At-home half-hour DIY facial for new mamas

The salons are closed in my country. We don’t know when life will get back to normal. That doesn’t mean compromising on beauty treatments, especially when you’re a new mama and need pampering after pregnancy and birth. Here’s my go-to facial. The steps are based on when I lived in China, where the K-beauty routine is basically standard. This facial takes about half an hour and includes plenty of time while treatments are taking effect to go sort out the baby. 😉

First, set the scene. Light some scented candles or get your oil diffuser going. Put on some relaxing music (I love Enya or Clannad, which is probably my Irish half). Get into your comfiest clothes or dressing gown. And let’s dive into the half-hour facial for new mamas.

Part 1: Cleansing

If you’re wearing make-up, sunscreen, fake tan or anything else you’ve already put on your face today, start with an oil-based cleanser. I discovered these when I was in Japan and they’re soooo good! This one is my current favourite.

Next it’s time for exfoliation. The key to keeping skin looking firm, hydrated and toned all starts with a good exfoliation. This can be a physical exfoliator, such as the St Ives apricot scrub, which I’ve reviewed here (although I don’t know if they’ve changed the recipe due to the microplastics ban… I really need to try this again), or a chemical exfoliator, such as the Nip + Fab glycolic fix exfoliating pads. If your skin needs some serious TLC, I really recommend the Nip+Fab glycolic fix exfoliating scrub, which combines the chemical exfoliator glycolic acid and physical exfoliation for a very thorough skin exfoliation.

Part 2: Face mask

The benefits of a good vitamin face mask cannot be overstated. My favourite is the Dermalogica multi-vitamin power recovery mask, which contains nourishing vitamins and the clinically-proven anti-ageing ingredient retinol (so avoid during pregnancy as it will burn your skin, but it’s fine afterwards). It’s a great dupe for Kim Kardashian’s favourite Chantecaille Bio Lifting Mask, and I haven’t yet found anything else that’s even a fraction as good as these two, so for me, the Dermalogica one is worth the splurge because retinol doesn’t just make you look younger, it actually reverses the effects of ageing.

Keep this on for at least 15 minutes and don’t get any on your baby (retinol, duh) e.g. by kissing them or snuggling them. If you can’t last 15 minutes without a cute baby snuggle, you would be much safer using my homemade breastmilk face mask recipe, which is especially good for acne-prone skin. If you’re not breastfeeding, my avocado face mask recipe literally just requires some mashed avocado. You can actually leave any of these on overnight (my last tube of the Dermalogica mask had this idea as a tip from a skincare expert inside the box and it really works). I have a Japanese silicon face cover for using with wet masks.

Part 3: Cleansing (again)

You need to wash off the face mask. If you’ve made my breastmilk soap recipe, this is the perfect time to use it, as it’s super nourishing and a gentle but effective cleanser. Otherwise, another homemade soap or plain water will work fine.

Part 4: Essence and serum

Grab your favourite K-beauty essence (mine is Innisfree soybean essence in light) and cover your face in it. I have mine in a spray bottle so I can use it as a facial mist.

Once this has dried, I add a thicker serum. I love the It’s Skin Q10 effector serum. I use the dropper to get some on my fingers then I pat it into my face, avoiding my eyelids.

Part 5: Moisture

The last thing is a replenishing moisturising cream. I have a bad track record for my favourite creams getting discontinued. It happened with my favourite Sanctuary Spa Covent Garden one, then the Manuka Doctor one, lastly the Innisfree Soybean one which I never even got around to reviewing, so I’m constantly wandering the beauty aisle like a nomad trying to find the next great cream. I still think there’s a lot to like about the Olay Regenerist 3-Point Cream, which contains matrixyl which is fab for under-eye dark blue circles, although for overall skin care, I prefer the Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream, which I reviewed here in 2016 and, in 2020, my skin’s now four years older (33… wow that went fast!) and I think this cream is better for thirtysomethings than people in their twenties as you get the long-term effects as well as the short-term plumping and moisturising effect.

Finished?

If you haven’t put a lash conditioner on your eyelashes, now is the perfect time.

Don’t forget to pop some hydrating lip balm on your lips to keep them soft! I love using a bit of coconut oil as a quick DIY lip balm.

That’s it for my new mama facial. Did you try this? Let me know in the comments if you want more articles on at-home pampering!

