In The News: Breast IS NOT Best

In the past 24 hours, some of the country's most trusted *cough* publications have run miraculously misleading headlines, surrounding a study which has failed to find a link between breastfeeding and later IQ.
It's unsurprising, that the most breastfeeding-negative headlines to come out of this, have come from The Sun, a newspaper which sells increased volumes as a result of it's willingness to use female breasts as sexual property. I am never going to be one to deny breast's roles in sexual pleasures, or to say that the female shape isn't a lovely thing - that's not what I'm getting at. I'm simply saying that it doesn't benefit The Sun to publicise the boob's primary purpose, to facilitate breastfeeding. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, you don't develop breasts for a sexual purpose, that would be your clitoris, you develop  breasts to feed your future offspring. That is why your boobs are there - it just isn't in The Sun's favour to run with that as a headline, so instead, they go with It turns out breast ISN'T best after all. (from The Sun official Facebook page).
Now I should add that they aren't alone, The Mirror and Daily Mail, both papers with a reputation for commenting on a woman's sexual appearance and calling it news, ran similar headlines.
I was going to let this slide but then I though nah, because I know that a lot of Sun, Mirror and Mail readers, despite their papers constantly publishing content which is demonstrated to be entirely fictional, still believe every article they read and thus I can see the line "have you heard, they've proved that formula feeding is as good as breastfeeding" being uttered in nail salons up and down the country.
For once, the actual content of the pieces is accurate. If you haven't seen: a team of researchers have demonstrated, with a very reliable study (large case group over long period) that breastfeeding has little to no effect on future intelligence in children whose IQ was tested at 2 years and beyond.
These are interesting findings, whether you breastfeed or not, whether you're pro or even anti breast, or whether, like most people, you really couldn't give a damn - because for a long time the idea that breastfeeding creates more intelligent children has been upheld by the medical, scientific and parenting communities. This particular study, which has come out of Goldsmith's University, is one of the largest conducted on the subject and seems to completely blow apart these past conceptions.
The study was actually part of a much wider range of data collection which closely studied twins born in the mid nineties, to see how much of their future characteristics were supposedly determined by their biology, and how much by their environment - the old nature vs. nurture debate.
I have absolutely no objection to the findings of these studies, and others like it, being published in popular media - I think it's great that scientific advances are made widely available and not limited to those reading journals - what I object to here, are the tabloid headlines, which, for those who can't be arsed to read an entire article (a lot of people), could be grossly misleading. Using them on social media as The Sun have done here also means that their click-through rate goes through the roof, whilst they don't actually deliver the information they suggested they were going to.
This study has not demonstrated that breastfeeding carries no more benefits than bottle feeding, or that formula feeding is it's equal. I for one, as a breastfeeding Mother, am not in the least bit surprised. I've always been very sceptical of any link found between breastfeeding and intelligence, from personal observation and from my own, basic understanding of anthropology. I'm pretty sure that the findings of this study are accurate and I've always thought that intelligence, in terms of IQ, which is often mirrored by academic performance, is environment and/or genetic based.
Of course, we ought to make a point of saying that if IQ tests were the only way to measure intelligence, we'd all be doomed. I for one wouldn't consider myself entirely unintelligent, but I fail miserably at IQ tests because they're often quite numerical in structure, and that isn't where my brain's strengths lay. If you excel at maths, chances are these tests will indicate you've a very high IQ. If you're a talented writer, poet, negotiator, musician, artist or philosopher, you'll probably score surprisingly low in an IQ test, compared to how intelligent a majority of people would perceive you to be. Meanwhile, most people working in construction industries including anything from brick laying to plumbing, quite often have the sort of brain that performs very well in IQ tests, but society seems to make assumptions that people following those career paths are of a lower intelligence than, for example, a professor of theology. So if the children were only measured in terms of their IQ at regular intervals, this tells us very little about the intelligence as a broader concept. As a rule, I'd say we're all particularly intelligent in our own ways, whilst one of us may be able to produce incredibly detailed technical drawings, another may be able to execute the perfect haircut every time - each achievement requires a certain pattern of brain activity that's as individual to one person as to the next, and is unlikely swayed by the manner in which that person was fed as an infant. I have a friend who can speak seven languages fluently and has an incredible crossword completing ability, but is absolutely awful in any social circumstance and can not instigate conversation to save his life, and emotional and social intelligence carry a considerable value in modern life.
So yes, a study from a top London university which looked at a large sample group over a long time has found that the previously widely held belief that breastfed babies grow up to be more intelligent adults, is inaccurate, in terms of that baby's ability to perform well in IQ tests, as they grow.
What the headlines in particular don't hint towards is that the studies do nothing to discredit the well documented evidence that breast milk contains 3,000,000 germ-fighting antibodies - per teaspoonful. Or that breastfeeding lessens a woman's likelihood of contracting a number of different forms of cancer. Or that breast milk is the only natural food that you can give your baby before six months. Or that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from eczema. Or that breast milk contains unique fatty acids that make a baby sleepy. Or that breast milk is easier digested than infant formula. Or that breastfeeding Mothers are less likely to suffer post natal depression... the list goes on. And on. And on. 
Unfortunately, though, there will still be Sun readers up and down the country repeating that line; "have you heard, they've proved that formula feeding is better than breastfeeding?"
Check out for more breastfeeding infographics

