Sensory Learning Experiment #3: Jelly!

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So it seems that a one-and-a-bit-year-old is still too young to enjoy sitting for any length of time to create works of art:

I give Lucy colouring pens and paper and her dad arrives home from work perplexed as to how his baby girl managed to grow a green moustache in the few hours he was away.

A bucket of large chalk pieces and an even larger piece of paper stuck on the floor? All that remains at the end of the (short) session is a blank page and some very chalky leggings.

“Stickers!” I think, in a light bulb moment while browsing the aisles of the Reject Store for inspiration, only to find that stickers lead to tears when rationed out. My little one just doesn’t understand why mummy only lets her have a few instead of the whole sheet in one sitting.

Back to the sensory learning drawing board, then.

And this time I found a WINNER!

Now this activity takes a bit of prep, a bit of setting up, a bit of forethought, and a whole lot’ve cleaning up afterwards. But I do think it’s worth the effort and you and your bub can have a memorable (for all the right reasons) time together as you grab, squish, smell, taste, discuss, smear and spread jelly all over the floor/yourself/the dog etc

The concept is a simple one: make up some batches of jelly, each a different colour and scent, then allow your baby to play with it!

You can execute this in different ways but I’ll show you how I did it:

 

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I know my child’s capacity to eat large volumes of anything delicious so rather than use premixed box jelly which would be too enticing, I mixed gelatine and water, added food colouring and then mint leaves, apple juice, and vanilla essence respectively to give the three batches a pleasant scent rather than flavour. I made up the jelly in baking trays and a muffin tin the night before and set it overnight in the fridge.

 

 

 

 

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We have a lovely large space on the kitchen floor so I stuck down a cheap plastic tablecloth (also from the Reject Store), using masking tape. The floor surface is polished concrete so it’s super easy to clean up afterwards. You may prefer to do this outside on the grass or the deck, or even in the bath.

 

 

 

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I stripped Lucy down to just her nappy to avoid any stains. To start off, I gave her just one of the trays of jelly to gauge how she was going to respond to the activity. If her attention span was going to be short-lived, I would rather hold on to the other two batches and try again on another day.

 

 

 

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It turns out she was ENTHRALLED! As you can see, she wasn’t content to simply squish it in her hands – she wanted to bathe in the stuff!

 

 

 

 

 

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So I brought out the other two batches of jelly and let the fun continue. She had a go at tasting it but – as per the plan –  didn’t find it terribly appetizing and reverted to playing with it rather than eating it.

 

 

 

 

20141104_095149We managed to get in a good half an hour of  gleeful, gooey, gelatinous fun, which – if you are familiar with the attention span on one-year-old’s – is pretty darn good going! I then bundled Lucy up in a (dark-coloured) towel and took her straight to the bath to give her a good scrub down. She loves a soak in the tub so this segment of the activity was enjoyed as much as the former, especially since she got to splash about in purply-browny-tinted water! Once she was dressed I bundled up the plastic tablecloth from the kitchen and threw that into the bath and this again proved enjoyable as the water now really turned an interesting shade of something sinister.

 

 

The highlight of all this came some time later when I messaged my family with pics of the jelly experiment and my mum replied, “I’m sure Jackson Pollock must have had a mother like you, Jen!”

Once Wikipedia had solved the small problem of who on earth this man was (go on, get your Google on…) and that my mum was handing me high praise (if you’re into abstract expressionism), it struck me that maybe I do have a little artist on my hands, she just likes to get her whole body involved when creating her masterpieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flying alone with a baby: survival tips and tricks

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The idea of flying solo with my busy fourteen-month-old from Perth, Australia to Durban, South Africa terrified me! I sought counsel from friends and family who’d ever traveled with a baby and filled in the gaps using blog posts and forums for any and every piece of advice that would increase my chances of a pleasant journey.

We are now back from our fantastic three weeks visiting my family and the flights went as well as they possibly could have. Below are the tips and tricks that helped me and I hope they can be useful to others about to embark on long-haul flights alone with a baby!

WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR CARRY-ON LUGGAGE:

  • Try keep your carry-on luggage to just one bag. A back-pack is the most practical rather than a handbag or nappy bag. This way you can sling it over both shoulders and carry it comfortably, leaving both hands free to carry baby, sort out passports etc. It also has useful compartments for storing the various bits and pieces you’ll have with you.
  • Place nappies, wipes & nappy disposal bags in a smaller bag within the backpack. When you need to change your baby’s nappy on the plane, you can just take this along with you to the tiny toilet cubicle rather than lugging a bulky bag and having to rummage through it to find your supplies. (For nappy disposal, the air hostess I spoke to said I should just place dirty nappies in the normal waste disposal bin in the toilet cubicle)
  • The same principal applies to the snacks you’re planning on taking with you: gather them up in a snack bag to make them easy to locate when your bub is tired and grumpy and you need a distraction fast! (I bought a Nude Food Movers coolskin from Woolworths, Australia and it was the perfect size with flexible material for fitting into a backpack)
  • Dummies are very useful for take-off and landing so that your baby’s ears don’t get sore. If your baby doesn’t usually have a dummy, you can either breastfeed him during these times or give him a bottle to suck. It’s a good idea to use a dummy strap to prevent it falling down and getting dirty or lost on the plane.
  • Take books to read to your baby for long waits at the airport terminal or in-flight. Don’t take too many as your baby will probably be more taken with the in-flight magazine anyway!
  • A small torch is handy for locating lost items under aeroplane seats.
  • If you have a phone with the flight mode function, you will be able to use it for entertainment for your baby while in the air. There are loads of baby-specific apps that you can download ahead of time.
  • If you are planning on using your phone as entertainment, there is the risk of running your battery down and not being able to use it when you arrive at your destination. You can solve this problem with a portable power bank, such as the ones from Juice Up. I bought mine from Dick Smith for $25.
  • Buy one or two small and inexpensive gifts to wrap up for your baby and give them to her on the trip. My baby loves necklaces and accessories so I bought bead necklaces from a kids’ accessory shop. They were an absolute hit! She wore and played with them not just on the plane but every day of the holiday too! Best three bucks I’ve ever spent…
  • A lightweight blanket is handy to have with you, not so much for on the plane – the air-hostesses will provide you with blankets – but it can be used to shield a sleeping baby from glaring lights or keep them snug while you’re walking about airports.
  • Pack a change of clothes for your baby in case of a spill or leaky nappy or a messy meal.
  • Antibacterial wipes can be used for cleaning your baby’s hands or wiping down trays before a meal. Airports and aeroplanes harbour germs from around the world and the last thing you want is your baby picking up some nasty virus to spoil your holiday.
  • Pack some snacks for you, too. You will find it very difficult to enjoy a proper meal on the plane so take snacks along for yourself to avoid running low on energy in transit.
  • To help your baby sleep comfortably while on your lap, you could purchase a travel mattress from SkyBaby. You may find, though, that trying to assemble it and get your baby into it all on your own may be too much of a challenge. They can be quite fiddly with only one set of hands. I went without one and my baby was able to sleep just fine.
  • You’re unlikely to get a chance to brush your teeth so pack some good quality gum to chew on when you need to freshen up.
  • Have a pen with you for filling in the arrival and departure cards.
  • Place all passports and travel documents in one folder or plastic sleeve for easy access. It is advisable to get your partner to write a letter giving permission for you to travel alone with your baby, and take along copies of your baby’s full, unabridged birth certificate and your marriage certificate if applicable.
  • Pack pain medication for both you and your baby in case of a pesky headache or fever en route. Dymadon for babies is a good option as it is pleasant tasting so shouldn’t be met with much resistance.
  • If you are worried that your baby will become anxious and inconsolable, take along some Rescue Remedy for kids to help soothe them naturally rather than use harsher drugs.

