Monthly Archives: August 2007

Random acts of cuteness

Some bits and pieces of Jamie anecdotes that don’t fit in anywhere else…

Jamie has recently developed a bit more interest in his train set.  The interest is mainly in tipping it out onto the floor and then commenting gleefully and accurately "Messy!" (and, on one occasion, just as gleefully but rather less accurately: "I sink I is in trouble now!"  Oh, please, kiddo – all that time and effort we’ve put into not being the sort of authoritarian parents who’d come down heavily on you for that sort of thing, and you can’t give us credit?) but he’s showing at least some fleeting interest in aspects of it beyond the traffic lights.  Accordingly, a little while back he was sifting through the pieces – "White car," he commented, as he pulled out the police car.

"That’s a police car," I told him.

"Where police bus?" he inquired.

He meant the ambulance.  And it made complete sense: The set has a car and a bus in each colour category.  If there’s an orange car and an orange bus, a yellow car and a yellow bus… then a police car must imply the presence of a police bus.  Totally logical, from the viewpoint of a two-and-a-half-year-old.


Another recent game involved climbing up onto his little chest of drawers and thence onto his big chest of drawers and thence down to the ground again – all the time placing a book of mine ahead of him as he crawled.  Which apparently put some sort of time limit on things: "Quick, Jamie, catch up with the book!" he exhorted himself.


Looking at his drinking straw one evening over dinner, he noticed that the bend in it gave it the shape of a 7.  Which, of course, meant that the straw had to be made into the shape of all the other numbers as well.  Each in turn.  And then this had to happen every subsequent time he used a drinking straw, as well.  So now my dinners are interspersed with "Mummy make a number 5!  Mummy make a number 6!"  He did initially try phrasing this as "I sink Mummy wants to make a number 5…" but I wasn’t having any of that; I made sure we clarified exactly who it was wanted the numbers round here.  Incidentally, on the off-chance that you may have happened to wonder how far one can get making sequential numbers out of a single drinking straw, then the answer is 13 (if you cheat a bit with 11 by covering up the bit between the two 1s with your fingers).


Today, during a long drive home from our in-laws with whom we spent an excellent Bank Holiday weekend, he decided that one of the funniest games ever consisted of hiding under a blanket and shouting "Baked potatoes!" at random intervals.  My required participation in this appeared to involve some peek-a-boo sequences in which I shouted "Baked potatoes!" instead of "Boo!" as I dived under the blanket to join him ("Mummy come in here and shout ‘Baked potatoes!’ ") or ducked out of site behind the edge of his car seat ("Mummy go ‘way and shout ‘Baked potatoes!’ ")  At one point I did try to vary it a bit by shouting "Boiled potatoes!" instead, but he just looked rather blank.  "Cheesy wedges!" was rather better received.  "After cheesy wedges comes apple an’ mango an’ blackcurrant juice," he assured me solemnly.  The whole game was considered unutterably hilarious, reducing him to convulsions of helpless giggling and keeping him entertained for a large part of the long drive back.  And, no, I still don’t have the foggiest idea what any of this was all about.


Filed under Here Be Offspring

Puréed dogma

The latest absolute and utter no-no for parents (or maybe not the latest – I am, as usual, some weeks months late with getting round to commenting on this, and in the parenting world that’s plenty of time for some totally new thou-shalt-not to have emerged) is, apparently, feeding babies puréed food.  I kid you not.

A post from Emily (whose blog has first been abandoned and then hacked, so I’ve had to take out the direct link) alerted me to this article by Gill Rapley and the BBC on the subject.  I phrase the latter part of that sentence in the way I do because I have learnt never to underestimate the ability of the media to mangle anything anybody has to say on any subject ever, and it is thus quite possible that whatever Rapley originally said was a lot more reasonable and the scary spin on it is courtesy of the BBC.  However, regardless of where, precisely, the blame lies, Rapley and the BBC between them seem to have come up with an article likely to strike fear into the hearts of any parents who’ve ever dared smush a fork into their babies’ food.

Having kicked off with that meaningless old standby of a criticism, ‘unnatural’ (in what sense?  In the sense that spoons and forks don’t grow on trees in the rainforests?), the article continues thusly:

‘Spoon-feeding babies pureed food is unnatural and unnecessary, a childcare expert has warned.  Gill Rapley, deputy director of Unicef’s UK Baby
Friendly Initiative said feeding babies in this way could cause health
problems later in life.  …She said: "In 2002 the World Health Organisation backed
research that found breast or formula milk provided all the nutrition a
baby needs up to the age of six months.  That research said feeding a baby any other food during
the first six months would dilute the nutritional value of the milk and
might even be harmful to the baby’s health." ‘

Since this lacks in specificity what it provides in alarmism, I’ll now attempt a look at the actual facts behind all this gloom and doom.  What, exactly, has research shown about the effects of starting solids before six months?

