As one door closes, another one opens. 


Our almost 2 year old big girl, decided to have a day of exploring some independence, today.
On leaving the house to attend our favourite playgroup, instead of climbing into her pushchair, she announced, “No. My can walk!” So, today, for the first time, she walked. 


She was so good at listening to mummy. She held my hand, stayed on the path and let me hold the reign when she wanted a bit more freedom. 

She stepped onto the bus, all by herself, and even sat on her very own seat, which she was thrilled with and told everyone, “My seat!”, with a huge grin on her face. 


When we got off the bus, she walked passed the workers, fixing the broken road, and watched as she held my hand. No jumping into my arms, scared of the big noise. Instead, her eyes stayed fixed in curiosity, as I explained, as well as I could, what it was all about.

On the way home, she learnt how to wait on the path, when the red man shows and only to cross when the green man shows. 
I think crossing the road was her favourite part, as she repeated “Cross the road!” every 2 minutes, each way! 😁

Yesterday, she didn’t have this hunger for autonomy. Today she explored a new world and I was left feeling a mixture of both sadness and pride. As one door closes, another one opens, they say. 

It’s crazy how your love develops for them, every step of the way. 

I think I’ll remember this day forever. 💗

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How a Modern Day Village is Helping Me Raise My Child

  

They say “It takes a village to raise a child.” I’ve read many articles that explain how important it is to recognise that humans, by nature, are supposed to raise their children as a communal effort with their extended family. But in our modern day society, villages are pretty hard to come by. 

I often close my eyes and try to imagine what an old time village of help might have looked like. Big houses full of people, laughter, good conversation. Children running around playing together. A big pot of soup on the stove, bread in the oven. It brings a smile to my face, at the thought. I imagine during spring and summer, children would be out in the garden, helping their elders grow the food that will be one day cooked up for them to eat and in Autumn they all go out to collect fruit for pies. I imagine mums, who can always take 5 mins or longer, to breathe and take care of themselves, while another member of the family watches the kids. And the joint effort that would go into the general care of the house. I like this place. Something in my blood misses this place.

But now, in a world that focuses on each person being as productive for industry as possible, we find that the people in our “village” are gone. Simply too busy to take part. 

Grandparents, aunties and uncles, our closest friends, all have jobs to commit to. Unless one person in a single family earns enough to take care of the family finances, alone, all parties must find themselves a job in order to contribute and sustain their way of living. This leaves new parents in a bit of a pickle when it comes to sourcing help and support from their village. New parents find themselves alone in the home, to take care of not only the children but the other jobs that need taking care of in the home. Again, something that in days gone by, would have been a shared responsibility. 

We power through, often struggling to raise our children in the way we see fit, whilst trying to understand why this whole parenting thing is so bloody difficult! 

It usually leaves us feeling like we are incapable or like we are failing at parenting. 

Some become anxious, depressed and find themselves needing medical care, either in the form of medication or counselling. Many others don’t even get this far. As a result of poor mental health education and awareness, many continue to struggle through, without ever taking care of their mental well-being, leading to many more problems in their lives. It’s a huge problem!

I don’t have the answers to this. I’m aware that if our government spent a little more time focusing on the importance and value of care in the home, whatever form that might take, then we might not be finding ourselves in such a pandemic with maternal or family-related mental health issues – You can follow Mothers at Home Matter Too to see how one organisation is trying to change government policy on this issue and also The Politics of Mothering to join discussions that surround these issues. – For now, all I can do is hope that many will see the merit that a politician like Jeremy Corbyn would bring to our government, and carry on. But what I do recognise, is that I seem to have created my very own, modern-day village. And many other parents seem to be doing the same.

It’s not as traditional as the villages we humans were once used to. The grandparents are still there, on certain days. The friends still exist. But in this village, there is a special group of other parents, who are all going through the same dilemmas. They are all helping eachother out with advice and personal success stories. They are there when a mum needs breastfeeding advice, when they are struggling to get sleep but don’t want to leave their tiny baby alone in a room to cry, or when they want to deal with their raging toddler without losing the plot. They are there for moral support, when someone has argued once again with their husband or the house is a complete mess and they feel they have no one else in the world to turn to. They are there to support eachother through things like Postnatal Depression. There’s even a library in this village, full of cookbooks, breastfeeding books, weaning books, attachment parenting books, self-help books, a book full of ideas on what clothes they can wear to breastfeed in. It’s quite amazing! 

