15 July 2018

How do you make a staycation feel like a real holiday?

This summer we are staycationing. Neither me nor the bubba has a valid passport and quite frankly, having a new baby, we sadly don't have the money either to go gallavanting abroad. We are going to have all four of us home - me (and the baby) on maternity leave, husband working from home and our older daughter off school. 

It is nice to have the whole family home of course, but at the same time, it would also be nice to have a holiday together. I have wondered thus, how to make our staycation to feel more like an actual real holiday - what kind of things could we do to make it a bit more special, and what kind of things could we go and see. 

So here is a collection of ideas and tips I am planning to follow during our staycation to make it feel more like a proper holiday. I asked a few blogger friends to give me their ideas too, and they had some great tips for staycations!

mum and daughter at lavender fields

Put your out of office on

It is so easy to just do a bit of work when you are home - especially if you are self-employed. There is always something you could do or should do. Even if you are employed it is so easy to just check a couple of emails on your work phone, or start thinking about project plans for the future. 

So be strict, turn the work mode off and holiday mode on. Sophie from Soph-obsessed explains, "Reduce and limit the use of phones and laptops. A vacation should mean no working but it's easier to be still responding to emails when you are on a staycation. I still make sure my out of office is on and my phone is on do not disturb!"

Minimise the chores

Chores, chores, chores.... That's probably the biggest thing you are missing when you are on a holiday. Like Maria from Happy Mummy says, make sure you have "no cooking or cleaning just like if you were really away! Get up go out for breakfast, have a nice day out with lunch and stop for dinner on the way home."

So if you want your staycation to feel like a vacation, those chores should be minimised. Get a cleaner in a couple of times a week, and let them deal with the housework, and eat out. Granted, this is not the cheap option, but definitely makes it feel more like a holiday when you don't have the daily drudgery to deal with.

mum and daughter at the beach

Explore and experience new things locally

When you live somewhere for a long time it is easy to miss out on visiting the local touristy things - like my husband who still hasn't visited the London Eye, despite it having been here nearly 20 years already... So, when you are having a staycation, it is the perfect opportunity to visit all those interesting places you never seem to have time to do during the week. Even if you don't live in a touristy area, I can guarantee there will be plenty of new places to explore locally. 

Victoria from Lylia Rose recommends making a proper day out of it. She says "plan days out every day so you're out most of the day. Even if exploring the local area, try and go somewhere you've never been. Don't buy normal groceries - go wild and have something different, including lots of treats and easy to prepare meals! Take lots of photos and wear lovely holiday clothes." 

Leaving the house and acting like you are on a holiday helps too. Have a day out, go to a new place to eat, and wear nice holiday clothes, and skip the telly in the evening in favour of spending some quality time together. 

Jo from Cup of Toast says they "have days out so it feels as though we've had a break from the house. Meals out in new places or pubs with large gardens where the children could burn off some energy. Pay for a cleaner to come in a couple of times during the week so we can ignore the chores. When we are at home, turn off the TV and read books instead or play a board game in the evening when the children are in bed." 

Learn something new

I loved the idea from Kate from Kate on Thin Ice for a 6 week, travel from home type of vacation. She suggested prepping a 6 week learning holiday - six countries in six weeks, where you have different recipes and foods every week, and "also incorporate learning about flags, culture and costume" for each of the countries. 

While this requires a fair amount of prepping, I think it would be such a fun and educational thing to do with kids over the summer. With older kids you could also ask them about the countries they would like to learn about and make them do the research, finding out what foods they would like to try and find some books for them to read about the country. In a large city such as London there are also opportunities to visit museums, restaurants and even cultural events to learn more about certain countries!

mum and daughter at a castle

Some things I have in plan for us this summer

This summer I am planning us seeing some new places locally. There are so many gardens and flower fields and other places to visit not too long a drive from us, so we will pack a picnic and go see some flowers or something. Or a new beach. Previously we have been to Hitchin Lavender fields and also a beach just an hours drive away from London and these would be nice to visit again. In addition, I have a corporate family membership to the English Heritage and Historic Royal Palaces so we will see at least one castle at some point. We recently went to Tower of London, and have visited Dover Castle in the past.

