NCT course – do or don’t?

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When we were preparing to become parents, my husband and I were thinking whether we should do a NCT parent education course or not (NCT is National Childbirth Trust in the UK).  We didn’t really need the course because we had read a few books and planned to go to parent education course that was offered by St. Mary’s hospital for free. And NCT course would take longer (two weekends instead of one day) and would cost £287 – definitely something to stop and think about!
I asked a few friends who did it whether it was worth doing, but their reasons didn’t convince me. Some did it because it was the timing of their hospital course didn’t work for them, some did it because they preferred to get the extra knowledge by talking to people rather than reading books. Everyone said that the reason you do it is to meet other new parents in your area and become lifetime friends with them (no pressure). However, London is such a transient place that it is hard to form lifetime friendships. Most people will have their first child and then move. In fact, this is what happened to most of my friends.
In the end, we cracked Mr Piggy and did the course.
Was it worth it? For me, definitely yes.
The best thing was meeting the people who lived in the same area with a due date within a month of our own. Same area is important because after birth 40 minutes on the tube will be an insurmountable obstacle. And due dates are important because even if your kids are two months apart the mums’ relationship becomes quite one-sided (one mum already solved all the problems and is teaching the other one) which soon becomes awkward for both parties.
We are still in touch with our NCT group and meet regularly. Mothers email each other frequently, asking for advice and sharing tips and frustrations. It was not unusual to type an email at 1am in the early days – and get a response straight back (yes, the “1am feed”). You have someone else in the same boat. This support network is really valuable. I only realised it once I had the baby.
The second best thing is that we got on NCT mailing lists and Facebook groups. So now I get invitations to a lot of local baby-related events, like coffees and courses. And there I make connections and meet more people from the same area with babies of the same age.
Finally, I got the list of lactation consultants from our NCT instructor and later found out about breastfeeding drop-in clinic. This turned out to be extremely valuable (and saved us money on expensive lactation consultants).
Can you get all this without doing the course? Yes, you can. You may already have support network in your area (your mum and sisters or friends). You can join NCT lists without attending the course. If you meet local mums at one event (say, yoga class or local library) your connections will start growing like a rolling snowball. It is simply easier if you do the course because this kind of happens for you (and in the early days if there is anything that is easier, I will vote for it).
What about the knowledge? I think it really depends on the instructor you get. Our instructor at St. Mary’s was brilliant (and a mum of four). Our NCT instructor was super helpful and gave us lots of resources to explore in addition to the course (which I only finished recently, six months after the course). Though the ultimate thing with the baby is learning by doing.

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Before the baby comes, part three: Baby sleep

After you have fed (see part 1) and soothed (see part 2) your baby comes sleeping. Or not sleeping. This remains a topic of parents concerns and conversations for months. In that sense, you will probably read a lot about babies and toddlers sleep over the years, but there are two books I would recommend to start with before the baby arrives: The No-cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and Sleeping with your baby by James McKenna

The No-cry Sleep Solution

no-cry-coverI think that some of parents’ stress about baby sleep comes from wrong expectations. As soon as you become a parent, everyone starts asking: “How’s the sleep going?”, “Is he sleeping through the night yet?”. As if the goal of parenting is to get the baby to this milestone asap. But what is more natural for the baby: to sleep 8 hours straight from 6 weeks of age or to wake up 6 times a night for a little suck at 8 months of age? In reality the latter is more natural and likely (even if not desirable!), but most parents expect their babies to be in the first group. And if the babies are not, then there must be something wrong with the baby and parents need to “fix it”.

Elizabeth Pantley’s book is good at managing the expectations. For instance, “sleeping through the night” means a 5 hour sleep stretch and not a 12 hour one. And that not every single cry and stir at night requires parents’ attention. And why babies wake up – in fact we all do, adults are just better at falling asleep while most babies will need some help.

Then, the author asks you if you and your partner consider your baby sleep to be a problem. It doesn’t matter what others think, it matters what works for your family. For instance, I enjoy bed sharing and manage to get a good sleep even if our son wants to breastfeed 6 times a night (I hardly wake up for these feedings). But it will be different when I go back to work. So by then I will need to teach him to fall back asleep without my help.

