What It's Like To Have A Friend With Post Natal Depression

Ok, so I've never suffered with post natal depression and some people might be sat wondering what gives me the right to blog about it, when it's a condition which is genuinely wrecking the every day lives of Mothers around the world. But whilst I haven't suffered from PND, I have been a friend to Mothers who have, and that, in itself, is an experience of this horrible, all-consuming illness.
Oh boo hoo, poor old me, having to deal with a mentally unwell friend, right? That's not the angle I'm coming at - but I think the many women that I know who have suffered and recovered from PND, or are still fighting it now, will agree with me when I say, if you have a friend who has been diagnosed with post natal depression, it's absolutely, 100% Ok to say "I really don't know what to do to make this better for you."
As a friend of someone with post natal depression, or any kind of mental illness, you don't have to have the answers - if you had them, you'd probably be proper rich and popular. No new Mum, struggling to cope with her own emotions, has turned to her friends looking for a miracle cure.
You want know how it often feels to have a good friend with PND? Frustrating. It really is OK to be frustrated. Grumble in to your cup of tea because you went out and bought special biscuits, or even baked, and she cancelled on you. Again. It's totally OK to pout a bit (in privacy) and feel like you've been altogether mugged off. It doesn't make you an awful friend, or person. You're totally human too and having a friend or loved one who struggles with their mental health can be tough, and it can make even the best of us feel like we're fighting a losing battle at times.
But here's the thing. Posh biscuits and baking prowess aren't exactly the cornerstones of lasting friendship. Buy a pack of Hobnobs, chuck them to the back of the cupboard, and let your friend know that they're there whenever she's ready. Don't stop inviting, even if your invitations are repeatedly rejected, or accepted only to be cancelled ten minutes prior to their ETA. Keep inviting, and keep telling them it's OK when they can't make it (even if you do a big huff to yourself and wonder why you bothered cleaning the bathroom).
It's really hard to keep on understanding PND. I kind of get it - I've spoken to enough women who've been there and wear the battle scars to prove it, to be able to recognise symptoms, to be able to recount how it made the women that I know feel, how it made them behave - but I haven't been there. I've had my own private struggles with my mental health in the past which probably makes it easier for me to empathise with PND sufferers but, for me personally, the year or so after having both of my children have been positive times, so my understanding can only go so far.
I've wanted to snap my fingers and make my friends feel better. I've also wanted them to stop letting me down all of the time. In the past I've eventually stopped asking them to join me and other Mums for groups or lunch meets or play dates because "they'll only make an excuse not to come" - and now that I'm a little older and a little wiser, I realise that that wasn't the point, and that I should have kept on asking, or at least left the invitation open.
I do know that it isn't uncommon, when you have a friend with PND, to feel as though you're being rejected. Like you're going to effort, and having it thrown back in your face. I also know from speaking to women who've suffered from PND that they feel bloody awful knowing that they've made you feel that way. The best thing that you can do, in my experience, to minimise the awkwardness for all concerned, is to let it go gracefully - an "Ok not to worry, I'll let you know next time we're going" is all that's needed.
However, I think it's really important as well not to just pretend that your friend's PND isn't "a thing". Temptation can be, especially for the very British among us, to ignore a situation when we don't know how to handle it. Once you've accepted that you don't have to have a solution to the problem in order to be a good friend, it's then difficult to know how to proceed. Acknowledging PND can be so comforting for everyone concerned though, both the Mum who's suffering, and the friend who doesn't know what to say. A simple "I know you've got a lot on your plate at the moment but if you ever just need a chat and a cup of tea, you know where I am" could mean a lot to a depressed Mum, and you only need to remind them every now and again that the offer still stands to ensure that they don't feel you've forgotten them entirely.
I think it's also vital to regularly ask anyone how they are, but especially a new Mum, and especially a new Mum that you already know is struggling with depression. Just a text or a phone call to say "How are you feeling today?" can open up the way for a conversation that might really take the burden off of a friends shoulders, or at least let them know you care. The temptation for the depressed Mum of course is to simply reply with a "Great thanks" - but whether or not you suspect it isn't true - replying with a "Glad to hear it, if you're ever having a tough day you know I'm hear to talk." would be my go to. This is solid advice for the friends of anyone with a new baby, whether they've been formally diagnosed with depression, seem a little blue, or appear totally chipper and thriving.
Latest studies (conducted by charity 4Children) suggest that around 3 in 10 women experience PND, which means it's very unlikely that any of us will make it through our adult lives without having a friend with the illness, if it doesn't effect us directly. Around 25% of PND Mothers still have PND symptoms at their child's first birthday, and a staggering 58% do not seek help with their illness.
If you have a friend who you suspect may be suffering from PND it's always worth gently encouraging them to discuss their feelings with their health visitor or GP. PANDAS operate a fantastic antenatal and postnatal mental health helpline too on 0843 28 98 401. If you're ever worried that a friend is about to harm themselves, or their baby, always call 999.

