This guest blog is from Amy from Breathe Calm, a mindfulness & yoga teacher and mum.
Let me tell you a secret about motherhood. It’s harder than it looks. I spent much of my first pregnancy reading books and preparing for what I thought was to come. I felt I was being realistic; I knew that life as I knew it was all but over, and I wasn’t blinded by a rose-tinted vision of motherhood. But even though I went into it with ‘eyes open’, no amount of mental preparation could prepare me for the reality of new motherhood. The highs are so very high, but the lows can be very low. And the journey can be lonely at times.
Exciting, bewildering and exhausting are a few words I could use to describe my experience becoming a mum, but if I had to just pick one, that word would be RELENTLESS. I was suddenly and completely responsible for a tiny human being for the indefinite future. This took a lot of getting used to. And mothers have to rise to this enormous and constant challenge while feeling wiped out physically and mentally from birth and those first sleepless weeks.
My biggest mistake was to stop the daily yoga & mindfulness practice that had kept me balanced for the past few years. Without it, I was lost. As I strayed from my yoga path, I found myself more reactive and less able to ride the waves of the storm of early motherhood. It took eight months of increasing exhaustion to teach me that something had to change. I re-started my short daily asana (physical yoga) and meditation practice and I made this a priority. It was - and still is - the first thing I do each day when I get a little bit of time to myself; before the hundred other things on the to-do list. Is this self-indulgent? Absolutely not. A bit of time to yourself is the absolute key to being a balanced and happy mum. I can honestly say that this precious daily twenty minutes has saved my sanity. I also reached out to my GP for support with the insomnia as I realised I needed additional help. As I re-discovered my path, I realised just how useful mindfulness is for parents. Being a parent is so full of distractions, it’s the ultimate opportunity to practice.
So what is mindfulness? I think writer Diana Winston says it best, “Mindfulness is paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with what is”. Meditation is an important part of mindfulness but finding time to learn to meditate may not be a new parent’s top priority. However, we can cultivate a different level of awareness in daily life and the eight mindful attitudes below are a good place to start.
Please note that I am not in any way pretending that I have this all sorted. I am not able to cultivate these attitudes all of the time – far from it. Mindfulness is simple in principle but requires patience and commitment in practice. However, I do try on a daily basis to live by these principles and since I recommitted to this path, I feel that I am (often) a more balanced and compassionate parent than I was before.
Please also note that mindfulness is not a panacea or cure-all. Some new mums suffer with post-natal depression, often caused by hormonal changes and exhaustion, and you may need more help than mindfulness alone can give. If you are feeling particularly low, it is important to get support as soon as possible. It’s a brave step to take charge of your wellbeing.
I am writing this from a mother’s perspective, but these attitudes apply to any parent (and everyone else!) New parents, trust me when I say that that there will be countless opportunities to practice these attitudes every day.
It makes no difference what preparation and research you’ve done beforehand. The moment your child is born, you become a complete beginner. If you’re a thirty-something mum, this can be particularly difficult to accept. We have spent our twenties getting the hang of things, developing careers and feeling that we have it sorted. We don’t. We have no qualifications or experience for this and we’re in at the deep end. Suddenly another (tiny) person is ruling the roost. I read books and tried routines – desperate to regain control and not feel like a beginner, but I’ve grown to understand the control I thought I had was merely an illusion in the first place (this is actually a very liberating place to be.) Approaching motherhood with this sense of ‘beginner’s mind’ curiosity can bring an openness and sense of wonder to these new experiences.
I’ve found motherhood to be a place full of judgements; mainly self-judgements. Mindfulness teaches us to approach our thoughts, feelings and experiences with non-judgemental awareness. We simply take a moment to step back and take note of our thoughts, feelings and sensations in each moment. We can learn to stop taking it all so seriously. This is easier said than done but it is important to apply it to other people’s judgements too. I know I’m not alone when I say that opinions can become heated when parenting is the subject.
