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! 

My Hypnobirth: How Natal Hypnotherapy Helped Me and My Baby

I shared my birth story from Quinn's birth (here), and I touched, in that post, on how I used hypnobirthing techniques throughout my labour. However, I didn't really go in to that much detail of what my hypnobirth experience involved and how it helped me.
Quinn's eight months old now, but I'm still grateful every day that I discovered hypnobirthing and that it gave me the birth experience that it did.
When I was pregnant, I sought out stories of natural, calm births, as this is was everything that I envisaged, especially as I was set on giving birth at home. I found that overwhelmingly, most of the women who had the sort of birth experience I dreamed of, had used hypnobirthing, so naturally I did some more research.
I first read about the Mongan Method which is one of the most popular forms of modern hypnobirthing. I found most of the language way too dated (and American) for my liking though, and actually found the focus on very specific breathing exercises to be slightly overwhelming. I worried more about whether I was "breathing correctly" than I managed to relax with this method. There were different breathing exercises for different stages of labour and I just couldn't see myself being that regimented whilst giving birth - it didn't seem very intuitive at all!
There was a lot that I liked about the Mongan Method, and the reading that I did gave me a good understanding of how hypnobirthing and self hypnosis work, but I knew I wanted something a little more intuition focussed.
After being grumpy about the fact that hypnobirthing classes were too expensive for my budget, I came across Natal Hypnotherapy on Twitter, after seeing a midwife discussing the four pieces of advice she'd given her pregnant daughter (use natal hypnotherapy, turn down induction, ask for delayed cord clamping, make sure you get an hour's skin to skin after birth).
Natal Hypnotherapy gave me the option to "self teach" myself the necessary relaxation techniques, no classes necessary, and what's more, there were no fancy breathing exercises to master... it's a British programme too, so the language used was familiar. Sounded perfect.
I was saving up to buy the full set of Natal Hypnotherapy at home products, when my best friend offered to buy them for me as a pregnancy gift - which was amazing. Plus she's now pregnant and has borrowed everything back from me!
I read the book that came in the pack "Effective Birth Preparation" by Maggie Howell, from cover to cover with great enthusiasm, it was basically everything that I wanted from a hypnobirthing approach. The book was full of positive hypnobirthing stories, but was also realistic and unlike some other approaches, didn't try to make promises about totally pain free birth, nor did it ignore the fact that not everybody has a beautiful, serene natural delivery. The book covered how hypnobirthing could help hospital deliveries and even women experiencing induction and caesarean sections, which was really refreshing. I got Boyfriend to read the book too and he was totally on board with everything it suggested; which gave us a great base on which to prepare for our baby's arrival.
From about 20 weeks in my pregnancy I began listening to the Pregnancy Relaxation CD from Natal Hypnotherapy as often as I could. This is a pregnancy specific guided meditation and it's just lovely. I found that it made a huge difference in how much I was able to enjoy my pregnancy. I felt a much deeper, more spiritual, connection to my baby as our daily meditation allowed us to connect with one another, and for me to take time out to really focus on her and on my own body. I also found that when things did get stressful, my daily meditation kept me grounded and I was totally chilled out throughout most of my pregnancy. I was also very active, I didn't really suffer too much with extreme lethargy, as my mind was well rested, even if my night time sleep was disturbed with frequent toilet trips and discomfort. 
From about 30 weeks I began listening to the Effective Home Birth Preparation CD which whilst another guided meditation, introduced me to the affirmations that I'd carry with me into labour. As I entered a state of deep relaxation listening to the CD, I'd absorb messages about my own ability to safely deliver my child at home, how my birthing environment was the perfect place to give birth, and how my body was ready for this process.
Honestly, I fell asleep every single time I listened to the CD and when I woke up I couldn't remember what I'd heard. Still to this day I couldn't tell you how the CD ends! I got as far as a section where I'd imagine myself walking along the edge of an orchard. It's a real life orchard, close to where my Grandparents used to live, which I visited a lot on dog walks as a child. The CD told me to envisage somewhere relaxing where I was surrounded by nature, and the orchard instantly came to mind and stayed with me. When I reached the end of the orchard I would find myself looking down into a valley - with more fruit trees rising up on the other side, and in the bottom of the valley was a huge oak tree (this image was planted by the guided meditation on the CD) - at that point - without fail - I'd fall asleep, so I've no idea what happens after that!