9 week update

This past week we celebrated Quinn's 2 month-ness - 2 whole months since I gave birth on my knees on the bedroom floor - now wasn't that a morning!
We're so settled in to baby life now (as settled as you can be, I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm still behind on washing!) that I can't remember our family without her really. She's slipped pretty seamlessly in to the way we do things.
I haven't mentioned Seb properly in the last few Quinn updates but people still ask regularly how he's handling his role as a big brother weeks down the line - and I can proudly say that he's even better, possibly because she's awake for longer and responds a lot more positively to other people these days.
As I write this, Quinn is happily chilling in her bouncing chair (the one we bought her as a 1 month birthday gift!) and Seb is entertaining her (successfully) with a badger finger puppet. I doubt I could be more proud of him as a brother, he's wonderful, usually saying hello to her, in the morning, or when he comes out of school, before he so much as acknowledges me. He loves his little sister dearly - which is great.
So, eight weeks, is, as everyone with a baby knows, a bit of a shitter of a week, as it spells not only the onslaught of a massive developmental leap in baby's brain, which throws them completely squiffy for a few days, but it's also vaccinations week. Since Seb was vaccinated five years ago they've now added two new vaccines to the baby vaccination programme in the UK, one for meningitis B; making the UK the first country in the world to routinely vaccinate against the disease, and an oral vaccine for rotavirus.
As a pro-vaccination type (I won't ever comment on the anti-vax movement on my blog as it's way too emotive usually for both parties, so I steer clear) I opted for Quinn to have all the vaccinations available to her at eight weeks, which resulted in her being given three injections plus the oral shot. Poor little mite.
So it's only now that I find out that most parents who have silent reflux babies find that the immunisations cause their reflux symptoms to go a bit crazy for a while. Somehow this didn't come up in my pre-vaccination research. I'm not saying it would have changed my mind in the slightest but the resulting anger from Quinn has been pretty hellish! Quinn's reflux symptoms are horrible without medication, and we're now at maximum reflux (including some projectile vomit)... so that's cute.
It's also ruined her appetite entirely, which has resulted in blocked milk ducts for me because she's not draining the boobs properly... hurrah!
So yeah, that's been totally crap.
On a positive note though, she had her first shower and that totally blew her mind, I've never seen her so happy; I might just not bother with the bath for a little while. I just jump in the shower with her which is a great excuse for some snuggling skin-to-skin and a sneaky breastfeed and we twirl around, whilst I poke various bits of her under the water. It works for us at the moment but obviously - think about safety etc. Use a non-slip bath mat if you don't have a grippy shower tray... all that H&S stuff!
The weather has been PANTS this week and as such I've been reminded of the woes of pram pushing in the rain. For the morning school run I use the Cybex My.Go baby carrier to get about with Quinn, which does not come with a rain cover (boo!) so I find that using a large umbrella does the job enough to keep us both relatively dry. In the afternoon, I tend to use the pushchair (O'Baby Zezu pramette) with the rain cover, which is OK. I've bought new wellies and I do have a decent rain coat, but is there anything quite as gross as wet hands? Plus the Zezu has a foam handle bar which turns to soggy sponge in the rain and I don't rate that either! Time to think about waterproof hand options next!
Of course, when your baby is as big as Quinn, what most people want to know is what the Hell she weighs... and this week I actually managed to get along to the health visitor clinic to find out... . Fatty! Much love to my friend Monica for passing on some of her daughter FiFi's 3-6 month clothes, which now fit my 2 month old little beefcake!

My Body: 2 months after childbirth

Hurrumph. Throughout month 1 I was pretty "hey, I'm totally chilled about this, I've only just had a baby, of course I'm going to be a bit chubby". This month? Nah. I'm now more "OK, I'm a moose."
Don't get me wrong. I still know that I'm not actually overweight. I still know that all women's bodies change somewhat after giving birth. I still know that I should enjoy my baby whilst she's little, rather than obsess about my measurements. I really wanted to focus this last month on getting my diet in check, and whilst I made a conscious effort here and there, I've just not been as organised as I would like. When I'm unorganised, my food habits are slack.
Boyfriend and I are absolutely determined to commit to making a healthy menu for the week on a Sunday, and shopping for all of the necessary ingredients on a Monday, and being fully stocked up, that alone should stop me from grabbing convenient but unhealthy on-the-go food, or filling up on ridiculous solutions like bowls of cereal.
I have realised that I'm actually very much a size 12. Below the national average, yes, I know. Considering that when I fell pregnant I was a size 6/8 though, it's quite a significant gain. I don't feel confident, or particularly happy with my body, and I'm pretty determined now to feel better about the way I look by the new year.
I realise that that involves as much addressing the way that I feel about myself, as actually altering the image that I see when I look in the mirror. So I want to work on a bit of active self-loving too, and taking some time to appreciate exactly what my body has achieved before I start slagging it off for being a bit flabby!
I want to completely wipe refined sugar out of my diet where I can this month, so most prepared and processed foods are going to be a no-go, that'll be my first step to blitzing the baby fat! I also want to treat myself to a few nice bits of clothing in the size that I am now - rather than promise myself things when I reach a target size, because I'd really rather work to improve my acceptance of the current state of things as much as anything.
9 months on, 9 months off, 9 months on, 9 months off (I must keep repeating this to myself!)

