Breastfeeding with hyperemesis gravidarum

This article will talk about how I have continued breastfeeding with hyperemesis gravidarum. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a debilitating form of extreme morning sickness which affects 1-2% of pregnant women. If left untreated it can be deadly.

As well as the physical problems, one difficult aspect of having hyperemesis gravidarum is the absolute lack of support or sympathy most people have, including midwives and nurses. The two most common things I was told during all three pregnancies were “Have you tried ginger biscuits?” and “It’s just morning sickness”. When you have hyperemesis gravidarum, these stupid comments are not helpful and when you hear them enough, it starts to really get you down. Add breastfeeding and you get comments about how stupid you are. You do you.

If you are still breastfeeding when you fall pregnant again, you might be wondering how to continue breastfeeding your baby through this difficult time (or whether to continue). I was amazed there was no info about this online, so now I’ve been through it, I decided to write this article, although it’s taken a couple of weeks as, even though my latest HG has subsided, I’m still exhausted from throwing up so much. Also, I find it difficult to discuss this due to the trauma surrounding my first pregnancy (TW).

Choosing to stop breastfeeding completely is also an option for some. It wouldn’t have worked for us because my little one wouldn’t take a cup at all at the start of this pregnancy, although he now does.

My history of hyperemesis:

  • Pregnancy 1: I was in and out of hospital, developed Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (this is a life-threatening development of untreated or treatment-resistant hyperemesis gravidarum) and nearly died. At that point I couldn’t even keep down little sips of water, I was dizzy, confused, unable to walk more than short distances or stand up for long (these are symptoms of a medical emergency, get help if you develop these amid severe vomiting). The hospital were shockingly ignorant and negligent but my GP was really good about continually pushing the hospital to sort me out. I had to have an emergency TFMR without anaesthetic which traumatised me and I have never been able to come to terms with losing this baby.
  • Pregnancy 2: It was so much less awful than pregnancy 1, that I didn’t even know I had hyperemesis gravidarum. I thought I had normal morning sickness until I got diagnosed at my first antenatal appointment by a very stern Chinese doctor who told me (through a translator) that I had to eat more for the baby because I’d lost 6% of my body weight. I was sick with this pregnancy until I was 21 weeks pregnant and only tore my oesophagus twice, and some days I could even get out of bed so I didn’t think I had HG. Given our previous terrible experience, I had stockpiled anti-emetics when I’d been in America. When I got the positive pregnancy test I thought I was prepared, but actually, I couldn’t swallow down the tablets and they tasted extra bitter (my tongue got over sensitive; they were usually tasteless, I was also using them for travel sickness) and made my nausea worse so I stopped trying them after the first two weeks. This pregnancy culminated in my healthy baby boy born late 2019.
  • After he was born, problems that had been caused by my hyperemesis continued to manifest. You lose 300-500 calories per day from breastfeeding, which means that even if you eat normally, you will struggle to get back to a healthy weight after hyperemesis. I became clinically underweight a second time when he was about 8 weeks old and had to be referred to a dietician who put me on a weight gain plan. I had to fight really hard to get enough food in (and I wasn’t dealing with hyperemesis by this point). I’m not saying this to put anyone off breastfeeding after hyperemesis, but be prepared to eat a LOT of peanuts/peanut butter to get that weight back on.
  • Pregnancy 3 (my current pregnancy): The hyperemesis gravidarum hit me like a shovel over the head at 6 weeks pregnant. I mostly couldn’t move from the sofa and struggled to care for my now-toddler (thankfully my husband was here to do it). In 8 weeks of HG my weight dropped to 7 stone from a comfortable 8.5. That’s 10% of my body weight. My BMI went from a comfortable 19 to a dangerously underweight 16. So it was becoming a matter of survival to eat and drink. My hyperemesis gravidarum has vastly improved and now, at 16 weeks pregnant, I’m only being sick 1-2 times per day, but more than that, I’m able to eat food. For me, the nausea and stomach cramps are always a bigger issue than the vomiting because they stop me eating, so I’m glad they’re gone now.