The first question to clarify here is: How far before six months?  There are excellent reasons why we’ve moved away from the old practice of trying to get babies to eat solids in the first few weeks (very small babies lack either the co-ordination to chew and swallow anything that isn’t liquid or the digestive enzymes to deal with it if it does make it down to their gut), but these have been well accepted for a long time, and, prior to all this new fanfare about waiting till six months, four months had been the advised age for as long as I can remember.  (And, thanks to my odd and eccentric childhood spent indulging my passion for reading childcare books, ‘as long as I can remember’ goes back a fair few decades.  I definitely remember reading the wait-until-four-months advice from Penelope Leach in the early 80s – granted, it was probably avant-garde then, but I think it’s well established now.)  All the books that haven’t caught up with the six month advice say to wait at least until four months.  The instructions on all the commercial baby food jars say from four months onwards.  I don’t think the burning question here is whether we should be waiting till six months as opposed to giving babies solids in their first few weeks.  It’s how waiting until six months to start solids compares to starting between four and six months.

This is not, by the way, to say that I believe all parents were faithfully following the wait-until-four-months advice; I have no doubt that there are going to be a few parents around ignoring everything any expert has to say and spooning purées into babies far younger than four months in accordance with that good ol’ traditional parenting principle of "My Mother Did It This Way And We All Turned Out Just Fine".  However, I suspect that those are precisely the parents who aren’t bothered by this sort of article because they really couldn’t care less about anything Gill Rapley or the BBC have to say on the subject.  The parents who are affected by articles like these are the parents who are trying to follow the expert advice and do what they believe to be the right thing for their babies, and who are caught off-guard whenever the advice changes.  So, for any parents who followed the old advice about four months and are now left worrying about what dreadful unspecified harm they’ve done to their babies through not waiting those crucial extra two months, here’s a discussion of the available research.

(This is where I start getting all technical and wordy and going on and on about studies and statistics and analyses.  Sorry.  I’ll try to keep it as straightforward as possible – feel free to yell loudly at me if I don’t.)

The available research consists of a number of studies which have compared breastfed babies who first received solids and/or formula supplements at four months with babies who were kept on breastmilk alone until six months.  The first thing to note here is an important difference between this focus and the thrust of the comments in the BBC article.  While Rapley’s comments seem to imply that the problems are specifically with starting solids and that they apply to both breastfed and formula-fed babies, all the research so far is in babies who were previously fully breastfed.  There is no research that I’ve ever seen that compares the effects of starting solids at four months versus starting at six months in babies who are already getting formula as well as/instead of breastmilk.  And although the standard advice has worked on the assumption that the results from the studies of exclusively breastfed babies can be applied to formula-fed or mixed-fed babies, this simply isn’t a valid assumption. 

Ideally, of course, all babies would be exclusively breastfed for at least the first few months.  However, given that this is very far from the current situation and that most babies are already getting at least some formula regularly by the age of four months, how applicable is the available research to the majority of babies whose parents are going to be reading this article?  The answer is, of course, that we don’t know.  We don’t know whether the research can be applied to mixed-fed or formula-fed babies at all.  While the general comments I made above about not starting solids in the first few months will still apply, what we don’t know is whether there are any added disadvantages for these babies in starting solids a bit earlier than that magic six-month mark.

But, with regard to babies who are exclusively breastfed, what does the evidence show? 

The studies to date have explored a variety of outcomes – various growth measures, likelihood of anaemia, and incidence of various symptoms of infection.  Most of them found no differences between the two ages in terms of effects on the babies.  This is actually an important and useful finding, since it means we can now dispense with the opposite problem – parents being told (as they were up until the updated advice came out) that they have to start solids at four months because babies need the extra food to grow.  We now know that that isn’t true.  Babies will grow perfectly well on nothing but breastmilk for the first six months – or formula, if exclusive breastmilk isn’t an option for whatever reason – and starting solids early gives babies no extra advantages in terms of growth.  Which is knowledge that can potentially save parents a large amount of trouble.  (One factor that tends to get overlooked in all the hoo-ha about unspecified but dire adverse effects on health from starting solids too early is that there are practical advantages in what is now known as baby-led weaning.  Trying to spoon purée into a propped-up four-month-old, and then clear up afterwards, is a pain, and those carrot stains are the very devil to get out of baby clothes.  Waiting until your baby is old enough to sit up, grab pieces of food, and stuff them into his own mouth, and then giving him a few pieces of stuff cut to an appropriate size that he can practice eating for himself, strikes me as likely to be a whole lot easier; and the reports I’ve heard from people who’ve tried this method seem to bear this out.)