OTHER TIPS AND TRICKS:

  • Night flights will be easiest for you as there’s a better chance that your baby will sleep for much of the journey. Trying to keep your baby entertained for hours during a day flight will be exhausting for you and your fellow passengers.
  • If you can afford to buy a seat for your baby, there is the option of taking your car seat along and strapping your baby into it on the plane. This could help settle your baby and get them to sleep comfortably for longer. Confirm with your airline that they allow this.
  • An overtired baby is never a good thing: make sure your baby has kept to his usual nap times before you fly and is as well rested as possible. For my midnight flight, I put Lucy down to sleep at her usual bedtime then woke her up after two hours to head to the airport. This meant she was rested enough to stay reasonably cheerful during the check in and boarding process.
  • When you book your flight, be sure to request a meal for your baby. Don’t assume the airline will provide one unless you’ve asked for it.
  • Eating your own meal on the flight may prove impossible as your baby will probably want to make a grab at everything on the tray. It might be less stressful for you to just decline the meals and eat at the airport before you fly and survive on snacks during the flight.
  • Consider checking yourself in to one of the airport lounges while you wait for your flight. They are quieter, more comfortable spaces to try settle your baby and get them to nap if needed before the trip. They have nicer baby changing facilities and should have snacks available for you. You’ll have to do your research beforehand to see if the airports you’ll be in have such a service available. At Perth airport, the lounges are only available to members or passengers of certain airlines but at Johannesburg airport they allow any passengers to use the lounges for a fee.
  • Once you have finally boarded the plane, you will probably have at least two more hours of bright lights, noise and activity before your baby can drift off to sleep in a dark cabin. Even on midnight flights you will be served supper and drinks. This is another good reason to make sure your baby isn’t over-tired before you fly.
  • The chances of you getting any sleep while in the air are slim to none. Try to have a nap yourself before you leave for the airport.
  • When you check in, ask if it’s possible to book a seat with a spare seat next to it. At least this will allow you some extra space either to have your bag right next to you or for your wriggly baby to crawl and stand a bit on the flight.
  • If you have requested a bassinet, there is no guarantee that you will get one. They are assigned to the youngest babies plus there are weight and height restrictions and your baby may prove too big for it.
  • When you board, ask one of the hostesses to show you which toilet cubicle is equipped with a change table as not all of them are.
  • Some airlines do not allow breastfeeding on takeoff and landing. If you’re willing to risk it, you can probably still sneak it in once the cabin staff are seated and no longer walking around checking. (If you look at the brace position they advise you to adopt when holding a baby, it’s actually very similar to the breastfeeding cradle hold.
  • If you are planning on breastfeeding during the flight, you may want to request a bigger pillow from business class to help you support your baby comfortably. Be aware that the seats are very narrow, which make breastfeeding a challenge unless you’ve got a spare seat next to you.
  • Anticipate that you will be very uncomfortable on the flight. When you baby falls asleep on your lap, you won’t want to move in case you wake her.
  • The hours of discomfort while your baby sleeps on you can be made more bearable by watching movies or listening to music. Plan ahead for this by getting the headsets plugged in and ready for use so that you can get them on without moving around too much and waking up your baby.
  • Going to the toilet is going to be a challenge for you at all stages of the journey! At airports, look for the disabled toilets as they are bigger and can accommodate a pram. If there is no sweet person who offers to hold your baby so you can go to the loo during the flight, I can confirm that it is possible to seat your baby on your knee while in the toilet cubicle!! It’s not ideal but if you are desperate, it can be done!
  • Some airports will have loan prams available for use but you may prefer to take along your own pram rather than risk having to carry your baby around for long periods of time. It also means that you will have it with you to use on your holiday. You should be able to take the pram right up to the door of the plane but check with the airline you’re using whether this is the case.
  • If you’d rather not take a pram, consider taking a sling for carrying your baby around the airport, if your baby is not too heavy.
  • If you are going through passport control, there may be quite a long wait before you can collect your pram and other luggage. Try to find a loan pram to use in the interim so you’re not having to carry your baby all this time.
  • When you collect your luggage off the carousel, you may find that your pram is not with it. Have a look at the collection point for unusual or outsize items which will be located in the vicinity of the baggage carousels and you should find it there.
  • You won’t be able to push a pram and a trolley. Neither will you be able to put your baby in the trolley – they’re not equipped for babies like the shopping trolleys you’re used to. I used a suitcase with wheels for my luggage then a duffle bag for Lucy. At the airport, I placed the duffle bag on top of the suitcase and secured it by putting the straps over the suitcase handle so I could wheel it around with one hand while pushing the pram with the other hand. It’s not easy going but I have proved it is possible! If this sounds too difficult, there are probably ways of getting assistance or a porter at the airport.
  • If you have crossed time zones, both you and your baby are likely to suffer from jet lag and the resulting disrupted sleep. The rough guideline is one night of disrupted sleep per time zone crossed. There is a six hour time difference between Perth and South Africa and Lucy had exactly six nights of poor sleep on arrival and return!

