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!

A Template Letter to ask Police to use Bodycams at all times. Send it wide!

Dear Police Department,
I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the use of bodycam and dashcam footage for all law enforcement officers. This is for your benefit and the benefit of the community. Impartial bodycam footage can indemnify you and protect you as much as it can prove allegations against racist cops.

Please let your officers know they should be using bodycams at all times, and ensure they are provided with the resources, training, and workplace policies/culture to be able to do this.

I am also concerned about police violence and I would like it to be known that I do not support or endorse the use of unnecessary force against protesters. Violence does not de-escalate violent situations. It is being disproportionately used against persons of color and this is not acceptable. The police should be protecting people and keeping the peace, not attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Police officers should be using “sideways management” within the force to stop their colleagues from being racist, to challenge racist assumptions, and to report upward through the chain of command any incidents of racism either perpetrated against police officers of color or against the wider black/minority community.

Black lives matter.

Yours sincerely,
A concerned citizen.

I had a maternal request elective C-section for tokophobia

I’ve just posted this somewhere else but I wanted to mention it here too because I think there’s too much stigma surrounding Tokophobia (fear of childbirth) and maybe it will help someone else:

 

I have always had tokophobia and it put me off wanting children for years because I was so scared of childbirth. I thought we would adopt instead, and justified it because the world is overpopulated (and isn’t it the height of self-indulgence to be a Millennial in the position of being able to afford a child). I had so many little justifications but underneath it all, I wanted kids. Twenty of them. Enough to fill a minibus or a classroom. Smashing the Idiocracy, one baby at a time.
 
With my first (unsuccessful) pregnancy I got such bad hyperemesis and I think a large part of it was because I was so anxious about giving birth, despite desperately wanting a baby. I was sure I would die. I ended up in hospital on IV fluids because I was so scared of having a baby that my body stopped digesting food. At the time, maternal-request C-section was not an option in England. In many parts of England, it still isn’t, and I find that abominable while on the other hand we tell women to trust their instincts about reduced foetal movement etc.
 
With my most recent and finally successful pregnancy, I had all my antenatal care in China where a C-section is the norm, which took away 99% of the stress. I got “normal” amounts of morning sickness, which isn’t great, but it also made me realize just how bad my hyperemesis had been several years earlier, despite so many people dismissing it as part and parcel of pregnancy.
I finally allowed myself to learn all about pregnancy and childbirth, and the whole thing fascinated me. I think I talked about random obstetric facts non-stop whenever my husband was home. I found myself craving the British model of pregnancy – midwife-led care, with emphasis on normality. In China, a doctor makes all your decisions and they get quite offended if you refuse any tests they’ve recommended (and they loved recommending tests).
When I got to Northern Ireland, there was uncertainty about my due date so they wanted me to have an induction. This was something I hadn’t really read about because I didn’t like it as a concept. It seemed unnatural to fill the body with gloop to force a baby out when it wasn’t ready. It really didn’t sit right with me, but no one said I had any alternative, and the baby had to come out somehow, so I actually psyched myself up to go for an induction.
I think I would have been okay except I had a cervical sweep three days before the induction and it was agonizing, and it left me unable to walk very well (I suspect this is when the baby accidentally got turned). I still kept telling myself I could do this induction, but now I had a lot less confidence because if that was just a little membrane sweep, how much worse was labour going to be. I was resolved that I was going to try and have a normal birth though (in between bouts of crying and telling my husband I was going to die because I was completely terrified).
I tried practising hypnobirthing and meditation, and even wrote a birth plan about 2 days before the induction date. On the day, I spent 6 hours having the worst and longest anxiety attack of my entire life, convinced my baby would die and so would I, while the poor midwife in the induction bay was trying to calm me down because I was crying and shaking, blood pressure through the roof, and she ended up getting the registrar to come and go through what an ELCS would entail with me.
 
Until a C-section was offered, I’d been too scared to ask for one in case they said no.
 
The registrar then did a scan to look at my baby and said he’d shifted to an oblique lie so couldn’t have come out any other way. She drew a diagram in my notes and everything, but I still don’t know if she was just trying to make me feel better.
 
When I was going into theatre to have the CS the consultant-midwife asked me why I was having it and I said about the baby being oblique because I was too ashamed of how scared I’d been. Of course, she could see my notes so I should have just been upfront but anxiety isn’t rational.
 
My notes say “maternal request c-section” but that doesn’t quite cover the time I spent agonizing over this, feeling like I’d let my baby down because I was too scared to try and push him out, or the fact I still mourned the loss of my envisioned “perfect” birth, a waterbirth, surrounded by delicious snacks, with my husband in the water with me and holding my hand. It doesn’t come close to making me feel better about what happened, when I know what the statistics say about C-sections and the chance of babies developing respiratory issues and digestive problems.
 
I dreaded having to tell my family what had happened so I didn’t tell anyone I’d had a C-section for weeks before I finally admitted it, and everyone was fine about it. This is the first time I’ve openly admitted it was partly down to my own terror of childbirth.
 
It’s taken me months to come to terms with the fact I “failed” at having a baby the “proper” way but I know now that a lot of that stigma comes from within me, from the phobia of having a baby, not from other people’s genuine opinions. Literally no one has said anything nasty to me about having had a C-section.
 
I wish I’d been honest with my consultant about my fears and felt brave enough to ask for a C-section when I first got back to the UK instead of letting the situation go on for weeks with me thinking I was going to be able to try for a vaginal birth. But I know why I didn’t. I was hoping I’d just “get on with it” on the day. Within minutes of us arriving for the induction I’d been told I was too high risk for a waterbirth because of the baby’s size (because he was broad-shouldered), and that was when my anxiety got the better of me and everything fell in on itself in my mind.
 