I'd read several testimonials from women who'd also slept through a majority of the Natal Hypnotherapy preparation and then gone on to totally benefit from it at the time, as they'd absorbed it all subconsciously - so I tried not to worry too much. In the run up to birth I had absolutely no nerves or worries, thanks to listening to the CDs and doing plenty of reading of positive birth stories and surrounding myself with positive people, including my doulas. 
I've no doubt that this complete lack of anxiety contributed to me going into labour spontaneously in my sleep. Chances are I laboured for several hours, cosy and warm in bed, wrapped up against my boyfriend in total peace, before I woke at 5am needing a wee and realising that my stomach and pelvis were uncomfortable. I would imagine that my subconscious mind, completely used to being absorbed in the messages of the natal hypnotherapy meditation, simply adopted these as labour began, and didn't even wake me up.
Once I was awake, and not entirely convinced that I was in labour, as I was uncomfortable but in no way in pain, I used the visualisation of the apple orchard to keep myself calm, and scrolled through Twitter in between the gentle contractions.
Later on after my waters had broken, I spend at least 40 minutes in the bath, using these visualisations to keep myself happy and peaceful, and until my contractions became very intense I was completely and utterly relaxed.
There was a point when I couldn't for the life of me remember anything I'd "learned" from Natal Hypnotherapy. I was on my knees on the bedroom floor, biting my boyfriend's arm through a particularly intense contraction and he told me to remember my visualisations and I just said "I can't remember any of it."
I was convinced at that point that I was failing miserably and that I wasn't going to be a hypnobirthing success story after all (I had imagined being in my birthing pool, listening to gentle music and imagining myself under that oak tree, when in reality, we hadn't even had time to inflate the pool). 
However, I'd read about the "self doubt phase" of labour in Maggie's book, so I had this bizarre internal conversation that went something like:
"oh my God, I can't do this, this is terrible, I'm shit."
"Ahh, but you're only saying that because you're in the self doubt phase of labour, which all women experience, and it's a good sign, it means baby's nearly here."
"No, no, I definitely can't do this, I'm not even getting a break in between contractions. I can officially confirm that hypnobirthing doesn't work."
"The book said you'd say that though didn't it?"
"Fuck you."
Just as the book predicted, the self doubt phase came and went right as my baby began to descend into the birth canal. And that's when I was enveloped by a complete sense of calm again. Back under my oak tree, Sun beating down on my back. Even as I realised that Quinn's head had emerged and we hadn't even called a midwife, and my five year old son came in to ask what was going on, my Natal Hypnotherapy preparation allowed me to totally relax and enjoy every single sensation.
Thanks to this sense of complete bliss (borderline euphoria - just amazing) I didn't push once, and Quinn just gently descended into the birth canal with several waves that surged through my whole body,. She turned, and she was born, with seeingly no effort from me. My whole body just relaxed to allow her a smooth easy passage into the world.
I planned a calm, gentle birth. I actually got something a million times better than that - yes there was that bit in the middle where I had all of Mother Earth's contraction in one go, and the self doubt phase of labour was very real for me, but I realise that if I hadn't been prepared with Natal Hypnotherapy, this is the point that I'd have panicked, and my labour would probably have stalled. Had I been in a hospital there's a very real chance that I'd have declared I couldn't cope and would have asked for drugs, even though I wasn't actually in pain I was just off my face on hormones and the intensity of the experience. A midwife, had she been present, would almost certainly have wanted to examine me at that point, which has been shown, beyond any doubt, to slow, stall, or even completely ruin, labour and a woman's chances at a vaginal birth. I'm so glad that I was alone and totally prepared to feel that scared and vulnerable in that moment, because despite the moment of fear, I completely understood what was happening to me, and if anything, it spurred me on.
Not many women get the experience of the Foetal Ejection Reflex as it can only really occur in completely quiet and undisturbed surroundings, which are rare these days in the birth room, so the fact that Natal Hypnotherapy means I'll always have that memory, is something I really treasure. I'm also so grateful to Maggie for giving that birth to my daughter, how could I have wanted anything different for her, than to glide in to the world without any stress?

