Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Save Water: Bath with the baby

Tonight I shared a bath with Phoebe and an army of dead ants.

I spent the entire time trying to recover little ant bodies with Phoebe's bath toys, less out of respect for the dead than me not wanting to wash my hair in a tub of floating insects. This wasn't as easy as it sounds due to the fact that baby bath toys tend to have holes in them so that baby can watch water falling through them. Evidently, this is something babies find fascinating as they try to grab the water over and over again. This draining property was the main reason I thought using her toys would be a good idea. The water could drain out of the vessel, leaving the ant body behind. However, these particular ants were very tiny and slipped straight through the holes back into the bath. I would not like to go to war against an army of ants; even in death they are excellent escape artists.

Eventually I developed the following method of body removal: firstly, I used the Funny Purple Hippo Thing to scoop up the ant. Then I tilted it this way and that so that water would run out of one hole without the ant falling through. It was a bit like one of those plastic puzzles where you have to get the silver ball through the maze without letting it fall through the holes. Once the water was pretty much drained from the Funny Purple Hippo Thing, I gave it a good whack into the Big Green Number 10 Stacking Cup so that the wet ant would fall into the cup. I then used the Funny Purple Hippo Thing to scoop up the next ant.

It was an arduous process and took a very long time but I entertained myself by singing "Dead ant, dead ant, dead ant, dead ant, dead ant, dead ant, dead ant" to The Pink Panther Theme tune. Meanwhile, the survivors of the Great Tiny Ant Drowning Disaster patrolled the perimeter of the bath, looking forlornly into the tub at their lost mates, which was bloody brave of them in my opinion. I think I managed to scoop out about 13 ants using this technique. I had to keep emptying the cup down the sink as ants kept escaping back into the bath, which was darn annoying.

Meanwhile, Phoebe danced around the edge of the bath whirling the wet face cloth around her head, living up to her recently earned nickname, Cyclone Phoebe.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Wonder Weeks

We are currently living the nightmare that is controlled crying, er ahem, I mean comforting, except, given that it is Toby and myself that we are talking about, it's probably not as controlled as it should be. We are actually combining two techniques that we read about so long ago that we are pretty much winging it.

I probably wrote about Phoebe's sleep issues a few months ago and we resolved this by using Tracy "Baby Whisperer" Hogg's Pick Up Put Down method. This is when we started having to restrain her as she fell asleep to stop her from flailing around the cot. Gradually we were able to get her to sleep by patting her back and singing for about ten minutes, rather than holding her down for an hour. At least that was my experience. Toby says he's never managed to get her to sleep without restraining her.

A few weeks back I started to have problems getting her to sleep. It was taking about 30 or 40 minutes and at times over an hour. Meanwhile, Toby was having no luck whatsoever and if I was out she'd cry until I got home and put her to bed. A week ago this ramped up and I resorted to giving her a second breastfeed in an attempt to shut her up. Generally it worked.

Then Christmas happened and this threw Phoebe out no end. Giving her dinner and a bath at a friends' place before bringing her home to bed, staying out late to have dinner with Nan and Grandpa, going to the beach early in the morning and being late for her morning nap: it all got a bit much and soon the additional breastfeed was doing nothing to help her sleep.

After two particularly horrendous nights, where it took us two hours to get her to sleep, we resorted to just letting her cry. Really, we aren't doing much different, other than not staying with her while she screams and not offering that last breastfeed, although if she hadn't fallen asleep when she did I probably would have offered it eventually.

Very loosely based upon techniques I read in a book called Sleep Right, Sleep Tight by Tweddle Child & Family Health Service, and another one, the name of which has slipped my mind, we pop in every now and then to reassure her and explain that she needs to calm down and lie down in order to get to sleep. We stay with her and sing so long as she is lying down quietly. As soon as she sits up or gets all angry we tell her that we'll leave if she doesn't lie down. Generally what happens is that she calms down but then sits or stands and wants to play. Then we leave. She screams. A few minutes later if she's still yelling we'll go back in. Last night it took her two hours to fall asleep. Tonight it was only an hour. So there's progress.

But, true to my rather random form, this is not actually what I intended to blog about. Phoebe's behaviour reminded me of a book I read about called The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van de Rijt and her husband Frans X. Plooij.

I haven't read the book but, as I understand it, psychologists have discovered eight predictable developmental stages that all babies go through. Studies have been conducted around the world and the timing of these stages can be predicted to an accuracy of a few weeks. Based upon the demonstrated skills of the babies following one of these stages, the specific understanding gained by the child has been identified. During these phases a baby may become unsettled, clingy, sensitive, and weepy as its brain copes with developing the new concepts and skills. I wondered if Phoebe might be going through such a phase.

I calculated Phoebe's age in weeks (from her due date rather than her birth date, as instructed) and checked the chart. It has been 46 weeks since Phoebe's due date and sure enough this lies within a fussy phase. Phoebe hasn't been overly clingy and upset but I have noticed periods of quiet, increased sensitivity, and, of course, an inability to get to sleep at night. Apparently, Phoebe is learning about sequences, which, according to this rather interesting blog (written by Sue Haydon, who has obviously read the book), is when she starts to learn about how things fit together.

Sue lists the sorts of skills a baby might develop during this period and we are definitely seeing Phoebe exhibit some of them, including:
  • pointing and talking: Phoebe pointed at Toby and said "Dad" today. She has also started waving at people at naptime and babbling as if to say "goodbye" or "goodnight" and the other night it definitely sounded like she was trying to say "night night, Dadda" to Toby (how cute!);
  • putting items into, and lids onto, containers. In the last few days, Phoebe has tried to place the lid onto the sunscreen bottle, and has enjoyed placing the shapes inside her new cookie jar shape sorter and taking the lid on and off. She has even attempted to get the shapes into the correct holes;
  • filling bath toys with water and then emptying them again, preferably over the floor;
  • using anything and everything as a walker;
  • placing head on floor: I call this the downward dog and she generally does this whilst breastfeeding, which I find somewhat disturbing and downright uncomfortable;
  • passing and rolling balls and objects;
  • climbing and using objects as steps to reach things she really shouldn't: more specifically using my leg as a step to reach further across the table so that she can grab my iPhone, which evidently tastes rather nice;
  • offering food to others: so thankfully it's proving a little easier to reclaim my iPhone from her these days.
  • helping dress and undress herself: which came in rather useful tonight when I was struggling to remove her t-shirt with one hand and she pulled it off herself in an irritated manner. I can't understand what would be so annoying about having your t-shirt over your face whilst Mummy tugs and pulls at it;
  • and a few others, which she has been doing for a while, such as trying to use a spoon and copying her parents.
Here's hoping she's approaching the end of her fussy phase and that she is also re-learning how to get to sleep. Who knows, maybe tomorrow night she'll only raise hell for half an hour before conking out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

She walks!

Phoebe has walked.

I won't go as far as to say that she is walking as she has only taken a few steps on a few occasions.

I really should have held off on this post until I have video evidence, which, incidentally, I have tried to get but Phoebe and cameras don't always mix. In fact getting out a camera is generally a good way to get her to stop doing something. (I must remember that the next time I find her eating the Christmas tree lights.) However, my excitement in telling the world that Phoebe has walked far surpasses my alacrity in getting video evidence. Indeed I am generally so mesmerised by the sight of my little baby actually walking that I forget I even have a camera. Then there's the fact that she doesn't actually do it for very long.

She has taken the odd step before but last night, whilst playing with my friend's eight and ten year old boys, she twice took a series of five steps. The boys were so excited. She has taken a few steps again today but only a couple at a time. Clearly she needs the lads to get her up and running. She's doing a lot of wall-walking though. (I tried to get a video of this too but again wasn't quick enough.)

The wall walking is pretty funny. This involves Phoebe facing the wall and walking sideways like a crab using her hands to guide herself. It's nowhere near as funny as her actual walking in which she looks somewhat like a stoned zombie chasing a kebab. This isn't exactly a new look for her. Here she is in her early Kebab-Chasing Stoned Zombie days. I do hope it isn't a trait.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Tooth Fairy

And just because I forgot to mention it in my last post, but then read back over my previous posts and realised I hadn't updated you since Tooth Number Three, I feel I should mention that Teeth Four and Five have also joined us. These are the front two and they're about halfway through now, which is very cute. Number Six is on its way but is taking its time, much to Phoebe's intermittent frustration.

See, silly parental pride. I mean, they're only teeth, and it's not like she had to do much to grow them. But I suppose its a sign that she's growing up.

Which reminds me, it looks like I might be back in The Land of The Fertile, yet another sign that my little baby is growing up. And did you know that there are 32 muscles in a cat's ear? This amazing fact was brought to you courtesy of Libra.

Pride in the name of Love

Recently I was thinking about how ridiculously proud of the slightest things we parents become. Specifically I was amazed at the development of Phoebe's fine motor skills and her ability to deduce how things work.