And finally, Elizabeth Pantley shows you how to work on your specific goal. The book is full of mums’ stories to show you that there is hope. You create a plan, try it for 10 days, adjust, try the new plan for 10 more days. As a mother of 4 and a parent educator the author suggests plenty of ideas to try.

This book is a great alternative to Cry It Out method. A lot of parents start with “we won’t do Cry It Out training”, but after 5 (6, 7, ..) months of sleep deprivation they are happy to try anything. Well, this book offers an approach that is good to everyone in the family. Skim through before the baby comes and keep in your library for later. I bet you will read it.

Sleeping with your baby

sleeping-with-your-baby-coverThere is a lot of controversy surrounding bed sharing, mostly due to the fear of SIDS. Before their child is born most people say that they will not put their baby in bed with them. Some of them even look down at the parents who admit that they do it and think “oh these poor people, they are raising a psychologically dependent child. I will never do that!”

However, a few months after their child is born almost 90% of parents in the UK have slept together with their baby at least once, by choice or accidentally. Whether bed sharing is for you and your family or whether you prefer a different sleeping arrangement, this is a good book to read before the baby comes.

James McKenna is an anthropologist who spent his entire career researching co-sleeping. In the first part of the book he talks about risks and benefits. In short, it is good for babies because it makes them feel safe and allows them to breastfeed easily. They don’t fully awaken and don’t need to be settled. Therefore mothers (and fathers) actually get more sleep. It is also safe (if the guidelines are followed) because breastfeeding mums have an instinct and won’t roll onto their babies. The risks exist and they are mostly due to babies being trapped in bedding, headboards, or sleeping with other adults (not mum) or siblings, so safe bed sharing guidelines should always be followed. The second part of the book provides these guidelines.

There is a lot of misinformation about bed sharing and co-sleeping so it is a good book to read to make an informed decision about it. It may also convince you to persevere with breastfeeding in the difficult early days.

And it is only 128 pages long which makes it a quick read!

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Secret to stress-free travelling with a two month old baby

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I like travelling. I don’t want to give up travelling just because we have a child.

I was quite curious to see how hard it will be to go around the world with a two month old baby. Having travelled twenty thousand miles with a two-month old (London -> Kuala Lumpur -> Adelaide -> Melbourne -> Adelaide -> Kuala Lumpur -> London), I found it much easier than I first imagined.

The secret to stress-free travelling with a baby is to maintain your own sanity and energy. Create recharge points for yourself and try to relax whenever you can. Here are the four things we did:

  1. I made a list of baby things to pack ahead of time. My husband and I already have lists of things to pack for ourselves. We both travelled quite a bit and these lists are super helpful. I did some online research on baby travel and bought the things that were missing (like a sun umbrella or “just in case” calpol). This saved us time going to the shops on the day of packing. See the bottom of this post for the list of things I packed for the baby.
  2. We tried to pack as light as we could. My rule when travelling: take the minimum of things and the maximum of money, so you can buy whatever you need. However, travelling with the baby for the first time we overpacked a bit (e.g. I took 4 sleepsuits while we could have got away with 3, one was never used). In the end we (husband, baby and myself) had 2 suitcases (one large, one cabin-size), 2 backpacks, a baby changing bag and a stroller. In theory we could have gotten away with 1 large suitcase on the way there, but the second one was handy to carry back all the presents we’ve got from the family. Of course, amount of packing would have been different if we were going on a two week vacation without an access to a washing machine. I never understood before why porters in airports exist – and now I do.
  3. We made a 24-hour stopover to break 24-hour flight. After one 13-hour flight with a baby las thing you want is to get back on the plane again. During the first stopover, I spent all day in the hotel room: feeding, sleeping, eating and relaxing. The next flight was a breeze. Again, it is not for the baby to adjust to the timezone, but for mum and dad to relax and regain their energy.
  4. We had grandparents on the other side ready to take care of the baby and let us sleep. We didn’t need that because we got good rest during the stopover. What we did need is someone to look after the baby in the mornings while he was adjusting to the new timezone (waking up at 5am for a few days, bright-eyed and eager to play). Luckily, granddad was ready to oblige.

