1 month old; crying, co-sleeping, formula feeding, not sleeping through the night, and I don’t care!

I was so proud of you for bottle feeding” – how often do you hear those words? I was told this the other day and for the first time, I felt proud of myself. I wasn’t made to feel ashamed of the choices I made, I felt confident. The pressure as a mum to breastfeed is unbelievable, and the guilt for not doing so is almost unbearable. So much so, that I felt the need to lie to people, or to explain my way out of why I wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding. Some people simply don’t have a choice. Others have a choice, and still choose not to. We are all doing what is best for us. So long as mum and baby are happy – so long as baby is fed and healthy – why does it matter? There is so much to feel scared, guilty, or unsure about as a new mum, why add to these feelings, and make someone feel even more guilty over the way that they are feeding?

Stanley was diagnosed with a cleft at our 20 week scan, so we knew prior to his arrival that breastfeeding may simply be impossible. As such, I hand expressed colostrum antenatally so that if he couldn’t latch on when born, at least he could have this via a syringe. As we anticipated, he really struggled to latch on, but we had a jolly good go at it over his first few weeks. Life pretty much revolved around feeding when he arrived – it could sometimes take a good couple of hours to feed him with his special squeezy bottles, and if he wasn’t being fed via the bottle, I would be expressing, or attempting to breastfeed. We had so much wonderful help with breastfeeding, and expressing, but it was so difficult, and Stanley would get so frustrated. We used a combination of pretty much everything during this time – he was syringe fed, cup fed, bottle fed, breastfed, and fed with formula! But eventually, after a few weeks we accepted the fact that formula feeding with his squeezy bottles were the way forward. Everything else was just too much. Formula feeding was less stressful on everybody. I felt so incredibly guilty making this decision, and prolonged making the decision because of the guilt, but when I finally did, I also felt a sense of relief. Things suddenly became easier, mostly because I was more relaxed and Stanley was spending less time frustrated! At this point, I told myself that if I was ever in a similar position again, and breastfeeding wasn’t working out (for whatever reason), I wouldn’t put us through that stress again – at least not for as long as I did with Stanley. 

I also expressed antenatally before Nora arrived (as a result of being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, and colostrum helping with blood sugars)… and I also hoped that I would exclusively breastfeed. However, with the rush of her arrival, we forgot to take the expressed colostrum to hospital with us, and as such, when she failed her second blood sugars, a midwife asked us if she could give Nora some formula. My response? Of course! This poor midwife appeared almost reluctant to ask us about formula feeding, as though we would have been offended by her suggestion to do such a thing! If it is going to help her blood sugars… why the hell wouldn’t we want what’s best for her? Yes, in an ideal world we would have remembered to bring the colostrum to hospital… but that’s life. Here started the guilt again (I am learning that feeling guilty is a permanent feeling when you’re a mum)! Both me and Carl (hubby), were feeling incredibly guilty about forgetting the colostrum… perhaps her blood sugars would have been okay if only we had remembered to bring it. As a result of this, I was combination feeding from the offset with Nora – breast, bottle, syringe, cup, formula, expressing… doing all that I could! I did this for the first couple of weeks, but breastfeeding just wasn’t going as I had hoped. Nora was struggling… I was struggling… it was painful… and so I made the same decision to stop. I expressed what I could manage, but since then, she has been purely formula fed. 

Despite what we went through with Stanley, and telling myself that I wouldn’t put us through the stress again, I still did (albeit for not quite so long). I still felt incredibly guilty about making the decision to stop expressing… to stop trying to breastfeed… guilty for giving up on her and not providing her with “the best”. It’s tough, especially with the pressure from other people. I was repeatedly questioned on my choice of feeding Nora (by one midwife in particular) whilst in hospital… it felt as though I was doing the wrong thing. After giving birth, with hormones all over the place, and already feeling guilty over a number of different things… you simply don’t need the added pressure from others.

What a relief it was when I finally met a community midwife that, in response to telling her how Nora is being fed, told me: “stop! I don’t need to know anymore! I don’t care what you’re doing, so long as you’re happy and baby is ok“! Funnily enough, this midwife had a grandson with a cleft, so perhaps she had more awareness of the struggles of feeding and what we had to go through. But, why don’t more people have this outlook? If a new mum can’t, or simply chooses not to, breastfeed… make her feel proud too! Whatever you do, whether you have a choice or not, you are doing the best for your little one… and so long as they are happy, who cares! 

