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
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
It’s time to talk about leaving the house! For many new mums, this seems like a massive step which takes military precision to accomplish. It’s not unusual to make it out of the house several hours after your originally intended time. As part of my ultimate baby checklist series, here are my equipment ‘must haves’ to make getting out and about easier.
Unless you live in central London you’re probably going to need a car seat. Even if you do live in central London and don’t have a car, car seats can still be useful. They are helpful for transporting baby between venues, including on the tube or train or other public transport.
There is plenty of guidance available on car seats and ways to keep your baby safe. Read the brilliant Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents website here for all you need to know about current UK laws and regulations.
Unfortunately, I don’t think this is an area where you should buy second-hand. You may be told that the seat you are buying has never been in an accident or had a fault, but you don’t have a guarantee of that. By buying a new seat, you know that it is structurally sound and have a manufacturer’s guarantee.
However, there are a lot of fancy seats and travel systems out there that are more bells and whistles than substance. You don’t need to buy something that costs more than your first car!
My favourite car seat on the market is the Doona. Visit their website here.
These gifted and brilliant people have figured out a way to integrate wheels into your car seat. It makes travelling with baby so much easier! You lift baby’s seat out of the car and don’t have to spend hours unpacking the boot to get out a separate wheeled base.
The integrated wheels means a quick conversion from car seat to stroller when you get out of the car, then another quick change from stroller to car seat if you have to climb stairs. It also frees up lots of space in the boot of your car for those trips to relatives you have to make or the normal supermarket shopping trip.
The price is pretty fantastic too and you can get extra add on’s like storage accessories, insect nets and rain covers. Everything you need in one neat little well-priced package! Yes, you will need to buy a car seat base as well as the seat itself. This is about £130, which still makes the whole package extremely good value for the flexibility of the product. It is a category O+ seat, so is suitable from birth to 13kgs, which is about 12-15 months old.
Having mentioned my love of the Dooma car seat, which transforms into a stroller, I have to admit that I don’t think a pram is necessarily essential. If you decide to buy one, I would still recommend buying new to avoid any worries over undeclared damage or faults. It’s also really important to check how easily it folds and make sure that it and it’s wheeled base will fit in your car. For that reason, you may want to go in store to check these things first, then you can either haggle for a great deal or walk away and buy online to save yourself some pennies.
Sling / Carrier
Baby wearing is a contentious issue for some mums. I believe it can be a wonderful way to bond with your baby and make life that little bit easier to maintain when your little one wants to be close to you. Please make sure that you read the safety guidelines below and apply them every time you put your baby in a sling or carrier.
Getting out and about is so much easier if you have a hand or two free. This is where slings and baby carriers can come in very handy! There are lots of different styles to choose from. You can make your own with fabric or buy ready made fabric or more fitted, shaped designs.
Simple fabric ones can be easier to store and transport when not in use, but sometime require a bit of origami style fabric folding to get the baby in to them! Others have easier clips and belts that make getting baby in and out easier, but they can end up being bulky.
If you get a chance, try and find a local sling group before you buy. These groups allow mums to swap slings and try out different ones to find out what works for them and their child at whatever stage of life they’ve reached. It’s also a great way to meet new friends!
Car Window Sun Shade
Travelling in sunny climes with little ones can be wonderful. However, if the sun gets into children’s eyes they can find it uncomfortable and they may wake if they were previously asleep. Adding a window shade to the car can reduce the glaring sun as well as protect little one from any harmful UV rays.
For many years, parents have been using suction cups to attach shades to windows, which is really straightforward. These kinds of shades come in all sorts of sizes and shapes to fit various window sizes. They can also have pictures of cartoon characters or cute animals for your child to look at.
However, we now have alternatives which can make life even better. There are some newer styles of shades which fit over the door itself. This enables you to open the window with the shade still in place. It also prevents any tiny fingers from pulling the shade off over and over again as part of a new and apparently exciting game!