Review: Ewan the Dream Sheep (as good as they claim?)

If ever there was an incredibly hyped up baby product, Ewan the Dream Sheep is probably it. I speak to tonnes of people with babies every day and as a rule, most who've had Ewan in their lives, are convinced that they wouldn't survive parenthood without him.
photograph courtesy of Sweet Dreamers
I'd never heard of Ewan three years ago when I bought him as a "congratulations on your new baby" gift for my friend. He just looked cute and it sounded like a cool gadget if it actually worked, so I ordered one from Ocado.
Over a year later she was still infinitely grateful for the gift as he became the ultimate comfort for her son, who could go almost nowhere without Ewan, but, on the positive side, slept fantastically.
For those who aren't in the know, Ewan is a soft toy sheep, these days available with either a funky purple face and legs, or a more conservative grey. There are buttons in each of Ewans feet which, once pressed, cause his body to glow with a soft pink light, and play one of four soothing pink noise sounds (recorded at the low frequency of 125Hzs which is what baby hears in the womb). This combination of pink light and pink noise are supposed to recreate familiar comforts from the womb, and help babies to feel more secure and relaxed - thus helping them to settle and get off to sleep.
Ewan plays four different sounds, including a womb effect, gentle waves, a not-especially-annoying harp tune, and the sound of a vacuum cleaner, all combined with the sound of a (resting) human heartbeat.
But does he work?
For us - yes. We've used Ewan the Dream Sheep since Quinn was born with pretty sound results. She's a good sleeper anyway, possibly the result of a combination of factors including paediatric chiro, sleeping in a hammock, and the brilliant Gro-Light that I reviewed the other day. However, I do attribute some of our success to Ewan, and we also take him out in the pushchair with us which keeps Quinn contented (and asleep). He has a Velcro-tail which can wrap around the bars of a crib, handle of a car seat, bumper bar of a pushchair etc. to keep him in place
He's also pretty cute to look at. We have the purple version because it matches our purple pram - but I think in the grand scheme of things I actually prefer the grey! His fleece is super soft and once Quinn's old enough to cuddle soft toys I can see him being a favourite as he is beautifully made and feels great.
Quinn's preferred track is the harp music but she's actually soothed by any of the sounds he makes.
If I had another baby I would definitely buy Ewan again (I'm not having another baby - don't read anything in to that!) and I'll no doubt carry on buying Ewan as a gift for pregnant friends in the future.
If I had suggestions for improvements though, it'd be nice to see Ewan made using organic materials, I can't find anything to suggest that this is the case so I'm going to assume that it isn't. I also find he absolutely EATS through even decent batteries, so would recommend investing in some rechargeable ones and keeping them on rotation as he does sound completely deranged once his battery life begins to fade!

Review: Gro-light

I use a Gro-light when I get up in the night with Quinn. She's a fabulous sleeper and so night feeds are becoming less of a regular thing in our house, but she's up at 5:00am, which these days, is pretty dark. Those mornings are only going to get darker in coming months so despite the fact that she sleeps "through the night" , I'm still reliant on the Gro-light first thing in the day.
Made by The Gro Company (who're responsible for the regularly imitated Grobag sleeping bag system) the Gro-light is not to be confused with the Gro-egg (light up room thermometer) and the Gro-clock (light up sleep training aid) - both of which are Gro Company products.
The Gro-light is basically a fancy light bulb, but an essential fancy light bulb, and readers will know that I'm the first to be dismissive of unnecessary baby equipment. Anyone who regularly gets up in the night with a baby will be all too familiar with the unwelcome face full of yellow light when you reach over and turn on your bedside lamp - horrid. You may also be familiar with the stubbed toe, gained from trying to remove baby from it's bed and leave the bedroom to feed without turning on a light - equally horrendous.
Before I explain what really makes the Gro-light worthwhile, I have to mention that it creates a white, LED light, which is way way easier on the eyes; it's almost a blue-ish light, and when you turn it on you don't get that minute of squinting and all-round blindness that you do from being assaulted by a standard bulb. I can also sleep with the Gro-light on if need's be (if Quinn's being particularly unsettled and I want to be able to see her from my bed), but I definitely couldn't fall asleep with a normal, yellow bedside lamp on. This light is nicer on babies eyes, nicer on yours, and bright enough to feed by, or change baby, without convincing them that it's party time and they don't need to go back to sleep.
It's also a super handy nightlight to use just to check on baby whilst they're still asleep, as it isn't harsh enough to wake them up!
What really makes the Gro-light more than a lightbulb though, is it's dual functionality. Basically, you screw the GroLight in to your normal light fixture, be that the ceiling, or the bedside lamp, just as you would a lightbulb. One click of the regular light switch, and your room is bathed in a pale, moonlight-ish white light (lovely). There's a little dial on the side of the Gro-light too which allows you to adjust the brightness (brighter to see to change a nappy, dimmed right down once baby is latched and feeding).
However, you can also screw your bog-standard light bulb in to the top of the Gro-light; click your normal light switch twice, and you'll flick over from the LED Gro-light, to your regular bulb; as easy as that. I actually don't have a regular bulb in my Gro-light at the moment (which is screwed on to my bedside lamp) - because I'm more than happy with the white LEDs (they're good to read by too as your eyes won't get as sore as reading by a normal electric light source) - but if you want the option to have a regular bulb too (remember to use energy efficient bulbs) then you can.
If I stay away from home with Quinn and have to get up in the night with her I'm really angry with regular light bulbs these days! I end up squinting at her through mole-eyes and she's left blinking and dazed by the sudden beam in her face. At home, I can't see me ever getting rid of the Gro-light... even when she's left for university!
The Gro-light retails for anywhere around £15, although one of the cheapest places I've found it is Argos, where it's £13.99.