When we were in the UK a few months back my mam bought her a rattle in the shape of an octopus. The octopus is wearing a hat with a star on the top and when you press the star it lights up, flashes and plays one of three nursery rhymes. If you press it again it plays a different nursery rhyme. I often give this to Phoebe to play with whilst I'm changing or dressing her to stop her wriggling around and a few weeks ago I was impressed to observe her quite deliberately pressing the button.

Then a couple of weeks ago when I was putting her nappies away she grabbed a disposable nappy and started stretching out, like you would if you were just about to put it on. (For those not in the know, as I wasn't before I had a baby, disposable nappies come all neatly folded up and stuck together and you have to kind of pull them apart before you put them on). During this activity she stopped what she was doing, picked up the octopus and pressed his hat then put him back down again and continued playing with the nappy. When the music stopped she did it again. It was as though she decided she'd like to listen to music whilst she worked. It was really funny but also very cute and impressive. She's quite clearly a child genius and far advanced of her months.

She also has a toy truck full of blocks, which her Nan got her from the Baby Markets a few months ago. It is battery operated but didn't seem to do much other than beep and flash its headlights when you switch it on. You can also place the blocks into a hole and it plays a short piece of music. Phoebe has since not only discovered that when you lift and empty the tray at the back it plays a longer piece of music, but also that you can just lift the tray up and press the button underneath it to get the music to play. Clever girl. I am so proud.

Despite not being a big fan of plastic battery-powered toys, and preferring more sustainable, endurable wooden toys, I have to admit to having given in and bought Phoebe some of the former for Christmas. The joy she gets time and again from watching lights flash and grooving to music makes it worth buying a few of these sorts of toys. So I have bought her a set of Fisher Price drums and a Little Tikes Ride-On. And of course some little bits and pieces and loads of books. I did buy some of her gifts from a charity shop though for a bit of conscience-easing recycling. I will probably open her gifts from other people before deciding which of ours to give her and might hold some back for a week or two or save them for her birthday or later in the year. I'll definitely do this with the books as I think I got her about 12 altogether and Lucie gave her a couple for Christmas too.

Phoebe loves her books though and we love reading to her so there'll never be too many in this house. We have story books in her bedroom which we read at naptimes and there are colourful and textured ones in the lounge, which she loves to pull off the shelf and read. She particularly likes to point at things. She takes books to look at in the car and in her pram. Finally, I see something of myself in her.

She has inherited my love of music too and bops around whenever she hears it playing. Generally she just sways from side to side but she loves to pick up rattles and shake them, not exactly in time to the music but then I'm no musician either (although I did pass my Grade II violin exam).

Before I go I should report that Phoebe's first experience of daycare went really well. We took her down for an orientation session on Monday. She was a bit tired and had slept late so we ended up only leaving her for an hour after staying with her for about 40 minutes. I breastfed her before I left as she was being a bit whingy and clingy. Often a breastfeed is a bit like a personality transplant for Phoebe and this day was no exception. Immediately, she was off interacting with the other babies and playing with toys, and when I said goodbye to her she totally ignored me. They gave her some of the food we'd taken down with us and, until she saw me at the door when I returned to collect her and crawled over to me whinging, apparently she was absolutely fine and as good as gold. So that's all really good news and Toby and I are quite excited about her going there. The carers all seem lovely and the centre is bright, clean and modern. And they have loads of books so she'll be in her element. Thanks Linda for helping us get a spot!

This might well be my last post before Christmas so Merry Christmas. I'm very excited about my first Christmas as a mother. I took Phoebe to see Santa Claus and she was a very good girl so I think he'll be kind.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ikea highchair best for baby-led weaning

Or any weaning for that matter. It's so cheap ($50 AUD with tray) and it's just one bit of moulded plastic which makes it really easy to clean. I thought our Fisher Price Booster Seat was simple and easy until I tried one of these. Phoebe can sit up straight and get close to her food unlike other highchairs which often recline a bit too much. You can even put it under the shower to clean it which I did for the first time tonight. And it's the height of fashion. All the caf├Ęs have them (presumably because they're so easy to clean), as do most of my friends with babies and those who don't have one want one. Seriously why do people pay through the nose for a padded piece of faff when they could grab something like this? It's yet another example of manufacturers taking advantage of parents who simply want the best for their baby.

I love our IKEA highchair and so does Phoebe. I'm sure she thinks I take it everywhere with us as wherever we are there seems to be one for her to sit in. Now that's where the Fisher Price seat really does come into its own (that and having a tray you can move in towards her to help prevent bits of food ending up on her lap). I always have it in the car in case we go somewhere that doesn't have a high chair. And as Phoebe is one of those babies that generally insists on feeding herself (i.e. messy) we even use it in the park. It's the only way I can get her to sit still whilst eating.

Check out me in my new chair!

I love it this much!

I am an eating machine.

And in other news, Phoebe definitely has a third tooth now, one along from the front right on the top. And she's turned into an Eating Machine. Seriously, today I just could not get enough food into her and she had plenty of breastfeeds too. She woke at 2am, which I didn't think too unusual as she'd been asleep since 7.30pm. I gave her a feed, she went back to sleep. All very normal. An hour and a bit later she was awake again. This happened a few nights ago and Toby gave her some water and she went back to sleep (it's very hot at the moment). Not this time. She got quite annoyed. I'd had the impression that she would have had more milk at 2am had there been more so I went in and gave her another feed. She drained my breasts and still wasn't satisfied. I went back to bed and Toby climbed in the cot with her to try to settle her. This just served to make her more angry and she screamed.

Eventually I went in and sent Toby back to bed. I removed her sleeping bag (because it was hot), and took her into the kitchen for a snack (yummy corn and corgette muffins made and created by moi) and some water, changed her nappy, put her back in her cot, sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (when I'm done having kids I don't think I'll ever want to hear that bloody nursery rhyme again) and she went straight back to sleep. When she got up at 7am she wanted a breastfeed again then this afternoon she ditched her lunchtime nap in favour of a second lunch. And still had dinner!! And dinnertime slowly eased its way into bathtime as I offered her more and more food. And she ate it all. I've probably mentioned before that the principles of baby-led weaning are that you never force them to eat and you keep offering healthy food until they refuse it. Between 3pm and 6.30pm she had a decent helping of sausage and lentil casserole, cream cheese on toast, a couple of tablespoons of yoghurt, about half a small banana, an entire milk arrowroot biscuit, a bit of prune, some grapefruit, orange, apple and watermelon, a bit of rice cake, some rusk and a tiny amount of weetbix (weetabix for the poms). There may have been more but that's all my tired brain can remember. I blame the aliens.

She felt heavier today too (before she ate all that) and when I weighed her on our not-very-accurate scales she was 9.1kg; she's hovered around 8.6 and 8.7kg for a couple of months now. Good to see she is still hovering* around the 75th percentile.

(*Would've loved to find a better word than hovering... hate using the same word twice like that... but you know... I'm really too tired to care)

Anyway, I have to go. There's a cat on my back. No, really!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

If I had to do it again... No. 1

This is the first in a series not because I have similar posts in mind but because I have no doubt that similar thoughts will occur in the future.

1. The cot
If I had to buy a cot again I would choose one with the maximum safe distance between the bars. This is something I didn't even think about when choosing our cot. I just picked one that was a good price, could be easily raised and lowered with one hand (some of them have buttons on either end that have to be pushed simultaneously to lower the side; try doing that whilst holding a sleeping baby; not that I ever raise the cot side anyway) and looked good. But now that I have spent many an hour sitting by the side of the cot, hunched over the rail, cutting off the circulation in my arms as I pat my baby to sleep, I would choose a cot with bars that I could easily get my hands and arms through. And I'd set up a really comfy mattress by the side of the cot so I could have a lie down myself. I nearly send myself to sleep on some nights and it amazes me that Phoebe can stay awake for so long.

2. The pram
Before I go on I should say that I love our Steelcraft Strider DLX in Kingfisher blue and have no regrets over choosing either that or the cot. But these are things that I didn't realise I might want out of a cot or a pram. That's not to say that had I known I would have made a different choice as we all know you can't have everything (unless you have oodles of cash and can afford a Bugaboo; but you can't easily swap between bassinet and stroller seat like you can with ours so you see, even the posh pram has it's bad points). What I wish our gorgeous babymobile did differently (other than having such wide-set wheels which make it impossible for Lucie, who has the same pram in sophisticated Toffee, and I to walk side-by-side on most pavements) is the recline levels. There are three of these, which is probably enough, but the upright never seems to be quite upright enough and the fully reclined position never seems to be quite reclined enough. A good stroller seat should go from almost flat to practically standing. But this is a very minor issue.

Another thing I'd do differently, and in fact might do if we have another baby, is I'd fork out the extra money for a car seat that goes onto the pram base. At around $300 it's hardly cheap and I turned my nose up at this when I was pregnant and choosing a pram, especially as it only suits babies weighing up to 9kg which Phoebe is now close to.

