If you’re anything like me, making lists keeps you functioning in life. And I’m telling you, having a baby was no different. It’s an exciting, wonderful and overwhelming time, and there’s so much advice firing from all cylinders about what your baby will really need in the first year or so. So here’s the full (and very long) list Oli and I used.
If you think I’ve missed anything, please add it in the comments – parenting is a constant learning curve, right?
After sharing my view of Theo’s birth last year, it made me realise two things. 1. how hard it was to piece together how exactly he came into the world, and 2. how useful it was to write that post to help me understand what actually happened.
It also got me thinking about what it must’ve been like for Oli as my birthing partner and a first-time dad. So I thought I’d let him take the floor to share his experience, and have the (huge) honour of being my first guest blogger.
Everyone tells first-time parents that you need to have a well-planned labour, and that an organised birth is a smooth one. In some rare cases, you can be done and dusted in the same day, but this is painfully far from the truth for most of us.
It does give you one vital parenting lesson though – that you must always prepare to be woefully unprepared.
Marianne and I firmly believed we were prepared – we had our birth plan, we knew we preferred the doctor-lead over the midwife-led rooms, we knew we didn’t fancy a water birth, we knew which drugs she’d take and when, as well as the music and lighting we wanted, down to what pillows and robes we’d bring along. Crucially, we even knew what food we’d bring, and went as far as to begin prepping several home cooked meals to pack. Nothing quite takes the edge off a long traumatic experience like homemade lasagne and cake.
Due to baby Theo’s, let’s say, rotund frame (which I’m proud to say he still holds), Marianne was set to be induced two weeks early. Although this wasn’t ideal, it did mean we had a fixed date on the calendar. Thanks to this, we knew when to start packing our labour survival kit. Though as I am sure will be the case for many more occasions over the rest of my lifetime, this schedule was deemed unsuitable by the baby boy.
At around 2am the contractions started, but we thought it was a second case of those cursed Braxton Hicks. Surely, we thought, this can’t be the real thing. He’s not supposed to be here for another two weeks, and of course there’s the all the old wives’ tale that the first baby is always late, so there was absolutely no chance it was showtime already, was there?
I got a call from Marianne around lunchtime to say she needed to go for one of her usual 50 pee trips of the day – and trust me, this number is pretty standard for anyone who has another human pressing on their bladder 24/7. On this occasion though, she also let me know she’d found a mixture of blood and thick, gunky mucus, which is the sign her mucus plug was gone and baby was on his way.
It was now, let’s say, quarter speed ahead. We knew Theo was coming, but he was taking his sweet time about it. The next few hours consisted of frantically, yet proudly declaring to everyone that I could be a father within the next few hours, while trying to wrap up urgent work, and calling Marianne every 20 minutes for updates and to participate in some relaxing breathing exercises that made me feel like I was in a tai chi class. These also helped us gauge how far apart Marianne’s contractions were, and thus when it was time to leg it to hospital. Throughout all of this though, I cannot stress how reassuring it was to have Marianne’s mum, Alison, with her to hold her hand, watch telly with her, and make her tea.
As soon as I had everything at work finished and sorted, I rushed out the office as fast as a hungry kid at an all you can eat buffet. I leaped in the fastest Uber I could find, only to find myself flying along at the speed of a world class racing snail (that’s 0.04mph FYI). It is never fun to be stuck in copious amounts of traffic, but when you feel like you’re missing one of the most important moments of your life because the people in front of your drive horrifically, let’s just say it’s a true test of patience.
After an excruciatingly long journey exchanging parenthood tales with the driver, I raced up the stairs to our flat. I could hear Marianne’s exasperated grunts and groans straight away, which were juxtaposed with her mum’s calm, soothing words. I bolted though the door, hugged and kissed Marianne, finished packing, and we all jumped into the car.
Alison kindly played the role of taxi driver, while I directed her and Marianne sat in the back seat bellowing and screaming in the worst case of back seat driving I’ve ever experienced! It ranged from directions, to speed ‘suggestions’, instructing how to manoeuvre over every speed bump, and yelling for her mum to pull over because she couldn’t sit anymore and didn’t like being in the car. God knows what she would have done if we actually did it. As a distraction, we played a few rounds of the riveting pastime ‘Spot the Dog’. I must admit I’m still rather bitter that, despite her handicap, Marianne won.
We screeched up as fast as the law would allow, only to be greeted by a magnificently overflowing car park. Forced to split up, Marianne’s mum searched for a spot as we limped towards the maternity unit. We rode in what seemed like the slowest lift devised by man or woman – perhaps created as a form of cruel punishment by an engineer having a particularly bad day. Marianne took a seat as I checked her in. It wasn’t long before the receptionist led us through to the next area, where after 13 long hours, the real birthing would finally begin.