I have also converted some of our Tesco Clubcard points to tickets to nearby zoos - always a good idea with kids! And of course, we have London and all the great attractions there at our door step, so where possible, we will be visiting museums and other places there too. 

Staycations: ideas and tips for families. What to do and how to make your holiday feel like a real holiday if you stay home.

What would you do if you spent your holiday at home?

13 July 2018

What happens if you have Group B Strep (GBS) infection in pregnancy?

Like I mentioned in my birth announcement post, one of the issues that kept us in the hospital after birth was a Group B Strep infection (GBS for short). I had it in my first pregnancy too.

Surprisingly few people in UK have ever heard of GBS before, so I thought I'd talk about it here a bit and how my personal experience was, as I think it is quite typical of what others might experience too. I'll talk about how to test for it, how to talk to your healthcare provider about it and what it's likely to be like when giving birth with GBS. Obviously, I'm not a medical professional - I just know how to read - so take this post as personal reflections rather than gospel. I'll add some links that will provide more relevant and detailed information on risks and research.

pregnant mum on bed

Why care about GBS infection?

I first heard about this infection during my first pregnancy after reading online mums forums in my native language. I was really surprised to hear that in UK this is not routinely screened for. Most comparable developed countries do screen for GBS infections in pregnant mums, including my own home country.

About 20 to 40% of women have a GBS infection. It is also transient - so you might not have it now but develop it later, or have it and lose it later. If women have an active GBS infection at the time of giving birth, their babies may develop GBS infection as well. A small minority of babies born to mums with the infection end up very poorly. About one baby in a thousand births in UK develops a GBS infection. Of those babies one in ten will die and five in ten will have some sort of a lasting impact

How did I find out I had GBS?

After doing some reading I decided to get a private test done - I did this for both my pregnancies, after the 35th week of pregnancy as recommended. It is quite easy and affordable to get a postal kit. The actual testing and taking of the sample is easy, however a bit awkward, as this involves sticking a cotton bud up your fanny and bum. I'd recommend employing a small handheld mirror. And you should test early enough in the day so you can post it the same day (Mon to Thu) so the sample doesn't deteriorate in post. 

I used Strepelle this time, and was very happy with them. Unfortunately my first sample was lost in the post and after I contacted Strepelle, they sent me a replacement test the same day. I received it the next morning, thankfully, as at this time I was already overdue. I was really pleased how quickly it was sorted and a replacement test sent to me immediately. So I redid the test, sent it off on a Tuesday and got the results via a text message on Friday. A letter confirming the results was delivered the following week.

What did I have to do with the positive result?

If the results show as infected with GBS, you should talk to your midwife/doctor, and they will include it in the labour notes. It is worth making sure they write it in, and stamp it too, and it is worth adding the letter to the birth notes too so you can refer to it if anyone questions it. 

Because I got my results after I had finished all my appointments, the positive result hadn't been officially added to my notes. Although my notes did mention previous GBS and my obstetrician had written in my notes I should have antibiotics in labour again, I had to refer to the letter in the delivery room, as the midwives were umming and arring over whether they should indeed give me antibiotics, if there really was a GBS infection or was it referring to my first labour and blah blah blah. Much easier to sort this at one of the normal appointments, and even then, keep the letter handy.

pregnant mum on bed

What happened during and after labour?

During labour you get IV antibiotics. To ensure these get started early enough, you should get to the hospital as soon as your waters break or you go into labour. You are meant to be given the antibiotics four hours before the birth happens for them to have an effect.

In practice, having the antibiotics doesn't affect birth choices. All options, including water birth or a midwife-led centre, are available. I personally gave birth both times at the hospital labour and delivery ward because of other concerns, even if my first original plan with my first baby was to have a serene water birth. (Side note, with my second baby my birth plan only had one word - epidural...)

I had my antibiotics started as soon as my waters were broken. It can be annoying having the IV line though - I found I had to hold my hand in a very specific position for the antibiotics to drip in. And it took ages. Thankfully there are several hours of break between antibiotic dosages so it didn't bother my labour process too much.