Car Seat Mirrors
Driving with children in the car can be stressful for everyone. It’s sometimes hard to concentrate on the road, when world war seven is breaking out in the back seat! Luckily, someone has figured out how to help you monitor those back seat brawls without having to turn around and take your eyes off the road.
Buying a rear seat mirror is a very good investment. For rear facing baby car seats there are lots of inexpensive mirrors which tie around a back seat headrest to show you little one’s face. There are also mirrors you can fit under the main rear view mirror which enable you to see the full back seat and all those sibling squabbles!
Having a new baby always means more travelling. Family and friends can be many miles away and having maternity leave often helps make travelling to see them more feasible. If it has been many years since those friends or family have had small children of their own, you will probably need to take a travel cot along with you.
Usefully, travel cots can be playpens too, if you aren’t confident letting baby loose in a strange house. They can be pretty reasonably priced if you would like the flexibility of having your own. However, if you aren’t expecting to do a lot of travelling, it might be worth just borrowing one from a friend if and when you need it.
Apparently the latest fashion accessory, this will be your lifeline when getting out and about with baby. You can keep all the essentials in it so you can handle any surprises your baby has in store for you. I’ll spend another post discussing what to put into your bag. For now, why not explore the various options out there. They range from short handled handbag styles, to backpack types. There is something for everyone.
Options to consider: a fold up changing mat included – to make nappy changes on the move easier; waterproof or removable lining – there will be spills!; lots of compartments to keep things organised; fewer compartments to keep things simple; shoulder straps or backpack styles to keep your hands free; pram or stroller clips to attach the bag to the stroller.
So there you have it. My equipment suggestions for your new baby’s travelling comfort. Don’t forget to comment if there is something you think I should have included or if you have any tips on great products out there.
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.
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.
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.
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?
You know how it goes. You want to be organised in time for baby’s arrival and the world wide web must be full of great ideas on what you need. Unfortunately, you discover exactly that! The internet is bulging with baby registry lists and new mum lists and equipment lists. Some seem incredibly short so you worry that they’re missing things. Others consider a baby bouncy chair that looks like a space rocket and has 273 modes to be essential!
Don’t panic! In my ongoing efforts to simplify the whole ‘having a baby’ thing for you, I’ve scoured those lists and created my own. I’ve taken lots of great ideas and left out the weird and wacky ones. Check it out below and let me know what you think in the comments section.
I’m going to be creating several blog posts over the next few weeks which will split this list down. I’ll discuss my reasons for adding and excluding certain items. I’ll also give hints and tips on how to save money by using cheaper alternatives or repurposing items you already own! Having a baby doesn’t have to ruin your bank account. I will help you find those great equipment deals and cost savings. Check back at the blog page to catch all my tips as I post them.
The first few posts are up! I cover the equipment for baby’s nursery here. For the ‘out and about’ equipment, read this. You’ll find health supplies here and bath-time equipment here.
You might have heard of it, you might have seen a Facebook post about it or read a poster somewhere. Group B Strep is becoming more widely known about and talked about in pregnancy. So what is it and what impact can it have on your pregnancy, your labour and birth and your baby?
What is Group B Strep?
Simply put, Group B Strep is a bacteria which is found in about 30% of women. That’s one in three of you and your friends. Most of the time, this bacteria causes no problems whatsoever. It’s like those bacteria in your digestive system which help you to break down your food. Group B Strep bacteria (GBS) are most often found in your vagina or rectum, although occasionally they can transfer to your urine. This can cause a urine infection, which should be treated with antibiotics as soon as it is found.
How do I know if I’ve got Group B Strep?
Most women discover they have Group B Strep because it appears in their urine during pregnancy. They may or may not have any symptoms of a urine infection. Your midwife may find it in the urine sample you provide at your booking appointment. Alternatively, you may be aware of a urine infection and Group B Strep is identified as the cause.