What to get a baby for Christmas: Toy buying guide for baby’s first Christmas 2020

What should you get for a baby for Christmas in 2020? What are the best baby toys in the UK and Ireland this year for a budget? Whether you’re the new parents, grandma or an aunt, that first Christmas is hard to shop for. I remember last Christmas, my baby was only a few months old and I had no idea what to get! Then, amazingly, we were inundated with presents from relatives and somehow no one bought us the same thing twice. I’ve broken down the best toys and gifts for baby’s first Christmas by age and budget and reviewed them below:

0-3 Months:

At this age, babies are in the third trimester. They sleep a lot, wake up to feed and cry, and sleep some more. They have very little interaction with their environment and in the words of one of my friends (whose baby was born exactly one year earlier than my baby), “they don’t give a crap about toys”. So what to get for a newborn baby for Christmas? You have two options. You can either get them something they might enjoy in a few months’ time or get them something really, really simple. They are growing rapidly, and mama will probably appreciate some baby clothes in the 3-6 or 6-9 months size.

Best budget buys for newborns (under £20):

Lullaby toys tend to be enjoyed by even very young babies.

Baby Einstein in the UK do this super-cute star lullaby toy for £12.99. It attaches to the cot and features bright colors which babies love! It has motion activation so if your baby is over 6 months and alone in their cot, if they stir, they can be lulled back to sleep without you risking waking them up more by going into their room and turning the lullaby toy back on. At this price point, this is about the best lullaby toy you can get and the ideal Christmas gift for newborns this year.

This Manhattan Toy Lullaby Squirrel is £20. It attaches to the cot for safety and the squirrel slowly moves into his acorn as the music plays. There are also crinkles and textures for baby to explore, making this a good toy for when baby is ready to touch things.

Crinkle books with high-contrast images start to come into their own when baby is about 10-12 weeks old. My baby adores Bumble Bee. It’s £12 which is a bit on the expensive side for a cloth book but if our copy got lost, I’d buy it again because my jellyfish still loves this book at 14 months. As well as having high-contrast images, a brief, rhyming story that’s easy to read, crinkles in almost every page and even some textured ribbon pages and a shiny mirror, it’s a lift-the-flaps cloth book so it will stay interesting for babies for a lot longer than other cloth books. Just remember to remove the plastic from the mirror at the back of the book (I used a knife very carefully around the very edges of the mirror). Oh and did I mention Bumble Bee has a clip to attach it to the pram, which you can detach and give to your baby as a teething ring because it has two different chewy textures?

For a cheaper crinkle book with fewer features, Giraffe and Friends is a super-simple book. It has a rattle page and a crinkle page, but largely is pictures of animals with the only words being the names of the animals. I’d give this one 6/10 for engagement, interest and features but it’s £6.99 and you get what you pay for with rag books for babies.

For an indestructible twist on a British classic baby book, Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell comes in a cloth book version, perfect for little babies who like to chew the pages and rip the flaps off board books. And you can currently get matching outfits in Sainsbury’s, for your little zoo fan!

Another fantastic option for cloth books for newborn babies is the timeless Guess How Much I Love You by Northern Ireland author Sam McBratney, also available in cloth book (they call it the Guess How Much I Love You Snuggle Book). We have Guess How Much I Love You in French (Devine Combien Je T’aime) and my 14-month-old baby often brings it to me to read him.

And I have to give a special shout-out to Noises by Jo Moon because, although it’s now out of print and hard to get, this book gave us our baby’s first smile at a toy, on an 8-hour car journey to the south of England from Northern Ireland last November. We have now read it about 1000 times and sometimes he falls asleep with it. I wish, wish, wish the cloth books Noises and Patterns by Jo Moon were still in print because they are perfect for little ones. Ah, cloth books… I could buy every cloth book on Amazon and make a little library of them if I had the space in this tiny house!

Mid-range £20-50 toys for Newborns:

Toys for this age group tend to be either very cheap or very expensive, I think the only thing we had for a newborn that cost between £20 and £50 was bouncy chairs. We ended up buying two in the end because I tripped over the first one and broke it (also, OWWW), but also that one was only up to 9kg and we had a heavier baby who was born on the 98th percentile so we needed to upgrade by 6 months anyway.

Originally we got a chair like this one from Red Kite with the thin wire legs. Pros are it’s easy to bounce (you can even bounce it with your foot) and he liked batting the toys. Cons are it’s not going to last as long as a sturdier bouncer. If your baby is on the smaller side, however, you will probably find this fits your baby quite well in the early months.

If we were doing everything again, I’d opt straight for a chair that would last up to 18kg. We now have this Bright Starts one, which has a toy arch and the same vibrations as the bouncers for younger babies, although this one doesn’t so much bounce as rock, our 14-month-old still enjoys rocking it himself by kicking his feet. And it *says* 18kg but I’ve sat in it (I weigh 45kg) and it can take my weight, so if you have older kids, you don’t have to worry about them wrecking the baby’s chair. We also use our bouncer for weaning, as we have no space for a high chair or a dining table in our tiny home. 10/10 recommend this chair unless you have a tiny baby or a preemie in which case something like the Red Kite one above would be better.