However, although it’s very nice to know that we can now wait until six months if we want to, that in itself doesn’t add up to this message about how we must wait until six months or we’ll be Harming Our Babies.  So, let’s look further.  What studies have actually shown differences in outcomes for babies who wait until six months as opposed to babies who start something other than breastmilk at four months?  So far, there seem to be three. 

Two of these studies, carried out in the Honduras, found that babies kept exclusively on breastmilk for six months crawled a few weeks earlier than babies in whom purées were introduced at four months.  Whether this adds up to a blind bit of difference in terms of long-term development is unknown and debatable, but I suppose it might be nice for the sort of mother who likes boasting about her children’s achievements.  For the most part, these studies didn’t find any other differences between the two groups. 

I say ‘for the most part’ because one of those studies did find that the group who started solids at four months were found to have higher haemoglobin levels and iron stores, on average, than the group who were kept on exclusive breastmilk until six months.  However, although I mention this for the sake of completeness, it turns out that this doesn’t detract from the wait-until-six-months advice – further research shows that iron supplements from four months are actually a better way of dealing with this problem than iron-fortified purées, probably because babies this young can digest supplements more easily than purées.  It’s also worth noting that this study was done in the Honduras, in an area where nutrition was poor and the mothers were more likely to have iron deficiency before the birth of their babies, resulting in lower iron stores for the babies at the time they were born; this risk may not apply at all to babies born to well-nourished women in the First World.  In fact, there is some evidence that the reverse may be true.  Plus, the actual differences found were not great enough to result in a greater proportion of babies actually becoming anaemic, and didn’t seem to be a particular problem for babies who were normal weight at birth.  All things considered, this research probably isn’t even an issue for First World babies except in fairly rare cases; if you have a four-month-old baby who has been exclusively breastfed so far, for heaven’s sake don’t start assuming you need to rush for the iron supplements, let alone the purées.  Once again, most babies seem to be fine on breastmilk until six months, iron levels and all.

Of course, this also means that four months and six months are still coming out neck and neck as far as age of starting solids goes.  What else does the research show?

The tie-breaker (ding ding ding! We have a winner!) is a study published in early 2006, which compared rates of pneumonia and ear infections in babies who were fully breastfed until six months and babies who were fully breastfed until four months and then started some formula, solids, or both on a regular basis.  (Babies who got nothing but breastmilk on a daily basis were counted as fully breastfed even if they’d had occasional formula supplements in the past – a sensible point that probably makes the study more widely applicable.)

The study found a difference in reported rates of pneumonia between the two groups of babies.  (That may need a mite of clarification.  Data on feeding methods and disease rates were obtained
from the results of a national survey, the NHANES questionnaire – I
haven’t been able to find a copy of the questions asked, so I don’t
know how strictly ‘pneumonia’ was defined, and thus can’t rule out the possibility that it
may cover a lot of what, strictly speaking, would have been better
described as nasty chesty colds.)  Also, although there was no difference between overall rates of ear infections, the babies who started formula or solids at four months were more likely to suffer from frequent ear infections (more than three).

What were the actual numbers involved, in terms of increased chance of getting pneumonia for a baby who’d started something other than breastmilk at four months rather than waiting till six months?  According to the numbers in the abstract the extra risk was around 1 in 20, but this is actually a bit misleading since these were the unadjusted figures.  (Results from a study like this can be affected by what are called confounding factors – for example, it may be that smokers are more likely to use formula rather than breastfeed and that their babies are more likely to develop chest problems because of the smoking, or that women with babies in day care are less able to keep breastfeeding and that their babies are more likely to catch infections due to being in day care.  Factors like these can obviously affect the results by showing an association between earlier weaning and adverse outcomes that’s actually due to reasons other than the earlier weaning.  However, where these confounding factors are known there are ways of adjusting for their effect in the study results; and, therefore, the most accurate figures in this sort of study are the ones that have been adjusted for all the confounding factors known.)

(Sorry.  To avoid confusion for any US readers, I should clarify that in the above paragraph, and anywhere else where the word happens to come up in this post, I’m using ‘weaning’ in the British sense of meaning ‘initial introduction of solids in a baby still getting baby milk’, rather than in the American sense of stopping breastfeeding.  I was trying to avoid the word for fear of causing confusion, but typing out ‘starting something other than breastmilk’, or phrases to that effect, just became too much of a hassle.)