7 month update

Argh! Quinn's well into her seventh month, in fact, when people ask me how old she is I'm already responding with "almost eight months", and I haven't published a seven month update! 

Thankfully, not a huge amount has changed since six months (both reassuringly and sometimes frustratingly). There are still a number of things that Quinn shows very very little enthusiasm for. 
These include: 
  • eating
  • sleeping for any length of time
  • sleeping in her cot, at all
  • crawling
  • rolling over
  • pulling herself up stuff
  • teethers or the general putting of stuff in her mouth
  • smiling at strangers
  • the pushchair

She's still breastfeeding probably eight times in 24 hours as an absolute minimum, but generally it's every two hours during the day and everything three hours through the night. Sometimes it's every fourty five minutes. She is a serious boob monster! I'm just mega lucky I guess to have a great breastfeeding support network, both online and "in real life" and a very understanding family - I think if I weren't at all knowledgeable on the typical behaviour of a breastfed baby I'd be going out of my mind by now! 

I love co-sleeping and I know that it's the most beneficial and safe way to sleep whilst I'm still breastfeeding so I have no complaints about us bed sharing, although we do have a cot against the bed in a sidecar arrangement which she really could use to give us a bit more space! Whilst she's still feeding through the night every few hours though I do love the fact that she rolls towards me, I roll towards her, she latches herself on, does her thing, and rolls away again! It means that I'm not properly disturbed at night and certainly don't have to leave the bed, so I have a lot more energy during the day than someone who only has to get up the once, but needs to make a bottle or fetch their baby from another room.
Quinn's reluctance to move is an absolute God send. I'm 99% sure that Seb was mobile by this age, so having a baby that you can just put down, walk away from, and come back to in exactly the same position is awesome! She does get frustrated if something's out of her reach, but for the most part she just really enjoys a good sit down!
I have never ever known a baby to be so against mouthing stuff! If you give any other baby a toy, a tissue, food... it goes straight to the mouth for exploration - this is supposed to be how babies learn about size, weight, and texture. It's a very rare occurence for Quinn to put anything in her mouth - she can, she just has no interest in doing so. Continuing the same pattern of behaviour from her newborn days, she's all about visual learning, and when you give her something she'll study it really intently - holding it close to her face, then further away, and turning it over in her hands. She interested in looking at something from every possible angle and if something is particularly interesting (faces, especially) she can stare really intently at it for ages. 
Babywearing is my biggest love at the moment. I'm using a carrier way more often than the pushchair, we're averaging on one pushchair use a week at the moment I think, and four to five outings with the carrier every day. Quinn loves being carried - it gives her a far better view of the world around her and she's close to me which she loves - and I don't have to get a pushchair on and off the bus all day!
I'm going through another phase of updating Quinn's wardrobe as she's moving back and forth between sizes (she's difficult to dress, being on the 50th centile for height, but the 95th for weight - and in cloth nappies!) but as Mothercare had a recent sale I bought some new bits from Jools Oliver's "Little Bird" range, and some vests from a cool little Mum-owned British business Elfie London who also had a clearance sale to make way for new season items. Add to that a trip to my favourite charity shop and Quinn has a few nice new bits! Now to get out and about and find occasion to wear them all! We're off out this coming weekend to celebrate Quinn's Grandma's birthday, so I'm tempted to treat her to a new outfit with a Next voucher I have rotting in my purse! 

Quinn's added somewhat to her signing repetoire - as well as a confident sign for milk, she's now signing "cat" when she sees the cat, and an occasional attempt at "I love you", which I think she just uses as a greeting as I can't see how she'd understand what it actually means. On the subject of greeting though, her waving has returned ten fold! She started waving to familiar people at four months, and then at six months she seemed to stop and appeared to have forgotten all about it. Now however, her waving is pretty over enthusiastic - she even starts waving at the sound of the doorbell, in anticipation of someone coming in! 

