Is screen time safe for young children?

It seems like every year the topic of screen time is in the news. In the last twelve months alone, the BBC ran an article with the headline “No sedentary screen time for babies, WHO says” (I’d argue it’s difficult for a baby to have non-sedentary screen time, let’s be fair, young babies just sort of lie there a lot). The NHS had one called “Guidelines issued on activity and screen time for babies and toddlers” NCT had an optimistically-titled “Screen time for babies and toddlers: the evidence.”

Across the pond, where everything is sensationalized and politicized as outrage seems to have become a national pastime, which must be like living amongst the pages of the Daily Mail, WebMD gives us “too much screentime may stunt toddlers’ brains” and The Cleveland Clinic boldly asserts “too much screen time harmful for kids’ development” while a published article in “Intractable Rare Diseases” on the NIH website examines “Early electronic screen exposure and autistic-like symptoms” which (predictably) the regrettably local rag (but for some reason very popular in the US) the Daily Mail seized upon with “Babies Glued to tablets or telly ‘could develop autism-like symptoms’ controversial study warns”. I’m not linking to that one because it only improves their standing with search engines, so if you want to read it, Google it.

First I want to deconstruct the news coverage of this topic, then I’m going to look at the actual evidence, including scientific studies on development and language.

So the headlines, then, are pretty grim. If we believe the titles of all these articles, my child should be so developmentally challenged that he is trying to breathe through his own eyeballs. He isn’t, in case anyone is in any doubt.

These headlines aren’t constructed to inform you about the latest scientific developments. News sites have a vested interest in getting lots of hits, because it pushes their content up Google’s search algorithm, so it’s in their best interests to pump out as many clickable (dare I say, “clickbaity”) article titles to make sure they get lots of traffic. They make a lot of money off their advertising revenue, as well, and they want as many eyes as possible on those adverts.

It’s funny how the more drama-y and sensationalist an article is, the less important the issue is, in the grand scheme of things.

So what makes people click on these articles? Human interest. The vast majority of parents want the very best for their child. When they see something that claims to warn them of the dangers of something they let their kids do, they will click on it. Other people with a vested interest in a child, such as aunts, grandparents, or friends, will also click on these articles, thinking they can “warn” the hapless parents before they accidentally turn their baby’s brain to jelly with the old 60 inch plasma Radiation Queen. The news outlets manipulate you and play on your fears to try and make you read their articles. They don’t actually care if you believe the article or not. Every click means more people seeing the adverts that pay for the news sites to stay profitable. And no one is easier to manipulate and scare than first time parents, so articles targeting their worries and magnifying them are big money for news sites.

It’s an old news article that basically goes around and around and has done since television was invented. Before that, there were fears about radios damaging children (which is now being reported again but the hysteria is linked to baby monitors, instead). In its current form, a fear of baby monitors being dangerous, the story isn’t as newsworthy as fears surrounding screen time. Video (news) killed the radio (news) star. Before that? Well you only have to read Anne of Green Gables or Little Women to see the Victorians feared that reading books as a child would ruin your eyes.

It’s a pretty common comment for an adult to make to a child (or about a child) in Victorian literature. There were even studies done by Victorian scientists where they claimed that too much schoolwork caused children’s eyes to “weaken”. This study from 1885 even goes so far as to claim that, since working-class children were more at risk of this than middle class children (the author’s test results being separated into grammar schools and secondary schools), they ought to send working-class children to special schools where they weren’t slowing down the rest of the class with their “weak eyes”.

He also claimed that less intelligent children were more at risk of eye damage than more intelligent children, evidenced by the fact that children with “good eyes” did better at school and were therefore more intelligent. This is a perfect illustration of the problem with any scientific research that only looks for correlation between two variables. Correlation doesn’t imply causality. We know, for example, that lung cancer doesn’t cause smoking. Additionally, the class bias against working class children is still a huge issue, and working class parents are more likely to put their kids in front of the TV because they don’t have the time or money to entertain them any other way.

Sadly, the same nonsense about reading damaging eyes is currently doing the rounds in East Asia, as this article shows, and still nobody has questioned the glaring problem with correlating glasses-wearing and children who read more, which is that children who read less might have undiagnosed and uncorrected eye problems (or refusing to wear glasses, families can’t afford eye tests etc) that is skewing the results.