"Who would spend that much on a seat that will only do for 6-9 months?" I scoffed. "What an extravagant waste of money! No! I shall just hire a capsule from Queensland Ambulance for $70."

We certainly saved ourselves a fair bit of money but I got bloody sick of hauling that thing in and out of shops when running errands. There were a number of occasions when I didn't do quite so many things on my way home from somewhere because it was too much hassle getting her in and out of the car or because she was asleep and I didn't want to wake her. And how many times did Toby try to persuade me to place the car capsule inside the bassinet so we could push it along? Well, it was more than once. And I refused each time because it didn't feel safe. Hopefully by the time we have another baby they'll be cheaper or available second-hand because it still seems a bit damn expensive to me.

The aliens brought my baby back and they've done a reasonable job of fixing her. Here is a photo of her taken today looking gorgeous. She's getting over her cold and is just trying to catch up on some sleep. And she has at least one, possibly three more teeth coming through. I can feel her top right tooth one along from the front and I thought I could see the whites of her two front teeth just under the gums.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Aliens took my baby...

... and left one of themselves in her place.

I started writing a post about routine (to follow soon) only to have Phoebe get sick and throw herself back out of her routine.

At first I blamed Toby. He was frustrated at having to stay home for two hours twice a day so that she could sleep in her cot.

"You're frustrated?" I proclaimed. "You only have to do it two days of the week. How do you think I feel? I have to do it every day."

Anyway, this one particular day when I was too tired to argue, Toby decided that we'd stay out all afternoon and that Phoebe could darn well go to sleep in her pram.

"She doesn't sleep very well in her pram," I protested meekly. "And you'll probably only get her to sleep if you walk her in virtual silence for twenty minutes first."

He ignored me and went for a walk with Adam. I was behind with Bec and after about five minutes of the blokes chatting I figured he must have given up with Phoebe as she was standing up in her bassinet, holding onto the hood and looking out of the front of the pram. There's a reason why women were granted the position of being the primary rearer of children. Incidentally, the bassinet is now being put away for use by any future siblings of Phoebe's as it is obvious she is way too mobile for it now. Standing up... I mean, really.

So anyway, she didn't sleep and the next day was a bit out of whack but not too bad but the following day it all started to go rapidly downhill. Over the next two days she started to wake up about 30 or 40 minutes into her afternoon nap and then have another sleep when she would normally wake up. At night it would take her 30 minutes or more to fall asleep where it used to take 5-10.

It turns out that it was Toby's fault but not for the reason I first suspected. No, what had actually happened was that he had given her the lurgy. Again! (He was poorly a few weeks ago and then passed it onto Phoebe before buggering off to Sydney for the week so she was unwell for all but a day that he was gone and then made a miraculous recovery about two hours before his plane landed. Bloody typical.)

For the last three nights (not including tonight... touch wood) Toby has had to take Phoebe out in the car to help her get to sleep. She's had a disgusting runny nose, has been off her food and just generally annoyed with the world. This is a man-sized cold. I know, because Toby told me how a friend he stayed with in Sydney had it and was the angriest man in the southern hemisphere. Toby then contracted it days after arriving home and he became pretty shitty too. So imagine how my poor baby must be feeling.

Anyway, today when I wasn't looking aliens landed and took her away. They were kind enough to leave a little alien being in her place. This thing has green goo coming out of its nose (see photograph). It is very curious about our food but seems to think it is a device for testing the gravity of our planet. It knows a bit about breastfeeding but thinks it can get milk from parts of the boob other than the nipple, and even from the arm. It has a shrill shriek and it writhes around after feeding as though trying to burrow into me for a sleep (like the opposite of the film where the thing bursts out of people). It really is quite peculiar. I do hope that they bring Phoebe back tonight, preferably without her cold.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The New Routine: 8 and 9 months old

The thing with routine is that if you blink you might miss it. Really, before the age of one year (and possibly beyond that for all I know) any sort of routine you might establish is actually just a phase.

I started writing this post a month ago and no sooner did I start than she got a really awful cold, then teethed for a bit, got completely out of her routine and then set about establishing a new one which, if it hasn't changed by then anyway, will undoubtedly change on 6th January when she starts daycare.

So, just for the record, this is what I wrote on 1st November:

"Yes, it's true, we have pretty much established a routine. I feel quite confident in saying that now as it has been going on for a few weeks and we are able to deviate from said routine without causing too many headaches.

Getting Phoebe into a routine was only semi-intentional. I got the impression a couple of months ago that perhaps she was ready for a routine. She is so much more aware of what is going on around her and there is so much to fit into one day (the right amount of sleep, breastfeeds and meals) that the only way I could really be sure of what was going on was to do things at approximately the same time each day. But basically I was attempting to resolve her previously mentioned Sleep Issues.

It's been a long and at times painful journey but I think the rewards are worth it. Basically I had to spend as much time as possible over a period of a couple of weeks at home observing Phoebe. It sort of happened by accident too. One night about four weeks ago I just decided that I was no longer going to cuddle, jiggle or walk Phoebe to sleep but that she had to fall asleep in her cot. I don't know why I chose that night as we had a friend staying with us from England for a few days. He arrived at bathtime, which probably stimulated Phoebe a little too much. I spent about an hour patting her to sleep in her cot that night.

Over the following few nights we very gradually spent less and less time in her room with her while she fell asleep until eventually, the day after James left, it took about 10 minutes. During that time Toby and I devised a method of getting her to sleep in her cot, very loosely based on Tracy Hogg's Shush-Pat and Pick-Up-Put-Down methods.
  • Firstly, whoever started putting her to bed was committed to see it through until she went to sleep; there was to be no shift-changing.
  • If she was upset and crying we'd pick her up and cuddle her until she stopped. Then she went straight back into her cot.
  • We'd lie her on her tummy and hold her down, firstly with one hand on her hips and the other patting her back. If we didn't restrain her in this manner she'd roll around wildly, crawl and stand up. If she wriggled free we'd pick her up and put her straight back down again without cuddling her or lifting her out of the cot. (Note, we only placed her on her tummy as she'd started sleeping in the position by herself when she was about 5 months old.)
  • Finally we'd sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (and various other lullabies) and whisper sleep-time mantras, such as "it's okay, you're just learning how to go to sleep, good girl" etc.
Meanwhile I was also trying to sort out her daytime sleeps so that she would sleep for longer. I established a naptime ritual and if she woke up before a full 45 minutes to an hour I would stay with her and pat her back to sleep until naptime was over. In this case I assumed that naptime would be 1 ½ - 2 hours long.

It wasn't easy. Some days she just did not want to sleep or could not because she was so wound up and over-stimulated. That said, one of my fondest memories is of a day where I kept taking her into her room for a nap and she just wouldn't fall asleep so I'd get her up, give her something to eat and start the whole cycle again. By early afternoon we'd done this a few times and most recently I'd spent about an hour trying to settle her. I decided we both needed a change of scene so I popped her into her pram and walked 3km to the beach, hoping she'd sleep on the way there and again on the way home. She did but she woke after 20 minutes so I went for a coffee and we had a lovely time. She sat in her pram and chewed a rusk whilst I enjoyed a coffee and muffin before breastfeeding her. She was very well behaved and I thoroughly enjoyed her company. She only slept for 20 minutes again on the way home but I think it's an afternoon I'll always remember."

I must have been interrupted at this point as that's all I wrote. In summary, it was hard work getting her into a routine and breaking bad sleep habits. It required lots of quiet time at home, observing Phoebe and following her cues but also being consistent and encouraging her to sleep even if she didn't seem tired (babies often seem wide awake when they're overtired). In the end it only took a couple of weeks and life has been so much easier as a result. The only bad thing is that I need to be home for her sleeps as she will really only sleep in her cot and she sleeps much better if we follow her naptime ritual.

Her naptime ritual consists of a bath if she got a bit messy during her meal, be it breakfast or lunch, followed by a clean nappy and perhaps a massage to Incy Wincy Spider. Then I put her in her sleeping bag, put on her fairy lights and close the curtains and black-out blinds. We sit in the chair in her room and read two or three stories, always finishing with Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox. We have a cuddle whilst I start singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, switch off the fairy lights and place her in her cot to continue the song. There is also a blue night light in her room so I can see if her eyes are open or closed. Night time is the same but she always has a bath and she'll have a breastfeed before getting into her sleeping bag.

Once in her cot she is rolled onto her tummy and patted to sleep. We rarely need to restrain her these days. Usually it takes 10 minutes but it still frequently takes up to half an hour. If she is having trouble getting to sleep she'll shout for us to come into her room and as soon as I go in she lies down on her tummy and waits for me to pat her.

Her approximate routine when I first started this post (when she was 8 months old) was as follows:

0600 - Breastfeed
0700 - Breakfast
0800 - Begin naptime ritual
0830 - Sleep
1030 - Breastfeed
1200 - Lunch
1300 - Begin naptime ritual
1330 - Sleep
1500 - Wake
1530 - Breastfeed
1700 - Dinner
1800 - Bath
1830 - Breastfeed
1900 - Sleep
2230 - Breastfeed

This is really just a guideline. Some days she wouldn't eat much lunch and so would have afternoon tea on waking, which was really just a second lunch. Other days she wouldn't sleep for as long, or would wake up later in the morning and everything might get thrown out. And the night time breastfeed could be anywhere from 10.30pm to 4am.