I also wish I’d been honest about my history of mental health issues, but there is a lot of pressure on us as women to be fine when we’re not, and I was trying so damn hard to be ok with something I just couldn’t do. If the baby had been low-risk, I would have gone home and waited for labour (and maybe even freebirthed) but I was terrified of refusing the induction and putting my baby at risk of death so I got paralysed with anxiety.
I was also terrified of social services being alerted that I had a history of bipolar on my medical notes (we still don’t know what’s actually wrong with me, currently Autism, type II bipolar, borderline and ADHD are all being floated around) and taking my baby away. I was convinced they were going to take my baby and nothing anyone said could divest me of this belief. I might have had a teensy bit of psychosis over this but it seems to have resolved itself and I managed to keep enough of a lid on it that I didn’t get mental health sectioned over it (just C-sectioned haha) despite being sure at several points over the last few months that I was going to be an inpatient and separated from my baby (we don’t have mother and baby units in Northern Ireland so women with post natal psychosis or severe post natal depression get sectioned and put in a normal psychiatric hospital).
And despite at least 2 suicide attempts post-partum I am still at home and with my baby. Turns out NI don’t really intervene beyond community mental health teams unless you’ve set yourself on fire so that’s relieving because I don’t think being imprisoned in a mental hospital without my Jellyfish would help me to recover very well, and anyway I’d have to stop breastfeeding.
 
Overall, I am glad I had a C-section rather than a prolonged birth in a strange place where I couldn’t be myself because there were too many strangers, and where my husband would get sent home outside visiting hours. But I still really wish I could have had that water birth. I’m looking towards a second baby, and I’m pretty certain I want a homebirth (homebirth after C-section, or HBAC, is allowed in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK but as far as I know it’s not allowed in Southern Ireland) with a birthing pool. I’ve seen some beautiful videos on Youtube of vloggers who had natural waterbirths at home. 
 
The first mental health keyworker I saw said to me that it doesn’t matter how your baby came out as long as they are healthy. This effectively shut down the conversation about why I was there, lost in the depths of post-natal depression. While I do think a birth is just a means to an end, at the same time it is a part of our story and lived experience as a woman and for that reason we should respect each other’s decisions and hear each other’s words about birth, especially when that has deeply affected someone’s outlook or mental wellbeing. I don’t think dismissing this as unimportant actually moves anyone forward or helps them get over things.
If I am lucky enough to get onto a midwifery course (yeah I haven’t told the fam about that, either, because I might not get on a course), this is how I want to work for my pregnant ladies; I want to ensure they know their options and get the closest thing possible to the birth they want.

Applying for Midwifery Science and Dietetics

So I’m still thinking on this, but it’s something that I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Being a midwife over here isn’t the same as being one in America. Over here you’re part-obstetrician and part-obstetric nurse (we don’t have ob nurses over here at all, just midwives).

In Northern Ireland, midwives do all the antenatal care and deliver babies in any “normal” birth, and doctors only get involved if the abnormal presents itself. It’s supposed to mean that, because the state of pregnancy is one of the normal, natural states for a woman to be in, it isn’t a condition that usually needs to be treated. So keeping doctors out of the ordinary pregnancy cases means no one is looking for problems. Which is supposed to avoid the cycle of intervention that happens once doctors involve themselves. Quite a few women get all their proper healthcare throughout pregnancy, including their scans, blood tests etc, but they never see a doctor.

Sometimes midwives get a bad rap in the press. Especially in England, where maternity services are very underfunded. The problem starts when midwives, for whatever reason, don’t refer genuine medical issues to doctors. This endangers the mother and the baby. This happened with my first pregnancy when I nearly died, and long-time readers know that ended in a lot of tears, and with me thinking that I couldn’t get pregnant. That was one big reason why, when I came back to Europe from China, I didn’t go back to England and I never plan to live there again. When I was in China and found out I actually could have a baby safely, I felt quite angry at the two unnecessary losses I had in England.

In Northern Ireland, we have the best maternity services in the UK. I think it’s because half of the country (traditionally) was Catholic, and had a lot of babies, so there is high demand for services. From my baby classes and Facebook groups of Northern Ireland mums, I know a lot of people with at least three children. Maternity services is a huge priority over here because family is important. A lot of people over here complain about the health service but I think it’s fantastic compared to England.

The training pathway for both dietetics and midwifery is a bit intimidating. I was good at science until I was about 15 then I struggled epically. I could follow the teacher in class with no problem, but I just couldn’t hold all the information in my head and by the time I did tests or exams, I just forgot everything. I’ve read recently that this is an ADHD thing, but I don’t know if that’s true.

Anyway, midwifery and dietetics are both very scientific subjects, with a lot of anatomy, medical science, biology, and in the case of midwifery, all the medical procedures like intubating babies and taking blood samples and doing urine tests, as well as diagnosing things like pre-eclampsia.

I’m so excited about doing this but I know it’s not going to go down well with my wider family, particularly if I do midwifery. I was thinking of applying straight after high school but my aunt who I lived with said it was a bad plan. Looking back, at the time I do think she was right, but since then I’ve grown, I’ve drifted through my twenties without purpose or direction, and I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what career would suit me. However, I am not sure if my aunt will agree or if she’ll tell me I outright shouldn’t do it.