Hold that whole concept in your mind while we look at what the articles believe to be the danger of screen time more deeply, because it all stems from the same insecurity.

First let’s tackle the BBC article I mentioned above: “No sedentary screen time for babies, WHO says.” This article has absolutely nothing to do with any dangers from the screen time itself, and can be boiled down to “sitting still makes children obese.” So from that point of view, including healthy diet and exercise in your day is a better solution than banning televisions. But as I’ve noted earlier on, that doesn’t get people to click. In the BBC’s case, while they don’t have advertising revenue to worry about, they still have to justify (to the government) the level of funding they get. So the clicky title is basically just a spin on “children need exercise”.

The NHS article discusses the same WHO recommendation, explaining that experts point out there is actually no evidence that screens are harmful, and that the WHO recommendation is talking about physical activity levels, not some mysterious brain damage associated with screen time.

The NCT article tried to cover too much ground and it doesn’t look critically at the studies (they don’t mention their strengths and weaknesses, or how much of the focus was specifically to do with screen time, and they have lumped together a range of outcomes instead of looking at each separately). It says screen use has been linked in studies to poor sleep; it claimed “Some research in younger children (one to three year olds) who watched TV showed increased levels of attention deficit disorders at the age of seven.”

It then went on to add, “Although a more recent review found that evidence for this was weak.” Inline citations would have made this easier to verify. The article overall concludes that responsible screen time is beneficial, then they have a wall of quotes from NCT volunteers explaining why they put their kids in front of the TV. Because nothing rounds off a sensationalist article like some good old-fashioned anecdotal evidence.

The authors don’t look at the same evidence the WHO was using, and don’t reference the WHO report at all, which is a bit of an omission. They also claim there aren’t any NHS and NICE guidelines on screen use in babies, which is not true. There is no date on this article but it has to be later than 2019 because one of the references is 2019. Overall, it feels like the author of the article used the first 5 studies they found in Google, without weighing up the strengths of them, and then posted on Facebook in an NCT group to get the quotes.

The actual evidence:

This study from 2016 had a sample size of 715, and found that age of first touch screen use correlated with better fine motor control in toddlers. Of course, that could be because parents trusted children with better motor control to use expensive tablets/phones. The methodology was a self-reporting survey of parents, so the drawback is the information is not independently verified beyond what parents have said.

A 2015 meta-analysis found that “rapid visual and auditory changes can
distract young children from exploration and toy playtime as their attention is directed towards the screen numerous times during a play session” when the TV is on as background noise. There’s no evidence about whether this is an issue or not, but babies and toddlers do need to explore. This is unlikely to apply to pre-crawling babies though because they don’t really do much anyway.

We all want what is best for our children, but fearing new technology isn’t the way to prepare them for the adult world. Trusting children and teaching them to use devices responsibly is a far better solution. People don’t just unplug the TV when they give birth and turn it back on when the baby reaches age 2. It’s not realistic to tell people that the under twos shouldn’t be “exposed” to screens. I would also argue it’s quite antifeminist because it prevents women with young babies from working from home, in case the baby looks at the screen. We need to find ways to work sensibly with technology, and we need to stop being told stupid “parenting” advice because television isn’t going away and every decade, new devices are invented for us to worry about.

Does screen time cause ADHD?

I would be interested to see more studies on this, but my own childhood is a good example of how TV doesn’t always correlate with ADHD.

I have been diagnosed with ADHD after 5 years of investigation by psychiatrists, and I grew up in a house without a television until I was 5, then split my time between my grandma’s house where there was only a 12 inch black and white TV with four channels, and my parents’ house where my half-sister had unlimited TV time and usually put the same video on repeat (she didn’t get sent to grandma’s as much as I did), so from my point of view, there must be something else causing ADHD, because I have it and she doesn’t.

That’s not to say I don’t think there’s a connection between screen time/TV and ADHD, but I don’t think it’s a direct cause so much as that kids with ADHD get more screen time as a product of their hyperfocus. I hope there’s some good studies done about this soon.

