Mellow Mummy: November 2009 : Taking life as it comes...

Monday 30 November 2009

My Breast-feeding Best Buys

I breastfed my little girl exclusively for nearly 3 months before she developed an appetite with which I just couldn't keep up. I am still breastfeeding partially and intend to do so for as long as she needs me, or as long as my body lets me; even when I return to work in the new year.

I've been planning a 'top 10 baby buys' blog over the weekend and I discovered that most of my recommended items were actually to do with breastfeeding so I thought I would do a separate blog, just for breast-feeding items.

Before I gave birth, I hadn't given much thought to breastfeeding paraphenalia - you've got your boobs, what else could you possibly need? Now I've done it once, I think there are a number of things that next time, I will make sure I have purchased BEFORE the birth! Here goes:-

  1. Milk Saver

    This is my number one breastfeeding buy and I bet you've never heard of it! I reviewed it for the Mother & Baby awards and I honestly don't know how I coped without it! I certainly wish that I had owned one of these during the first few weeks after the birth when the milk first came in.

    The Milk Saver by Milkies is a silicone shell that you place over your breast while you are nursing from the other breast. It catches the leaking milk so that you can store it for use at another time. I found that between my night feed and the first feed of the morning I could collect around 70ml of milk without even trying! Admittedly it is the watery stuff; but I could then add that to the milk that I was able to express at other times of the day.

    Even once my milk supply had started to dwindle, I would use my milk saver during feeds to ensure that my free breast didn't leak all over my clothes, or waste another breast pad. I had found during the early days that I would use a whole disposable breast pad (I tried re-usables, I didn't get on with them; they didn't get on with me) during the late night and early morning feeds and it seemed like such a waste. The Milk Saver put an end to that.
  2. Lansinoh Lanolin

    This was the number one recommendation to me by my sister-in-laws and I'm passing on that recommendation. A tube of Lansinoh's Lanolin is a must-have while you are getting into the swing of things, breast-feeding wise. I have tried a different brand of nipple cream which smelled nicer, was less susceptible to temperature differences (pure lanolin is sloppy when its hot and can be rock-solid when its cold!), and claimed to work wonders but it simply didn't help the cracked nipples. Using lanolin, my problems cleared up within a matter of days. Lansinoh's Lanolin recently won 'Best Product for Breastfeeding' at the Mother & Baby awards.
  3. Quality Nursing Bra(s)

    I bought a couple of cheap nursing bras from a big high-street chain just before Lara was born. I had been too huuuge at that time to be bothered to search any harder. Within a week of the birth, my boobs were the size of watermelons and although the bras claimed they could accommodate me, they had lost any sort of shape or support that they had originally offered and I no longer felt confident wearing them.

    I think you need at least 4 nursing bras that you are comfortable wearing, comfortable using and which make you feel great. If you have enough that you aren't stressed if your boobs leak on one of them, then you can relax a bit more when you are nursing.

    I have recently tried the Cantaloop nursing bras. They are made of an incredibly comfortable fabric, provide amazing support and you'd barely know you were wearing it. I also love my Emily under-wired nursing bra because it's about as sexy as you can pull-off confidently when breastfeeding!
  4. Electric Breast Pump

    I managed to lay my hands on a manual breast pump before Lara was born. At 4 weeks, after breastfeeding was fully established, I tried it out and discovered that (a) I needed more energy, and more hours in the day if I was going to express anything like enough milk and (b) I needed a third hand to be able to hold the pump, operate the pump and look after Lara at the same time.

    I reviewed three different electric pumps for the Mother & Baby awards and all three of them worked soooooooo much better than the manual pump which was very quickly discarded! My favourite electric breast bump turned out to be the miPump by Learning Curve, The First Years. It is incredibly simple to use at home, or on the move and is comfy, flexible and efficient. You can buy the miPump from amazon, currently for around £47 which I think is a bargain.
  5. Microwave Steriliser Bags

    I have used Lindam's ones; they take up much less space than an electric steamer or a full-sized microwave steriliser and if all you need it for is the occasional storage bottle or an emergency bottle, then they are great to tuck away in the cupboard. They also are a godsend when travelling.
  6. Support Pillow

