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Talking about breastfeeding on ITV This Morning

Baby and I have had quite the adventure – off to London to talk about breastfeeding for ITV This Morning.
We were cut a bit short from what we wanted to say about the issue so if you want to read more, check out yesterday’s blog post.
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Will be writing a follow up on the overwhelming response I’ve had but (because it was super exciting) here are some pictures from the day…

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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:

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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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Easy messy play – custard bath

Messy play fun with minimal effort but maximum mess? Enter the custard bath.

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I’m not pretending I invented this one but sometimes all you need is a picture like this to inspire you to get a bit creative and messy at home. That and a load of custard.

What you need:
* at least 3 tins of custard (economy is fine at 17p each)
* stuff to bury in it
* bowls and spoons

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We used our trusty mini paddling pool – which does need replacing as it’s got a puncture from messy play abuse – but you could use a big tray, bucket, washing-up bowl or even the bath.

My toddler is a sensitive soul. In the past we’ve tried dunking her straight in and it had devastating consequences; high-pitched screaming and custard kicking legs all up the stairs as we ran up to the bath to de-gunk her. Since then, we let her explore at her own pace. She still doesn’t get in (yet) but has a whale of a time scooping up the custard with wooden spoons, getting elbow deep and splatting it on mummy’s legs and the floor (my favourite bit).

This time we used pasta and marshmallows to make our custard soup, spooning it in and out of bowls. Even the ducks joined in.

An hour of fun for 51p and the only prep is using a tin opener.

Disclaimer: don’t try and wash a paddling pool in the kitchen sink unless you move your crystal wedding glasses from the draining board…

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Recipe – Healthy fish fingers and chips

If your baby loves fish and chips but you’re feeling a bit guilty about feeding them deep fried food, this home-made healthy alternative is perfect.

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Ingredients

Fish (based on baby food goddess Annabel Karmel’s recipe):

  • 100g of white fish (cod, plaice, sea bream, sea bass)
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 1-2 slices of bread
  • 1 egg
  • tablespoon of cheese
  • tablespoon of fresh herbs (parsley, coriander or dill work well)

Chips:

  • 2 potatoes
  • a drizzle of olive oil

Method (Preheat the oven to 200C):

1. Peel and slice your potatoes into chip shapes.

2. Bring to the boil in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes.

3. Drain well and turn them into a dish so they’re spread out. Pour over the olive oil and toss.

4. Bake in a pre-heated oven until golden for about 40 mins. Turn them half way.

5. With about 15 mins left to go, slice your fish into fingers (buy the fish without skin otherwise you’ll need to de-skin. Unless you’ve got white-skinned plaice which you can leave).

6. Sprinkle your flour on a plate.

7. Beat an egg in a bowl and line it up next to the flour.

8. Whizz your bread, cheese and herbs in a good processor and lay on a plate next in line.

9. Heat a small dollop of oil in a frying pan to a medium heat.

10. Pat your fish piece in the flour to lightly cover, dunk in the egg and then roll in the breadcrumbs before putting it in the frying pan. Repeat for all the fish.

11. Fry for about 3 minutes on each side…then serve with the chips.

My baby likes steamed broccoli or carrots with these but choose your favourite vege.

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Easy messy play at home – fun foam

I love messy play. I love the idea of it and I love giving baby some crazy sensory stuff to explore but it’s one of those things you intend to do all the time but rarely get around to.

However, with the weather being cold and wet, getting out and about has been less appealing. So without completely trashing the house, I’ve been exploring new ways of messy play which are simple (having what you need already in the house) and quick. Because babies are not patient even if you’re concocting the most exciting messy play ever.

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Fun Foam

You need:
* a mixer
* washing up liquid
* tap water
* food colouring (optional)

Put a cup of water with a few good squeezes of washing up liquid (about 3-4 tablespoons) in a mixer. Add a capful of colouring. Turn the mixer on and beat for around 2-3 minutes.