8 Week Update

Well after our short blogging absence, this brings us bang up to date.
Quinn is now 8 weeks old, approaching 2 months! She is, for want of a better word, huge. I have no idea what she weighs as we were booked in with the health visitor for a 6-8 week home visit this week, but she didn't show up (what's that about?) - so Baby Weight Watchers will have to wait until next week. I'm guessing that she is well, well above the 12lb mark though, possibly approaching 13lbs.
Seb was a big chubby baby so I'm not particularly surprised to see all of these gorgeous fatty roles on Quinn, or that adorable pot-belly. Breast milk obviously very much agrees with her - and she's happy and healthy, so I'm a contented Mama!
This week I started taking Quinn to Baby Sensory, and I'm going to be blogging in more detail about the course at a later stage. I'm quite lucky that my friend Fiona runs the local Baby Sensory groups, so I had plenty of inside info before Quinn was even born (in fact, she was signed up to join before she arrived in the world!). She absolutely loved her first session though; which focussed on developing all areas of her early development through signing, music, texture, sound and lights. It's not uncommon for very small babies to sleep through some, or all, of the hour sessions but Quinn was awake, alert and smiling throughout, so I'm guessing it's her thing. My friend, Jade, who had a baby girl the day after I did is joining us each week.
We also went along to the Mother and Baby/Toddler group at Seb's school, which was perhaps cheating slightly on the baby-socialising front as the group is for parents with children at the school that have younger siblings at home, so everyone was vaguely familiar, even if I hadn't spoken to them before. These types of groups are quite difficult to get in to with a baby though as most people were there with an active toddler, who wanted to play, or get stuck in at the craft table - whereas I can only sit with a baby on my knee and chat over coffee! I would like to go back to the group but think I'll rope in some of the Mums I'm already friendly with at the school who have little ones, or potentially approach some of the Mums with tiny (inactive) babies to see if they'd like to come along!
This week we have been back to the doctors and our breastfeeding journey has taken another turn for the rubbish. Quinn has oral thrush, which manifests itself as a horrible build up of white plaque on her tongue (but is much like a yeast infection anywhere else in the body), she has kindly passed this on to me so that I have the infection in both nipples - yay! It's pretty darn painful - think hot needles in the boobs, constantly, all day and night. I was in a lot of pain with the infection initially but now that we both have medication we seem to be on the mend. Seriously though - this breastfeeding thing - it must cost the NHS a fortune!

6 and 7 Week Updates

As you may have noticed, the blog was down for a week or so recently as a result of some technical failings on my part, and some unresolved hosting issues, but now that I'm back online, I need to catch up with those readers who enjoy Quinn's weekly update posts!

At 6 weeks, Quinn's weight had rocketed up to 11lbs 8ozs, which was an excellent gain from her original birth weight of 7lbs 15ozs, especially as she's been predominantly breast fed. She's such a healthy little lady and it's great to see her thriving. We've get to have her weighed again, but I'm guessing that she's well exceeded the 12lb mark now and she certainly outweighs most of the babies that we spend time with. Seb was a big chunky baby, so I think I just make fatties! Her rolls are now incredible! She has several big chunky creases in her thighs and upper arms and great chubby wrists - not to mention several chins! We're now in the very ends of her 0-3 month wardrobe and I expect that we'll have moved over almost exclusively in to 3-6 month clothes by the time I write the next update post - though she'll only just be 2 months old!
We saw the health visitor for the first time, which I was dreading after a series of negative health visitor experiences when Seb was a baby, but our health visitor Lucy is lovely. Quinn was given a clean bill of health (as was I). We also saw our family doctor this week for our routine 6 week check up. This was way more thorough than I remember when Seb was a baby. As well as discussing my health, post partum bleeding, contraceptive intentions and mental health, Quinn also had a full physical examination. She is still doing brilliantly though and the doctor was happy with us both.
Quinn has been having medicated eye drops for a sticky eye recently, which we initially thought was an eye infection, but which turned out to be a blocked tear duct. Thankfully it's cleared up now and she's a lot more comfortable (and less gross looking!)
She's sleeping "through the night", which has come as a huge relief to Boyfriend and I, who are, compared to many new parents, very well rested. She goes to bed at around 8:30pm and then usually wakes up between 4:00am and 5:30am - although one morning she slept until 7:00am! This has been the pattern for the past week with one exception where she woke up in the early hours for a very quick feed, but ordinarily we expect to get at least 8 hours sleep from her.
Developmentally I can't believe what a different baby Quinn is now compared to the last update that I shared! She is smiling now which is probably the most significant change, but she's also staying awake for longer at a time and interacting with us all more, it's great to be able to see her respond to us with smiles and excited squeaking sounds.
Seb went back to school last week (much to his own relief) - which means my days are predominantly baby heavy! Look out for the 8 week update coming this week, in which we start several new baby groups to access some company and adult conversation!

