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Counting Sheep

I remember the sheer bewilderment we felt the first night we were home from the hospital with our daughter. We were all a bit traumatised from her entrance into the world and it perhaps didn’t help matters that we got home around 10.30 at night. At that point, due to my random superstitions and paranoia, we still had to put a sheet in the crib and work out how the bottle steriliser worked.

Do you remember the first time?

The calm before the veritable storm

The calm before the veritable storm

On arriving home, we placed our daughter in her car seat on the sofa. At the opposite end sat the cat who, along with the rest of us, had little idea of the impending crisis about to hit us all. What the hell were we supposed to do with our little bundle of joy??

That was the calm before the storm. Then the crying began. Me and her.

We tried putting her in her crib. She cried. We tried holding her and cuddling her. She cried. We tried feeding her. She drank a bit. And then she cried.

“Well, she was quiet in her car seat – let’s put her back in that.”

The car seat was placed carefully on our bed and our daughter was put in safely and securely and we rocked the car seat. She cried. We got her out of the car seat. And still she cried. It was getting towards 4 o’clock in the morning and none of us had slept for the preceding 72 hours.

“What was that sheep thing you got at that baby show thing you went to?” asked my husband.

Gingerly, I stood up (as I did most things gingerly for the first few weeks) and rifled through the wardrobe full of things I’d bought during pregnancy, not really knowing what would be useful and what would be a waste of money. And there I found Ewan; still in his packaging – luckily with batteries in him.

We pressed one of his legs (I forget which one) and through the calming tones of the sound of rain we heard it for the first time. Silence. Contentment on our daughter’s part. We’d calmed her!!

I can’t remember a worst time

Ewan the Dream Sheep

Calming the storm

OK, so I’m not sure how much credit we can take for it, but from that first night, Ewan the Dream Sheep became a stalwart of our nightly routine. He’s also played a part at nap times, not to mention he became a sleep aid to my husband and I when we were sleeping in shifts, desperately trying to catch 40 winks in the day time so we could cope with the night times!

On the outside, Ewan the Dream Sheep doesn’t look that special. He’s got a quirky face, he’s soft and cuddly and he glows. So what – so do many other cuddly toys for babies.

What makes Ewan the Dream Sheep a special is that, when pressed, each of his legs plays calming and soothing sounds which are perfect for a baby.  One is a lullaby, whilst the other three play soothing white noise sounds of the hoover, rain or womb sounds.  I know there are various apps you can buy for far cheaper that play similar things, but aside from the fact they’re not as cute as Ewan the Dream Sheep, you’re then left without your phone, iPad or other device whilst your baby sleeps!

ewan-the-dream-sheep

Peace at last!

Don’t you know that we’ve changed so much since then, oh yeah, we’ve grown

As our daughter now nears one year old, I’m more than aware there are various schools of thought on sleep cues. Indeed, I wondered for a time whether our potential overuse of  Ewan the Dream Sheep had meant she couldn’t settle herself to sleep without him.  But I’m happy to say that not only is Ewan now played with during the day as a teddy, she can sleep without him if needs be, but does still enjoy his gentle harp lullaby each night whilst she’s crawling round the cot having a quick adventure before bed!

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Why Breast Wasn’t Best for Me

It’s a decision I made fairly early on in pregnancy and one that I’ve been questioned on a significant amount since. Right from the get go, I knew I didn’t want to breastfeed my baby.

I have never questioned whether breastfeeding is the best thing for babies. I believe in all the health benefits for both mother and baby. I know it would have saved us a significant amount of money too, but I just didn’t want to breastfeed.

Having thought about it many times since having our daughter, I think there are a number of reasons which led to my decision.

She’s lost Control

Why Breast wasnt Best for me

Plenty of photos of feeding in the early days

I think the biggest factor in my decision was the lack of control. I think there is a lot of pressure put on women at the moment to be the perfect Earth Mother and some people just don’t subscribe to the philosophy. I wanted to know how much my baby had had to eat and when she might want more. Don’t get me wrong – on arrival she had an insatiable appetite like most babies, so we were constantly feeding her, but at least we knew what she’d had and when. We even kept a notebook.