What happened to my breastfeeding when I got hyperemesis gravidarum:

  • At the start of this pregnancy, I was feeding my 18-month-old baby about 5-6 times per day around the clock (he also ate solids but breastmilk was his main drink as he didn’t like his cup).
  • My milk supply reduced. One boob gave up completely around 9 weeks pregnant.
  • Boobs got sore. Feeding became agony again, akin to when my LO was newborn (undiagnosed tongue tie).
  • Baby started self-weaning and signalling for his sippy cup, presumably because milk supply was so low.
  • My baby got clingy as my milk supply reduced. More cuddles were needed and an understanding that he needed me to physically be nearer to him than usual, so I spent a lot of time lying down next to him while he played.
  • It was very hard to stay hydrated anyway, but with breastfeeding on top, it created an added dimension.
  • My stomach has shrunk (this is a known side-effect of anorexia, so God knows why doctors don’t know this can happen after hyperemesis gravidarum), making it impossible to eat full portion sizes now, two weeks after most of the vomiting has stopped, so I am trying to eat more but I physically don’t have the room to do it as well as I would like.
  • Due to the amount of weight I had lost, and concern that I had a responsibility to the baby in my tummy as well as my one-year-old, I didn’t fight hard to continue the BF relationship as it was at the start. I unwittingly ended up doing “don’t offer, don’t refuse” to cut down the number of feeds, although I didn’t intend to wean him and I am still feeding him.
  • Anti-emetics are generally unsuitable for breastfeeding. They’re also impossible to get hold of where I live.
  • The maternity care here has so far been a bit primeval and no professionals have helped with the HG.
  • At 16 weeks pregnant, I am still breastfeeding my baby once daily, for the first middle-of-the-night feed, and he drinks from his sippy cup for his second wake-up.

Tips for breastfeeding with HG:

  • Focus on the connection with your baby, not the “how” to get that connection. Breastfeeding is more than just nutrition, and its the loss of connection as your milk supply dips that can make it so hard. Plenty of cuddles, gentle words, understanding and love for your LO, from you and from any other caregivers.
  • Don’t guilt trip yourself. Whatever breastmilk your LO gets is better than nothing. Stress is bad for your pregnancy and it will also make your hyperemesis worse.
  • Don’t be afraid to unlatch and regroup when you need to. Boobs are super sensitive during pregnancy.
  • When boobs are sore, go back to basics and use Lansinoh or other nipple balm remedies such as ice compresses or cabbage leaves.
  • Leave your bra off. No one is looking. If they are, they can get lost. I found this made a huge difference to the soreness and also improved my nausea a bit, along with having absolutely nothing around my waist (I started in maternity dresses at week 6 with Jellyfish because I had an ovarian cyst the size of my fist in there too and it was very uncomfortable).
  • If you don’t have the energy for your usual breastfeeding positions, try and master feeding while lying on your side. Use any amount of pillows or cushions to get the positioning to work.
  • I was too sick to work even from home. If you can, get signed off and get sick leave from your employer. If not, find out if you can claim welfare.
  • Don’t do anything that isn’t urgent. Let it all go. The washing machine’s powder drawer will be fine if you don’t clean it for four more months.
  • Don’t worry about forcing down the prenatal vitamins. In China, where I was pregnant with Jellyfish, women don’t use these (prenatal vitamins aren’t even sold in shops, nor are any other vitamins) and they produce healthy babies. Prenatals are much less important than we are told. Focus on hydration before anything else.
  • Take little sips of bottled water or juice instead of gulping down a big drink.
  • Keep track of how much water or juice you’ve drunk in a day by changing to a new cup when you finish. On very bad days I couldn’t finish a full mug of water.
  • Between feeds, when you get a moment to yourself, I recommend relaxation with a meditation video. My favourite ones are yoga nidra, a type of yoga that focuses on mindfulness relaxation.
  • I have found with all three of my pregnancies (all of which were HG) one specific food group was easier to eat than others. In my first and second pregnancy, carbs were what I could keep down (plain rice, plain pasta, plain bread), I struggled with protein and I developed a complete aversion to every green vegetable on the planet (and some colourful ones). In my current pregnancy, protein has been the thing that has stayed down (in small amounts).
  • Don’t worry about what you’re not doing, not eating etc. You will make up for the lost calories/nutrition/prenatal vitamins later. Hopefully, your HG won’t last the whole pregnancy, but if it does, you will have to do a lot of extra eating after the birth if you’re planning to breastfeed your newborn.
  • Ensure you get as much rest as you can, and don’t be afraid to depend on anyone else in your life (or get LO into daycare, if you can get him there. I was too sick to drive) to get you through this time.
  • Don’t be afraid to put the TV on for your LO. It won’t ruin their development.
  • When the hyperemesis starts to ease off (hopefully around 12 weeks, I hear this happens for some women), you will need to gradually build up to eating full-size meals again. Eating five meals a day is often recommended, but I find it’s hard to fit them in around a toddler and anyway, my stomach has rarely finished digesting the last small meal in time for the next one. Your mileage might vary so try eating little and often.
  • If you can eat it, Bombay Mix (and similar mixes such as the barely-spicy London Mix) is about the most calorie-dense food I have come across at over 500 calories per 100g. Otherwise peanuts are also very good for calories, or peanut butter.
  • Find a hyperemesis gravidarum support group e.g. on Facebook or one of the parenting sites (babycenter, mumsnet etc) if you think that will benefit you. Different groups have different group culture, so find one that works for you.
  • Don’t panic if you get to the magical 12 weeks and your hyperemisis isn’t gone. Mine never is. I’ve never yet suffered with hyperemesis gravidarum for a full pregnancy.