Sensory Learning Experiment #2: Finger Paint!

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This experiment was a little more ambitious than the first and required more preparation (and cleaning – boy oh boy did I clean…)

Sensory Learning Experiment #2: Finger Paint!

Aim: Do something arts and crafty with brace-clad bub

Hypothesis: She will love getting her hands full of colourful paint and creating a ‘picture’

Equipment: 1 x plastic tray; 1 x tub of plain yoghurt; variety of food colouring; plastic containers for each colour ‘paint’; 1 x camera

Procedure:

1) Mix plain yoghurt with food colouring.

2) Seat baby at spica table.

3) Place protective cover over carpets in a 1 kilometre radius.

4) Place plastic tray upside down on the table to provide a canvas to paint on.

5) Roll up baby’s sleeves.

6) Place ‘paints’ on table.

7) Guide baby by demonstrating how to paint with the coloured yoghurt on the tray.

8) Step back and enjoy your little Picasso in action!

 

Safety risks:

1) Baby’s clothes may never be the same again.

2) Baby’s nails may be dirty browny/purple colour for several days.

3) Your plastic tray may not come completely clean.

Results: Lucy enjoyed the feel and taste of the paint! The beautiful green, pink and blue colours very quickly merged and became one big purple smudge on the tray. She was completely covered in paint by the end and it was nearing her nap time. She was getting grumpy and impatient which didn’t help the long-winded cleaning up process that was necessary before she could sleep. I was worried about her clothes being stained but after a good soak in Napisan they came out spotless.

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Conclusion: Make sure you do this activity when your baby is feeling fresh! It’s quite a lot of work for you so you want to make sure your baby gets in a decent play session make it worthwhile. Dress your baby in old clothes just in case the colour doesn’t come out.

 

Sensory Learning Experiment #1: SPAGHETTI!!

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Thanks to the fantastic feedback to my post 20 Spica (and Brace) Friendly Ideas to Keep Babies Happy I am inspired once again to find fun ideas to try out with Lucy while she’s braced. A few people suggested sensory learning activities, including this simple and inexpensive one involving spaghetti.

Sensory Learning Experiment #1: Spaghetti

Aim: Keep baby stimulated and engaged while restricted in her brace by using cooked spaghetti

Hypothesis: She will have oodles of fun playing with noodles

Equipment: 1 x plastic tub; 1 x batch cooked and cooled spaghetti; 1 x camera

Procedure:

1) Seat baby at spica table.

2) Place protective cover over carpets in a 10 metre radius.

3) Check that the cooked spaghetti has cooled all the way through.

4) Present tub full of spaghetti to baby.

5) Step aside and start snapping pics while baby explores/eats/throws/wears the

contents of the tub.

Lucy tentatively prodding the spaghetti at the start of the experiment

Lucy tentatively prodding the spaghetti at the start of the experiment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Safety risks: Baby may eat large volumes of pasta and with this comes a choking risk.

Results: 1 x enormous mess; 1 x full but happy baby; 1 x full but happy staffy; 10 x priceless pics for blackmail purposes in 15 years’ time

My little noodle monster

My little noodle monster

Conclusion: This sensory learning activity is heaps of fun! Be prepared for a fair bit of cleaning up afterwards and only use this idea if your baby has been eating solids for a while and is unlikely to choke on the spaghetti. I was rather alarmed by Lucy’s capacity for eating pasta (something she has inherited from her dad!)