Update: Since writing this article, I found this article from ADDitude, which explains the state of research into this topic in more detail. Basically, early TV shows an increased correlation, but since ADHD is something you are born with, it’s more likely that parents of ADHD children put them in front of the TV as they’re “too energetic” or “easily bored” or similar, or perhaps being made to sit still in front of a TV makes ADHD behaviors more easily expressed at which point they are diagnosed… remember folks, correlation doesn’t imply causality (after all, we know cancer doesn’t cause smoking).

How to increase your breastmilk supply? Power pump

Are you breastfeeding and worried about low supply? If you haven’t already properly established your breastfeeding relationship with your baby, this is not the info for you, but if you’ve been feeding at least four weeks and still think you don’t have enough milk, try this natural method that doesn’t require any supplementation or weird lactation foods! You can do something called power pumping which mimics the baby’s cluster feeding and is especially helpful if you’re exclusive pumping as I was when my baby was aged 3-7 months.

You will need: A double electric breastpump. If you don’t already have one, I recommend the Medela Freestyle Flex Double Electric Breastpump. I’ve tried a few breast pumps and this is hands down the best one you can buy for the money. If you can’t afford that, the Medela Swing Electric Breastpump is also fantastic, but apparently you can’t get the double Swing Flex in the US Medela Amazon Store for some reason? Weird. Get the Double Medela Swing Flex here in the UK (if you want this one in the US, you can probably import it from UK Amazon if you don’t mind the shipping costs/extra tax).

That’s it.

The very easy method:

Pump 20 mins

Rest 10 mins.

Pump 10 mins.

Rest 10 mins.

Pump 10 mins.

Do this for two weeks to increase supply or for a few days to give yourself a little boost e.g. after you’ve been ill or gone away for a weekend and missed some pumping times.

I found this out from an adoption/lactation group for women who had never breastfed, so this works even if your body isn’t currently lactating (although you will probably need other help if that’s the case, e.g. domperidone prescribed by your doctor).

I actually modified this as I didn’t have an hour every day. If you can’t get a pump that fits your boobs very well, and your nipples are sore, this will also be kinder to your poor nipples. You can also do this (for a mini version of power pumping) but your results will be less spectacular:

Pump 10 mins

Rest 5 mins.

Pump 5 mins.

Rest 5 mins.

Pump 5 mins.

The end.

Do you have any tips for increasing milk supply? Let me know in the comments!

The worst tests for bipolar

So this question of bipolar disorder has reared it’s head again and I *still* don’t know if I actually have it or not. It’s very frustrating to not know what’s wrong with you except that you know you don’t function properly. I had post-natal depression 100% but when I look at the mood scale from Bipolar UK I literally only fluctuate between a 7 and a 3 most of the time.

Which I don’t think is necessarily clinically significant to necessitate a BD diagnosis. I also don’t have underlying “phases” (usually… that PND really brought this home to me). There’s some evidence that ADHD’s hyperactive side can look a lot like hypomania and there’s little to separate them.

As a side-note, I feel like that mood scale linked above ought to be mandatory for everyone who is trying to mood chart because without it you’re trying to draw a map without a key. I now know why I failed at mood charting back in 2015.

While I’m waiting to get hold of a psychiatrist (again… RIP salary), I looked online and basically all the “test yourself for bipolar” quizzes go like this:

  1. Have you had mania? (well, duh, if I knew the answer to this I’d surely know if I had bipolar)
  2. Have you had hypomania? (gosh golly, if I knew the answer to this surely I’d already have a diagnosis… the nuances of hypomania and the difference between hypomanic symptoms and a hypomanic episode are utterly lost on some people)
  3. Have you had depression? (again, what counts as clinical depression and if it’s very obviously Post Natal Depression or Complex Grief, do those count or not?)
  4. Insert a bunch more questions to make it look like we didn’t half-ass this quiz
  5. Give us your email address so we can harass you forevermore send you your results.

The cyclothymia tests are actually nonexistent. Indeed, it seems no two clinicians can agree upon what cyclothymia actually is. I did read a really good chapter on it in “The treatment of bipolar disorder” published by Oxford University Press. That chapter is basically the only thing I’ve seen that actually makes sense of cyclothymia as a clinical entity.

The best part is, cyclothymia is milder than bipolar disorder (but still comes with suicide impulsivity) yet despite the fact that it’s generally agreed these days that people with bipolar don’t always need lifelong meds, the NHS guidelines say people with cyclothymia need to be on meds (that aren’t even approved for use for cyclothymia because literally nothing is) for the rest of their life.