I want to stay in touch with all my relatives but it’s hard when I want to do something they don’t think is a good idea. She used to be a midwife and I don’t know what happened but I think she got very disheartened with the way things went in England and I think she began to hate her job. My other aunt is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, having had a long and varied career with the NHS (our free healthcare service which runs 99% of all medical services in the UK), and my sister recently got a job at the NHS and it’s been the absolute best thing for her, she’s so happy in her job (finally). My other other aunt is a podiatrist, fixing people’s feet problems, and my mum was a cadet nurse (like, the lowest entry point into nursing) for a very short time after school, before she freaked out over the sight of blood and ran away with a motorcycle gang (I wish it weren’t true). My grandma was a nurse, midwife, matron and then a district nurse, and she couldn’t walk down the street in the town where I grew up without people stopping her to say hello. And that’s all just on my mum’s side.

On my dad’s side, my other other other aunt (the one we don’t speak of) is a physiotherapist. That’s not even mentioning all the cousins, my sister, great aunts etc who work in the health service. It’s like our family industry is taking care of sick people.

Except me.

So coming from a long line of nurses and allied healthcare workers, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea about whether this is a good move or not. On my husband’s side, literally no one works for the NHS, which I find a bit odd.

I am drawn to midwifery specifically because I have seen extremely good and extremely bad maternity care, in four different countries (England, Nepal, China and Northern Ireland), and I know the best midwives advocate for women and put women’s best interests at the centre of everything they do.

I discovered feminism fairly late compared to a lot of people, as I only really came to it when I started my master’s degree. But I really engaged with it and I see midwifery as an inherently feminist role because you’re supporting women to make their birth choices, but also supporting women to actually give birth.

On the dietitian side, I could really see myself getting my teeth into that as a job, too. Dietitians are different in the UK to America, too. They predominantly work for our state healthcare service and they don’t get paid to go to events sponsored by Pepsi or McDonalds. Over here, dietitians follow the scientific evidence.

The downside of them not getting funding from unhealthy food corporations is that there’s not many dietitians around, there are very, very, very long waiting lists, and generally, to cut down waiting lists and make the healthcare service look good, doctors simply don’t refer people to dietitians when they would benefit from it.

Having said that, I am fascinated by nutrition and have written tons of articles about it in the past so dietetics does also appeal to me, but I’m not sure if I will be able to keep up with the 2-year course that’s 4 years of work condensed into half the time.

Overall, midwifery science and dietetics both offer stable, structured career paths, while also both allowing for the option of private practice in the future, and both of them would be jobs I could do abroad, particularly in New Zealand, which I’d quite like to go to at some point, even if only for a few years.

Okay. Now I think I’m ready to finish those applications. Well done if you’re still with me haha I just had to get out all my thoughts on it.

PS The featured image is my jellyfish when he was a newborn.

No-One Wants To Know The Real Truth About Parabens

Parabens. It’s seen as a dirty word amongst the “natural beauty” movement and the “mainstream” cosmetics industry is trying its best to ignore it, right? Because of parabens, many people are spending more money than ever on cosmetics and personal care products to avoid those scary-sounding paraben ingredients.

Today I want to step (mostly) aside from the quibble over whose scientific paraben research was more inaccurate, to examine the bigger question; who really benefits from the fears surrounding parabens?

To get at the answer, we need to do some digging. You may have noticed the unbelievable number of very expensive “natural beauty” paraben-free organic natural companies that have sprung up over the past couple of years. They charge you an arm and a leg for beautifully coloured, luxuriously scented containers of goop with names such as “thermal spa minerals bath elixir” “cleansing water mist” and “nourishing body souffle.”

Paraben free products are not necessarily being marketed by ethical companies.

Okay, so some of you are thinking “what is going on? Has she been paid to say this?”

I am an independent researcher, sitting at home writing this, and I look at all the information I can get my hands on and I base my conclusion on the information I find.

Here’s some things you need to know about the people telling you to avoid parabens:

1. The “natural beauty” companies who are selling the paraben free products are operating on a much higher profit margin than conventional companies. It doesn’t cost them more money to avoid putting an ingredient in a product because they’re not replacing parabens with something else that costs more. Here’s an analogy: Think of a cake, if you made a cake without chocolate powder, so it was a plain flavoured cake, would it cost you more to make that cake, or a cake which used chocolate powder? When all the other ingredients stayed the same, the chocolate cake would cost more to make. So why is the plain cake costing so much more to buy? Why are the paraben free products costing up to ten times more than their paraben-containing counterparts? It’s very profitable to make paraben-free products.

2. The “big beauty companies” that some sensationalist self-styled “health journalists” are criticizing? Most of them are benefiting from the paraben myth in some way. Here’s a list of well-known beauty companies who have at least one product that they’re marketing as paraben free:

Clarins, Clinique, Ojon, Pureology (and by extension, L’Oreal), Dead Sea Spa, Aveda, Morrocan Oil, Vaseline, Revlon, Dr Organic, Physician’s Formula, Burt’s Bees, Bare Escentuals (and Bare Minerals), L’Occitane, Origins.

This is where the biggest money behind the anti-paraben hype is overtly coming from, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only people making megabucks from scaring you away from parabens.