A New Blogging Chapter

"But Ashleigh..." I hear you say, "Didn't you say that you weren't, like, ever, ever, ever, going to be a parenting blogger?"
Yes. Yes. I did. I still don't want to limit myself too much by suggesting that I'm downing the lifestyle blogging tools and rebranding myself a full-on "Mummy Blogger" (though they rock, obviously) but I think it's time to admit that the blog morphed drastically during my pregnancy, from "a bit of everything" to being quite pregnancy heavy, to being a pregnancy and baby blog.
As it was a natural transition, and something that just happened, because I felt I had  a lot of half decent pregnancy and baby content, I'm Ok with that. What's more - since focussing primarily on parenting stuff, my stats have improved significantly, so... there's that!
At the moment, with life as it is, I'm happy writing about my experiences from a Mother's perspective; it suits me. I'm not saying that I'm never going to throw a recipe out there, or post something opinionated about current affairs, or the dairy industry - but I felt it was time to honour and recognise the fact that this is now, kind of officially, a space for discussing Mum-life.
As an acknowledgement thus, I decided to rope Jen from Magic Feather Designs back in to spruce up the blog and I've chosen to re-name. The blog has been "Ashleigh" for a year now, and it was a pretty pivotal year for finding my own identity after my marriage split - it was fitting to dedicate this space therefore to my non-married name. Now, however *insert drumroll* welcome to Mother Hen - my brand spanking new (but actually exactly the same) parenting and stuff blog.
You'll still find all of the old posts, including those from pre-pregnancy - we've done nothing but move everything over here to so for you readers, nothing much has changed bar the name at the top of the page.
If you really don't feel the parenting content and it's of no interest to you and you've been waiting for me to go back to discussing, at length, whether or not I ought to be a vegan, you are more than welcome to offer me a freelance gig, in which case I'll write about pretty much anything, within reason!

