves on that jumper you bought last autumn for them to 'grow into' are suddenly ending near the elbows. And you definitely didn't put it in the wrong wash.

When I first had children, I never set out to be one of those crunchy, hippy mummies. I honestly thought that breastfeeding was only for the first six months before you graduated onto bottles and solid food.

I fed my eldest for a year, which I thought was quite long enough. But by the time my second came along I'd met some really inspirational mums who just carried on nursing. And I read a bit more about the benefits of breastfeeding. Somehow, it seemed right to see what would happen if we followed the self-weaning journey.

Don't get me wrong, my eldest was very independent and our weaning journey was very easy and simple. As soon as I started him on solid food he very quickly dropped most of his nursing sessions and when I went away for the weekend just before his first birthday he just never asked to nurse again.

But my daughter was different. She latched straight on as soon as she was born and loved the comfort and nourishment she got from the breast. If I ever went away for a night or two, she leapt on me as soon as I returned to reconnect through nursing.

So I began to investigate the idea of self-weaning because it seemed to be right for us. I just didn't want to force something if she wasn't ready for it. And, to be honest, I was lazy and nursing was easy (see my post about why I'm still breastfeeding through toddlerhood and beyond).

What is self-weaning?

Self-weaning, or child-led weaning is when you allow the child to continue to nurse until they decide to stop. Having introduced solids through baby-led weaning, this seemed like a natural next step.

When my daughter was 15 months old, I fell pregnant with my third child. I read up on nursing through pregnancy and highly recommend Hillary Flowers' book Adventures in Tandem Nursing. I discovered that many children self-wean during pregnancy as supply drops. Indeed, about halfway through my pregnancy our nursing sessions stopped suddenly and I wondered if this was the end. But I was wary as I had understood that natural-term weaning tends to occur slowly, almost imperceptibly, and this was a very sudden end. Sure enough, ten days later, my daughter showed symptoms of Slapped Cheek/Fifth Disease and resumed her place at the breast. It was not self-weaning, but a nursing strike, possibly brought on by my pregnancy and/or her incubating her illness.

Tandem nursing

When it became apparent that my daughter would continue nursing through the rest of pregnancy, I began preparing her for the arrival of the new baby. I frequently explained that the baby would only be able to have milk and that she would have to share. We role-played with teddies, dolls and plastic dinosaurs. I explained that she would still be able to nurse, but she would need to let baby go first. When my son was born, he latched straight on and my daughter watched in wonder, repeating over and over 'Baby a'n muwk' (Baby having milk). I reassured her that she would be able to nurse after him and she happily waited for her turn.
A couple of days later, my milk came in and I told her the new milk was a very special gift from her new baby brother to say thank-you for sharing. She relished the rich, creaminess after months of barely anything and then the sticky colostrum, which made her so thirsty she needed a drink of water after nursing. And she blossomed (her weight gain was almost as impressive as the baby's) - although her nappies were horrific - multiply the sweet smell of newborn nappy by ten and it suddenly smells as though the local farmer has been muck-spreading in your front room!

Setting boundaries

We faced a couple of issues in those early months. One was that my daughter was gorging so much on my milk that she was dropping her intake of solid food. I began to set a few limits. She could not nurse in the hour before a meal, but as long as I reassured her about when we would nurse, she was fairly accepting of the new regime. The other major issue was the night feeds. She was still waking in the night - in fact, she was up more frequently than her infant brother. I struggled to feed them both at the same time while lying down and when they played tag team I would sometimes get through a night having had less than two hours of broken sleep. I was reluctant to night wean, especially when she was adapting to such a big change in her life. But eventually, I needed to do something for my own sanity. So when my son was four months old, I introduced a new rule that there would be no milk after she was in her pyjamas until the morning, when she was dressed. Again, she accepted this pretty well. I made sure that she had some special time with me having milk before getting ready for bed and that I nursed her as soon as she was dressed. I think sticking to my word about when we would nurse really helped the process.

Some people say that by not feeding on demand, you are actually contributing to weaning. But, based on my experiences, I suggest that nursing an older baby is a two way relationship and by setting limits, if required, you are helping the nursling develop their independence and you are also showing them that sometimes you need boundaries and to respect the other person to enable a relationship to thrive.

Triandem nursing

I tandem nursed for two years before falling pregnant with my fourth baby (due at the end of March). This has been my hardest pregnancy yet. Possibly because I'm older and possibly because nursing two children while developing another in my uterus is exhausting work.

My daughter started school at the end of my first trimester. It was a month after her fourth birthday. It was a big change for her and she finds the day very tiring (she was still taking a 1-2 hour nap in the middle of the day right up until she started). I believe that nursing helped her settle in to her new surroundings. She enjoyed reconnecting after her busy day and I think the extra immunity she was getting from me helped her escape most (but not all) of the bugs that were spreading through the class. 

How self-weaning happened for us

Towards the end of her first term at school, as she grew in confidence and independence, she slowly but surely began cutting back on breastfeeding. Sometimes she'd skip a day, sometimes two days. Eventually, she would occasionally skip a week or two. She was too busy doing other things; playing in her room, drawing, colouring, learning to read, making cards etc. And I knew my supply had dropped because of the pregnancy. But I barely noticed that we weren't nursing as much until, at the beginning of December, I said to her that I couldn't remember the last time we nursed. I asked if she had finished and she said that she had. But that night, she asked to nurse again. She latched on for about 30 seconds before telling me she had finished. I asked if she had got any milk out and she said no. She asked a couple of times after then. Sometimes at bedtime she would request to nurse and I would tell her that I needed to deal with her younger brother but would come back. When I did return to her room, she would already be asleep. Suddenly, it was the new year and as we came into February, I realised that we had not nursed since around Christmas time.

So that's it

Our beautiful journey is over and I am enjoying watching my daughter continue to grow and develop. Some people talk about feeling sad when they finish breastfeeding. But, to be honest, I don't. I'm happy and content with how it all worked out. And, to be honest, I'm a little relieved as I had been suffering with a bit of nursing aversion, due to the pregnancy, over our last few months. I just think we were both ready to end our breastfeeding journey.

Purists might suggest that this wasn't true natural term nursing. External factors, such as my pregnancy and her starting school contributed to her weaning. But do you know what? Every journey and every nursing relationship is different. You just do what you believe is right for you and your child and your circumstances. I'm passionate about breastfeeding. I trained as a peer supporter to try and offer support and guidance to other mums as they start their journeys. But I'm also a realist. There were times when I was working and hadn't expressed enough milk to last a day at childcare - so I popped in a couple of cartons of formula - I could have beaten myself up about that, but actually, it would only be me that suffered. You just do what's right for you and your family.

I've put this personal story out there because I wanted to share my experiences. I often wondered what sustained breastfeeding looked like or felt like. I had no idea what to expect as our nursing journey came to an end. It's such a gradual process, that people don't think to share their stories.

I really hope that this is helpful to somebody. I'd love to hear others' personal accounts - perhaps it would make a beautiful book. If you are happy to share your stories, feel free to get in touch or comment on this post.