Isn’t it a wonder (week)?

Along with the phrases ‘this soon will pass’ and ‘he has to sleep sometime’ is one I have been using regularly of late (and usually said in an exasperated tone); ‘it’s a Wonder Week‘.

When I first heard of Wonder Weeks, I thought of them as having little more relevance on E’s behaviour than a horoscope would. In that if you look hard enough, you can fit the behaviour or event to what has been predicted. And if you look really hard then you might just be tempting fate enough to fulfil the prophecy.

Side note, sleep deprivation is now causing mild paranoia. Rational me says baby’s behaviour isn’t moulded by a parent thinking too much about a book’s predictions. But it has been a long week, so here we are.

And then one day while out pushing E in his pram ‘helping’ him to nap, I set foot in our local library for the first time since I was a teenager and, of course, headed to the baby section. Where else?! Google wasn’t giving me a satisfactory response to questions about my son’s sudden grumpiness, so perhaps the old fashioned route might do the trick.

As I scanned the books, one stood out. Mainly because it was large and had pretty writing on the cover. ‘The Wonder Weeks’, by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij, looks at how babies develop over the first 18 months of life and how this development impacts on their behaviour.

The theory goes that babies’ fussy and irritable periods can be predicted and are more likely to occur when they are going through a developmental leap. And for me, always looking for an excuse a reason why E is going through a particularly crappy sleep period and praying that I don’t have a grumpy child, the idea makes sense.

However, as his mood and sleep have become steady worse with the advent on each new leap, I am expecting E to be able to juggle while standing in his head by the time we see the light at the end of the tunnel of this latest one.

‘U ok, hon?’

Very soon people will stop asking me how things are going. For there only ever is one answer and even I am beginning to get bored of saying it.

I’m knackered. Exhausted. Don’t dare drive anywhere for fear of falling asleep at the wheel tired. I’m stuck in Groundhog Day delirium.

The night hallucinations have made a return and I’m regularly waking up in panic thinking that I’ve fallen asleep while E is feeding and have forgotten to put him back in his cot. Last night with the ‘bed pat down’ doing nothing to allay my fears, I turned on the light and conducted a thorough search of the bedroom. And then went into E’s room to make sure he was secure in bed. I’m sure I’m bordering on some sort of OCD.

E, on the other hand, is developing superhero tendencies which improve day by day. ‘No Sleep, No Solid Food’ man is successfully avoiding any attempts to thwart his mission to stay awake and on the boob.

I should have known the merest hint of improvement in sleeping habit would end in tears. After moving E into his own room we had about a week where he had three naps in his cot and woke twice at night. It was bliss and I started to feel like I was finally getting the hang of this motherhood thing. I wanted to shout ‘MY CHILD CAN SELF SOOTHE!’ from the rooftops.

But oh how the smug have fallen. A nice dose of a heavy cold, the advent of another Wonder Week (more on that another time) and teething have conspired against me. And a short break away put the final nail in the coffin of hope for chunks of more than two hours sleep at a time.

I’m feeling a bit sad that the sleep issue is overshadowing everything else that’s going on at the moment. E went swimming for the first time and loved it (I did not appreciate the logistics of getting dry again) and we went on our first family holiday with friends. But everything comes back to sleep and my lack of energy.

Next time anyone asks me how I am, I’m going to try to say something really positive. Just give me a minute to think about it…

The best laid plans

I should be writing about our attempts this week to re-introduce a bottle at night and whether or not this was having an impact on E’s sleeping patterns. But, like all best laid plans, this has suffered a setback.

Struck down with our worst cold to date, all of us in the Matchsticks household are currently living less than half a metre from a box of tissues. My pockets are stuffed with the balsam variety in the hope that I can avoid looking like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. The husband is diligently washing his hands at every cough and splutter (locking doors and bolting horses springs to mind).

And poor E doesn’t know what to make of it all. Having inherited my family’s penchant for earth-shattering sneezing, he either wakes or scares himself with each eruption. I’m trying and failing to do that ‘no sneeze’ sneezing, so am also waking him up on a regular basis. I dread to think what he’d be like without the baby Vicks and my beloved Calpol.

Limited to paracetamol and steaming with Olbas Oil, it’s times like this that I cling on to the health benefits of breastfeeding. The first sign of a sore throat will usually see me stocking up on cold relief remedies, but as these are not compatible with breastfeeding, I’m just going to have to ride it out.