We were shown into a long, sparklingly clean ward consisting of about seven beds in a line separated by curtains. Marianne laid down in the very end bed by the window, as I sprang into action with my duties; ensuring that the drinks and biscuits were always at the ready.
Before we could get too comfy the midwife came over to get a feel for situation, by which I mean Marianne’s dilation progress. After performing what would usually be considered incredibly indecent act, we found out we had hit the magical two cm; the minimum for them to not kick us out and leave us in the embarrassing position of wandering around the car park for a couple of hours (something we did see several times at each scan).
Thrilled at Marianne’s lighting speed of 0.15cm per hour (doesn’t sound as impressive on paper, but it was very exciting at the time), we earned the right to get some of the good drugs and progress into the next room.
Marianne opted for pethidine, which worked extraordinarily well. Within a few minutes, it had removed virtually all her pain and placed her in a joyous dreamlike state where the recent anguish was a distant memory. But, much more importantly, it lead to many hilarious scenes of Marianne proudly exclaiming to the midwife she could walk, only to instantly lose all control of her limbs, collapsing into my arms. So we got her a wheelchair.
She was then wheeled into a much more intimate, shared room, gently lit with a warming red glow. It had a much more homely vibe, with two large double beds separated by a curtain, a nice little table at the end, a couple of chairs and the room’s own little toilet. It was so much nicer than I expected. Though this was apparently wasted on Marianne, since she since, thanks to the pethidine, swears blind that she slept the entire time she was in this room.
In fact, Marianne was completely awake and entirely off her tits. By far the happiest I’d seen her in a long while; grinning like a Cheshire cat and rambling on with obscure anecdotes that were impossible to follow. She only stopped have a drink of water and go to the toilet (a lot). Each time she did, she got rid of a substantial amount of blood and mucus, something initially terrifying, but which nurses reassured me was a good thing.
Alison then left us to go home and get some sleep, and after a few more hours, several bizarre stories and discussing the future of baby boy, the pethidine wore off and the screaming banshee returned, in more pain than ever before.
Thankfully, by time the pethidine wore off, Marianne was up to the eight cm dilated mark, which progressed us through to the delivery area.
We moved into the spacious delivery suite, greeted at the door by the gentle smiley midwife who was already pumped and ready to go. The room gave off a much less relaxing vibe than the last; this room meant business. It was filled with cupboards stacked high with equipment, trolleys full of tools, machines fired up ready to go, monitors bleeping, screens flashing, a bed with stirrups, and it was all topped off with a strong smell of sanitiser.
The second we arrived it was GO GO GO!!!! The medical staff discussed how Marianne had abruptly shot from four to eight cm in record time, so there was no taste to waste. At this rate there was not even time for any more drugs, at this rate the baby might be fighting his way out in the next two minutes. The way they were speaking made it sound like Theo might fly across the room any second.
Marianne climbed onto the bed, assuming the different positions as instructed by the midwife so she could inspect for herself how it was looking down there. She also took this opportunity to introduce Marianne to another wonderful treat called Entonox (also known as gas and air/laughing gas). Unfortunately, it didn’t make Marianne burst out laughing at any point, but it worked wonders in helping her remember how to breathe properly amongst the panting and yelling.
Immediately after getting onto the bed, Marianne spotted a huge problem that would grind the whole evening to the halt if left unchecked. After glancing to her left, she spied the large window spanning the full length of the room, offering a majestic view of Richmond park. Marianne gazed, silently doe eyed into the darkness for a few moments, before letting out a blood curdling scream.
After a few attempts to find out what the issue was, she finally spat out that it because she didn’t like the window being there and we needed to close the curtains immediately. I’ll let Marianne explain this part, in her words “she let me know we were on a top floor and no one could see. But that wasn’t the problem. I was terrified of seeing myself on my knees on a bed pushing a human out. It just wasn’t something I wanted to see, as it conflicted with the whole ‘this isn’t actually happening to me’ thing I had going.”
After this was resolved, Marianne was given a fast-track, accelerated course in how to push a baby out, as it’s not as instinctive as one might think. Marianne became increasingly frustrated that half the time she was pushing and tensing the wrong muscles without even realising it.
Throughout this, I was gifted the very important job of reminding her what breathing was and at times explaining how to do it. I also became a world-renowned expert in the art of running back and forth to the sink, filling up the her water jug, then quenching her thirst.
Things then started to calm down a bit, and it was decided that there was actually time for further drugs. It was epidural time!
There was a problem, however. Marianne was so shaken, she wasn’t able to stay still long enough for the anesthetist to give her a spinal tap. She was shaking so much the poor lady didn’t want to anywhere near her in case she accidentally stabbed her in the wrong part of her spine. Perhaps it was from the 19 hours of constant pain, or the building anxiety of what was yet to come, or perhaps just this combined with the stress of the whole day’s events, but Marianne could not keep still to save her life.