On the subject of jetlag, when we travelled from London to Adelaide it took the baby 4 days to adjust to the new timezone. He also regressed to a maximum of 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep instead of 5 hours he was doing at home. I don’t know why this was, perhaps because the air was more drier and he needed more “drinking”, perhaps because he was sleeping in a crib instead of a hammock, but still be prepared for a baby that can be waking up every 40 minutes to 2 hours at night. I solved this problem by co-sleeping and feeding him whenever he woke up at night. On the way back from Adelaide to London, it took the baby 2 nights to adjust. I didn’t establish any kind of routine before we travelled, we were following the baby cues.

Baby on board

We got seats with a crib on all long-haul journeys. We called the airline and specifically reserved them (free of charge – Malaysia Airlines). Surprisingly a lot of airlines don’t allocate cribs to infants by default, so don’t assume that you will get one. I had friends travelling without a crib on Air Canada and British Airways.

A baby of this age doesn’t need much entertainment. We took one toy and a dummy and this was enough. Bring a toy that can occupy your baby for 5-10 minutes at a time – usually something with black-and-white patterns or bright colors, like a rag book or whoozit, or something that they can suck or rattle, like this zebra rattle or a keyring from your pocket. The baby will sleep in a crib (or in your hands) most of the way and when he doesn’t you will need enough activities to switch between (rocking, singing, looking at the screen or phone, playing with their toy, sucking, walking and looking around). Learn enough nursery rhymes in advance!

I was stressing about my son screaming during takeoff and landing, but my fears were worse than the reality. It is tricky to time the feeding for the exact time of ascend/descend. Turns out this was not necessary for us. A few times our baby was screaming for food while we were standing on the tarmac, so I had to feed him then. Once after that he fell asleep and slept through the takeoff soundlessly. Another time, we kept playing with him during landing as he wasn’t hungry and then offered the boob at the first sight of discontent (and he happily sucked it until the gate even though he just ate).

For me the best thing about travelling with the baby is that now I don’t worry about malfunctions in plane equipment or pilot’s error. All I worry about is whether the baby is going to scream and whether I will be able to pacify him. And it looks like I can.

Good luck in your travels!

Baby packing list

What

Hand luggage

Comment

Clothes

take enough to last you until you get to the washing machine + one extra

outerwear

sleepsuits

yes

vests

swaddling blanket

muslins

yes

blanket

yes

socks

hat

nice outfits

swimsuit

Bum and skin care

nappies

yes

our baby goes through 5 in 24 hours, so I took 10 for 48 hours of travel + 5 extra in case of delays

wipes

yes

Sudocream

yes

Bepanthen

yes

sun protection cream

changing mat

yes

cotton buds

cotton wipes

Milk stuff

pump

not necessary, but in case you want to go out on your own and leave baby with your partner or babysitter

bottles with all the trimmings

see above

small steriliser

see above

breastfeeding cover

yes

Carriers

pram

Depending on the airport and pram size, most airlines will allow you to take pram to the gate or you may be able to borrow the airport pram

pram bag

We ended up not using ours

rain cover and sun umbrella for the pram

baby carrier

yes

car seat

Misc

dummy

yes

toys

yes

chocolate to give out on the plane

yes

we brought some chocolate to introduce ourselves to the neighbours and apologize in advance for the baby screaming. This went down well 🙂

Mummy

change of clothes for the plane for adults

yes

in case the baby vomits or poos on you

nipple cream

yes

breast pads

yes

vitamins

yes

Documents

passport

yes

birth certificate

yes

noone asked for it, but you may need it if you’re travelling without your partner or if you have different surnames

Medicines

thermometer

nail clipper

Calpol

saline drops for nose

mucus extractor

Before the baby comes, part two: baby cues and cries

When I was in my final weeks of pregnancy, one of my colleagues said: “Don’t prepare so much for the birth, prepare for what comes after. In the hospital you will have professionals looking after you, so you will get a lot of help. However, when you come home there will be noone to help you and no time to learn”. Good advice, but where to start?

I went on a bit of a binge reading exercise, gulping books about brain development and discipline, caring for a newborn and raising a bilingual child. However, initially, the thing that will be most helpful is to know why my baby cries (and how I calm him down). Deciphering the cues and cries is what my last 3 months were about.