When people see new mothers bottle-feeding a newborn baby, some also judge them. Many’s the time I felt the sympathetic glances of those who may have felt that by bottle-feeding I must have failed at breastfeeding and had to resort to using a bottle. Many is also the time I almost wanted to shout from the rooftops that it was my choice to bottle feed!

A Fear of Failure

The greatest myth out there about breastfeeding seems to be that everyone can do it. Having seen (or heard about a few weeks down the line) a lot of my friends struggle to establish and maintain breastfeeding for weeks after birth, I don’t subscribe to that philosophy. I had no intention of setting myself up to potentially fail that early on in motherhood when I knew there would be plenty of opportunity for that further down the line.

I also knew from the get-go that I had absolutely no intention of resembling a dairy cow and attaching myself to anything electronic or hand-powered and milking myself. All at a time when, pregnancy love-in hormones or not, I knew I was going to be overwhelmed by the task at hand of rearing my own little calf.

Getting them out in public

Whilst I am no Jordan or Dolly, I’m certainly no Kate Moss (in more ways than one) and I do believe that plays a part in those who are successful in breastfeeding and feel confident to do so in public. I for one, wouldn’t have felt confident and probably would have bought any number of the breastfeeding modesty products on the market to try and hide my insecurities (and my boobs).

Nine Looooong Months

41 weeks is a long time. I know, because with no job for 39 weeks of my pregnancy I practically counted down every second of it. Once done with labour and birth, obviously my life would just get back to normal, but with the addition of a very little person in it, and as such I also wanted my body back for me. The thought of giving part of it over to said very little person for another six to nine months (or longer if Little Britain is to be believed) frankly filled me with dread. I wanted to know that I could put my old bras back on (eventually) and get back to being me.

Many people have been shocked and almost saddened when I’ve been quite open about my decision. In the early days of pregnancy my partner tried to convince me it was a good idea, but then it wasn’t going to be him who had to do it! I remember the hushed silence of the course leader and the other couples at our ante-natal classes when the question ‘So, is everyone planning to breastfeed?’ was asked and I said that I wasn’t. Half an hour of the course then ensued on all the benefits of breastfeeding which left me a bit numb.

After All

Why Breast wasnt Best for me

The early days of a feeding frenzy

All of this is not to say I didn’t try. Very shortly after the birth of my daughter I conquered my fears and put her to my breast to see what happened. I endured everything that I didn’t want in terms of it suddenly being perfectly acceptable for foreign hands to be grabbing my boobs and pulling, pushing and squeezing them towards this expectant little mouth.  My husband also got his hand in there too. Perhaps not so foreign, but still as unwelcome at that moment. Whether she got any colostrum or not is beyond me as I may have been there in body but certainly not in mind. It was hardly the beautiful bonding experience described and experienced by many.

In the end it was my body, and not my mind, which let me down. The traumas of labour and birth (one for another time) meant my milk didn’t come in for a week anyway, by which time, our little girl with the insatiable appetite would have been a bit peckish. I have to say the lovely midwives at our hospital were extremely supportive in helping us bottle-feed and I didn’t experience any of the patronising, dismissive treatment I was led to believe would be coming our way.

Don’t get me wrong. I have so much admiration for those who do breastfeed. In all likelihood because they conquered something I didn’t even truly attempt to – my own fears. Whether our daughter has suffered any detrimental side effects of my fears and anxieties about what should apparently be the most natural thing in the world, we’ll have to wait and see. But at the moment, she seems happy, healthy, not too fat and not too thin (but quite exceptionally tall), so who knows?

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Rockin’ in a Shy Way

3 x Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star, 2 x Oranges & Lemons, 1 x Baa Baa Black Sheep, 1 x Beautiful Dreamer, 1 x classical ditty from a bank advert in the ’90s…just some of the plinky-plonky lullaby tunes so far endured in trying to get our little one off to sleep in the past few months. Oh, and I forgot – a few versions of ‘Rockabye Baby’. But not on a tree top….!

