These are unprecedented times for having a baby and even if you planned your pregnancy during the first lockdown, I’m fairly sure that you didn’t expect to still be in lockdown when you gave birth!

That said, huge congratulations to all you new parents out there, I know it’s not easy for you but you’re doing a great job! Here are some tips and ideas to help you through…

Firstly, try not to panic, easier said than done I know. Having a baby is scary, exciting, overwhelming and joyous all at the same time… and then you throw hormones on top of that and it can all just be exhausting. It’s so important to look after yourself at this time and have things to hand that are calming for you… favourite snacks, music, body lotion, flowers, anything that can bring a bit of normality back to your day. Also, remember that baby can feel if you are worried or tense which can make them more fractious so try and keep things as calm as you can.

Remember that this will pass, and things will become a bit more normal again soon. Think of it as the best time you could have to get you know your baby and their little signs for hunger or sleeping or what songs they like you singing.

Try and tag team with your partner rather than spending the whole time together. Yes, you will both love watching your little one sleep, but if baby is fed and winded and seems settled then one of you, take the chance to have to have a shower or relaxing bath/phone a parent/go for a walk or the ultimate…Take A Nap!

Try and get out for a walk early in the day if you can. Don’t worry if you haven’t had a shower or put the laundry on, just grab a cuppa to take with you and go out. All the better if you can meet up with a friend and have a moan. This will make you feel like you’ve done something with your day and got some fresh air, especially as the days are so short at this time of year. If you wait until you’re all actually ready to go, you will never get out!

If you want to get your baby into a vague schedule, then this is easier to do at this time and if the baby is the appropriate age. I’m not endorsing clock watching but more of a ‘what comes next’ routine so you all know what happens when and gives some structure to your day. The most basic routine would be:

  • feed
  • a little bit of awake time
  • then nap
  • then a wash or bath early evening or morning if you prefer

As well as using video calls for chatting to friends and family get them to make a video you can keep playing to the baby, so the parent/friend is somewhat familiar when you are allowed to introduce bubba to them. You can also film the baby watching the video to send back to them. If baby is older, 6months + then you could make a photo album of the important people in your lives and let baby look at it, get one you don’t mind being chewed or dribbled on though.

When lockdown ends are you are allowed out, try not to introduce the baby to all your friends and family in the same week. Remember they are only used to seeing you and your partner so meeting new people will be really overwhelming.

Try and find an online group to join in with a few days per week so that you have people to talk to and you can entertain bubba and get more play ideas. This could be baby massage, sensory classes, rhyme time or just getting together with a group of friends for a chat while baby plays.

Don’t feel like you have to entertain your baby ALL of the time. If they are a few months old, it’s fine to lay them on a blanket in front of the window or closed door so that they can see the trees or shadows or whatever is happening outside.

The main thing you can do if you are struggling at all is to ASK FOR HELP. This could be asking a friend to go to the shop for you or even do some laundry (you know which friends you can ask for what help). If you feel like you’re a burden on your friends or want some more structured help then there is a lot of help out there. Call a Maternity Consultant like myself or a local Nanny agency and ask if you could talk to someone who knows about babies… We are always happy to have a chat whether it’s about babies or not so please, please do not feel like you are on your own, we are here for you.

 

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Another subject I get asked about a lot is toilet training, what is the right age? How do you know when they’re ready? And generally how to go about it. As with most aspects of childcare the correct age to begin training depends on the child and the family circumstances and most of all… are you ready for toilet training as it takes time and commitment and isn’t just a phase. It’s an ongoing process and you have to take into account the daily routine and also nursery/daycare, travelling in the car etc. Toilet training should NOT be attempted within 2 months of any major upheaval in the child’s life like a new sibling, moving house, starting daycare.

Some people think that the children should decide themselves when to leave the nappies behind but I think most of them need some encouragement to move to this new part of their lives.