THERE IS NO SHAME IN STOPPING BREASTFEEDING. I can’t stress this enough. But there is also no shame in continuing to breastfeed. Ultimately, you have to do what is right for both your babies and yourself. Good luck.

DIY chalkboard magnets crafting

So after I did my chalkboards (tutorial here), I had some very small offcuts of chalkboard stickyback vinyl just sitting around, looking sad and lonely. When I got another Amazon delivery, I finally had a box I could turn into these super-cute DIY chalkboard magnets!

If you want to make your own, you will need:

Chalkboard stickyback vinyl (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

Some cardboard (the corrugated brown stuff works best)

Magnet tape (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

Scissors

Chalkboard pens (UK Amazon) (US Amazon)

You can make the little chalkboards by following my easy DIY chalkboard tutorial. For magnets, make them small (2×3 inches or 5x7cm rectangles work perfectly but other shapes and sizes are also good).

Write a cute message on your tiny chalkboards. If you suck at calligraphy/lettering as much as I do, draw the outline of your chalkboard onto a piece of paper first and plan out where to place the letters. My first chalkboard worked perfectly first time and all the letters went exactly where I wanted. The second one took about 7 attempts of cleaning it off and starting again because I just kept messing it up. Drawing out a plan helped me a lot.

Let the chalkboards dry thoroughly before doing anything else with them. This should take about 5 minutes. I made a little door sign for my baby’s bedroom out of a slightly bigger piece at the same time (I’ve skewed the bottom line to the left slightly on the room sign as he is getting a brother or sister in 6 months’ time so I will want to change it to “little ones” but not yet):

Once you have the chalkboards ready, turn them over and cut 3-4 strips of magnet tape (you might want to use less but I like them to stick really well to the fridge when they’re holding up baby art). The magnet tape should be about 1cm smaller than the edge of the magnet. Peel back the protective film and stick the magnet tape onto the back of the chalkboards. Press down firmly.

Voila! You’re ready to put up some baby artwork. Or a shopping list. Or your favourite postcard. The sky is the limit!

You could even use these for gifts, although I will say I’m not 100% happy with the finish, because it scratches easily. To figure out how to make these into gifts, I will do some experimenting with varnish spray to see if it preserves the writing. However, the flipside of that is once the writing has been fixed to the chalkboard, there’s no option to wipe it off and change it to something else.

I loved making these chalkboard magnets for the versatility and they’re an easy way to bring a classy look to your refrigerator. I’m using mine to display baby art that my little one made with these Crayola Finger Paints (here in the US, in a bigger pack).

Vegan Breastmilk Lotion Bar

This recipe doesn’t use any animal products (unless you count the breastmilk) and is based on (but not exactly the same as) my easy vegan hair conditioner/lotion bar recipe.

If you are breastfeeding and want to try making cosmetics, this is a fun one to try. It’s super thick when it goes on your skin so perfect for hard skin on your feet, chafing or sore areas, and knees and elbows. Otherwise, due to the low melting point you can use it like a Lush massage bar (I use it on my C-section scar and rub the oil in using gentle circular movements; I’ve been doing this since 7 months post CS). If you use this on oily areas, it can cause spots as it’s very rich.

I haven’t tried this out on babies so I don’t know how it would go. My baby has super-sensitive skin and I find he is fine with the melt and pour breastmilk soap and otherwise I apply breastmilk directly from my boob to his skin if he gets a rash. However, everyone’s baby is different and yours may be more sensitive than mine (or have different allergies).

Once the breastmilk has gone in, this is 100% a lotion bar not a conditioner (breastmilk is super-cleansing for hair but not very conditioning, despite the fact it’s great for skin).