In the past week she's changed again and has dropped most of those breastfeeds so her routine now looks more like this:

0645 - Breastfeed
0730 - Breakfast
0830 - Naptime
0900 - Sleep
1015 - Wake
1200 - Lunch followed by quick bath
1300 - Breastfeed
1330 - Naptime
1345 - Sleep
1515 - Wake
1700 - Dinner
1800 - Bath
1830 - Breastfeed and bedtime ritual
1915 - Sleep

Disclaimer: this seems like a really boring post but when you're the parent of a baby, especially your first, little things can seem stressful, you question yourself a lot and it is actually quite interesting to see what routines other babies follow. It's a popular topic at mums groups. I imagine I will find this quite interesting should I have any more babies and wonder when or how often I should feed them. A flexible routine takes away the guess work and can relieve a lot of stress and interestingly, most babies seem to fall into very similar routines.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

So what did you do today?

I was thinking earlier this evening, if Toby comes home and asks me what I did today, what would my answer be?

Well, I was feeling very blah today, tired with a sore throat. Having fed Phoebe at 10pm last night (after attempting to have an early night due to feeling unwell) and then again at 3am, I fed her in bed at 6am this morning before finally dragging myself out of bed around 7am for breakfast. After eating breakfast with Phoebe, who wasn't overly interested in hers, I put her down for her morning nap and went for a nap myself.

So today I napped. I also:
  • walked to the shops for bread and milk;
  • attempted to construct a new laundry hamper (only to find the bag of screws is missing and it needs to be returned to the shop);
  • took out the rubbish;
  • cleaned out the kitchen bin;
  • vacuumed the lounge room floor;
  • picked up Phoebe's toys, various half-eaten magazines and the contents of my handbag which she had strewn across the floor;
  • swept the tiles and mopped the floor where Phoebe eats;
  • put on a load of washing;
  • chatted to a friend on the phone who later came around for a cup of tea and another chat;
  • emailed some work colleagues;
  • wrote a to-do list and searched the iPhone App Store for a better to-do list app;
  • had a snack in front of the telly whilst Phoebe was sleeping so that I could have lunch with her when she woke (wish I'd known she was going to sleep til 3.45pm);
  • sang Phoebe to sleep twice;
  • breastfed Phoebe twice;
  • prepared food for Phoebe three times, then sat with her whilst she played with said food three times, stuck some of it in her mouth and spat most of it back out again and then cleared up said food remnants three times;
  • read four books to Phoebe;
  • massaged Phoebe twice;
  • pushed Phoebe around the house on her little bike* and then comforted her and put a cold compress on her head after she fell off the bike onto a toy she was after;
  • danced with Phoebe;
  • changed Phoebe's nappy three or four times and scraped poo off one of them.
Funnily enough when Toby got home he did ask what I did today, only what he actually said was "so what did you do whilst Phoebe slept for four hours today?" Why then, given the above list, did I feel like I'd done nothing and that I had to justify how I'd spent my time?

* The "bike" has four wheels. Bike comes from bicycle as in two cycles right? So what are four cycles? A fourcycle? A quadcycle? Does that make it a quike? Or a quake? A fourke? Or a quad bike?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Phoebe's new walker

Phoebe received an early birthday/Christmas present from her Great Gran in England today: a V-Tech baby walker. Seems silly to wait for Christmas to give it to her as she'll probably be walking by then. She thinks it's pretty cool, although spends most of her time walking it backwards so that she can push the buttons. Ooh pretty colours. She looks so little next to it. I guess they're made for slightly bigger babies.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Phoebe says hello

Could this be Phoebe's first word?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Milk Blister (a.k.a. The Bleb)

We were in the midst of trying to resolve Phoebe's Sleep Issues, which meant encouraging her to nap as often and for as long as possible, and ensuring we got her to bed at her new early bedtime. We were also on our way to a party. This was a logistical challenge. How best to enjoy the party yet still get our little girl home and to bed. She hadn't slept before we left. On the way there we discussed whether to drive around and let her sleep in the car, somehow get her to sleep there or keep her going and let her catnap on the way home.

For some reason we settled on the latter. This involved pulling over and feeding her before we got there. After she fed from my left breast I thought it felt a bit sore and noticed the tiniest bit of blood on her chin which I thought could have come from my nipple. I didn't think much of it but the next feed at bedtime was also a bit painful. It felt like she was biting down but I could tell she was actually feeding. When she woke up later that night my breast was sore before I even put her on it. I found I had to hold it in position and even then it was almost unbearably painful. The pain was most acute at the top of my nipple but my whole breast hurt. This was much worse than vasospasm or cracked nipples in my experience. It was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had, with the possible exception of ear infection. I could have cried. Eventually I fed her from the other breast and when she seemed satisfied put her back in her cot without offering the left side again. I took some paracetamol and went back to bed, still in a lot of pain.

The next morning I was in so much pain I was almost dreading feeding her. I continued to take painkillers and read as much as I could about thrush, blocked ducts and mastitis. I seemed to have some symptoms from all of them but none of them quite fit. I was particularly concerned about the prospect of thrush and having to change my diet to fix it. I couldn't see any obvious signs and Phoebe didn't seem to have any symptoms either. I didn't know what to wear and felt best wearing nothing. All of the advice was to feed through it. Nice. I expressed a little bit as I could then control the suction myself which was slightly less painful. Amazingly I got quite a lot of milk.

Phoebe didn't seem to be enjoying feeding from that side either and would quite often pull off crying. This could have been because I was slightly engorged and was massaging the breast and trying her in different positions so it's likely the flow of milk was irregular and frustrating for her.

Then, on the fantastic breastfeeding website kellymom I found a reference to a milk blister, also referred to as a "bleb" (what a fantastic word that is). Earlier that day I had noticed a white spot on my nipple. It came and went and I'd wondered if it was thrush. But it definitely looked more like the milk blister on the web site. A milk blister occurs when skin grows over the top of a milk pore, perhaps due to a damaged nipple. Recall I noticed the blood the previous day. This can then lead to a back up of milk in that duct and engorgement. Engorgement can then lead to other problems including mastitis.

I treated my breast according to the advice: firstly use a warm compress before feeding, then gently rub at the blister to try to loosen the skin. After feeding I expressed as much as I could to empty the blocked duct and this relieved much of the pain in my breast. I then soaked the nipple in a saline solution before expressing a small amount of milk onto the nipple, rubbing it in and letting it air dry. Finally I applied some Lansinoh. It is recommended that you follow this rigmarole every time you feed but who has time for that? I did it once or twice and continued with the compress and rub until I was eventually able to remove the skin blocking the pore.

The majority of the pain went as soon as the engorgement was released and I felt completely better as soon as the skin was removed. A few feeds later my nipple stung a little bit but other than that I was completely fine.

I called the Australian Breastfeeding Association during this just to get reassurance that my diagnosis was probably correct and that I probably didn't need to see a medical practitioner. It can be difficult finding someone with the relevant knowledge when it comes to breastfeeding as it seems to be a highly specialised area. The counsellor I spoke to said that milk blisters are quite mysterious and no one really knows what causes them but she'd had one that kept coming back. They seem very common yet I had never heard of it. Three friends I have spoken to about it (probably the only three actually) had all had a milk blister but none of them seemed to experience quite the level of pain that I did. For some reason the blister didn't appear until the milk was already backed up and engorged, which is where most of the pain came from, whereas most other people seemed to find an obvious blister first and managed to burst it before any problems started.

Needless to say, as you may have gathered from my other posts, this didn't help Phoebe's Sleep Issues. And now she's Teething. Jeez... there's always something, isn't there?

Last night's experiment

Babies like to keep you guessing. One day they're doing one thing and the next they do something completely different leaving you scratching your head as to what the changed variable was.

As I mentioned in my last post Phoebe has been waking at 5am. Last week we put a rug up at her window in lieu of some blackout blinds which we'll buy tomorrow and install at the weekend (hopefully). Some nights it worked, most nights it didn't. Hopefully the black out blinds will be more successful but at the very least it helps to darken the room during daytime naps and it'll be much easier than hooking up and unhooking a rug. And I don't think it is doing the rug much good.

Usually after I have fed Phoebe at night I switch off her night light and open her bedroom door for air flow (her window has been shut due to the recent dust storms). Last night I didn't switch the light off and as her window was open I also kept her bedroom door shut. She slept until 6.45am! Woohoo!!

Wonder if it'll work again tonight.

We're also thinking of playing bird noises to her all night so that it isn't quite so apparent when the birds wake up and sing at 5am. I'll let you know how that goes.

And I haven't forgotten about the Milk Blister. I just wanted to tell you this first.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The thing about sleep is...