The study did give the adjusted figures, but, unfortunately, gave them in a different format that isn’t as easy to interpret – the odds ratio.  This is a measure of how much more likely a baby from one group was to develop pneumonia compared to a baby from the other group.  In this case, it tells us that the babies weaned before four months were more likely to get pneumonia than the babies fully breastfed until six months.  However, it is not possible to tell from an odds ratio what the actual risk is.  I tried working it out for myself from the raw data given in the article, and, by my calculations, the risk is 1 in 40 – in other words, of the babies fully breastfed until four months and then started on solids, you would expect approximately an extra 1 in every 40 to catch pneumonia compared to babies who are fully breastfed until six months.  Between my appallingly poor arithmetical skills and my calculator’s failing battery I’m not sure I’d recommend depending too much on the precision of that figure, but I figure it’s probably at least ballpark.  So, although the chances of benefit aren’t that great, it certainly seems that some babies benefit from the extra delay in weaning.

There’s also the question of whether there might be benefits that are as yet unproven simply because we haven’t done the studies (which, of course, does work both ways – theoretically, there could also be disadvantages that we have yet to discover).  One question that has been asked is whether the extra time on nothing but breastmilk might also decrease the chances of getting tummy bugs.  There have not yet been any studies specifically comparing the risks of weaning at four months and the risks of weaning at six months with regard to this issue, but one good-quality study that compared weaning at three months to weaning at six months found an increased rate of episodes of diarrhoea in the three-month group.  The chances of getting diarrhoea as a result of weaning that bit earlier was around 1 in 40.  This doesn’t prove that weaning at four months would increase the risk of tummy bugs compared to weaning at six months (and, if there is any increased risk, presumably it would be correspondingly less than the risk of weaning at three months), but it’s quite possible.

So, to sum up the story so far – if you have a fully breastfed baby and hold off on giving him anything other than breastmilk until he’s six months then he will have a slightly smaller risk of pneumonia, of being plagued with frequent ear infections, and possibly of tummy bugs, than he will if you start solids at four months.  He will also, as Rapley points out, be at less risk of bouts of constipation, which is one of life’s nuisances that it’s nice to be spared if possible.  You’ll be spared either the trouble of making tiny quantities of purée or the cost of buying jars of the stuff.  You’ll also be spared all the hassle of trying to spoon semi-solid gunk into a baby too young to sit up properly, and of cleaning up afterwards.  And your child’s clothes will be spared a lot of ugly stains.  All in all, I’d say it sounds like a pretty compelling case – all other things being equal, I’d say that there are indeed good reasons to wait until six months before starting solids.

I would not, however, say that there are good reasons to scare parents silly with alarmist articles suggesting that parents who’ve started solids earlier have in some way damaged their babies.

The advice about waiting until six months before starting solids is at least based on some evidence.  (Which, I might add, is more than was the case when that advice was first given out.  The WHO report Rapley mentioned came out, as she says, in 2002 – the research about increased rates of diarrhoea where solids were started at three months was available then, and they extrapolated from that, but at the time there was no research available showing any benefit for six months over four months.  Which did not stop the government and health visitors from collectively presenting six months as The New Parenting Gospel.) 

However, I’m not too impressed by a vague phrase like ‘might be harmful to the baby’s health’ to refer to earlier weaning – too scary, too open to being embroidered by parental imagination into worst-case scenarios.  I’d far sooner see parents given a brief summary of the facts so that we can weigh matters up for ourselves.  What the organisations who give out this sort of health message regularly fail to take into account is that people don’t make health-related decisions in a vacuum.  There are all sorts of other factors that may influence our decisions; and there are a myriad of reasons why a decision that may not,strictly speaking, be the best one purely from the health perspective may still be the best one for that person in that situation.  Instead of simply telling us that we ‘should’ do things one way or another, why not trust parents enough to tell us about the evidence so that we can take it into account when making our own decisions?

But the biggest problem is that the article doesn’t stop there.  It also leaves us with the message that purées are somehow inherently harmfulthat there’s something wrong with feeding babies puréed food even once they’ve reached the grand old age of six months.

"After six months, Mrs Rapley said babies were capable of taking food into their mouths and chewing it.  Therefore, feeding them pureed food at this time could delay the development of chewing skills."

I suppose it could – after all, the more we practice a skill the better we get at it, and so it sounds plausible that a baby who mostly gets puréed food could be slower to grasp the essentials of chewing than a baby who spends that time working on masticatory skills.  So…. freakin’… what?  Exactly why should the precise age at which a child masters chewing skills matter?  Is this a race?  Are these babies under a deadline for sitting their Chewing Exams?  Is this some vital new part of the National Curriculum of which I was hitherto unaware?