This recipe doesn’t use a huge amount of breastmilk, but it’s little and powerful when combined with the rest of the ingredients. This bar is scented. If you prefer unscented (e.g. if you have very sensitive skin), leave out the lavender oil and it will smell like a combination of the other ingredients (when I make this unscented, mine has a strong shea/cocoa butter smell).

This recipe makes 1 bar of lotion in a standard rectangular mold.

You will need:

  • A glass jug
  • A spoon for mixing
  • A soap mould
  • 40g shea butter
  • 30g olive wax
  • 20g cocoa butter
  • 20g coconut oil
  • 10ml breastmilk
  • 10ml avocado oil
  • 15 drops lavender oil

Method (no microwave… scroll for microwave method)

  1. In a saucepan, boil some water and place your glass jug in it.
  2. Add the cocoa butter and olive wax as these take the most heat to melt.
  3. When they have melted, add the rest of the ingredients except the lavender oil and breastmilk.
  4. Once the whole lot has melted, remove jug from saucepan, add breastmilk, lavender oil and mix well.
  5. Pour the mixture into your soap mould and leave it to harden. This takes about 2-3 hours.
  6. Pop it out of the mould. Wrap to keep moisture out immediately and it’s ready to use!

Microwave method:

  1. Put the cocoa butter and olive wax in the microwave and heat in 30-second bursts until they have melted.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the breastmilk and lavender oil. Heat in 20-second bursts until everything has melted.
  3. Add the breastmilk and lavender, pour into a mould and leave to harden for 2-3 hours.
  4. Pop out of mold. Wrap. Enjoy.

This bar may crack after hardening. This usually happens when it cooled too fast. It’s still usable if this happens. Don’t melt it again after adding breastmilk or essential oils as it will denature the breastmilk/essential oil and speed up expiry.

This bar has unpasteurized breast milk in, so will last about 2-3 weeks before it might go off. You can prevent this by adding preservatives, but I haven’t tried those or researched them (except to know they exist and are mandatory in all liquid cosmetics sold in the EU) so I can’t recommend any.

7 things to do in York with young kids

York is not known for being the most child-friendly of places. From posh restaurants that don’t appeal to little ones, to shops with displays of expensive, brittle ornaments pouring off the shelves, to uneven pavements and kerbs that are definitely not pushchair-friendly, to zero play areas anywhere within the walls where kids can let off steam, this city can be stressful for parents of young children. However, there are things you can do with your preschoolers that they will enjoy:

Follow The Wiggles Trail:

Okay, I totally invented this one, but if your children are fans of The Wiggles, you can take them on the short (perfect for small legs) Wiggly Trail and let them sing the classic songs from the TV show Ready, Steady, Wiggle when they reach all the spots on the trail. The best part? The walking will tire them out! I have full details and a map in this post. Oh, and it’s also free!

Visit DIG:

If your child is old enough to hold a spoon and follow simple instructions without attempting to eat every non-food object they see, they will probably love DIG. It’s an interactive sort-of museum where children can do play-archaeology indoors without actually getting dirty. It’s really educational and super-fun. Entrance on St. Saviourgate behind Stonebow.

Jorvik Viking Museum

Do I need to introduce this one? This is what you’re going to York for, right? If not, you need to know any trip to York is incomplete without going to this essential museum. Entry is not cheap, and you may have to queue if you don’t book advance tickets, but this place is worth it. There’s a ride where you get to see Viking scenes then a museum-type area with re-enactors who can tell you all about what life was like in Viking times. Children will love this.

Looking for somewhere to sit down?

Once you’ve done some big touristy stuff at Jorvik and Dig, or between them, you might be thinking about heading over to the York Museum Gardens. However, it’s across the other side of the city centre, so it might take a while for very little legs to get there, so if you’re at Jorvik with preschoolers, that’s a great starting place to go to Tower Park, instead, which is where my Wiggly trail begins. Follow the trail toward King’s Staith then you’re perfectly situated to go and find some lunch at one of York’s many cafés or restaurants, then head back toward The Shambles for a trip down a real medieval street.

The Harry Potter shops in The Shambles

If you have school-age kids, instead of heading to Tower Park, wander toward The Shambles, York’s most picturesque and original medieval street. The first two shops are both Harry Potter-themed and children who are fans of the films or books will find these fascinating. The Shambles itself will be quite busy in the middle of the day, so plan for it to take about 10 minutes to get down this small road. At the other end, head out into King’s Square and you will find…

York’s Chocolate Story

This is a chocolate museum. Did you know both Rowntree and Nestle are headquartered in York? This museum tells the history of York’s chocolate-making industrial past and has lots of bright and colourful displays for children.