Sleeping. “Is she good for you?” A question that I, along with all other parents of newborns, are repeatedly asked. This question usually translates to: “is she sleeping for you?”. I have also had (in Nora’s mere 3 weeks of life!): “Is she sleeping through yet?”! She is 3 weeks old, and I am glad that she isn’t sleeping through… she needs her food! It scares me to hear people proudly announce that their baby slept through the night from birth. Newborn babies need feeding regularly, and particularly in their first few nights. People thought we were crazy when Stanley was born… we set our alarm during the night to ensure that he wasn’t going too long between feeds (not that we needed an alarm!)

Co-sleeping. Before Stanley arrived into the world, I was convinced that we wouldn’t co-sleep. The thought of it petrified me because I thought that this was one of the most unsafe things that we could do. How my outlook changed when Stanley arrived! I now know that it can be safe to co-sleep, so long as you follow the advice, and as such, we spent much of Stanley’s first year co-sleeping. He simply wouldn’t settle elsewhere (possibly because of the amount of skin-to-skin we had). Stanley pretty much became another limb during the day, and so how could we expect this to change at night?! When Stanley transitioned to his big bed, we started to lay with him until he falls asleep. The time it takes for him to fall asleep (and us being in his bed) has gradually reduced… and the time at which he wakes up and runs through to our bed has gradually got later. To start with, he would sometimes wake up before midnight and end up in our bed, but now… he sleeps through usually until 5 or 6am. With Nora, we knew of the likelihood of co-sleeping again, but wanted to make it a bit easier (and possibly safer) on us all this time. As such, we bought the Snuggle Nest. We are in love with the Snuggle Nest! It fits nicely between us in bed, and is easy to carry around the house, or take out with us. We even manage to squeeze the four of us in bed with the Snuggle Nest (admittedly it’s a bit of squeeze!), and Stanley loves it! Stanley loves climbing in with Nora, and he loves to press the button for the music when Nora starts to cry!

Crying. (Not!) surprisingly… Nora cries. Mostly, this is when she struggles with wind and reflux (or if we’re not quite quick enough with milk!) – but this doesn’t make her a “bad” or “difficult” baby. Yes, it can be hard, especially when you can clearly see that she is in pain, but this is not her fault. This doesn’t make Nora difficult – this means it is difficult for her, and difficult for us to see and not be able to help. She is a new baby, getting to grips with lots of new things, and this isn’t easy. The sensations that she feels are all new to her, and as our GP said, some babies just make more of a meal out of things than others: “oh look at me everyone… I’m having a poo now, and I want you all to know about it!” So yes, she cries, and sometimes a lot(!), but this is just part of being a newborn baby… not that she is “bad”. 

What do we do in response to Nora (and Stanley) crying? We cuddle them, and make sure that they know we are there for them. No matter what the reason… whether Nora is crying for food, or attention… or Stanley is crying because he’s been told no, or is scared… I want them to know that we will always be there for them. So, I am always there for a cuddle, no matter what, we love them all the same.

Advice for second-time parents; 9 “tips” on preparing a toddler for a sibling

I was recently asked if I could share any tips on preparing our 2-year-old (Stanley) for being a big brother, something I have been working on for the last few months! My initial thought was… I have no clue! What I can tell you, is the numerous things that I have been doing with Stanley over the last 6 months or so, in order to try and prepare him for a new baby coming into the family (induction booked in 2 days!). I really have no idea if any of these will have helped in any way. So “tips”…? I’m not really sure that these can truly be called “tips” (or whether I can even say this is classed as worthy “advice”!), since I am yet to have an outcome. But, I can at least talk you through some ideas that we had, and perhaps I’ll have some wiser words when the little lady is here…! I should probably also point out that Stanley is 2 years and 10 months, and so the things below may or may not apply to older or younger children.