Baby-led weaning is a new enough concept in this country that almost every person you know will have been weaned onto puréed foods back in their own weaning days.  How many people do you encounter who are having difficulty with chewing solids because of having missed out on the practice in their first year of life?  I’d say we have compelling evidence that, purées or no purées, kids do eventually pick up the general idea of what’s involved in chewing.

However, parents who’ve realised this for themselves, or who just don’t care all that much about whether their baby’s chewing skills are keeping up with those of the Jones’s baby, don’t get off scot-free – the article then falls back on taking the tried-and-trusted allusions-to-unspecified-future-risks line.

"Mrs Rapley argued that babies fed pureed food had little
control over how much food they ate, thus rendering them vulnerable to
constipation, and running a risk that they would react by becoming
fussy eaters later in life"
the article tells us.  And in case that didn’t make it sound quite scary enough, the opening paragraphs get even vaguer on the subject: "Gill Rapley, deputy director of Unicef’s UK Baby Friendly Initiative said feeding babies in this way could cause health problems later in life."

"There’s an article on the BBC website," I told my husband, "saying that feeding babies puréed foods might cause them to have health problems later in life."

"Well," Barry replied "it might cause Satan to rise up out of the bowels of the earth and take over the world.  But unless you’ve any evidence for that…"

Rapley, as far as I know, doesn’t.  (For the health problems, I mean.  Well, I think it’s probably a reasonable assumption that she doesn’t have any evidence for Satan-invoking potential either, but that wasn’t what I wanted to comment on.)  At any rate, I have heard no mention of actual research on the long-term effects of baby-led weaning vs. other methods, and the only research that I can find mention of Rapley having done is her Masters’ degree, necessarily a short-term project.  And, since the whole idea of Baby-Led Weaning as a specific concept only developed in recent years, I really doubt that there have been any follow-up studies on the correlation between quantity of purée consumption in babyhood and degree of food fussiness later in life.  Rapley and the BBC are welcome to theorise about this all they want, but it would be appropriate to be clear about the fact that we don’t, currently, have a shred of evidence for or indeed against this theory.

All this, of course, goes back to the general OneTrueWay attitude to parenting.  There is, it seems, no middle ground between mandatory and forbidden when it comes to advising parents.  After years of experts telling parents that they had to start solids at four months, someone discovers that actually they don’t.  So does the advice to parents change to "It’s fine to wait until six months if you want to.  Feel free to decide for yourself."?  No.  It changes into another ‘must’.  Another Commandment From On High that we are all supposed to follow blindly until the advice changes again.

What effect does it have on parents when theories get handed out as if they were proven fact?  It promotes worry and guilt, and it damages trust.  When parents are continually told that innumerable minor things that they’ve done or are thinking of doing are harmful to their babies, that damages the trust that they have in their own abilities to parent.  And, for those parents who are strong-willed enough to resist this erosion of their confidence, the inevitable result is that it instead damages the trust they are willing to place in experts.  Which means that when genuinely evidence-based advice comes out, it’s more likely to be widely ignored because parents are so disillusioned by the times they’ve been told they absolutely must/must not do something only to have the advice switch 180 degrees on them.

To summarise the actual evidence on feeding babies solids and what my husband once referred to as ‘smusheds’; Most parents will find that there are good practical reasons for leaving the introduction of solids until such time as their baby is sitting up and grabbing them for himself.  A few babies will also avoid chest infections or ear infections as a result of waiting the extra time.  If you’ve got a four-month-old baby and are wondering when to start them on solids, those are the benefits of waiting.  But if you’re a parent who did start solids earlier than six months and/or (gasp) fed your baby purées and, following that article, have been anxiously wondering what terrifying consequences you may have stored up for your apparently healthy happy baby, then worry no more.  You may well have done irreparable harm to your baby’s clothes with all those orange mushes, but there’s not a shred of evidence that you’ve done any harm to your baby.


Filed under Sacred hamburger

Classy stuff

I have booked in for NCT antenatal classes.  I do recognise
that this might be seen as a possibly eccentric thing to do, given that
I’ve already had a baby, and indeed also successfully completed a medical degree and a diploma in obstetrics,
all of which might be considered to give me a sufficient understanding
of the basics. Eccentric or not, I’m going ahead with them.

One reason is that, depending on how labour goes this
time, understanding the basics may not be enough.  Sure, I now know
what a normal labour feels like and feel adequately equipped to deal with one, but that doesn’t mean everything will necessarily go as
smoothly this time around, and there’s always the chance I’ll end up needing
an epidural or a section or some other variation from the norm.  And,
while I know something about all these things from the medical point of
view, knowing how to deal with them from the point of view of a patient
is rather different.  I figure there’s no harm in being as well
prepared as possible.