After York’s Chocolate Story, keep going past the Minster and through a bar (gate) in the walls, and you will reach…

The fountain at Exhibition Square, Museum Street:

This fountain has lots of jets of water and is tons of fun for little ones who can splash their hands in the edge of the water and also watch the water jets. At night, the water is lit up with coloured lights. Be water safe and never leave children unsupervised near water. From here, head down a little alleyway/footpath to the left of the big railings of King’s Manor. This path will take you straight into…

York Museum Gardens

This is a great place to feed squirrels, and is a big open space where children can run around and play, although for some reason, there’s no actual play park. The Museum Gardens are open daily until 5pm and includes the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, a Benedictine abbey that’s fun to see up close. If you have a picnic, this is the perfect place to have it. Free entry. If it rains, why not step inside the museum, instead (museum not free)?


Recommended

A Wiggly Trail, York

Does your child love The Wiggles as much as mine does? If so, here’s a Wiggly treat for you!

Aside from being a very historic city, York was also the filming location for more than a handful of the songs in the TV show Ready, Steady, Wiggle featuring the world’s favourite preschool band, The Wiggles… read full article

Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

Wheels: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman

This week’s challenge, then, is wheels. My baby adores wheels! He loves watching cars go past the house, or play with his toy fire engine, pushing it around the room. And his favourite song is The Wheels On The Bus. But wheels aren’t always literal, as this week’s quote shows. It’s from The Windmills of Your Mind, a song made famous by the (now-largely-forgotten) film The Thomas Crown Affair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

How to donate your hair to charity for a child’s cancer wig

Over lockdown, many of us have grown our hair longer than we usually would, as we haven’t been able to go to the hairdresser’s salon. This is the perfect opportunity to grow your hair and help a child with cancer.

Why do children with cancer need wigs?

Children with cancer are often undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. These treatments make an area of the child’s body too toxic for the cancer cells to keep existing, so the child gets very sick. They lose weight because they can’t keep their food down. And all their hair falls out. This makes them feel very miserable and self-conscious at a time when they are already going through a terrible ordeal.

Why can’t they just buy a wig?

Children with cancer spend a lot of time in hospital. This can either be as an inpatient, or, more commonly these days, visiting the hospital two or three times per week (or even daily) for treatment. Many children don’t live near to the hospital they are treated in. Their parents have to spend lots of money on petrol to drive to the hospital, food to eat while they are out, and accommodation near the hospital so they can visit their baby and hold their hand.

Wigs for children with cancer typically cost hundreds of pounds (or Euros, or dollars). That’s because the raw materials (good hair) are expensive and the labour to make a wig is intense (wigs have to be handmade). For decades, this has been a problem (basically, since chemotherapy was invented). In the past ten years or so, however, a solution has appeared.

Do you have very long hair?

If your hair is long enough, you can donate it to charities that make wigs specifically for children with cancer. Right now, however, the best thing you can do is let your hair grow another inch or two. Those extra inches could make the difference about whether your hair can be used in a longer wig–the most in-demand type, as little girls usually have long hair before their treatment begins, and adults rarely have hair as long, so it’s hard to get wigs at this length.

The goal is to help the children feel as normal as possible, at a time when nothing feels normal to them, so a wig close to how they used to wear their hair is very important.

Do I have enough hair to help a child with cancer?

Another point to bear in mind is that your hair is cut above the ponytail, but the rest of your hair will stay attached to your head. There could be 6-8 inches of hair before your ponytail. When thinking about how long a wig would be from your hair donation, remember that first 6-8 inches will be needed, too. So a 12 inch wig will only actually give 4 inches of drop past the ears. And a 12-inch wig needs more than 12 inches of hair, because some will need to be used to sew it to the woven cap part of the wig, just like you need extra fabric when you are sewing, to account for the seams.

They will also need to cut the hair after it’s been woven into a wig, to turn it into a hairstyle, because it’s unlikely that your ponytail will transform itself into a perfect bob, for example. Suddenly, even a 12-inch hair donation doesn’t seem like much. So whatever length your hair is, letting it grow for another couple of inches will make a huge difference overall to what can be done with it. Just remember in the meantime to take good care of your hair, don’t bleach it intensely or dye it any unnatural colours, or it usually can’t be used.

