Labour and Birth, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Problems

The Magic of Membrane Sweeps

Membrane sweeping or membrane stripping is often mentioned at the end of pregnancy as a way of starting labour. It certainly sounds rather uncomfortable but what does it really involve and does it actually make any difference? Here are the facts to help you decide whether membrane sweeping is the right choice for you.

First, the physiology of membrane sweeping.

The very bottom of your uterus is called the cervix. The cervix sticks out slightly into the top of your vagina. When you aren’t in labour the cervix is pointing around towards your back rather than forwards directly towards the exit. This is good, because it reduces the risk of infections and damage to the cervix from anything entering the vagina.

The cervix is about 3cm long and has a firm consistency rather like the end of your nose. As it is 3cm long, it is like a tube with one entrance in your vagina and the other one opening into the uterus where the baby is.

The body is really clever and protects the baby from infection by filling this tiny tube with a mucousy jelly which catches any nasty bacteria trying to enter the uterus and cause an infection.

The baby is also surrounded by a bag of waters which sits against the lining of the uterus and protects the baby from infection, small bumps and jolts or pressure changes due to contractions.

The purpose of membrane sweeps

Although we don’t know lots about what starts labour, we do know that levels of natural prostaglandins rise in your body when labour begins. We also know that putting artificial prostaglandins up into the top part of your vagina can soften the cervix and start opening it up. These artificial prostaglandins are used as part of the induction of labour process at most hospitals when we want to start labour for any reason.

Natural prostaglandins can also be released by peeling the bottom part of the bag of waters gently away from the wall of the uterus. This is known as membrane sweeping or membrane stripping.

Research currently suggests that membrane sweeping can reduce the length of a pregnancy by about one week. This means women who have sweeps often go into labour earlier than they might have done without a sweep. If a sweep is successful, you are likely to go into labour within 48-72 hours of the process.

Policies differ between hospitals and care providers about when sweeps are offered and how many can be done for each woman. Please check with your midwife or health care provider for your local information.

The process of sweeping the membranes

Sweeping the membranes involves a vaginal examination. You will need to take off your underwear and lie down on the bed, covered with a sheet. Partners are welcome to stay with you, sitting at the head end of the bed and holding your hand if you wish.

The midwife or doctor will ask you to bring your ankles together and your heels up towards your bottom so that your knees bend. You will then be asked to let your knees flop open to either side.

The midwife will then insert two fingers of her gloved hand into your vagina using lubricating jelly to reduce the discomfort. She will need to reach the cervix, so if it is still pointing towards your back, she may ask you to put your hands into fists and put them under your bottom. This tilts your pelvis and makes it easier to reach a cervix that is pointing backwards.

When the midwife reaches the cervix with her fingers, she will try to put her finger through the tube of the cervix and into the uterus, where she will be able to feel the baby’s head through the bag of waters! She will then move her finger in a circular motion between the bag of waters and the wall of your uterus. When she does this, she peels the bag away from the wall which makes the body release natural prostaglandins.

What happens if membrane sweeping isn’t possible?

Sometimes, the midwife may not be able to reach the cervix. In other cases, the cervix may be so tightly closed that she can not reach through it to get to the bag of waters and sweep it away from the wall of the uterus. Unfortunately, we don’t know what we will find until we try. However, if the midwife can’t reach the cervix or through it to the uterus, giving the cervix and the area around it a gentle massage with her fingers may be helpful in softening and stretching the fibres of the cervix. This may make it more responsive to any tightenings or contractions you may have. It may also start the cervix softening so that in another few days the cervix is open enough to sweep the membranes.

After the membrane sweep

Once the examination is over, you may notice some heavier vaginal discharge, so it’s worth bringing a maternity pad with you to your appointment to wear home. You may also note a tinge of blood in the discharge. This is very common as when the midwife puts her fingers through the cervix it opens slightly more and small blood vessels called capillaries break. This bloody discharge should only be a small amount, so please contact your care provider if it seems heavy to you or you are worried.

It’s important to stay as upright and as active as possible after a membrane sweep. This pushes baby’s head down onto your cervix, which will already have been stimulated by the sweep. More stimulation will help your body produce more prostaglandins and start the hormone oxytocin flowing. Oxytocin causes contractions, which is exactly what we want! Perhaps try a good long walk, or bounce around the house on a birthing ball.

While you wait for the membrane sweep to work, why not read some of my other posts? You can find out my top tips for early labour here. The NHS website also has great information on induction of labour and choices when labour reaches 41 weeks. Read that here.

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Labour and Birth, Pregnancy, Pregnancy Problems

When Pregnancy isn’t Pleasant

I want to let you in on a secret. It’s one that the press and social media and even your friends don’t want to tell you.

Sometimes pregnancy sucks.

You might be looking at all these stylised photos and posts telling you how wonderful women are finding their pregnancy. They describe how they feel as if they are glowing and finding fulfilment and a new purpose.

If you read those posts and feel inadequate or upset by them, you are not alone! I can’t tell you the number of women who come into my clinic each week feeling tired and exhausted and fed up and very unglamorous!

They have aches and pains in very private places, they can’t sleep and can’t eat and are too exhausted to do more than crash on the sofa after work. Some of them are physically sick every day well beyond the expected 12 weeks. For some, migraines sometimes get better during pregnancy but sometimes they get much much worse. Other women develop crippling pelvic pain which leaves them on crutches for weeks until the baby is born. Still others suffer with heightened levels of anxiety and fear over the what if’s and unknowns of pregnancy, labour, birth and parenthood.