However, the main reason I’m doing this is because it’s supposed to
be a great way to meet people.  Apparently, going through antenatal
classes together is one of the ultimate bonding experiences.  You get
to meet all these women who are at the same stage of the same
life-changing experience as you, and as a result you form firm
friendships and end up supporting each other through all the upcoming
years of dealing with motherhood and being friends for life

Or this
is what I’d always heard.  After all those heartwarming stories, I
found it something of a disappointment when nothing of the sort seemed
to happen at my own antenatal classes.  This was, it is only fair to
admit, probably in large part our own fault – being hopeless
timekeepers, we always tended to rush in just as the class was
starting, so for all I know the minutes immediately prior to the class
may have been absolutely full of bonding moments which we missed.  But
there didn’t seem to be any kind of getting-to-know-you discussions or
exercises during the classes or any sort of chitchat afterwards.  We
turned up, listened to midwives talking about labour and life with a newborn, had discussions of the points raised, and
left at the end of the evening.  That seemed to be about it.

This was less of a disappointment than it might have been because we
already knew we were going to be moving as soon as I could work out my
maternity leave and get a new job in a better area, and if I had formed
lifelong friendships it would actually have been rather frustrating
given that I’d then have moved to the other side of the country only a
few months later.  But now, barring truly major and unforeseeable
changes of plan, I’m settled once and for all in an area where I can
stay long term, and it would be good to get to know more people here.
On a brutally practical level, it would also be useful; Barry does plan
to go back to work eventually once Jamie and Upcoming Child are a bit
older, and everything I’ve ever read about the practicalities of
sorting out childcare when both parents work can best be summarised as
"Total nightmare".  It sounds as though, by the time we get to that
point, it would be a really good idea to have built up a network of
people that we know well enough to make those panicked 7.30 a.m. "The
childminder has just phoned in sick – could you possibly pick the kids
up from school and keep them until one of us gets back and we’ll take
yours off your hands for you some time in return?" phone calls to in an

So, second time around or not, I figure I should take full advantage of all the
friend-making opportunities that pregnancy and the postnatal period have to offer.  And, since this is almost certainly going to be my last child, I’m going to go whole hog and pay for the NCT classes rather than go for the freebie NHS version like I did last time.  I know this is probably a foolish ridiculous squanderous (if that’s even a word) waste of money, but I justify it to myself by reasoning that everybody should get the occasional mindless luxury in their life and, since I don’t go to spas or have pedicures, this can be mine.  I’ve heard good things about the NCT classes, and I don’t want to miss my last chance to experience them for myself.

The main issue with going to antenatal classes as a second-time parent is a practical one – somebody has to look after the first child while I’m there.  Since my husband has absolutely zero interest in such classes (he went last time because he knew it mattered to me, and that was sweet, but it wasn’t something he cared about on his own account), the solution seemed fairly obvious to me – he could stay home with Jamie while I went.  While I recognised that this way of doing things wasn’t totally fair to him (and I do feel bad about that side of it, but I have made it clear to him I’m happy to reciprocate any time he wants to get out for the occasional evening of living it up), it wasn’t something I really thought of as an issue for me.  I suppose it’s likely to feel mildly embarrassing to show up at an antenatal class as the only unaccompanied person there, but I can always casually rest my left hand so that my wedding ring is on prominent display; besides, I’d like to feel that by the age of thirty-seven I’ve finally grown out of the whole worry over whether or not I’m looking sufficiently popular in the eyes of everyone else.  So I wasn’t unduly bothered about the thought of turning up sans partner.

The woman taking the bookings for the classes felt differently.  When she asked for my partner’s name and I mentioned that she wasn’t likely to need it since I wasn’t planning on bringing him along, she tutted gravely and assured me that in that case I’d be better off not going either.  Since the classes consisted partly of exercises designed to be done with the birthing partner, I just wouldn’t get the most out of them if I didn’t have a birthing partner there.  If I couldn’t sort out a babysitter and bring my husband along, then I’d be much better off going to the antenatal exercise classes also run by the NCT and meeting people that way.

This seemed like something of a Catch-22 to me, given that my lack of anyone locally that I knew well enough to babysit was one of my main reasons for applying for the classes in the first place.  However, I gave this viewpoint due consideration, ringing the person who ran the exercise classes to find out more about them; they were, it seemed, weekly yoga sessions for women from mid-pregnancy onwards, consisting of an hour and a quarter of exercises followed by a quarter of an hour of chatting over coffee and biscuits.  I could see the logic to doing these instead – I’d get to fulfill my main goal of meeting other pregnant women, and for considerably lower cost than the antenatal preparation classes.  The drawback, of course, was that I’d have to spend an hour and a quarter each week doing yoga.  Which I do realise would be highly beneficial to me, but the problem is that it would also bore me senseless.  I didn’t think I was prepared to give up that much of my free time to yoga however good the associated bonding opportunities were.