... you don't know how much you need until you're not getting it.
"Nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be so hard."
The Scientist - Coldplay

In my last post I mentioned Phoebe's Sleep Issues so I suppose I should elaborate. The thing is it's been so long since then and so much has changed that I'm not sure I can remember what I wanted to say. So I'll try to start at the beginning.

A few weeks ago Phoebe seemed to be getting herself into a nice little Gina Ford-esque routine. She'd feed around midnight and again around 5am (I don't think Gina actually allows this but never mind) then wake around 7am and have some breakfast before heading off for a nap around 9. She'd nap for about 45 minutes then wake until around midday and nap for about an hour and a half. She sometimes napped for around 40 minutes in the late afternoon too. This lasted a few days. Not long at all really.

For some reason I found it really stressful when she snapped back out of the routine. All of a sudden she was all over the place. She'd wake up at 5am, nap whenever, if ever, and we'd spend ages trying to settle her at night. I decided she was overtired so one night about 2 weeks ago we moved her to her own room and brought her bedtime forward to 6.30pm. That first night it took us an hour to get her to sleep so she ended up going to bed at her usual bedtime but the previous night had also taken an hour which meant she went to sleep an hour later than usual, so perhaps we were getting somewhere. Gradually over the next couple of days she got into this new rhythm and things seemed to be going quite well until suddenly it all went pear-shaped again a few days after my chat with my boss.

I don't remember the details now as it is all a blur but it seemed very important to us that we get her into a routine and that she sleep well during the day and she didn't seem to be doing that. It's possible she was picking up on my anxiety regarding next year following the Return To Work talk.

Then again, it also seemed to happen around the same time that the milk blister occurred (see next post).

Now I don't know what's going on. I was going mad for a while. One morning, after spending an eternity trying to get her to take a morning nap, I took her for a walk in the pram out of desperation. It was hot, it was not the best time of day to be out walking. I had spent days, if not weeks, at home trying to help Phoebe into her routine, seemingly for nothing. Every morning that I struggled to get her to sleep signalled another day that she wasn't getting enough and another day I'd have to wait to get her Sleep Issues sorted. I phoned Toby and told him I was irrationally angry with him for not putting her into her cot for a nap that morning. (Toby had looked after her whilst I slept.) I cried. I was so fed up with it all.

Since then I've had to chill out and let her fit her naps into my day again, within reason. Perhaps I was feeling under pressure to get her into a routine before she was ready, in preparation for childcare next year. But then I was also convinced that she was ready for a routine. So what threw her out? The milk blister? My anxiety? Her vaccinations? Her cold? Her cough? Teething? All of the above? Toby had the nerve to suggest it might be to do with too much caffeine in my diet. HOW VERY DARE HE!

It's hard when sleep is out because it throws everything else out too and weaning is hard enough without not knowing when you should feed and whether it should be breast or solid. I worry that she can't settle herself, that she doesn't have regular naps, that her naps aren't long enough, that she's not eating enough, that she's having too many breastfeeds, that she's waking in the night for feeds when she shouldn't, that she isn't getting enough sleep.

So I have no idea whether I've covered what I meant to cover but the situation is currently this. She generally goes to bed well although we have to cuddle her almost to sleep. I've been sticking the sling on and walking around her bedroom. It's probably the wrong thing to do but I really just need her to catch up on sleep and get settled again. She often wakes up once in the night at quite random times. She then wakes up around 5am. For a while last week she was waking much later or she'd wake at 5am then feed and sleep again for an hour or two. That led me to wonder if her early waking is temperature related. A couple of times she's woken with a full nappy or because she's coughing but even then she won't go back to sleep. She's up for the day. This generally means she's only had 10 or 11 hours sleep. Today and yesterday she napped well but before that she was having three or four 30-40 minute catnaps, resulting in nowhere near enough sleep for a 7 1/2 month old baby.

It's frustrating because if a baby doesn't get enough sleep, it doesn't sleep well. I feel like we can't do anything else in terms of setting a routine and reducing breastfeeds until she's caught up on her sleep and is sleeping long hours at night and napping well during the day. I don't really feel in a massive hurry to establish a routine or drop feeds, but it can be very difficult for me to plan anything when I don't know when she's going to be sleeping.

Hopefully I'll find some time over the next couple of days to tell you about the milk blister.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To work or not to work: is that really the question?

"We are engaged, when we become mothers, in a new way of being in the world that involves another human being, where once there was merely the long shadow of the letter I."
Anne Manne, Motherhood: How should we care for our children?

Ah! The great Work-Life Balance debate. Once again it has reared its ugly head and I am embroiled in it.

After broaching the subject of my Return To Work with my boss the other day I have found myself at something of a crossroads. I want to Return To Work part time. My boss won't let me. There we were, two women on either side of a desk and of our child-rearing years; one of us being forced to choose between caring for her child and maintaining her career; the other remembering what it was like to be in exactly that position but being forced to put her organisation first. Each could see the situation from the other's perspective and understand her standpoint but that didn't change the fact that neither of us could really give the other what she wanted.

My boss was very understanding of my desire to work part-time. I simply do not want to place Phoebe in childcare 5 days a week. She was the same with her daughter and took 2 1/2 years out of the workforce before her husband took over as full-time carer. Added to the old childcare debate, which I could quite easily bore you with once again, is the sense that I don't have the mental timeshare to devote 37 hours a week to work. At the moment I can't even find the time to clearly think about what my options are for next year and, for that matter, what I might actually want to do. My boss suggested I might want to look for part-time work outside of the organisation or that maybe she could somehow delay my return, depending upon the project she needed me to come back to work on. To their credit, my managers had planned around me working in the area that I enjoy working in; I had been worried that I'd return to the crap that no one else wants to do. Instead it seems that there might actually be quite a good project to come back to work on next year.

The Director's response wasn't entirely unexpected but the alternative to working part-time was unthinkable so I chose to do exactly that: not think about it. Instead I convinced myself that I would be able to work part-time and that it wasn't worth thinking about what I would do if I couldn't. It seems the power of positive thinking isn't actually that powerful after all. Apparently it doesn't change reality, or other people's opinions. Either that or I just wasn't doing it right. Anyhow, I felt okay after our conversation. I knew she'd take that stance at the very least as a matter of principle. A precedent had been set for not allowing part-time work within the department and a few employees had left for that reason in the past. I didn't really think I'd be the exception to this rule. It is a difficult environment to have part-time workers especially as much of the work is support-based. I have worked on a project with a part-timer in a previous job and I found it very frustrating on the days that she wasn't at work. It occurred to me that this is why very few women, especially young experienced women in their thirties, work in IT. Most women are either young graduates, or mature women with their child-bearing years behind them. As my boss said, "it isn't very family friendly". If they want to recruit more women into the industry, as they seem to try to do every few years, they really need to shake this up and sort it out. I shudder when I think of the lost potential of women my age, who are degree-qualified with upwards of a decade's experience who "choose" not to work so that they can look after their children. We struggle to recruit employees with the required level of experience so it seems quite insane to me to force those women to make such a choice when surely we could all benefit from designing our teams and work in such a way that allows them to be employed part-time.

Toby and I went for lunch and talked at length about the various options open to us. I could get work elsewhere, maybe contracting work. I could see it as an opportunity to change careers, perhaps start earning money from my writing. Or, I could go back to work full-time and he could work part-time. After all, my maternity leave is worth a fair amount of money to us if we'd like to have another baby.

The following day, however, I lost myself. I went off to my mum's group and felt really out of it, like I didn't belong there for some reason. My dilemma was filling my head yet I couldn't think about it. I couldn't think straight about anything.

Then Phoebe's sleep issues, which we'd been working on that week, picked up. More on that later. Could she have been picking up on my anxiety? Whatever the reason, it did not help matters to have her skipping sleeps, catnapping, waking up at 5am and taking 40 minutes to an hour to settle at night. It all became way too much for me. We went to a party with my colleagues on Saturday night and had to leave after less than two hours to get Phoebe home to bed. It was so frustrating. I realised I actually missed them. My initial reaction after the chat with my boss had been to leave work. Now I wasn't so sure. How could I just abandon that part of me, the person I was before I was a mother? First and foremost I am a mother but I'm still the IT professional I was before as well. Why can't I be both? Why should I have to choose? Why should I have to spread myself so thin that I can't do either job particularly well?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not kidding myself that I'm the first woman ever to experience this dilemma. Professional and working women have been going through this ever since the feminists achieved so-called equality for us. I have seen countless acquaintances returning to work part-time and just assumed I'd do the same. I don't think I personally know a woman with a very young child who works full time. Why did no one tell me that IT was not conducive to raising a family before I became qualified in it? Would I have even listened if they had in my feminist career-oriented youth? I guess deep-down I knew it but I just thought things would work themselves out. My husband would support me, or I'd stick my children into childcare. Believe me, no one is more surprised than me about my sudden stance on this. Nothing prepared me for how I'd feel about someone else looking after my daughter rather than me. If I'm honest, even the thought of her father replacing me as her full-time carer is a bit disturbing. And let's face it, I will probably still be the person who puts her to bed at night, comforts her when she wakes in the night or when she's sick. But I also hadn't read much about childcare and its effects on babies and really young children. I'm still researching that but so far what I have read does not give me comfort.