The cradle will rock

lullaby-renditions-of-the-cureNope – the Rockabye Baby I refer to is soothing music at its best.  It’ll rock your baby to sleep whilst keeping you entertained with humming along to the songs you know and love – albeit, they might sound a little bit different.  What Rockabye Baby does is transform rock favourites into instrumental lullabies.  Guitars and drums are traded for Xylophones and bells.  And they’ve been a sanity saver! Whether you prefer the more classic rock titles from Queen, or the poptastic Madonna, there’s something to keep everyone entertained.  And it’s educational for babies too!

Boys Don’t Cry

Well, baby boys probably do.  But here are some of our favourites from Practical Baby Gifts.

Heaven knows I’m miserable now

Lullaby Renditions of The Smiths

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

When I’ve mentioned Lullaby Renditions of The Smiths to friends, many have suggested it might be a bit too depressing for a baby!  But what can be more entertaining whilst getting increasibly frustrated with a non-sleeping baby, than hearing (in your head) Morrissey lament Thatcher’s Britain through the medium of harp music?!

Tonight, Tonight

If today is the greatest day you’ve ever known and tomorrow’s much too long, then the Lullaby Renditions of Smashing Pumpkins is for you.  This is a definite treat to the ears and number one on my list of practical baby gifts for a few friends…they’ll just need to actually have a baby first!  (When they’re ready of course!).

Enjoy the Silence

If you just can’t get enough of Depeche Mode, this one’s for you!  We tested (possibly) one of DM;s biggest fans recently with tasters of the Lullaby Renditions of Depeche Mode and can attest to their authenticity!  I think the score was seven out of eight!

In Bloom

Or for the friend in your life who’s In Bloom, but still prone to reliving her grunge-youth, there’s always Lullaby Renditions of Nirvana.  Whilst we can’t promise it comes packaged in a Heart Shaped Box, the CD does offer very faithful renditions of Kurt et al’s best work.

Not yet in production, but here's hoping - Lullaby Renditions of The Doors

Not yet in production, but here’s hoping – Lullaby Renditions of The Doors

The time to hesitate is through

i could go on….and I think you’ll guess from the selection of Rockabye Baby Lullaby Renditions CDs we’ve chosen so far, our grunge and Britpop leanings have slightly tainted our decisions!

And then there are the titles Rockabye Baby are yet to turn into Lullaby Renditions!  Whilst the vaguely ‘cool’ part of me is leaning towards the production of a Lullaby Renditions of The Doors, there’s a large part of me hankering for lullaby versions of Belinda Carlisle!

What do you think?  Aside from the artists already given the Rockabye Baby treatment – who would you like your little ones to drop off to?

If you’re looking for something a little bit different to give as a baby gift – look no further! than http://www.practicalbabygifts.com/sleep-time/soothing-music

Or view our whole range of Practical Baby Gifts at practicalbabygifts.com

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The Practical Gift of Knowledge

When starting out on the epic journey of parenthood, soon-to-be mums and dads try to prepare themselves in various ways.  Advice from friends and family is complemented by reading books, blogs and magazines.  Then there’s always Dr. Google who can provide practical help, advice and reassurance  (and downright panic) at the touch of a few buttons.  Alongside this, many expectant parents still sign up for good, old fashioned antenatal classes.

Pregnant and clueless

Pregnant and clueless

But is the information provided by these methods, including antenatal classes, really focused on equipping new parents with the skills and knowledge they’ll actually need?

Knowing me, Knowing you

I’ll be honest and admit that the main reason I signed us up for antenatal classes last year was to meet other local people having babies around the same time.  Pure and simple.  That’s not to say we didn’t already have a wealth of friends who had recently had babies who were poised and ready with all kinds of advice as well as many lovely hand-me downs.

We decided against the ‘local’ NCT classes, as they were held not-so-locally on the other side of the city.  Instead we plugged for those part-subsidised by our local Children’s Centre,  run by BirthPrep. (The one positive contribution our Children’s Centre has made to our daughter, but that’s for another time.)