The problem these women face is that society expects them to be glowing. It expects them to be radiant and smiling and excited. Society might make you think that any other reaction to pregnancy makes you a bad mother.

Things to remember

A miserable pregnancy does not automatically lead to a miserable life as a new parent. You will probably feel a whole lot better once you aren’t carrying 8 to 15 pounds of extra baby and placenta around inside you.

Any feelings of frustration or dread don’t mean that you don’t or won’t love your baby. It simply means that pregnancy is hard for you, and that’s ok to admit.

There are things your midwife or health professional can do to help you. Don’t suffer in silence for fear of judgement. What you feel is valid and won’t be the first time they’ve heard someone struggling with pregnancy.

What you can do

Talk to someone you trust. It might be a close friend or family member you know had a difficult pregnancy themselves. Sharing your feelings enables people to encourage and reassure you that everything will be alright.

Speak to your GP or midwife. If you have sickness, pelvic pain, migraines or some other physical symptoms, they may be able to suggest treatments for you. If you are struggling with anxiety around your pregnancy, birth or parenthood, they can refer you to local counselling services where trained professionals can guide you through the anxiety to find your calming and coping strategies.

Take time to rest and give yourself some grace. You don’t have to live up to society’s expectations and post a glowing selfie every day! Just getting out of bed might be a major success for you, so celebrate it!

Keep your eyes on the prize! However hard this pregnancy might be, focus on the baby and your parenthood to come. It will be worth it. They say parenthood is the hardest job in the world, which I definitely agree with, but it is also the most rewarding. There are so many stages to look forward to. If you aren’t keen on newborn babies, that’s ok. You might feel more confident looking after children when they reach the toddler stage. I promise that time will fly and that favourite age you like most will be here in no time!

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Labour and Birth, New Mum, Newborn Care

Best Gifts for New Parents

It’s a very exciting time. Your best friends or favourite relatives have just had a baby and you want to spoil them silly at this special time. A hug from the newborn might be fun too! New parents often find the first few days and weeks with baby difficult. Here are my suggestions for gifts you can offer, to help them at this amazing and sometimes overwhelming time.

Consideration

This might not be something you can buy in a shop but it is definitely the most important gift of all! You need to remember that new parents might have had very little sleep, rarely get a chance to shower and really don’t want to think about housework.

You need to be honest about your relationship with the new parents and your reasons for wanting to visit or help. If they are really close friends and family where you share everyday life and see each other unshowered and in pyjamas regularly, unannounced visits might be fine. If not, your unscheduled visit is likely to cause more hassle than joy.

New parents might need to sleep during the day if baby was awake all night. They might want to spend what awake time they have holding their own baby, rather than cooking or cleaning in preparation for your visit. Alternatively, they might actually really appreciate someone holding the baby for them while they shower or eat or vacuum.

The key is be flexible in your visiting schedule and expectations. A pre-planned visit might not be possible after an unplanned night without sleep! Ask what the parents would appreciate most – someone to clean the toilets, a volunteer to play with older children or a baby being held while they shower and dress.

Books

A new parent has a lot of questions about their new life. Books that might answer some of those questions may be really appreciated. Perhaps try some humorous ones for when they are at the end of their tether, or informational ones that might explain baby development and milestones. One of my favourite books is ‘Your Amazing Newborn’. It explains the vast abilities of babies to recognise shapes, colours, faces and voices. It’s brilliant for new parents who want to learn more about their baby and bond with it through games like pulling faces and singing.

Door signs

Honestly, I think every parent should invest in one of these. Babies often start life thinking that day is night and night is day. As a result, new families often need to catch up on sleep during the day and an unexpected delivery man or neighbour might not realise their visit is poorly timed. One knock which wakes the dog, who wakes mum, dad and the baby can really ruin their rest! Find a pretty sign on pinterest or create your own to stick on the door, politely asking people to come back at another time or leave the parcel with a neighbour.

Food

All new babies take a lot of time, and homemade meals are not always easy to fit in to the schedule. When you are already cooking for your family, can you make an extra couple of portions to freeze? If you take that ready cooked meal to the new parents, it will make their day! For those with enough freezer space and generous friends they may not need to worry about meals for a couple of weeks.

Childcare

If you have a good relationship with the new parents and their children, could you offer to babysit the older children? Perhaps you could take them to the park or just to your house to play with your kids. That might allow the parents to get some rest. Maybe the parents would appreciate it if you offered to hold the baby while they play with their older children. This helps those older siblings who feel confused and upset by the amount of parental time and attention the new baby takes from them.

Housework

Any help in this category definitely enters you into the great friend hall of fame! Whatever you feel able to help with will probably be appreciated. You could clean or vacuum for them. You could even take a load of laundry and ironing home and return it ready to be hung up or folded and put away. For those active animal lovers, there is the opportunity to walk the dog. If you’re already on your way to the shops, send a quick text to ask if they need anything. It would be even more amazing if you were able to do their whole grocery shop for them. Just as long as they give you their list with preferred brands!

Time

Sometimes, especially after the first couple of weeks, a new mum can feel isolated and stuck on the sofa with a cluster feeding baby. Their partner may be back at work. Most visitors have had their baby hug and gone on with their lives. Some mums might really appreciate you spending time with them.  Having an adult conversation, even if their brain isn’t working clearly due to sleep deprivation, can be wonderful. A listening ear and reassurance that they’re doing a great job really helps when they are worried they’re not a perfect parent.