    I bought one of these at the baby show but it didn't (and still doesn't) fit round my middle! I only found this out once I had brought Lara back from hospital. Thankfully I was sent a Floppeze to test which is a better fit, more comfy and soft, and is now serving as a cushion for when Lara topples over from a sitting position. If you buy one, make sure it fits around you before you need to use it in anger!
  7. PLENTY of Nursing Tops

    I don't know why it never crossed my mind to buy these before the birth! I know now that you basically need a whole wardrobe of them. The comfier the better. If you can buy some nursing tops in which you feel comfortable and confident, and which have sensible, easy access then realistically there is little need for you to purchase a breastfeeding shawl or sling. My most-worn nursing tops are all by Boob Design who you can buy from the NCT shop or a number of online maternity suppliers.
  8. Formula Cartons & Pre-Sterilised Bottles

    OK, so you're thinking, what is formula milk doing on a list of breastfeeding best buys? Well, my Mum warned me that I should always have some formula in the house for use during emergencies... those days when you may be too ill to feed, too tired and you need Dad, Grandma or a friend to take over, or when you physically can't breastfeed due to sore or cracked nipples. At the time, I bought a huuuuuge tub of formula which we used once, and then we had to throw it away as we didn't need it again for months. I replaced it with a couple of the pre-mixed formula cartons and a pre-sterilised, sealed bottle from Boots.

    Just the comfort of knowing that you have the emergency back-up with you is enough to justify the existence of this item on the list! Perhaps you'll never use it but you'll be glad it was there just in case. Take it out and about with you and you'll know that if you really can't find somewhere hygienic and accommodating to breastfeed, that you've got a bottle you could fall back on if you need it.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Would you take your baby to a gig?

Last night I went to an Eddie Izzard gig in Brighton. We dropped the munchkin off with her Grandparents and drove down; had a great meal, several drinks, watched a gig and then stayed the night with friends. It was the first time that we had left our little girl for an entire night and although there was this small niggling worry about the fact that it would be the first time ever that she had woken up in the morning without immediately being offered boob... but I'm generally very mellow about leaving her with other people, and as a result, she is very mellow about being left!

In the theatre, waiting for the show to start, there appeared on the big screen a close up of a baby. Sure enough, sitting a few rows from the front, there was a couple with a baby who must have been pretty much the same age as Lara, no more than 6 months old.

Annoyingly, I then spent most of the show wondering whether or not I should have bought Lara along with me. Am I a bad mum for abandoning her for the evening? Or is it cool that I can still go out with my hubbie, and my friends and enjoy being a grown up? Did the other couple feel strongly that their lives should go on unchanged with their little one joining in with everything they do? Was it because the Mum wanted to breastfeed, if so, could she not express and leave her little one with a babysitter? What did the people sitting in the seats around them think? What would happen if the baby started screaming? Would the parents really get to enjoy the show? Or would they be worrying about the baby? Would the noises be too loud for the baby? Are you really allowed to bring a child into a comedy gig? Would the baby be able to fall asleep with so much going on around them? Does a baby that young really appreciate Eddie Izzard's type of humour? So many questions..!

Anyway, the Dad had to leave the show about 20 minutes before the end, presumably because baby was getting irritable. After that, I chilled out and enjoyed a few more drinks. In the morning we rushed home to see the lovely munchkin. She hadn't missed us one bit! I'm glad I didn't take her wouldn't have been the same at all.

Would you take your baby to a gig?

Friday 27 November 2009

My Childcare Conundrum - How I Chose a Childminder (or two)

I return to work from maternity leave in six weeks time. I can't believe how quickly the last five months have disappeared. Back in June, when I left work, it seemed like a lifetime away but all too soon I had to start looking for childcare, ready for my return to work in the new year. As the name of my blog suggests, I'm pretty calm when it comes to being a mummy, but I can honestly say that the search for childcare for my little girl has been the most stressful part of motherhood so far – there have been late nights, tears and tantrums. But now, thankfully, I think I have finally found a placement with two childminders, an arrangement that really works for me and for my daughter.