Whut?

“In case it develops into full-blown bipolar.”

Riiiiiiight.

So they’re proposing I take very serious meds that will take years off my life when I don’t actually need them, despite the fact that the latest research says people with cyclothymia have a distinctly different set of debilitating symptoms than people with bipolar, it’s not just “soft bipolar” as some idiot clinicians call it, and never mind that people with cyclothymia are very sensitive to meds in general.

Frustratingly, the NHS can say whatever they want about cyclothymia because there are no NICE guidelines for it. That’s right. NICE recognizes cyclothymia but couldn’t be bothered to actually write any guidelines for how to define, diagnose or treat it, and they clearly state multiple times in their bipolar guidelines that they are not dealing with cyclothymia.

My current therapist is adamant I have bipolar, she doesn’t seem to know what cyclothymia is, she has dismissed ADHD as “not relevant” to my problems, and she seems to think I have no insight which makes no sense because everyone else I’ve ever seen always tells me I have lots of insight into my condition.

This whole thing is such a mess. And my husband, the biggest voice of doubt, keeps saying “I don’t think you have bipolar” like, do I need to borrow an elephant with “she has bipolar” written on the side of… of… those rug things elephants wear?! And does anyone know what those rug things are called?

Arrrgh how did I end up here again with the bipolar stuff? Should I be on meds? Who knows! I wish Blahpolar was still here because I know she would have talked this through with me and helped me work out where to go from here.

Or maybe she would have just made an appropriately-timed bipolar vegetable joke.

That would also help.

To be fair, I wish she was still here even if she never liked or commented on anything I ever wrote again.

Easy breastmilk soap recipe

Do you have excess breastmilk or oversupply of breastmilk? Perhaps you are looking for a way to preserve your breastmilk or turn it into a beautiful gift? If you’re anything like me, after six months or a year of breastfeeding, you have a freezer full of breastmilk and you want to do something with that liquid gold!

A breastmilk pendant is a beautiful idea but let’s be fair, it doesn’t use much of that milk. You’ll still have boatloads of the stuff left!

In New York beauty salons, breastmilk is seen as the “miracle ingredient” that can work wonders for your skin. People pay hundreds of dollars for breastmilk facials. Midwives often tell new mothers to put breastmilk on their sore nipples in the early days because of its amazing moisturising properties.

I have so much milk sitting around. I tried giving it away to hungry babies three months ago, and I didn’t get any takers in my small country. Instead, I decided to try turning it into various beauty products. Some came out better than others. Don’t make the mistakes I did. If you’re looking for a really quick and easy thing to do with your leftover breastmilk, here’s a fabulous simple melt and pour breastmilk soap recipe.

It uses something called melt and pour soap base, which is ready made for you to turn into soap. All you have to do is follow this easy breastmilk recipe to get the most creamy and cleansing bars of soap you ever tried! It’s also sulphate free and paraben free!

You will need:

A silicone soap mould I have these ones but you can get identical ones in the US here.

Stephenson’s melt and pour SLS free soap base available in the US here or here in the UK.

A microwaveable or heat proof glass jug (you need at least 500ml/1 pint, available here in the US and here in UK but they’re cheaper in Tesco if you’re near one).

A spatula for mixing (any non-metal spatula or wooden spoon will work).

A sharp knife to cut the soap base (any kitchen knife will be fine as long as it hasn’t blunted and the handle is safely attached to the blade).

Breastmilk.

The soap base is sold in boxes of 1kg and if you wanted to turn all of it into breastmilk soap you would need 500ml of breastmilk, but do not worry if you have less breastmilk. To make it as easy as possible, I’ve done this in 250g blocks of melt and pour soap base, which is a quarter of a tub and will fill your soap mould.