Photos

Have you ever noticed that a first baby has lots of photos taken every day? Unfortunately with the subsequent siblings the number of photos decreases significantly. Those cute cards you can place next to baby declaring their first smile or their 10th week are really only used for baby number one. Intimate family photos are not so easy with more children especially in the midst of life’s commitments.

If you know you have some pretty good photo skills, why not take some natural family photos for them? You could catch them doing normal life things like cooking whilst juggling a newborn and a toddler, or giving the baby a secret smile. These photos will be so precious to the family later on as they might be too busy just keeping up with life to take photos themselves. You can send them on to the parents as soon as you’ve taken them. You could even create a photo album online to give as a present!

Subscriptions

If parents have to spend a lot of time in the middle of the night feeding or changing the baby, they may appreciate some entertainment options to keep themselves amused. Why not buy them a subscription to a video streaming service so that they can watch the latest movies or TV epics while the little one feeds? You could also try an audiobook subscription and add a quality pair of wireless headphones to make it extra special. For the avid readers, what about an ebook subscription and device to read them on?

 

So there we have it. A selection of really useful gifts for new parents. Many of them cost very little but will make a huge difference to the family. Have you got any other suggestions, or ideas you wish someone had done for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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New Mum, Newborn Care

The Ultimate Checklist – Health Supplies

One of the worst experiences a new parent faces is when their child is ill. You worry that it may be incredibly serious and get so frustrated that you can’t seem to make them feel better. If you are worried about your child’s health, please contact a medical professional as soon as possible. Once you have be reassured by them, you may find the supplies below helpful in managing the symptoms of common colds or other minor ailments in babies.

This post is part of the series based on my Ultimate Baby Equipment Checklist. You can find the original checklist here. The other posts have information on nursery equipment and equipment to help with getting out of the house.

Health Baby First Aid Supplies

Saline drops

Did you know that babies are born without knowing how to sniff? Whilst you and I sniff almost without thinking when our nasal passages are blocked, babies don’t have this option. Because of this, they sneeze more often than we do. While this might be worrying, most of the time it is a normal response to a stuffy nose.

You can make it easier using saline drops. These drops of simple salty water come in a handy squirty pack. You simply squirt it up each nostril and the drops will flush out any gunk that is stuck there.

Nasal Aspirator

Although saline drops can help, the most effective way to get rid of build up in baby’s nose is to use a nasal aspirator.  These little things involve a small tube which you pass gently into the lowest part of the baby’s nostril. Don’t try and force the tube a long way up as that could cause damage. The other end of the tube goes in your mouth and you suck – yes, suck – out any debris that is in there. In years gone by, you only had ordinary tubes but thankfully now you get a filter placed in the middle of the tube. This prevents any mess being sucked out of baby’s nose and getting into your mouth! Certainly a win for technological advances!

Snuffle Babe

If you’ve heard of Vicks Vapour Rub, then you’ll understand when I explain that Snuffle Babe is the same thing, but designed for babies. This makes it safe to use from 3 months. It is a decongestant and includes eucalyptus oil and methol. Consequently, it can be really useful for helping baby breathe more easily when they have a cold. It is a little less powerful than Vicks so that it doesn’t overwhelm little ones.

You can put a small layer onto their chest or back, although lots of parents feel more comfortable putting it on their baby’s feet. Once you cover their feet with a pair of socks, you reduce the risk that your baby will transfer it into their eyes.

Vapouriser / Humidifier

Another great tool for babies with colds is humidity. You can buy fancy vapourisers or humidifiers from many stores. These have a reservoir of water which is gently heated to evaporate and increase the water content of the air. The idea is that the air with an increased water content helps to soften and clear out any nasal secretions and soothe coughs.  The great thing about vapourisers or humidifiers is that some have the option of adding a soothing aroma to the water. Adding lavender oil may be really helpful if your baby is struggling to sleep.

However, as promised there is a much cheaper option for those on a budget, and you already have what you need in your house! Your secret weapon is your bathroom or shower room. Simply take baby into the room and run a really hot bath or shower. It can be really hot, as you aren’t going to be bathing or showering baby. You just need to get the room really steamy. Simply sitting with little one in your arms for a while in that environment will help to clear out any congestion they’ve got. You might also find the kitchen gets steamed up when you are cooking or boiling the kettle. This steam is just as effective, and you might feel you are being more productive in cooking and helping baby at the same time!

Colic Relief

Babies often struggle to bring up any wind after they’ve fed. This wind is extra air they take in while they are swallowing their milk, and can happen no matter how they are feeding. Please don’t listen to anyone who tells you that breastfed babies don’t get wind. They do, especially if they are a quick feeder or your milk supply let down is fast.  Wind can also be cause by poor digestion when baby struggles to break down the milk in their stomach.

This trapped wind causes pain as it gurgles in their tummy. While some babies can burp it out without any problems, others will push it through their digestive system and out into their nappy. Others can’t move it either way very well. These babies are often very unsettled after feeds, and don’t want to be put down flat. Some will pull their legs up towards their tummies, while others will arch their backs with the discomfort.