How to do it:

When it’s time, choose which children’s wigs for cancer charity you want to donate to (some are listed below), and follow their instructions to be sure your donation is in tip-top condition. NEVER send them wet hair. It can’t be dried properly once it’s cut. In fact, washing it the night before you cut it is best. It’s also important to use top-quality scissors, as blunt scissors can damage your hair donation, so if you can, get your donation cut at a hairdresser.

If you’re impatient, of course, you can cut your hair at home, just be sure to follow the instructions about cutting your hair, which are different for each charity, and always cut above the bobble/elastic. Make sure when you cut your hair, it is tied into a ponytail with a bobble/elastic you don’t mind donating along with your hair.

However, your contribution doesn’t have to stop there.

It costs a lot of money to process your hair and turn it into a wig. Setting up a Justgiving page, sharing this with your family, friends and colleagues, and sending the proceeds to your chosen charity, is a great way to help them with the costs of making not just a wig from your hair, but other people’s too.

While in-person events are currently off-limits for many of us, you could still set up an online event, and get your hair cut live on Facebook, and get people to sponsor you to do it, then they can watch it happen.

Some hair donation places will give you a certificate to thank you for your contribution.

What has really shocked me, researching this, is that the Canadian Cancer Society isn’t linking to or telling potential hair donors about the FOUR Canadian charities giving real hair wigs to children going through chemo! And they don’t accept donations which they could have passed onto these organisations, claiming people prefer acrylic wigs. Of course, that’s fine if you’re an adult because your head size will fit something bought on eBay, but a bit useless for kids. I hope they update their site soon.

Resources:

Little Princess Trust (UK) Little Princess Trust UK works to provide children across the UK with wigs, and also works with the Lauralynn Hospice in Ireland. Minimum hair length: 7 inches (as mentioned above, growing it another inch or two could make a huge difference).

The Rapunzel Foundation (Ireland): The Rapunzel Foundation is an Irish charity working to provide wigs for children. Minimum hair length: 16 inches.

Hair Harvest (UK): They pay you for your hair (minimum 14 inches) and they turn it into wigs for people undergoing chemotherapy or who have alopecia (hair loss). A percentage of the value of your donation goes to the Katie Piper foundation, who help fund wigs for people with medical hair loss.

Chai Lifeline (Canada): They deal specifically with wigs for children in Canada undergoing chemotherapy. Their hair guidelines are here.
Minimum hair length: At least 10 inches (curly hair can be pulled straight to measure).

A Child’s Voice Foundation (Canada): They do hair for children with alopecia or undergoing chemotherapy. They don’t give set guidelines on their website but ask that you contact them to figure out if your hair is going to be a good match for their program.

Hair Donation Ottawa (Canada): They raise money and solicit hair donations for wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy. Minimum hair length: At least 12 inches (no bleached hair). Their submission guidelines are here.

Wigs for Kids (Canada): A hairdresser set up this charity to help children going through hair loss. Guidelines are here. Minimum hair length: 12 inches.

Freedom Wigs (New Zealand): This Kiwi business sells hair solutions for men, women and children suffering from hair loss due to chemo or alopecia. They pay you for your hair donation. While their wigs aren’t free, they are at least able to offset the cost if you donate them your hair. Minimum hair length: 14 inches (33cm)

Ella Wigmakers (Australia): This Aussie company works in conjunction with Kids With Cancer (Australia) to ensure hair donations make it to the kids you want to support.

Small Business (USA) has a great resource on the best ways to donate hair in America, since there are quite a few different avenues depending on whether you want to donate nationally or locally. Please don’t email me to add US sites to this article.

Conclusion:

Donating your hair to help kids with cancer is possible in every country in the English-speaking world. Right now, the best thing you can do is let your hair grow one or two extra inches, because that could make an enormous difference to what the charity can do with your hair. It can take 12 donors’ ponytails and €1000 to make a wig, so any money you can raise in the process will help these vital services keep working miracles for children.

10 Homeschooling ideas for Lego or Mega Bloks Construx

When you are homeschooling, sometimes you just want to give your child something to do, that doesn’t involve a screen, and to know they are learning something.

Lego/Mega Bloks Construx/other building products are perfect for this. Just buy a big bucket of blocks and use these ideas to keep your child busy and learning without any input (or minimum input) from you.

Younger children are very easily attracted to Lego, but even older children will find a challenge with some of the tasks you can set them using blocks that push together.

For older children, using Lego to express extremely complex ideas from the maths and science curriculum can help compound their learning, or you can use it as a starter to introduce a new topic.