After much more pseudo yoga breathing, gas, hand holding, and realising that the only way to get the drugs was to calm down, Marianne managed to relax enough to have the epidural. Relief washed over us naively believing that it was clear sailing from here. Little did we know that what we believed to be her saviour would soon become her biggest obstacle.
The epidural worked so well that the experience subsided from unbearable agony to just about bearable to the point where she could hear her own thoughts again. In fact, it worked almost too well. It seemed that baby boy decided to take a break; he didn’t really feel like coming out just yet and quite literally halted in his tracks. Even after what felt like endless pushing, he simply wouldn’t budge another millimetre.
In effort to get things moving again, the midwife had Marianne try all sorts of positions, which lead to the next spectacle; the angelic fountain of blood spurting up in the air before raining onto the floor. After a moment of mass panic, it was discovered that Marianne had somehow managed to yank her cannula out whilst twisting and contorting into every conceivable position to resume the labour. Marianne then spent the next 10 minutes frantically apologising to the poor midwife for the mess.
For a while it was quite uneventful, alternating in short bursts of the baby apparently coming, then stopping completely, then coming some more, and then stopping completely. Theo eventually he decided he was done for the evening, bided us farewell and had a nice long nap. Marianne pushed and pushed but he was not moving.
The midwife explained to us that he had rolled a little onto his side, wedging himself in so he wasn’t able to move anymore. I should also explain that he and Marianne were both hooked up to a heartrate monitor, so we could see how he was doing through the entire show. He was at no time distressed and was entirely relaxed for almost the entire delivery.
Our fantastic midwife explained she would ensure that neither mum nor baby would be put under unbearable stress, so Marianne’s epidural was topped up as and when needed. And if Theo didn’t come naturally within a certain period, rather than keep flogging a dead horse and trying to finish the job with sheer blunt force, she would send us to theatre for help.
Several hours of (Marianne) napping passed and nothing had changed.
As baby T was as happy as Larry where he was, we were (understandably) moved right to the bottom of the surgeon’s to do list. Marianne was still in discomfort, but as she still had traces of drugs in her and was no longer actively pushing, it was, in comparison, a rather mellow and relaxing few hours, leisurely sitting and laying around with our feet up waiting for our turn.
When the theatre was finally free, I was overjoyed that I was allowed in to support Marianne though every step. But the lucky thing didn’t have to move an inch as her whole bed was upped and wheeled to surgery. I, meanwhile, was frantically gathering up all our bags before chasing after her to make sure I didn’t lose them amongst the labyrinth of winding identical white corridors.
When we arrived, I put on a rather fetching set of scrubs, complete with apron and matching blue hair net; not my usual look but definitely not without its charm. One drawback of the outfit for me though, was that it did involve a 10-minute fight with said hair net as my locks refused to be constrained by it. I actually had to get some medical staff to help me!
We entered the large, open theatre, flooded with bright lights, brimming with fancy specialised equipment and the same reassuring scent of disinfectant hanging in the air. All of a sudden, the room erupted into a bustling incredibly well organised circus, with a mixture of, surgeons, midwives and anesthetists plus a few more I’m sure I missed flitting around all corners of the, checking notes, equipment or persons, before darting around some more, at one point I counted 10 people, each performing their own special job to ensure it went off without a hitch.
Marianne was in position, with me by her head on the left having my hand silently crushed from her nerves, and the anaesthetist on her right whispering gentle words of comfort, in between spraying her with ice water stabbing her with a needle to see if she was numb enough. After establishing she was well and truly ready, we began with a quick inspection, almost instantly they knew madam would be having the salad tongs, with an episiotomy on the side (when a small cut is made to widen your lady parts, in our case in order to fit the necessary equipment inside, then stitch you back up afterwards.)
The next thing I knew they were off, chatting and cutting away to liberate baby T from his first home. The team neatly and precisely whizzed through the procedure, and in what seemed like only a couple of minutes, he was nearly out.
I sat near Marianne’s head, craning my head as far over as I could trying desperately see without getting anyone else’s way. Doing my best impression of a nervous overly excited giraffe, I managed to peak over the top and spy my little man being delicately cradled out from the warmth and comfort of only place he’d ever known, into the blinding lights of the real world. With my heart in my throat I sat and stared equally baffled and terrified, he was completely silent and still, you could hear every movement of the staff, but not a single solitary sound from the newborn.
Why is he not screaming the place down? You see it on TV – babies always cry, they hate being born and they hate you even more for making them be born. I thought Theo should be writhing around and shrieking his high-pitched ear-piercing wails. Why was it so morbidly quiet, and why were the not a single medical professional saying anything?