If you don’t know me by now

I’ll admit my expectations of the classes were heavily influenced by too many TV programmes.  I was anticipating several evenings sitting on the floor, supported by my husband, practicing breathing techniques in a room full of other couples whilst being shown how a baby doll makes its way out of a knitted cervix. However, it seems things have moved on somewhat, and instead we sat around talking frankly about the process of labour and birth – on chairs – like the adults we were truly about to become.

Antenatal classes - the practical gift of knowledge

Sitting on chairs and not a knitted cervix in sight!

We were lucky enough to be ‘dropping’ around the same time as five lovely couples.  All were similarly minded and with great senses of humour that got us through even the darkest moments of discussing labour and birth.  But there’s the rub, really.  Out of the three three hour sessions, two were focussed on labour and birth and only one on the next 365+ days of caring for a baby, primarily covering feeding and bathing.

When every book on the subject confirms that each and every labour and birth is different – what’s the point of focussing so much time on something that is so far out of anyone’s control?

Now, that’s not to say that the Midwife-led approach to the BirthPrep classes should or could have been any different.  And that’s also not to take anything away from the wonderful help, assistance, advice and general goodnature of the lovely Cathy who took our classes.  But I can’t help thinking that more practical advice about the early days with a newborn would really help new parents, not to mention the poor, helpless baby depending on two clueless adults who should at least know the basics!

This time I know it’s for real

Antenatal classes - WTF?

Antenatal classes – WTF?

On being handed our little bundle of joy, I think I was awash with about 5% instinct and 95% blind panic!  The midwives in the hospital were amazing in helping and offering advice and assistance, but I felt completely under-prepared for the task ahead of us.  Advice on how to wind a baby, what to do when you’re left alone in the hospital with your new baby for the first time, when and if to use a dummy, what to do when you first bring the baby home and tried and tested plans for coping with newborn sleep deprivation might have been useful.

However, I suppose in many ways, the course we went on, did offer us this help and advice in the long run.  Largely through meeting up regularly with the lovely ladies from our antenatal classes, we have all shared experiences, tips and advice over the ensuing months.  We’ve laughed.  We’ve cried (largely with laughter). We’ve shared baby sick, nappy changes and weaning adventures. We’ve eaten a hell of a lot of cake and drunk an obscene amount of caffeine.  We’re even planning on drinking something a bit more grown-up soon!

What do you think?  Did your antenatal classes adequately equip you for the challenges ahead ?  Where else did you get help and information from?  What was the best advice you were given?

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To sleep, perchance to dream?

To quote The Smiths rather than more Shakespeare: I ‘haven’t had a dream in a long time’.  Largely because the erratic night time sleeping patterns of a certain little lady aren’t really allowing me to enter that deepest stage of sleep required to do so.

I don’t know what we’ve done wrong.  From six weeks until about seven months we had the dream child.  We could pretty much count on an unbroken stretch of eight hours’ sleep each night.  Things were rosy.  We felt human.  Things got done around the house. A website even got launched.

She slept once!

She slept once!

There is a light that never goes out

Then what happened?  I’m not really sure.  There was a cold in there somewhere which didn’t help matters.  The clocks changed.  Also, she became generally more aware of her surroundings (meaning a terrible weekend’s sleep for one and all at Easter when we went away). She began waking up a few times in the night and needing comforting back to sleep.

Then, around six weeks ago, she decided instead to wake up anywhere between 3.00am and 5.00am and take at least two hours to get back to sleep, completely messing up any semblance of normality in the day, let alone a blessed routine!

Meat is Murder

I spoke to our local health professional who said upping her snacks could help.  Poor child – I think she thinks I’m constantly stuffing her full of food, and whilst she’s not aware of the analogy, I can’t help thinking of the ‘gluttony’ part of the film Se7en. Anyway, three days on and a pot belly later, she’s still waking up.

On Sunday came the crunch-point.  A two hour session of getting up to try and get her back to sleep between 4.00 and 6.00 was the last straw.  Action had to be taken.  My husband and I had to actually discuss the problem at a time other than the wee small hours of the morning (not really a great time to discuss anything).