3. A lot of the smaller start-up companies (such as all the new startup sellers of natural, paraben-free, organic, very expensive products) don’t have to list their board of directors or key shareholders, particularly if they’re not floated on the stock exchange or aren’t incorporated. This means that, to start a smaller start-up company that makes big bucks from the current “natural beauty” craze, a larger company can finance it for a share of the profits, guide product development and marketing, then step back and let the smaller company turn a profit – who then repay a percentage of that to the larger company. We’ve seen this time and again on Dragon’s Den, you think they’re the only people doing it? Everyone in business with investment capital is doing it! If the smaller company goes bankrupt (such as “organic skincare” company Davina Peace… they had a waiting list of clients when they launched in 2010. You can find Davina Peace halfway down this list of insolvent companies in administration in 2012, along with the date of insolvency), the larger company washes their hands of the whole thing because it was nothing to do with them. If anything, they end up on the list of creditors (people owed money). If and when the current “natural skincare” craze ends, and the consumers start looking for something else, the larger company comes out of this beauty trend totally unscathed, with their reputation in tact when everyone goes back to buying “normal” stuff again. It is impossible to know behind the scenes who is financing and guiding these companies. It is impossible to know if any company is truly independent because corporate accounting strategies are inscrutable. Smaller companies are less accountable than larger ones.

4. You know whose products still contain parabens? The Body Shop! They’re an independent company not affiliated to any others, they are all about “natural” skincare and beauty, but their products are still packed with parabens. Why? Because they want to kill you? Uh, reality check, if cosmetics companies kill their customers, who’s going to be left alive to buy cosmetics? They use parabens because the evidence for the current paraben-noia is flimsy, it all comes from studies where at least one of the same people were involved, they all use very small sample sizes (the latest one, the one that “proves” parabens are dangerous? 40 participants.  All in Britain. That’s 0.0000000006% of the world’s population (or 0.000000012% of the population of America). And the researcher was forced to conclude that parabens are “only part of the bigger picture” which is scientist speak for “I’ve spent nearly a decade of my life barking up the wrong tree.” Why was this conclusion made? Well 7 of the 40 participants didn’t even use any cosmetics in the underarm area, so they weren’t getting any parabens from those products and yet the tissue samples still contained parabens. No deodorant, no body lotion… do you know anyone who doesn’t use any deodorant, any lotion, anything at all under their arms, who ALSO wears face cream or make-up? Who bathes regularly?? I don’t. These things tend to come in groups – people who don’t use deodorant (including natural ones) or body lotion tend not to use other products. Such as shower gel. And that’s if we totally ignore her first study on the effect of parabens, published in January 2004, which had a sample of twenty participants (also in Britain) and didn’t have a control group (a group of people who didn’t have cancer, or who didn’t use parabens, for example, to check if their paraben level was the same), which is the study everyone keeps misquoting.

5. Research is driven by funding.  Without funding, people don’t research things.  Every job in science has to be paid for and accounted for.  Researchers have to justify why they need money in most fields.  By studying parabens, an oncologist (for example) would no longer need to depend on funding from public health bodies (such as the nearly-bankrupt British NHS, Britain being the country where all of the research on parabens was carried out by the same lead author) or charities specialising in cancer research, and instead, that researcher could open up a huge avenue of funding for the university they work for, from cosmetics companies (or subsidiary research institutes funded by straw-man companies funded by cosmetics companies) who stand to gain from the results – if those results mean they can sell more paraben-free products.  Additionally, these big companies don’t require the results to be very rigorous (unlike health organizations) as long as they’re sensational.  Just like the beauty blogger who sells her scruples for a free mascara, the researcher claims that “all opinions are my own” although in science-speak, that’s “the research method was robust.”  For good measure, the researcher could get other people they know to peer-review it (everyone in the same field knows each other).  This is sadly how a lot of corporate-relevant scientific research is being done nowadays – fund a university, they can claim they’re independent, the company might even guide the university’s researchers about sharing the results with the world to get maximum impact but because it came from a university lab, we believe every word as infallible.  This is how many people get a PhD these days!  It all depends how financially malleable the researchers are, but there are hints that this happens all over academia, especially in the research areas most relevant to the pharmaceutical, nutritional and cosmetics industries.  If the research had showed parabens were not implicated in cancer, the cosmetics companies would gain less overall.  When was the last time a newspaper ran a story that said “fresh broccoli doesn’t cause cancer” (for example)?  It doesn’t sell products.

Cashing In

So what, exactly am I trying to say, and who do I think I am that I can say this? Just like animal testing, the truth behind these “natural beauty” companies is surrounded by a mystique of obfuscation, corporate financial backing and bad science… which makes them no better than the regular cosmetics companies. I wrote this because I value honesty and I was compelled to show that you don’t need to spend large amounts of money on “paraben free” products. These companies are cashing in on our biggest fears.

I think that in order to really get to the heart of the paraben issue, we’ve got to examine why we react so strongly to allegations that products are dangerous: Fear.

The Role Of Fear

We fear cancer more than anything else because we feel powerless, most of us know someone who has died of cancer. Breast cancer is terrifying because we don’t know why some people get it and others don’t. We don’t know why cancer seems to be getting more common than ever before. Personally, I believe it’s down to processed food; I think there’s something about all those condiments, sauces, ready meals and so on. But that doesn’t net an attention grabbing headline, that’s never going to produce viral content, so nobody writes about it or researches it for long because they can’t get funding.  Research is driven by funding – especially at universities.  Who funds research?  Companies who stand to gain from it!

Look at the recent evidence linking bacon to cancer. What was the public’s response? Oh, I love bacon, I’m never going to stop eating bacon! It hardly made the news for a week before disappearing! These are the same people avoiding cigarettes and parabens! The reason I wanted the world to know what fuels the paraben myth is because people think that if they avoid parabens they get some kind of points, that they can then use to smoke, drink and eat bacon. It doesn’t work like that. The things you eat, drink and smoke are the real culprits here.