After giving birth I was told that my baby would be monitored for 12 hours for temperature and heart rate and would also be reviewed by a paediatrician before discharge. While the guidelines technically say that if you have had antibiotics during labour this is not needed, in practice the doctors seemed to have quite a cautious approach to managing GBS. Unfortunately, even if you have the antibiotics your baby can still develop GBS, although thankfully it would be very rare occurrence. As we were recovering midwives would pop in our room every hour, or couple of hours to do those observations, and had there been anything they would have alerted the doctors.

In the end both my first-born and second-born ended up on IV antibiotics. For both of them it was more of a precautionary measure - with my first-born it was because of my own infection, and with my second-born, there were a "combination of minor markers" which in themselves I was told weren't of great concern but together made the doctors worry.

In both cases the doctors thought it would be better to start my babies on IV antibiotics while waiting for blood results to come back (in 48 hours) to see if there was an infection brewing. Thankfully, neither were affected and after the blood results were clear, IV antibiotics could be stopped and we got discharged from the hospital!

Like I mentioned before, I was quite surprised that this infection wasn't being tested on NHS and that there was very little information about it given, considering how seriously it was dealt with once you were confirmed to have it. I did my own research and personally, I am glad that I tested for it and it did make me feel safer knowing either way.

Have you heard of this infection before?

30 June 2018

From three to four! How our family is growing...

For the past year or so I have done a monthly family portrait and a post about our lives here on the blog. I've been sharing what we have been doing and what we have been enjoying, and of course posting a picture of us all. The last time I did this was in April. I was meant to update again in May but as you may know, something else happened... 

pregnancy family portrait in park

pregnancy family portrait in park

pregnancy family portrait in park kid kissing the bump

We started May as usual. I was enjoying my maternity leave, me and my husband were busying ourselves prepping for the soon-to-be-here baby, and Aili was in school, not really enjoying that so much. Her favourite catch phrase nowadays seems to be "School - it's sooooo booooring". By the end of May I was heavily overdue. On Friday, the 25th May we went to the park to have our last night as a family of three. We grabbed fish and chips, our picnic blanket and of course a camera and a tripod and faffed in front of it. And here are the results. Aili is not much for posing nicely in front of the camera anymore - nowadays she asks us "to have attitude" for the pictures. So we comply the best we can! 

Saturday 26th May we deposited the older child to her Nanny's, and off we went, to the hospital for the induction. I was 40+12 weeks pregnant and actually feeling pretty fine, and definitely feeling like the baby was not about to arrive on their own at all. Oh no, she was happily nestled in there. That Saturday evening we went to the hospital, I got induced, we went back home to wait for the effects, and then returned back to the hospital after a kebab and a film... 

Sunday 27th May was a busy one. 

And then Monday 28th May we had a visit from our big one to see the little one in the hospital! 

family portrait with a newborn

family of four with a newborn

I had to stay in the hospital for another five days for post-checks on our little one. There were a couple of things that needed to be monitored, although it was all mostly precautionary at that stage. Thankfully, nothing started developing so we were finally released and could go back home on Friday, 1st June! Hence, no chance of updating my May pictures on the blog, as was too busy at the hospital and then of course with a newborn back home. 

In June, I am not even sure what we have done. It has gone past in a sort of a milky haze. We've had a couple of visitors home, Aili has been going to school as always, and mostly we have stayed around home and our town. Aili had her fifth birthday, so we collected her from school bearing huge balloons and invited a couple of her friends for a playdate on the day. Having a rather grumpy newborn in the house we couldn't organise a proper birthday bash for Aili, so tried to make it special in another way, and have delayed her proper big party to July. 

Other than that we have done the normal newborn things - named her finally after much deliberation (Aija - pronounced Eye-ya!), registered her, bought more baby kit, took crazy amount of photographs, slept far too little, and lived in a rather chaotic messy house. It is all, little by little starting to normalise now, and things are starting to become more of a routine. I am loving seeing that interaction between the girls and how their relationship is developing. In the last pictures our new little one is nearly one month old, we took it after enjoying a summer bbq at her Nanny's!

family portrait with a one month old

family of four smiling

family portrait in the garden

So that was our May and June this year. Our growing family. It's been a wild ride but an enjoyable one!