So I'm in turmoil. On the one hand I miss the old me, I long for a proper tea break and to go to the loo without an overtired baby following me on hands and knees calling "mamamama". I miss my colleagues, I miss my work. I worry about money. I feel put out at the thought of giving up superannuation, holiday pay and maternity leave. On the other hand I love being a mum and spending my days with my daughter. I worry what state the house will be in if I'm working when I can barely keep it ticking over whilst I'm at home. I listen to Toby and his brother discussing the politics at work, complaining about demanding clients and unrealistic deadlines and I remember the crap that I had to put up with at times and how over my job I was before I was pregnant, how for years I yo-yo'd between being happy and feeling like I was making a contribution to my community and being completely hacked off and under-challenged. Starting something new now might not be the best thing as I really don't have a whole heap of brain space to take away from raising a family.

In short, I have absolutely no idea what I want to do, or what is best for Phoebe and our family. I feel selfish if I think about going back to work in financial or personal and professional terms rather than purely what is best for Phoebe. Then I wonder if I am being naive to assume that me being at home with her, rather than earning money for the family, is for her best. Am I just being lazy? Especially considering I feel like a bit of a useless housewife at the moment. I haven't even found time to plan meals and cook in the evenings. It doesn't help that I'm worried about money and feel like I should plan my meals a week ahead and then buy exactly what I need. Plus there's the whole weaning thing going on and the fact that I feel like I should feed Phoebe organic food. And then there's the milk blister... but that's a story for another post, which I really hope I find the time to write.

There are probably many options for part-time work but not necessarily ones that will pay enough to justify putting Phoebe into childcare for those days. And of course, it seems crazy to me that I have to go to work to pay someone else to look after my baby and clean my house. Why can't someone just pay me to do it? Okay so only one person is employed rather than three, but I'd be much better at it. I wouldn't have to travel and I know better than anyone else how to raise Phoebe and organise the house. And I'd probably cost less. It's at times like these that our market economy seems a bit crazy. There must be another way....

Friday, September 4, 2009

Weaning, daycare and the trip

This post is a bit of a mish-mash because I have so much going on in my head, and in my life, that I just need to get it out before it gets forgotten.

Firstly, weaning.

Phoebe has had a cold this week plus I'm now back into my mum's group and it's really hard not to compare her to the other babies who are all being fed pureed food; she doesn't seem to eat as much as they do. Two of them are now doing proper solid poo and they all polish off their little tubs of food quite neatly without much mess. Baby led weaning is actually quite difficult, not in itself but because it goes against conventional thinking. As such, it's actually quite difficult to get good advice or reassurance. My friend thinks I should try some puree along with finger foods; a child health nurse at a workshop the other day told us our babies should now be filling up on food during the day and not waking at night; the midwife from my health fund seemed to think it was great that I was still breastfeeding and Phoebe was able to feed herself and that I shouldn't worry about her not getting enough nutrients until she's 9 months old. So many different opinions.

She still loves her boobie and often doesn't eat a lot of food at all. I keep reminding myself that it's all about experimentation, fun and familiarisation with food but it's hard when everyone around you has gone down a different track, and of course one of the dominant hormones that you start to produce as soon as you're pregnant is the one that makes you worry. I worry that she isn't eating enough and I question my choice to try BLW. I worry that her poo isn't solid enough. I go from being uber-excited about finding chunks of carrot in her poo to being worried that the carrot isn't being digested and wonder if that's because she can't chew it and should I be spoon-feeding her puree instead. I worry that she is going to want breast milk (from the breast) forever and how that is going to work when I return to work. I worry that she's waking in the night when she shouldn't be. Deep down I know that BLW is the right way for us; I only wish I had more support and knowledge around me. It's no wonder that most mums go for the old Spoon-Puree method when there is so much more encouragement and help for it than BLW. The internet is my only BLW friend.

Later: Scratch that. I think I was just having a moment. We had a really nice lunch together and I fed her a few spoons of mush (steamed carrot and corgette minced together and a bit of my bolognese sauce also minced) then let her feed herself said mush with soldiers (that's toast fingers as if anyone doesn't know that). One of the best things about BLW is the fact that you can eat together. Once she got hold of the toast she chewed and sucked it to pieces and lost all interest in the spoon. I fed her similar mush tonight and she'd already been snacking on snow peas from the garden, which she loved. She would only take a couple of spoons of mush though. She indicated that she was done (she flaps her hands around then bangs them on her tray, splattering any food that might be there) but was then happy to continue munching on another snow pea when that was offered. I then placed the left-over mush in one of those food net things and she sucked the life out of it, and actually tried to bite through the net. I removed the dry mush remains from the bag and offered it to her. She played with it a bit then slapped the tray. She is slowly starting to eat more (getting over her cold I suspect) but still doesn't eat much. No matter; we'll get there.

Now, daycare.

I can't remember what I was going to say about daycare so I'll just make something up. I have seen another daycare facility which I'm reasonably happy with and will enrol Phoebe into (despite the fact there's a $50 enrollment fee). It came with a recommendation from someone who worked there, staff turnover is very low, it seems nice, has a nice vibe, children are away from babies so it's a lot quieter than some of the others, and it's on the way to work. However, I'm still not entirely happy with the idea and need to do a bit more reading on it. I have read that 30 hours or more in childcare can have negative effects on an infant and I really don't believe that babies under the age of 2 or 3 were meant to be in large social groups of other babies for long periods of time. I am also annoyed at the changes I feel I have to make just so I can return to work. Things like getting her to sleep through the night, worrying about how much food she's eating, getting her to drink milk from a cup (which I haven't even tried yet because I don't have enough milk to express because she still wakes up at midnight and 5am to feed because she doesn't eat enough during the day etc. etc.) If left to our own devices I know these issues would resolve themselves naturally over time with no anxiety required. Before I was pregnant 12 months maternity leave seemed really generous. Now it just seems ridiculous.

And finally, the trip.

How to condense five weeks and two mammoth journeys into one blog post. A brief summary would be to say that in general she was fine on both flights but on the way over I remember thinking that I was knackered, it seemed really hard, and I was glad I wasn't on my own yet wished Toby was with me.

I fed her on take-off and she fell asleep because by then it was way past her bedtime. Our flight was at 8.30pm and bedtime is usually around 7.45pm. She then slept for 6 hours in the bassinet until I had to remove her due to turbulence. This was more than she'd slept all week. She was pretty much in the sling on my lap after that and we dozed together a few times (it was surprisingly comfortable) but I really didn't sleep enough. On the second leg she was really grizzly and started crying inconsolably before we even took off. She slept a bit and was happy for a bit but in general she was quite unsettled the whole way.

We arrived in Newcastle around lunchtime and Phoebe settled in with my family really well. She was a bit overwhelmed in the airport but didn't cry. A few hours later she was playing happily with my sister and my niece, Lucy who both immediately doted on her. Lucy was so lovely with Phoebe and I get this feeling that they would be great friends if they lived near one another. Lucy was always hugging and kissing Phoebe and sharing her toys with her. We'll really miss her.

Phoebe hit a few milestones when we were over there. She mastered crawling and pulled herself up to standing for the first time. She has been getting very fast since we got home and now likes to crawl off into other rooms whilst I'm getting her dressed after her bath. She chases the cat around and tonight Zadie, rather amusingly, herded Phoebe back into the bedroom for me. Zadie, thankfully, is very tolerant with Phoebe and seems to know to just walk away when it all gets too much.

Phoebe also got her first tooth whilst we were away, which I found when we were staying with Nic and Ian in the Lake District a week. Since our return she has got a second and now has two bottom front teeth. She also seemed to grow very suddenly at the same time, about a week before she turned 6 months. She now weighs about 8.3kg.

By the end of the trip she was very comfortable with my mam and dad and definitely knew who they were. I think she misses them. They made a photo album for her which allows a message to be recorded for each picture. They filled it with photos of themselves, Clare, Alan and Lucy, and my grandparents. I show it to her every day. When she saw my mam, dad and Lucy on Skype the other day she seemed quite excited and kicked her legs about so I think she recognised them.

Phoebe slept most of the journey back. It was a less amenable time of flight for a young baby, leaving at lunchtime and arriving in the middle of the night. It was a much easier flight for me, partly because she slept so much but also because Toby was with me. She screamed most of the way home from the airport though, which took twice as long due to road works. Then when we got home we couldn't get her to sleep. We finally got to sleep around 4.30/5am. Ug! Needless to say we've all been a bit jet-lagged since.