Method:

  1. Cut the 1kg block of Stephenson’s melt and pour SLS free organic soap base into quarters with a knife
  2. Taking one quarter of the soap base (roughly 250 grams), chop it into small squares and melt it in a glass jug in the microwave or put the glass jug into a pan of hot water just like you would if you were melting chocolate to make chocolate krispy cakes. Microwave on a low heat (I go for the lowest setting) for about 2 mins, check, then put it back in, checking every 30 seconds to 1 minute until it’s melted.
  3. Once the soap base is melted, add 125ml of cold (but not frozen) breastmilk and stir it well to get it all to mix.
  4. Pour your mixture into your soap mould. You can put it into the fridge to solidify faster, but don’t leave it more than an hour as melt and pour soap base contains glycerin which will start to draw moisture out of your fridge and make the soaps less solid!
  5. Once your soaps have solidified, turn them out and wrap them. Most people advocate putting them in plastic wrap such as saran wrap, but I prefer beeswax paper or baking paper as these are better for the environment.
  6. Use your soap! I found this to be super-moisturizing compared to store-bought soaps.

I love this straightforward and easy breastmilk soap recipe but I have made a few others, too, which I will post in the future.

breastmilk soap1

A Letter for the Littlest Bear by Wonderbly

About 7 months ago, in the run-up to Christmas, I saw an ad on Youtube for this website called Wonderbly, which makes personalized books for children.

Yeah, you’ve seen those sort of companies before; they’re usually crap mass-produced generic slosh that fails to engage the average five-year-old.

This one isn’t.

These books are publisher-quality, and wouldn’t look out of place in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

I browsed through their site for a while. My baby would be four months old at Christmas and I wanted to get him a nice gift that we could use right away but also use later on, when he was old enough to appreciate it differently.

I’m a big believer in reading to children, and was reading to him and taking him places to hear foreign languages ever since he was in my tummy. Studies have shown that children who read (or have read to them) five books a day have a much higher vocabulary and better command of their language when they are older.

So I looked through this site and two things struck me immediately:

  1. The illustrations were really, really high quality and modern.
  2. The book plots had been properly thought out and there was a huge range of stories. These were real stories with interesting plots, but personalized for each order.

So I put “A Letter for the Littlest Bear” in my basket and up popped a configurator sort of thing, where I could choose which characters appeared in the book (within a pre-set list), whether to add or remove any (if you don’t want an Uncle Bear because Aunty Bear is painfully single, you can remove Uncle Bear from the story) and also, of course, add my baby’s name, which featured on a page near the end. The story also gave you the option to write a letter to your littlest bear, so if you had some hopes, dreams, and pearls of wisdom to share and immortalize at the end of the book, you could do that. They also had a pre-drafted one in case you weren’t feeling inspired, to save you time and mental effort. I liked what they’d written but wanted to add some stuff, so I kinda blended the two.

Once I had my A Letter for the Littlest Bear book configured, I found another book in their store which looked interesting. It was called The Little Boy Who Lost His Name (the girl version is The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name and they have plenty of gender neutral stories such as A Letter for the Littlest Bear, discussed above, if that’s your thing) and I think it’s their biggest-selling book. I typed in my baby’s 8-letter name and each letter of his name got a couple of pages of subplot story. I switched a couple of the characters around (I changed a robot for a rabbit because we like rabbits around here, I changed something else too but I forget what or why). I was able to preview the whole book before buying and the payment process was painless.

My two books arrived in good time and were ready for Christmas. Except we flew back home to our families for Christmas and stupidly left the books in the country where we live. D’OH.

Still, it made a fabulous New Year’s gift for a four-month-old baby’s first Christmas season, when he had no real concept of what day it was. I was delighted with the quality and the amount of effort that the creators of these books had obviously gone to, to make a truly cherishable gift. And there’s such a range of books, I can tell grandma bear, grandpa bear, auntie bear and cousin bear about this place and practically guarantee that we don’t end up with eight copies of “Bob’s Day On A Plane” unlike the ones that are available elsewhere.

For comparison, we got a cheap (cheap quality; it probably cost the same money) off-the-shelf personalized book for Christmas off a relative and they hadn’t even bothered finding the correct name of our child. His name is NOT Archie! FFS.

Verdict: Five out of five. Definitely worth the money. I will be buying from here again next time I want a unique and special gift for someone.

Oh, and did I mention they have local sites for many countries and worldwide shipping? So if you’re stationed in some random country with your family you can still order this!

Where to buy: https://www.wonderbly.com/

Have you used Wonderbly? Let me know your experiences in the comments!