You might also like: Our baby is here! and Our lives in April 2018

27 June 2018

My second-born at one month old

I can not believe that our newborn is now one month old. Time really does go fast.

baby with number one made from flowers

Aija has already earned an nickname - Little Miss Fussy Pants. And it's for a good reason. She. Has. A. Temper. Ever since the hospital she has been a bit of a drama queen. 

Quick to shout as soon as she gets annoyed about anything, she goes from zero to hundred in a millisecond. She doesn't give much in terms of warnings. It is happy go lucky baby one second, hangry little monster screaming the house down the next. It's not the cutesy newborn cry either that sounds a bit like a little kitty. No. It is proper tonsil-shaking scream. Our walls are made of paper really, so it wasn't a wonder when one of the neighbour's kids confessed to me that they had been woken up by our Little Miss Fussy Pants.

The sudden crying comes a lot when she is hungry. It doesn't seem she gives much of the newborn cues for hunger - she just sleeps soundly, until she wakes up angry-screaming. And once she wolfs down her milk, she falls asleep again. She was sleeping a lot in the first month, surprisingly so. It sometimes even felt like we didn't have a baby, bar the three-hourly screaming fits.

baby in a flower circle

I've been wondering what she will recognise as her name... It has been a struggle to NOT call her by her sister's name. So many times I've started to say Aili, and then had to correct myself to say Aija. Jokingly we've been saying she might start thinking her name is Ailiaija! Also, I've started wondering if she might start to recognise Aijabequiet as her name, as that seems to be what I keep telling her several times, everyday...

Because of her drama queen status we haven't ventured much out out. Not that I mind - it is actually nice to just relax back home, instead of what we did with the older one, where we were on the go constantly from the beginning. Our older one even appeared on TV as a newborn! We have been on the school run, to town a couple of times, a breastfeeding "class" and that's about it.

baby portrait amongst flowers

She has been growing well. I can't say she was a big baby when she was born, she really was just average sized. In the Red Book, she has been plotted on somewhere between the 75th and 91st percentiles, although for my personal growth chart (based on my height and weight) she measured in the 21st percentile when she was born. In comparison to her bigger sister, she was more substantial when she was born and feels much more robust. They were both very overdue, so neither of them were that fragile as babies born earlier can feel like.

Because Aija was a overdue baby she has been quite strong. Surprisingly strong at kicking you, just like she was when in my tummy. Man, that was painful. Also surprisingly, she started holding her head up all by herself already at the hospital. She even managed to turn from her back to her tummy just a couple of days old. She hasn't repeated that since, but she still holds her head up well, pushes off your chest and mostly enjoys tummy time.

baby with number one made from flowers

Now her hair started to thin out! She is also getting a bit of milk spots, and baby acne. She is of course still cute in our eyes (most of the time, when she is not incessantly crying) but I am looking for that baby hair to grow back and make her look like less of Friar Tuck!

That's about it really. She is a loud little drama queen who looks more or less like a monk ha ha. We do love her, really... even if she is a bit of a pain sometimes!

24 June 2018

Why I think the language around breastfeeding needs to change

So. Breastfeeding. With a new baby it has been on my mind a lot recently. It was also on the news a lot last week after the Royal College of Midwives released a statement that women's informed choice to breastfeed, bottle-feed, or a combination of both "must be respected".

I do hope the new statement brings on a change. The language employed in the promotion of breastfeeding is incredibly guilt-tripping and quite frankly, damaging. Damaging to mothers, damaging to babies and damaging to the whole aim of promoting breastfeeding.