She's also said her first word (confidently and in context, I don't count sounds that accidentally sound like English words!) and it was... drum roll... "Mama". I'm pretty smug about it.

Vegan "Pet Owners"

The keeping of "pets" creates a number of vegan dilemmas in itself, and I'm often asked, in particular, how vegans approach the issue of caring for meat eating animals such as cats and dogs. I was going to write a post specifically about the arguments for and against vegan pet food (which does exist), but I found myself discussing the wider issue of keeping domesticated animals, from a vegan perspective, so I thought I'd write something as more of an overview of vegan pet ownership.

Most vegans live with animals, as a rule a majority of vegans really enjoy animal company (although "loving animals" isn't necessarily a prerequisite of veganism, despite popular assumption). Vegan pets, like non vegan pets, range from mice to horses, bearded dragons to pot bellied pigs. However, the vegan attitude towards pet ownership generally differs from that of non-vegans, and I wanted to explain that in this post as it's something that people ask about often.

First things first, vegans don't, or at least shouldn't, support the keeping of pets - that goes for any type of animal, whether it's an elephant or a goldfish. In an ideal vegan world, all domesticated animals would be neutered so that they were unable to reproduce, and those already in existence would be loved, adored, and very well cared for whilst they lived out their natural lives. Once the last domesticated animal had died, happy and well nourished, nobody would keep pets any more.

Vegans love their pets. Vegans probably love your pets. Vegans don't, however, think that we, as humans, have a right to keep animals for our own enjoyment, and that is the cornerstone of pet ownership - we may give our pets everything their hearts could possibly desire, but we gain in return, from their love and their companionship, and that, in itself, can be seen as a form of animal exploitation. Where these particular animals are concerned, there is no alternative. They're not wild animals, they never were wild animals, and most of them could never live as wild animals - they're entirely dependent on human cohabitation for their own health - but that's a set up, and arrangement, that humans have created. A pet doesn't consent to being a pet, it just is a pet, an animal which is predominantly dependent on another species for it's survival - and not in a natural way as can be observed in nature. It's largely unnatural, in fact, it's entirely unnatural - and we're going back hundreds of years, thousands of years, in the case of some species such as the domestic cat.

As a vegan I don't think anybody is in the wrong for rescuing a domestic animal and keeping it in their home - I have two rescue cats in my home. These animals exist, they need us, and we therefore have a responsibility to give them happy, fulfilled lives. I just think humans are dicks for creating a situation where there are millions of animals reliant on us for their survival - too many, in fact, for us to support.

Rescuing is the crucial element here. Vegans are fundamentally opposed to the breeding of animals for life as a pet. We already have too many domesticated animals on this planet, that there aren't enough caring human families to take them on. Breeding animals - basically encouraging another being to reproduce - for your own gain, or the gain of other people, is morally objectionable. I don't support any form of animal breeding, whether it's a zoo programme or someone making money from selling pug puppies.

However, humans have created this situation and as such, as a vegan, I recognise it as a human responsibility to rescue domestic animals in need of love and care. Many vegans also save animal lives by rescuing animals from cruel industries, be they dairy cattle, pork pigs, Christmas turkeys, ex-factory hens etc. There are quite a few animal sanctuaries that rescue farm animals from death and torture. Again, these sanctuaries and the people who run them would rather cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens had never been born in the first place, as their existence only came about to satisfy human greed, but, they're here now, and we have a duty to end their suffering if we can and give them a better life - and sure, we fall totally in love with them all!

So, that's the first point of vegan pet ownership really. Adopt, don't buy. Rescue, don't breed. In an ideal vegan world, the act of breeding animals would be illegal, which would lead to wide spread neutering, an increase in rescue and rehab, and eventually, an end to pet ownership - but that's unlikely to happen.

So - once a vegan rescues an animal, what happens if caring for that animal causes conflict with their vegan values? Cats and dogs, for example, are understood to be obligate carnivores, needing meat to survive. Will a vegan support the cruel and barbaric farming practices that lead to the deaths of millions of animals, in order to feed one animal?