I’ve written a post about helping babies to burp and the various methods I use to help even the stubbornest bit of wind to escape. You can read that post here. However, sometimes you need a little extra help in the form of colic relief products.

Products that may help

There are various products which all work in slightly different ways. Unfortunately I don’t know which one will work for you and your baby. That’s why it might be sensible to have a couple of options ready in your health supplies kit. Traipsing out to the 24 hour supermarket at 3 am because your baby is in pain isn’t much fun!

There are two main ways that colic relief products work. Some provide an enzyme to break down the milk so that it is easily digested and doesn’t create wind. Others work by releasing bubbles of trapped air in the baby’s stomach so the wind rises to the top and can be burped out.

There are three main options for colic relief drops, and every baby responds differently to them. If you check them out on Amazon, there is always one review which says ‘this didn’t work for my baby’ amongst the hundreds that say ‘this was a lifesaver’, whichever product you look at. Go and have a look yourself and decide what works best for you. You may decide that getting one bottle of each will cover all possibilities. Alternatively, you may go for one you’ve heard of or that your friends or family have recommended.

Pain Relief

A paracetamol based pain killer such as Calpol is a staple ingredient of every parent’s medicine cabinet. It is a liquid form of paracetamol which can be given to babies via a syringe. It also tastes like strawberries or blackcurrant, which makes it easier to give to little ones.Whether you have a child with a cold or a headache or a sore finger, a pain killer is essential for those little discomforts that your medical professional has reassured you about.

Follow dosage instructions carefully and if you see no improvement after the child has had the medicine, seek further guidance from your doctor before trying another dose or different drug.

Ibuprofen also comes in a liquid form and can be used if your child does not have asthma. Don’t use both at the same time unless told to do so by a medical professional.

When giving your baby or child a drug they have never had before, such as Ibuprofen or Paracetamol, please be very vigilant for any signs of an allergic reaction. This might include swelling or a rash and in extremely rare cases, difficulty breathing. If you notice any side effects please contact a medical professional immediately.

Also, keep all medicines out of reach of little hands that might be exploring!

Thermometer

Another essential piece of equipment for every parent is a thermometer. Thermometers enable you to accurately check your baby’s temperature and ensure you take the right action. For example, a temperature up to 37.9 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) may be safely treated at home with paracetamol if there are no other concerns. However, any temperature above this needs to be assessed by a doctor, so you should attend your nearest emergency centre.

Please note you may need to seek medical advice if a child is unwell even if their temperature is less than 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Farenheit). Use your own judgement and consider any other symptoms. Above all, trust your instincts! A doctor would rather see you and little one and reassure you than have you stay at home when your baby needs their care.

There are many different ways to measure a baby’s temperature. You can use their ear, their forehead, their underarm, their mouth or their rectum!

I recommend sticking to either their ear or forehead.

Underarm readings can be inconsistent as you have to place the probe in the dip under their arm and hold their arm down whilst it reads, which isn’t as easy as it might sound. Readings from oral thermometers may be altered depending on whether little one has just drunk or eaten something hot or cold. Rectal measurements are not only uncomfortable but also risk injury to the baby if inserted too far or if you slip whilst holding it in place.

Sunscreen

Babies have very sensitive skin and cots and prams should be placed out of direct sunlight if possible. However, sometimes a little sunshine is unavoidable and it is best to have sun screen on hand. Even on less sunny days, your baby’s skin may need a barrier in case the sun pops out as you’re on your way to the park. Keep some sunscreen in your bag to ensure your baby is fully protected.

 

So there you have it, my slimline recommendations for baby’s first aid kit. Do you have any other suggestions or ‘must-have’s’? Leave me a comment below!

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New Mum, Newborn Care, Pregnancy

The Ultimate Checklist – The Nursery

Here we go. You’ve read my Ultimate Baby Equipment Checklist, but don’t quite understand why I’ve included some things and not others. Perhaps you’re intrigued by my promise that all this stuff doesn’t have to cost the earth or could be done using stuff you already have. Well let me explain myself more thoroughly.

This is the first of several posts where I break down my ultimate checklist into smaller chunks. I’ll add the links to the others as I’ve written them. We’ll start here with the nursery.

Read the post on equipment to help you when you are out of the house here.

Baby nursery equipment

**This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of my links, I may receive a commission or credit at no additional cost to you. For more info, please read my disclosure policy.**

Nursery Equipment

Moses Basket

A Moses basket or crib is simply a smaller version of a cot. It’s a safe flat bed to place baby in when they need a nap. It is a lot more portable than a full sized cot, so you can move it around the house. It is great if you want to put baby down to sleep while you do some housework or have a coffee, but don’t want them far away in their cot in your bedroom.

There are lots of different styles of Moses basket. Some have stands so they are off the ground. Some have rocking stands which might be useful if your baby likes movement to settle them. Just be careful with the rocking style as older siblings or pets might get their feet, fingers or paws trapped. They might also start rocking the baby by mistake which could wake them when you’ve just got them settled!

Whichever design you decide to go for, I wouldn’t recommend spending a really big amount on this. Babies often outgrow their Moses basket very quickly so it isn’t a long term investment. You could even try finding a second hand basket on Ebay, which will save you some pennies. If you decide to do this, please do buy a brand new mattress for the Moses basket even if the second hand one comes with it. There are certain stains and things you don’t want to share with a previous owner!