Signs that a child is ready for toilet training

  • They are over 18mths old
  • Can follow simple instructions
  • Has dry spells of a couple of hours
  • Has dry nappies when they wake from a long nap
  • Can pull their own pants up/down with non or very little help
  • Shows an interest in what you’re doing when you go to the loo
  • Shows discomfort when they’ve done a wee/poop
  • Actually have words for wee/poop
  • Has the ability to sit still for 5-10mins with a book or toy

In my experience to really make the child understand the changes that are going to happen you need a lot of preparation, so lots of story books about it, encouraging them to come to the loo with you, explaining what they will be doing on the loo and let them go on the loo when you take their nappy off in the morning and evening, tell them they’re going to start wearing ‘big girl/boy’ pants and let them choose them own pants…  even if you don’t like them!

I personally wouldn’t use a potty, I go straight to using the loo because if they get comfortable using the potty you have to almost train from them again to go on the toilet. Obviously if you don’t have a toilet nearby i.e it’s on a different floor then use a potty until they get the hang of it and can hold the wee until they get to the toilet.

Another thing to do is to clear your diary and choose a date to start the training. This way you can start a countdown with your child and say ‘3 more days to wearing big boy pants’ etc so they know that change is coming.

The main thing to do when potty training is to remain calm and expect that accidents ARE going to happen, even when you think they are on the path to becoming more independent, illness or a change in environment can put things back a step or two. If you do start it and after a week think your child hasn’t made any progress then it’s fine to put if off and start again in another couple of months.

Just remember they won’t be wearing nappies when they’re 7 so just relax and take it at a step at a time.

A star chart can be very useful when toilet training… and if I’m honest I am a fan of the bribery technique and keeping a bowl of treats (yogurt covered raisins etc) in the loo is usually incentive enough to get them weeing in the right place, you can also get stick-on targets to put in the toilet bowl… you may find the bigger boys in the house will use this too!

 

I know the world of baby equipment and latest must-haves is one of the fastest growing industries in recent years but sometimes you just have to ask, do I actually need this? I’m certainly not advocating that babies should be made to sleep in empty drawers and have one toy to play with but there are two items that I really think need extra consideration.

Sleepyhead – (or cat baskets as I call them) while I admit they can be useful in the very early days especially if the mum has had a c-section and finds it difficult to bend over a Moses basket but when the baby is a few months old and still sleeping in one with hardly any room for movement you have to ask if they really need it!

I have been to SO many jobs over the past year or so where the baby is still in one at night time and not sleeping for more than 2 hours at a time but when I suggest that the baby might be more comfortable just sleeping in the cot the mum usually replies ‘but he likes it’… mmm I’m not sure about that, why don’t we try him without it and see how he gets on. At which point the mum usually starts to hyperventilate slightly at the thought of changing something that she has relied on for so long but really isn’t providing the required results. We seem to think that babies like being squished in a small space to sleep and won’t want to stretch out and move during the night but this isn’t the case, if you watch a baby of about 3 mths old sleep they are constantly moving around.

I always suggest we put the baby to sleep without it but as an alternative we put a rolled up towel in a horseshoe shape under the cot sheet but around the babys body so it effectively does the same job but isn’t so restrictive or hot!

If the night is hideously bad then we can put him back in it to sleep but at some point bubba is going to have to sleep without it so don’t leave it too long to make that transition.

Formula prep machine – it’s just an expensive kettle! The first time l saw one of these l was really puzzled as I had been told ‘it’s amazing, it just makes the bottle for you.’ It really doesn’t, it just makes the water the correct temp to make up the formula. I have done many timing comparisons with new parents and it really isn’t any quicker than using the normal kettle.

The problem l have it is just the general dumbing down of new parents and make them think they can’t possibly make a bottle without it… and they are also so loud!! Why must it beep so many times?

Also I have seen a few faulty ones in the last year that either made the wrong amount of water or made it too warm, both not ideal!