It’s called the internet. 

As if by magic, this new world has opened, in protest and mourning, at the loss of our physical villages. People are digging through pages and forums, to find a new community that can help them with the hardest job on earth. And these relationships have become some of the most important in our lives. 

There’s a part of me that feels sad at this realisation. There’s a part of me that wishes my village could be filled with the people I love most, in the physical world. But there is also a part of me that is hugely grateful for those who play such an important role in my online life because without those special people, without the library of information, I dread to think of how I would be getting by with my day-to-day life. 

However, this in itself is not a sustainable model. Why? Because behind our screens, these people are alone too and far away. 

One solution I found to this, was to set up a local parent support group. I recognised the need for realtime people, face-to-face support and friendships. And you know what? It’s going pretty well. 

There’s around 200 members in this group and around 30 volunteers. As volunteers, we aim to come together and help any parent we recognise to be struggling on their own. We make batch meals and deliver them if a parent is too tired or too busy to cook. We arrange playdates in eachothers houses, so that no parent ever has to feel isolated. We go for walks in the park together, meet up in coffee shops and at playgroups. We wash pots and hold the baby so mum can take a shower. And we’re also there for that all important online support. 

I’m really proud of what the group has achieved and feel it’s a great attempt to claw back a little of what has been lost with our sense of community. I urge any parent who feels the same to do similar. Find your village! Find that help and give it back. There’s a huge community of parents out there, just like you, feeling alone, stressed, believing they aren’t capable of this job. But they are. YOU are! We just a need a little help. We just need to find our village. 😉

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Self-Soothing for the Gentle

I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to teach your child to “self-soothe” than to simply always give them a choice. 

It’s about saying, “How do you want to handle this? Do you need me to hug you or do you want to work this out on your own?”

Maya often falls and hurts herself and I always ask her if she needs a hug or some milk. Sometimes she does, and I welcome her embrace with open arms. Other times, she will tell me, “No”, very confidently and soothe herself.

This gives me great pleasure to see, because it shows me that we don’t need to force our children to “self-sooth”. They will do it themselves when they are good and ready, safe in the knowledge that if they are not up to soothing themselves today, or in that particular moment, their parents/caregivers are right there for them. I couldn’t think of a better way to build their confidence and security! 💗

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How Formula Avoids the Urgency of Creating Better Breastfeeding Support

I have recently stopped drinking coffee (OK, I may have the odd cup) after discovering too much caffeine gives me heart flutters. This comes after years of drinking the stuff. Years of working in coffee shops, where I would drink a good cup (or eight) of strong espresso coffee, in a single day, along with a Diet Coke addiction that lasted a good couple of years. The time has finally come to kick the caffeine and proceed with life, as healthily as possible, from now on. 

I have to say that since I’ve stopped drinking coffee, my health has improved, somewhat. I’m generally less tired and, equally, less wired!  I’ve come to realise that I never actually needed the stuff in the first place. If I’m tired, I know that I need to find the time to relax or get my head down, or start eating healthier foods in an attempt to put more nutrients into my body, rather than just make a coffee to help me push on through. As a result, I put less pressure on myself with day-to-day tasks and this got me thinking, if coffee didn’t exist, maybe more people would have this realisation and start looking after themselves a bit better. If they knew they would be tired in the morning, then perhaps they would go to bed a little earlier, instead. If they were tired from the endless list of jobs they have to do, daily, then maybe they could make some changes to that list, or share the jobs with a family member or friend, to reduce the pressure that it lays upon on them. Don’t get me wrong, im sure there would still be times where a good hit of caffeine could help us out, every now and then, but if coffee wasn’t so mainstream, then maybe we would generally lead much healthier and happier lives. It’s a small drop of resolution in an ocean of problems but it’s at least, something! 