How To Make New Friends as a Parent

Having children can be incredibly isolating, especially if you're the only member of your pre-existing group of friends to have a small baby. After time it isn't uncommon to look around and realise that you're seriously lacking in adult companions.
The Internet is partly to blame for parental isolation; with so many of us moving our relationships out of local communities and on to Facebook, forums, and other online platforms. It's arguably easier to make a good friend in New Zealand now than it is within half a mile of your own home.
I'm pretty lucky, after a short spell of crippling loneliness when Seb was born (during which my previously extensive social circle was reduced down to perhaps one or two not-particularly-reliable friends) I've been able to build up a pretty good network of supportive, genuine Mum-mates, both in my local area and online - and it's made a world of difference to my parenting experience.
I've heard from way, way, way too many other parents though who feel they don't really have any friends now that they've had babies, and have no idea where to start in meeting new people. For many, it's the first time they've been faced with the prospect of deliberately forming friendships since school - and unfamiliar social interactions can be an enormous anxiety triggers for a lot of adults.
I've decided to share some tips that worked for me. The only way to form any sort of relationship is to put yourself forward and make yourself available, but here are some pointers from someone who's managed it!
1. Netmums - ah netmums you beaut. Here's an example of how online networking CAN lead to genuine friendship in the real world. Netmums is a handy website for information and advice on all aspects of parenting and it does have a message board style forum which is open to all (not quite as entertaining as the Mumsnet forum if you're looking for the likes of The Penis Beaker Debate). One of my favourite features of the Netmums site is the Meet A Mum board though. When you sign up to Netmums (free) you'll have access to a local area of the website specific to where you live (in my case, Netmums East Kent). Within the local area of the site, the Meet A  Mum board is a little like a dating site, for Mums to find others in their area who, like them, want to make new friends. That immediately takes some of the pressure off - you were both actively looking for new mates, so neither is going to think the other is a weirdo for starting up a conversation - instant win. Like many forms of online matchmaking, one of you sends the other a message to introduce themselves (and in this case, their kids too) and the other responds. You swap a few messages back and forth before agreeing to meet up at a local soft play area, or café, or the park etc. Like dating - there will, of course, be occasions where you meet people and don't really "click"; they're nice enough, but not bestie material. However, when I got married three years ago, one of my bridesmaids was a lady I met through the Meet A Mum board when our babies were a few months old (we took the babies swimming the first time we met and then had a coffee in the leisure centre café afterwards). When my husband and I separated two years later, it was my friend Amanda, who I'd met via the Northants Meet a Mum board whilst living there for a year in 2012, who drove the three hour trip to be with me and make sure I was alright. These are real, genuine best mates, made thanks to Netmums, and yeah, there were others I met a couple of times and then the swapped messages just fizzled out. You can also post your own "looking for new friends" ad on your local Meet-A-Mum board, and allow other Mummies to message you.
2. Baby Groups - urgh. Baby groups. Everyone hates going along to a baby group for the first time, especially alone. It's pants - sitting there in the corner of a cold and musty smelling church hall whilst your child bashes around amongst grubby toys and the rest of the parents, with their established friendship groups, resolutely ignore you beyond throwing the occasional forced smile. I know that this is most people's experience. You can force it - just go over to people, confidently introduce yourself, join in with conversations... or spot someone else sitting alone and join them... or take a friend with you in the first place. But I know that most people go along to a group once and if they're not welcomed with glorious open arms, decide not to go back. Try avoiding those church hall venues and instead, pick out baby groups that people typically go to alone, and that run in block sessions or "terms" - basically, hobby groups. For example, see if there's a local Water Babies group - baby swimming is lovely, and it's unlikely that big groups of pre-existing friends will have signed up together, also, if classes start on, say, the 17th October, you'll all be new on the same day, rather that you having to wade in to a long running group. My friend Tor and I met through Water Babies when our eldest kids were tiny. Other things to find locally that run in a similar style (nationwide) and are likely to involve a lot of others who don't know anyone else, are Baby Sensory, Sing & Sign, and Baby Massage or Breastfeeding Support groups at your local SureStart children's centre.
3. Find smaller, friendlier ante natal options. Pregnant Mamas - whilst the NHS ante natal classes can be handy, they tend to involve large groups and very little interaction, which doesn't exactly harbour lasting friendships. Try looking in to private antenatal classes instead, with the likes of the National Childbirth Trust, where groups will be a lot smaller, and you'll be encouraged to take part in group activities, ice breakers, and plenty of discussions - as well as invited to "reunions" once your babies are born. These types of group are more likely to bare friendship fruit; it's much easier to suggest getting together with other group attendees in these sorts of settings. Also ask your midwife if there are any particular groups for pregnant ladies in your area, your SureStart Childrens Centre might run a group for "bumps". We went along to a local Homebirth Support Group and I meet up regularly with some of the ladies who went to that group and were expecting at around the same time I had Quinn.
4. Make the school gate work for you - This is one where you really do have to suck it up and make an effort, but so many people consider the school gate to be an inhospitable environment where nobody talks to them, everyone's a member of some sort of clique, and the average Mum often feels isolated or a bit of a loner. 9 times out of 10 though, ask the loner Mum what she's done to actively make friends with other school Mums, and the answer is, not a lot. One way that you can easily make friends through your child's school is by volunteering, either as a member of the PTFA or other in-school organisation, or just on an ad-hoc basis, running a stall at the Christmas fair or similar. Even easier than that - talk to people! You've already got one major element of your lifestyle in common with every single person there, so finding conversation material really shouldn't be difficult. If you don't feel comfortable simply saying "hi" then pick out someone who, on first appearance, looks most like "your kind of person" and ask whether they know the date that the kids break up, or the time of the nativity play, or whether the children have to take a packed lunch on the upcoming trip - you'll think of something - even if you already know the answer, it's a "natural" seeming way to start a conversation. Once you've got your answer though, keep the chat doing, don't just say "Ok thanks" and resume your silence! If you're feeling brave, why not say to one of the parents that you're thinking of organising a Mum's night out for those with kid's in your child's class, or suggesting that a group of you get together in the holidays at the park so that the kids get to see their friends. You could suggest setting up a Facebook group to make organisation easier, which will give you a platform outside of the playground to get to know one another.
5. Look up your exes. No not those exes (unless appropriate), if you haven't moved around a lot in the last few years, why not use the Internet to reconnect with old friends from long before your parenting days, and seek out those who've also had children. The most obvious avenue to pursue is school friends, a friend request on Facebook won't seem particularly bizarre, and you'll be able to very quickly ascertain whether they're now parents. If you spot tell tale signs of babies, drop them a message to ask how they are and what they're up to these days - if you find you still get on well, why not suggest meeting for coffee one day with your children. Don't be too quick to dismiss people from your past, it's unlikely that you're the same person you were at sixteen, so someone who was once shy/a show off/prone to snogging other people's boyfriends may be surprisingly different these days.
 Do you have a best friend that you've connected with via your children? I'd love to hear other Mum's friendship stories.