 

 

20 Spica(and brace)-friendly Ideas for Keeping Babies Happy

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Lucy went into a spica when she was seven months old, which is around the time many babies start to crawl and get more mobile. I found it quite a challenge to keep her engaged and stimulated for three months and tried to find spica-friendly activities to do together. Some great ideas came from these sources:

* the various babycentre sites (.com, .au and .uk)

* www.thestay-at-home-momsurvivalguide.com

* www.babble.com

I’ve tried to keep the activities simple, cost-effective and do-able for non-creative types like me!  If you can get hold of/make a spica table, don’t hesitate. I think it is essential for keeping our bubs happy when they’re all plastered up.

I hope that you can find something here to try with your little one and would love to hear from you if you have activities to add to this list.

1. Visit a dog exercise area

1397618631559This is something Lucy and I do regularly because we have a dog – Stella – a Staffordshire Terrier (awesome family dogs if you’re thinking about getting one!) Lucy absolutely loves watching the dogs run around and play with each other and it keeps her entertained for ages. She doesn’t mind at all when they get boisterous and bump into the pram – it just adds to the fun!

 

 

2. Tear up a catalogue

Those annoying advertising spreads that clog up your postbox can become your New Best Friends when you realise their potential! I prop Lucy on the couch next to me and she rips up catalogues while I read the paper/have a cup of tea/check emails/whatever for a few minutes. The delight it gives her makes the tidy-up afterwards completely worthwhile.

 

3. Goodie box

1397615186394Gather a few items from around the house that you think may be of interest to your little one. Put them in a box and present it to them to open and explore the contents. I like to put a ribbon around the box for an added challenge. This can be done endlessly, as the most random thing can hold her attention more than any of her usual toys. This is one of my favourite activities!

 

 

4. Sign language

Now is as good a time as any to introduce your bub to sign language while they are forced to sit still and pay attention! Hop onto YouTube for little video clips to watch and then put the signs into practice during your daily routine. There’s a lovely Baby Einstein one that Lucy and I watch.

 

5. Go for a ride

1398057253824We have a little device called a Corn Popper which was given to us for when Lucy is older but she loves it when I pop her on the seat and hold her hands on the handlebars while whizzing her around the house or yard. The added bonus is that it provides an intense workout for your rear end and hamstrings 🙂 There are lots of different contraptions out there so it doesn’t have to be a Corn Popper that you use.

 

6. Rhyme Time

Our local libraries in Australia run a fabulous, free program for babies and toddlers called Rhyme Time. Unfortunately we’ve only made it to one so far due to nap times clashing with the sessions. I know rhymes are important for language development so we’ve come up with a Plan B: the libraries give out Rhyme Time dvd’s in a little goodie bag when the babies are a few weeks old. I pop it into the dvd player and we have our own private session of Rhyme Time, following along and enjoying singing and doing actions together. This way we get to do it when Lucy is fresh and cheerful and can stop it at any time when she’s had enough. When she’s a bit older we’ll get to the proper sessions but this is a good alternative for now.

 

7. Play dates at the park

1398058669395I’m sure you do this already as it’s a pretty obvious way of keeping mums and bubs socialised and happy. One thing I do to encourage social interaction for a spica-clad, immobile baby is to take along Lucy’s modified Bumbo for her to sit in. The other babies are inevitably drawn to this strange contraption and crawl over to investigate! Lucy has more interaction this way than if I am holding her.

 

 

8. Play with food

1397569580531Lucy is now starting to understand that things fit into different categories. I use lunch time to play around with this concept by chopping up finger foods and putting them into little tupperwares with different coloured lids. I sit her at her spica table and give her the tupperwares to explore, talking about what is in each one. We then open the lids and tip out the contents. Eventually she’ll be able to sort the foods back into the tupperwares but that’s a bit advanced for now. When I tidy up the scraps at the end of lunch, I put them back into their allocated containers and talk about what I’m doing. A lunch sitting can last nearly an hour – that’s how engaging she finds all this!