Fortunately as a big believer in the ‘feed a cold, starve the fever’ philosophy, I’ve just tucked into a healthy slice of chocolate cake.

A room with a view

The travel blackout blind has come down, books I plan to read have returned to my bedside table and I’m now sleeping with the monitor. Yes, E has finally moved into his own room.

And I feel, to use a much over-used phrase, a mixture of emotions. I’ve shared a bedroom with my son for the last seven months, our night time bond going back longer to when his kicks and somersaults first put in an appearance. He has only moved across the hall, but it represents another milestone as E rockets through babyhood.

However, the collection of bruises on my legs from stumbling into the bed frame on a nightly basis were starting to join up and the suggestion that E might sleep better in his own room was too great a temptation*.

Rather than set a date for the move, we I just decided that now was as good a time as any.

My lovely mum had finished bunting to go across the ceiling and I, having not inherited her creative flair, bought some wall stickers. It looks a little, erm, bright, but the aim was to give E lots of things to look at, encouraging him to stay calm in his bed and even, dare I say it, help him back to sleep.

What I didn’t think about was how the decorations would impact on getting E off to sleep. He needs very little to spark his interest and now has cars, flags and trains to draw his attention away from the boring business of resting.

*four days in and it’s too soon to say if the sleep habits have improved. Well, I have seen a little light at the end of the tunnel, but am not going to jinx it. Especially after this afternoon’s overtired screaming fit…

Time for a bit of pruning

Warning – if the subject of ‘lady gardening’ is too much for your delicate sensibilities, look away now.

This week has seen two milestones in our household – E said his first word and I discovered a white hair. Not on my head.

Don’t get me wrong, my son’s first steps in learning language is very important, but for today I feel the need to offload about the shocking lady garden discovery.

I’m not a regular ‘pruner’, you see. My approach is more of a maintain-if-going-swimming-or-have-gynae-appointment.

It wasn’t always this way. In the run up to my wedding five years ago I had monthly appointments with a lovely bikini wax lady who took away my responsibility for keeping things neat. Then I moved away, took a lower paid job and the bikini wax luxury was no more.

In the three years it took to conceive E, we went through nine rounds of Clomid and one miracle round of IVF. Plenty of people to become accustomed to my neither regions and a reason to keep on top of the hair situation. But since then I haven’t really bothered. And now it’s down to my knees.

Not really – can you imagine?! But suffice to say, it’s a jungle out down there.

So this morning I decided to tackle the situation. Armed with a poorly performing trimmer I got to work – and was rewarded by the sight of a white hair. In the words of Gordon from Thomas and Friends (my new daytime viewing companion’s favourite show) ‘Oh, the indignity’.

Adventures in weaning

It’s the usual way isn’t it? Blogger starts to get more followers and in return stops blogging for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t intentional, dear reader.

Life has been a bit unsettled in the Matchsticks house over the last fortnight and, to be honest, I didn’t have the heart to write about anything. Well, that’s not completely true, I wanted to rant about the constant arguments with my husband, but I don’t think it would make for great reading. Things are back on track for the moment though and I really hope it stays that way.

Google searches since my last post may give an indication as to what’s been happening here:

‘Will my baby ever sleep?’ – I’m sure this one needs no explanation. Suffice to say I still have the world’s most alert baby who has no need for rest.

‘Can I fix my relationship?’ – because Google is also a therapist.

‘Is my dog incontinent?’ – she’s not stressed, she’s not old, so it’s either an infection or incontinence. Or laziness. Either way it involved a visit to the vet and me wandering around the garden after her this morning trying to get a wee sample. Much fun was had by all.

Anyway, on to the subject of the day… Weaning. Two of us are benefitting greatly from the (baby led) weaning process – unfortunately neither of us is the baby.

The dog has perfected her stealth mode approach – nonchalantly acknowledging E as he is placed in the high chair and then commando crawling across the kitchen as various ‘treats’ are dropped to floor. As a fussy eater, I too have benefitted from being forced to sample various foods. It’s a whole new world with chocolate, MacDonalds and pasties strictly off the menu (at least while E is awake anyway).

E however, is certainly taking his time. He will put food to his mouth, but it is all greeted with the same horrified look. I even turned to purées in a bid to see if he would swallow something, but it all ends up either on his bib or in the dog. I’m told patience is key and that food before one is fun, but having gone to the effort of preparing tasty foods (usually while entertaining E at the same time), it would be nice to see some of it ingested *adopts zen-pose and starts chanting*.