With the increase in awareness of Group B Strep and the implications it has on pregnancy, some women ask to be tested. This testing is best done between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy. Your own midwife can usually do this at your GP surgery. You will need to sweep a long-handled cotton bud around the inside of your vagina. You put the cotton bud into a tube with a tiny amount of solution in it and the tube and cotton bud are sent to the laboratory. In a day or two, the laboratory can tell you if the sample has grown Group B Strep.
The newest type of test for Group B Strep is the enriched culture medium test which may or may not be available within your local area. Please ask your own midwife for details.
Implications of Group B Strep on Pregnancy
Finding out that you have Group B Strep during your pregnancy does not have a large impact on your care during the pregnancy itself. If the bacteria is found in your vagina or rectum, you will not need any antenatal treatment. If it is found in your urine, we recommend that you have some antibiotics to treat the urine infection.
Implications of Group B Strep on Labour and Birth
You will be advised to have antibiotics in labour if you have been identified as carrying the Group B Strep bacteria, whether that is during the current pregnancy or at any point in the past. These will be given via a drip in the back of your hand or in your arm. You will get a dose every 4 hours for as long as labour lasts. It’s really important to mention to the hospital that you’ve had Group B Strep when you phone them in labour. The midwife takes into account the time it takes for you to get to the hospital as well as the time it takes to provide the antibiotics when they invite you in to be assessed.
Providing antibiotics in labour has been shown to reduce the risk of the baby getting Group B Strep. It is a pretty simple procedure which can keep your baby safe. That is why it is recommended practice in the UK. Please discuss this further with your midwife or Obstetrician if you have any other concerns.
Implications of Group B Strep on Your Baby
Whilst most babies are fine even with exposure to Group B Strep, a small minority can get an infection from it. An even smaller minority can have serious consequences from that infection.
For that reason, if we know that you have carried Group B Strep in the past or in the current pregnancy, we recommend the use of antibiotics in labour. We also recommend that you stay in hospital for at least 12-24 hours after the birth. This enables us to monitor your baby’s heart rate, breathing, temperature and general condition every couple of hours and ensure no infection occurs.
If any signs of infection occur, such as an increase or decrease in temperature, breathing rate or heart rate, your baby will be referred to a neonatal doctor to assess what treatment may be required. Sometimes the baby will need a course of IV antibiotics, which usually lasts between 5 and 7 days. In most cases, you will still be able to care for your baby yourself while the antibiotics are given. A small number of cases may need extra support from a Special Care Baby Unit to help them fight the infection.
Please try not to read every internet story on Group B Strep. There are very heartbreaking cases out there and the internet would have you believe they are the most common kind. The reality as seen in the midwifery, obstetric and neonatal world is that most cases of Group B Strep infection will respond quickly to a course of antibiotics with no long-term effects.
You can read more in the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists patient information leaflet, available here.
Amongst the many many lists of baby equipment strewn across the internet, you’ll find many variations of so-called ‘essentials’. What is essential for one person is obviously not essential for another! I thought perhaps I could help bring some clarity to the subject by listing my favourite essentials for breastfeeding mums. These are based on my midwifery experience with hundreds and hundreds of new mums dealing with daily breastfeeding challenges.
**This post may contain 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.**
Hydrating is essential when you are feeding a baby. As some feeds can take up to an hour, it’s definitely worth having a source of water nearby. A water bottle will definitely come in useful as it can go wherever you go in the house to feed the baby!
I like this sort of bottle, which shows how much you should be drinking by a certain time of day. It helps you make sure you are getting the right amount of fluid, not just a glass or two. Fill it up twice a day – morning and lunchtime – and you know you’ve got the minimum 2 litres needed. Fill it up three times and you’re doing brilliantly!
The reality of breastfeeding is not all rose coloured mums and babes smiling in a shaft of sunlight. Sometimes there is soreness, cracks and bleeding. Your nipples have to adjust from being areas treated gently and softly and covered by a protecting bra, to being worked constantly, sucked and stretched and gummed 23.5 hours a day. It is no wonder that they will often get really painful, with cracks or bleeding noticeable.