First of all, this video about baby language has been immensely helpful. It is only 17 minutes long and it will save you a lot of guessing. It talks about five distinctive sounds all babies make in their first months of life (indicating that they are hungry, uncomfortable, sleepy, need a burp, or need to fart). Apparently, all babies make these sounds, it is based on reflexes.

THB-coverThen, if I were to recommend one and only one book for the first-time parent, it would be The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp. This book tells you what is happening with your baby for their first three months, so called “the fourth trimester”. The author argues that all babies are born 3 months prematurely because our heads are too big and we won’t be able to squeeze through the pelvis any later. So the baby is often overwhelmed by the outside world and cannot handle all the sounds, movement and interaction just yet. The best way to calm her down is to emulated the womb environment in the following five steps: swaddle her tightly to reduce movement, turn her on her side or stomach (lying on their back makes babies feel as if they are falling down and activates the Moro reflex), shush her as this resembles the sound of blood moving through the vessels, swing her as she was swung all the time in the womb, and finally, give her something to suck on.

This book is great in many ways. First, it gives you an idea of what may be happening with your baby. The advice is actionable and lets you move through a routine which will be great for the stressed and sleep-deprived state you will be in. Finally and most importantly, it gives dad something to do and be useful.

If you don’t have time to read the book, it is also available as a DVD.

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Before the baby comes, part one: prepare for breasfeeding

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You would think that breastfeeding is something that should happen easily and naturally. After all, if it didn’t, humanity would not have survived, right? However, out of all things that I had to master with my newborn it was the hardest one. I knew it would be from my girlfriends, so I prepared for it. I attended a breastfeeding course with NCT, I printed a couple of articles showing the right latch and breastfeeding positions, I watched a few videos, I learnt “nose to nipple, tummy to mummy” mantra. This was all very helpful, but still I did not prepare enough.

What else could I have done?

First of all, I should have gotten an email and a phone number of a breastfeeding consultant (or a few) that I could call straight away if I needed them. I hoped that my sister-in-law (who works as a lactation consultant in Australia) would be sufficient. She was very helpful to call in the middle of the night, but you need someone locally, in your home, the same very day because your baby is not getting any food! Ask friends for a recommendation beforehand, ask a birthing center, ask your parent education instructor. I got a consultant from NCT and not only she was good, but she also charged reasonable amount (£80 per session). If you just search on the internet you will end up paying £250 or more in an emergency.

Secondly, I should have taken notice of the “breastfeeding clinics” in my area. Luckily, my husband found one through NCT – at that point I wasn’t capable of searching the internet. These are usually weekly drop-in sessions where one can ask questions and get advice on correct latch, etc. You will probably end up going there a number of times at different stages (i.e. in the beginning to correct the painful latch, check for tongue-tie, when your baby loses that latch every other minute, when you need advice on how to introduce a bottle, etc). They are much cheaper (or free) than getting a breastfeeding consultant, but we couldn’t get to ours in week one, as we could barely leave the house – that’s why we needed the consultant to come to us.

Thirdly, I should have gotten a good breast pump in advance and tested it. I got one from a friend, but the suction on it wasn’t strong enough. I found this out from the midwife who came to visit, so I ended up buying a breastpump in a hurry. You can also rent one from NCT (they have industrial strength ones). I bought one for the both breasts because I realised after sitting awkwardly crouched for half an hour 8 times a day that it is worth paying more.

Finally, I should have gotten some formula, bottles, nipples and steriliser all set up and ready to go – just in case. And also found out how much formula to give to the newborn – see an example here. You know, I didn’t want any formula at home because I wanted to make every possible effort to breastfeed. I thought that by not having formula I would remove the “temptation” to just give the bottle and persevere in breastfeeding. I was afraid that once the baby gets the bottle he will never want to breastfeed (rubbish! I had to bottle feed in the first week until we both figured out how to latch – and now my baby is happily sucking from the breast). What I didn’t realise is that you cannot teach the baby to take the breast, they need to learn. And they cannot learn when they are screaming their lungs out. Luckily, I had some formula at home after one couple in our mums & babies group almost had to go to A&E on Sunday night. We had to rapidly sterilise the bottles and teach ourselves how much extracted milk and formula to give to the baby.