We’ll get there in the end – although both me and the dog will be the size of a house by then. Am sure that E would love a pasty if he could have one though!

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Ashamed as I am to admit this, yesterday was the first time I’d tried scrambled eggs. And it was good! E, naturally, wore most of it.

Believing the hype

Slowly descending into zombiedom, I’ve become obsessed with the lack of sleep. My eyelids are permanently on squint mode and I’m getting increasingly irritable with just about everybody and every thing. It’s not a happy place to be.

You can imagine the joy then at the contents of a series of emails I’ve received over recent weeks from various parenting and baby websites which have helpfully said; ‘Now your baby has reached six months he or she will probably be sleeping through the night.’

Umm, nope. Not even close. Who writes this stuff?

After going to be at around 7pm, E is waking on average around every three hours and after 2am every two, or even less. He has a good feed of at least 10 minutes each time and most of the time will go back to sleep, waking for the day at around 7am. He feeds regularly during the day.

I’m starting to feel unsure about my ability to feed E and whether or not it’s time to switch to formula at night. But I really don’t want to in case that’s not the issue.

This hasn’t stopped the world and his wife having an opinion on the subject, unsolicited advice has come from many corners, including an advisor from my bank when I asked for information on setting up a savings account. I guess the words breastfeeding and bank account do sound similar so can see how the mistake occurred.

Back to the helpful emails – I guess I should unsubscribe, but I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to all things baby. This weekend I received an email which talked about the sleeping through, but in the next sentence said ‘of course, your baby may be waking more’. Nothing like hedging your bets!

Swear at my baby? Never. Swear around my baby? Trying not to.

The daily travels with my pushchair around our local town centre give me an opportunity to indulge in people watching, one of my favourite pastimes.

Pre E I didn’t notice the many babies and toddlers being wheeled around the streets, their mums and/or dads blearily pushing them and mentally willing them to sleep. I also didn’t appreciate just how slow some people walk, usually in the centre of the pavement, oblivious to those of us who can longer just ‘hop off’ on to the street to get around them.

Anyway, during yesterday’s walk I was treated to a wonderful display of one of my pet hates – people who swear at their children. I’m no saint and do have a bit of a potty mouth which I am desperately trying to rinse out with copious amounts of soap and water, but I would never swear at my child.

Growing up, the strongest language I heard until I was around 10 was a terse ‘bloody hell’, usually uttered by mum, mostly directed at her sewing machine or cooker or, occasionally, if we pushed all the right buttons, my sister and I. TV and reading materials were carefully monitored to prevent any offending words reaching our sheltered minds and there was even an embargo on Eastenders in our house for a few weeks in the late 80s when someone said the word ‘bastard’.

Of course, then I hit secondary school and was treated to a new vocabulary, although if someone actually swore in class or within a 50m radius of a teacher, it would be met by an audible ‘gasp’ from those around. Fast forward a few years after that and pressures of work deadlines which usually involved situations out of my control, most sentences would involve swearing, a helpful ‘FFS’ capturing the mood beautifully.

So now, joined at the hip to my precious innocent baby son, I am ashamed of myself any time I swear. To me, swear words are designed to shock, a verbal slap. Not something I want him to experience or try to emulate.

Back to Ms Sweary McSweary from yesterday. She seemed to have no shame with the constant and loud stream of ‘effing and jeffing’ directed at her three young sons, the youngest just two years old. The kids didn’t bat an eyelid and just carried on with whatever it was that was annoying their mum.

If you grow up thinking swearing is an acceptable way of communicating with someone, what happens when the red mist descends and you want to hurt or shock someone or stop them in their tracks? My worry is that the stakes are raised and the words turn to actions.

I’m still a work in progress when it comes to censoring my language around E, but I am getting better. I’m not naive enough to think he won’t learn swear words at some point, but I’m determined to make sure he won’t learn them from me.

Do we really need World Breastfeeding Week?

I’m not normally a follower of these sorts of things, but apparently it’s World Breastfeeding Week. Do we breastfeeders get a party? A badge? Balloons? (You could argue we already have those…)

As my son reaches six months, I’m proud to say he’s been breastfed for most of that time. I’m proud, not because the world says we should breastfeed, but because I can remember the dark early days when I cried at every feed and wondered for how much longer I could go on. Especially after a bout of mastitis which was swiftly followed by a dose of a pretty nasty tummy bug.