Turns out he was perfectly fine, he just didn’t think it was worth making a fuss over something so trivial as being forcefully ripped from his loving warm sanctuary and mother, via being dragged by the head by a group of giants brandishing two metal prongs.
After reassuring me they brought him over to a small table in the and injected him with a healthy sized dose of Vitamin K (essential for every newborn to prevent a potentially fatal, bleeding disorder called ‘vitamin K deficiency bleeding’), after this he finally let out a bloodcurdling scream I’d been craving, before nodding off again.
As the staff were busy stitching Marianne up, I was given the privilege of one of my most unparalleled moments to which I recommend to every birthing partner out there – cutting the chord. I also found this was surprisingly tough – or perhaps I was given surprisingly blunt scissors.
Theo was then immediately escorted back to Marianne for the all essential first cuddle. This skin to skin in imperative (if the situation allows it), as it not only gives babies a sense of comfort and act as his new safe haven, it helps maintain their body temperature and helps start breastfeeding, so they really mean it when they say you need to cuddle your baby as soon as they’re born.
Marianne was wheeled into recovery area where she and baby Theo had themselves a well-deserved rest, as I sat in the corner watching over them, having the occasional cuddle.
The next few days consisted of the usual new parent things. From Marianne laying in bed hand expressing for hours at a time, to more cuddles, sleepless nights trying to figure out how to make him latch onto her for breastfeeding, to gradually helping Marianne walk again as she recovered from her surgery, and let’s not forget the dreaded first nappy change, which consists of gallons of black tar.
This was our routine for the next week or so whilst Marianne recovered, and the medical staff continued to monitor Theo to make sure that everything was going swimmingly. After we were given the all clear to leave the safety of the hospital, we drove home through Richmond Park to our new life as a family.
Considering what’s going on in the world, we’re spending a lot more time at home for the time being. And I’ve therefore been doing more indoor games and activities with Theo to keep him smiling and learning without the classes we usually do.
Here are my top ideas to keep little ones aged six-18 months entertained, based on what one-year-old (eek) Theo is enjoying right now.
1. Free classes
As Baby T’s classes have shut their (physical) doors for now, many of them have moved online, with plenty offering free sessions on social media. We’ve tried Tempo Tots (music and sensory), Songs for Littles (music) and Captain Fantastic Children’s Entertainment (stories, music and comedy). Have a search on Facebook and YouTube for any companies offering complimentary online classes, and donate to them if you can.
Over 380,000 children in the UK don’t own a book, according to 2019 research from the National Literary Trust. Whatever the reason for that, you really can’t underestimate the impact reading can have on kids, including those as little as Theo.
Whether it’s a touchy-feely book or a classic like How the Grinch Stole Christmas! or Alice in Wonderland, reading or being read to can boost little ones’ sensory skills, speech development and concentration levels.
Why not get the youngest in your family involved in celebrating all that the country’s incredible key workers are doing for us? Messy at it was, Oli and I had a wonderful time getting Theo to have a go at painting a rainbow to hang in his bedroom window. And he, of course, loved splattering the paint wherever we’d let him.
4. Musical instruments
Since he was first able to grip, Theo has loved playing with musical instruments. He’s also been lucky enough to have been given plenty of hand me downs, so he’s got everything from maracas, to bells and a drum, and has come on leaps and bounds in terms of confidence (by which I mean loudness) when it comes to playing them.
Homemade versions are just as good, too – even something as straightforward as plastic bottles filled with dry rice for a maraca or an empty lunchbox for a drum.
One of the best things about DIY sensory pastimes for babies specifically, is that creating the item is part of the activity too. Oli and I have already made sensory bags (sandwich bags, shampoo, glitter, food colouring, marbles and googly eyes) and ‘moon sand’ (flour and baby oil), and we try to get Theo touching as many (safe) objects as possible, such as wooden toys, food, soft toys and balls.
Having extra time at home has led so many people to become much more creative with filling their time, and the same goes for activities for little ones. I hope this list has given you a few ideas to keep your baby occupied and soaking up as much knowledge as possible.
People say worrying about your child never ends. I’m 27 and my mum still worries about me not looking after myself properly. But there are some things you can do to ease those pangs, and one of those is keeping your child safe in the car.
Here are my top tips for using a car seat securely based on my experiences buying and using one for Theo.
Especially in the midst of winter, it’s tempting to pop your little one in the car with every other jumper, coat and blanket they have. But bulky outerwear can prevent car seat harnesses from being as firm as they need to be around your child. So it’s best to take a layer or two off and put a blanket on top of both the baby and the seatbelt instead.