I haven't talked about it here before but I have found breastfeeding a huge challenge. It was difficult and nigh impossible the first time. I wished and hoped that it would have been different with my second-born, but alas, it was even worse this time. 

mother breastfeeding in a hospital

The message you get given through all antenatal information makes it seem like it shouldn't be a challenge. All leaflets and information given is all about how breast is best, all mothers can and should breastfeed, it is difficult, but you just have to persevere and try and breastfeed you shall. That just about covers the NHS-issued angle to breastfeeding promotion.

When you venture on internet forums, you start to hear all sorts of extreme opinions. Breastfeeding gets equated to good parenting, that you are choosing to give the best to your baby, and that formula is evil and if you don't breastfeed you have chosen the easy route. Breastfeeding is apparently the natural thing to do and women have been doing it since the beginning of time. It is just because "modern women" have options to use formula and are lazy about it, that breastfeeding rates are low.

Well, that is just blatantly untrue. Women have always struggled to breastfeed for various reasons. Always. That's why lactation failures have been described in medical literature already in 1550BC, and archaeologists have found baby bottles dating over 4,000 years. Or hey, we've all heard about wet nurses too haven't we? That used to be a regulated and well-thought of profession back in the day.

So what if you can't breastfeed? Or what if you just simply do not want to? You are still going to hear all about how you should and definitely can breastfeed, if you just try hard enough. And try you must if you are to be a good mother.

First time around, I remember walking down the hospital corridors to the refrigerator to get my formula milk and having to walk past posters with smiling mummies, their suckling babies, with affirming statements such as "I'm happy. She's happy. Breastfeeding is the best decision I ever made" and "I'm not saying it's always easy. I'm saying it's worth it" and "Breastfeeding - What could be more natural?".

It wasn't just upsetting. It also made me incredibly angry. Why does this need to be stuffed down your throat when you are at your most vulnerable? How dare they start guilt-tripping women when they need support the most, whatever way they are feeding their babies, whatever the reason?

Second time around I spotted a poster in the delivery room (out of all places), saying the hospital was "baby-friendly" so they would not provide any formula milk or feeding equipment and you should prepare to bring it from home if you want to use any. It annoyed and angered me at the same time. What's so baby-friendly about starving babies if they need to be fed? And how about mother-friendly? Off you trot to local shops in your sleep-deprived state if you are finding it difficult, too bad, we are baby-friendly here! Thanks for slamming that in the delivery room where you are already tired, sleep-deprived and highly emotional.

The guilt-tripping language makes mothers feel like failures. It is damaging and should stop.

mother bottlefeeding in a hospital

It's also damaging to babies. If you are told breastfeeding is natural and you just have to make an effort, how long will you try? Anecdotally, I've heard of so many babies being readmitted for jaundice, dehydration or low weight gain, and it just doesn't make sense to me. Why not just educate women on how to feed their babies safely, whatever the means? I know it would have been a lot more useful for me to have someone talk to me about sterilising and baby-led feeding while in hospital, than having a couple of leaflets handed to me when leaving and Googling this information home.

There is a lot of promotion of breastfeeding, but the actual support when women face problems with it just is not there. Midwifes, bless their hurried hearts, I am sure try very hard to help at busy post-natal wards but there is only so much help you can give when your training tells you how to latch babies on and that everyone can and should do it. I found much of the help was almost like blind leading the blind, young midwifes repeating the lines about a good latch and to just keep trying, without any relevant personal or practical experience below their belts. Adequately trained breastfeeding counsellors or lactation consultants are rare to find, there might be one available once a week a couple of hours at a local breastfeeding clinic. Local doesn't really mean local by the way - it could be anywhere miles away from where you live. And when there are issues that could be corrected (like tongue ties, or prescriptions for drugs that help with milk coming in) you can be sure there are long waiting lists for treatment unless you can afford to go private.

It's just bizarre - the language employed and the contrasting lack of support. It is not right and it is not realistic. 

There are a huge variety of reasons why some women can't or choose not to breastfeed. We've all got our own priorities, our own motivations, and our own physical and mental abilities to work with. Women are perfectly able to understand information given to them about infant feeding, and make the best possible choice for their babies and for their families. Be that breast or bottle. So just give us the information and respect our choices. Without the guilt-trip.

What are your thoughts on breastfeeding?

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