And to end the post, some exciting news. A few days into my trip my sister announced to my parents and me that she was pregnant. I have kept it to myself for 7 weeks and finally she's had her 12 week scan, it's all looking good and the word is out. It's so exciting and it was lovely to spend her first weeks of pregnancy with her comparing notes. It was very special to be allowed to share that time with her when it was still top secret. It made me extremely sad that I will miss the rest of her pregnancy and the birth of another baby but I am uber excited by the whole thing. I don't know when I will see this little one as ideally we'll have another one in a few years (I feel like Clare and I are on some kind of baby conveyer belt, churning them out relay-style) so I don't think we'll fit another trip in before then. Who knows? Maybe the McCartneys will make it over to see us when the new one is a few months old. I can live in hope.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Baby Led Weaning

We're back from our big trip. Still getting ourselves and the house organised but we had a great time and Phoebe changed loads. More about that later.

One of the big changes is that Phoebe hit the 6 month milestone and is now being weaned. We started her on solids when she was about 5 months old but just put food in front of her and let her play with it and only really did this a few times. On her 6 month birthday we started feeding her a meal a day (apart from the following day which was our big party in the UK) and over the last couple of weeks we've gradually built up to two or three meals a day.

Despite all of the Annabelle Karmel recommendations we decided to follow the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) philosophy popularised by UK health visitor Gill Rapley. The basic idea is that you let the baby feed itself. It really is as simple as that. No pureeing or spoon-feeding.

According to Rapley a baby will be unable to feed itself food that it is not capable of chewing and safely swallowing and digesting, provided a few basic precautions are taken, such as not offering food that could be easily swallowed whole and choked upon, such as peanuts. The baby is offered a selection of food and chooses what she wants to eat and how much. Food is not forced down the baby's throat and she can explore a range of colours, tastes and textures. Babies are less likely to choke because they are feeding on finger foods earlier when the gag reflex is further forward on the tongue. They are more likely to be able to regulate their appetite and tell when they are full. They are less likely to become fussy eaters because they choose want they want to eat, having explored it with their hands and eyes first, and avoided any mealtime battles. The first few months between 6 and 12 months of age is all about learning to eat and having fun and most of the baby's nutrition comes from its milk feeds at this time any way. Rapley says that our tendency to feed babies purees and mash comes from solids were started at 3 or 4 months when most babies are unable to sit up never mind feed themselves. Now WHO recommendations are to exclusively breast feed until 6 months, an age when most babies are capable of handling finger foods. The main guideline is to provide food that is shaped so that the baby can grab it with enough sticking out one end of their fist for them to place it in their mouth.

We have had immense success with this over the last couple of weeks. Phoebe often just has whatever we're eating but I also steam organic vegetables just for her. She's had carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, roast beef, chicken, kangaroo steak, Weetabix (known as Weetbix here in Australia) softened with milk and shaped into fingers, toast with avocado, pear, melon, plum, strawberries, salmon amongst others. I have attempted some spoon feeding as I was concerned she wasn't getting enough iron after encountering a few green nappies. I tried yoghurt and baby oats but the experience was less than fun for both of us. Rather than eating together I had to feed her and then me (or vice versa). As she still hasn't figured out that she can satisfy her hunger with food rather than milk I am still doing just as many breastfeeds so I felt like my entire day was taken up with either breastfeeding her, preparing her food, attempting to feed it to her and then clearing up afterwards before having my own meal and starting the cycle again. And boy... the mess!!

The experience was no more pleasant for her. She really didn't want to be spoon-fed, preferring to grab the spoon from my hand and chew on that. And I tried the old two spoon trick but try feeding a baby whose mouth is full of spoon. She couldn't have been less interested in the food I was trying to give her, a stark contrast to the enthusiasm with which she feeds herself.

So I've ditched spoon-feeding altogether for a few weeks until she is better able to handle a spoon herself. I'm amazed at her progress in such a short time. She's able to bite bits off and chew them, spitting out any bits that are too big for her. With meat she just chews and sucks the juices. This morning for breakfast she had slices of fruit, for lunch she had home-made fish fingers made with salmon, pumpkin and sweet potato. They just crumbled when she grabbed them but she still managed to scoop up the bits with her little hands and shove them in her mouth. She's working on her pincer grip. Tonight she had kangaroo steak, celery, broccoli and carrot. She also tried a slightly cooked cherry tomato but we decided that the skin was a bit of a choking hazard.

For more information and recipes google Baby led weaning or BLW. There are a number of blogs and forums devoted to the subject. Surprisingly, despite my bringing Rapley's book along to a get-together and enthusiastically summarising the main points to my mum friends, none of them have chosen to go down this road (although Lucie is keen when Amelie turns 6 months in a couple of months time). They all diligently bring out their little freezer pots of pureed vegetables every week. But then, their babies are all very neat and keen spoon feeders.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Further thoughts on childcare

I can see this discussion on childcare is going to be an ongoing one but it is such an integral part of my thinking and my future, and ultimately, and more importantly, of Phoebe's thinking and future, that there is no ignoring it. Surely, after the decision to have a baby in the first place, it is the single most important decision I will make during the early years of her life. And, given how important we now know those early years to be to the emotional and intellectual growth and development of a child, it may well be the most important decision I make on her behalf ever, one that could have long-reaching effects if I make the wrong, or conversely the right, decision.

I have just started reading a book called "Motherhood: How should we care for our children?" by Anne Manne. It is a post-feminist look at the incongruities between the feminist promise that women can have it all and the reality of choice between a career and motherhood. Manne asks why do women have to choose between "staying at home and suffering reduced career opportunities" or returning to work and relying on an "inadequate childcare system"? Does our society really respect the needs of our children? At least I think that's what it's about. I've only read the prologue.

Apart from the retrospective slant and Manne's voice of experience, I felt like I could have written the prologue. Well, perhaps the fact that it is retrospective and written from experience by definition means that I couldn't have written it. Let's just say this book spoke to me. Well, the prologue did.

Take, for example, the following paragraph:
"Before I became pregnant with my first child I thought about childcare as a kind of abstraction. I had not the slightest understanding of how it would affect a child, but I did have a strong sense of what it might mean for women in realising their legitimate aspirations in the wider world."
My thoughts exactly, only voiced somewhat more eloquently than I might have put it. I probably would have said something like:
"Before Phoebe was born I just thought, 'oh yeah, I'll sort out some childcare. It'd be nice if the grandparents could help us out with that but they can't so we'll just put the baby into a daycare centre. It'll be nice and social. It'll be good for it [I didn't know the sex, remember?]. Plenty of other families do it and they're all fine. Then I'll go back to work. Easy.' But since having her, getting to know her, being around her, reading about babies and how they develop, forming my own ideas on how to raise her and introduce her to the world, I am beginning to wonder if daycare is actually the right choice for us. I want her to have undivided attention until she's a bit older. I am now more convinced than ever that the way to raise a happy, secure, independent and social child is to give them as much love and attention as they need in their first months and years of life."
Or, as Manne puts it:
"What had seemed a reasonable course of action before birth ... now seemed unthinkable in relation to this tiny vulnerable human being that both of us as parents spent so long, and with such intensity, trying to "read", to understand the language of gesture, to find what things or actions soothed her or made her happy."

So, although I will still look at some other daycare centres that have been recommended to me, I have now started to consider other options, such as family daycare. However, Manne then goes to on to talk of her own "bodily anguish" in being separated from her daughter for half a day a week whilst working, even though her daughter was in the care of her father during this time. She talks of her search for decent childcare for her baby, from daycare centres who confined children to cots and playpens or left them to cry, to family daycare where young children gleefully yelled "mummy, mummy" whenever the doorbell rang, and then suffered the inevitable disappointment that came with the realisation that it wasn't their mother. She maintains that the older the child, the better they coped with being separated from their parents for such long stretches of time.

Manne talks about separation anxiety, which generally affects children from the age of six or seven months when they first become aware of how important their mother (or father) is to their wellbeing, to around 18-24 months when they become more independent. She says to be separated from their parents for long periods of time causes grief in a baby. The intensity of love that a child feels for its parents can't be underestimated and a baby of less than two years old can't be expected to understand that their mother will collect them in eight hours. Eight hours is an inordinate length of time to a baby. It may seem like forever. Imagine how you would feel if you were separated from your lover for an indefinite period of time. You don't know that person has gone and for all you know you may never see them again. Sure, you have friends who can help you take your mind off things, entertain you for a while, but will they replace the person you have lost? Is this what daycare is like for a baby? Perhaps not, but what if it is?

A child's journey towards independence is a natural progression and can't be rushed and in fact Manne believes that those children who aren't pushed go on to become more independent later, probably because they feel secure. I know that I felt quite safe moving to Australia six years ago because I had a safe and loving family to return to in England. If my parents had sent me here against my will it would have been a very different story.