I guess it doesn't help that the hubbie and I completely changed our minds about what type of childcare we were looking for. We had always thought that we wanted to send our little girl to nursery from 7 months because she'd benefit from being around other babies and for having some structure to her day. We visited 5 nurseries which I had chose from the OFSTED website ( based on location and on their latest OFSTED reports. None of them wowed us. They were fine, nothing more, nothing less and I failed to get excited about them. Back in July/August we put our names down on two waiting lists and sat back to do just that.... wait.

During the summer, my path crossed that of a local childminder (I happened to offer her some stuff to through Freegle); she was a lovely woman with an OFSTED grade of 'outstanding' who, despite not having any vacancies, invited me round for a cuppa to tell me all about the benefits of using a childminder. In that one afternoon, I was a convert. I felt I could have left Lara with her there and then!

In October, I started trying to find a childminder of a similar calibre to the first lady I had met. Its hard to find out a childminder's current OFSTED grading without first contacting them. Childminders aren't listed by name on the OFSTED website, only by their registration number. The information that each childminder publishes about themselves in the material that local councils or vacancy websites provide is often vague and rarely includes their OFSTED number. For me, I decided the best approach was to contact them, decide whether I liked them, and then to go back and find out whether OFSTED agreed. Most of the women I met were graded 'good'. Not surprisingly, the 'outstanding' childminders rarely have vacancies... and when they do, they go extremely quickly.

I suspect I had been a little bit spoiled by meeting such a well-respected, accomplished childminder at the beginning of my journey because many of the childminders I have since been on to meet have been so far away from my ideal that it gives me the shivers just thinking about it...

  • … the geezer mum whose teenage daughter and granddaughter lounged on the sofa all day with the kids in front of TV (I didn't spot a single book in the house).

  • … the woman in the hand-knitted cardi and crimpline trousers, sent from GOD who expressed no interest in my daughter, and seemed more interested in reminding me how unfortunate she was to be a single mum.

  • … the desperate woman whose house was a building site (and it didn't look like the DIY would be complete any time soon) who had a huuuuuge dog who was able to jump as high as me!

  • … the ancient woman whose house was packed full of delicate ornaments, was heated to at least 40 degrees centigrade and into whose living room was squeezed the largest TV I've ever set eyes on (actually, that's probably what was heating the house up, come to think of it).

In total, I contacted 41 different childminders in two different regions (close to work vs. close to home). I visited 10 of them. After eliminating all of the women who couldn't do the days or hours I needed, and rejecting any who were clearly round the bend; I finally found the woman I KNEW deep down was right for my little girl. I think you just KNOW the minute you meet someone, or step into a premises, be it a nursery or someone else's house, that this is it... the one you've been looking for.

The childminder I chose, couldn't work on a Friday. It was regrettable, but I figured that if I had found the right person, then I could explore other options for that one day a week even though I really really didn't want to get involved with the complications of family members babysitting. I still had one lady to visit so didn't sign on the dotted line there and then (although from previous experiences where I had got home from a visit to find an email saying the place had now been taken, I had been sorely tempted). That weekend I received a panicked call from the childminder saying she didn't think she could take the job; that she was struggling with the school run and didn't think that she'd be able to cope with a small baby in tow. I was gutted. I got very emotional. Then I chilled out; after all, there's no point in sending your child to a minder who can't keep them safe 100% of the time, or who can't offer them all the attention they need.

Co-incidentally, the same day, I was offered a place at one of the two nurseries I had signed up to way back in the summer. The place they offered me was for the wrong days of the week and they seemed a bit taken aback when I turned them down, saying I couldn't and wouldn't change the one day of the week that I take off work. Bonkers.

By this point I was getting a bit desperate. Thoughts did cross my mind about postponing my return to work. I stuck it out though and visited the last childminder on my list - she was also lovely, but also couldn't work all of the days that I needed. She proposed a job share... and do you know who she suggested she could do it with? Yup, the lady I had previously set my heart on. The two ladies live very close and had been chatting at the school gates. Between them they worked out that they could provide me all the days I was looking for and that at two days per week each, neither of them would get too stressed with having to handle a small baby as well as their other children.

So that's it, I've got an arrangement for the new year which works out wonderfully. My little girl will spend two days a week with two different childminders from two very different backgrounds; she'll get to mix with two different families, two different groups of children, two different approaches to childminding. And the best thing (and I know this sounds silly of me) - neither childminder gets to spend more days of the week with my little girl than I do! Genius.