Talking about baby’s sex: “Whatever you do, do not ask Stanley if he would like a brother or sister!” – This was one of the first tips we received when we found out we were expecting our second child, as friends of ours had first-hand experience! Our friends didn’t find out the sex of their baby, and so they spoke to their child about whether they would like a baby brother, or baby sister. Little did they realise that they would soon become adamant on having a baby brother… to the point that they even had a name for their “brother”. I am sure that you can guess what happens next – a baby sister entered the world. Cue almighty tantrums because they wanted their baby brother! Safe to say, as soon as we spotted family members going anywhere near this conversation with Stanley, we told them this story! Though, once we knew the sex of our little lady – we shared this news with Stanley too, so that we could prepare him, and talk to him about what it will be like to have a baby sister. I must say, we have had numerous scans throughout this pregnancy, and despite being told numerous times that it is a girl (and buying plenty of girl’s clothes!) – we have also be warned that girls are a little harder to diagnose. So, I still have this niggling feeling in my mind that we will never be 100% certain of this fact until “she” arrives!

Antenatal appointments: Whilst we have never taken Stanley to any antenatal appointments, this is one way of getting them involved – they may enjoy seeing baby on the screen, or listening to baby’s heartbeat. Though, I have always been a little cautious of this, as for one – hospital appointments are lengthy, busy, and relatively boring for a 2-year-old, which is not a good mixture for Stanley! Secondly, I have never taken hospital appointments lightly, I always go prepared for the unexpected to happen (I am definitely not at my most relaxed!), and so I didn’t think it would be fair to put this onto Stanley either. Instead, when we have had various scans and appointments, I have always brought something back for Stanley when we could. Throughout the pregnancy, he has had his own copies of the scan pictures, pictures of his “baby sister” that he has enjoyed showing everybody! We also got a recording of his “baby sister’s heartbeat” in a teddy, that he loves listening to, and showing to others.

Introducing baby through a story: There are plenty of books out there that could help prepare your little one for having a baby around the house. We happened to spot “Za-Za’s Baby Brother” (by Lucy Cousins) in a charity shop (and actually long before we were pregnant with our second!), and we had to get it – because we knew how much Stanley loves his Maisy books. We thought this might do just the trick if we were ever lucky enough to have our second. Fast forward a couple of years, and this book has come in handy. I can still picture Stanley’s face when I read this to him for the first time… the look of amazement… and him exclaiming “my mummy’s got baby in her belly too!”. When I read the story to him, I treated it like any other new book – I made no comparisons between the story and mummy having a baby in her belly, but the way that he immediately could relate to this was so lovely to see.

Don’t try and force them to be interested! Similar to above, and the way that I didn’t make the story all about us having a new baby, I started by trying to talk about babies more generally. I followed Stanley’s lead. When Stanley made the connection between Za-Za and us, then we would talk about. But, if he’s not interested in talking about baby, we don’t talk about baby. It is pretty easy to see whether or not they are showing any interest, and at first, I wasn’t sure that Stanley was ever going to be interested at all! His interest in talking about baby has certainly grown alongside my belly, and also his understanding of having a “baby sister” has grown, as he himself has grown. I would say that it has only really been these last couple of months that he has shown any real spontaneous interest in baby. I am not sure whether this is the result of Stanley growing as a person and developing more understanding, or whether this is because there are now more visible changes taking place – mummy’s belly is certainly much much bigger for one, and the house is now prepared for a newborn baby once again.

Talk about babies: Since Stanley has shown more interest in baby, we’ve spent more time talking about what having a baby will be like. In particular, we have tried to prepare him for the fact that babies cry a lot, sleep a lot, and need feeding a lot! We have also tried to get him to come up with his own ideas about what he could do when baby is crying (his response: “cuddle her… kiss her… and hold her hand’’!), we’ve talked about playing games with his baby sister, and asked him what he would like to teach her (“I can show her how to put a DVD on!”). He also enjoys playing with dolls, so we have had lots of role-play that includes changing nappies, feeding baby, and helping to get them to sleep (hoping that he may enjoy playing with his baby, whilst mummy is busy with another!)