Quinn's Birth Story; Revisited

Quinn's birth story was the first post that I wrote after she was born, and it's still available for you to read here. Looking back at it now, it's one of the worst things I've written in recent years - it is absolutely over-flowing with mistakes, and huge chunks of it make absolutely no sense what so ever!
I did toy with editing it, but have chosen to leave it as it is (with a disclaimer) because actually, I think that its faults rather add to its charm - it was written at a time when my hormones were all over the place, I was on an oxytocin high and madly in love with my new baby, and with a renewed adoration for her Daddy, but also really really struggling to get breastfeeding established. It was a wonderful and really difficult time and the crappiness of my writing reflects that.
I have decided, now that Quinn is nine months old, to rewrite it though with a clearer mind. So I'll leave the raw version where it is, and for those who particularly like typos, it'll stay there for eternity!
I'd already given birth once before, so on the one hand, I think in the lead up to Quinn's birth I felt as though I roughly knew what I was going to be up against. I felt a lot calmer and more in control as a result; I didn't feel like I was waiting to experience the complete unknown, and thanks to practicing lots of pregnancy relaxation techniques, hypnobirthing, meditation and yoga throughout my pregnancy, I was actually really looking forward to labour, and not just because I'd get to meet my baby at the end.
However, I remember my midwife asking me in one of our later appointments, whether I was confident that I would recognise the early signs of labour. I sat there in silence staring in to the middle distance.
When Seb was born I'd been going about my normal business with no sense that his birth was imminent. As I swung my leg into the car to go and buy curtain poles for the nursery, my "waters broke" all over the car park area in front of my flat, and by the time I'd waddled indoors and peeled off my wet leggings, my contractions had begun, steady and strong.
For me, the initiation of labour was sudden, unexpected and relatively full on. I hadn't experienced that "am I/aren't I?" stage with my first birth and I wasn't entirely sure I'd recognise "early labour" if I experienced it with my second baby.
Predictably of course, this was exactly what happened.
My ambitiously detailed birth plan!
 At 5.00am on the 23rd July 2016, a few days shy of my due date, I woke with a dull ache in my baby bump. It wasn't enough to be classed as pain, but I struggled to get back to sleep and couldn't find a position that I was comfortable laying in. Baring in mind I was 39 weeks pregnant, struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position wasn't exactly an alien predicament, and I decided that I might as well just get up. It was day light after all and Seb would be getting up around 6.00am to get ready for school anyway.
I made a cup of tea, bounced on my birth ball, and scrolled through Twitter. The aching in my bump seemed to come and go. It would build until I was wincing slightly with the discomfort, and then it would ease off. I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks, months even, and I knew it wasn't that which I was feeling, but equally, it certainly didn't feel like labour - and wasn't comparable to my previous experience. More than anything, I suspected trapped wind. I did mention to a few friends on Facebook that something might be happening - not full blown labour by any means but perhaps my body getting ready for something just around the corner.
I went into the bedroom and unintentionally woke Boyfriend, who I'd left sleeping in bed, and briefly moaned to him about my discomfort. He'd already had two children over a decade ago - and was probably pretty confident that he could recognise a woman in labour too, but other than giving me a cuddle and a bit of a back rub, he was just as unconcerned as I was.
I plodded upstairs to go to the toilet, and text my doula to let her know that I was definitely feeling something, but that I wasn't entirely sure what. When I went to the toilet I noticed what I thought might have been some of my mucus plug (mmm, nice words, mucus... plug) but seeing as I'd not "lost" this when I went into labour with Seb, I didn't really know what I was looking for.
As expected, Seb got up around 6.00am and I busied myself helping him and getting him on the toilet and out of his pyjamas; when suddenly I had an overwhelming urge to sit down on the loo immediately. I always knew that in this labour I'd take a very intuitive - my body knows what it's doing - approach, but impressively, my instinctive jump towards the toilet meant that when my "waters broke" with that familiar gush, the whole thing was neatly contained in the sewerage system. Hurrah.
I sent Seb off to fetch Boyfriend, finally realising that this was actually it, I had been in labour for at least the last 90 minutes, and our baby was on the way. Boyfriend and I had a lovely cuddle, and it'll always be one of my favourite moments, the calm excitement on his face which was instantly reassuring and comforting, and our last proper hug before we became parents (together).
I decided to run a bath, my contractions (and now I knew that they were contractions!) were a little stronger now that the amniotic fluid was no longer cushioning things, and I felt as though I needed a good wash, even though I hadn't covered myself in goo this time!
In the warm water my contractions intensified more, but at the same time, the water was soothing and kept me relaxed. All the time that I was in the water I was able to use my hypnobirthing techniques to manage any discomfort and whilst I knew that the contractions were strong and working to move my baby down into the birth canal - I felt totally in control and happy. Seb brought me bath toys, and kept me company, and it was surprisingly nice to have him around. Once Boyfriend had suggested he might be more helpful if he were able to gently pour water over my bump - he was actually a really useful little extra birth partner! From the bath I called Marika, my doula, and my best friend Sushi who I realised would need to take Seb to school for me, and continued to lay on my side in the water letting the contractions do their thing.
When I got out of the bath, I felt very suddenly overwhelmed. Seb and Boyfriend were both in the room and they just felt too close and I felt suffocated. I also think part of me thought I really needed to poo and whilst I was more than prepared to push a baby out of my lady pouch, I was soooo not up for pooing infront of my boyfriend. Having asked everyone to leave me alone in the bathroom, I instantly relaxed (and didn't need a poo after all).
I never envisaged wanting to be on my own in labour. In fact, I'd carefully planned a home water birth and booked a doula pretty much especially so that Boyfriend never once had to leave my side, but actually, I just took a few minutes in the bathroom alone, refocused and got back into my birthing brain and I was buzzing.
I felt a very strong urge to be in/on/near to my bed though, and so off I pottered back downstairs and chucked myself at my king sized mattress. This was another off-plan move on my part. Believe me, if you'd seen my birth plan, you'd have choked. I'd detailed the points in my labour when I wanted the music changing (and by whom), what candles I wanted to burn, and where - I'd even specified whether or not I wanted the curtains opened or closed dependent on a variety of potential weather conditions...
The bedroom however, did not feature, at all, on my birth plan. My bedroom is the smallest, darkest room in my flat. I wanted to give birth in a birthing pool. With two doulas in the room. I wanted birthing music, and essential oils. I had plans, don't you know?
So there I was, in the bedroom which I shouldn't have been in, and alone. Poor old Boyfriend popped up to the bathroom to check on me, only to find it empty, and did have a momentary panic that he'd somehow managed to misplace his labouring girlfriend. So swift and sneaky had I been in my relocation! Once reunited in the bedroom though we went through the brief but most intense phase of my labour.
This was the toughest bit on me, mentally and physically, as my body decided to work incredibly hard to get my baby out. I wasn't in any pain at all but the contractions were very intense and felt a bit "out of body experience" like, which wasn't especially distressing, but I did need to bring myself back into the moment a few times - thankfully I had Boyfriend on hand who's ridiculously calm in any sort of situation and also noticed when I'd suddenly held my breath (which I do if I'm really heavily involved in something or other).
I don't really remember that much about that whole section of my labour, other than it being very animal like and powerful, but I remember two very clear thoughts; 1) These contractions are insane - there is supposed to be a gap/rest in between but they are just running one into the next - what's that about? and 2) This doesn't hurt..... I always said labour didn't have to hurt and it mother fucking isn't hurting. Yesssssss.
I also went through what's commonly referred to as the "self doubt" stage of labour and I wrote about that in more detail when I blogged about how hypnobirthing specifically helped me during my labour and birth (which you can read here) - but like many women, I did have that moment where I just felt as though I was "done" and couldn't possibly go on...
The one thing I should address because it will be glaringly worrying to some readers, is that we hadn't called midwives. My very very thorough birth plan had specified that midwives were to play a really minimal role in my labour and birth, but I did plan to have some present. I'd asked for no blood pressure monitoring, no fetal heartbeat monitoring, no internal examinations, no unnecessary questions from midwives, no physical touch, no mention of the word "pain" or other associated language, and I'd made a point of requesting that either myself or Boyfriend would "catch" baby, but that a midwife was by no means to be the first person to touch our child. Obviously I was prepared for all of these preferences to be overturned by medical emergency, but this was my best case scenario and they were really bystanders in my idea of the ideal birth.
However, when the time came, and we were busy actually having a baby, neither Boyfriend nor I thought it necessary to call midwives. We were an awesome little team and we just didn't feel we needed anyone else - so, we didn't call a midwife, we just got on with what needed to be done.
After about 15 minutes of this crazy, intense contracting in the bedroom, during which I did bite poor Boyfriend's arm at one point, I suddenly felt a real shift in what my body was doing. I also felt a head. A head in my actual vagina.
I looked at Boyfriend and said "The baby is coming!" which must have seemed like the understatement of the year to him, as he just replied with "Yes, I know, it's OK" so I had to reiterate, "No! I mean actually coming."
I don't know what exactly he expected but Boyfriend hung off the bed to see what I was talking about and was met with the sight of Quinn's head crowning! I just remember him saying "Oh Shit!" and immediately running out of the room.
I'd packed a lovely basket in the living room of everything that I needed for during and immediately after labour. Candles, oils, CDs, towels, sheets. Boyfriend grabbed a black sheet which I'd bought to cover the sofa, and a shower curtain, still in it's packaging, and ran back to the bedroom, ripping the shower curtain out of the packet and hurriedly trying to get it, and the black sheet, underneath me. At this point I'd moved to kneel on the floor with my elbows on the edge of the bed.
Poor Seb, who'd been in the lounge eating Weetabix and listening to a Dirty Bertie audio book, was thoroughly confused by Boyfriends dramatic racing around, and suddenly appeared at the bedroom door.
Thankfully, this coincided with a moment of total peace and tranquillity for me. Where I'd been busy being some sort of warrior woman through the powerful contractions, I was now totally blissed out, and able to reassure him that baby was on their way and everything was fine. So much so that he waltzed off, back to his story and cereal, quite satisfied.
At this point, Boyfriend's phone rang. It was Marika, our doula, calling to let him know she'd arrived. I had put on my incredibly detailed birth plan that nobody was to ring my doorbell because it makes a horrible noise which I didn't want to hear whilst I was in labour (seriously, the detail I went to!) - so everyone was under strict instructions to call Boyfriend to gain entry to the flat!
I live on the second floor of an old hotel though, and because she hadn't rung the doorbell, Boyfriend didn't naturally think to buzz her into the building using the intercom system... and instead decided, oddly, to run down the entire flight of stairs to let her in.
In the meantime I was alone in the bedroom, feeling very peaceful and calm. Whilst he was out of the room I felt my body do this huge spasm type thing which I'll never be able to articulately describe to anyone ever, so you'll have to make do with "huge spasm type thing", during which the head which was wedged in my vagina, became no longer wedged in my vagina. I should probably have looked, or at least put a hand down there and felt it, but who actually wants to touch a human head hanging out of their fanny? Not me. I actually felt a bit drunk. A second or two later I felt another "huge spasm type thing" which literally propelled the rest of my baby out of my body with moderate force, so that she just pooled on the floor between my knees. Just like that - she was kind of fired from my body like a human cannonball.
I never pushed. Not once, not even a little one. I birthed like the African women I'd read about during pregnancy, who stepped out of the line on the road with the rest of their tribe, plopped out a baby, got up, and carried on walking. OK, not quite. But they definitely stuck in my mind and maybe influenced my birth experience a little bit.
The reflex that catapults babies into the world with zero effort on the part of their Mother, is called the Fetal Ejection Reflex (FER) and is pretty rare. It almost never ever happens in a hospital environment, so very few doctors have witnessed it, which is why it doesn't really get written about much, in fact, the only conditions under which FER is generally experienced is when a labouring Mother is entirely undisturbed, so I was just lucky really that Marika arrived when she did and that we made the last minute unconscious decision to go midwife-free.
The good thing about Marika having rang Boyfriend's phone rather than the doorbell, was that we had a record of Quinn's time of birth - 7.27am - about two and half hours after I'd first got out of bed, and about an hour after my waters broke on the toilet.
I scooped up my tiny, blue, slippery baby, all long limbs and umbilical cord, and held her close to my chest, both of us naked and totally awesome. She didn't let out a cry until her Daddy had run back into the room, ready to catch her - only to realise he'd missed her entrance into the world all together. As he crashed on to the bed infront of us though and wrapped his arms around the both of us, she finally let out a loud, single cry to let us know that she was OK, and together we turned her over, away from my body to find out that she was, well, a "she".
I'm going to write a separate post about my experience of The Golden Hour (the first hour after birth) - so keep a look out for that if you're interested.