But I’m quite a bloody-minded person and as my ideals of a water birth surrounded by peace and calm (yes, I know) went out of the window, I was determined that feeding E would go to plan.

On the subject of breastfeeding, my feelings are very much ‘each to their own’. We have a lifetime to stress and worry about ensuring we do what’s best for our children. As long as you’re giving your child milk – be it breast or formula – that’s fine with me. Do what’s right for you. This blog post isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad, it’s me wanting to give my thoughts on how we can better support women who want to breastfeed and then find they have to give up for one reason or another.

The way we promote breastfeeding in the UK concerns me and it’s why I have an issue with World Breastfeeding Week. Messages of ‘breast is best’, ‘it’s the most natural thing in the world’ and ‘you and your baby will be more likely to suffer from x,y,z condition if you don’t breastfeed’, are not only missing the point, but worse, failing mums.

Perhaps those responsible for promoting breastfeeding could make better use of the Infant Feeding Survey, carried out every five years by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. 10,768 new mums were polled during the last survey in 2010, which makes for interesting reading.

When looking at the numbers of women who breastfed at all following the birth of their child – including those who had breastfed baby once – the figures suggest that many women want to give their baby breast milk in some form, whether it be expressed or as part of combi feeding. 81% breastfed at birth, 69% at one week, 55% at six weeks and 34% at six months.

So with the statistics showing eight out of 10 women put their baby to their breast at birth, you could argue that the majority want to give breastfeeding a go. Looking at the drop off rates and their timing with the hurdles of cracked nipples, cluster feeding and more frequent feeding at night, it’s easy to see where the focus of support should be.

And yet, despite the ante-natal classes and videos with their demonstrations of ‘nose to nipple’, I don’t recall being told about the all night feeding binge to bring in my milk, or the eight weeks of hour long feeds every two and a half hours. I was still in hospital during the long night of the first cluster feed and when I asked for help, was advised to give E some formula. Which I did because I thought my baby was hungry and I didn’t have enough milk. And so combi feeding began.

Turns out I’m not the only one who could have done with hearing a bit more about the way breastfeeding works. Quite a few people I’ve spoken to who started out breastfeeding said they went over to formula as baby was ‘hungry all the time’ during the first few weeks. You could say that I should have read more, but with footage of newborns finding their way to the breast within minutes of being born, I naively thought there wouldn’t be a problem.

So here’s my advice for mums-to-be who want to breastfeed:

If you’ve got friends who breastfed their children, talk to them - My friends and sister made it look easy and during the dark moments I blamed myself for finding it difficult. One conversation with them after the birth changed all this as they too regaled me of their trying times.

Get help – My local community midwife and health visiting service picked me up where the post natal ward failed. Two came out within half an hour of my tearful phone call – one gave me her personal mobile number so I could call at any time. It’s because of them I was able to reduce the combi feeding and exclusively breastfeed from four weeks. Remember, you’re not being a burden and you’re certainly not the only one to have needed help.

Believe other mums when they say it will get better – Chained to the sofa and being told to make the most of it, I saw my time on maternity leave being spent as one hour feeding and one and a half hours trying to fit everything else in before the next feed. I couldn’t see how this would change when suddenly we got to eight weeks and gradually fell into ten minute feeds. I then started worrying that E wasn’t getting enough milk!

Go by weight gain and nappies – You may think the constant feeding is a sign you don’t have enough milk. This isn’t always the case, so rather than trying to guess, check your baby’s nappies and go for regular weight check ups. Plenty of wet and dirty nappies? Regular weight gain? Then you’re fine.

Never give up on a bad day – I came close so many times, when I thought the cracked nipples would never heal and my baby would cry for food in the evenings less than 45 minutes after the previous feed. But instead I gave myself a week each time – if things hadn’t improved in that time then we’d go to formula. And as the weeks went on the good days started to outweigh the bad.

And finally,

Be kind to yourself – You’re tired, you’re stressed and you’re more than likely blaming yourself for not getting the hang of it. Breathe and repeat the phrase ‘This will soon pass’. Ultimately you have to do what’s right for you and baby and giving your baby formula will not make you a bad mum. Feeling crappy on a daily basis is not good for either of you – you don’t need me to tell you that this time is precious.

So, World Breastfeeding Week people, can we turn the focus to highlighting the challenges of breastfeeding and supporting mums to get through it? That would be something I’d break out the bunting for.