I have also made a printable which you can print out, which is a deck of 21 things to build with Lego, for when you need a quick draw activity to instantly engage your child. You can download the free printable here.

You can also use the printable cards as a reward, e.g. if they have finished the work on another task, let them choose a card, as inspiration for something to build with Lego or Mega Bloks Construx.

Set them a challenge like building the tallest tower that doesn’t fall down using only yoghurt pots, then when you come back ask them how many yoghurt pots made the tallest tower and what might make the tower stand up better, then giving them time to try other ways to get the tower to stay up (glue, making the base out of three yoghurt pots and building up, etc).

Here are 10 activities your child can do with construction blocks such as Lego or Mega Bloks Construx that you could turn into an investigation or lesson (and which will give you time to teach your other children or make yourself a drink):

  1. What is the tallest tower you can build? You could use this to teach younger children about how buildings stay upright and, for older children, centre of mass and balance for GCSE physics.
  2. Put twelve blocks together. How many different ways can they split it evenly (two groups of 6, three groups of 4, four groups of 3, etc)? You could use this to introduce factors for a maths lesson.
  3. Put twenty blocks together. How many times can they split it in half? You could use this to introduce fractions for a maths lesson.
  4. Make one row that is one block, the next row is one, the next is two, three, five… each time get them to add together the last two numbers in the sequence to find the size of the next row. You could use this to introduce the Fibonacci sequence, an important number sequence that can be found in nature.
  5. Can you make a circle out of Lego, if you have enough bricks?
  6. Design a car. It has to be different to the last one your child made. Ask them to make it out of a different type of brick, or with different size wheels, or similar. You can then use the Lego car to test out physics questions (especially if they can make a ramp) such as friction (how much do they need to tilt the ramp before gravity allows it to roll down).
  7. Older children could make a 2-D Lego model of a plant or animal cell (or both) to compare the features of the two.
  8. Make a scene out of Lego, complete with minifigures, and use it as a creative writing prompt for your child.
  9. Make a balance beam with a long piece of Lego. The child can attach bricks at different distances and find out when the beam tilts. For example, one block, six studs away, should be able to be balanced with two blocks on the other side that is three studs away. You can use this to teach children from age 11 upwards (even through A-level if they need the reminder) about forces and distances from a pivot point (these are called moments).
  10. Using minifigures, look at their faces. They often have different expressions. Your child needs to write down what emotion each character is expressing, and describe their face (such as “eyebrows are close together and diagonal”, for frowning). This is especially good for children who are struggling to interpret emotions of the people around them. You could take this further by asking (for example) “why might this figure be angry?” Once the child has thought of something that makes them angry, you could move onto, “What could you do to make them feel better?”

There are thousands more things you can do with Lego, these are just a selection of things that I think would link closely to the national curriculum. Lego can be far more of a learning tool than the boxes imply. The best Lego to get for education is a bucket with a good mixture of lots of different shapes and sizes of Lego.

If you are using Mega Bloks Construx, these are compatible with Lego, but some other types of construction block don’t stick to Lego due to being very slightly too big or small. In my experience, Mega Bloks Construx don’t stick as tightly to Lego as other pieces of Lego do, but if you’re on a budget, they are definitely worth considering.

We have some of the bigger baby-size Mega Bloks and our little one loves them, although they are not compatible with Duplo (the next size up of Mega Bloks is, though). The plastic on the baby-sized ones is softer and I think he likes them because they are very chewable, perfect for teething babies. The baby-size Mega Bloks also have the advantage of being suitable from age 1 whereas Duplo is age 2+. When it comes to the smaller bricks, however, they are largely identical to Lego (the Construx range by Mega Bloks is for ages 5+) and there’s a thriving world of Mega Bloks Construx out there which you can discover.

Need some Lego? Get a big box here on UK Amazon or here on US Amazon (neither ships to Ireland but this smaller box does).

Lego, Duplo, Mega Bloks and Mega Bloks Construx are registered trademarks of their respective companies.

The sudden explosion of Covid in children: Why is it being downplayed?

A news article earlier this evening about children with Covid was published on the Telegraph which was later, hastily removed again.

It stuck in my craw a little because it was about the hospitalisation rates of children. At the same time, well known UK discussion site Mumsnet was aggressively deleting threads discussing the same thing.

Why?

