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Does baby brain exist?

What is baby brain? Is it a debilitating condition that turns your brain to mush or is it an excuse for when you’re not on par?

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I can’t deny I’ve had my share of baby brain moments. Such as when I put a whole toilet roll in with the washing the week after baby was born and when I dented my brand new car by literally driving into a parked van. There has definitely been a post-baby change to my brain where at times I wonder what has happened to my mental state of mind. I actually hope baby brain is real because it’s nice to have something to blame – I’m not actually going mad, allegedly.

The good news is that as my baby has got a bit older, my moments of baby brain-ness have reduced. This increase in mental strength has got me thinking and I’ve developed a theory on baby brain…

I don’t believe that mums’ brains are being turned to mush. I think that mums’ brains are being filled with so much more information and are being used so much more, we’re actually displacing our old knowledge. A theory I’m calling BBD – baby brain displacement.

Learning how to look after a baby takes a lot of time, concentration and (without realising it) brain capacity. Your senses are heightened and you not only need to look after yourself but need to become automatically atuned to looking after another human being. We’ve all heard of a mother’s instinct. I think that this is something that your brain actually builds and develops. In the same way that your body is tired while you’re pregnant because it’s supporting another life, your brain is bound to become fatigued when it’s learning to do the exact same thing once baby is born.

Think about how much more you do when you’re a mum:

– Even when you’re asleep your mind is on alert for baby. In the early days, even the semi-silent sound of baby wriggling and opening their mouth can be enough to stir you from slumber. If that’s not instinct, what is?

– Your day takes meticulous planning. You have a 10am music class followed by a play date. You’re up at 7am (if you’re lucky) so surely you can get out in three hours? Routine: Up, nappy, bottle, breakfast, wash, dress, nappy, desperately try to help baby fall asleep so they’ve napped and are not therefore grumpy making any outing pointless, get yourself washed, dressed, sterilise bottles, pack changing bag with nappies, spare clothes, bottles, milk, muslins, wipes, clean dummies (once hunted for), toys and books to entertain, lunch (once you’ve figured where you’ll be and will they heat it). Then another bottle, set up the pram, leave the house, return immediately for a dirty nappy requiring a full change of clothes. Leave again – this time needing to run because you’re so late…already thinking about the next feed and nap.
Think we just rolled out of bed and leisurely rocked up drinking tea and eating cake? No, this was a military operation.

– When you’re doing something seemingly simple such as walking down the street, you’re not only concentrating on the task in hand but are on high alert for any hazard and foreseeing any potential danger or accident; there’s a pot hole at five paces, dog poo at eight paces, pebbles to be picked up at 16 paces, steps to mount at 20 paces, is that the sound of a car? Will that patch of gravel trip baby over? Is baby about to make a run for it? Will not crossing the road to pet a doggie make them roll on the floor in a tantrum rage? Do I bash the car that’s parked on the pavement with the wheels of the buggy? Wait, it’s tea time in 10 minutes and we’re 15 minutes away from home! And all this while singing wheels on the bus on a continuous loop.

– Then there are the endless to-do lists which circulate in your head and the panic of when you’ll get stuff done. If baby naps for only 40 minutes, can I wash and sterilise the bottles, clean up after breakfast, boil the kettle for tea, shower, change, make the bed, do the washing, pack the car ready to go out…oh and catch up on precious sleep? Not really. No wonder the tea never gets drunk hot!

– And don’t forget you’re doing all of this while being physically tortured by sleep deprivation. Fuelled by (cold) caffeine and as much cake as you can lay your hands on, you have to perform like a super hero when you’re so tired you could sleep standing up.

So the next time you try to put yourself down by worrying about having baby brain, think about the amazing feats you perform every single day in caring for, nuturing, feeding and entertaining your baby. All this with no experience, training, guidance or sleep. If you do have a “baby brain” moment, it’s not that you’re losing your mind. That piece of information has just been justifiably displaced.

What do you think of this theory? Leave a comment below or say hello on Facebook or Twitter.

Like this blog post? Read these:
Post baby: why I changed
Things parents do they’re not proud of

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Campaigning for better breastfeeding support #BreastfeedPressure

Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote a very personal story for the Daily Mail about my horrendous breastfeeding journey. The following day, I was invited on the sofa on ITV This Morning with Eamon and Ruth Holmes debating the amount of pressure there was on new mums surrounding breastfeeding.