9. Play with scarves

1397615407203Colourful scarves lend themselves to all sorts of games for babies. The original idea was to tie them together and put them in a box for Lucy to pull out. It didn’t quite go to plan so I improvised and dressed up our dog instead 🙂 She was very accommodating – any attention is better than no attention!  Pull your scarves out the cupboard and see how your baby responds and go with the flow…

 

 

 

10. Wrap up toys

Unwrapping one of her 'presents'

Unwrapping one of her ‘presents’

Gather a few toys that haven’t been played with for a while and wrap them in gift paper. Put them in a bag and let your baby rummage through the bag and unwrap the ‘presents’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. Read books

My little book worm

My little book worm

One of our favourite regular outings is to the local library to take out books for Lucy. The library has a huge selection of books for babies and a lovely play area too. I started reading to Lucy very early on and at one stage I nearly gave up because all she wanted to do was grab the book out of my hands. Thankfully I persevered but now stick to just the board books which can sustain rough handling and I allow Lucy to turn the pages while I’m reading. She has become an avid little reader and I often walk into her room when she’s woken from a nap and find her lying there with an open book in her hands and one on her lap. As an English teacher, I couldn’t be more thrilled 🙂

 

12. iPad games

talking-tomI confess I’m a bit old-fashioned in terms of not wanting Lucy too device-savvy at a young age. I don’t let her play with my phone or iPad even though there are lots of apps that have been developed for babies. There is, however, one app that I have used with Lucy and she absolutely loves it: Talking Tom! I figure it’s good for aiding her speech development since the cat repeats everything she says.There is a free version available but I recommend buying the app so that you’re not inundated with annoying adverts. It’s a great one to have on your phone for when you’re sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and need to keep bub entertained.

 

13. Two-handed clacking

Future drummer?

Future drummer?

This is handy for when you need to keep your bub busy while you’re cooking. I move Lucy’s spica table into the kitchen and give her wooden spoons and spatulas etc to make some noise with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Videos on on your phone

Like most parents I can’t resist taking lots of videos of Lucy being cute. I often play them back to her and she is absolutely captivated by them! When I get videos of my nephew doing cute things I show them to her too. Babies love watching babies!

 

15. Play with bubbles

There is a gorgeous video clip of a baby in hysterics watching her dog eat bubbles. If you haven’t seen it before, please pause and give it a watch – her giggles are contagious! I haven’t quite had that reaction yet from Lucy and our dog hasn’t quite eaten the bubbles that enthusiastically but I am going to persevere because, well, it’s fun.

 

16. Paint swatch sorter

Playing with paint swatches

Playing with paint swatches

Visit a paint shop and gather up a selection of free colour swatches. At home, get a yoghurt or icecream tub and cut a slot in the lid. Play with the swatches together with your baby, discussing the different colours, then show her how to put them into the container through the slot. It doesn’t matter if she chews or bends them because you can just get a fresh batch when they get tired.

 

 

17. Aeroplane

Lucy hates – I mean hates – tummy time but I know it’s especially good for her in the spica to help prevent pressure sores. One fun way of getting her onto her tummy is to do the old favourite aeroplane trick (lying on your back with your baby resting on your shins). She gets to see the world from a different angle and I sneak in tummy time without her even realising it.

 

18. Join a toy library

1400075732813This has been a lifesaver for us. After a few months of playing with the same old toys, Lucy was so bored of them but buying new ones can get very expensive. We have joined a toy library and pay $60 for a year’s membership. It is worth every cent for the amount of toys we now have at our disposal and I can experiment with different toys to see which ones she likes without having to buy them first and potentially waste a lot of money on things she has little interest in.

 

 

19. Visit the zoo or a farm – without driving anywhere!

A visit to the farm!

A visit to the farm!

A friend of ours kindly passed on a box full of toy animals when her girls grew too old for them. We’ve been having a lot of fun with them – some days we visit the farm and learn the names and noises of all the farm animals. On other days we visit the African plains where lions and zebra and giraffe roam (what noise does a giraffe make, anyone?!)