The lessons I've learned on my travels? Start early, explore all your options, choose what's right for you, and keep at it – something will come along eventually. Also, don't be distracted by the OFSTED ratings, they aren't always up to date and can't give you a good idea of whether the childminder or nursery is right for you – nothing can compare to meeting a person face-to-face. I've checked both of my ladies out since signing my contracts just to make sure that OFSTED generally agree with my judgement, and I'm happy that there are no niggly things they noticed that I didn't pick up on. I'll update you in the new year with how things go.

If you're on the hunt for childcare yourself, the best place to start is your local authority childrens information centre who should be able to provide you with a list of child carers who may or may not have vacancies. You can also try or .

Thursday 26 November 2009

Baby Swimming – A Mothers Indulgence?

This morning, at five and a bit months, Lara had her first underwater photos taken. In two weeks she will have earned her first swimming badge! I'm proud of her but I'd be proud of her even if she sank! I guess I'm most pleased that she enjoys being in the water and enjoys the half hour of water activities we do a week.

I'm a water baby myself! For as long as I can remember, I've loved swimming (its about the only form of exercise I can face). Swimming with Lara seemed like the ideal way for me to ease myself back into exercise after birth and I was eagerly awaiting the all clear from my GP at 6 weeks to go swimming again (ha, like that ever happened, 4.5 months, more like); he recommended that I wait until after the 16 week vaccinations before I took Lara with me.

I hadn't originally been planning any formal lessons for Lara but as the 6-week point came and went, I began to feel more nervous about whether I would be able to properly hold and keep control of Lara in the water. Would I know what to do if something went wrong? Would I panic? I started chatting with my mummy friends about baby swimming classes and found a few local lessons.

When Lara was about 7 weeks old I met up with my NCT ladies for one of our post-natal sessions. We were chatting about baby-swimming classes when our class teacher commented that baby-swimming was currently a really trendy thing. She was quite strongly of the opinion that swimming classes for children this small were the indulgence of a mother's whim. Is it right that mummies take their babies to swimming classes more to pass the time than to teach their babies to swim? Will our babies really pick anything up at this age? Or are we ploughing money into swimming classes just to show off how advanced our baby's skills are?

Maybe so! Baby swimming is one of the highlights of my week! It gets me out of the house and gives me half an hour splashing in the pool with Lara doing something totally different to the rest of the week. But for all the fun and release that it brings to me, I can also see that Lara loves every minute of it. Her face lights up as we enter the pool room and she watches, wide-eyed as the older children in the class before us jump into the pool and swim up and down. During the lesson she splashes and shouts and laughs and listens intently to everything the instructor says. I know she can't tell me this herself but I reckon she absolutely loves swimming underwater. She'd let me know otherwise, wouldn't she? I also enjoy the afternoons after swimming, it wears Lara out and I get a nice chunk of the afternoon all to myself as she sleeps!

As to whether its worth the money to send your child to baby swimming classes – well last week I made the horrible calculation that if I were to send Lara to ever single level of the Aquatots course - until just after her 4th birthday - then I'd have forked out nearly 2k in swimming fees (and that assumes she passes each level on the first attempt): Ug. I'm in no doubt about the value for money. In a few years time maybe I'll have proved myself wrong, but as we wait for our swimming lesson and I watch the 3-year-olds who have been taking Aquatots lessons since they were Lara's age, I can see how the lessons I'm teaching my baby now have been transformed into swimming skills, lifesaving skills and confidence in the water. Some people I've spoken to seem to think that all the money spent on swimming lessons is wasted because babies swim by instinct at a this age... but in a couple of years time they will lose their floating and breath-holding instincts and you'll have to start again. I can see in some of the exercises we practice in the pool, that its important to be able to build upon those instincts now, so that when they wear off, that your baby is confident enough to go it alone and won't need to re-learn the art of swimming.