The latest news is that there are about 50 children a day being hospitalised with Covid. Teaching unions, councils and parents have been begging the government to shut the schools for weeks but they refused. Even now, it’s being treated as a massive inconvenience rather than a terrifying reality that our children could be threatened by Covid. The current narrative is that children can’t get Covid, but that, when they do get Covid, they don’t get very ill with it. It would appear this article is a direct contradiction of that.

Luckily, the Telegraph article about this was hastily archived and you can find the full text here. I also have my own copy of this article, which I snapshotted. There was also a Radio 5 Live interview (clip available on Twitter here) with a nurse saying basically the same thing. And the Department of Health’s own statistics say 40-50 children are being admitted with Covid every day at the moment in England alone.

It’s hard to know what is true, these days, but there was some reason to believe, when lots of threads on the same topic were being hastily deleted on Mumsnet by moderators due to them allegedly containing “conspiracy theories” (they really didn’t), that this is being kept quiet.

I don’t know why the article was taken down but that, in itself, was enough reason for me to do something. I wanted to write an article about this, to keep the topic alive until more information comes out. Are they taking it down to get their story straight, or to minimise a real emergency, or something else entirely? I don’t care to speculate.

I will, of course, update you if I am asked to take this down (within the parameters of that request). It won’t be the first time I’ve been asked by an organization to take down an article. I guess that’s the problem with being an independent journalist who isn’t beholden to any given establishment.

How to get a Covid test with a baby

Three weeks ago, I was minding my own business when I got a call from my baby’s nursery (daycare). It was the last thing I’d expected to happen that day.

“You need to collect your child. He has been coughing non-stop today.”

He’s had this cough for about two months. He blatantly picked it up at the nursery. It’s not a “continuous, dry cough” and therefore wasn’t a Covid symptom. But they insisted we got tested and said he couldn’t return to nursery until he’d had a test and seen a doctor.

In this country, those are two very different things. You’re not allowed to go anywhere near a doctor if you’re suspected of having Covid.

So I booked the test. Last time I tried to book a test, they tried to book me into a testing centre in Dumfries and Galloway, which is across a sea, and given that you can’t use public transport with suspected Covid, and given that I don’t own a powerboat, this was utterly ridiculous. But the tests were not making it to Northern Ireland, just like the food didn’t, back in March, despite the fact literally no one here was panic buying.

It gets diverted to the South of England.

I was very surprised that this time, we were able to book two tests immediately (if baba boo had Covid, then my cough must be Covid, too), and not only that, but it was for about 30 minutes’ time.

So we went to the testing centre, which was in a big, empty car park. Everything was marked out with lots of orange cones and there were signs printed out from a computer saying “Covid testing” in black lettering.

Inside the deserted car park, we had to stop at a Portacabin where a member of staff stood at my passenger window and took my phone number then handed me two tests. Then, I had to roll up the windows and answer the phone, where the same member of staff told me, with the muffled audio of someone speaking through a facemask, how to take the PCR tests.

We were the only people in the whole place. You’re generally not allowed to get out of your car once you’ve parked to take a test. However, with a small baby, it is impossible to test him without getting out of the car.

The instructions said the best thing was to hold the swab in the back of your throat for thirty seconds, using the same swab to split that fifteen seconds on each side of your throat. I found that pretty easy. What was harder was following the instructions for a baby. See, for a baby, you have to stick the swab up their nose (“until you feel resistance”) for fifteen seconds per nostril. Only, after about two seconds, my baby, who had been fast asleep, woke up because his breathing was obstructed, then he used his excellent baby reflexes to fight the swab.

I was actually very proud of him for this, because it showed just how powerful his reflexes are when he perceives his breathing is threatened, even though he’d been asleep. But I could have lived without trying to get this sodding swab up the nose of a screaming infant.

Once you have swabbed, you have to break off half of the stick and put the half with the swab in it into a sealed jar in a sealed bag, which you should have written your name and date of birth on beforehand. So you need a pen. Not that they tell you this when you book the test.

We drove around to the place where you deposit the tests, and the man there checked I’d done it all properly. We had, so we were able to leave immediately and go home, where we had to self-isolate and wait for results.

Thankfully, we both came back negative.

Tips for easier Covid testing with a baby in the UK:

  1. Do yourself first. It’s really hard to count slowly to fifteen with a baby screaming in your ear.
  2. Take a pen to write on the sample bags.
  3. That’s it. It’s not a complicated process at all.

I am a little confused at the emptiness of the testing place just before Christmas, given that allegedly Covid cases were rising hugely at the time. Where were all these people getting tested? I have no idea. I’m just glad we only had to isolate until the test results came through.