Cot

A cot is an essential item and here I do recommend buying new if you can. That is because you know that every new cot sold has to meet the current safety standards. If you buy a second hand cot, you might not know when it was manufactured or if it has a fault. More information on cot and sleep safety can be found here at the Infant Sleep Information Source.

The recommendations to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) include the baby sleeping in their parent’s room for their first six months. It is worth buying one which is height adjustable. That means that as little one gets bigger, you can drop the base of the cot to reduce the likelihood that they can climb out. It also means that in those early days, you don’t have to strain your back lifting little one up or down quite as far. You can even buy cots that can be converted into beds for toddlers. That saves you the expense of replacing it with a separate new bed.

You may want to consider a co-sleeping style cot for the early days. These are designed to attach to the side of your bed, making it easier for you to reach baby when they need you at night.

Cot Mattress

Whether you decide to buy a second-hand cot, or you are reusing the cot your older child had, please buy a new cot mattress for each new baby. Make sure that the size of the mattress fits your cot, leaving no gaps around the edges which could trap or hurt the baby. Also, makes sure it meets all current safety standards. This should be stated in the seller’s paperwork or website.

Dresser

Don’t believe what your local department store baby section says.  You don’t need a specific baby furniture suite with fancy wardrobes and drawers and cabinets etc. A standard set of drawers or a dresser is really all you’ll need to start with.

I promise that your baby won’t mind if it isn’t white with pictures of cartoon animals on it. You can buy second hand and upcycle it if you prefer.

When getting heavy furniture for the nursery, please make sure you buy and fit some wall anchors. This prevents the drawers falling onto baby if they pull on them. Our favourite Swedish furniture store has some tips on anchoring furniture here.

To start with I would go for something with plenty of drawers. That way you can have one drawer for vests, one for babygrows, one for hats and socks, one for cardigans and jackets etc. You won’t be folding stuff neatly and even if you do, a middle of the night scramble for a new babygrow will undo all that hard work!

I’m a bit of a sucker for the Ikea Kallax range, as you can be quite unique and inventive in the style of drawer inserts you choose. The drawers are also deep, which is good for all those extra clothes you’ll get as gifts!

Changing area

Changing areas can be fancy or simple. You can have a specific changing station which has a place to hold your bowl of water and drawers to hold your nappies and wipes.


You can manage just as well with a simple changing mat that you can place on the floor or on top of your bed or dresser.

I would recommend a changing mat as a minimum. Some mums like to simply change their baby’s nappy whilst the baby is lying on their bed. Unfortunately, a projectile poo can mean you have to change your entire duvet set at 2 am. I wouldn’t want to risk it!

The great thing about using a changing mat rather than having just one changing station, is that you can have multiple mats around the house. One will easily slide under the bed or beside the sofa. That means you can change nappies anywhere in the house rather than having to go upstairs every time.

It’s also worth having a nappy changing kit close by. I’ll write more on that in the post on equipment for changing (coming soon). Suffice to say for now, get a small basket or box which can hold some nappies, nappy bags, nappy cream, wipes or cotton wool pads and hand sanitiser. One basket per changing mat, and one changing mat per floor of the house makes everything a little easier.

Rocking chair

To be honest, I’m not totally convinced that this is really essential. Feeding chairs do support you in an upright position and can enable soothing movement for an unsettled baby. However, you can also just stand and move or sit in a fixed chair and rock your torso yourself.

Some nursing chairs come with foot rests, which can definitely be helpful for those times when all you seem to do is feed your baby. Others are just really comfy for long feeding sessions. There is no right or wrong answer here. See what your budget can stretch too or make do with your favourite armchair.

Laundry hamper

Really, you’ll need one. A lot. Babies are messy little people. They will get poo and urine and milk and vomit over themselves and their clothes frequently. Having somewhere to throw the clothes needing a wash means you don’t have to go back and forth to the machine hundreds of times a day.

Co-sleeper e.g. Sleepyhead

A big cot can be very disconcerting for a baby. They’ve spent nine months inside mum, where they can only stretch a little before they meet the resistance of mum’s body. When they then get placed in a cold flat cot where they stretch and stretch and find nothing within their reach, they don’t like it!

Recent trends include the emergence of co-sleepers like the sleepyhead. These can be really useful as they seem to reassure the baby by fitting around him or her. You can have a look at them on Amazon here. If you decide to get one, it’s worth getting a couple of extra covers at the same time, as middle of the night accidents happen, and that’s not the time to run a fast wash and dry cycle on your washing machine!

However, before Sleepyhead arrived on the market and started pulling hundreds of pounds from new parents, midwives had other tricks which use items you already have in your house! Grab one of your big bath sheets or towels. Roll it into a long sausage shape and place that sausage in a U shape around the sides and head of the baby. Magic! Your baby reaches out and feels reassured by the towel being close, and you’ve not had to spend any pennies!

Night light

Many babies sleep better if there is a little light in the room. It also saves you from stumbling around the nursery in the dark as you answer their cries at 3 am. No more stubbed toes as you search for the new pack of wipes or nappy bags!

You can use any light for a night light. Just adjust the bulb wattage so that it isn’t too bright for you, and you’re all set. However, if you want to get a specific baby night light it might be worth looking at this one by The Gro Company.

I like this type of night light because it actually has another function, so saves you money! Two products for the price of one is definitely a bargain. It also serves as a room thermometer….