Am I a show-off? Maybe... aren't all mums? Its great to be able to tell friends and family that my little girl swam under water unaided and its nice to be able to talk to mummy friends about how our babies are all coming along in their various different swimming classes. But, whether she can swim or not, Lara is (and always will be) my superstar.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Foody Mums – Choosing a Baby Weaning Cereal

I've been weaning my daughter for nearly 5 weeks now and have learned a few lessons. Its going really well and she is now on to lumpier textures, more adventurous flavours and even some finger foods.

When you start to wean your first child there is an element of excitement about introducing them to a whole new exiting world of food, and if you're a foody like me, you want them to eat the best food and to bliming well enjoy it! I've found a great baby cereal that I used for my baby's first forays into the world of food – Plum Baby's Four Grain Super Porrridge - its organic (I'm not fussy.. it just is, OK?), it's not mucked-about with, and looks and tastes great (yes, I've tried it too!).

Before my daughter was born, no-one had spoken to me about weaning so I didn't really know where to start. My health visitor at 6 weeks gave me a very vague leaflet about it and warned me, on pain of death, NOT to start before 6 months (I ignored her – my little girl has an appetite that would challenge most fully grown adults and there was no way I could hold on). Other than that, I was originally guided by the free samples I'd been sent by the various parenting clubs and the options I had for those first tastes didn't look very appetising... fruit flavoured cereals or very bland baby rice, euch.

During the first 3 months after the birth I spent a lot of time in my local supermarket waiting for the pharmacy to prepare prescriptions for me (ho hum... nearly recovered now though!) and in that time I would wander the baby aisles and see what was on offer, baby-food wise. I spent some time reading the back of packets and jars and was truly appalled at the list of ingredients on some of the items I saw. Baby cereals with lists as long as my arm of preservatives and flavourings, jars of vegetables with added sugar (what???), stabilisers, emulsifiers, blah, blah, blah!

As it was, I had no intention of buying jars or ready made foods – I love to cook, and if it takes me a few extra minutes to prepare baby-safe versions of my lunch and dinner then so be it – my little girl is worth it. I was, however, looking for something akin to baby rice to use as a very first food... something smooth, something that would mix well with breast milk or formula milk (for a good transition from milk to solids) and something that would inspire my girl on the start of her exciting journey into the world of food and drink!

I did find one or two of the organic baby rices, such as Hipp Organic, that were just what it says on the packet, rice and nothing else! Why can't more foods be like that? Why does baby rice need to be anything other than rice? On that point, why baby rice? Most new mums have heard about baby rice but what's so special about it? It's just finely ground rice which you can find without the word 'baby' in front of it for a much cheaper price in most big supermarkets (I use it in my onion bhajis!). Can you imagine eating a plain bowl of boiled rice? Boring huh? You'd add a curry or a stir fry, I bet! Well baby rice is pretty much the same, very bland and not a great way to jolt your baby's taste buds into action... plus, have you ever noticed that if you leave it for too long, it turns into slop???

I've recently read an interesting book, The Food Our Children Eat, by Joanna Blythman; its a bit preachy but does give some practical advice on getting weaning right. She points out that at this age, many finely milled cereals (a wider range is available from wholefood shops) make good weaning foods... the more flavoursome the better (steer clear of wheat-, rye- and barley- based cereals until your baby is a little older as these may cause allergies).

I did manage to find one baby cereal that looked a little out of the ordinary. Plum Baby's Four Grain Super Porridge - - seemed like just what I was looking for as my daughter's first food. It is made from four different gluten-free gains, quinoa, rice, millet and amaranth. The only other ingredient is Thiamin (vitamin B1) found naturally in quinoa, which also contains relatively high levels of protein, for a grain.
The porridge is easy to make up with a little water and milk (I use the small amount of breast milk that I can still express each morning). At first you can make it quite smooth and gloppy; as your little one gets older you can make it lumpier and blend it with exciting things such as fruit purées (my munchkin loves it mixed with banana) and with yoghurt or fromage frais.

The first thing you notice when you mix it together is that it smells good! It smells like real hearty porridge and has actually inspired me to make a bowl of porridge for myself on some mornings. It looks far more appetising than the baby-rice slop and having tried my baby on both – the porridge is definitely more popular.