Silence…

Today’s photo isn’t part of any photo challenge, it just reflects how I feel at the moment. I’m feeling quite introverted and I don’t seem to have anything to say to anyone in real life or online. I am struggling with the fact that, on Facebook, the rot has set in quite badly.

What do I mean? Everyone on Facebook has to follow the same set of opinions, you can’t just have one opinion that agrees with other people and two that don’t, or you’re a bad human being and everyone gets angry. You have to be that background noise on Parliament TV where you can here the politicians agreeing with whoever is speaking, and they sound almost like cows mooing. “Yurrrrrrr…”

I don’t agree with everything everyone else says. I am not a mindless zombie. And no one listens to each other anymore so there’s no point even pointing out when I disagree with people because we can’t discuss such things as adults nowadays, they are just sucked into a silent vacuum of passive-aggressive, judgmental arguments left unsaid.

On the plus side, in my personal life things are going better. I have been stably back off my meds for several weeks and my therapist is helping me work through stuff. We’re keeping a pin in the bipolar diagnosis, and the ADHD one, and she suspects I developed post-natal OCD at some point in the past year, which has made everything worse.

https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/ocd-during-prenatal-postnatal/

So for now, I’m sitting in silence a lot of the time and trying to quietly get on with things. The TV is on a continuous loop of nursery rhymes, the baby is always making noises and we live by a busy road with thin windows so every passing car is audiable. But still I am sitting in silence, learning to tune it all out.

My photo is from Nepal. Kathmandu was so noisy and busy, everyone was always going and doing and seeing and selling and moving and begging and eating and… and yet the city has this strange inner silence. Anywhere else, all that busyness would have been a very stressful sensory overload, especially for me, but here, there was a silence woven through everything that made the noise easier to bear. Not words unspoken. Not the silence of death, or inactivity, or thousands of thoughts flitting from one moment to the next.

It is the silence of inner peace.

 

Mailerlite vs Mailchimp: A warning (it’s not what you think)

So about 12 months ago, I was using Mailchimp and there was suddenly a huge drama because they changed their fee structure and got a LOT more expensive. Customers started leaving them in droves. I didn’t understand the issue until I got my new bill and it was suddenly insanely high compared to how much money I was making.

I asked around and everyone told me it was so easy to switch to Mailerlite, and that they were better in a number of ways that no one could explain. I was pregnant and knew I needed to reduce my overheads.

So I exported my contacts and imported them into Mailerlite, where I grew my list to over 15,000 subscribers.

With Mailchimp, the only issue was the cost. Everything else about it worked perfectly, I never had a failed send or anything. They always just sorted out payment and everything was smooth. I don’t know what their customer service was like because I don’t remember ever having to contact them after the day I first signed up.

Also, Mailchimp works in China, and Mailerlite does not. I was living in China when I started emailing my list through Mailchimp instead of using batches via Google mail.

With Mailerlite, it seemed like every time my mailing list grew, they wanted me to re-verify myself, to fill out a tedious questionnaire (for the fifth time) about what I was using their services for, and they threw in some mandatory market research questions as well, which honestly is offensive but you do what you gotta do to get a half-price mailing service to email your newsletter for you.

The best part? They do this when you want to send an email, instead of when you hit the new subscriber threshold. This means, if you’re sending about something time-sensitive, like a flash sale or 24-hour deal, you will not get to send your email in time especially if you want to send according to timezone.

I didn’t like the fact that a lot more of my emails seemed to go to the spam folder when I used Mailerlite, either.

I sucked it up.

Then I had a baby, so I deleted my contacts because no-one wants to pay $150 a month for a mailing list they’re not actually sending any emails to for a year. I downloaded and carefully saved my 15000 contacts in a CSV file that I never actually looked at because I had more important things to do like keep a small baby alive.

Obviously.

Ready to get back to work, I uploaded my email list to Mailerlite and guess what? They wouldn’t let me re-verify because I’d already uploaded this list and deleted it.

So in desperation I went back to Mailchimp, thinking that paying $200 monthly is worth it if you actually get the service you’re paying for. I uploaded my mailing list.

Then I found out why you should never, EVER move your list to Mailerlite.

We’re always told that our mailing list is the most important marketing asset for our business because it is ours and we get to keep that no matter what happens to service providers, right?

WRONG.