Essentially, the existence of coffee, or more, the way coffee is used, stands in the way of us working to solve the root problems of our tiredness, leading us to become ignorant to the importance of this aspect of our health and well-being.

The same can be said for many things but a big similarity, for me, is how this same process is taking place with the baby milk formula industry and the effect it is having on available breastfeeding support. 

Let’s think, for a second, about the days before formula and how the human race has managed to survive without it. Yes, some women did have problems breastfeeding and those women needed to find an answer to their issue. So, let us first consider the kinds of problems women face with breastfeeding. If we take away the immense pressure mother’s face to supplement their babies with a bottle of formula, take away the cultural fears they face of breastfeeding in public, take away the plethora of misinformation about breastfeeding, which is popular in Western Society, today. Take away the ingrained image of bottle feeding, which is so widespread, today and contributes to many women believing their breasts must not be very good at their biological job, if so many others turn to it. And what are we left with? Mainly, issues that can easily be resolved with the correct breastfeeding support and advice. Then, a very small percentage of women who have problems with the tissue in their breasts, in which case, human donor milk should be made available, and a hand full of babies who develop an intolerance to lactose. 

What we are left with, are common problems such as plugged ducts, mastitis and nipple pain. All of which can be prevented with the correct support and information but women are missing out on this because it simply isn’t as available as it should be.

So, why is it then, we are not working to provide this support that can help women succeed with their breastfeeding goals and overcome the issues they face? 

Coffee is the second most sought commodity on earth, after crude oil. The exporting industry, alone, is worth $20 billion and the industry, itself, over $100 billion worldwide. Coffee makes people very rich! It provides many people, specifically those at the bottom of the industry ladder, with a basic wage. A means to live. Then it provides a small percentage of people, at the top of the ladder with the majority of the profit. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Capitalism. 

In a consumer driven society and thanks to globalisation, the coffee industry has managed to grow very successfully. But how? Over 500 billion cups of coffee are drunk worldwide, every year but we didn’t always drink so much coffee. So why is it the case today? Quite simply, the answer is marketing and the ways in which marketing is driven. Millions of dollars are spent every year, to convince us we want or need coffee in our lives from Starbucks to NescafĂ©. 

In order to build a brand and sell a product, companies must devise a good marketing strategy, which creates awareness of the brand to the target market. In order to do this, they need to understand their market and the psychology of consumer behaviour. This is done through market research. Once a company understands the consumer values held by their target audience, they can create a brand and advertising campaign that appeals to them enough to buy their product. A large coffee brand, one that holds a big piece of $100 billion pie, possesses the financial luxury to achieve this better than almost any other brand on earth. The richer the company, the better they will understand the psychology of their consumers and create more profit.

So what does all this have to do with baby formula? 

The baby milk formula industry, is today estimated to be worth around $55 billion. So, much like coffee, it’s a pretty big commodity – which if you remember, is worth around $100 billion and the second most sought commodity on earth. Not only do they have the financial luxury and ability, to get to know their market better than most brands on earth but they, like coffee, own a product that is extremely cheap to produce, giving them the potential to make a lot of profit! So, I think it is fair to say that it is in their best interest to make this product as appealing to the market as possible. And, just like coffee, there wasn’t always a need for it!

NestlĂ©, were one of the first baby food brands to hit the market. Recognising that they faced some competition, they fought hard to win their leading position, with adverts that worked to destroy the reputation of their competitors and lied to naive parents about how closely it resembled a mothers own milk.  This was only the beginning of NestlĂ©’s aggressive marketing history. 

A 1915 advertisement for baby milk food

 

At the time, baby food was based on raw cows milk. However, by the 1930’s, evaporated milk formula had been developed and it became popular belief that evaporated milk formula, provided the same health benefits as human milk – a huge lie!. With the added affordability as a benefit, it wasn’t long before evaporated milk formula began growing in popularity. 