Talking about breastfeeding on This Morning

I desperately wanted to breastfeed but it made me very ill. Under the advice of 17 health professionals and breastfeeding advisors, I persevered for three months. When I asked if I should stop, I was encouraged to continue and even when I said I wanted to, my reasons were argued against. Eventually when I did stop, my recovery was almost instant and my baby – and I – were happy. Our trips out of the house weren’t confined to hospital visits while our days weren’t filled with tears, screaming, continuous feeding, expressing and setting round-the-clock alarms to take pain relief before it became too much. In fact the first time I gave my baby a full bottle of formula, she was content. Instead of crying, she lay in her pram and gurgled as we went for a stroll around the park. It was only that moment I realised how wrong things had been. If you haven’t read it, my full story is here.

I’m actually a rather private person. Talking about my boobs in a national newspaper or live on air would normally be something I’d never do but in this case, there was a greater purpose. I’m emotionally scarred from my experience. It was one that no mum should ever have to go through and I was compelled to speak out in the hope that I could stop another mum from becoming embroiled in such a negative and painful downward spiral.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the response so far. Dozens upon dozens of mums have spoken to me privately as well as via my blog, Facebook, Twitter and through This Morning and the Daily Mail. Breastfeeding is an emotive and controversial topic which people are incredibly vociferous about. I was prepared to be attacked – accused of putting people off from breastfeeding and generating bad publicity. And yes, there were people who were very nasty towards me. I tried not to engage with them – even though I had a valid answer for each one of their accusations.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the torrent of sadness. Mums who said my story made them cry because they understood the situation I was in only too well and empathised with my pain. Mums who felt they’d been forced to breastfeed under some shocking conditions. Mums who were consumed with guilt because they physically couldn’t breastfeed. It was almost an outpouring of grief from all the mums who were desperate to do the best for their baby, who wanted to breastfeed more than anything but were prevented from doing so for genuine reasons and instead of finding support, felt they were failures. I can only thank these mums for joining in the conversation and speaking out.

Reading these comments brought me to tears. I was moved at how many other mums have endured physical, emotional and mental torment along with what can only be described as an appalling level of pressure when they were at their most vulnerable. However it has also inspired me. I’m not content to rest at just getting exposure about breastfeeding pressure for a couple of days. I want to make a real difference. I want to reach out to any mum who is in a similar situation to help them understand that it’s okay if you can’t breastfeed and to take away the all-consuming guilt that eats you up as you look at your newborn baby who you only want the best for.

I want those people who label themselves breastfeeding “experts” to see people as individuals – to help them breastfeed through support not by force. And rather than be obsessed with the ‘breast is best’ mantra, to put the health and happiness of baby and mum first.

By telling my story, I’ve been criticised for not making my own decisions and not standing up for myself. Yes I take responsibility for my own choices but you have to bear in mind that as a new mum you are a physical wreck after labour and childbirth, you’re completely exhausted and you have a cocktail of hormones racing through your body. You naturally look for advice from the “experts” as you have no experience and worry that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing – surely they know best?

It’s only now that I’m strong enough to look back in anger at how I was allowed to become so ill for so long when I was begging for help. But this had made me all the more passionate about the issue and wanting to make a difference to help other mums.

Through my blog, I’d like to create a support community where mums can support each other through their breastfeeding journeys and I’ll be working on ideas for this over the next couple of months. If you want to be part of this, or if you know of any other opportunity where we can make a difference, please get in touch via the comments below or by emailing me: itsforthebaby@hotmail.co.uk

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Breastfeeding – when to stop

This is a very personal story about my breastfeeding journey and the horrific experience which ensued when things went terribly wrong. So many people advocate breastfeeding – which is entirely right as it can be so wonderful. However, what a lot of people don’t see is the insurmountable pressure on new mums to breast feed when sometimes it isn’t best for them.

I want to start a conversation to raise awareness about this pressure and about the myths that I believed that breastfeeding is natural and those who quit only do so because they’re not doing it right. It’s featured in today’s Daily Mail and here’s my story:

mum and baby bf

Within two weeks of giving birth to my beautiful baby girl, I was taken into A&E. I was experiencing the worst pain of my life – worse than labour. And what had been the cause? Breastfeeding. Or should I say bad breastfeeding.

At only 5lb2oz, my baby was too weak to latch on after the birth and struggled to feed. I’d wanted to breastfeed so I vowed I would do whatever it took to feed my own baby. A week on, we were improving but still having problems so a breastfeeding consultant visited the house and helped me practice. I found a lump in my right breast which she told me was “fine” and that I should just “give it a rub”. After this I didn’t worry about it but it didn’t go. The lump was actually a blocked duct and within days I had mastitis.