This quality allows us kindly acknowledge thoughts and feelings as they are in this moment. Early motherhood is filled with a multitude of thoughts and feelings. Trying to resist the ‘bad’ ones very often causes more pain. As Carl Jung says, “what you resist persists.” Acknowledgement is not the same as acceptance. We are simply observing and opening to what is happening for us – opening to the experience without censorship. Acknowledging to yourself how you’re feeling is the beginning, and developing this into honest communication can strengthen relationships and support networks. No need to push difficult feelings aside – allow yourself to be vulnerable and ask for support if you need it.
Non-Striving means not trying to get anywhere other than where you are. This can be very challenging when you’re up for the fifth time in the night with a screaming baby! It means not clinging too hard to the good moments or trying to avoid the bad. This pull between attachment and avoidance is also central to yoga philosophy and is considered to be one of the root causes of unhappiness.
Equanimity means balanced awareness and acceptance of the changing nature of all things. As the old saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’. This can be comforting to remember during those sleepless nights. Of course, this is a double-edged sword as the precious moments are equally fleeting. However, understanding this can help us to appreciate all the moments of parenthood, whether beautiful, stressful or downright disgusting (I’m not quite at the stage where I can appreciate car-sickness and dirty nappies.)
Letting be means being able to be with thoughts and sensations in the moment with an open curiosity. We are often told to ‘let things go’ but this is not always as easy as it seems and can cause frustration. Learning to ‘let things be’ means acknowledging how you’re feeling and giving these sensations space to go wherever they need to. As you learn to go with whatever’s happening, rather than resisting it, frustration and suffering lessen.
As new parents, we are adapting to extraordinary challenges and it’s vital to give ourselves some compassion. We cannot be compassionate to our children if we have no compassion for ourselves. We are very often our own worst enemies, full of self-doubt and criticism. We need to learn to speak to ourselves as we’d speak to our best friend; with kindness, compassion and understanding.
Perhaps the most important for new parents. Even though we are learning to savour all these fleeting moments, periods of unrelenting screaming, constant chaos and stomach bugs can cause patience to wear a bit thin. Like every other skill, it needs to be cultivated (with a healthy dose of self-compassion when you lose it!)
The most important lesson I have learned since becoming a mum is to take time out for yourself and ask for support when you need it. Along with many others, I have no local family. I cannot stress strongly enough the value of developing a support network of other parents. If you need support, acknowledge this and ask for it (I found this difficult in the beginning). If you don’t have local family, organise occasional childcare. If finances don’t run to childcare, there are local support groups and charities such as Home-Start here in the UK that can help.
Despite the relentless nature of parenthood, I wouldn’t change it for the world. While there may be challenges and low points, the last six years of watching my daughter and son blossom have been incredibly rewarding. My daily practice has helped me to get into the swing of things and learn to appreciate the highs, lows and ordinary little bits in between. It’s a cliché, but time with little children really does go by so fast and mindfulness is helping me to make the most of these fleeting moments. I hope this beautiful practice is helpful for you too.
Amy has first-hand experience of the power of mindfulness and yoga to calm anxiety & enhance well-being. She has a well-established daily meditation practice and she combines teaching mindfulness and yoga to help others find balance in their lives. Find out more at breathecalm.org or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
This guest blog is from the lovely Laura who is the founder of the wonderful The Pregnancy Food Company.
Preparing for baby to arrive often involves the purchasing of many items; clothing, cots, prams, wipes, nappies, changing tables…the list seems to go on and on, and on! But all too often I see mummies who have prepared everything for after the birth, except for one of the most important factors in post birth care - their own nourishment!
Conceiving, growing and birthing a baby should not be underestimated; it’s a gargantuan task for the female body - and one that uses many nutrients, not just from the foods mum is eating but also from her own nutrient stores. In fact, if the growing foetus doesn’t have enough access to specific nutrients such as calcium it will pinch stores from mum’s bones, and even fat from her brain. Mother Nature is all about providing for the next generation, but since we have moved on a bit now in modern day life, we have the tools and knowledge to successfully look after ourselves at the same time so we can enjoy (for the most part) Motherhood.