Mailerlite has deleted so much information from the downloaded copy of my mailing list that Mailchimp actually doesn’t have the data it needs to let me upload to them.

So I opened the file to look through it. There’s email addresses, but then all the other columns are empty. No first names. No last names. No opt-in timestamps or IP addresses and no confirmation timestamps or IP addresses (all of which you need to be compliant with data handling, CAN-SPAM, and GDPR rules). It’s a mangled, useless CSV file that is as useless as a phone book comprising of phone numbers but no names.

I am effectively stuck with Mailerlite who seemed able to re-connect all the data when I uploaded the email addresses (presumably they’ve stored the rest of the data on their server and can access it by using the email addresses as a “primary key”, but I obviously have a right to have all that data, it’s not theirs, it’s mine, so they shouldn’t keep it like this). Who won’t let me go through their stupid validation and approval process. And anyway, I resent all the bullshit they’ve put me through so I’m not going back to them.

This means I have no mailing list. Mailerlite has destroyed it by deleting key data. Five years of hard work down the drain. Fifteen thousand fans of my business, who I cannot contact because Mailerlite have ensured I can’t go to another service provider.

God I wish someone had written about this before I switched to Mailerlite.

Please, please, PLEASE be careful. If you want to switch to Mailerlite, be sure you’re going to stay with them forever. Because they will not let you take your mailing list when you leave.

I guess that’s what you get when you go with a cut-price mailing list provider. I have learned my lesson the painfully, devastatingly hard way. I have no business to come back to after maternity leave. I built my business to give my baby a future, and now our situation is more precarious than ever.

If I am very, very lucky, I might still have an old version of my mailing list from when I switched from Mailchimp to Mailerlite in the first place. But obviously, that could have people on it who have since unsubscribed, so I have to weigh up whether I can use that old version or not.

This is my honest review of two companies I’ve spent thousands of dollars with, over the past half-decade. Verdict? I’d rather spend more money on a service that actually does what it says it’s going to. Your mileage may vary. If you have a different perspective, or a solution for this issue, please let me know in the comments.

How to deal with poo in reusable cloth nappies

It’s not a pleasant topic, is it? But, as lovely as the idea of cloth nappies is, there’s always this worry, lurking at the back of my mind. What if they won’t come clean one day?

So there I was, standing in the kitchen, holding a nappy covered in poo and with no idea at all how to clean it. I vaguely remembered my grandma showing me how to do this with those godawful terry towelling squares back when I was about 7, and I know I thought it was disgusting, and swore to myself that my twenty babies would all wear disposable nappies. But then, I also knew I was going to grow up to live in a castle and that I was never, ever getting married (I was going to adopt the babies. This was the early 90’s so Angelina stole the idea from ME not the other way around). And I was going to be the most famous singer in the world and Whigfield would be queueing behind Ace of Bass for my autograph.

Sadly, we didn’t know about plastic the way we do now. Honestly, I didn’t fully appreciate just how much waste disposable nappies create. And in good conscience, I can’t continue to use disposables. Also, they won’t fit in our wheelie bin with all our regular rubbish because we have one of those tiny bins and if the lid’s open, the council won’t collect it.

I have a breastfed baby (11 months next week… amethyst boobies, here I come!) which is great in almost every way, except for one. You see, breastfed babies have the most sloppiest, liquidy, aromatic poo. And when they have allergies, their poo is even worse. We have allergies.

What can you do?

The thing is, breastfeeding and cloth nappies go hand-in-hand for a lot of people. I for one am absolutely not going to stop breastfeeding my baby just because his poo isn’t pretty enough. Apparently people do this. Crazy people.

There are several ways to deal with poo in a cloth nappy, and one of them is my favourite. Let’s look at them all:

  1. So the baby has pooed in your cloth nappy, now how do you clean it?
    – Scrape off as much of the poo as you can with tissue, a wet wipe, or something else disposable like an empty crisp packet, and dispose of as much of the solid poo as you can.
    – If it’s all mushed into the nappy, dangle it down your (clean) toilet and flush. Get the pooey bit under one of the main streams of water. If you’ve got good water pressure, this should rinse it nicely.
    – If there’s still a stubborn stain, soak for a couple of hours in a bucket, using non-bio detergent.
    – I’ve heard of people soaking their nappies in Napisan (bleach powder) in the bottom of the toilet, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that (and bleach powder apparently degrades the elastic and PU outers of reusable nappies) so I would use a bucket.
    – When the nappy has been soaked, fish it out, and run it through the washing machine on a cold wash.
    – After the cold wash, it should be ready to wash with the rest of your nappies.
  2. Should you use disposables during the day and cloth nappies at night time?
    This is one possibility, because it’s well-known (IDK if that makes it true) that babies can’t poo when they’re asleep. If it is true it has to be one of the coolest facts about the human body. So using the reusable cloth nappies at night time and using disposables during the day might work for you. However, since my baby uses more nappies during the day, and since cloth nappies can be very bulky, especially the two-part nappies with velcro fastenings, and since my baby insists on rolling onto his front during every nap, he isn’t comfortable in cloth nappies all night, so we use them during the day instead. Your mileage may vary.
  3. Nappy liners. The best thing since bamboo triple-layer inserts.
    These are my favourite long-term solution to the whole how to get rid of poo out of a reusable nappy issue. Basically, a company called Little Lamb (you may have heard of them) do these thin disposable nappy liners which come in a roll of 100. You put them between the baby and the cloth nappy, and… voila! No more poo! The nappy liner catches the poo and lets the urine soak into the nappy, so you don’t have to scrub out any more mashed chocolate mousse from your cloth nappies.
    These have completely changed our nappy situation and made my husband more confident about using the cloth nappies (he doesn’t like mess).
    Since we’ve started using these, a reusable nappy with poo in it is as easy to change as any other nappy. You simply pull out the liner, with the poo on top, and throw it in the bin (they’ve recently changed the description to say they’re not flushable), then put a new nappy on the baby.
    The liner itself is so thin, it’s like a tumble dryer sheet (but unscented, of course), so you can rest easy that you’re not contributing to the landfill problem in any meaningful way. Certainly not compared to disposables.
    I can see these being especially useful after lockdown ends, when we can go out again, because I wouldn’t want to be carrying around a dirty, poo-stained reusable nappy all day, waiting to take it home and wash. With these liners, that’s not a problem.

So that’s how to deal with poo in reusable nappies. Do you have any other tips for cleaning poo in a cloth nappy or avoiding poo in reusable nappies? Let me know in the comments.

 

Postcards to my baby: Kathmandu

August 2018

Little one,

In 2015, there was an earthquake that destroyed large parts of Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. When we visited, they were still rebuilding.

The side-by-side of rich and poor had never been so stark. Beside a luxury boutique hotel, a single wall, three storeys high, was being rebuilt by a dust-covered family when they finished work each night. They moved bricks until 2am, then they went out to work 4 hours later. Dhal Bhat Power, 24 Hour.

One of the best days of my life was spent on a makeshift rooftop terrace above a cafe, drinking Coca Cola with your daddy and watching the world go by, five storeys below. One of the worst days of my life was spent on the bathroom floor, then in a private hospital, where compassionate and efficient doctors gave me the news that I had lost my baby (caused by a very nasty fall in Xi’an, China). You were conceived exactly three months and several rivers of tears later, but the journey began here, for reasons I’ll explain some other time.

Visit Nepal for the food. The momos are crisp, the dhal bhat is smooth, everything is a unique fusion of Chinese and Indian, with extra cilantro (coriander). Visit Nepal for the monuments, breathtaking and almost Tibetan… but not quite. Visit Nepal for the people, so friendly and eager to show you their wonderful country. Visit Nepal for the bargains. Visit Nepal to do yoga and meditation with the masters. Visit Nepal to see Mount Everest (I’ll write you a separate postcard on that one).

But do me a favor, little one. Don’t come home with some cheap, badly-woven “angora wool”. It’s almost certainly ordinary wool woven in China, fluffed up with a hairbrush and imported. If you want stuff like that, go to Shanghai, instead. It’s cheaper. And there’s so many more things to spend time on when you see Kathmandu.

And whatever you do, don’t hire a car. Yes, your license is valid in Nepal. But 70% of the roads have literally no road surface. Leave the driving to the taxis. They will overcharge you. But we will teach you how to haggle before we let you go to Asia.

Mama Adventure xxx

New to this series? Start here.