The air is whisked into the solution and quickly creates a bowlful of colourful foam which you’ll want to be fairly peaky (i.e. not too sloppy).

I did this with three colours and plopped it into a small paddling pool which was £3 from Asda. Alternatively you can do this in the bath or pour out onto trays, on to the high chair table or into a big bucket.

That is it. Easy.

My baby was a bit too cautious to get into the mix but found it fascinating – poking it, scooping it up with spoons, slopping it into bowls and playing peekaboo with a crocodile, pirate. frog and zebra I’d hidden within the foam.

After a while, the foam just disintegrates back down to liquid so you can just pour it away afterwards. If you do have little feet walking in it, be warned that the water is coloured so you’ll need to wipe the floor afterwards so it’s not multicoloured. Although I guess if you don’t add colour, that’s one way of washing the kitchen floor!

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When to call a mum

Sometimes I look at my phone and I wonder when the last time I spoke to some of my friends. We text each other and bemoan how long it’s been since we’ve had a good old chat. Then they ask me when’s a good time to call me. The trouble is, I’m not sure I actually know the answer. When is the best time to call mums?

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Before 8am: Do not call because the day you do will be the day baby sleeps in and it will have been ruined. For everyone!

Before 10am: We can’t answer because we are trying so hard to leave the house. See that door that you can just walk through with your handbag after a quick shower and a leisurely breakfast? For us it’s like a magical portal that we are fighting to reach alive each day. We’re lucky if we make it clean, fed, without being dragged down by bags of everything we may or may not need (just in case). And we’re probably running as that extra nappy change or tantrum has waylaid us yet again.

Between 10am-12pm: You could call but we will literally have our hands full of babies, prams, food and other paraphernalia as well as running after our toddlers who want to poke, jab, grab, suck, kick at something new every three seconds. This is the perfect time to actually come and meet us. However if you expect us to be able to hold a conversation or even offer you eye contact, think again. Just bring tea and cake. But keep both out of reach so it isn’t thrown and smashed across the room. We won’t forget about it – we know it’s there watching and taunting us with its heat and deliciousness. We will down it when it’s lukewarm and practically inhale the cake as soon as physically possible.

12pm-1pm: It’s feeding time at the zoo. If you call, expect the phone to be grasped by the baby who will otherwise scream for it. Not only will you not get any sense but the phone will probably get covered in yogurt and smashed on the floor.

1pm-3pm: It’s nap time. For everyone if we’re lucky. That’s after we’ve scrubbed porridge ingrained on the kitchen floor tiles, picked up a thousand toys, washed up for the umpteenth time, run around with a vacuum. And if we’re really really lucky, maybe eating a sandwich.

3pm-4pm: Prime meeting up time. Phone calls? Not so much. We’re at the park or on the top of a rope bridge at the play centre surrounded by screaming kids. Are you sure don’t want to meet us?

4pm-5pm: Feeding time again. See above.

5pm-7pm: Time for baths, torture time (hair washing), wet babies, dressing, milk, more torture (teeth brushing) stories and bedtime. Military operation required.

7pm-9pm: We’re usually still trying to get the baby to sleep. Of course if we have plans like eating a nice dinner, catching up with friends or leaving the house, baby will have their own plans for us.

9pm: We’ve just sat down for the first time today. Tired and starving.

10pm: We’re in bed. At the latest.

11pm-5am: If we are awake at this time, it’s not out of choice. For the times when sleepless nights are a frequent occurrence, this may be the time we need you the most. Unfortunately, we may only be capable of a rant, a cry or maybe even a scream of frustration at being up all night. There’s nothing like these early hours of darkness where you feel you and your baby are the only people on the planet awake and every fibre of your being longs to be asleep.

Hmmm, I wonder why no one calls anymore!? But please don’t stop calling. All of this doesn’t mean that we don’t want to speak to you – just the opposite. And seeing that you call makes us feel that you care. Just please understand when we can’t answer….

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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….

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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.

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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.