As always I have to take this opportunity to thank Seb and Boyfriend for being an awesome birthing team! Together we did the work of many midwives and obstetricians and I think we totally aced it personally!

Review: Kid's Pizza Making Party at Pizza Express (Ramsgate)

Yesterday we celebrated Seb's sixth birthday with a group of his close friends at our local Pizza Express restaurant. I'm going to write a few different posts around Seb's birthday but I thought I'd review our party experience independently for those who're maybe stuck for ideas, or want to know more about what's included in Pizza Express's party package before booking.

I've no doubt that the party format differs subtly depending on which restaurant you book with. Our local Pizza Express overlooks the royal harbour at Ramsgate, and has a separate private dining space which can seat up to fourteen children for parties.
Having the extra dining room meant that I didn't feel quite as bad for those people who'd come into the restaurant for a quiet, mid week treat! I believe the restaurant used to hold the parties in the main dining area but this, unsurprisingly, upset other customers!
Booking Seb's party at Pizza Express was super easy - we went for the maximum number of guests, and booked over the phone. We didn't have to pay a deposit or fill anything out - the manager just took a few details (number of children and approximate age range) and that was that - it was in their diary. I then arranged with the parents of the children attending to book a separate table in the main restaurant for those who didn't want to drop off their children and leave. We ended up with about eighteen parents and younger siblings for food and drinks on our table and the restaurant were really accommodating - even when everyone needed to pay for their individual orders.
My food, as always, was lovely - being vegan, Pizza Express is one of my go-to chain restaurants because I know like the back of my hand which of their dishes are suitable for vegans (or which substitutes to make) - as yet, whilst the service at Ramsgate can be monumentally slow, I've never had a bad meal.
Unsurprisingly, service was characteristically slow on our table but I'd forgive that given that they were trying to juggle a party of fourteen 5-6 year olds, plus our table of eighteen additional diners, and other tables in the restaurant.
So back to the party. The lady who ran Seb's party was fantastic. It always amuses me how well children behave for someone who isn't their everyday care giver. At one point I stuck my head in the door of the party room whilst she was teaching them about the ingredients in pizza dough - and they were all sat, silently enthralled.
The party began with some seated party games which I guess got them in the mood and probably gave the party leader the opportunity to get to know who was who in the group.
After a short while, pizza dough was brought out from the kitchen and the children were taught how to stretch it to make pizza. It was at this point that they were taught about the ingredients that go into pizza dough and where these are sourced from.
Once the dough was ready, the children had the opportunity to tour "behind the scenes" in the restaurant, visiting the kitchens and freezers, before returning to the party room to top their pizzas with their own choices from a range of toppings. Seb, unsurprisingly, opted for ham and cheese because he is painfully predictable and totally vegetable-phobic!
The pizzas went in to the oven and the children were served a starter of dough balls with garlic butter dip and a salad.
Then, their finished pizzas arrived fresh from the oven, and they got to eat their creations. I thought this would be a complete mess, and imagined some of the pizzas being inedible but actually, the whole group had done really well and everyone had a decent looking pizza to eat. Takeaway boxes were provided for anyone to take home any pizza that they didn't manage to finish, but they all seemed to enjoy what they'd made as there wasn't a huge amount of pizza going home!
Seb has a ridiculously wobbly tooth, right at the front, at the moment so I think that kind of hindered his pizza munching abilities! He did well though.
We provided our own birthday cake (birthday cake isn't something Pizza Express offer as part of their package) which was fine as I have a friend with a cake making business who made us an incredible pizza birthday cake. I might even review the cake separately because it was the bombdidillyom. So after the children had finished eating their pizzas we lit the candles and celebrating with some traditional Happy Birthday singing, before the children were served ice cream sundaes for pudding.
The children had also had unlimited fruit squash to drink throughout the party which was included in the package.
The party cost £11.95 per child (the cost of which I split with Seb's Dad) which I don't think is bad value at all, given that they were served a three course meal, and one poor lady had to spend two hours keeping fourteen young children calm and entertained (they were bouncing off of the walls by the end!)
I'm totally satisfied that we got really good value for money for under £170; fourteen children were fed, and had a really great time - the laughter throughout and huge smiles on their faces said it all, and Seb had a wonderful birthday which is, of course, the main thing.
The restaurant were really accommodating and patient and I really can't fault them on the party that they delivered.
Other parents commented on how nice it was to be able to sit and enjoy a meal and a glass of wine whilst the children were partying too - which made a nice change from the usual cup of tea at a soft play centre (not dissing soft play parties - they're our usual go-to!)
I think Seb and his friends were probably the perfect age for the party, I don't think I'd have wanted to do it with much younger children, as it does involve them being pretty engaged and independent of their parents for a couple of hours, but 5-6 and upwards get loads from the experience and it was totally stress free for us parents too!
This is one I'm going to stamp with my approval and recommend to other parents with school age kids. Pizza making parties are available at most Pizza Express restaurants.

Why do breastfed babies need vitamin supplements?