The growing belly! Stanley has definitely shown more interest since my “belly has got bigger and bigger“(!), and as such, we have spent times sitting with Stanley and trying to feel baby kicking when the movements are strong enough! Sure enough, he gets fed up of waiting for baby to have a wriggle at times, but others, he enjoys pretending and telling other people that “baby kicked”! At the same time, I’ve tried to explain to Stanley that baby can now hear him, and that she loves to hear him talk, sing, or read a story to her! Now, there is nothing cuter than Stanley running up to my belly and saying “hello baby” and giving her the biggest cuddle! We also talk about what we think baby is up to in mummy’s belly, and Stanley will often pretend to feed baby through mummy’s belly… or even play dentists and pretend to take all of her teeth out (I’m not sure where this idea came from, but I’ve warned him now that baby will come out of mummy’s belly with no teeth left!)

Buying baby items, and presents: If you are buying things for the new baby, get your toddler involved as much as you can – whether this is picking an outfit, or a toy. I dug out Stanley’s old toys, and we had a play with them, and talked about how baby might like to play with them when she arrives. We also had the idea of getting baby a present from Stanley, but wanted it to be something that Stanley could really get involved with, and daddy had the most wonderful idea – a “taggy”. Stanley has always had a thing about tags on clothes, and so getting him a taggy was the best thing we did (I don’t think they have parted since!). This is the best present that Stanley could have got her, and he has picked a lovely one for his sister – choosing the design and colours himself! I think he is actually a little bit excited to give this to her! But, the present I think I have had the most fun in preparing, is the present from baby to Stanley! I have this all packed in our hospital bag, ready to give to Stanley as a present from his baby sister, when he visits her for the first time. I hope that this will help a little with the initial bond that he develops with her. We (“baby”) have got Stanley a Spiderman rucksack and filled it with a things: a Paw Patrol magazine, a new taggy, a snack, a “best bro” t-shirt, and a personalised book “Big Brothers are Great”. I hope he likes it!

Making changes to routines, and preparing for hospital: If you need to make changes, I would suggest making them as early as possible, at least this is the approach I have taken with Stanley (since I know what he is like with his routines). We have always tried to explain to Stanley that there is a baby in mummy’s belly, even when this wasn’t quite so visible, and that this makes things a little more difficult for mummy. So, for example, when he asks for mummy to pick him up, we always try to offer for daddy to pick him instead. Of course, this doesn’t always go smoothly, but the more we have done this, the easier it has got. his understanding has grown, and hopefully, the more prepared he will be for when baby is here. I have tried to make as little changes to Stanley’s routines as possible, just little alterations here and there, such as getting daddy to do more (e.g., get daddy to start doing the bedtime routine if he doesn’t already!). Of course, there is no doubt that some changes to routines cannot be avoided, and one of the biggest changes that will affect his routine will be mummy going to hospital. Stanley has a lot of routines, and this is one that I am most definitely worried the most about. It is one of the reasons that I wished I could have a home birth, but having being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, I have little choice but to go in hospital (and at this rate, to be induced on Friday!). I have no idea how long I will be in hospital, but I have tried to talk to Stanley about this, and explain that mummy will be hospital for a little while. I have found this so hard, not only because you don’t know exactly what will happen yourself – but it is even harder to know how much of this he really comprehends.

Focus on your toddler! As much as possible, I have tried to keep the focus on “Stanley becoming a big brother”, rather than a new baby coming into the house. I don’t want Stanley to feel pushed out, jealous, or that baby is making all of these changes happen, and so I’ve tried to turn everything I can into a positive – and make it about Stanley! I am sure there are bound to be times when Stanley will want something, or want me, when I am having to focus on the new arrival, there will be times when he will no doubt get jealous, and I am sure this is perfectly natural. But, if we can somehow turn the attention on to him too, and prepare him for this now, I am hoping that this will help. I am hoping that when the little lady arrives that we can continue to keep Stanley interested in his baby sister, and helping mummy out with all of the cuddles that she will need! I have also made an effort to make the most of the last few weeks that we have together as a family of three, and before life starts to get much busier once again. Take time out to relax before your new arrival is here, have fun with your toddler, do something special – something they love, even if this just means lots of extra cuddles on the sofa watching their favourite films! Whatever it may be – treasure these moments, which may be few and far between when your family starts to grow. I am also hoping that we can still have some Stanley-and-mummy time once the little lady arrives, as I am sure I will be having plenty of time with the new addition. Equally, I think it’s just as important for both our children to have their own daddy-time. But of course, most of all, I now simply cannot wait for us to have family time… as a family of four! The wait is almost over…