2. Secure straps
Ensure the car seat’s straps are tight enough across your child to keep them in place. For rear-facing seats with harnesses attached, these need to be about 2cm below baby’s shoulder, while forward-facing seats need the straps to be around 2cm above the shoulder.
3. Right size
It’s important for your peace of mind, and to stay on the right side of the law, to purchase the right size seat for your little one. The sizes are split into three groups called 0+, 1 and 2/3.
The first of these, 0+, is made up of rear-facing seats designed for babies who weigh up to 13kg (29lb) or who are about 15 months old, while Group 1 is the forward-facing variety, for children who weigh between 9 and 18kg (20-40lb) or aged from 9 months to 4 years. Group 2/3 is high-backed booster seats suitable for kids who weigh anything between 15 and 36kg (330lb-5st 9lb) or aged 4-11 years.
You can also buy seats that sit across the groups for a more economical option. For instance, 0+/1 seats can be used from birth until a child weighs around 18kg (40lb) or aged about 4.
If you’re unsure what seat to get for your child, it’s always best to ask. Whether that’s in the shop you’re purchasing the item from, a family member or through a little research. Here’s the NHS’s lowdown on the subject for starters.
4. Rear-review mirror
This only applies when your child is in a rear-facing seat, but these mirrors work wonders when it comes to easing worries. They essentially allow you to keep an eye on your child while driving and without taking your eyes off the road. I’ve got the Onco Baby Car Mirror, but there’s so many on the market to choose from, and prices tend to be around a tenner.
5. Avoid second hand
That’s right, ‘Miss Second Hand’ is saying to pay out for a new one. When it comes to safety in the car though, I’d seriously avoid getting a used car seat, as it could have been damaged, may not fit your car or may not have all its parts, such as the instructions for fixing it into a vehicle. Even if you’re being offered one from family or friends, ensure you know its history.
In the eight months Theo has been in the world, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on what I’ve have learned about being a parent. If I was to have another child sometime in the future (no danger of that anytime soon), there’d be one or two things I’d do differently, and some I’m so glad I did the way I did.
Ask for help
There’s no shame in asking for help from family, friends or professionals – and taking it. In fact, it takes strength to reach out. Parenting is a ‘learn as you go’ job, and each kid is different, so why not ask others for their input if you feel you need it?
Strangers can be good for advice too. I’m not talking about the unwarranted words from someone in the supermarket telling you your child is crying because he’s hungry, even though he’s just had lunch. Nope. But talking to fellow parents on parenting Facebook groups or apps such as Peanut can feel more comfortable than approaching someone you know really well.
Prioritise the baby
Bringing up a baby is full on. It’s the most intense job you’re likely to ever have, and the child(ren) need to come first. That’s right, it’s time to neglect that expanding washing pile. Woo hoo!
I’m someone who likes their home to be as tidy as possible, so for me, this really was tough. I was so overwhelmed with my new life when Theo was born, that I put shed loads of pressure on myself to be the perfect mum and housewife, whatever that is. Having worked full-time straight out of uni, I’ve never been accustomed to anything else but that 9-5 life, so becoming a mum turned my whole world upside down.
Oli was fantastic in telling me that taking care of baby T was my new job over and over again. So much so that it almost became like a mantra.
This is easier said than done, but I’d be more patient with my fiancé if I was to become a mum for the second time. I’d do my best to take a deep breath before I snapped at Oli over something silly in those newborn days. And to that end, I’d go out to as many coffee mornings, sensory and music classes and stay and play sessions as I could again to avoid cabin fever.
Take one day a time
Becoming a mum or dad comes with fresh challenges every day, but try not to think too far into the future. Children come hand in hand with parent guilt and anxiety no matter what you do or don’t do, so just do your best and enjoy every precious moment you can.
It may be true that ‘you’ll never get this time again,’ ‘it’ll be over in a flash’, it’s just not feasible to cherish every second. Especially when you’re about to leave the house for baby’s music class and he decides now is the right time to poo on every item of clothing he’s wearing (including his socks). Or not being able to get on three buses in a row because your buggy takes up so much space. In fact, these times will make you question where your life is.
There has been many a magical moment in my time as a mum so far, and there will be many more. But there will also be crap ones I’d rather forget. Parenting is the hardest but most fun and rewarding job in the world. Just know if you do your best, your child is getting the best.
I feel mums are almost pushed into the job of sole carer with dads barely getting a look in.
When a child is due to come into the world, there are so many things to figure out – from names, to budgets and breast or bottle feeding. But when it comes to who will be baby’s main carer, it’s more often than not, a given. That’s thanks to the way maternity and paternity pay are set up in the UK, meaning mums tend to assume the stay at home role.