So, back to consideration of the antenatal classes.  Fact was, I still wasn’t sure why going solo would be such a problem.  What exercises would they be doing that were so impossible to do without a partner, anyway?  In the various accounts I’ve read of antenatal classes, there always seems to be a scene where the women are expected to practice breathing their way through imaginary contractions while the partners talk them through it.  If that’s all it is, I can get through that on my own.  I breathed my way through most of a labour’s worth of real-life contractions on my own, without particularly feeling the need for anyone to hold my hand through it (thinking about it now, I think I’d have found it a bit of a distraction to have anyone trying); I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t do the same thing for a couple of pretend contractions.

I turned to the NCT Yahoo! group to ask them what they thought, and they were overwhelmingly positive about the whole idea, assuring me that going to classes was a great and highly recommended idea, regardless of whether or not I had anyone to accompany me, and that there was no reason why I shouldn’t go on my own.  As one or two of them pointed out, what would I have been expected to do if I was a single parent and didn’t have a choice in the matter?  It was all the encouragement I needed – I went ahead and sent off my booking form and cheque.  Then I heard nothing more for ages, until the person who runs the yoga classes wrote to me to say a place was now free on one (I’d left my name on the waiting list to keep my options open while I decided what I was going to do) and I e-mailed the person running the antenatal classes to ask her whether or not I had a place so that I could decide what to do about the yoga classes (if I hadn’t managed to get a place on one of the antenatal classes then I supposed the yoga classes might, debatably, be better than nothing).  She e-mailed me back to send me a flyer with details of the classes and a request that I submit the balance of my fee by a date a couple of weeks hence or else lose my place to someone else.  Which makes me wonder when she’d have got round to sending me this information if I hadn’t specifically asked her.  Oh, well.

The classes in our town turned out to be at really awkward times (good grief, how many women are there who can get that many mornings off work?  And, yes, I know your employers are supposed to give you the time off – but surely there are limits to how much you should be asking for?) but she’d also sent me details of a course in a nearby village, only about ten or fifteen minutes’ drive away, which looks far easier.  It covers two full days and two evenings, and both of the evenings are on Tuesday, my day off, which means I’ll have no worries about getting stuck at work late or being so exhausted when I get in that I can’t enjoy the class.  One of the days is on a Saturday, so that only leaves one day for me to book off work, and since it’s at the beginning of October and we aren’t likely to be too busy or understaffed then this presented no problem at all.  So, it’s sorted – I sent off my cheque and form, I’ve had the confirmation back, and I’m officially booked in.  I don’t know whether the people there will be a bunch of cliquey OneTrueWayers or a bunch of great women that I’ll enjoy meeting, but, either way, I’m really looking forward to it.


Filed under Great expectations

Pregnancy update

I am now, as far as I can work out, almost 26 weeks pregnant.  I cannot vouch for this with 100% accuracy as I have not been keeping the same kind of obsessive track of my precise stage of pregnancy this time around as I did the first time, and unfortunately it now seems that the Internet is less help than it used to be in helping pregnant women who’ve lost count to catch up. When I was pregnant with Jamie, had an excellent calculator for precisely this purpose – you typed in either the date of your last menstrual period or your ovulation date, whichever you preferred, and were instantly told not only your due date but also the precise gestation, in weeks and days, that your pregnancy had currently reached.  (For good measure, they would give you a link to a short piece about stuff likely to be relevant to you at that stage of your pregnancy – they had one worked out for every day of a pregnancy from pre-conception through to post-dates.)  Unfortunately, at some point in the intervening couple of years they have ditched this excellence in favour of a version which only calculates your due date and only calculates that from your last period, not your ovulation date.  Which means that even if I go to the trouble of adjusting the dates for the fact that my ovulation date wasn’t actually a textbook fourteen days after my last period (theoretically a simple calculation, but I do not have an arithmetical brain and inevitably manage to get such things wrong), this calculator, and the dozen or so others I’ve found by googling, will only tell me what date I’m due and not what exact stage of gestation I’m at now, which is what I’d actually like to know.  Would it really be so frickin’ complicated to design an on-line calculator that would give this information?

Oh, well – unlike most pregnant women, I’ve at least got the old-fashioned low-tech option available to me, in the form of the handy little gadget doctors have that consists of two cardboard wheels clipped together.  I can work it out from that any time I’m at work, so all I have to do now is actually remember to check at some point while I am at work.