Room Thermometer

Now, as I’ve recommended a night light which doubles as a room thermometer, you might think this is an essential. If you feel unsure about the temperature of your room, or your house as a whole, a thermometer can give you concrete measurements of heat. This might be really reassuring for you, in which case, buy one and rest easy trusting that little LCD screen to guide you about open vs closed windows and one blanket or two.

A thermometer is not completely essential though. Every house I visit as a midwife has a different ambient temperature. Some people like their houses cooler and fresher. Others (like me!) want to be wrapped in warmth as soon as they cross the threshold. Babies learn to adapt to their environment. They can be dressed in extra or fewer layers depending on the air temperature.

If you want to keep a cooler house, just add an extra cardigan, babygrow or blanket to what baby is wearing. The general rule is one extra layer than you have. If you are wearing a shirt and jumper, baby will need a vest, babygrow and cardigan or jacket. When you are feeling really warm and just wearing a camisole top, baby might just need a vest on.

If you feel comfortable being guided by your own temperature and clothing levels, that’s brilliant. Just make sure you check a baby’s temperature by putting your hand on their chest or the back of the neck between their shoulder blades. Their hands and feet are always cold so don’t be guided by that.

If you feel too unsure about that way of checking, then use a room thermometer to keep the temperature within the recommended range so that you have one less thing to worry about. It’s entirely up to you!

Baby Monitor

Checking on baby is a natural instinct, so most parents like to have a baby monitor of some kind set up. This means they can check that little one is ok, even if they’re in a different room. It can be really useful if you have a big house, where you wouldn’t necessarily hear the baby crying in the nursery if you were in the living room.

It can also be useful if you are having a night in with friends, because being a parent doesn’t mean you can’t be sociable! As sociable and fun as the night gets, you’ll still be able to hear baby from the monitor even if someone is in the middle of a funny anecdote.

Sound and/or vision monitors

The type of monitor you buy is entirely up to you. You may want to just be able to hear when your baby stirs or cries. In that case a simple sound monitor is for you. You can go a little fancier by getting one with a camera. This enables you to see your baby from another room if you prefer.

If you and your partner have the same type of smart phone, you can set them up together as a baby monitor. A simple app will turn one phone into the transmitter that you leave in the nursery. The other phone stays with you and receives any sounds signals the first phone picks up. This certainly works wonders except for those of us who might be a little addicted to our phones. The idea of leaving it in the nursery or by the cot all evening might not be something you can contemplate!

Further functionality

Some parents prefer a little more functionality in their baby monitors. You can get some which have a pressure pad which lies underneath the cot sheet. This picks up on the breathing movements of the baby and can sound an alarm if these movements stop. You can even get monitors which clip onto your baby’s nappy or foot. These provide a continuous assessment of their breathing or blood oxygen levels.

*the Owlet baby blood oxygen monitor seems to only be available via Amazon.com at the moment. You would need to add in import charges if you decide you want one and live in the UK.

Noise Machine

One great recommendation for helping babies to settle and sleep is white noise. This sort of background noise helps to mask any other household noises. Therefore that means baby won’t be woken by you flushing the toilet or watching the latest episode of your favourite TV show. It also helps to cover the noise of older siblings or even just adult conversations.

You can get really clever, and expensive, with noise machines. Some will play heartbeat sounds, so your baby thinks it is back in the womb. You can even get ones which upload your own baby’s heartbeat recorded from an antenatal scan! Some noise machines play nursery rhymes, whilst others go for nature sounds like rivers and rain.

                      

There are quite a few white noise apps for smart phones too. Some of them are free, which also makes sense for any budget conscious parents out there. Unfortunately, as with the baby monitor apps, you do need to leave your phone with the baby. Those parents who like to check on social media or news or communication apps might find that hard.

The alternative is a tablet or laptop and a good wifi signal. Youtube has some great videos with white noise. I like this channel and use it when I’m writing. You can find rain falling on a car, or on a tin roof. Similarly, there are river sounds and thunderstorms. Lots of them have black screens too, if you don’t want to damage your device by playing it for 10 hours straight!

Ultimate Baby Nursery Equipment

There we have it. My guide to what a nursery really needs, and a few tips to make it less of a strain on the purse strings. I hope you found it helpful. Above all, I hope you can see that babies don’t need extra special stuff although if you do feel more comfortable and reassured by having it that’s fine too.

Let me know what you think and any stuff you think I’ve missed by leaving a comment below.

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Infant feeding, Labour and Birth, New Mum, Newborn Care

Postnatal Essentials for Mums

So much of the planning and preparation that happens during pregnancy is focused on the baby. This is wonderful and very helpful indeed. However, I’d like to remind you that you have another person to take care of too – you! Here are some of my tips for looking after yourself in the postnatal period.

Postnatal essentials for mums

None of us can see the future so I don’t know what type of labour and birth you’ll have. It might be really long and painful with lots of complications. It might be really quick and intense. You might deliver the baby by pushing him or her out yourself. Perhaps you’ll need a little extra help like a forceps or ventouse delivery (oh, look, another blog post explaining them to be written in my future!). You may have an emergency caesarian or you may know the date already for your planned caesarian.

However this baby arrives, you will be tired and sore and sensitive in various ways and places. In all of the excitement about finally meeting your little one, you need to take some time to take care of yourself. Having a postnatal care kit set up already can make doing this much easier.

Here are my recommendations for your postnatal essentials. Feel free to choose them all or just pick one or two that you know will be helpful for you.