High end toys over £50 for 0-3 months:

A baby rocker like the Ingenuity ConvertMe Swing2Seat is another fantastic option but never, ever, ever let your baby sleep in it unsupervised. The best ones vibrate and play soothing lullabies to get your baby to drift off.

3-6 Months

Ahh, this is where toys start becoming interesting and babies start interacting with things more!

Budget buys under £20 Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby

All of the toys for 0-3 months will still be interesting to a 3-6 month old baby, but babies will also be interested in rattles and crinkle mittens.

Our baby adored the Guess How Much I Love You rattle. He still plays with it at 14 months of age so we’ve had a lot of use out of it. When he was really little, we used to put his whole hand through the hole in the middle and he loved waving his hand and rattle it!

He also loves his Panda teething mittens! These come in a pair and they’re black and white. Young babies love high-contrast toys so this was really eye-catching for him. His hands never fitted inside (98th percentile baby problems haha), but he still chews on it and loves exploring the crinkle sounds. He has been teething since he was 4 months and a lot of teething remedies are for older babies so this was a great buy. Now his molars are coming in, he loves chewing it with his back teeth.

We also have a night light projector. These don’t need to be expensive (the baby won’t know or care) and this £15 one is fantastic! It doesn’t sing (that costs more money) but there are so many toys that make noises and not so many that can do a good light show!

Mid-range Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby (£20 to £50)

A basic baby gym requiring no batteries is a great investment. They fold up mostly flat for taking on car rides if you’re going to see family at Christmas and can keep babies occupied while they discover all the toys on the toy arches! This one is perfect. They’re also great for tummy time and as baby learns to sit.

All babies develop at different ages, but if yours is an early roller, an activity play mat might be a great choice at this age!

High end Christmas gifts for a 3-6 month old baby (over £50)

If you want to spend a lot of money, the Fisher Price rainforest baby gym is a fancy-schmancy hi-tech baby gym with sounds and lights, which will captivate your little one from birth and last through the 3-6 month age range, although don’t expect them to do more than fall asleep in it for the first couple of months (at which point you’ll probably want to move them due to safer sleeping).

The perfect Christmas toys for 6-12 month old babies

By this stage, they’re probably sitting, maybe crawling, and definitely waking up every day ready to play, play, play!

There are so many more options at this stage.

Budget Christmas gifts under £20 for babies 6-12 months of age

Baby keyboards are where it’s at for 6-12 month old babies. During tummy time or sitting time, they will love pressing the buttons and hearing the sounds. We have this one from Baby Einstein, who really lead the way in innovative musical instruments for babies.

Cars are another big favourite at this age. Babies discover wheels sometime around 6-12 months and that’s it, cars have their attention forever. It happened to all my cousins’ babies, my friends’ babies, and then it happened with mine, too. Finding toy cars suitable for 6-12 month old babies can be hard. These ones are age-appropriate.

Grandma and granddad also have this Fisher Price baby piano at their house which our baby loves because it also does funny sounds like ducks quacking and cows mooing.

A ball pool! If you have the space in your house, a pop-up ball pool will provide so much fun and wonder for a 6-12 month old baby (and beyond… who doesn’t love a good ball pit). We have a modular one from Tesco that cost about £20 for the pool and the matching crawling tunnel, but they aren’t doing them right now (they class them as a summer toy), and the downside is, the balls fall out through the hole for the tunnel, which is annoying as we don’t have enough space to set both up indoors, so it hardly gets played with now. This £7.99 ball pool would be a great budget alternative. Or, if you have a travel cot, just buy about 3 or 4 packs of play balls from anywhere for about £10 for a pack of 100 (or get one mega pack of 300 from this place for £20) and put them and the baby in the travel cot in your living room, which is what I do when I need to contain the baby e.g. to make tea (which is why we don’t use our ball pool)! I know that adds up to over £20 for the pool and the balls, but you can get started with one pack of balls and a pool for around £16 together, and buy more later, or get relatives to each buy a pack of balls, and the baby will still love this!

Mid-range Christmas gifts for 6-12 months of age (£20 to £50)

The baby Einstein touch piano is a great upgrade if you have £24.99 to spend on it. We’ve played with one but not bought it because we wanted one with buttons to press, for cause and effect. It’s a 2 in 1 keyboard and xylophone and I’m going to get it once my baby outgrows his current keyboard.

Sit-me-up baby sitting support:

About 5 or 6 months, your baby might start sitting. At this point, you will want some way of supporting them. With a very long baby (98th percentile for height and weight) we found that by the time he was ready to try sitting, he was too big/heavy for a lot of the sitting toys to work properly, and they just tipped over with him in. We tried LOADS (this was January and February, before the playgroups all shut down).