Looking back at our first week with a newborn, we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress. Our baby screamed a lot and we didn’t know why. I suspect it was hunger. Once we sorted out breastfeeding (in week 2) the loud screaming stopped. So next time instead of shushing and rocking I would try feeding first.

Resources about breastfeeding:

  • Kelly Mom – terrific resource on breastfeeding covering all sorts of topics like increasing milk supply, pumping, reflux, baby allergies (myths and truths), cluster feeding, etc

  • Australian Breastfeeding Association – has a lot of useful information, including videos

This post is part of “Before the baby comes” series:

Three things that made my life with a newborn much easier

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I am not going to write about obvious things that most new mums know they need, such as loving family, breastfeeding consultant and nappies. I am going to write about three things that I have discovered after my baby was born – and I’m very glad I did! This was a baby events tracking mobile app, next day delivery and baby hammock.

1. Baby events tracking – Baby Connect

Baby Connect is an app where you can record feeds, sleeps and nappy changes your baby has. It has many more functions, but these are the ones I ended up using most. It exists both on Android and iPhone and allows to sync between multiple caregivers. My husband can check during the day how we are both doing, he knows whether our son is due for a nappy change or whether his cry is a hungry one because he ate 3 hours ago. I also like to analyse the data and find some patterns. For instance, I discovered that my baby often goes 2 hour and 15 minutes between naps and the easiest time to put him to sleep is around this magic point. I can see that he is going through the growth spurt as the time of feeding increases. I can notice that I’m not feeding him enough from the right breast and rectify this.

2. Next day delivery – Amazon Prime

Full disclosure: I work for Amazon.

Amazon Prime is a service that for £49 a year offers the next day delivery all over UK on thousands of products listed on Amazon.co.uk. When you sign up for Amazon Family program you get three months trial of Prime for free.

I never thought that next day delivery was of value to me… until I got a screaming bundle that needs constant feeding and soothing. Breastpump? Yes – got it the next day. Running out of nappies? No problem, the delivery man knocks on my door the morning after. Forgot about a Christmas present? No need to rush to the shop. Incredibly convenient.

Watch out, it gets addictive!

3. Baby hammock – Poco baby

We got a Moses basket from our landlord and I wasn’t planning on getting anything else. I am an advocate of “less is more” and our London flat is small. But when you suddenly come home from the hospital and your newborn starts waking up every hour at night in his Moses basket… I was ready to do anything to get some extra sleep.

I know that retailers love new mums – and now I know why: your decision-making becomes incredibly quick. I searched for NHS cribs we had in St Mary’s hospital – the ones that rock when the baby moves and automatically soothe them. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I then looked for cribs that would swing back to front – and didn’t find any in the UK. There are plenty of them in Russia (where I am originally from), but surprisingly none here. And then I came across baby hammocks. There are a few brands I found in the UK, namely: Amby baby, Poco baby and Amazonas Kangoo. They all rocked from back to front and side to side.

I did quite a bit of reading on mumsnet (e.g. here and here) and other resources to see if the hammocks are safe and whether they actually work. There were a couple of SIDS reported in the US for Amby Baby hammock, but upon further investigation, the reason was that the hammocks hadn’t been used properly. Also, babies die of SIDS in their cribs too.

I asked an osteopath and an orthopedic surgeon whether it’s OK for babies to sleep in a hammock. They shrugged. They haven’t had patients with back problems due to sleeping in a hammock (too small a sample?). Though the orthopedic surgeon – my brother in law – have seen a lot of babies with hip dysplasia from incorrect swaddling – never swaddle your baby legs straight!

In some countries of South America and South East Asia generations of babies slept in hammocks. And the reviews from parents who bought hammocks were all very positive. Having weighed all pros and cons, I decided it will be OK.

I wanted to get an Amby baby hammock (out of three brands they have the best marketing), but unfortunately their only UK distributor was out of stock and was awaiting a shipment in a month’s time. So I ended up with a Poco baby hammock. I bought it from Kiddicare because they had the next day (free) delivery – yes, I know, next day delivery again!

Three months in, I am very happy with the hammock. The rocking added an hour to our son’s sleep straight away (we swaddle him as well). It fits nicely next to our bed. It is easy to store when we stop using it and it is easy take with us on a weekend break.