The next day feeding from my affected breast brought me to tears. Exhausted, I went to bed and woke up disorientated, dizzy and with a raging fever. This was the night I ended up in hospital and was diagnosed with a breast abscess; 4cm in width and depth.

As it was the weekend, the specialist breast clinic was closed so I had to wait. That day was horrific. I had to express to remove some of the pressure from my building milk supply but the abscess was growing and the pain was excruciating despite taking round-the-clock pain relief.

Before being treated at the clinic on the Monday morning, the abscess burst. Aside from the pain, the sight was horrifying to me. I could barely speak and was shaking with shock. Over the next three months, my family’s almost daily routine involved visiting hospital having my wound cleaned, dressings changed and having new fluid syringed out. As if one abscess wasn’t enough, I developed five more which were thankfully caught early on but I was in continual pain and fear. It was as if the abscesses were plaguing me and I’d never be well enough just to be a normal mum.

Throughout all of this, I continued to breastfeed. I was desperate to do it – my baby loved it and I did too. I kept asking if I should stop feeding and if I did would the abscesses stop. I spoke to health professionals, breastfeeding consultants, support organisations and visited support groups. Nobody told me to stop. My husband stood by me to support what decision I made but neither of us knew the right answer; I wanted to breastfeed but I also wanted to be well enough to care properly for my daughter. Even when I did ask for help quitting, I was encouraged to plough on. I just needed objective advice and support. I wasn’t strong enough to make the decision on my own and couldn’t argue against the argument that I was doing the best for my baby. I’d had fantastic medical care but the breastfeeding support was lacking. It was only when the hospital prescribed my 11th course of antibiotics and changed it to a type which would affect my milk that I eventually stopped. Almost immediately I was better. I made a magical physical recovery but emotionally, I am still scarred.

Telling my story, people ask me why I didn’t stop breastfeeding earlier but it’s hard to describe the amount of pressure I was under – from the health service, society as a whole and even from myself. Unfortunately, I am not alone. A Care Quality Commission report last year found that one in six women who talked about feeding were overwhelmed by the pressure to breastfeed, making them feel isolated and guilty.

In a new book entitled Guilt-Free Bottle Feeding, author Madeleine Morris describes how modern mums already face a “pressure cooker culture” without the intense guilt of choosing bottle over breast but also that we have forgotten that feeding should be about both baby and mother.

She said: “The pressure comes from all around – the medical establishment,  other mothers, media images of celebrities with their perfect bodies, breastfeeding their perfect babies. That leads up to pressure on ourselves. We don’t need anyone to tut-tut if they see us use a bottle.  We’re already tut-tuting ourselves. In our modern society, a mother’s needs have become so subservient to her child’s that she is expected to do whatever it takes to maximise every possible benefit for her baby, no matter the cost to herself.”

The external pressures to breastfeed are exasperated by the intrinsic internal pressure mums put on themselves. From personal experience, I felt that stopping breastfeeding meant I was a failure. From my first prenatal scan, I was asked if I would breastfeed. And the questions didn’t stop. Everywhere I went, people asked if I was breastfeeding; from baby groups to strangers in the street who stopped me to coo over my baby. These pressures built up and started to eat at me from within. When I did start exclusively formula feeding, I felt so guilty. I even ran out of a coffee morning with my baby crying with hunger because I was too ashamed to pull out a bottle.

From the beginning I was told that breastfeeding was easy, the most natural thing in the world and even that mothers who quit because it hurt just weren’t doing it right. This creates unrealistic expectations for new mums as any hurdle they then experience makes them feel like a failure. While my experience was extreme, the truth is that for many it doesn’t come naturally. It can hurt and it takes time and practice and when you succeed it can be wonderful. However, in some instances, breastfeeding just isn’t in the best interest of mum or baby. Looking back, I am angry at the experience I went through. I was a vulnerable new mum – sleep deprived, hormonal and desperately trying to learn how to look after a baby. Making the right feeding choice for my baby should have been easy. I saw or spoke to 17 individuals about breastfeeding but nobody truly helped me. What we must concentrate on is not necessarily providing more support to breastfeeding mums but the right support.

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Amniocentesis pregnancy test

Here’s my story about when I had to undergo an amniocentesis test while pregnant. I was so desperate to find out more about it before I had it but didn’t find much at the time so I hope this helps somebody….

 amniocentesis test

I will always remember the Valentine’s Day of 2013. It was a Wednesday and my husband and I had a six-o-clock dinner at Pizza Hut. Our table for two was surrounded by happy but noisy families while one child dipped his fingers in the dressings at the salad buffet. But none of this bothered either of us. We were almost oblivious to the occasion and had only stopped on the way home from work as neither of us had the energy or inclination to cook. The following day was going to be a big one.