Ideally, vegans will feed all pets a vegan diet, which, is understood by many non vegans (and some vegans too) to be selfish and alarmingly unnatural. As far as we are aware, there are no wild species of vegetarian dog or cat after all.

Most vegans would deny the idea that they're "forcing their values on to a natural carnivore" though. The most important thing is to make a differentiation between domestic and wild animals, and to address what is "natural".

Dogs and cats are distant descendants of wild species, but far removed from them after years and years of breeding - a Pomeranian for example, is a far cry from a wolf. The very existence of domestic animals is unnatural; these are creatures that are not supposed to exist. No natural phenomenon, such as evolution or natural selection, resulted in their being, only human-encouraged breeding. With each generation in fact, these animals become less and less natural, and more of an abomination - we now have English Bulldogs who can only give birth by caesarean section, because their bodies are too deformed from selective breeding to safely give birth to their own puppies - animals which are prone to eye infections, ear injections, joint problems, spine problems, ill digestive health or respiratory disorders, as a result of being bred as pets.

No vegan is taking a wolf from the wild and feeding it lettuce. We're talking about taking an engineered animal, an artificial animal of sorts, and feeding it a synthetic food which has been developed in a laboratory to meet all of it's nutritional needs. Most non vegans feed their animals shop bought pet food. There is no wild animal eating Pedigree Chum, no tiger tucking into a bowl of Go-Cat. Feeding a genetically mutated animal a meat based pet food from a shop is no more "natural" than feeding them a vegetarian diet. Kibble, or tinned meat, is not a natural food for any dog or cat in the first place. If you release a domestic dog into the wild it is not going to go out, catch itself a lamb, and serve it with jelly in a bowl. Vegan dog and cat foods are developed in laboratory settings to contain everything that the meat versions contain, but without the death of another animal. Taurine, for example, is a substance absolutely essential to cat's survival. Very few non-vegan cat owners are feeding their cat an exclusively "natural" diet of rodents and birds. Most non-vegan cat owners are feeding either a dry, or wet cat food diet, which contains taurine, naturally occurring in meat. Vegan cat food also contains taurine, from synthetic sources,  which meets the cat's needs for survival. As far as cat's are concerned, the vegan food tastes great. A dog or cat will not die as a result of eating an approved vegan pet food.

Yes - there have been cases of vegans killing the domesticated animals in their care by feeding them a vegan diet, but we're talking about someone giving their dog only rice. No sensible vegan is suggesting dogs can survive on rice and fresh vegetables alone. But synthetic dog foods that are approved for sale to meet the nutritional needs of the animal in question are not going to kill your dog.

Incidentally, the oldest dog recorded to live in human companionship was vegan.

Some vegans don't feel comfortable feeding cats and dogs a non-meat diet, so they simply choose not to live with these animals and to rescue herbivores, such as horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters etc. instead. This avoids any inner conflict or the need to decide between meat based or vegan pet foods.
Vegan dog and cat food can also be very expensive and can't just be picked up in the supermarket, which can make it prohibitive for some vegans to feed their pets a vegan diet. Again, these would probably be factors that would discourage a vegan from living with a cat or a dog.

Hopefully that clears up some people's questions about vegans and pets but you're more than welcome to get in touch with any questions, I'll respond to any comments left below or there's a contact button at the top of the page.

If you're thinking about taking on a new pet - please adopt or rescue an animal in need. There is absolutely no need to buy from a breeder and to add to the problem. Even if you've got your heart set on a specific type of pet, a little internet search will allow you to find rescue charities set up to rehome specific breeds of animal (such as Pug Rescue or Ragdoll Cat Rescue ). If you have a legitimate reason for not rescuing an animal ("I don't want to get a rescue as we have a small baby and I won't know the dogs history") then you have a legitimate reason for not having that type of pet. If a rescue dog isn't right for your family, then you should consider that grounds for a dog not being right for your family - buying puppies/kittens/baby rabbits from breeders should never be an option in my opinion.