While you should always get your attachment and positioning checked if you develop sore nipples, sometimes your body just needs to harden them. It’s like a hiker going on a 25-mile walk. If they’ve only walked 800 metres a day before, their feet are going to develop blisters. If they slowly work up to 25 miles each day, the skin on their feet thickens and hardens which makes blisters much rarer.
As a protective and preventative measure, nipple cream can be really useful. I would recommend buying several tubes of it so that you have one in each place you are likely to feed, plus one in your handbag. If you feed downstairs with the cream upstairs, the likelihood is you will forget to head upstairs and apply the cream after the feed. Just one forgotten application can make more difference than you think.
Nipple cream creates a moist barrier which allows the skin to recover and repair any damage. It is great to use because you don’t have to wipe it off before a feed. Lansinoh is one of the more well-known brands, but feel free to try some other brands and compare the results!
Another tip hot off the press from a London mum friend of mine is Vaseline. Apparently, the midwife helping her in the postnatal ward recommended using lashings of the stuff to repair cracked nipples even more quickly than the standard nipple cream does. My friend can testify to the truth of that promise!
There are two things to remember here: first, use a lot of the stuff! Not a thin layer like nipple cream, but a good thick coating is what it takes to work its magic. Also, you will need to remove this before you feed the baby.
So, have a go and let me know what you think! Is this a London secret that I need to start sharing up in the north?!
The wonder of nipple shells is that they work on two fronts. First, they catch all that extra milk that you might find drips from one nipple as you feed from the other. We don’t want to waste such a precious resource, so by catching it we can store it and use it in the future when we need to top baby up or go out for an evening. Try looking at Pinterest for more ideas on uses for breast milk other than feeding babies!
The other wonderful thing about nipple shells is that they lift your shirt or top off your nipple which, as mentioned above, may be a little sore!
You can go even further and use one of these for actively collecting the milk which drips from the free breast during feeding. The vacuum means you are more likely to collect a larger amount of milk, which can be useful for increasing milk supply.
Breast Milk Storage Bags
If you are collecting all that precious breast milk, you are going to need to store it in something. I cannot recommend these storage bags enough. They are strong, just the right size, and enable you to label the date and time the milk was collected! Did you know that the consistency of your milk changes according to the time of day you produced it? It is often thicker in the evenings and overnight, which helps to keep baby settled for longer.
Any breastfeeding mother can tell you the tale of their baby’s first cold. However and whenever it happens, it can have a serious impact on feeding. This is simply because if your baby has a stuffy, blocked nose, he or she struggles to breathe out of their nose as they feed at the breast. Feeds become shorter but almost constant, with lots of breaks and coughing up the precious milk they’ve just managed to drink.
If you are concerned about your baby’s health, please see your GP sooner rather than later. They will be able to reassure you whether it is just a cold which will pass or whether your baby needs more help to recover.
Once your GP has confirmed that the baby has a simple cold, you can help them in ways which are similar to those you would use yourself. You have probably heard of Vicks vapour rub, which can be rubbed onto a child or adult’s back, chest or feet. The unique smell calms coughs and eases congestion.
Snuffle Babe is a similar product made just for babies, so you can be confident using it on your littlest ones.
Another essential for your baby’s first cold is saline drops. They are simply a small bottle of salty water which you can squirt up your baby’s nose. Although you may wonder why you would want to do this, you will find that this flushes out all the snot blocking their nose and helps them to breathe more easily.
If you want to be ‘Wonder Mum’ you can even try a nasal aspirator, which is apparently even more effective! This simple device enables you to literally suck out all the gunk from your baby’s nose. There is a filter between your mouth and the gunk, so you don’t get a nasty surprise! When my mum first told me she had used one of these on me, many decades ago, I was horrified. However, I now understand the clear and urgent need to resolve blocked noses as soon as possible! My poor mum didn’t have the luxury of a filter protecting her from inhaling all my gunk – which goes to show the depths of love mums go to, to ease baby’s discomfort and get some sleep! Thank goodness for some advances in technology!
