Things I learned: a casual miniseries

Before I turned my mind to having a family, there were many, many simple things that I didn’t know about being pregnant and having a baby. Once I got that lovely double blue line on the pregnancy test, a whole new world that I never knew existed opened up. So I thought I might share some tidbits with the uninitiated and maybe spark a few fond memories for the mums (and sometimes dads) out there.

So here’s Things I Learned #1: Giant maternity pads

As a long time and regular lurker on forums and message boards, I signed up to them all when I got pregnant and browsed daily, dipping in only occasionally to comment. As the chats turned to hospital bags and their contents, there was much talk of maternity pads and all their giant oversized glory. Many posters recommended time and again using the big hospital grade green BV pads and talked about using two at a time. Yes, giant pads were required for the post partum bleed, I got that part but how would the two work? Surely, the sticky underside of one would stop the other one from working?

I bought my packs of pads as directed – did I really need this many?! (yes, is the answer ūüôā ) – and had flashbacks to my first period when my mother handed me a pack of her massive StayFree sanitary towels with the picture of the woman in a man’s flannel white shirt running on the beach. They made me feel like I was waddling…

Things I learned: giant maternity pads - Mind the Baby
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The mystery was solved the day I went into labour. There’s no sticky underside. Simples.

Two it was! And so very very comfy. Giant maternity pads were my friend for a few days. Hail the giant maternity pad.

Do you remember having any “oh” moments about pregnancy and birth things?

Music for the soul

It is a rare person who is unmoved by music or who doesn’t have a soundtrack to significant memories in their lives. Even if you’re unaware of it, suddenly a snatch of a tune on the radio or a song in the background of the general hum of a shopping centre can send you back to something wonderful in your past or even something sad.

Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz reminds me of dancing and peels of laughter in my parents kitchen in our first little house and all it’s gorgeous 70s burnt orange and brown decor. Sinead O’Connor’s You Made Me The Thief Of Your Heart brings me back to my bedroom on the morning of my Dad’s funeral. I had it up full blast while putting my make up on as one by one my siblings were drawn in by the music to sit on my bed and just be together. Horse Outside by The Rubberbandits still makes my stomach lurch as I’m jolted back to the winter of 2010 when the country was crippled by snow for weeks and I spent most of that time on my hands and knees heaving into the nearest toilet bowl with morning sickness.

I did my masters thesis on exploring the effectiveness of the Mozart Effect on babies in utero and although the claims of the phenomenon are dubious indeed, the research is conclusive that babies can recognise music that they heard frequently in the womb, just like their mothers’ voices.

When I was pregnant, myself and my husband carefully chose a piece of music that was important to us that we would make “the baby’s song”. My husband has fond memories of his father playing The Sound of Silence on guitar and singing him to sleep and I love the gentle harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel so I played it every night to the bump and sang along so the baby could feel the vibration of my voice through my chest and rib cage and through the waters surrounding him. If nothing else, it was a few minutes of stillness together everyday.
As we came closer to the big day, my husband was very keen for us to put together a playlist for the labour and birth. I always thought that I would love this idea but for some reason I was hesitant. I think I was afraid of forcing a moment but more importantly, as I was heavily engaged in my hypnobirthing at the time, I thought I might be too “inside” myself and the music would serve no purpose.

It turns out I was totally wrong. I put off putting together some songs until I was overdue. At my husband’s gentle encouragement and as a project to occupy me, we put together 13 hours of carefully chosen songs. Many of our favourites were discarded due to their unsuitability for a relaxed, calm, gentle birth either because of the lyrical content, the tempo or the timbre. Eventually we had something we were proud of and could be described in just one word – “lovely”.

The morning my contractions started, my husband set up the stereo in the kitchen and just let the music gently trickle into the background. It’s presence set an invisible tone of warmth and calm. Then as my labour progressed, the midwife used the music as an anchor to steady me when she felt I was losing my focus and needed to be grounded. When the contractions were coming hard and fast, I distinctly remember hearing her voice say “deep breathes, listen to the beautiful music”. My mind immediately snapped onto the soaring voice of Glen Hansard from The Frames, which had suddenly appeared from nowhere to soothe and sing directly to me.

My husband tells me that our son was born to the velvety tones of Nick Cave which I was delighted to hear but blissfully unaware of as all of my focus was on those last special moments of birthing my baby.
He also tells me he was secretly delighted that S wasn’t born to Adele who had been playing just moments before! Although the joke is on him in the end…

…Adele was on heavy rotation on the radio during my pregnancy and I used to crow along to Someone Like You while I washed the dishes. A couple of months after S was born, we made a trip all together to IKEA. As Adele popped up on the shop soundtrack, I turned to my husband and said “oh, this song reminds me of being pregnant” and suddenly noticed the baby. He was looking straight at me and smiling with what I can only describe as a knowing look, like we were looking into each other’s souls. My chest welled up and I started to cry. It was a magical moment. I honestly believe he recognised it.

But it was also embarrassing…oh the emotion of a post partum woman ūüėČ

Post baby weight loss – sold a pup!

Ah pregnant with my first baby.  There I was glowing Рshiny hair, great skin, the shape of regular me but with a lovely firm bump which I dressed in pretty bodycon fitted tops and dresses and skinny jeans. Delighted with myself so I was.

Before got pregnant I would have been a small size 12. ¬†I’m a tall lass so I’d cut a slim figure in that size but I had to work at it. ¬†Even though I ate rings around my pregnant self, I ate really healthily, conscious of my daily nutritional aims – 7 a day, heaps of calcium, plenty of iron. ¬†My mind rarely turned to my post pregnancy body – sure why would it? – and when it did, it was with the comfort of two things: the naive and false belief that my body will just “bounce back” after my first because it’s the subsequent pregnancies that are harder (ha!); and I planned to breastfeed and breastfeeding mothers get their figures back super quick.