Please note that I have absolutely NO doubt what so ever that most animal breeders love their animals so so much, and that most people who buy from breeders adore their pets. I'm not suggesting that this isn't the case or that all animal breeders are monsters. I think it's intrinsically unethical to breed an animal, whether you make a profit or not, or however well those animals are cared for, especially when there are so many desperately in need of homes in shelters all over the world, I'd call the morals of anyone involved in animal breeding into question, but for the most part I do appreciate that these people do not perceive themselves as cruel.


Breastfeeding with D-Mer

I have been meaning to write a dedicated post to D-Mer (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) for ages now, and haven't got around to it, mainly because it's not something that's at the forefront of my mind, although it's just another breastfeeding "hurdle" that I've dealt with over the past 7 months.
D-Mer is crazily common, but a majority of cases go entirely undiagnosed and aren't very severe. D-Mer, is characterised as a feeling of dysphoria (unhappiness) at the time that milk is released from the breast during breastfeeding (or expressing breast milk as well in some cases). It's incredible the number of Mum's I've spoken to who say "Wow, I feel this but I never knew it had a name."

For me, personally, a few seconds into each feed, when I experience a milk "let down" (when milk is released from the milk ducts in the breast), I feel worried. It's not horrendous, just a sense that I'm mildly panicked about something and can't remember what, or as if I've just received some really shit news. Within 2 minutes, the feeling has completely disappeared.
When I first started breastfeeding I didn't really notice the D-Mer because I was in so much pain due to our early tongue tie experience, that I felt miserable anyway. Once breastfeeding became more comfortable and I felt these periods of anxiety when Quinn latched on, I assumed it was because I'd begun to associate breastfeeding with agonising pain. However, after several months, when I still felt this sense of impending doom at the beginning of every feed, I stumbled upon an article about D-Mer and realised that this must be what happens to me.
It's basically a squiffy reaction to the hormones released at the point of milk ejection. Once baby latches on your body floods with these hormones (mostly prolactin) in a huge and sudden volume, whilst levels of dopamine in the brain have to drop in order to allow this to happen, and some brains go "woooaaah" in response. The actual symptoms experienced differ vastly from one woman to the next. I've met women whose D-Mer has been so severe that they've had suicidal thoughts at the beginning of each breastfeed. A majority of Mum's though have had very similar experiences to mine, and describe their initial reaction to each breastfeed as being like a mild panic attack. 
For me, D-Mer definitely isn't something that makes breastfeeding difficult, and wouldn't ever stand in the way of me and my breastfeeding goals; but for other women it can be really distressing. I'm blessed with very sound mental health these days, and other than those few minutes at the beginning of each feed, I feel great. Some of Quinn's feeds can easily last 90 minutes, so less than 2 minutes at the beginning of that session is a drop in the ocean.
D-Mer is categorised as either mild, moderate, or severe - and can manifest itself as either despondency D-mer, anxiety D-mer, or agitation D-mer. I'd be considered to suffer from moderate anxiety D-mer - with some symptoms of despondency D-mer at some feeds. Mild D-Mer doesn't really effect the sufferer at all but they might feel a very slight dip in mood at the beginning of each feed. Moderate is most common - the sufferer is aware of the dip in their mood but it rarely threatens their breastfeeding relationship. Severe D-Mer on the other hand can be incredibly upsetting. Despondency D-Mer usually manifests as a feeling of self loathing, worthlessness, depression and hopelessness, whilst anxiety D-Mer is more a panicked, worried manifestation. Agitated D-Mer is rare and usually only manifests in cases of severe D-Mer, where the sufferer feels angry, paranoid, aggressive, and often suicidal.
For most sufferers, D-Mer is just weird; inconvenient, a bit of a downer, but mostly just odd. However, for those rare cases where D-Mer symptoms are seriously impacting on a Mum's quality of life, it's essential that doctors are made aware - if you think you may be suffering from severe D-Mer, or symptoms of agitated D-mer might be putting you or your baby at risk of harm, make an appointment with your GP straight away. Even the most severe cases may not mean the end of your breastfeeding journey, but it's essential that you have adequate support in place.