Breast milk is awesome y'all. It's the only food tailored to the needs of a human infant's developmental and health needs - and it's 100% natural.  We are lucky to live in the UK, where we have access to up to date information, and clean water - if someone chooses to feed their baby artificially, the risks associated with formula feeding can be reduced by proper preparation. However let's remember, however we choose to feed our babies, that if you consider breast milk alongside artificial baby milk made from corn syrup and powdered cow's milk, that one is obviously nutritionally more beneficial to a baby than the other. I don't hate formula feeding parents, that's just a fact that we can shrug off, accept, and move on.

So; why is it therefore, that breastfeeding Mums are advised to give their babies daily vitamin supplements from six months, where formula feeding Mums are not?
This is one of the many nuggets of advice and one of the typical conversations surrounding breastfeeding that leaves people believing that breastfeeding stops being "beneficial" after six months. Because parents are advised not to feed their babies anything except breast milk for the first six months of life, it's therefore assumed that after six months, it's preferable to move on to an alternative. Of course this is utter rubbish. Your breast milk does not decrease in quality after six months, nor does it stop providing your baby with everything from stem cells (not found in formula) to antibodies (not found in formula), as well as vitamins and iron (added to formula).
However, after around six months, most babies will begin to include solid food in their diets (not if they're Quinn though!) and they may no longer be getting all of the vitamins and iron that they need. A formula fed baby is already taking vitamin supplements, and has been since they began consuming formula - so really, the advice is that all babies should be taking a vitamin supplement from six months, it's just that formula fed babies don't have to take this separately from their infant formula.
One thing which is worth considering, where iron is concerned, is that this information pre-dates the common practice of delayed cord clamping. More and more babies are receiving all of the blood "owed to them" from their umbilical cord at birth. When Quinn was born, her cord was not clamped and cut until it had turned white and withered, meaning that she had her full potential blood volume inside her body. Unfortunately up until recently, immediate cord clamping was common practice (Seb's was cut within seconds of birth), meaning that baby's initial blood volume, and iron stores, were seriously short. Whilst it is advised that a baby can be expected to be using up their natural iron store by six months, this doesn't take into account that many babies will have much greater iron stores than previously expected of them, thanks to optimal cord clamping.
Vitamin D is the most commonly recommended vitamin for babies. It's added to infant formula and is added to some foods, but it's really difficult for us to make enough vitamin D in the Northern Hemisphere as we spend so little time undressed in direct sunlight - and when we do, we're smothered in factor 50! We need sunlight, and preferably naked arms and legs, in order to make our own Vitamin D, and in the UK, this is less common place, meaning we're at a much higher risk of deficiency. For this reason, babies can not rely on breastfeeding alone for all of the Vitamin D that they need, and they're probably not exposed to enough sunlight either. It's not that breastfeeding is somehow letting our babies down, simply that we're not really outdoors as much as nature intends for us to be!
Everything else, a baby should be able to get from the breast milk of his/her healthy Mother and a great, balanced diet. Offering babies fresh fruit and vegetables when they begin consuming solud foods is another great way of making sure that babies are getting plenty of naturally occurring vitamins, but weaning should always be initiated by the child - Quinn's not really eating yet at 38 weeks, so for her, breast milk is still her sole source of nutrition.
Your health visitor can give you more information on vitamin supplements, but I'd suggest that for the Vitamin D alone, it's worth taking advice from the NHS and WHO on this one, even though your breast milk is wonderful. As with anything, you'll find plenty of people who didn't supplement and "their children are fine" but a Vit D deficiency is pretty horrible so whilst I aim to provide everything else through diet, this is one area I'm prepared to accept a little help on.

Can Feminism Exist without Veganism?

The content of today's post is perhaps slightly more serious and thought provoking than I'd usually write, even when I've discussed veganism in previous posts. But hey-ho, here we go. Every now and again I like to write something a little less "Mummy Blogger".

If you're already vegan then most of this post will sit comfortably with you. For non-vegan readers though, and specifically those who would self-identify as feminists, things might be about to get kind of awkward. Please accept that I never mean to offend anyone, I'm never abusive towards non-vegans collectively, though I may have aggressively negative reactions to non-vegan behaviour, like the torture of innocent animals for example, but this isn't just an opportunity to slag off the animal consuming minority!

I've long considered myself a feminist, and I surround myself with people whose values mirror and uphold my own feminist ideals. Feminism though, perhaps unlike veganism, can be a deeply personal and subjective way of understanding how we fit into the world that we live in.

When I talk about being a feminist, I speak from a point of view that believes that an individual should not be unfairly discriminated against based on their gender. This isn't about holding up women as being superior to their male peers, or exclusively celebrating female triumphs. I believe, as a feminist, that no man should be unfairly discriminated against because he is a man - but let's be open and honest, this happens less often, and on less crucial platforms, than discrimination against women.
As a feminist I believe, quite simply, that two individuals, one male and one female, who hold identical positions with the same employer, should be paid equally for their work. I believe that jobs should be awarded to the best candidate - regardless of whether they're male or female - and with that I object to the practice of employing women simply to fulfil a requirement to appear fair - when there are better qualified male applicants for the position.
I believe that a woman should be able to walk down the street alone, free from fear of being harassed, or made to feel in any way uncomfortable, because she is a woman - by being subjected to comments on her physical appearance for example, or by being asked to behave in a particular way.
I believe that my daughter should be given the same opportunities at school as my son - that she shouldn't be told that she can not play football, and that he shouldn't be told that he can not be a cheerleader, if those are interests that either possess.
I want all of my children, once they're legally old enough, to carry a condom in their pocket, regardless of their gender, and not for one to be seen a responsible as a result, and the other recklessly promiscuous.
I'm certainly not some crazy man hater who's going to bust you in the balls for holding a door open to me in a blatant demonstration of how weak and incapable I am of living independently - I shall say thank you, and I'd be just as likely to hold the door open for you too, whether you're a man or a woman. I just think women should have to work just as hard as men to get what they want, and that we should be in a position to celebrate our differences, whilst enjoying the same opportunities.
Nobody should be more likely to experience violence, exploitation, discrimination, bullying or isolation, because of their genitalia, or indeed the gender that they identify with. Nobody.
Now veganism runs a number of parallels with feminism as a social justice movement. Overwhelmingly, a majority of people have vegan values, even if they refuse to live by them. Just as many people would agree with me that it's fundamentally immoral to be violent towards somebody simply because they're female, so most would agree that it's fundamentally immoral to commit animal cruelty. 
Most people that I know are opposed to animal violence. I know a lot of non-vegans who actively campaign on social media against animal abusers for example, signing petitions for harsher sentences for those who harm innocent animals, brandishing such people "sick in the head" or "monsters", cases where dogs have been set on fire for example, or kittens murdered in microwave ovens.  
Most of those same people however turn a blind eye to the necessary violence towards the animals that they eat, or use in their every day lives, for their leather handbags or wool coats. The suffering of these animals is easily comparable to the dog set on fire, or the microwaved kitten, but is considered socially acceptable in comparison.
This is called cognitive dissonance and is characterised as:
the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.
It's the same state of psychology that sees family take their young children to feed and snuggle newborn lambs at the farm, and then encourage their children to consume the muscles, body fat and tendons of those same animals once they're tortured and murdered in considerable numbers.
Thanks to cognitive dissonance, we can keep dogs as pets, showering them in love, affection and gifts - but we gladly eat the murdered corpses of pigs, who have a greater level of intelligence than dogs, and who have shown a similar ability to bond with and display loyalty towards human caregivers.
Cognitive dissonance is also at play in the contrasting attitudes and behaviours of non vegan feminists.
The treatment of animals within the agricultural industries, and the suffering, violence, exploitation and torture which is experienced as a result of gender, is overwhelming.
 Supporting the dairy industry, for example, is innately in opposition to feminist ideals.  Lactation is a uniquely female function, and therefore, these creatures are used by the dairy industry to make money - because they are female, and thus capable of a bodily function which we can use to make money from them.
A female cow is artificially inseminated against her will, forced into pregnancies after human "care providers" force their hands inside her anus and vagina in order to penetrate her with semen that they have forcibly collected from a bull. The amount of sexual/reproductive exploitation taking place without consent in those few actions is enough for us to recognise that these animals are suffering specifically for their gender. This is the sort of practice we would never ever accept in human realms.
Once the Mother carries and gives birth to her child, again, a uniquely female experience (excusing seahorses) she is separated from her child, forced into a further pregnancy before her body is recovered, and encouraged to continue producing milk for her stolen baby by intrusive machinery.
These practices reduce the cow's life span to about a quarter of what it should be. Regardless of whether cattle are grass fed, or even loved and adored by the humans that make money from them, it's an unavoidable truth that they are required to carry out female specific bodily functions for the gain of others, the cost of which is ultimately their own lives. This as well as a life time of mental anguish brought about by the constant loss of babies which they are bonded to due to hormonal surges in their bodies, like those experienced by human Mothers towards their newborn babies.
Eggs are another uniquely gender specific industry. Only female chickens (and ducks, geese, quail etc.) lay eggs. Regardless of whether chickens are factory farmed or live harmoniously in your back garden, the simply fact is that the use of chickens to provide eggs for human consumption relies on using someone's exclusively gender specific bodily function to benefit yourself. If the chicken was not female, she would not be capable of laying eggs, and therefore would not be "used" by her human captors to provide for them through the product of her gender.
If you keep chickens, you keep them because they're female, which is inherently not a feminist act.