If you are looking for gifts for friends who have had or are about to have a baby, check out my gifts for new parents post here.

**This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of my links, I may receive a commission or credit at no additional cost to you. For more info, please read my disclosure policy.**

1. Maternity Pads

What to expect after birth:

You will bleed after you’ve had the baby. Women are always asking me how long they will bleed for, but unfortunately, that’s one question I don’t know the answer to! Every woman bleeds for a different amount of time and in a different way. There is even a difference in bleeding after each baby a woman has. Some women will bleed red blood for 6 weeks. Others have a really heavy loss for a couple of days then it changes to brown then creamy before disappearing about 10 days after the birth. I know some who bleed heavily for a few days, then the bleeding seems to settle down, only to come back heavier again when the baby is 10-12 days old.

Most of the time the bleeding will be like a heavy period for the first couple of days before settling down. It will probably be a little heavier if you have a busy active day and be lighter if you are resting at home. You might have a gush of blood after feeding your baby or when you first get up in the morning. You will also notice some contraction-like feelings after the birth. These are perfectly normal and are helping your body reduce the size of your uterus so you can fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes!

The time to seek medical advice is if you have a gush of blood unrelated to feeding or getting up after sitting for a long period; if you think the blood smells funny or infected; if you are passing clots of blood over 4cm diameter after the first day or two; or if you have severe abdominal pains.

What to buy:

Anyway, all that information leads me to my first recommendation: Buy some maternity pads. Don’t get too fancy with them. The thick unscented kind are softer for the first couple of days. You may want to wear two of them – one towards the front of your underwear, layered over one towards the back of your underwear – to catch any leaks or gushes. Eventually, you’ll probably want to go for the thinner kind with the fancy coloured lines of super absorbent somethingorother, but not for the first couple of days.

Even if you have a caesarian, you will still bleed after the birth. Having some maternity pads on hand is essential. They can even provide another benefit for you. Your scar will be covered by a dressing for the first 5 – 10 days. After that the dressing is removed, and whilst this is good for healing, it can be nerve-wracking! Put a maternity pad in the front part of your underwear over the area of the scar, and you’ve got some padding. This makes you a little more confident when moving around and prevents clothes rubbing on the area.

2. Big Undies!

Your inspiration for this period should be Bridget Jones, not a Kardashian of some kind. Get the underwear that reaches right up above your bikini line, towards your umbilicus. Honestly, you are not going to be showing it to anyone so no one needs to know, and comfort is essential for the first few days and weeks. Leaks are also inevitable, especially overnight, so it might be worth buying some mesh underwear which you can either wash and re-wear or dispose of after one use. Big undies help to pull in your stomach, which will look a little like jelly for a while. They are also really helpful if you end up with a caesarian as they don’t end right on the scar line like normal underwear tends to do!

3. A jug or glass

Weird recommendation? Maybe, but entirely essential. Keep it in the bathroom, right next to the toilet. When you go in to pass urine, fill it up first with warm water, then pour it down over yourself as you relieve yourself. The warm water will be soothing and help to dilute your urine so that it is less stingy!

4. Pain relief

You’d think having the contractions was the most painful part of the whole giving birth process, right? Although this is true for most women, I must warn you that you’ll find lots of achy painful bits after the birth too. Whether it’s your breasts, your perineum or even after pains, you may well need some pain relief. Stock up on paracetamol and ibuprofen before the baby arrives. That way you won’t have to send your partner out to the 24 hour supermarket for urgent supplies in the middle of the night.

Sometimes, ibuprofen and paracetamol won’t be enough to control the pain. This might be because of the type of delivery you had or if you get an infection. If you find the pain is still unbearable, please speak to your doctor or midwife about it as they may recommend taking something stronger. There are other pain killers that are safe to use in the postnatal period and while breastfeeding. Generally, if you need these it is just for a couple of days to get the pain under control before it naturally settles and subsides.

5. Breast pads

Even if you aren’t planning on breastfeeding, it’s worth grabbing a pack or two of these. That’s because your body is going to automatically make milk, and that milk might well automatically flow when your baby cries! Having pads on hand to catch any wayward leaks saves the need for multiple changes of top each day.

6. Nipple cream

If you are breastfeeding, you need to check out my post on Breastfeeding Essentials. If you don’t have time to read another post, then let me encourage you to at least get some nipple cream. Nipples can get sore, even when the baby has a good attachment. Nipple cream will be your best friend for the first few days or weeks.

7. Laxatives

Ok, this one is a big deal! It’s one of the most frightening things you have to do after birth – opening your bowels!

Some women find that they don’t need to open their bowels for a few days after birth. This is very normal, especially as some women have a clear-out as they go into labour (yes, I do mean diarrhoea). Other mums empty their bowels as the baby is born – this is also very very normal and shouldn’t be something you worry about.

The key is to keep eating and drinking, including plenty of fluids, fruit and fibre. It’s also really important to go to the loo when you know there is something there to get rid of. Don’t hold it in out of fear! The longer it stays inside, the more water gets reabsorbed from it, so the harder it is to push out!

When you decide to face the music, make sure you have someone you can leave baby with, so that you can relax and sit on the loo for as long as it takes. Try holding a maternity pad over the front area to give that support as you push. Most importantly, don’t worry! I’ve never seen anyone split apart from opening their bowels. It’s definitely a psychological challenge rather than a physical one.