Formula companies now had their work cut out for them, with most women breastfeeding, the leading brands needed to create a need for their product, where none existed, if they wanted to make any money. The only way to do this was to take on breastfeeding and human milk, itself. So, over the years, NestlĂ© worked hard to undermine and destroy breastfeeding, whilst promoting their product with misleading information, cheating parents the world over, into believing it was as good as human milk – See this article for more information on NestlĂ©’s highly unethical practices, over the years – New mothers were receiving promotional material for formula, free samples, pamphlets full of misguided information and sales assistants were hired to pose as nurses, in their uniforms, to drop by mothers’ homes to sell them baby formula and convince them that breastfeeding would lead to the mothers undernourishing their babies.

It didn’t stop there. NestlĂ© began to spread their aggressive marketing practices and lies in underdeveloped countries. Countries where without clean water and sanitary conditions to make up the bottles of formula, babies died. Aware of this, NestlĂ© decided to turn a blind eye and continue in their greed for profit.

Their marketing became so aggressive that it prompted a group of activists, known as Infant Formula Action Coalition, to come together and campaign for tighter laws for the marketing of baby milk substitutes. After years of campaigning and overcoming much resistance from Nestlé, they finally won and in 1981, The International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes was created.

However, by now, many women and many health professionals, worldwide were still under the belief that formula was just as good and, in most cases, better than breastmilk. The rumours were already out there and the damage could not be undone. Like the common cold, anyone who was exposed to the lies spread by NestlĂ© would continue to spread them. There work was done. 

Since then, breastfeeding rates around the world have plummeted and many breastfeeding specialists and advocates have worked tirelessly to change societies perception of breastfeeding and infant formula and bring us back to normality but as the marketing of infant formula is still prevalent, today, it is a very difficult task indeed.

What is more important to note, is that as a result of the normality of bottle and formula feeding, we have now forgotten the art of breastfeeding. What once would have came so natural to us, as humans in our communities, has vanished. 

Good breastfeeding support is needed now more than ever! But the lies and myths about breastfeeding are still deeply ingrained into our health services and the minds of the people around us, especially our health professionals. I hear it so often from mothers who wanted to breastfeed, echoing the words from those paid sales assistants in nurses uniforms, many moons ago, “I couldn’t do it. My milk wasn’t filling him”, “I wanted to breastfeed but my milk wasn’t giving her everything she needed.” If it isn’t this it’s that they wanted to breastfeed but there was too much pain or some other issue that could have been easily prevented/fixed had they been given the correct information and support.

So many women have turned to formula under the belief that their breasts were somehow not good enough. So many women are left feeling like total failures and feel they must defend their decision to formula feed, like the world and his aunt must think they are such a bad mother. Well, I’m here to set the record straight. No woman is formula feeding because they are a failure. No woman is formula feeding because they are a bad mother. You are formula feeding because one day, not so many years ago, someone paid a lot of money to make sure you do. 

And now, it’s time we put a stop to it. Did you want to breastfeed but believe that you couldn’t? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but bought bottles and formula “just in case” and then ended up using them? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but thought bottle feeding would be easier because your partner could help out? Question it! Did you want to breastfeed but it hurt too much? Question it! Question everything!  Find out why and then make damn sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else! 

For as long as formula exists and for as long as the idea exists that it is good enough for our babies, breastfeeding support will continue to be less than good enough. 

Not so many years ago, most* women breastfed just fine. No problems. And together, we can make that happen again. 

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***EDITED TO NOTE***

In response to questions regarding the truth of my claim that mothers are today told that their milk is not good enough, I have to add an example of this. 

I am a breastfeeding peer supporter and it’s actually a very common issue. Problems usually start when babies hit their first growth spurts. Typical growth spurt behaviour is fussing at the breast, latching on and off all the time and this can make it seem like the baby is hungry. It’s not uncommon for the people around her and her midwife/HV to tell the mum that it’s likely her supply isn’t good enough and to top up with formula (out-dated advice). It’s well-known that babies should be breastfed on-demand in order to sustain a women’s supply. So offering a bottle of formula as a top-up actually works to reduce her supply. Baby appears happy and more settled when offered a bottle of formula, because it fills him up more and it’s harder for him to digest, so he goes to sleep longer before needing another feed. This is called The Top Up Trap. Obviously, as a result of the supply and demand process being messed with, the mum starts to produce less milk and then feels pushed to offer even more formula, until eventually, baby is either combi-fed or fully formula fed. Fine if that was the mums choice! But far too often, it wasn’t. And it was totally unnecessary. The advice undermined the mothers ability to nourish her child with her breasts, she lost confidence and turned to formula, unnecessarily. Then there are the problems which surround a breastfed baby gaining weight. Too many HV’s express concern when they don’t gain as much as a formula fed baby. However, this is completely normal for the breastfed baby and it’s a result of lack of training. There are many more issues I could talk about but this is a good example of what I mean. Important to remember that around 75% of women were breastfeeding when formula had been invented. Today, only 1% of women are still exclusively breastfeeding by 6 months.