Japanese women have a lower incidence of breast cancer than anyone else in the world because of their diet. Tokyo is a very polluted urban environment; have you ever been there? Huge skyscrapers, people’s living space is tiny, ventilation is complicated, and yet those women are getting breast cancer less often than women living in the Great Plains. Do Japanese women use parabens? Of course they do! They may use some “traditional Japanese” products, but when was the last time you used a “traditional” product of your own nationality? The only traditional English beauty product I use is rosewater from the supermarket (the stuff in the beauty shop is full of alcohol – which DOES cause cancer when ingested), and if I’m honest, I don’t use it as often as I should.

By avoiding parabens, consumers are being given a false sense of control, a false sense of security, a false sense of everything’s fine. Clearly, everything is not fine. Vegetarians and meat eaters are getting cancer at similar rates. Natural organic homeopaths are getting cancer at the same rate as people using branded products full of parabens and “chemicals.” The lie is that we are safe if we avoid parabens and other molecules labeled as “nasties.” We are not safe. None of us are. That’s the truth about parabens: You can avoid any ingredient with more than ten letters in the name as much as you like, it’s not going to help you. All this is doing is letting the real culprits get away with murder for longer while the cosmetics companies get even richer than ever from people’s fear.

Cosmetics companies are experts in using fear to sell products – fear of looking old, fear of really being old… those anti-ageing creams are cashing in on people’s fear of mortality. Fear of being ugly, of not looking attractive… make-up cashes in on people’s fear of being alone, people’s fear of rejection. The cosmetics industry has a long track record of subtly using fear to motivate women to buy their products. I’m not telling you to start buying products full of parabens, or to stop buying cosmetics; you should look how you want to, but you need to be aware of the truth about parabens. Avoiding parabens is not going to save you. We will all get old. We will all be alone sometimes. We will all die one day. And that’s the real truth about parabens.  It’s a shame everyone’s so busy being scared of parabens to understand what’s really at play here.

Sore Head

I will get back to regular updates when I am more thinkble.  I have a head injury. I am trying to allow my brain a chance to heal, as cognitive function is through the floor and I keep getting blankness and memory losses in the middle of things.  I will still try to get through everyone elses blog posts and catch up on things.

Do You Use The Right Sunscreen?

With so many different types of sunscreen on the market today, it can be hard to know which type is best for sun protection. And that’s if you don’t even try to contemplate what Sun Protection Factor (SPF) you need to protect yourself from skin cancer and other damage from ultraviolet rays such as premature ageing. Twenty years ago, many people used to view sunscreen as optional. Thirty years before that, sunscreen had barely been invented and everyone thought SPF 2 (yeah, you read it right) was the biggest thing ever. These days, we’ve all been terrified into knowing better, and advances in SPF technology means we can all afford to protect ourselves from UV sun damage. Skin cancer is the ninth most common cancer in Europe (there are actually three main types of skin cancer, but they put them together for this statistic), and malignant melanoma (the really bad one) is the 19th most common cancer worldwide. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, these figures are rising quickly, because our parents and grandparents (and so on) trashed the O-Zone layer that used to reflect many more of the harmful UV rays back out into space. So the meek inherit the Earth – but only after the pushy have wrecked it for everyone. Thanks, gramps. Isn’t it handy that they invented sunscreen around the same time we really needed it?

Factor 50 suncream sunblock SPF 50 high. Avon

More importantly, no statistic is ever going to show whether skin cancer will happen to you or not. Since sunscreen is really good at preventing premature ageing, and protects you from ultraviolet rays, why risk it at all? Here’s the types of sunscreen and their pro’s and con’s:

Sun Block:
Typical range: Factor 50 and over.
This is the gloopy stuff that looks like emulsion paint when you put it on your skin. It is favoured by very pasty looking people (the correlation is probably because it makes you look whiter) and is renowned for being able to block EVERYTHING. But is that necessarily a good thing?
According to Model Beauty Secrets, you should be using factor 50 and over. My aunt, a nurse practitioner (no, Americans, it’s not like being a nurse, it’s like being a doctor with less pay), also recommends factor 50+ during summer months.
But there was that rumour last year about whether high-factor sun block caused Vitamin D deficiency. I’ve written an article all about Vitamin D that’s very scientific and much more comprehensive than anything I’ve seen to support this theory, and here’s what I think: If you don’t get Vitamin D from your diet, for example if you are vegan, then you need to get it from somewhere. HOWEVER, if you don’t get the cholesterol (as vegans don’t), going unprotected in the sun is useless because your body won’t have any raw materials to turn into Vitamin D! I’m glad to see this myth getting shelved again for the time being, but I do think our fear of cancer and ageing is starting to spoil the fun of going out on a sunny day – with OR without sunscreen.
My biggest gripe with high-factor sun block is that it suffocates my skin, overloads it with crap, and makes me break out in horrible spots. That can’t be good for you either, and I can’t see models walking round with white skin and red spots all over to combat fear of ageing – surely ageing skin is just as bad as red breakout spots! It’s a trade off, though – if you burn easily and have very fair skin, or if you’re a child, use sun block. Otherwise, go for something lighter and re-apply regularly.

Tanning Oil (with SPF):
Typical range: Factor 2-15
This is a light SPF for people who wish to tan in the sun. I’ll be honest, I’ve been using this stuff during the thirty degree heat wave we’ve been having in the UK this week (I use the factor 15). I’m not convinced it’s actually making me tan any quicker than normal sunscreen, but it definitely feels nicer on my skin, is quicker and easier to apply, and leaves me feeling non-sticky, which are all a good thing.
The cons are if you have greasy skin this might not be for you (I have normal skin, bordering on very slightly dry), and obviously it’s not going to be great for sitting around the house in your best dress – you might get oil stains. But for its intended purpose – tanning – it’s the best sun protection and skincare you can get, as it doesn’t leave your skin feeling overloaded.