Sold. A. Pup.

In the early days of breastfeeding my son, along with a thirst like the Sahara, I had the appetite of a bear waking from a particularly cold long winter. ¬†I couldn’t think sometimes I was so hungry. ¬†Obviously the last thing on my mind at that stage was “getting my figure back”, I was only interested in keeping everyone alive! ¬†But as the weeks turned to months, the hunger stayed. ¬†I cut down on the ridiculous instant treats that had become a temporary staple in those initial days, like those M&S fruit trifle pots that my mother kept replenishing in our fridge, God bless her. ¬†But I had a genuine physical need to eat more food. ¬†Look, it had to be the breastfeeding, it couldn’t be anything else. ¬†As I watched my fellow new mums shrink back into their own clothes, I started to feel, well a bit crap actually. ¬†I was embarrassed by my clothes. ¬†I felt I was too long in my maternity jeans. ¬†I felt shabby in my tshirts and tops because everything felt flabby and loose. ¬†I even missed my bump because it had been nice and firm compared to this pouch I felt left with. ¬†The hardest day was when when I started a post natal Pilates class where a floor to ceiling mirror confirmed to me that the old tracky bottoms and tshirt I’d thrown on were only accentuating a body that I didn’t recognise and didn’t want. ¬†I felt cheated. ¬†Obviously, the miracle of breastfeeding induced weight loss was not to be for me.

Another factor that added to the crap feeling was something I’m a bit embarrassed to admit to. ¬†As a self-confident, ¬†card carrying feminist I’ve never been strongly influenced by the media frenzy over celebrities, fashion obsession, the body beautiful etc. ¬†Even as a devoted reader of Sugar magazine as a little teen, I was more interested in picking up bright multicoloured nail varnish and the newest tshirt from cutting edge fashion house Miss Selfridge than aspiring be like the skinny, teeny models on the pages. ¬†Now I am quite partial to the odd bit of celeb gossip and the flick of a fashion magazine but only as a distraction, although E! News did feature quite heavily on my television rotation when I was glued to the couch feeding the baby. ¬†But I was tired and vulnerable and Victoria Beckham had a baby the same week as me and she was just everywhere. ¬†I have to admit, Victoria Beckham made me feel like a failure. ¬†It’s ridiculous! ¬†I knew she had a make up artist, a hairdresser, a wardrobe of beautiful haute couture clothes, a chef, a personal trainer and I’m hoping a drawer full of high end shapewear. ¬†But for the first time in my life I felt like a newspaper headline, in fact, exactly like this one. ¬†It wasn’t nice.

I wanted to feel good about myself again. ¬†I couldn’t cut down on my food intake because I did genuinely need it. ¬†I upped by Pilates attendance to twice a week and I started walking the baby through his afternoon nap most days. ¬†Things started to tighten up and the weight began to come off. ¬†In fairness, I had a good motivation: I have one work wardrobe that I can’t afford to replace anytime soon so I’m getting into those clothes or I’m going to work naked. ¬†I still have a bit of a winter coat that I’m aiming to lose but I’ll get there. ¬†I just never thought it would be this hard.

Is breastfeeding a precursor to baby-led weaning?

The publication of a new report from the ESRI today linking breastfeeding with lower rates of childhood obesity in Ireland coincided nicely with a new experience I had last week.

My little boy has never taken a bottle. ¬†Scratch that, he took a small bottle of expressed milk once from his Dad, fell asleep and then promptly denied all knowledge of the event immediately thereafter! ¬†So it’s been breast all the way in our house for 10 months now and counting.

So last week I had my first encounter with a bottle of formula and a small baby. ¬†A good friend and mother of three needed to pick up her eldest from school and left her beautiful sleeping bundle with me. ¬†Her new daughter is both breast and formula fed and I had 2oz to give to her if she woke while her mama was out. ¬†No probs. ¬†Except then I found myself a little out of my depth. ¬†When I went to feed the baby, I found I wasn’t able to read her cues. ¬†I wasn’t sure if she was hungry or not. ¬†It took her a few tries to properly get into taking the bottle which she then drank readily but then I couldn’t tell if she was finished or not. ¬†2oz looked like a small enough amount in the bottle but I really have no idea how much that is so I wasn’t sure if she needed to finish it all or not. In the end I left some behind. ¬†Her mum told me later that she had taken more for me than she does for her Dad. ¬†Is that a bad thing? ¬†Did I give her too much? ¬†Now, she was a little angel so there was no crying – like that desperate, insistent “I’m starving”! cry I remember my son having at that age when he was hungry – and she was a pretty chilled out little lady so I can only presume that she was a bit hungry, took what she needed and was satisfied.

But it got me thinking that in some ways, breastfeeding is like the precursor of baby-led weaning really isn’t it? ¬†At that age, my son let me know when he was hungry – and boy did he let me know – he’d stop when he was finished and when he didn’t want a feed, he was pretty clear about that as well. ¬†So he was totally in charge of his intake all the time. ¬†That’s what caught me off guard with the little lady. ¬†I was in charge – and I didn’t like it! ¬†Breastfeeding and formula feeding are really two very different ways of nourishing your baby. ¬†It makes sense that exclusively breastfeeding mothers and exclusively formula feeding mother would struggle to understand each other’s methods. I know I do but that’s my issue.

You can read the full report here. ¬†But if you’d prefer to skip the economist-speak, the Irish Times have a summary here. ¬† On an aside, I was shocked to read in that article that nearly half of all Irish babies are weaned on to solid foods by four months. ¬†I had no idea it was that high.

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