Dads are given up to two weeks’ leave when their baby is born or child adopted, paid as either £148.68 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax), whichever is less. That’s just 10 working days.
Mothers, meanwhile, can take up to a year’s leave made up of being paid 90% of their average pre-tax weekly earnings for the first six weeks, followed by £148.68 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33. Plus they’re eligible to take another 13 that can be taken on an unpaid basis.
The disparity between what mums and dads are entitled to, numerically speaking, is 50 additional weeks for mums compared to dads. 50! The simple fact is that the two weeks dads get is such a short amount of time to bond with your child, and for some, their partner and/or mother of their child is barely out of hospital and functioning as a human being before it’s time to head back to the office.
I’d go as far as to say it’s sex discrimination, and places an unfair burden on mums. We’re almost pushed into the job of sole carer with dads barely getting a look in. We live in a world now where there’s much more equality between the sexes than ever, with some women being the breadwinner in heterosexual relationships. But I often find myself asking what century we’re living in when it comes to parental leave; the system simply doesn’t reflect the positive direction the world is moving in.
Oli was lucky enough to have a couple of weeks’ annual leave stored up that he added to his paternity leave. And I’m telling you, a month just about granted us the time to get our heads around being parents and becoming a family.
Shared parental leave (SPL) could be the happy medium for some new parents though. This entitles parents to split up to 50 weeks’ leave between them within the first year of their baby’s life. But there’s a massive list of criteria that needs to be met to qualify – including that one or both parents must have started working for their current employer from around the time the mother became pregnant (or 6 months before the adopter is matched with a child).
So although Oli gets some colossal grins from Theo when he gets home from work, and I send him plenty of photos and updates throughout the day, he can miss out on the little things that help Theo and I bond. I also can’t help but think that while taking a year’s leave to care for your baby can make returning to work afterwards tricky for mothers emotionally and career-wise, fathers miss out on the day to day joys and inevitable struggles that come with parenting. This does make the moments Oli and Theo have even more precious, but isn’t it time we had actual equality between parents when it comes to the roles they take on in their children’s upbringing?
Given that the gender pay gap, unequal distribution of household duties, and general sex discrimination still plague society, rectifying the inequality I see everyday when it comes to parents’ roles needs to happen. Extended paternity leave would be a decent first step on the road to improving these issues. Only by moving forward in this way can we hope to improve society’s habits and expectations when it comes to childcare.
If you have any questions about maternity and paternity rights and pay, please leave them as a comment below, or follow this link for more information.
I thought I was super prepared for packing my labour bag as Oli and I had looked at what seemed like all 679,832,245 packing lists online beforehand. But after actually doing the whole giving birth thing, there are some items I really appreciated having more than others, so this is my run down of those.
Spoiler: don’t bring a dressing gown. If you give birth in an NHS hospital, you won’t be needing it, unless you’re planning on melting that is.
Sports cap water bottle
Water will be your best friend during labour, particularly if you can’t eat during it. Staying hydrated will really boost your energy levels, while the sports cap will ensure you don’t spill an entire plastic cup and give you something to focus on during contractions. Win win.
This may seem like a very cosmetic thing to think about when you’re trying to push out a baby, but your lips will get incredibly dry during labour. Especially if you opt for gas and air. So in between drinking plenty of water, get your birthing partner to pop some lip balm on you to make sure your lips don’t crack and/or bleed. There’ll be plenty of that happening elsewhere anyway.
A pillow is often perceived as a ‘nice to have’ hospital bag item rather than essential, but I found it really soothing to have one from home. If you know me, you won’t be surprised it was a Beauty and the Beast one.
If you have long hair, you’ll really appreciate having it up and out of your way. The last thing you want to be doing is faffing out with your hair. If you’re really prepared (unlike I was), you’ll pin or plait your hair before you head to hospital, but given Theo’s early delivery, I ended up sporting a lovely blob of hair on top of my head courtesy of my wonderful midwife.
For some reason, it didn’t cross my mind to include one of these in my bag, leading me to use a scraggy NHS towel when I was eventually able to hobble over to the bathroom for a shower. You’re likely to appreciate a few home comforts after giving birth, and a familiar towel, or even a brand-new fancy fluffy one, is sure to give you that teeny bit of solace.
Fancy shower gel
Whether it’s your usual brand or a little treat, a beautiful-smelling shower gel will make that journey to the shower that bit more worth it.
Think fruit, cereal bars, and crisps (for starters), but in all honesty, just bring whatever you fancy for a few days’ worth of snacking. It’ll act like a Dorito-shaped light at the end of the labour tunnel, or, if you can manage it, keep you going during labour too.