Face Sun Cream:
Typical range: Factor 20-50
This is a special type of sun cream that is made for the more delicate skin on your face. After all, you wouldn’t use body lotion on your face, so why use body sun cream on it? The pros are that it’s usually formulated to be non-greasy, non-shiny and some of them are even gels that are supposed to be more hydrating (for my normal skin I disagree and feel drier after using a gel for some reason). The downsides are that hardly any shops actually stock it, and that it can cost the same for a tiny tube as it costs for a whole big bottle of the body sun cream. Avon does some good ones but they can be very expensive so keep an eye out for special offers.

Facial Moisturisers with Sun Protection:
Typical range: Factor 10-20
These are usually daily moisturisers such as Olay that have a small amount of sunscreen in them. The advantage is that you don’t need a separate cream for sunny days, but the disadvantages are that you probably won’t re-apply it during the day, and that means that the sun will burn through it as the day goes on. Factor 15 needs to be reapplied every 20-30 minutes in direct sun exposure or on a cloudy day, twice during the day (source here) and most people put their face cream on and forget about it. This leads to premature ageing, so you’re better off going barefaced and suncreamed in summer or on sunny days (remember you can even burn while skiing, so cream up whatever time of year that the sun is out) so that you can re-apply without removing all your makeup. Additionally, it’s only really useful if it’s factor 15 and above, as I discussed earlier, and annoyingly they don’t seem to do an SPF 50 day cream worth a damn.

Body Sun Cream:
Typical range: Factor 15-30
This is the best sun protection for most people. It isn’t too cloggy and isn’t too lax on the protection, and it goes well under normal clothes without causing grease stains or other problems. The advantages are that it’s cheap and easy to come by, and that it usually comes in a good sized bottle so you don’t need to worry about whether you have enough to keep reapplying. The disadvantages are that it won’t protect you enough if you’re pale or a toddler, and that it can cause you to break out if you use it on your face.

What about UVA and UVB?

Most sun creams nowadays protect against both UVA and UVB.  UVA can age us and UVB can burn us, so finding a sunscreen that protects against both is important.  The SPF on the bottle usually refers JUST to UVB, which prevents burning, but does nothing to stop premature ageing (just to make it more complicated)!  To find out the UVA rating, there is now a labelling requirement that if it says “UVA” on the label, a sunscreen has to protect you against 1/3 of the amount of UVA of the SPF.  For example, if your sunscreen was SPF30, with a UVA sticker on the bottle, it would have a UVA SPF of at least 10.  If there’s no UVA logo, there is no obligation to protect you from UVA.  To make it more complicated, there’s also UVC, but apparently that still gets stopped by what’s left of the O-zone layer.

General Sunscreen Tips:

  • The bottle needs to be kept in a cool place: This is so the suncream doesn’t degrade from the heat – yep, suncream has to be kept out of the sun. The fridge is good if you’re in a super-hot country like Greece or Tunisia, but in the UK it should usually be fine in a cupboard, drawer or shelf in your house.
  • Don’t forget the lips! Your lips are unable to produce melanin to protect themselves from the sun so they need all the help they can get – an SPF 20+ lip balm is perfect for men and women alike.
  • Don’t forget your scalp either! You can either spray suncream onto it directly or wear a hat, but don’t get sunburn on your scalp, I have it on high authority that it’s a terrible place to get it!  The hat is the better option if you need to protect your hair as well.  Baldies and people with a shaved head should use a high SPF because most of the sun will catch your head.
  • Follow the airport’s rules on what size bottles you can take with you:  It’s really embarrassing to be made to throw away all those suncreams and after suns when you get to airport security, and it’s a surefire way to annoy the other passengers who followed the rules (yes, the rules are really dumb, but you can’t change ’em, if you don’t like them, travel overland like I do most of the time).
  • Reapply it regularly: Often if you touch your skin (e.g. your arm) and it feels dry (like it doesn’t have any moisturiser/suncream on) then you need to reapply.  If you can’t tell, then reapply to be safe.

Which sunscreen are you using during this heatwave?  Let me know in the comments!

Wedding Wednesday: Setting The Budget

This is my 100th post, and I just want to say how amazed I am that you guys read stuff wot I write.

This is another of my wedding articles, today we talk budgets; this is probably the most serious, judgemental and opinionated post I will ever write.  Remember folks, this is my opinion, if you don’t like it, there are trillions of mainstream wedding websites filled with articles that can suck you back into the safety of the lunatic idea that £5000 to £10,000 ($10,000 to $20,000) is a budget wedding.  It’s an idea that many of my friends’ weddings subscribed to.  This article will be unashamedly one sided in favour of not wasting money, because I pride myself in trying to show brides-to-be that there is another way, that you don’t need to buy into the stuff you were culturally conditioned to accept, that one bride – this bride – had a modern wedding for vastly under £1000.  Yup.  I’ll write that in words in case you’re lost.  My wedding didn’t come near costing a thousand pounds.  Yours doesn’t have to either.

As a child, I think I only ever drew a wedding picture once.  I didn’t like them because the dresses had to be white which meant you couldn’t colour them in.  That was super-boring.  I preferred drawing princesses in huge flowing dresses of yellow, green, blue, purple and orange.  Never pink.  I think my mum threw out all the pink crayons before they ever got to me.  I might have been four.  You know what else I wanted to do when I was four?  Be an astronaut and eat chocolate and live in a castle and have hair that was blonde and longer than my feet.  In Hawaii.  I also wanted to be the greatest composer who ever lived, learn how to sing like Pavarotti and for it to snow every day.  I also wanted to go to Argos more often, because it meant we sneaked chips from the chip shop when my dad-who’s-not-my-dad was at home growing peas in the garden.  I also wanted to be a mouse and drive a tank and hang out with Berk from TrapDoor, Snuffy and Big Bird from Sesame Street, and Thomas the Tank Engine, and play Lego with them.