There’s more to life than books you know, but not much more

On Monday, having emptied our local library of anything with the words ‘baby’ and / or ‘sleep’ in the title (including one about 3-8 year olds – that’s how tired I was) I read up while she happily amused herself bashing some stacking cups together.  It turns out we have created far too many ‘sleep cues’ that she now needs to get back to sleep and she needs to learn to self-settle again.  (presumably she could do this between six weeks and seven months of age!).

Sing me to sleep

The books also suggested the controversial method of controlled crying or letting her ‘cry it out’. This is something that my head tells me is a great idea, but my heart really struggled with.  Every ounce of me wants to hug and comfort her whenever she’s upset or distressed.  But no, I had to be strong.

Except here’s the clincher.  She doesn’t wake up crying! She wakes up in the night wide awake and ready to play.  She sings.  She rolls.  She practices crawling.  She plays a merry tune on the bars of her cot.  And generally she has a lark!  It’s usually around 40 minutes to an hour of this before she even starts with crying which we can allegedly then ‘control’.  All this makes for two very sleepy parents, only one of whom can have the odd daytime nap to try and catch up!

We’re now on day three of no sleep cues and controlled crying.  Last night she didn’t even cry but self settled, albeit she was awake twice (I blame the rain for the first time.  It woke me up!). We shall see what happens on night time number three tonight.  Watch this space!

So please, please, please, let me get what I want – sleep.  Lord knows it would be the first time…..in a long time.

Do you have any suggestions that have helped get your children to sleep better?  What sleep cues do you use or have you had to abandon?

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Baby Driver

And once upon a pair of wheels…

I’m sure Paul and Art didn’t have pram-pushing in mind when they wrote their song, but it keeps popping into my head recently, as I’ve observed a weird phenomenon.  Those who walk quickly without a pram go very slowly when pushing one, and those who normally walk quite slowly anyway go EVEN SLOWER!  On the other hand, for me personally, pushing a pram is about the only thing that seems to quicken my pace!

Speedy or slow - pram pushing in Knaresborough

Speedy or slow – pram pushing in Knaresborough

Hit the road and I’m gone!

I’m not normally known for my speedy walking pace (or any sort of haste really), but give me a pram to push, and I’m off!  Speeding down the pavement, running over dogs, bashing up and down curbs and through shop doorways.  I’m considering getting my little one a Formula One style neck support just in case her neck starts to suffer from the G force!

OK, so I exaggerate slightly. But the other side of the coin, is those who go on a complete go-slow once they’ve got a pram to push.  When out shopping the other day with my better half, I felt I had to say something after my heels and ankles were aching from the exceedingly slow pace we were walking at, as he was pushing the pram.  It’s normally a case of me practically trotting alongside him trying to keep up, but no, give him a pram to push, and we’re overtaken by octogenarians.

(N.B. he claimed he was just sticking to my ‘browsing’ pace, but it was definitely a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other.)

The Little Old Lady from Pasadena (Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny Go)

Then there’s grandparents.  (And apologies here.) Both our little one’s grandmas seem to walk at a snail’s pace once in charge of the pram.  To the point where, again, the ankles and heels are aching and you never quite get anywhere!  It took an hour recently to do a circuit round our town that takes me 20 minutes.

I think it stems from the nurturing instinct (so what does that say about my pace?) and the fact that they don’t wish to wake a sleeping baby.  But then there’ll be the inevitable curb that isn’t dropped or the pram will get lodged in a pot hole somewhere and the baby will wake up with quite a start!

Staying asleep despite the speed!

Staying asleep despite the speed!

Scoot down the road – what’s my number?

And then there’s Grandpa.  He likes to go very fast.  In the early weeks after the birth when I was more than a little slow on my pins, Grandpa had control of the buggy and I thought we would never see our new addition again!  And he definitely ‘drives’ the pushchair rather than pushes it.  I’ve never seen it corner quite like when Grandpa is in charge!

I wonder how your engines feel

And when I am out and about on my own, I of course have become ‘one of those mums’ who thinks she has a God-given right to the pavement.  Why should I go round those without a pram / wheelchair / mobility scooter, when they’re far better able to meander if required?!