A tonne of massive knickers
I was definitely guilty of bringing pretty knickers rather than practical pairs. If you don’t have any already, get yourself to Primark (or M&S if you’re feeling fancy), and get a pack of five huge granny pants that pull up near your belly button. Especially if you have a caesarean, you’ll need super high-waisted undies that sit no where near your scar, and if you’ve had a vaginal delivery, you really don’t want any frills hanging around there for a while.
The biggest sanitary pads you can find
Yep, I’m talking Tena Lady. A standard sanitary pad just won’t cut it.
3 x comfy outfits
Leggings, baggy shirts, slippers and a long nightie are all ideal. Even if you can fit into your pre-maternity jeans straight after having a baby (props to you), leggings will make life just that bit more comfortable. Also, if you choose to breastfeed, massive shirts with popper-style buttons will be useful so you don’t have to lift an entire top as well as navigate getting your baby to latch.
Particularly if you’re still in hospital when your milk ‘comes in,’ breast pads will help you scoop what little dignity if you have off the floor post-labour. Don’t do what I did and rock the no bra look on day three while your boobs leak so much you look like you’ve showered fully clothed.
These are just a few of the things that helped make bringing Theo into the world a little more bearable. If there are any items you loved having during your labour and postpartum (aside from an epidural), please leave them in a comments section below.
Parenthood brings a heck of a lot of conflicting advice on what to buy to make life easier for you as a new parent and your little one. With that comes overwhelming confusion leading to potentially purchasing items about as necessary as sun cream in an Irish winter.
These five items, and those like them, are some of the best my fiancé Oli and I have bought during our (almost) six months as parents. Hopefully they can help you wade through the baby must-have fads!
1. Sleepyhead Deluxe + (around £130)
Oli and I had many a heated debate over whether to fork out for this, but we’ve not regretted buying it for one second.
The Sleepyhead Deluxe + is essentially a sleep pod (mattress/bed) that can be used just about anywhere or instead of a cot altogether. For example, I’ve bunged it in the back of my car when I’ve visited family and friends so Theo can nap in a familiar place while we’re there, and he’s kipped in it on the sofa many a time so I, like the domestic goddess I am, can get on with housework.
Particularly in the early days, Theo would have his final feed of the day and after he’d nodded off, would go straight into the Sleepyhead. Once he was completely settled, we’d then transfer both Theo and the Sleepyhead into his cot.
They have a loop of squishy, soft cushion on top of an absorbent mattress, plus straps at the bottom that you can pull tight or undo when baby gets a bit bigger.
The product is also designed to feel as snug as the womb for newborns. I don’t know about that, but I’d love to try one in my size! Unfortunately though, Sleepyhead only offer the Deluxe + version for babies of 0-8 months and the Grand model, which is for kids of 9-36 months. We’re already thinking about getting the larger version because baby T loves his so much!
You can also choose between a plain white cover or marble, bananas or floral designs, all of which can be removed and machine washed.
2. The Skip Hop Moby Smart Sling 3-Stage Baby Bath Tub (around £40)
This was the cutest and most versatile baby bath Oli and I came across, but the price put us off. So when Oli’s aunty and uncle bought it for us we were delighted!
It has a lovely whale design, as well as a non-slip texture, drain plug and hook for hanging it up to dry, such as on the shower as we do. We’ve got it in blue, but it’s available in grey too.
The tub is made for babies all the way from the newborn stage (0-3 months), to infant (3-6 months) and sitting (6 months+) through the different attachments it comes with. There’s a mesh sling which supports newborns from head to toe and a lower position for babies learning to sit. Those who can fully support themselves can simply sit in the tub itself.
So although I’d consider this pricey, it can be popped in the actual bath or in any other room, and baby can use it until they’re old enough to go into a regular bath like a proper grown up human, meaning there’s no need to buy anything else to bath them in.
3. Fisher Price Kick ‘n Play Musical Bouncer (around £59.99)
Baby bouncers are awesome. Until Theo and his fellow babies get the ability to trot around, bouncers are great for keeping them entertained and in one place while you get on with the washing up or laundry.
Oli and I went for the Fisher Price Kick ‘n Play Musical Bouncer when Argos had it on sale, and it’s provided hours of entertainment for us and baby T. He especially loves the giant piano keys he can now tap with his feet. These are designed to encourage muscular development and teach cause and effect, but I just love the expression of surprise rapidly followed by happiness when he makes the sound himself.
This lightweight chair has a shaker and tambourine that hang on a detachable bar for babies to whack to their heart’s content, as well as three lights across it. You can also add baby’s fave sensory toys to the bar to keep them chirpy even longer.
The bouncer is suitable from birth to around six months (depending on baby’s size, obvs), and is nicely padded, which has allowed Theo to nod off many a time after sufficient play in it. It’s got soothing vibration and musical modes (with 10 songs) as well – just don’t leave these on too long, or you’ll find yourself singing bangers like Five Currant Buns in your sleep.