 

 

 

20. Make a collage

Lucy inspecting the items on our collage

Lucy inspecting the items on our collage

When you go for a walk, take a bag with you and collect little bits and pieces of interest as you go. When you get home, create a collage on paper or card and talk about all the things you saw on your walk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would love to expand this list so please let me know what else you’ve been doing to keep your babies happy!

The Best and the Worst Advice for Future Parents

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It’s become standard practice to joke and roll our eyes about how much advice is given to soon-to-be parents, either from well-meaning relatives or strangers in the grocery store queue or best friends who haven’t got any kids themselves. I can understand why some find it irksome but I actually really enjoyed hearing what everyone had to say while pregnant with Lucy. My approach was to read widely, listen to all the anecdotes and words of wisdom and store it all so that I would never be without options. I hated the idea of having a screaming baby, say, and being all out of ideas on how to settle her. I wanted to have an arsenal I could draw from when my own ideas failed. Knowledge is power and all that.

There’s one piece of advice that stood out for me while attending our antenatal class. The midwife said that your face reflects the world to your child: if you are smiling and happy and delight in your baby, it will feel secure in an otherwise big and scary world. Happy parent = happy baby.

I have taken this advice to heart with Lucy. No matter how many times I have been up in the night, when I go into her room in the morning I greet her with all the excitement and joy I can muster, along with a sometimes-off key rendition of the good morning song. When she’s being fussy and testing my patience, I do my best to not let her know that I’m annoyed. If I’m having a serious conversation with someone, I make sure that when I turn to face Lucy my expression changes in an instant from frowning to beaming. It seems to have worked because our baby is content and peaceful and full of smiles.

There are times, however, when this advice haunts me. Times when no matter how much I try to rally my strength and engage my will power to put on a happy face, my emotions refuse to be reigned in. Like the time we had to go back to the hospital because her left leg was temporarily paralysed as a result of the Pavlik Harness she had to wear. We had already been at the hospital for a few hours before she had to have an ultrasound done on both hips and both knees. She had been her usual cheerful self up ’til this point but the ultrasound was a drawn-out, unfamiliar process that pushed her tolerance too far. For the first few minutes I did my best to hold onto her flailing limbs and soothe her but her cries escalated to screams and nothing would console my three-month old. Eventually I was too choked up to offer any further comforting refrains and had to step back and let my aunt take over the role while I found some tissues and tried to re-group.

I am discovering the power that a little baby wields over a parent. I have never been big on crying, especially in front of people. I like to be composed and collected and there are few things I hate more than mascara smudged all over my face and other such evidence that I don’t have it altogether. But my goodness me, when my little bub is in distress, it completely unravels me.

So to all prospective parents out there, I would like to add an addendum to the midwife’s advice in the hope that it haunts you a little less: to create a sense of security and well-being for your child, you need other people’s help. You simply cannot smile your way through every circumstance. I have learnt that I need someone with me when I take Lucy for appointments at the hospital. If my husband isn’t able to take leave from work, I’m fortunate enough to have an aunt who is willing to drop everything to come to our aid. If you’re a single parent, try to find a family member or friend to go along with you to offer smiles and comfort to your baby if you have come unglued.

This doesn’t just apply once your baby is born: try not to go alone to your antenatal check-ups and scans. Some of us have grown up in circles that take pride in never being sick and having to take leave from work. In my first three years of teaching, I only took leave on two occasions – both times to attend funerals of family members. It was literally only death that separated me from work! But this sort of stoicism has no place where babies are concerned.

Men: no matter how strong, independent and capable your partner is – she needs you at those appointments. If it is within your power to do so, take time off work and be there for her. Nine times out of ten, everything will be perfectly fine and you’ll silently mutter about having to leave work unnecessarily. But if the doctor does find an irregularity, she will need your strength and comfort to deal with the bad news.

Another standard practice is to joke about a mother’s superpowers and yes, we mothers can dig deep and summon more strength than we ever imagined possible when our children need us. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we can do this parenting thing alone.