Nursing Bras / Nursing Tops
The other very essential thing for feeding baby, especially at night or in public, is a proper nursing top. This allows you to access the feeding area without having to completely strip off. Most nursing tops also provide a low but significant level of support which you don’t find in normal cami-style tops. Try searching on Amazon here.
If you have the time and the pennies, you can search the internet and online retailers for many cleverly styled nursing tops. If you don’t have the time or pennies to do so, Pinterest can still offer suggestions for altering your normal cami-tops to make them nursing tops.
The very important note is to not skimp when you buy a nursing bra or two! I’m not offering online links for this as I think it’s important to be seen face to face by a bra-fitting expert who can guide you to the right fit and style for you. In the UK, most department stores offer a face to face bra fitting service, and Bravissimo are brilliant for those who may have a larger cup size. Shop around for choice but don’t skimp on quality!
After a good feed comes a good burp and occasionally some positing. Muslin cloths are great for catching anything the baby brings up. They are also brilliant for putting over your shoulder or knee or arm etc when winding or just holding babies. Use them as a sheet on a makeshift bed and dry your tears when the baby blues arrive. You can even use them to squeeze or bite at that point of pain at the beginning of the feed when baby is pulling your nipple out. You know the one, where you clench your fists and curl your toes? Don’t go anywhere without two or three of these lifesavers!
Have you noticed that your milk will flow at the slightest thing? The power of hormones means even someone else’s baby crying can start your breasts dripping! To avoid rather obviously damp circles on every top you own, make sure you have a good supply of breast pads. They absorb the milk and keep you dry.
The other essential for breastfeeding mums to have on hand is a snack of some kind. You may have a long feed ahead, and you need to keep your strength up. Having a pre-packed snack within reach makes this really simple. If you are super organised you could try to create your own homemade organic superfood snacks, but this is real life, people! Most of us are impressed when we manage a shower by 3pm. Let someone else make your snacks for you! You can turn into that wonder woman a few months down the line if you have the energy!
Pretty bags for storing it all!
With all these essentials to keep handy, it’s definitely worth investing in a small, pretty bag or two. Makeup bags can be the perfect size to hold a few pads, a nipple shell, snacks, and creams and keep them close to you. You could have one bag that moves around the house with you. You could even create a couple of them and keep them in your favourite feeding spots.
Whatever your essentials list holds, just remember you are doing a brilliant job. Be kind to yourself. Have a treat or two. Embrace naps. These early days can be intense but you can do this!
Feeding your baby is a fierce biological drive which rises in a mother often as soon as the baby is born. It can be extremely worrying when a baby is not making much effort to try and feed or seems more interested in sleeping than feeding.
Let me state at the very beginning that if you have any concerns regarding your baby’s health including feeding you MUST CONSULT A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL IMMEDIATELY! The following suggestions are only suitable for healthy babies born after 37 weeks of pregnancy, who weigh 2.8kg or above (6lbs 3oz). You can use them while you wait for your health professional to see you but do not delay seeking medical advice.
Why does baby seem reluctant to feed?
It can be helpful to consider any possible reasons for the baby being slow to start feeding.
Some mums may have had diamorphine or pethidine during labour to reduce labour pain. These pain-relieving drugs can make labour easier to bear, but they also pass across to the baby. It is not uncommon for babies whose mum had these medications to be more interested in sleeping them off than in feeding for the first 24 hours or so.
Babies can get tired after a long labour. They may also still have quite a lot of mucus and other gunk in their stomach. This is very normal, but it fools the baby into thinking they are full so they don’t look for milk. It’s similar to how you feel after a large Sunday lunch with all the trimmings. You are often keen for an afternoon nap so you can digest everything! The baby thinks the mucus in its stomach is a large meal, so decides to sleep while it digests. Unfortunately, mucus can take time to be digested or coughed up, so babies can delay feeding while they do this.