After her first fortnight of weaning, my daughter was enjoying a fruit-based porridge experience most mornings (she tends to eat fresh veg at dinner time now). One morning when I had no fresh fruit in the house, I thought I would try her out on one of the free sachets of fruit flavoured cereal that I had been sent in the post... I won't try that again. She screwed her face up at it and spat most of it out (I was secretly proud of her). I don't blame her though, here's a list of just some of the ingredients in what is portrayed as a healthy fruity breakfast:

Baby-grade fruit (not that you'd be able to identify it in the end product, as it has been dried and ground down as fine as the cereal)
Milled rice and corn
Demineralised whey powder
Skimmed milk powder
Vegetable fat (contains emulsifier soya lecithin)
Vitamins, minerals, calcium, iron, zinc (why we need so many of these added, I'm not entirely sure... but it makes it sound healthy, doesn't it!)

It all just seems so unnecessary. What does demineralised whey powder add to my growing baby's diet? I've thrown the sachet away now. Goodbye and good riddance!

So, if you are looking for a first taste and texture experience your little one that has nothing unnecessary or nasty added, for then I would definitely recommend Plum Baby's Four Grain Super Porridge. You can buy it in most big supermarkets or online at their website - .

Monday 16 November 2009

My Baby Wipe Wishlist

Jackson Reece Kinder By Nature Baby Wipes

Ever since Lara was born, 5 months ago, I have been on the lookout for a baby wipe that does four simple things:

  1. Effectively cleans up nappy mess!
  2. Naturally cares for baby bottoms, faces and hands
  3. Bio-degrades and therefore flushes guilt-free down the toilet
  4. Smells nice (trust me, the number of wipes you get through as a mum, you can't be doing with a baby wipe that smells worse than the stuff it is designed to wipe away!)

I've tried about 10 different types of wipe up until now and (mainly because the hubbie was fed up of me experimenting with different brands... some of them appalling) had recently decided to plump for a brand that only achieved 3 of the 4. Up until now I'd found that most biodegradable baby wipes either smelled of public toilets, or were totally and utterly useless.

I've recently tried Jackson Reece 'Kinder By Nature' flushable wipes and I think I've finally found a brand that ticks all of the boxes.


The wipes are noticeably softer than any other baby wipes I've tried; they are strong (which is rare, for a degradable wipe), quite stretchy and great for getting in between tiny little mucky fingers and for in between gorgeous plump legs.


The blurb states that 99% of the ingredients that go into the wipes are plant or vegetable based, meaning I have no worries about putting shed-loads of unidentifed chemical nonsense on my baby's skin. Perhaps more importantly, it means that there isn't the waft of a chemical cloud every time I open the packet as there is with some of the bigger named brands.

The wipes are hypoallergenic and dermatalogically tested so would be great for babies and little ones with sensitive skin.


This really is the most important factor to me as a mum... but, weirdly enough, its also the one point on my wish list, which, up until now, I've been willing to sacrifice. The other degradable wipes on the market just aren't good enough – not soft enough, not cheap enough, not fragrant enough etc. etc. As environmentally-minded as I am, I won't use an eco-friendly product just for the sake of it – it has to compete, functionally, with the evil environmentally unfriendly option.

To me, it just makes so much sense for a baby wipe to be biodegradable – even if you can't bring yourself to use an eco-friendly nappy (which, actually, I do... and I find works really well for me and my munchkin) then the least you can do is to prevent the ever-growing baby wipe mountain building up in landfill. A baby wipe seems like a small thing, but when you think about the number you get through in a week... well, need I say more? The great thing about the Jackson Reece wipes is that not only is the wipe biodegradable (in just 8 days), but the packaging is too. Genius.


Wow, the fragrance of the Jackson Reece wipes is pretty strong and I guess, if it wasn't your thing then it would be mighty overpowering. But the fragrance (mostly) comes from those natural ingredients such as lavender, tea tree and aloe vera so they smell just lovely to me and they leave a fresh waft of loveliness in the nursery every time I change a nappy.

So, that's it, I've found a baby wipe that does all the things I want it to. And, their RRP is cheaper than my existing brand (that's not to say you can actually find anywhere that sells them at that price!). Now I just need to find a local shop that stocks them! Jackson Reece baby wipes are stocked by some Sainsburys, Londis and Budgens stores but they are also available online at a number of websites (for more details, see ).

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