My point is, four year old me had no freaking clue what was reasonable or practical.  Being an adult is about having major fun and happiness but in ways that are possible, do-able, and ensure you get to have future fun and happiness.  That’s why they let us cross the street on our own.  Basing your financial decisions on something a four year old came up with results in such disasters as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl In 3D.  It’s worse if you were the four year old, because one day you will wake up and be unable to believe that a responsible adult (future you, in fact) actually threw inconceivable amounts of money at turning one adult day into something better suited to a little girl’s birthday party.  And forced a boy to go along with it.

While researching things for my wedding I came across loads of “budget bride” articles and websites and every single one of them had a “budget” in mind that was a) many times what I was willing to spend and b) treated it like it was the booby prize.  Oh, you’re poor, but you can still fritter the money you don’t have on a wedding, said the subtext.  A dress for £500. A starter ring for £600.  A cheap theme.

We knew from the outset that we absolutely did not want a super-expensive wedding. Our relatives assumed that we wanted a low cost wedding because we didn’t have much money. We were both bringing in a comfortable amount of money at the time, and I didn’t really know the word “minimalist” so couldn’t articulate why I/we felt so strongly that we didn’t want to waste £5,000 or more on a one-day event.

I had a lot of conversations that ended with me being steamrollered into tears by relatives trying to throw money at me and suggesting more and more ridiculous and extravagant ideas. One example was when a relative asked to take me dress shopping, after I’d bought my dress, and when I politely declined (she knew I had a dress already), she said “but that’s not your real dress, is it? Five hundred pounds is a good price for a wedding dress.” I pointed out that it was my real dress, and that it had cost ten pounds. She then asked if my £10 wedding dress needed any alterations, because she would like to pay for that. I have never needed a single clothing alteration in my life that I couldn’t do by myself with my sewing machine or my bare hands.  I politely tried to explain that we were happy paying for our own wedding, that we were very flattered that (assorted relatives) wanted to take an interest in the wedding, and that we were fine for money.  I will discuss how we survived the relatives a lot more in a separate article, later.

Additionally we had just bought a house (the sale completed in mid-September) when we started making these big wedding decisions, and we’d just ploughed all of our life savings into our deposit, so we could take out the smallest possible mortgage, which meant we weren’t very keen to make another large-scale expenditure any time soon.

I looked around at wedding ideas and made some pricing enquiries before finally settling on a complete budget of £500 (with a £200 tolerance, because weddings always go “over budget”). We felt that this would enable us to have the wedding we wanted, on our own terms, without having to pay for it in ten years’ time.  My biggest way of saving money on the wedding?  Buy most of your stuff from China.  I didn’t buy my dress from here because Chinese sellers seemed singularly incapable of producing a dress that was anything like the pictures, but my veil and shoes came from China.  I wrote an article about this for Offbeat Bride, which details what you need to know about buying from China.  You can find it here.  Naming specific sellers to recommend is pointless because they often have multiple selling IDs and the one who was good at one point isn’t necessarily going to have what you want to buy in the future.

As a side note, Offbeat Bride is an excellent resource if you’re looking for inspiration and encouragement for your non-standard wedding.  They aren’t geared up towards the sort of budget that I had, I’d say they’re representative of all budgets, but they do have a wide range of different ideas and whatnot.  I will refer to them more in future articles because they really helped me keep my sanity and if you’re doing a non-standard wedding I highly recommend you sign up to their forum because the Offbeat Bride Tribe is the most supportive wedding community you can find; my favourite part is that there is a total embargo on talking about weight loss.  No-one’s asked me to say that, they don’t even know I’m writing articles on weddings, but they are amazing so go check them out.

There’s a lot of scaremongering about how you can end up with a disaster if you spend less money on a wedding, but I am here to tell you that, while that’s possible, it’s also possible to have an awesome wedding.  It comes down to how much work you, as an individual, are prepared to do and how flexible you are about the whole thing when it comes to specific wedding ideas, and at the same  time how rigid you can be in the face of mainstream criticism.  This is where Offbeat Bride really came into its own for me – there are loads of examples of weddings that attracted a lot of mainstream criticism, but the brides went, “this is how I’m doing it.”  You also need to be a bit cynical about anything you buy from overseas (see my article on buying from China).  My £10 dress was anything but a disaster:

My £10 wedding dress, on my actual wedding day.  That's about $20.
My £10 wedding dress, on my actual wedding day. That’s about $20.

Other ways I saved money included driving myself and my future husband to our wedding in my own car, cooking all the food myself (because there were no vegan caterers that remotely covered my area), buying a pre-loved ring (my ring would have cost about £1700 brand new), and using a public park as the celebration venue.

What I found really hilarious during the budgeting phase was the amount of articles saying “20 ways to spend £500 on your wedding” which always began, “got an extra £500 to spend?” and always featured 20 items which were always *just over* £500. Because they haven’t squeezed enough money out of a bride until she’s actually had a heart attack from the pressure of all that money.

That was another big reason I didn’t want to spend on the wedding – with a huge expenditure, non-refundable deposits and items that are out of their refund period, comes the weight of having to live up to that expectation. To perform, to be perfect, and most of all… to not back out of it at the last minute. These were stresses that I didn’t need, especially since I quit teaching in February 2014 due to a newly-formed anxiety disorder that was directly caused by my previous teaching job.