If you decide that you need to go but it won’t happen naturally, ask your doctor about getting some laxatives. There are some that are safe to use when breastfeeding and can help ease things along.

8. Pregnancy pillow – v or c shaped

Pregnancy pillows must be the world’s best kept secret! I really don’t understand why everyone doesn’t have one. They make everything so much comfier! You may well have found a V shaped pillow helpful during pregnancy to get into a good sleeping position. In the postnatal period, that pillow comes in very handy again. You can sit up in bed, or lounge on the sofa. It can be useful to support as you feed. So many uses!

You can also get C shaped pillows, generally described as breastfeeding pillows. They can be really useful for some mums, as they can help support the baby at your breast during a feed, or give some cushioning to a caesarian scar. However, some people find that they are more of a hindrance than a help to good positioning and attachment. They seem to report that the V shaped pillows or ordinary rectangular ones work better. Try it out for yourself and find out what works for you.

9. Notebook

This is a definite essential because ‘Baby Brain’ is real, people! After a night of non-stop feeding and a day without naps because all your friends want to hold the baby, you might not even remember your own name!

Keep a notebook and pen handy wherever you go. You can makes notes on baby’s feeding and nappy habits. You can write down which breast you fed from last and how long for. Keep a record of your gifts so you can write thank you cards later, or simply start your to-do list for the day. Whatever you can think of, a notebook will help. It can be a fancy smart phone app, or an old-fashioned paper one. It doesn’t matter, just as long as it helps you to stay sane and remember bin day! How does a little one fill up the rubbish bin so quickly?! Personally, I think a paper one might be a lovely memento to keep and look back on in the future, but I’m just a sentimental kind of gal. 😉

10. Water bottle and snacks

This one shouldn’t really require too much of an explanation. You are going to be busy being a mum and partner and life coach and cheerleader and friend and comforter and all the other brilliant things that make you you. It can be hard to remember to feed yourself, so make it a little easier by keeping a water bottle close at hand and some pre-packed calorific goodness by your side. That way, even when you don’t manage a proper meal, you’ve got some supplies on board to keep you going.

11. Wine and chocolate

Also an essential that should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Having a baby is hard work. Keeping that baby alive is seriously stressful. Staying kind and welcoming to an endless procession of visitors who want to hold the baby when you can hardly keep your eyes open is a feat of strength! Treating yourself is not only OK, it’s important. One glass of wine at lunch is not going to be the end of the world, and if the only calories you get for a 12 hour period come from a chocolate or two, it doesn’t matter.

I would recommend keeping the wine as a midday treat if you can. That’s because often newborn babies like to co-sleep, and co-sleeping is safest when you don’t have alcohol in your system. A small lunchtime glass will have worn off by bedtime, so it’s less to worry about on that score.

So there we have it – my list of essentials for a smooth and comfy postnatal period. Let me know what you think in the comments. Have I missed something? What helped you most in those early days?

Postnatal essentials for new mums

Items that will help postpartum recovery for new mums
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Labour and Birth, Pregnancy

5 Pro tips for surviving early labour

So, the time has arrived.

Baby is now past 37 weeks and could arrive at any time.

You’ve had some tightenings and even very painful Braxton Hicks contractions but then everything stops.

Your hopes are dashed.

The following night, things start up again.

Painful tightenings get closer and closer, sometimes taking your breath away.

You’re up pacing the house in the wee small hours but then morning comes and the contractions fade as the sun rises above the horizon.

You can feel like you’re going crazy. No sleep and no progress can really bring you down.

What do midwives recommend for those long relentless hours?

  • Rest:

This is really really important. There is no easy way to tell how long this will last but in the worst case scenario, you may still have some days to wait until labour becomes consistent. Take whatever rest you can, in large and small amounts spread throughout the day. If you have older children, enlist family and friends to entertain them for a while so you can nap. It’s not easy, but perhaps it is mother nature’s way of preparing you for the sleepless nights to come when baby arrives!

  • Eat:

Get plenty of good nutrition on board. Labour is extremely hard work and you need to have a good supply of energy to help keep your contractions strong and effective. When labour really kicks in, you might not feel like eating so think like a marathon runner and eat as preparation.

  • Try out your pain relief strategies:

Some people go into labour knowing exactly how they will cope with the pain. Others have no idea what they want to try or what will or won’t work. There are so many strategies to choose from, it’s an entire post of its own (coming soon). However, these early painful episodes can be useful in figuring out whether your partner is any good at massaging, or whether the TENS machine you hired online is just going to drive you crazy.

  • Bathe or shower:

Water is well known to relieve labour pain, although you may have to wait until you get to hospital to try out the wonderful wide, deep birthing pool. Luckily, you can definitely try a comforting bath or stand under a cozy warm shower at home at this early point. For some, this may settle the pains down, which will give you a chance to rest. For others, the warm soothing waters can relax them enough to help the contractions get stronger.

  • Check your bags are packed and ready:

Another good idea is to take the time to make sure you’ve got everything packed ready for the hospital. There are tons of great lists online of what to pack and my own list is on its way. While the pains are reminding you of their purpose in bringing baby ever closer, use that focus to ensure nothing gets left behind.

However long these times last, please remember that the baby at the end is definitely worth everything you’re going through. You are stronger and fiercer than you know and you can do this!

Are you worried that the pains are too early or might be real labour pains? Please contact your local maternity unit as soon as possible.

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