What is the best or worst advice you’ve been given?

Evil ECVs

Standard

Allow me to digress a bit here before I go into detail about the Pavlik Harness.

By week 36 in my pregnancy, Lucy was still lying in breech position and it was time to make some decisions about how she was going to be born. There was only a very small chance that she would turn naturally by my due date. The doctor at Kaleeya Hospital presented my options to me:

Option 1: Wait until full term in case she turned but risk having an emergency Caesarian in the event that she didn’t

Option 2: Schedule a Caesarian

Option 3: Attempt a natural birth at one of the other hospitals in Perth that was willing to take the risk of delivering a breech baby

Option 4: Undergo an External Cephalic Version

Your reaction to Option 4 is probably similar to mine: a WHAT?!

I was given a pamphlet to read through with further details. An ECV, it explained, was when an obstetrician presses on your tummy and moves the baby from being head up to head down – the correct position for birth. It went on to say that “this can be uncomfortable but most women are fine.” It also promised this was a safe procedure with a 60-75% success rate.

Now, I’ve never been terribly excited about the idea of giving birth. That is an understatement. I’ve always been terrified of the experience! When the midwife leading our antenatal class showed a supposedly beautiful birth video complete with lovely, soothing windpipe music and dim lighting – and a lady who wasn’t at all concerned about broadcasting her (very naked) birth experience to the world – I lasted about two minutes before I had to exit the room and get some fresh air, only returning for the next session. Despite my fears and prudishness, I know full well that natural childbirth – where possible – is better for both mum and baby than Caesarian section. Also, I have a husband who was actually really looking forward to getting that phonecall from me or being shaken awake in the middle of the night to tell him to get me to the hospital QUICKLY because the baby was coming! We had practised the back rubs and and the breathing techniques and different ways that he could assist during labour and he was prepped and ready for the real thing. I didn’t want to deny him this if there was a chance the ECV could enable a natural birth.

I did a bit more research online and even watched a fascinating YouTube clip of an ECV being performed, during which the patient smiled and laughed her way through the two-minute procedure. (Check it out if you’re intrigued: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT2jBxVoOQc )

That didn’t look too bad! So we booked in for an ECV and went along to the hospital armed with Time magazines to while away the long wait. I was smiling and serene – like the lady in the clip – by the time the doctor was ready to work his magic, knowing that I could experience some discomfort, like the pamphlet said, but not anticipating anything more than that.

WELL! As nice and kind as the doctor was, there was nothing gentle about what he proceeded to do. He applied exceptional force where Lucy’s head and bottom were lying in an effort to shift her. All breath left my body and the pain was so extreme that I struggled to breathe in any more, despite the doctor repeatedly telling me to breathe through it. The tears (and mascara) ran down my face and it felt like my stomach was being turned inside out. I tried desperately to hold back the sobs, which made it even harder to get the breathing under control. Each time he managed to move her a bit, she would promptly move right back to where she was before. After a few failed attempts, he gave up.

For days afterwards, my stomach felt bruised all over, as though I’d been punched repeatedly. I felt quite traumatised by the experience and angry that the info they’d given me beforehand hadn’t adequately prepared me for the pain I had to endure. Perhaps it is more painful for ladies pregnant with their first babies as there is more muscle tone and less space for the baby to move around. If any of you are faced with the same options we faced, at least you now have some balanced information to help you make your decision. You could smile and laugh through the procedure but there is also a chance that you could sob your way through like I did.

After Option 4 failed, we booked a date for a Caesarian at 39 weeks (just four days before her due date). I’m glad we didn’t leave it any later than that because the contractions had already started by the time I went in for the operation. Everything went perfectly and our gorgeous little Lucy was born on 28th June at 4pm on the dot, weighing 2.89kg.

Lucy a few minutes after she was born

Lucy a few minutes after she was born

In hindsight, I’m glad the ECV was unsuccessful. It meant that she was recorded as a breech baby on all her charts so the medical staff paid particular care to examine her hips, which led to the discovery of her hip dysplasia. More on that next time…