As to whether all chickens suffer through egg production -this is fiercely debated, but why should it matter? The fact is that we take the animal for the sole reason that she is female, and we impose a particular lifestyle upon her as a result. Naturally, a hen would lay around 12 eggs in a year - but the production of eggs by those providing for human consumption is almost always much higher.  
Let us not forget the males in these industries though, because as I discussed at the beginning of this post, feminism for me is not about simply fighting female corners - it's about ensuring that nobody is treated with discrimination, violence or exploitation as a result of their gender.

So what of the male calves born into the dairy industry? Unable to perform the uniquely female function that makes money for their captors, they are separated from their Mothers and killed at a very early age for veal. Veal calves are killed after just days or weeks of life. Kept isolated and alone, they are forced into tiny crates to prevent them from moving, which would encourage the formation of muscle fibre, that would mean their meat would be less tender (and therefore less profitable). Tortured with fear and loneliness, it's obvious that veal calves suffer between birth and death, and we can be confident that their experience is uniquely assigned to them because they were born male.

Each of these tiny crates contains a newborn calf; scared, alone and calling for his Mum.
In the egg industry, chicks are sorted upon hatching, female chicks being kept alive as the next generation of egg layers, but males, being the "wrong gender" for the job, are either thrown alive into meat grinding machines, or simply thrown in their thousands into plastic bags to crush one another and suffocate to death.

The treatment of male infants within both dairy and egg industries as a result of their gender is an obvious feminist issue.

Of course I'm not suggesting that the efforts of prominent feminists to close the gaps between the sexes and secure fairer treatment for people of any gender are not entirely invalidated without veganism. The social media campaigns to end animal welfare travesties such as the dolphin cove slaughter in Taiji, Japan are still important, despite being predominantly supported by well meaning but hypocritical non-vegans, and so the feminist campaigns run by hypocritical non-vegans are equally useful.

However, it seems to me unacceptable that the feminist movement continues to observe complete cognitive dissonance and ignores the glaring feminist issues that exist for non-human animals, animals who, like those most vulnerable in human society, have no voice of their own.


TotsBots EasyFits Stars: Review

Quinn's been wearing TotsBots nappies (as well as some other brands) since she was born. Her first nappies were adorable TotsBots TeenyFits, which come in a tiny newborn size suitable for use on babies as little as 5lbs.
We've always liked TotsBots nappies as a daytime nappy, mainly because I like the patterns, and also because I'm keen to support British companies, manufacturing here in Great Britain, as is the case with TotsBots, who hail from Glasgow.
I have found in the past that we've had to change our TotsBots all-in-one nappies after about two hours, to ensure they don't begin to leak, particularly at the top, across the tummy, I've also had a few explosive breastfed baby poo incidents that have resulted in ruined clothes, but this hasn't been a unique problem to my TotsBots nappies and I'm pretty sure we've all been there! As a rule though, my TotsBots nappies, if changed regularly, have been perfectly satisfactory.
I was really excited though when I heard that TotsBots were making a few key changes to the design of their all-in-one EasyFit design, and introducing the new and improved EasyFit Star, to replace the previous EasyFit V4.
When the lovely people at TotsBots asked whether Quinn and I would like to trial the EasyFit Stars I obliviously jumped at the chance.

We received five nappies, which would typically last us Quinn's waking daytime hours. Three of these were in block colours; Sweet Pea (green), Sugar Plum (purple) and Pumpkin (orange), and two designs from TotBot's Elementals range; Twinkle (moons and shooting stars) and Tweet (song birds).
As I'd used EasyFits in the past, I was really comparing the new Star nappies to their predecessor, and couldn't really treat them as a brand new product, as someone who was new to the brand might be able to, so let's look at what's changed.

Stitch Free Seams - The cuffs and edges of the nappy are no longer externally stitched, which means that the nappy sits snugger to the skin, and no gaps are created by stitched edges. I wasn't convinced that this would make that much of a difference, however we had no edge leaks at all from the nappies all day.
Buffer Zones - The nappies now feature leak-proof buffer zones, including a larger leak-resistant panel across the waist band (where I'd previously experienced the most leaks from my TotsBots nappies.) This has made the world of difference. Even with Quinn taking a nap, and laying partially on her front, or spending time in her carrier where her tummy is pressed against mine - we had absolutely no leaks, and no irritation to her skin either.
Bamboo Core - The EasyFit nappy now features a super absorbent bamboo core. I love bamboo as an absorbent nappy material. I've previously raved about the performance of bamboo nappies, as it's such a thirsty fabric. Quinn wears bamboo overnight as it's so absorbent, and I'm really glad to see TotsBots embracing the bamboo too! It's made an absolute difference to the performance of the TotsBots EasyFit. These are now an incredibly absorbent nappy. Gone are the days of two hour changes. I put an EasyFit Star on Quinn as a night nappy - as an experiment really, though I totally expected leaks - nothing, from a ten hour wear! I would never get away with this with an unboosted V4.

These will now probably become my most-recommended nappy. I'd previously encouraged people to opt for Little Lamb bamboo nappies with Little Lamb bombproof wraps - and I'd still stand by that system as a really reliable and high performance nappy. But the problem with the Little Lamb nappies is that they're so so bulky. I know a lot of people only use them at night for that reason. They're huge on the bum, and I'd had to pretty much give up putting Quinn in trousers because her bottom was so big! The EasyFit Star however, performs on exactly the same level, offering the same level of absorbency, and leak proof-ness, without the bulk. Quinn's still got that puffier, more rounded bottom thanks to her nappy, so I'd still opt for as much "cut for cloth" clothing as possible, but at least leggings are an option again!
 I love the designs available, and whilst I haven't seen them 'in the flesh' yet, it's great to see TotsBots releasing some new patterns with their brand new range of Story Time prints, but the block colours still look really great - and I'll always stay true to the Elementals range, because Twinkle has always been one of my favourite nappy designs!
If you'd like to see some more photos of Quinn in her EasyFit nappies and to see our day in EasyFit Stars in pictures - simply search for #EasterWithTotsBots on Instagram!
TotsBots Easyfit Stars retail for £16.99 per patterned nappy, and £15.99 for the block colours, but can also be bought in packs at better value.