Messy Moments

We had a brilliant day, yesterday. The day after Boxing Day. The day of confusion, when no one quite knows what to do with themselves. The rush of Christmas is over, the stretching out of which, otherwise known as Boxing Day has been and gone and we’re all left scratching our heads, wondering what to do? 

Well, it was an easy one for me. My Secret Santa (Mother-in-Law) was fab this year and brought me some stunning rainbow wellies! With my feet itching to get in them and dirty them up, there was only one thing for it. MUD PIES!! 

So, I got the kids ready (Maya and her cousin, Sofia) and headed for the mud! 

We’re currently down in Somerset, for the Christmas period, staying with my husband’s sister in their big farmhouse. They have so much land and it’s right in the middle of lots of lovely countryside. Perfect for mud pie making. 

We headed down to the field, where I had earlier spotted a huge patch of grass-free, sloppy mud!

The first thing we did was get to know the mud. From experience, it’s never a good idea to jump into new sensory activities too soon, with modern day, domesticated little ones. Last time I did that, this happened..

  

As you can see, she was less than impressed with the homemade, organic, orange jelly-pool, I had spent all morning making for her, so that she could have a great sensory experience! 

Lesson learnt. 

Maya has spent many days outdoors and we’ve done baby-led weaning with her, in the knowledge that, with it, we would also be treating her to a bit of daily messy-play that would help to enhance her sensory development, amongst many other things. But what we haven’t had much of, is getting butt-naked and launching ourselves into pools of unknown textures. Babies and children are very sensitive to new sensory experiences and what can be a great learning curve, can also be just downright terrifying. 

I realised I was keeping my small, domesticated human a little too wrapped up in the “comforts” of the home and not getting stuck into the outdoors as much as we should be. So, we’ve been spending a lot more time outside, lately, getting to know nature. Picking up sticks, stones, leaves, flowers etc… Many got eaten. Many were brought home and played with until there was no life left in them. And over time, Maya has got used to exploring the different objects and textures of the outdoors. 

So, we were definitely ready for some mud play! 

I was a little uncertain with how Sofia would react. As we don’t see eachother very often, and all children are so different, I was secretly crossing my fingers and toes that she would enjoy it and get stuck in. Well, she did! She loved it! Learning from history, I introduced them both slowly to the mud. Maya is going through a great stage of observation, especially where ‘big kids’ are  involved. She learns so much from them and just loves to sit and watch them. So, along with some helpful supervision from Daddy, Maya was conveniently placed on the gravel, while Sofia and I took the plunge. 

We began by taking steps in the mud. There was some big pools of water, so we chatted about how there was lots of mud but also lots of puddles of water in the mud. Then we challenged ourselves to find the puddles and splash in them. This went down a treat! Sofia loved splashing and sploshing and got mega excited with every puddle. We observed the sound the mud made when we squashed it with our feet and how our feet sometimes got stuck in the mud and it was difficult (and funny) to pull them out.

Once Sofia was acquainted with the mud, using large wooden spoons, we began filling our big bowl with the lovely stuff. This was fun. I felt like I was making a big sloppy chocolate pie (…wishful thinking). Sofia, thoroughly enjoyed the task. She could do it well. 

At this point, I gave Maya a bowl of mud to play with and she sat, dipping her fingers in it. I dipped my fingers in and showed Sofia. She gasped, slightly horrified that I had intentionally dirtied my hands. I explained that it was ok, I meant to get my hands dirty and asked if she wanted to try it. It was a firm “no”. I explained that it was ok if she didn’t want to and we continued to fill the bowl with mud.