How I Named My Children

I have two children, Sebastian is five, Quinn is a month old. The circumstances under which they were born were wildly different, and as a result, so where the circumstances under which they were given names.
I was single when Seb was born, and his Father had little to no contact with me throughout a majority of my pregnancy, so choosing a name fell very much on my shoulders. I also found out my baby's gender at my second anomaly scan whilst pregnant with him.
Quinn, on the other hand, was brought in to the world with a Mother and Father very much together, very much in love, and very much united in their plans to raise her. Unlike my previous experience, I now had to enter in to choosing a name as a joint venture. What's more, Boyfriend and I chose not to find out whether she was male of female before her birth, making discussions about baby names during pregnancy that bit more vague.
Sebastian was named long before his birth - in fact, I'd already bought personalised items for him in the weeks running up to his arrival. Quinn, on the other hand, spent her first four days on the planet entirely nameless.
These days, whenever someone asks me Quinn's name (which they do, often) their most common response is "Oh, that's unusual" - and you can usually tell whether they mean "unusual, but lovely" or just plain "weird" - some people don't appreciate unisex names, and I'm cool with that.
In Seb's case, people are usually less expressive in their reaction. It isn't an incredibly common name, but most people are very familiar with it as a boy's name, chances are you know a Sebastian, or at least know of one.

Whilst I'm not about to start referring the old dears on the bus to this blog post for further information, these experiences inspired me to at least write for my blog readers about how both of my children came to get their names. Names are something that really fascinate me. I love hearing other people's baby name choices. I'd love for you to leave a comment at the end of this post to tell me how you named your own child(ren) - did you find it easy to choose a name that both you and your baby's other parent agreed on?
Sebastian Oscar Douglas
Initially, Seb's name was going to be Rupert. Unlike most names-that-got-away, I actually think he could quite easily be a Rupert, it suits him just as much as Sebastian does, I think. I did however know an adult Rupert at the time who decided to tell me that he hated his name when he was growing up, and didn't think much of it as a man either... and I started to worry that maybe it did sound vaguely pretentious, and it was a bit of a bear's name.
It was actually my Mum that suggested Sebastian - and I immediately chastised myself for not having thought of it first. It had just enough public-school-boy to appeal to my rather Tory-charming character at the time I think, it seemed (says the woman who was, at the time, a penniless pregnant single Mother with enormous rent arrears) - rather aspirational. It is also the name of the male protagonist in Cruel Intentions, played by Ryan Phillipe... one of my ultimate movie guilty pleasures. The decision was made.
Oscar was another boy's name that I toyed with during pregnancy and eventually settled on as a middle name. At the time I didn't know any other infant Oscars, but it's grown enormously in popularity over the past five years and now I know quite a few Oscars - more and more Oscars seem to be born within my extended social circle each year, so I'm quite glad that I didn't go for it now.
Douglas was a boy's name that I loved, but it was actually chosen as a middle name for Seb in memory of my late Grandfather. Whilst I was pregnant with Quinn I was quite annoyed that I'd used it as a middle name because I wanted it as a boy's option if I had a second son - but now that I know I'll never have another baby, I'm glad that it features in Seb's full name.
Sebastian means, quite simply "a man from Sebastia" (a place in modern day Turkey) but this had no sway in my decision to use it.
People are always quite surprised that Quinn has no middle names, I guess it's quite unfashionable to leave out middle names. So far in 2015 I can count 61 babies born within my social circle - yep, 61, not including Quinn. Of them all, there is not one without a middle name or two, poor old Quinn is the only one!
When she was born she had no name at all, we'd found girl's names really difficult because throughout most of my pregnancy our unborn baby's nickname had been Pepper. This came about after Seb asked one dinnertime what vegetable I would most like to be. I replied (very pregnant) saying I'd be a pepper, because you so often find a baby pepper inside when you cut one open. "Aww, Baby Pepper." we all said... and it stuck. Pepper being a legitimate girl's name though, we found it really difficult to imagine having a girl that wasn't called Pepper, even though we didn't really think we'd be able to call a child Pepper (partly, but not solely, because it's my best friend's dog's name.)
So when Quinn was born a girl, and we agreed that she definitely definitely wasn't a Pepper, we had nothing. We'd come up with a few girl's names early on, including Maeren, Meryl, Ffion and Raine - but none of them stuck.
Seb wanted to call her Rosie (I liked Rosemary, but again, it just didn't fit), then he suggested Eileen (???) before finally being adamant that he wanted his sister to be named Sun.
Eventually, after much faffing, we agreed that we liked Mabel - Mabel Raine Luther... we pretty much had a name. For whatever reason though, we didn't 100% go for it, we just let it hang there for a day or so.
On the Sunday after our baby arrived, I decided that enough was enough, and that by the time we went to bed that night, she would have a name, whether that meant us committing to Mabel Raine, or coming up with an alternative.
I've always liked unisex names for girls as opposed to obviously girlie names (you'll never catch me giving birth to a Maisie, for example) so I was doing some Googling of unisex Irish names (there aren't actually that many) as Boyfriend has Irish heritage, that we'd agreed we would loosely like to honour if we could. It was then that I found Quinn, fell in love with it immediately, and, much to my relief, got an equally positive response to from Boyfriend.
We tested it out for an hour or so, but as soon as it was there, floating between us, we looked at the baby and she just looked like a Quinn - it was our perfect name.
We spent a while trying out different middle name combinations (neither Mabel nor Raine were working for us) but eventually we realised that we were forcing the issue, and that Quinn Luther was  a pretty strong name on it's own - if anything a middle name would fluff it up too much and ruin it. So we opted not to give her one... unpopular choice though that may be.
Unlike when I was carrying Seb, Boyfriend and I had an interest in a name's meaning. Quinn means "wise", which we both liked (better than "cripple" - just one of many reasons I didn't want to call her Deirdre) and a lot of people comment to say she has a very knowing, "been here before" kind of look in her eyes so it seems to fit. I think she has a predominantly "feed me" look in her eyes but whatever!
As I'll be stopping at two children, that's me done with coming up with baby names for my own kids, but it was definitely one of my favourite parts of preparing for a baby - even if the baby did arrive before I reached a conclusion in one case! I think I'll remain ever excited to find out what other people choose to call their new arrivals though!