Getting in the mood for a feed
One of the simplest ways to remind baby that feeding is a good option is to put them close to the breast! Your breasts start producing colostrum or milk as soon as the baby is born, although the amounts may be small to start with. When you cuddle your baby close to your chest they can smell the milk and that may be enough to persuade them to try feeding.
Try some skin to skin contact. Skin to skin contact is brilliant for mums and babies. It helps babies regulate their temperature and breathing. It also calms them down and helps their stress hormones to return to normal levels after rising during labour.
Skin to skin contact is pretty easy to do. Just take off your top and any maternity or nursing bra you might have, and strip your baby down to his or her nappy. Put baby on your chest between your breasts and cover both of you with a blanket or sheet or two to keep warm.
This will often be enough to enable the baby to smell your milk and move across to the breast by themselves! This amazing reflex they have of moving towards the breast can be seen in lots of youtube videos if you are interested. Just try searching for ‘Biological nurturing’.
Secret Midwife’s Tip for Faster Skin to Skin
Skin to skin can be brilliant for getting baby to feed. However, it isn’t always easy or practical when you have guests visiting or have to look after other children. It can also be frustrating to undress a baby every 2-3 hours to get them to feed.
One great tip handed down by generations of midwives working on postnatal wards is to dress baby in a centre fastening babygro without a vest. You might need another layer such as a cardigan or an extra blanket to keep them warm when they are sleeping. When it comes to feeding time, you can just unbutton the cardigan and unfasten the babygro. Keep baby’s arms and legs in the babygro but open the front of the babygro wide. This means there will be a large enough area of the baby’s chest to enable you to do mini skin to skin! It also means baby doesn’t get cold arms and legs and redressing them after the feed is much easier.
One of the most effective techniques for getting a sleepy baby to feed is to remind them what they’re missing. If a baby gets a little milk into their system, they often wake up enough to want to feed. So how do you get milk into a sleeping baby? It’s really very simple.
Hand expression is a key skill for mothers of sleepy babies. I imagine I’ll do a longer blog post with more in-depth technical explanations at some point. At present though, let’s keep it short and simple. After all, there’s a baby to feed!
Make sure you are somewhere that you can relax and not be disturbed. Oxytocin is a key hormone in producing milk and it isn’t going to flow so easily in a room full of friends, family, a screaming toddler and the postie dropping off baby gifts! You need to feel safe and comfortable.
Make a C shape with your thumb and forefinger. It’s a bit like miming a crab’s claw! Using that C shape, put your fingers around the edge of your areola. That’s the pigmented part of the skin that surrounds the nipple. Don’t put your fingers directly on the nipple, as there is no breast tissue there for you to stimulate. Placing your fingers further back towards the area where your areola meets the normal skin tissue will help you find more milk ducts to compress.
With your fingers touching your skin, gently press your fingers towards each other, squeezing your breast in the process. Don’t slide your fingers forwards towards your nipple or backwards towards your chest wall. Just keep them pinching directly towards each other.
Getting Milk into a Closed Mouth
It may take a few seconds or more but you should start to see little droplets of colostrum at your nipple within a minute or two. This is the good stuff! Now, all we need to do is give that to the baby and let its sugary goodness wake them up enough to want to try feeding.
You may be shouting at the screen that it’s no good having the milk if the baby is asleep and won’t open their mouth. Don’t worry, I’ve got a midwife’s tip for that too!
It is true that if a baby doesn’t want to open their mouth, it’s pretty difficult to force them. Parents who give milk via a bottle will have experienced the frustration of a baby crying for milk but refusing to open their gums to allow the teat in! Thankfully, we don’t need to get the milk past their gums.
Have you ever heard the term ‘pet lip’? It’s used to describe a baby or child who has rolled their bottom lip out and down as a sign of unhappiness. It’s actually really useful to practice it yourself so you understand what I mean. Go on. No one is watching! Without opening your teeth, just roll your bottom lip forward and down, almost like it’s inside out. You’ll notice that the lovely pinkish area of tissue that sits between your lips and your teeth is exposed. This is a mucous membrane and it’s all we need to get some calories into a sleeping baby.