It had started on the Monday morning. I’d not long been sat at my desk in the office when I had an unknown number call my mobile. It was a midwife at the hospital with my blood test results. I was 16 weeks pregnant and she asked me to come and visit her as soon as I could. We had agreed to all the screening tests available – after all, I’d assumed that they were all going to be clear so there was no harm in getting this confirmed.

We went to the hospital immediately. I physically shook as the midwife told me the results indicated the baby was at high risk of Down’s Syndrome. She went on to explain that there were actually three types of condition that the baby could develop; the first being Down’s Syndrome which we’re probably the most familiar with. The second was Edward’s Syndrome, a severe condition which disrupts a baby’s development and, in many cases, causes them to be miscarried or stillborn. Of those that do survive to birth, half die within two weeks. The third was Patau’s syndrome; a rare but usually fatal condition where the baby would die within days of being born. After hearing all of this, I could barely speak.

We had two options; the first was a test called amniocentesis – where a long needle is inserted through your abdomen, into the womb and to take a sample of amniotic fluid to test the baby’s DNA. This would allow doctors to give us definitive answers. The other option was to carry on with the pregnancy in ignorance and hope for the best. The problem with the amnio is that things can go wrong; inserting a foreign object into the womb isn’t natural. It can cause infection, there is a risk of the needle touching the foetus and, worst of all, there is a one in 100 chance that the procedure can cause a miscarriage.

The official advice is that if you’re not going to have an amnio, it is best not to take the initial screening test in the first place but as I mentioned, I was convinced everything would be perfect. But when it may not be, what do you do? Spend the next five months wondering and worrying or put yourself at a new risk and find out the truth? Unfortunately, I am a worrier. The not knowing would torment me and I would be able to think about nothing else. I needed to know. I kept replaying the reaction of family and friends if we called them up when the baby was born and there was a problem – hearing their joy turn to sadness and pity. I imagined the silence in response and the resounding ‘oh’ that would follow the news. It plagued me that the birth of our baby would be received in this way instead of with delight and excitement. In fact I couldn’t stand it. At least if there was a problem, we could prepare for it. Most of all I needed to be sure that the baby was going to survive. The midwife told me that women of some religions actually carry on with the whole pregnancy even if they know their baby will never live past birth because they don’t believe in ending life. I couldn’t imagine being pregnant for nine whole months and not being able to take my baby home with me.

We were booked in for the amnio on the Thursday of that week. And so the Valentine’s Day which fell the day prior meant nothing to us. It was just a day of waiting and hoping.

The amnio took place in the room next to where I’d had my 12 week scan. I was quickly ushered passed the couples who were expectantly waiting for theirs. Lying down on the bed, my stomach was cleaned before the ultrasound revealed our little baby on the screen. The medical team marked where they’d assessed to be the best place to insert the syringe. I lay deadly still as the needle pierced the skin and penetrated my body, I barely dared to breathe. I’d been told the procedure would be uncomfortable but it was painful – not that I cared as at this moment as the baby woke up and started to wriggle. The doctor quickly moved the needle up and down to avoid the baby – with success – before removing it completely. We had to wait until the baby was calmer. I think she knew something unnatural was happening and her home was being invaded. Second time around, things went smoothly. The sample of fluid was taken and the needle removed. Fortunately it was only at this time that I caught a glimpse of the large metal needle and the generous amount of transparent yellow fluid it had extracted.

The sonographer printed out a string of ultrasound pictures for us which we stared over as we waited to be discharged. At this moment, all the tension in my body released – I started shaking and almost fainted before vomiting.

amnio

Once home, I crawled under the duvet and snuggled into bed. I’d been signed off work for nearly a week and been advised not to overdo it. But some sort of preservation instinct took over me and I barely moved out of bed for nearly three days. All I wanted to do was protect my little baby. I knew I was being over cautious but I didn’t want to risk anything happening now that I had got this far. I prayed continuously through the weekend until, on the following Tuesday, my husband took the call. The midwife excitedly reassured us that the initial test results were clear. Within two weeks, we’d have the full results but that was more procedural than anything else.

We were overwhelmed with relief and knew how blessed we were. It was from then I felt that I was more than just pregnant – I felt like a mother. Whereas previously we’d discussed whether we’d like to have a little girl or boy, who they’d look like and who they’d become, it no longer mattered. The cliché of only wanting a happy healthy baby became our reality and that’s what we’d been blessed with.