If we think of pregnancy and breastfeeding in terms of a bank account, where nutrient withdrawals are constantly being made, it makes sense to replenish these with an increase in deposits! Sometimes, what mum’s consider a normal part of post birth such as low mood, extreme fatigue, illness and slow healing, may in fact be due to a lack of nutrients.
A man called Dr. Oscar Serrallach has even gone so far as to label this as ‘post natal depletion syndrome’ which he says can last many years if not rectified, and presents itself in many of the ways I just mentioned. This syndrome is exacerbated if multiple pregnancies are carried in a short space of time.
So, how can we look after ourselves and prevent these issues?
In many eastern cultures they have traditions whereby mum is looked after and fed by her family whilst she gets to know her baby and establish breastfeeding. Unfortunately we don’t seem to have much of that over here, although I do think society is becoming more aware of how we need to treat our new mummies. There are a few things that mum can do for ‘self care’.
Preparing foods before the birth in the form of batch cooking and freezing is a life saver. Think along the lines of hearty, warming foods such as soups, cottage pie, fish pie, stews - cooking meat for a long time on a low temperature allows the nutrients to be more easily absorbed so something like pulled pork is great too.
Including a wide variety of different coloured veggies helps boost vitamin intake and fibre, which can help keep your bowels moving after birth. Without talking about poop for too long (!) it’s one of the main ways our bodies detox from chemicals and excess hormones so we need to be going once a day ideally. Adding in chia seeds, prunes and dates can help - as can a magnesium supplement.
Healthy fats are essential after birth for many functions in the body and are especially useful in the production of breastmilk. Good sources include fatty fish, avocados, nuts & seeds, cold olive oil and butter.
Wholegrains can help with breastmilk supply and boost energy levels too. I like to use jumbo oats or sourdough bread, staying away mostly from pasta and heavily processed carbohydrates.
Snack wisely! Snacking in the post partum period is a chance to get even more nutrients in between meals. Choose low sugar snacks such as boiled eggs, carrots & hummus, apple & cheese, nuts&seeds.
Investing in a good supplement is essential, and, if antibiotics have been taken after the birth its a good idea to take some probiotics too. We love Wild Nutrition supplements for general vitamins/minerals and for probiotics, source an ‘acidophilus’ type with at least 20 billion CFU.
Our bodies will produce the best breastmilk it possibly can, no matter what we eat. However, preventing nutrient depletion for mum and boosting certain nutrients in breastmilk for baby can never be a bad thing!
Whilst feeding on demand and regular full draining of the breast is the most effective method of boosting milk supply, we can also support this by having good hydration and including galactagogue foods such as oats, flaxseed, nutritional yeast and fennel. We sell lactation oaties and tea which make a delicious snack for hungry mamas!
There are certain nutrients that can be boosted in breastmilk through mum’s intake and this includes Vitamin A, essential fatty acids and Vitamin D. It’s a good idea to take a breastfeeding and omega 3 supplement to boost these nutrients, especially if vegan or vegetarian as food sources of these come from fatty fish, meats and eggs.
A few tips for prevent common issues after birth
Mastitis & blocked ducts
We can help to prevent the onset of mastitis through choosing foods that contain lecithin:
Thrush is a common issue when breastfeeding and can be very painful to feed. Certain foods can encourage thrush, so if you believe you have it or are more susceptible to thrush, it’s wise to avoid the following: Sugary foods/drinks. Simple carbohydrates (sweets, white bread etc) Yeast containing foods such as bread, mushrooms, Fruit juice, dairy and artificial sweeteners.
Acidophilus probiotics can help tackle gut bacteria imbalance which often occurs after a treatment of antibiotics. As can consuming prebiotics such as banana, artichoke, garlic, asparagus.
Urinary tract infections
Are also very common after birth. Avoid sugar, alcohol, caffeine, aspartame and dried fruits if you think you have one. Increase water intake, vitamin C, unsweetened cranberry juice, and D mannose.