She also talks about the practicalities of someone else spending such a large proportion of time with your child and this was one of the things that struck me when I visited what I shall now refer to as The Hellhole on Monday. I want Phoebe to see the world through my eyes, and through Toby's eyes, in particular Toby's eyes actually as he has a childlike enthusiastic view of the world (unless we're talking about global politics or economics). I want her to spend days in the park, at the beach, in the garden. I want her to look through Toby's vegetable patch for the latest snowpea (something her three year old cousin loves to do when she visits), to pet and play with the cats, to talk and read with her mammy. (Another quote that reached out to me was "books are not essential in everyone's life, but they are in mine".)

I don't want her watching hours and hours of television. I don't want her to stop asking for what she wants or needs because she isn't listened to. I want her to fall asleep on my lap when she's feeling particularly needy, to have quiet time in her bedroom away from other people. As Manne points out childcare, unless it's the very elite form of a nanny who comes to you, does not afford you the luxury of privacy. I had never even thought of that. I know it's like school and then work. I know that life is about learning to get along with people you might not normally choose to spend time with but when you're one year old, or younger? These are precious years for our babies, ones that they will never have back. Do we really want them to grow up so quickly?

I know I was lucky to have a mother who stayed at home with us. In the '70s and '80s it was much more common but even then some of my schoolmates had mothers who worked. But now I am beginning to really appreciate just how lucky I was and I want the same for my own children. It's such a short amount of time really. I don't intend to be a stay at home mum forever. I can imagine being a lot happier putting Phoebe into childcare when she's nearer two years old but will I still have a job? Two years is nothing to me but it's everything to Phoebe and it could make such a difference to her development. Are two years of child-rearing worth losing my job over? Is my job worth missing out on Phoebe's formative years and giving her the best start that I can? What will really matter in ten or twenty years time? What will be my most significant contribution to the world? I think we all know the answers to these questions.

Perhaps I should become a professional blogger. I could get friends to babysit Phoebe for half a day at a time in return for looking after their kids. I am quite sure that if I took my time over it, rather than just bashing out a blog post in twenty minutes whilst Phoebe is sleeping, I could be quite a good writer. I just need to figure out how to make money from it.

Manne says "the experience of becoming a parent is a revelation of what is deepest in us, of our humanness and our mortality." I couldn't agree more.

Post script: I visited another childcare centre today and feel much better about things. The room where the babies sleep was bigger and nicer. When you first walk in there's a huge space with carpet rugs, mats, cushions and toys. The carer was sitting on the floor with two of the babies. Another baby was sitting on her own with a book, seemingly quite happily. The kitchen area was separate from the change area and all seemed very clean and nice. The director showed me round and was a lovely lady. She gave me some paperwork to take away. None of this "just keep calling and when there's a vacancy we'll give you some stuff to look at." It probably helped that we arrived at the end of the day after some of the babies had already left, whereas with the other place we obviously arrived at feeding time (which makes it sound like a zoo). I spoke to the director about routine and she was quite happy for Phoebe not to be in one until she's a bit older (18-24 months). Although I'm still not convinced daycare is the right thing to do, especially for five days of the week, I do feel a lot better about things. Have another couple to look at next week or when we get back.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

There is hope

After my somewhat unnerving experience at the local childcare centre I set my Facebook status to:
"Lindsey doesn't want to send her baby to a scummy daycare centre."
A friend emailed me a fantastic message that made me feel so much better. She told me how she'd had similar experiences looking for daycare in Ireland for her wee lad. She described the place that she eventually got him into and when I read it I thought, "yes, that's exactly what I was expecting and hoping and want". Hopefully they exist in Australia too. This is what she said:
I really felt happy and safe the minute I walked into the baby room ... The staff all really engage with the babies, they seem to spend most of their time on the floor playing with them or carrying them around if they are cranky. They sing to them, let them play with pots and pans, read stories, listen to nursery rhymes and all the usual things you would be doing at home to keep them entertained and stimulated. They've got lots of bright rugs and cushions on the floor for them to explore and mirrors at crawling baby eye level for them to admire themselves. It feels like a really nurturing, warm environment.

I have managed to get another couple of names of centres to check out which I must do soon. Hopefully waiting until we get back from the UK (as we leave in about 10 days) won't be too late. There is no way I'm putting her in a scummy place even if it's temporary.

So there may be hope yet for childcare. However, I am not sure about the safety of my child with her father. Tonight, after bathing her, he said to me:

"I think we should get some bits of rubber to put around the edge of the bath so she doesn't hurt her head if she falls over."

"Well, she shouldn't fall over because you should be supervising her very closely and should be able to stop her if she topples," I replied (calmly, might I add).

"But I think she needs to learn that falling into water is a bad thing," he said.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Day Care, Nightmare

I have just started my investigation of childcare facilities and I have to say, it's more than disappointing. I have a very short list of places to look at based upon recommendations from people I know. I started with a local facility heartily recommended to me by two friends (three if you consider a husband and wife as separate recommendations).

I took a friend with me who used to be a Montessori teacher. Phoebe was asleep in her stroller when we got there so I left her outside and my friend stayed with the prams.

At first I thought, "oh this doesn't look too bad. A bit like a barn perhaps..." due to all of the gates to keep the kiddies in their relevant sections. The lady seemed nice enough, although slightly odd. She took me into the baby area and showed me around. It didn't really take long as it wasn't very big. She showed me the change station and explained how they used these particular (cheap) wipes but if my baby has sensitive skin I can take my own wipes in. Then she showed me the charts they fill in to say how many nappy changes each baby has had and whether they pooed, when they slept and for how long and a book that logs what each child has done that day.

She showed me the outdoor area where they play and the sunscreen they use. They're not allowed to go outside without sunscreen. She showed me the room where they sleep, a tiny room crammed with about eight cots, one of which was occupied by a baby playing with a bottle. The rest of the babies were sitting in high chairs. They were quiet, not unhappy but not particularly happy either. One might say institutionalised but that's perhaps a bit harsh.

I think the time of day I visited mightn't have been the best as I was hoping to see games being played, babies being sung to, that kind of thing. It seemed so quiet and unengaging. I asked what sort of activities they do and was given the example of collages and paintings.

The lady who was looking after them appeared to be on her own but there were probably about six babies in there. Sarah said she understood that it was four babies per carer so perhaps the other lady was on her break. The carer seemed nice enough but I didn't really see her engaging the children. She changed a child whilst I was there and I didn't notice her talking to him at all; she just shoved him on the change table and whipped off his nappy without a please or thank you.

It was all just so bland and not at all what I was expecting after the rave reviews. Maybe it's nicer for older children but I just got an icky feeling and didn't really know what to think. I'd had no idea what to expect, nothing to compare it to. I'd been so convinced that this would be the place and all I could think was "this is where Phoebe's going to spend her days? Oh my god!" Talk about mother guilt. The place was tiny, much smaller than the house and far more babies in it and it suddenly occurred to me that she'd be there all day. We never spend all day in the house and if we do we both go a bit nuts and end up going for walk at the end of the day.

Phoebe will be almost eleven months old when I return to work but I've been thinking about putting her into childcare for one day a week from about October when she'll be eight or nine months old. This will free me up to do some projects but will also allow me to get used to not being with Phoebe 24/7. I just couldn't see her being in a place like this at such a young age. It is so depressing to think of her just sitting in a high chair, not being sung to or played with or talked to. I couldn't see where the babies might sit and play and I don't particularly want her wearing sunscreen at least until she's one. Maybe I'm being a bit over the top with that and I'm sure if I insisted they'd be happy for me to take some zinc-based sunscreen in for her. But I suppose that's a minor detail.

When I got outside I felt an overwhelming sense of protection towards Phoebe and just wanted to pick her up and cuddle her and tell her how much I love her. I tried to see the positive side to it. It was a recommendation, it must be good. Then again, if I don't like it maybe a daycare centre just isn't for us. Maybe I should start looking for family daycare instead. I thought Sarah should take a look with her Montessori teacher hat on. She did. The verdict?

"You can't make her go to that place. Tell me you won't put her there. It was HORRIBLE!"

Strangely, I felt relieved.

And yet at the same time I wondered, if that's the place that has come recommended, what on earth are the others like?

Sarah told me that she noticed the babies' bottles in the fridge had no tops on them. She also told me how the carer changed a baby's nappy whilst she was there and whacked his head on a piece of wood above the change table. The baby was screaming and the carer, who was obviously embarrassed said, "oh, I've never noticed that bit of wood there before. We should do something about that." Oh! My!! God!!! She told me how it was worse than the scummy place in Fulham when she worked as a Montessori teacher. Gosh, I really hope this isn't the standard of childcare in Australia but I'm beginning to wonder.

So now we're on a mish to find some decent childcare. Sarah suggested we frequent some playgroups and see if there are any nannies or child minders there. I found a nanny and babysitting service online this afternoon and they charge $165 a day. Holy Mackeral Mother of the Devil! That's almost as much as I take home after tax. I think I'd have about $30 left over for the mortgage and everything else. Hardly worth it really. We're going to check out the number 1 recommendation of daycare facilities next week and just keep asking around for more. And I am considering finding something like family daycare for the first few months. There has to be a better option. And if there isn't I'm quitting my job and selling the house.