What The Kids Are Reading: April 2016

OK, so Quinn's not 'reading' yet! (Breast milk is good, but it isn't that good). I love looking through books with her when we get a few quiet moments though.

The "That's Not My..." books from Usborne have always been a hit. Quinn's recently taken on Seb's collection of these tactile, touchy-feeling textured books, and we have many, from That's Not My Train (in Italian) to That's Not My Penguin (in French).
That's Not My Lamb (in good old English) was my gift to Seb on his first ever Easter, so we've been looking at that recently - in the spirit of Spring, and I bought Quinn That's Not My Bunny for her first Easter this year.
We've also been enjoying the 20th anniversary board book edition of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Seb owns a lovely copy of this but I try only to look at board books with Quinn at the moment, as she grabs everything and loves to screw up and tear paper! This book was a "new baby" gift from Boyfriend's sister and her family and it's one of Seb's favourite stories - he's really loved being able to share it with his sister thanks to this version. The story is unaltered - the only change in this Special Edition is to a board book format which makes this classic more accessible to younger children.
I bought Seb a couple of new books last month to allow us to talk a bit more about Spring, and the changes that we could expect to see this month.
Tree by Britta Teckentrup, is such a beautiful rhyming book, it's an ideal length for bedtime reading and the illustations are really whimsical and pretty. The book follows a single tree (and it's resident owl) through a full year, describing, in verse, the changes in nature that the owl observes with each change of the seasons. Seb is really taken with it and has chosen it from all of his books several times lately when I've asked him to choose a book at bedtime.

Another range of Usborne books that we love in our house are the "Look Inside" books, which have lots of flaps to lift and uncover interesting facts. Seb likes these as it gives him an element of control when we're reading together. Look Inside Space is very well read here, so I decided to get Look Inside The Garden; again, to discuss seasonal changes at this time of year, and introduce topics like pollination, which are relevant now that the bees are waking up and Spring flowers are in bloom.
Seb's like me, he really enjoys non-fiction reading. Like all of the books in this series, Look Inside The Garden is colourful and fun. It's definitely aimed at children younger, but he likes lifting the flaps and we tend to go off on a tangent as he asks more complex questions that arise from the content of the book.
Super Happy Magic Forest is just amazing, if you love silly humour in children's books (as we do!). The book interchanges between a picture book and comic strip format, and there's lots of humorous dialogue between the characters - four "heroes" (a unicorn, a fawn, a toadstool and a garden gnome) who have to travel to save the Mystical Crystals of Life from goblins. It's a bit of a piss-take of adult "epic quest" type fantasy books, and on that level, it's quite amusing for grown up readers. Basically, *spoiler alert*, the goblins turn out to be really friendly and just love dunking fig rolls in their tea, and the true thief of the Crystals of Life turns out to be an oak tree, uncovered as the "root" (get it?) of all evil...

The last book that I'm sharing this month is Amazing Animal Journeys by Chris Packham. We don't look at zoo themed books at home because, as a vegan, it isn't really a social norm that I want to encourage, so I'm trying to counter that by ensuring that the children have lots of books about wild animals - actually, you know, in the wild. This book is by Chris Packham (of Springwatch and the like) and is really fascinating, even for adults. The information about animal migration is broken down into easy to follow facts, with lots of beautiful illustrations and diagrams. It's just a really thoughtfully put together non-fiction that truly supports my vegan values, so gets a big thumbs up from me!
I'm looking for book recommendations for next month. I want to get Seb a few new funny books, by which I mean books that he will find funny (think poo, underpants, farts... that kind of thing!) but that are obviously suitable for a just-turned-six-year-old. Please do get in touch with your suggestions!

10 Cheap Things To Do With Children In Spring

Spring has officially... sprung. The weather is still a bit changeable, and we're making a lot of use of new waterproofs, but we've had a few days of glorious sunshine, and nature is certainly waking up after what's felt (to me at least) like the longest of Autumn/Winters.
Here are a few of the things I'm most looking forward to doing with the children this Spring - I'd love to hear your suggestions too - please leave a comment at the end of this post, or get in touch with your own ideas.
  1. Feed Lambs - I love lambs. Lambing season is a bit pants when you're vegan but I still love seeing them dotted across fields (and try to distract myself from the reality of their fate). There are lots of rescue sanctuaries that take in farm animals and save them from torture and slaughter. Avoid going along to "lambing days" at working farms or farm parks that confine animals to make a profit. Rescue charities are usually set up as registered charities and rely on public donations to provide for the animals in their care. It's a nice opportunity to speak to children about extending kindness and respect to animals - and if the sanctuary has lambs (as they likely will in Spring, many orphaned lambs are left to die as rearing them isn't cost effective) they'll generally be more than happy for children to get involved at feeding time. I'll list a few sanctuaries at the end of this post, but there are plenty across the country.
  2. Plant a Bee Garden - Bee numbers are still in decline, so everyone needs to do their bit to support wild bee populations. Even if you don't have a garden, you can plant a bee garden in a pot, window box or trough. Alternatively you can buy Wild Flower Grenades and could go and bomb some local wasteland with them to create a little bee haven in the wilderness. The Royal Horticultural Society have some great downloadable sheets that list the best flowers to plant to encourage pollinators.
  3. Colour The Pavement - Sunny Spring days are the perfect opportunity to get creative with chalks outdoors as there's always the promise of a Spring rain shower to wash everything away soon. It's easy to make your own wash-away pavement chalks from one part water, one part corn flour, and some cool food colourings.
  4. Feed The Ducks - Another baby animal opportunity - ponds and rivers should soon play host to fluffy ducklings. Don't give ducks, and especially their babies, bread - it isn't good for their tummies. Instead, take a bag of frozen peas, shredded lettuce and halved grapes.
  5. Walk In The Woods - I love woodland walks, even more so in Spring, when everything is stirring back to life, than in the Autumn when most people descend upon the UK's forests to admiring the changing colours. It's a great time for finding bluebells in the forest - which are an amazing sight. The Woodland Trust website is a good place to start when trying to find a local public woodland.
  6.  Build a Nest Box - The RSPB have an easy to follow set of instructions on building your own nest box for garden birds. Red Toolbox are one of my favourite kid's companies - making kits with real tools, to get children engaged with woodwork from a young age - they sell a lovely kit for children to make their own birdhouse. If you don't have access to a garden, or own cats (in which case it isn't advisable to encourage baby birds and their parents into your garden) then you could make an effort to collect and strategically place some nesting materials for birds to collect. You could offer pet fur, grass clippings, moss, straw and cotton wool.
  7. Find Some Frogspawn  - Don't move or disturb frogspawn - doing so can aid the migration of invasive plants and frog diseases, which can cause long term damage to frog populations. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't necessary to take frogspawn home to teach your children about a frog's life cycle. Spotting frogspawn in nature can be incorporated into a lovely long walk, and children can learn more from books and the internet.
  8. Spring Cleaning - There'll always be at least one day in the Easter School holidays where you a) have no plans and b) the weather is pants. It's a great opportunity to get kids involved in giving your house/flat a good deep clean - even if they're not actually that helpful. It's also a good time of year to deep clean the toy box and kid's wardrobe, and donate any toys and clothes which aren't being used to a local charity shop.
  9. Plant Sunflowers - Sunflowers are my favourite flowers. It's best to sow your sunflowers from around mid-April. Seeds are cheap and it's a good bit of friendly competition to see who can grow the tallest sunflower (in which case go for "American Giant Sunflowers" which can reach 4m in height). If you don't want to grow an absolute monster there are smaller varieties - "Big Smile Sunflowers" only reach heights of about 30cm.
  10. Make a Butterfly Feeder - like birds and bees, butterflies, with their populations in steep decline, need a little bit of help to thrive. When butterflies first emerge they are often lethargic and most varieties rely on nectar for sustenance. You can help butterflies along by making your own butterfly feeder. The RSPCA have some great instructions on how to make a feeder for the butterflies in your garden (all you'll need to provide them with is some sugar water).
(Just Some) UK Farm Sanctuaries
Sheep Ahoy, Kent
F.R.I.E.N.D Sanctuary, Kent
Hugletts Wood Farm Animal Sanctuary, East Sussex
Tower Hill Stables - Essex
C-A-L-F Sanctuary, Yorkshire
Hillside Animal Sanctuary, Norfolk
The Farm Animal Sanctuary, Worcestershire