The easiest way to make bottles is to boil the kettle and leave it for about 45mins, then pour the water into clean, sterilised bottles but only up to a ounce/30ml less than you need ie if you want a 4oz/120ml bottle make it up to 3oz/90ml with boiled water. Then when you need the bottle, boil the kettle again, fill it up to the required amount and add the formula powder and shake well. You can pre measure the formula powder into a powder pot to save time. At night time just use a flask of hot water to top up the bottle with.

You can make up the bottles up with water up to 24hours before you need them or keep a jug full of pre-boiled water ready for use, make sure it has a lid though.

Make sure your kettle is regularly de-scaled and use fresh water every time. Some people keep a kettle just for the babies use… which is still cheaper than a prep machine!

Ah routine or no routine…? That is the question!

This is probably the subject I get asked about the most from new parents, as most new mums are so determined they don’t want a routine but within a few weeks of the baby being born are desperate for some vague outline to their day. A baby’s needs aren’t very complicated, but knowing when to feed, change, love and play with your baby can be very daunting, plus you need to think about your own needs plus those of your partner/family

There are many reasons for starting a routine early on

  • To teach the baby the difference between night and day
  • So that the mum and baby have some structure to their day
  • To establish good feeding/sleeping patterns
  • To help keep the baby’s day more consistent if he has more than one carer

Most people think that babies less than 4mths old can’t be in a routine but in my experience that just isn’t the case. Just like us, they like a daily regimen of feeding, playing, washing, sleeping etc. but again like us, it’s likely that no two days will be exactly the same, so instead of clock watching and using timings to guide your day, try using the ‘what comes next’ approach, this way both you and the baby have some idea about the flow of your day and find life a lot easier.

The baby’s day should be split into 2 parts, 12 hour day pattern and 12 hour night, meaning that the day should be light and a bit more noisy and the nights should be kept darker and quieter, especially around the feeds… the baby is unlikely to settle back to sleep if all the lights are on and you’re watching TV! I’m always amazed when doing sleep training that parents don’t “get” that baby is being stimulated by flashing lights and distracting noises!

Babies effectively learn by association so the earlier you can find little pockets of routine throughout the day the better sense of security they have, for instance the bedtime routine is usually a good place to start. So in the early evening if they have had a bit of awake time get in the habit of giving them a bath or just a wash with a facecloth, then a big feed then put them in a darker,quieter place to sleep so they learn to get into a deep sleep quicker.

When you start anything new with a baby it takes 3 days for it to become a habit so this bit of routine will soon become just what they’re used to.  Many new parents find using a tracker app or logging everything down easier when starting a routine as they can see a pattern emerging after a few days.

Looking after a baby that is constantly feeding or sleep deprived isn’t fun, so the sooner you can get some structure the better.

If you need help please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

 

Over the past few weeks I have been to a few jobs where the mother has needed to give their breastfeeding baby, a bottle for various reasons i.e. Mum is going back to work, or is having an operation, so the move to bottle feeding is necessary.

The babies have been varying ages from 3-9mths. The process is never easy and can be distressing for the mum and baby, as it means mum can’t breastfeed until the baby has taken a bottle.

So my No1 top tip is to give baby one bottle a day as soon as breastfeeding is established so at about 4-6 weeks. This ensures that if the baby is breastfeeding and anything does happen to the mum, then the baby will be happy feeding from a bottle.

There are many other benefits of bottle feeding:-

  • Partner/Grandparents can give baby a bottle and increase bonding
  • Mum can get some sleep if someone else can do a night feed
  • You know how much food baby has had
  • If you give a bottle early evening it can fill the baby and stop the baby cluster feeding
  • More flexibility for Mum if she’s not keen on breastfeeding in public

New Parents are often told that giving bottles can cause nipple confusion for the baby, meaning the baby won’t feed properly from the breast after having a bottle, but I can honestly say that in over 30 years I have never seen this happen from just giving baby ONE bottle per day.