4. Mammas and Pappas Activity Toy – Jangly Lion (£16)
This super cute and colourful sensory toy has been great when I’m out and about. I decided to clip it onto Theo’s buggy after a friend bought it, and it really helps keep him occupied when we’re waiting for a bus or walking to one of his activities – if he doesn’t fancy having a look around or a chat, that is.
It’s got hidden squeaker noises and chime sounds, teethers, and contrasting textures, patterns and prints, so there’s lots to explore with baby’s little hands and mouth.
The toy is suitable from birth and has really tempted me to check out the rest of Mammas and Pappas’ toy collection.
5. Tommee Tippee Sangenic Tec Nappy Disposal Tub (around £27.99)
Nappy changes are an unfortunate but inevitable element of parenthood, but this bin and those like it help out so much.
Rather than finding time to trek outside to drop off nappies a million times a day (especially when baby is tiny and pooing like it’s going out of fashion), these bins give you the ability to pop dirty nappies in and forget about them. Until it’s full anyway.
The Tomee Tippee Sangenic Tec Nappy Disposal Tub lets you twist the bag around each individual nappy to wrap it and (hopefully) lock in odour. It’s meant to kill 99% it germs on contact too, and it’s available in white, pink, blue or grey.
The one massive downer to these bins, however, is that the bag refills cost an absolute fortune. It’s about £14 for a pack of three cartridges, which lasted Theo around two months. So it’ll save you a good few quid if you get some sturdy bin bags online and slot them through a used cartridge inside the bin.
My fiancé Oli and I were both adamant we wanted to breastfeed our baby from the word go, but my journey hasn’t been straightforward.
In the first day or so after giving birth to Theo, I had midwife after midwife help me get him latched on, and therefore had very little idea what to do myself. I just couldn’t figure out how to get him to latch and stay on until he was full.
This hit me hard. I felt inadequate and like an utter failure.
But looking back, (hindsight is a wonderful thing, right?) breastfeeding is a skill, and skills need to be learned and refined.
Oli and I went to a breastfeeding class at Kingston Hospital a few weeks before my due date, where we learnt about optimum positions, signs baby is hungry, and the pros and cons of feeding from the boob.
Another key lesson I learned at the workshop was to hand express your milk in the weeks leading up to your due date, and to continue doing so if your baby can’t or won’t feed from you for whatever reason. So when baby T had to go to another hospital the day after his birthday, I hand expressed to ensure my supply matched what he’d need. In the meantime, he was being fed donated breastmilk in teeny tiny cups by Oli.
By day four of our post-natal hospital stay though, I broke down. I just couldn’t get the hang of feeding.
After a lot of frustration, I borrowed the hospital’s pump and chose to express and bottle feed Theo my milk until we could get breastfeeding down.
Oli bottle-feeding Theo
Expressing worked ok for a couple of weeks, but it became obvious I wouldn’t be able to cope with expressing and bottle-feeding once Oli went back to work after a month of paternity leave. With Theo eating at least every three hours or so for around an hour, I would have so little time for anything else.
I had a chat with my sister Tessa, who told me about a breastfeeding group she’d gone to and found a list of my local National Childbirth Trust (NCT) ones.
I did one day of expressing and bottle-feeding baby T on my own before heading to my local group. It ended up being one of the best things I did for Theo and I. The nurses and midwives simply didn’t have the time to give me a step by step guide to breastfeeding, but the councillors at my nearest Breastfeeding Drop-in Group did.
The help through the issues Theo and I were having was amazing and exactly what I needed. Along with the tea and biscuits of course.
I was feeding Theo in public by the end of the same week I first visited the session which genuinely made me feel unstoppable.
To say breastfeeding isn’t easy is such an understatement, and it comes hand in hand with the pressure from society to be a ‘perfect’ mum (whatever that is) and the pressure I put on myself to get it right.
The fact is though, you can’t please everyone when it comes to what you do as a parent. If you don’t get the hang of breastfeeding or don’t choose it, you’re going against what’s natural, but if you bottle-feed, you’re lazy and/or selfish. You just have to do what works best for you and your family.
I’ve now got to the point where I’m breastfeeding while typing this, and, not to toot my own horn, but I can also do it in bed, at friends’ houses, in parks, and when eating a bowl of cereal (although Theo currently has a tendency to grab whatever I’m eating).
I’m planning to carry on breastfeeding until Theo is a year old, and I love the cuddles and time together we get when I’m feeding him. Although the process of getting to this stage has been far from easy, and involved a lot of tears and patience, the fact I’ve kept Theo alive and well for almost six months purely with something my body produces is amazing! Plus you get to binge of heck of a lot of Netflix.