Seriously though, who even thinks to themselves, “well I spent £15,000 on the wedding, it is a little over-budget, but y’know what? Sod it, I’m gonna buy me a £589 glass bowl to put fruit in. … and some fruit to put in it. Because it’s my wedding.”

I felt a bit sick when I saw what some people had spent money on for their wedding. I felt even sicker when I saw the amount of ebay listings for the shoes I was after, which had the line “bought new for my wedding but I ended up buying another pair so they are unworn.” These shoes retailed at over £100 brand new. I couldn’t buy them in the end, the consumerism was just too tragic. I felt the sickest when I saw the wedding drama that some people had created for themselves by demanding tens of thousands of pounds from their poor parents then getting all bitchy that mom or dad wanted some kind of say in what that money got spent on. If I gave someone that kind of money, I’d want it invested. This was the stirrings of the start of my journey into minimalism.

The thing that really gets me is that people don’t actually notice all that crap that clutters up the modern wedding. Ask your average wedding guest what they thought of the seat covers, the tablecloths, the *insert superfluous accessory or item of decor here* and they’ll maybe notice one or two if they were unique or interesting. Mostly they won’t care. People who you should care about go to weddings to see other people get married (and party together afterwards). The rest of them don’t matter.

We didn’t really save up or put money in a separate account or anything, we just used money as we got it to buy things as we found them, and kept track of it in a spreadsheet that looked like this:

The formula to get the total is "=SUM(B2:B13)" (you change the letters and numbers inside the brackets depending where the stuff you want to total up is found).
The formula to get the total is “=SUM(B2:B13)” (you change the letters and numbers inside the brackets depending where the stuff you want to total up is found).  As you can see, I was £20.49 over tolerance!!!!!

At the end of the day, no matter what all the mainstream wedding media tells you, you can have a beautiful, moving, happy and, especially, memorable wedding without gorging yourself by frittering money away.

This was for about 80 guests, by the way.

Is there anyone else out there who is totally unwilling to waste gajillions of pounds on something that was generated in four-year-old crayon pictures; drawings that should stay where they belong – on your parents’ fridge?

The Pros and Cons Tag

So I saw this pros and cons tag on Megan’s blog: here

1. Write a list of things you think are “pros” about yourself. 

2. Write a list of things you think are “cons” about yourself.

3. Post and share! If you’d like to link back to this post, that’s cool too, but I’m not saying that’s necessary. 

1. Pros:

I think big.  I dream big and have a lot of big plans and ideas of all the things I want to do and achieve.

I have finally got my hair to the colour I’ve always wanted, and it’s been like this for about 8 months now.

I really really care about rabbits, as well as other soft fluffies, featheries, and so on, to the point where I want to take them all home and look after them all.

I come across as very confident even though I have no self esteem.  Although that’s less “fake it till you make it” and more “fake it till this depressive phase ends or I’ll be stuck in the house for weeks.”

I absolutely LOVE the great outdoors even though I also love being curled up at home with a good book, or having a chinwag when I’m out on the town with friends.

I’ve pretty much resolved my panic attacks by finding out what causes them and trying to take action to avoid that general situation, coupled with mindfulness techniques to calm myself for when the situation is unavoidable.

I love health and nutrition and am always finding new ways to improve the nutritional quality of the food I eat.

I try very hard not to let my cray cray affect my daily life.  Sometimes I succeed at this for weeks or months at a time.

2. Cons:

These can be pretty much summed up by: “I am a perfectionist, and I am as crazy as a bag of frogs.”

As soon as I’ve achieved something, I can’t celebrate that success, I’m looking for the next thing to achieve.

If I decide I’ve touched something dirty, or that someone else with dirty hands has touched, I have to wash my hands.

Sometimes that includes the tap handles, which obviously creates a negative feedback loop if I can’t clean them.

PRO: This almost never happens when I’m outdoors, which is bizarre when you think of all the bacteria out there.

I start pining for the fjords when I’m kept in a cage of day to day working for long periods of time, which makes me miserable.  I’m a free bird and I don’t cope very well with pointless “gainful” employment even though it gives me money to do stuff.  I’m even worse with part-time where I have to stick around to go to work but don’t get enough money to do stuff.

Sometimes I can go for entire weeks on a few hours’ sleep, other times I need 16 hours a day.

The above makes it very difficult to keep a job for longer than a few months.

I can be very particular about tasks, because I want to make sure they’re done properly.

I can be far too honest for my own good, including paying full price at attractions, returning money to people, reporting problems, paying for things when people have forgotten to charge me, etc.  I think life would be easier if I didn’t do this, but I can’t help it.

Sometimes I get bored and have so much energy that I go off and do something that seems like a great idea at the time but often turns out to be really stupid.  Then I regret it 6 weeks later when I’m back to normal…

…Other times I can’t leave the house for weeks on end, or I just can’t go to work.

The worst one of all: I am 28 and I have no fricking clue what I want to do with my life despite having tried 26 different jobs in the past 10 years (not including the five different businesses I’ve run in the past, and not including multiples of the same job role, so for example I’ve worked in several secondary schools as a science teacher but am counting science teacher as one job).  I’ve got to run out of things and decide what to do sometime soon, right??

Wow.  That was quite scary writing all that down and putting it out on the internet.  It’s not exhaustive.  If you want to tag yourself and do the pros and cons tag, feel free to link back or link to Megan’s original article, I’d love to see what other people think are their strengths and weaknesses.