Why My Daughter Won't Be Going To The Zoo

We're going to the zoo, zoo, zoo.
You can come too, too, too.
Except we're not because as a vegan Mum, zoos don't really feature in the way I want my daughter to understand the world.
There's a distinction to be made straight away between my two children. Seb was already five when I finally became vegan. In his first five years he'd regularly visited zoos as a fun, dare I say, "educational" day out. He's been to zoos and farm parks with me, with friends, and on school trips since he was in pre-school.
After the Easter holidays his class are taking another trip to a local wildlife park and I've decided not to keep him off of the trip. It's somewhere he's visited before, he went on the school trip last year which was to an alternative wildlife park, and he's already aware that the trip has been proposed (and that his friends are attending).
Seb isn't being raised vegan. He splits his time between me and his non-vegan Father and has lived an entirely non-vegan life up until I became vegan.
Quinn, on the other hand, has never been to a zoo, at the moment she has no concept that zoos exist, and I shall never go to a zoo again in my life - so it stands to reason that as Quinn's being raised vegan, she too won't visit a zoo.
A few people probably think this is cruel, and that I'm depriving her of the opportunity to see incredible wild animals "up close" and in the flesh. I'd challenge anyone to tell me that her life really will be poorer if she doesn't see an elephant. Up until two years ago I'd never seen a panda (two years ago I saw the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo), I've still to this day never seen a polar bear, nor have I ever seen a blue whale. I was able to appreciate all of these animals, to learn about them, being amazed and fascinated by them, and I continue to campaign for their freedom and right to life, without seeing them up close. Quinn's experiences will be the same, unless she has the amazing opportunity to see animals uninterrupted in their natural habitat.
I could go on all day listing the animals and birds I've never seen in person. As could most people I'd imagine, and yet we're all very much aware that these animals exist, and you know - we're surviving from one day to the next without feeling as though we've been totally hard done by because we've never been within spitting distance of a platypus.
There was recently a parenting bloggers event taking place at SeaLife Centre (I'm grouping aquariums with zoos here as they're pretty much the same thing) and when I expressed my utter sadness at sharks being kept in tanks, one parent responded by agreeing with me that it was cruel, but it was a great opportunity for her children to learn about them.
I'll be honest, I wasn't even able to respond to her because going full preachy vegan isn't my thing, but can you honestly tell me that children can't learn about sharks unless they observe them, displaying completely unnatural behaviour, confined to a tiny tank. Can we even conceive the size of a shark's natural habitat, the miles and miles of ocean that they'll cover in a day. We're still learning about sharks, and the only way we'll have the facts to educate our children about these incredible creatures is by leaving them alone, not imprisoning them like the poor victims of the Victorian freak show industry.
I love my daughter, goodness, I love her beyond any measure, but the moment of pleasure that she may take from viewing a monkey, sadly staring back at her from behind prison bars, is not worth that monkey's whole lifetime of being offered only a "reproduction" of his or her natural lifestyle. Some branches slung together with rope and tyres to swing on instead of the vast open rainforest (which we're decimating, incidentally) isn't an appropriate lifetime for him so that my daughter can look at him for a fleeting moment.
And that's what brings me on to my next point, conservation. One way in which zoo visitors make themselves feel better about the fact they're no different from the people who once paid to take tours of mental asylums, is to comfort themselves in the knowledge that zoos partake in conservation and research.
Again, this is one of those statements that suggest an alternative isn't possible. Can we not conserve wild animals without removing them from their natural habitats and putting them on display? Everything about a British zoo, the sounds, the smells, the weather, is completely wrong for most of the animals living there. A field on the outskirts of Leister is not Africa, however much dust you throw down. We can protect animals, we can save them from extinction, through protecting habitats, creating natural reserves, coming down hard on poachers and hunters. It's unnecessary to force animals into cages; why are we not forcing our fellow humans to change the way that they live in order to stop these species from being wiped off of the face of the Earth?
Zoo's aren't the most ethical solution to animal conservation; they're the easiest. They allow the desecration of natural habitat to go on across the globe whilst a few numbers of each animal are kept in cages and forced into breeding programmes not because the Earth needs these creatures roaming free across it's plains, but because humans need them, to look at.
There are lots of animal conservation charities that could benefit from the money people spend on visiting zoos, to carry out conservation work on the ground, without needing to capture or force into breeding, a single animal. If people donated £10pp to these charities, instead of paying to visit a zoo (and I realise that some zoo's also have charity bodies doing conservation work with wild populations, but the captive animal part of their business is still unnecessary) we could make a real difference.
If all of the elephants in the world exist only in zoos are we actually conserving anything? At least for any purpose other than our own entertainment? What are we keeping the species alive for if they're only behind bars?
Would I rather see species extinct than existing purely in captivity. Yes and no. I think where our only options are to breed from captive animals, where reintroducing those species to the wild is never going to be an option, then yes, let that species die out, better that than to exist only for human entertainment. If captive breeding can be used to repopulate wild communities then maybe it serves a purpose, but at what cost?
My daughter won't go to a zoo because she'll be busy studying the bugs in the garden, visiting charities that rescue and rehabilitate native wildlife, and learning about the wild animals on her doorstep, feeding garden birds, listening out for foxes. We'll also use books, television, the Internet, all wonderful resources, to learn about wild animals elsewhere in the world that we might one day be lucky enough to travel and see for ourselves, just like we see woodlice in our garden.
Is it cruel not to take my daughter to the zoo? Not as cruel as it is to lock a giraffe in a barn over night. Will she be deprived of a proper childhood as a result? No more deprived than I am having never seen a real life wolverine.
I want my daughter to learn about the varied life on our planet, not the varied, artificial lives created and maintained in zoos. I want her to learn compassion, not dominance. I want her to respect animals, not observe them.
Seb's Dad will always take him to zoos, I have to accept that. He's grown up on being able to list "Zoo Animals" not "Wild Animals", because that's what we title children's books. I don't know how to undo the social conditioning he's already been party to without upsetting him, but Quinn is a very different story, and she won't be going to a zoo unless she's old enough to take herself (and I hope she never makes that choice).