Review: Amby Baby Hammock

Boyfriend and I decided to get a hammock for Quinn to sleep in, rather than a moses basket, crib, co-sleeper, cot, or any one of the other baby sleeping options available. Our reasons were varied; for a start, we don't live together - so as our time is divided between two houses, we wanted to get a sleeping arrangement that was easy to transport, rather than have to buy two separate beds for each house. We also didn't feel comfortable laying a newborn baby flat on their back. There is absolutely heaps of evidence to suggest that a more natural, womb like position benefits newborns no end, whereas laying flat on a mattress can cause all sorts of problems - besides, what newborn prefers to lie in a crib than in the cosy cradle of their Mum's arms? Like most parents, Boyfriend and I wanted to encourage our baby to sleep well from the word "Go", so we researched options that would increase the quality and duration of Baby's sleep, and the Amby hammock seemed to have the strongest supporting evidence.
 I was already familiar with the Amby Baby Hammock as I'd had one for Seb when he was a baby. His didn't get as much use as I would have liked, as he was a determined front-sleeper and getting him to sleep on his back was a real task. I bought the hammock as an attempt to remedy the problem when Seb was about 12 weeks old, by which time, he was not only happiest sleeping on his tummy, but had grown used to his cot mattress. I always said that if I ever had another baby I would get the Amby hammock out from Day 1, and not put my new baby on a firm mattress. At some point I sold Seb's hammock on to somebody else (I think), so during my second pregnancy, I bought another one on Ebay for about £70 including delivery. They do retail for around £240 new.
So far, Quinn loves sleeping in her Amby hammock - I'm so pleased. She typically sleeps from around 8:00pm to somewhere between 1:00am and 2:00am when she wakes for a feed. She then sleeps from 2:00am-3.00am through to around 7:00am when we all get up. This has been her rough routine since she was born (though it varies by up to an hour in any direction), it is very very rare for her to wake more than once during the night. It's impossible to know whether she'd have been such a good sleeper in a different bed - but for now, the hammock is certainly working for all of us!
She always looks so comfortable in her hammock, and we have the added reassurance that it doesn't present any of the hazards that are common in cribs, where various bits of bedding might be used, not to mention bars that can entangle limbs, and non-breathable fabrics that can lead to over heating.
The hammock is one large piece of organic, raw cotton, with a foam mattress that hugs the baby's shape. The fitted sheets that go on the mattress tie all the way underneath, rather than just stretching around the edges. Because of the unique design, the hammock presents no suffocation risks, even to older, more active babies.
One of the most beneficial features of the hammock for our family, is how quick and easy it is to disassemble and put back up. All of the parts go in to a canvas bag for easy transport, and the hammock is up and ready for the baby in less than 3 minutes. Whilst the bag is quite long (like the sort of bag you'd carry a small tent in) it isn't too heavy, and so boyfriend and I can move it between our two homes without much hassle at all - and it'll be great to take away with us too instead of a cumbersome (and uncomfortable) travel cot.
Baby hammocks encourage the optimum sleeping position to greatly reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or Cot Death), whilst also helping with the symptoms of colic, reflux, restless sleep, short nap cycles, and flat head syndrome. Quinn's reflux gives her no trouble at all during the night, when she's in her hammock, and tends to bother her more during the day when she's typically out in her pushchair.
We love the fact that every time Quinn moves in her hammock, she creates a gentle, bouncing, rock, on her own, which often soothes her back to sleep without us having to so much as roll over.
Because of the hammocks womb-like design and self-soothing action it can significantly increase sleep duration, and babies tend to wake gently, and gradually, rather than with a start (and much noise).
I love the fact that the hammock is made entirely from 100% certified organic cotton, it appeals to the eco-conscious side of my nature - plus it's super breathable for Quinn, keeping her safe and comfy.
I recommend hammocks to anyone expecting a new baby - it's certainly one step that you can take to achieving a contented, peaceful atmosphere at home.