And finally, our top post partum superfoods!
So mummies, don’t forget to look after yourself as well as your little family, you are just as important.
to. If you need some support with your pre or postnatal nutrition visit Laura's website to find out more about her services.
This guest blog is from supermum Kate who is mum of six (including two sets of twins) and founder of the amazing Mini First Aid.
When we get ready for baby to arrive, we often focus on the softer side; the nursery, the change bag, the pram, the first outfit. Why not? Having a baby is an exciting time. We then start to think about the birth, how we want things to go and how we plan to feed our baby.
It is hard not to feel nervous as a new parent. Everything is unknown. At Mini First Aid we cannot give you all the magic answers about getting your baby to sleep through the night, but we can help you to think about practically equipping yourself for baby, and to think about First Aid. It’s amazing that so many parents do not have the basic first aid knowledge to help save a child’s life.
Here are our my top tips:
For many parents weaning their babies, the possibility of them choking is really scary.
Firstly, we show our babies and children that grown-ups eat sitting down, chew properly (!) and that we never put too much in our mouths. Babies mimic so we need to be role models. Never leave a baby or child eating without supervision. Silence is the sign of choking. Make sure you know how to deal with a choking baby.
Book yourself a place on a baby first aid class to gain the practical experience too. Head over to Mini First Aid to have a look at the courses on offer.
This guest blog is from the lovely team at Expect the Best, Chris and Rose. Their consultancy firmly believes in flexible and tailored advice which is individual to the parents they work worth.
The first stage of potty training in our eyes starts from the get-go. Creating a positive narrative around all aspects of going to the loo. After all, it’s totally natural and we all do it. When we talk about creating a positive narrative we start by looking at the language we want to promote when changing nappies, we like to encourage parents/caregivers and anyone in between to avoid using words such as ‘dirty, stinky, disgusting’ when we pull faces (even as a joke to make our children laugh) what we are actually teaching them is that their bowel movements are something to be ashamed of. Change it up use language and phrases like “doesn’t your tummy feel good now” or “great work going to the toilet” or “that’s so healthy for your tummy”.
Other things to think about are talking to your little one about what you are doing when you are changing their nappy, keep the conversation open and honest.
When it comes to nappy changing, it is a good idea to have everything you need to ready before you begin. There are always long lists of things that people always tell you that you need.
We like to encourage you to keep things as simple as possible.
Have a changing station upstairs and downstairs so you don’t always have to rush up and down the stairs. It’s the same when it comes to potty training later on. Have a spare set of clothes, for nappy changing you’ll need
Optional nappy changing equipment
You can choose whether to buy the nappy bins etc, don’t feel pressure to buy all the kit. Just get what you feel comfortable with.
It’s a good idea to have some toys to hand to keep your little one busy. For girls make sure you always wipe front to back.
The same things really apply when we talk about potty training, keep calm and trying not to get overwhelmed about the next milestone is really helpful. Try not to over complicate things and buy all the kit before you work out what your plan of action is going to be.
Potty training is a subject that we feel can cause a lot of stress and worry for parents. There is always an underlying current of competition to make sure that your child is potty trained the fastest and the easiest.
For some parents it can be an emotional subject, potty training can feel like a step towards real independence from you where before they relied so heavily on you for that particular need. Don’t beat yourself up if you feel like this, try and embrace this new and exciting chapter in the journey of parenting.
It is absolutely vital that you remember that every child is different, every child will go at their own pace with potty training and forcing the matter, because we feel we have to, is not beneficial to anyone. So, relax. We are here to help you move away from the parental guilt that we believe so often governs all aspects of parenting and help you feel more confident to tackle potty training as and when you feel your child is ready.
Books are a fantastic resource before you start to properly think about potty training. We love the Princess Polly or Pirate Pete potty books. In this case a gender specific book is helpful because it can be very different, just as it is different from child to child.
Also, using a book to make a story bag is another fantastic resource to have. Grab a bag and fill it with lots of different toys that represent potty training. Such as a potty, loo roll, knickers and a favourite doll, or soft toy as props. This way they can learn through imaginative play without feeling pressured.