I know that breastfeeding correctly is important, but I believe flexibility is a prime factor in mothers lives nowadays and knowing they can take some time for themselves, now and again or get a solid chunk of sleep and their partner can be more involved is invaluable.

Using the correct bottle is definitely key to making the switch easier and some bottles are better than others for the baby to accept, like Dr Brown’s/ Mam bottles. Some can help with the babies sucking if they’re having trouble breastfeeding like the Haberman feeder which doesn’t release the milk until the baby sucks so it replicates breastfeeding.

Also if mums choose to pump and give the expressed milk by bottle it can be useful to see how much milk is being produced.

Some mums take this chance to introduce a formula feed by bottle to help the transition from breast milk easier if they are not planning on breastfeeding long term.

The earlier you start baby on a bottle the better they take it, mum can get some sleep… and sleep makes breastmilk!

“My daughter Rose is 9mths old and when she was born I was advised from several different people not to give a bottle as she might not take the breast again. This has meant that I have been with her constantly to ensure she was never without food and as a result she has refused to take the bottle.

With Jackie’s help however she is now taking a bottle happily and my life has changed overnight! It was daunting at first as I thought it might lessen the bond between us but I have found it really hasn’t made any difference…and the fact that my husband and mum can now feed her allowing me to have some time to myself is AMAZING. I really wish I had done it sooner and tell all my friends to start giving a bottle as soon as possible”

Sophie, London

 

This is a controversial subject I know and opinions vary so much. However, over the past few weeks I have worked with a few families who have been struggling with this topic, which has led to problems in other areas, mainly sleeping.

Yes, the NHS guidelines tell you not to introduce solids until 6mths, but in my experience of working with over 200 babies, this just isn’t realistic and weaning is not a thing that can be done with such a blanket approach. Other factors need be taken into account, like baby’s weight, daily activity and sleeping habits… a baby that weighed 6lb at birth probably isn’t going to be weaned at the same time as a baby that weighed 10lb!

Around 4/5mths your baby will be moving around more and using a lot more energy, so more often their appetite will increase now too, therefore it could be time to start down the weaning path now, instead of waiting until 6mths.

Another major factor is changes in sleep patterns, if your baby has been a great sleeper in the night or was only waking just once and it suddenly changes to waking more often or taking longer to settle, then it may be time to add some baby rice to the menu.

Yes, there is such a thing as sleep regression at around 4mths when the babies sleep cycles start to change but if the waking is prolonged, then try giving some solids just to see if it makes a difference.

I have been in more than one job when the baby was aged 19/20 weeks and was waking once in the night and that then started waking more or was getting more difficult to settle and once we introduced baby rice at around 5pm the baby then slept through the night, from then onwards and only really woke due to teething or illness.

The signs that baby is ready to be weaned are:

  • They can hold their head upright and move it from side to side
  • Good hand, eye and mouth coordination, can they put objects in their mouth?
  • Interest in your food, do they avidly watch you eating?
  • Ability to swallow food. If you try them with solids and they just consistently push it out, then they may not be ready
  • Seem hungry after milk feeds
  • Change in sleep patterns, waking more in the night and seeming hungry

Babies can be different ages when these signs are evident, but I would say around 20 weeks, most babies are ready for the addition of baby rice in the evening,

Waiting until 6mths can bring its own set of challenges, as some babies aren’t keen on the introduction of a spoon and prefer to feed themselves, which is fine but some mothers find it difficult to know how much the baby has had to eat. Ideally, what l find works best is if you can give them the pureed version of the finger food and give that by spoon then mum and baby get the best of both worlds.

The main problem I see more and more of, is that around 7mths old the babies sleep has become so bad due to hunger and parents get into bad habits like rocking, holding or staying with the baby until they fall asleep, that they think sleep training is the answer, when most of the time once the baby is having more food the sleep patterns correct themselves, or become much easier to help with.

With 30 years of experience the best advice I can give, is to read your babies signs, don’t just go by their age… and don’t let a man in a Government office tell you when to wean your baby!!