So, the next step is to transfer those lovely drops of colostrum to the baby. The simplest way to do this is to run your little finger over the droplet so it transfers to the finger. Take this milk covered finger and run it along the inside of the baby’s bottom or top lip. You don’t need to force the finger in between their gums. Simply coating the mucous membrane will be enough.
Once you’ve done it, go back and hand express another drop and repeat the process. Yes, it’s time-consuming but it works miracles! If you do this for 5 – 10 minutes, the baby will have a crusty milky mouth. More importantly, they will have absorbed the milky goodness and their body will normally wake them up as they decide they want more! That is the time to put your baby to the breast so that they can actively feed themselves.
Making Baby Less Comfortable
Okay, this section shows that I’ve got my midwife hat on, rather than that cuddly mummy hat that keeps babies cozy at all times. The truth is that sometimes babies are just too comfortable sleeping to rouse themselves to feed. A few weeks down the line, I would never encourage you to wake a sleeping baby. During the first couple of days, though, it is helpful in stimulating milk production and establishing breastfeeding to wake babies if they sleep too long.
How long is too long? That depends on many factors and you should be guided by your midwife or health professional. I tend to err on the side of caution and encourage waking to feed if they haven’t done so themselves by 4 hours after the end of the last feed. That’s just until we know that baby has figured out feeding and is putting weight back on after their initial weight loss.
For a baby who hasn’t yet started attaching to the breast, who seems full of mucous or very sleepy, I would encourage you to hand express and finger feed every 2 – 3 hours. Although this is a lot of work, it ensures that even if baby only decides to wake and feed at every other finger feed session, they are still getting enough milk to maintain their health. It also ensures that you are stimulating your milk production in those essential first few days whilst the baby is a little too sleepy to do so.
My ‘Pick them up and let them hang’ technique is often very effective at waking babies, although it does tug at the heartstrings. Holding the baby securely with both hands under their armpits, lift them up into the air so that their legs are no longer supported by the bed or your lap. Although the baby is perfectly safe, they don’t like the sensation of having their bottom half unsupported, so it usually wakes them up and sometimes even makes them a little upset. I don’t recommend doing it for long periods! Just use it as a 2-second thing to wake them up enough to put them on the breast.
The other surefire way to wake a baby is to change their nappy! You’ll probably have noticed that babies do not like getting naked and having their bottom wiped. This makes it an excellent tool for waking them up if you need to. You may just need to open their babygro to wake them. You may need to go all the way to changing the nappy (or opening it then closing it again if it is clean).
Another good way to wake a baby is to have a bath with them. This ticks lots of boxes for waking baby – they get naked and they get skin to skin! Of course, it only works if your house has a bath and if you don’t have lots of other children, pets and partners needing your attention!
A Suggested Feeding Schedule for Sleepy or Reluctant Babies
Every two hours start off by doing skin to skin for at least 30 minutes. Follow this by hand expressing for 5 to 10 minutes. Use your finger to transfer the drops of milk to the baby’s rolled down lips as described above. After finger feeding like this for 10 minutes, you can settle baby back to sleep. Hopefully, they won’t settle and will insist on having a proper active feed.
If the baby has a good feed of 10-15 minutes of active sucking and swallowing with rhythmic pauses, you can let them sleep for another 3 – 3.5 hours before waking them again.
If the baby decides they don’t want to feed after you’ve hand expressed, or if they only actively feed for less than 10 minutes, repeat the process in another 2 hours.
When to Seek Immediate Assistance
Always, always ask for professional advice if you are at all worried about your baby’s feeding or lack of it. Whilst most babies will wake up and start feeding themselves, a slow or reluctant feeder can be a sign that the baby is unwell. If you notice any of the following symptoms, please take your baby to the nearest Emergency Care Centre immediately.
Jitteriness – this is a repetitive unprovoked movement in one or more limbs