But then there’s the camaraderie of the pram-pushing sorority, which I truly love.  That knowing smile shared when one of you is waiting for the other to pass on a tight bend.  Or the mutual admiration with a fleeting glance at each other’s baby. Or the guilty internal grin you give yourself when her under-eye-bags are larger and deeper than your own.  It’s a whole new world.  And I’m speeding through it.

What have you noticed when out and about with a pram? Any strange speeding phenomena? (or lack of?)

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Our Guide to Buying Baby Gifts

The Practical Baby Gifts Guide to Buying Baby Gifts

When buying for a new parent or baby it’s easy to be overwhelmed.  We’re all guilty of choosing something that’s pretty over something that’s practical, and with so much choice out there, it’s easy to get carried away.  Here at Practical Baby Gifts, we’d like to share a few observations that may help you when trying to find the perfect baby gift for your loved ones.

Practically perfect in every way!

Practically perfect in every way!

Parents are still people too

Contrary to what some people think, ‘new mum’ didn’t have a lobotomy nine months ago and lose all her personality and style preferences.  If you’ve never seen the new mum you’re buying for wearing pink, chances are she’ll have strong views about not dressing her little darling in shades of pastel pink.  The same goes for nursery accessories.  Similarly, some new parents want to express themselves and their clothing tastes through their little ones.  With the increased availability of mini band and film t-shirts, it’s more and more likely a mini Blur t-shirt will be better received than a ‘Daddy loves me’ t-shirt.

Buying clothes is a minefield

Buying clothes for a new baby can be tricky.  If you’re buying before the baby’s born, you don’t know what size it will be.  I’ve had friends with babies ranging from 4lbs to 12lbs, meaning it can be months before even newborn sized clothes come into use, or they may never be used at all.  With clothes, at best, they’re going to get 6-12 weeks’ wear.  With so many other people likely to buy  clothes as well, the new parents will have such a range that they won’t have chance to dress the baby in half the outfits they receive – meaning that what time they don’t spend washing the clothes, they spend feeling guilty for not getting much wear out of the baby clothes.

Toys and other accessories have a longer shelf-life

Most toys, whether soft toys, hanging toys, teethers or rattles, have a far longer shelf-life than clothes.  If you buy clothes, chances are you won’t see the baby in them anyway, but you’re far more likely to see them using and enjoying a toy for six months to a year and maybe beyond.

Other useful items such as towels, muslin cloths and sleeping bags will be used time and time again, and will be remembered as far more practical gifts from new parents.

Don’t expect ‘Thank You’ cards for at least three months

In fact don’t expect ‘Thank You’ cards at all.  People show gratitude in many ways, and a heartfelt Thank You at the time of giving and receiving the gift should be enough to show you it’s appreciated.  Many new parents don’t have the time, inclination or indeed money to spend on writing Thank You cards, but that doesn’t mean they don’t love and appreciate your gift.  Personally it means far more to see a baby using a present months on, or to have the parents comment about how ‘so-and-so loves the present you bought him’ six months later, than a Thank You card I’ve long since discarded.

If the new mum is Wonder Woman and manages to arrange buying cards or ordering personalised cards, then it’s a bonus.  It’s even more of a bonus if you receive one within three or four months of the baby being born.  Before that time, she’ll have been lucky to have five minutes to herself when she’s not feeding, bathing, washing or generally recovering!

Mums need to feel special too…

I’m not saying it’s not lovely to receive lots of pretty and practical gifts for a new baby.  But equally, mums need to feel special too.  She’s just been through a hell of an ordeal.  Whether the birth was straightforward or otherwise – it was a complete bodyshock.  Take some flowers (preferably already in a vase) or just some cake and sandwiches, as chances are food for herself is the last thing on her mind!  If you want to treat Mum, consider something practical like a new changing bag or something that she’s likely to use time and time again that will make her feel special and treated.

…As do Dads!

Whether it’s taking Dad for a pint, or taking him some chocolate round for energy, don’t forget New Dad either!

What have you experienced when you’ve given a new baby gift, or received one?

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