10 Things I Didn't Know About Breastfeeding

When I had my first baby in 2010 I knew nothing about breastfeeding. In fact, I knew nothing about babies. Whilst I couldn't escape the baby bit though, I did opt not to breastfeed. This isn't a post about why I didn't breastfeed Seb, but mainly it was down to not being aware of the reasons that I should, and not being aware of the risks associated with formula feeding.
Once Seb was born I made a lot of new friends, and amongst my new "Mummy Friends" were a number of breastfeeding Mums. Over the five years between Seb's birth and Quinn's birth I learned a lot about breastfeeding and human breast milk, and I've learned even more over the past eight months of my own breastfeeding experience.
Here are just ten of the totally awesome things I've learned about breast milk.
  1. Breast milk is alive. Unlike formula milk, which is a non active substance, breast milk (from all mammalian species) is full of live ingredients which help to keep babies healthy, and aids their development.
  2. Mother's bodies can "read" their baby's saliva. Breastfeeding research suggests that when a child is feeding at the breast, their mouth forms a vacuum, and their saliva enters the nipple during the feed. The Mother's body can then recognise any germs or allergens that the child may need protection from, and will tailor the next feed with specific antibodies.
  3. Breastfed babies don't "get sick less often". When I formula fed my first baby I heard a lot of "Breast Is Best" messages, which I managed to tune out, or complain about. One of the ideas that seemed to be banded about was that breast milk protects babies from getting poorly. Unsurprisingly, in my experience, this has always been met with objection, with people on both sides of the fence knowing breastfed babies who are always ill, and super healthy formula fed babies. It turns out though that I, and a lot of other people, had misunderstood the science being referenced. How prone a child is to picking up common illnesses is probably genetic, and has nothing to do with feeding methods. Some children will get poorly often, some, hardly ever. Even luck may play a small role here. Human breast milk, and the act of breastfeeding, is designed to help babies to get the right antibodies to fight the illnesses they encounter, and to build a future immunity to those illnesses. Breast milk won't prevent a child from getting sick, but will take a large amount of strain off of the child's own system in fighting the germs. Formula however, weakens a child's immune system, making them more likely to catch illnesses. It may still be that a child has a great genetic immunity to common illnesses, and therefore, will typically avoid most colds and snuffles, however, they'll still be unwell more often over the first seven years of their life than they would be if they were breastfed, and will have a weaker immunity to those particular illnesses later in life.
  4. Breastfeeding Mums are less likely to suffer from PND. Again, breast milk isn't some miracle cure here. Breastfeeding Mums do suffer from PND, and if you see someone use the phrase "breastfeeding protects Mother's from PND and PPP" then you're right to flick them on the nipple. Breastfeeding does not protect a woman from suffering post partum mental health problems. Formula feeding however, or feeding donated breast milk, does increase a woman's likelihood of suffering from PND. There are few reasons. In some cases, it may be a direct and obvious cause. Where a woman wants to breastfeed, but is unable to for whatever reason, PND may be tied in to guilt or regret surrounding formula feeding. Formula fed babies are also more likely to suffer from colic, and Mother's of colicky babies are more likely to suffer PND. However, one of the leading relationships between formula feeding and PND is much more complex, and involves the hormones, oxytocin and prolactin in particular, that are associated with breastfeeding. A Mother's body which knows it has given birth, and knows that it is not breastfeeding a baby, may result in a brain that believes it has lost it's baby, thus entering a depressive state. This makes a lot of sense when you consider some of the most common symptoms of PND, which include anxiety surrounding a baby's safety and health, and panic about being separated from a baby, as well as doubting one's ability as a Mother.
  5. Nipples smell like amniotic fluid. It's unlikely that any breastfeeding Mum is able to smell her own nipples, but it's been discovered that the Montgomery glands, the little bumps that are often visible in a ring around the areola, or coloured area of the breast surrounding the nipple, secrete tiny amounts of a fluid which matches the smell of amniotic fluid. This smell is familiar and comforting to babies and helps them to find the nipple when their eye sight is still immature, and also helps them to settle at the breast. This is also one of the reasons that formula fed babies will "root" at the breast, long after a Mother stops producing milk.
  6. Breast milk has more than 200 known components. That's a lot of ingredients, all of them in some way beneficial to a human baby, compared to the 40-ish ingredients in infant formula, some of which, such as modified corn syrup (which believe it or not is the main ingredient in infant formula), aren't useful to a baby and may in fact be detrimental to their long term health (MCS has a strong association with childhood and adult obesity).
  7. Breastfeeding a toddler is beneficial. Before I started breastfeeding I always found breastfeeding a child older than two a somewhat uncomfortable concept. I had friends who breastfed their children beyond three, and I couldn't get my head around it. It's only now that I'm breastfeeding my own child I realise how horrible it would be to actually stop breastfeeding before your baby was ready, and also, I've learned how beneficial breast milk is to a child's health, long after their second birthday. There's this weird idea that breast milk loses it's nutritional value once the recipient reaches a certain age, which is complete nonsense, breast milk would have health benefits for anyone, regardless of age.
  8. Body builders spend a lot of money on breast milk. Tied in to Point 7 - anyone benefits from consuming breast milk, though most humans will naturally cease to feed from their Mother at some point between four and seven years. However - so beneficial is breast milk, even to adults, body builders pay seriously good money for that liquid gold! Who knew?
  9. You CAN'T copy breast milk. When I was a formula feeding Mum I believed the marketing spiel spun by formula manufacturers that formula was the result of decades of research into breast milk, and that formula's were a replication of breast milk somehow. It's only now that I understand what breast milk is, and I know that formula is basically corn syrup and powdered cows milk, that I realise what nonsense this is. No two women make identical breast milk, so there is no one "model" of human breast milk to replicate, and breast milk changes with every single feed to meet a baby's needs, whether that's a fattier milk, a more watery milk, a milk with very specific antibodies in it because the baby licked the window on the train... as a child grows up, breast milk changes and adapts to meet the needs of that child... nothing that you can make in a laboratory with our current technology can do that. Any claim by a formula company to be making a product based on breast milk is basically a cleverly worded lie. It contains the laboratory altered breast milk of another species and that's about as close as you're getting.
  10. Breastfeeding eliminates the risk of some cancers. Following new research, the wording surrounding breastfeeding and breast cancer has changed. It used to be accepted that breastfeeding for a minimum of two years reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer. However, wording has now been approved to state that breast feeding eliminates the risk of non hereditary breast cancer, where other lifestyle factors are removed. That means breastfeeding protects women from breast cancer if they eat well, don't smoke etc. - other than where the cancer is a hereditary disease passed down through genetics.
I'm so glad that I decided to breastfeed my second baby, and I'm also annoyed at myself that I didn't breastfeed my first. It's way too late for guilt, and, fingers crossed, he's doing just fine. However, I now realise that formula wasn't the ideal food for him, considering he had a Mother who was capable of giving him breast milk. Know better, do better though, that's what I have to live by.
I'm really comforted that whilst there's no hereditary breast cancer in my family, I should avoid this horrible, fierce and deadly disease by living healthily, as long as I continue to breastfeed Quinn until her second birthday (ish). Even if you choose not to breastfeed, this alone should be one reason that everyone celebrates and encourages breastfeeding wherever they can, if only to save thousands of lives each year.
I'm proud to breastfeed, very proud to breastfeed. I'm also proud to have raised such a lovely, kind, clever boy in Seb - my formula fed baby. Breast feeding continues to amaze me, and I'm fascinated by the process and the incredible features of breast milk - nature is such a clever thing! I've got super love for all loving, hard working Mamas, however they feed their babies, but I'll never stop being passionate about boobies!