   
Next, we needed our pie to be a little bit firmer and less watery. So, we poured our mud into a collider and we watched how the water drained and separated from the mud. We then noticed how the mud was now nice and “hard” and less “sloppy”. Then we poured our mud back into the bowl. At this point, Sofia got some mud on her fingers. “Ooh, no!” She looked at me and showed me the mess. I smiled and said, “That’s OK. We’re making a mud pie. It’s ok to get your hands dirty when you make a mud pie.” She wasn’t sure. I took my own hands and demonstrated by grabbing the mud in the bowl, letting it run through my fingers and playing with it, which she found hilarious! But still, wasn’t ready to get her hands dirty. “That’s OK”, I smiled and we continued. 

Sofia was sat stirring her mud pie, when I realised there was a wooden fence right next to us that would be great for painting on. So, I took to the fence. 

  
Sofia and Maya were both engaged with their mud pies, so I took it as an opportunity to allow them a bit of independent play and tried not to disturb them. 

It didn’t take them long to realise I was doing something quite fun and they came to investigate. I showed them both how I was dipping my finger into the pile of mud in my other hand and using it to paint on the fence with. I asked Maya if she wanted some mud on her hands, to which she looked at me like I was crazy and shook her head. I laughed, “OK, Maya, no problem.” I turned to Sofia, who smiled sweetly and, also, shook her head. “No problem”. I continued to paint. 

Sofia had been watching what I was doing and was getting really excited about it. She started brushing the fence with her finger, in an attempt to paint it too but noticed that there was no picture when she did it. I showed her again, how I was dipping my finger into the mud, first, which then allowed me to paint pictures. I started painting the alphabet, to demonstrate. She watched and we both recited the alphabet together, which was lots of fun. By the time I got to “Z”, she was ready to take the plunge! 

  
  

We began with some mud hand printing. I demonstrated first and Sofia copied. She got great pleasure from seeing the print form and ended up really enjoying getting her hands dirty! 

   
   
Shortly after, Sofia’s Mummy joined us and I got chance to escape to the field for a few minutes. There was a tree at the back of the field, which was full of black birds and I had been dying to investigate. I wondered why the birds had chosen that particular tree. What was so special about it? There was loads of others trees for them to perch on. What was so good about this one? As I got closer, I realised how loud the birds were churping. They were singing! Every single one of them and the sound was amazing! I got my phone out to record the sound and a minute later, they fell silent. Just at that, a huge cloud of them flew up into the air, from the neighbouring field, and soared right over my head. It was a wonderful sensory experience that I’ll never forget. I felt so at peace and free and apart of the natural world, something I haven’t felt for a long time. It reminded me of the days I used to feel like that, all the time, when I was a child and got me to thinking.

  
There’s been a huge trend in creating sensory experiences for our children, lately. Parents all over the world have been taking part in the new craze, that is, Messy Play! Tuft tray sales are soaring and supermarkets are cashing in on sales in their pasta and food colouring products, so that parents around the world may treat their children to things that excite their senses and enhance their development.
If there’s one thing I have taken from today, it is that maybe we don’t need to be so hasty with our purses and, equally, our time, planning these indoor sensory experiences. Maybe, all we need is to take a few steps from our homes, into the wonderful outdoors and let our children explore everything that Mother Nature has on offer. What better way to excite our children’s senses, whilst saving a few pennies and giving ourselves an opportunity to relax by getting out of planning all these spectacular activities. 

Our original plan was simply to make mud pies. I didn’t know how we would make them or how it would evolve, I just collected a few kitchen bits and headed outside. We ended up learning a bit of science, art, English, construction and even some music when we sung the alphabet. The opportunities are endless! All it took was a bit of creativity and a lot of mud!

The day was finished off with a lovely co-bath for the girls and, for myself, a nice glass of red. It was so successful that I think, once we get home, I’ll make sure we get down and dirty outdoors at least once a week, from now on. There really is so much to learn. It’s relaxing, therapeutic, educational and it’s, quite literally, the best sensory experience on earth! 

  

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