At around 18 months, or earlier if you think your child is ready you can put a potty in the bathroom. It helps if your child can get used to the idea of a potty before they even sit on it. That way it isn’t a scary foreign object. If you have older children who are already potty trained it’s a great idea to get them to show your little one what to do. Another useful tip is to take their nappies off for different periods during the day in the run up to potty training so that they can get used to the feeling of the air in that area. You can always offer them the opportunity to sit on the potty before bath time as another way to help them get used to it.
The signs of potty training are quite straight forward.
When you see these signs, we suggest that you wait for about a week or two, just to make sure that the signs are consistent.
When you feel your child is ready; get them to choose some pants and after they have woken up pop the pants off you go. At first, it is a great idea to have timer set for every 20/30 minutes and ask if they need to potty or loo. Alternatively ask them to sit on the potty about 15 minutes after having a big drink. As the days go on then this time is likely to get longer, and you will start to be able to work out if there is a pattern. If you are using a timer, then make sure you explain to them exactly what is going to happen when the timer goes off. It is important that you don’t over ask or become agitated if they refuse to go. What we suggest is that the first day or two you encourage them to go every 30 minutes, but if you can see that most of those 30-minute slots result in nothing you can extend them. Also, if they refuse to sit on the potty, explain very calmly that it is okay, but we are going to try again in 10 minutes. Some children need to feel the sensation of being wet before they really grasp the concept. Celebrate every wee and poo with a sticker or you could do a marble jar.
It’s a really good idea to have spare pants and clothes in a basket downstairs so you can encourage them to help in getting changed if they have accidents. You can also pop a dirty laundry basket beside as well so that they can pop their wet/dirty clothes away as well. Accidents are completely fine. Just stay calm and never get cross with your child if that happens. If, your child is doing a wee/poo in the middle of the floor, try not to pick them up and rush them over to the potty because the sensation of being picked up and rushed somewhere whilst going for a wee can be really alarming and distressing for children. Just accept that they have had an accident and say “it is okay, next time let’s try on the potty. Why don’t you have a sit down on the potty now and see if there is anything else still to come”.
If you find that they are getting really upset when they wet themselves, don’t be afraid to call potty training off. Often children come back to it themselves but in their own time. At nap and bedtimes move way from nappies and get pull ups and call them sleep time pants. Being dry at night will come much later on.
We suggest you find a little song or book that can help keep them on the potty for a bit longer. Also remember that sometimes when they have done a wee, they may need to sit there for a little longer just to make sure they are really finished.
Top tip for training boys to stand is to put a cheerio or something along those lines in the bottom of the loo for them to have something aim for.
Remember to be kind to yourselves, celebrate the wins and trust in your instincts
You can find Expect the Best on Instagram @expectthebest.uk or visit their website
As part of World Breastfeeding Week, our co-founder and Midwife, Anneke, teamed up with Elvie to answer all your questions on Antenatal Colostrum Harvesting.
Our doggies are special members of our families so it's important that we make sure they don't feel put out when we have a new baby. Sarah talks you through some tips and advice on how you can make the transition as painless as possible and what worked well for her when introducing her rescue doggie, Yvie, to Monty when he came home from the hospital.
To start off our blog we wanted to address a serious topic and one that is close to Sarah's heart as she had a dear friend who went through this after the birth of her first child. She was kind enough to let Sarah sit down and chat with her about it and although they sound quite relaxed about what happened to her, make no mistake, postpartum psychosis is a serious mental health illness.
Many women will experience mild mood changes after having a baby, known as the "baby blues". This is normal and usually only lasts for a few days. But postpartum psychosis is very different from this and should be treated as a medical emergency. It occurs in approximately 1 -.2% of births. The onset is usually sudden, most often within the first two weeks postpartum.
The NHS website has lots of great information on it about the condition as well as some resources which may help so If you are a loved one is showing any of these signs please seek help, as it is treatable.