Our favorite, and the one we ended up buying, was a horseshoe-shaped cushion support type of baby sitter. This one is very similar to the one we got (ours was from Mothercare who are now bankrupt).

The other type he got on well with was this donut-shaped sitting support, which he used several times at playgroup. The thickness of this one was quite good for my baby’s size. We avoided the seat-type ones because when he fell sideways, the seats fell with him which meant disentangling him from them. Anyway, I have an especially wiggly baby who hates being fastened into toys and not moving around, so the cushion sitting supports for babies were much better for him as he could use them independently and roll around on the floor for a bit when he got bored.

For travel, this infant sitting support would be a great option. It’s inflatable and the play tray is detachable, and it has extra neck support.

Baby Walkers:

I’m not a big fan of the type of walkers where the baby is stuck inside it. I’ve heard of them tipping after getting stuck in doorframes, going down staircases, and generally not being very safe. My health visitor also said to avoid them and while I know health visitors aren’t always a fountain of knowledge, mine really is so I believe her about the number of injuries she’s seen from the Dalek-type baby walkers. From a child development point of view, they don’t teach proper walking or posture, either, which can lead to later back trouble.

Instead, I recommend the sort of walker where the baby pushes it around independently. My baby was very very late to start cruising so we’ve just bought him this Nuby push-along walker which is suitable from 6 months and Nuby are a reputable brand (I’ve seen some really worrying reviews of imported walker toys, so while I am usually happy to buy things from abroad, I would only go with a known brand for this type of toy).

High end Christmas gifts for babies aged 6-12 months (over £50)

Jumperoo: About 6 months, you’ll be ditching the baby gym. Jumping is where it is at for 6-12 month olds. We love this Fisher Price rainforest jumper! For us, this was absolutely worth spending £75 on, even though it takes up most of the floor space in our living room. Just remember babies can’t use them for more than 30 minutes at a time because their hips are still developing as they learn to walk. Benefits of jumping include leg strength, co-ordination and gross motor control. But really, babies shouldn’t be doing any activity for more than about 30 minutes to keep their developing brains stimulated and to avoid over-tiredness.

So that’s it for my top gifts for baby’s first Christmas. What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments! P.S. Sorry to my American readers, this article is all about British baby toys available in the UK, but if you head on over to US Amazon I’m sure you could find some of the toys I’ve linked to above!

Note: This article may contain affiliate links. It does not affect the price you pay or my opinions of products.

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!

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.

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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!

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: Pattaya

Christmas Day 2017. Twenty-four degrees celsius, if you can believe it. Blue, cloudless sky, punctuated only by palm trees. The sound of the sea, gently rising up the clean sand, leaving gifts of shells for me to find. The calls of men selling hats, water bottles and street food on long bamboo poles or hand-carts as they amble up and down the beach.

For our Christmas dinner, we went to the Hard Rock Café Pattaya, and had a delicious English-style Christmas dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings. After four months in East Asia, it was like coming home, without having to actually go back to England with all its problems.

After we had eaten, a group of twenty or so children arrived and took to the stage, singing Christmas carols they had learned in their English lessons, and their teacher explained how the school had been set up for them. Education is widely seen as the key to ending poverty, and in countries where literacy is low, getting schools built and teachers trained is very important.

I hope by the time you are old enough to see Thailand for yourself, those children are out changing the world and teaching the next generation.

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This is part 2 of my Postcards to my Baby series. Part 1 here. All photos copyright MamaAdventure.

A Photo A Week Challenge: Footwear

This week’s challenge from Nancy Merrill Photography is to share a photo or two of footwear. This photo is the sandals I have been wearing for the past 18 months.

Basically, my feet grew during pregnancy but they got so wide that none of my shoes fitted, so I bought these when we were still living in China, back in late 2018. They’ve been to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Xi’An in China, Osaka in Japan, Oslo in Finland and they’ve been to London, England and Wexford, Ireland before finally leading me to Belfast, where my Jellyfish arrived. Their journey is another point of view that tells the story of my pregnancy and motherhood so far.

They’ve been with me for two Christmases, despite getting some strange looks from the in-laws this Christmas (not sure why… I live indoors so sandals were fine over winter), and I’m still wearing them. I was beginning to think my feet would stay huge permanently.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried my old trainers (sneakers) back on, and found they finally fit me again, but of course, it’s summer now, so I’m still wearing these sandals, except when I go running. My feet have got used to feeling the wind against my toes, and I’m not sure I could go back to wearing closed shoes most of the time.

They’ve become like a good friend whose company I don’t want to part from. Some shoes are like that.

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