Anyway, whatever stage I’m at, I’m feeling extremely well on it.  The upcoming few months are the stage of pregnancy I enjoyed most last time around – big enough to feel blooming, not big enough to be uncomfortable.  Katherine/Alfie is kicking with a ferocious determination that leaves me rather fancifully imagining that s/he knows s/he will have a strong-minded big brother to contend with and is already gearing up to hold his/her own.  Everything is progressing unremarkably, which is just the way I like pregnancies to progress.

I am now well and truly in maternity trousers (my predilection for loose comfortable tops rather than tailored blouses means that I can still wear my usual clothes on my top half).  This is a step I put off for as long as possible, feeling a somewhat irrational objection to going into maternity clothes before I had an obvious belly to put in them – the thought made me feel like some kind of poseur just trying to play the pregnancy up.  (I also had a rather more rational objection – namely, that if I was going to wear those dreadful-looking drawstring trousers I wanted it to be totally clear that I did have the appropriate excuse for so doing and this was not just a more-severe-than-usual lapse of sartorial taste on my part.)  So, for several weeks I struggled along with my loosest pair of trousers and the old undone-top-button-under-an-untucked-top trick.  Vicki Iovine claims the only way through this intermediate stage of pregnancy is to buy a new set of clothes in a larger-than-usual size, but, being a skinflint frugal and moneywise person, I was reluctant to take this step, and managed to get through the middle months of my first pregnancy in my existing wardrobe, thinking, hah, in your face, Vicki Iovine.  Unfortunately, in the interim between pregnancies I managed to rip a pair of elasticated-waistband trousers that had formed one of the linchpins of my mid-pregnancy wardrobe and thus found it a tad more difficult second time around, and did, in the end, buy one extra skirt to see me through.  I figured it would be a good investment as I could still wear it after the pregnancy, but – and I recognise how poorly this whole story is reflecting on my ability to take care of clothes – I managed to rip this within a few weeks of buying it, and, although I went on wearing it around the house for some time after that, the rip extended to a point past repair and I had to bin it.  However, by this time I had just enough obvious belly to feel I’d earned my way into the maternity trousers, so maternity trousers it now is and I feel a lot more comfortable for it.

Although Jamie knows there’s a baby in Mummy’s tummy and we do make intermittent mention of the fact of its eventual emergence and of some of the changes that might occur in our family life thenceforth, we haven’t as yet focused too much on that aspect of things.  This is in accordance with the standard advice from baby books about the poor grasp that children of this age have of the passing of time, and the consequent possibility that talking too much about the arrival of a sibling too far in advance can raise unrealistic expectations of a baby’s imminent arrival.  So, currently we’re dwelling more on the present than on the future.  (The wisdom of this approach was confirmed a couple of months back, when Jamie found an apple growing on the tree in our garden and I made the mistake of telling him it would grow into a big apple for him to eat without sufficiently clarifying the expected timescale.  For the rest of that session of playing in the garden, he kept returning to the apple every ten or fifteen minutes and remarking "Apple not grown yet" in tones that suggested he considered it quite noble of him to be willing to overlook such obvious failings on the part of the fruit.)

However, this does seem like the sort of stage at which I should be stepping up the preparation of the big-brother-to-be a notch.  Accordingly, I asked my usual internet groups for advice on books that help explain new babyhood and siblinghood to the prospective sibling, and received such a wonderfully bewildering selection of recommendations I didn’t see how I’d ever manage to sort through them all.  Fortunately, once I’d typed them all into Amazon and eliminated all the ones that were unavailable or didn’t look that good or had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with new babies but had been posted anyway because somebody put a La Leche League book list up in its entirety rather than just posting the relevant bits, I ended up with a manageable few, so my mother and I are ordering those between us.  We also already have the Usborne First Experiences book, so I think we’ll be well stocked.  If people would like, I can report back on the ones I tried. 

Fact is, Jamie doesn’t currently seem particularly interested in the topic.  When I bring the subject up his face brightens and he says "Little baby in Mummy’s tummy!" in the satisfied tones of someone who has successfully made some crucial connection between what he’s currently being told and his previous knowledge of the universe, but then, when I talk further about what sort of things he might expect once the baby’s home, he simply starts chattering away about something else.  I don’t think it’s a deliberate attempt to block me out – it seems more that the subject just doesn’t hold enough interest for him to bother with it.  Oh, well – hopefully the books will stimulate further desire for discussion.  If not, then the actual arrival of the baby should at least make the relevance to his life seem fairly obvious to him.


Filed under Great expectations