• Feature for Baby Steps, Spring 2014
As far as swimming pools go (I’ve only been to two since becoming a parent), they are not bad for catering for babies and toddlers. I say not bad as the facilities in general are actually pretty good, it’s just the water temperature could do with, let’s say, being a bit less arctic and more sauna-like.
The Water Babies classes are brilliant but I made the mistake of taking my baby (at-the-time) too early to the group. On hindsight, he was too young to partake in a class, he was more interested in looking at the ceiling (ooh bright lights) and kind of looked at me as if to say ‘what the hell are you doing putting me in this cardboard costume and plonking me into a big icy bath?’. Coupled with the fact it took place around his morning nap, each week I couldn’t decide whether to take the car (me being lazy, I was only 2 minutes around the corner) or pushchair to avoid him drifting off pre-class. Either way, I had to carry what felt like 12 bags and money for the car park or locker inevitably fell into the bottom of the biggest bag – taking a baby swimming was hard work!

Then there was the costume changing challenge (CCC). I discovered – with help and tips from friends – that CCC had to be a pre-planned strategy and so here are some tips that I found useful:
  • In all cases, do as much preparation at home; bikinis, tankinis, cozzies and nappies.   
  • Instead of their clothes take a babygrow (if your little one is still in them), along with a zip-up hoodie. They are easy to get them in and out of and the hood will keep them all snugly and warm in prep for a post-swim nap.
  • Snacks, milk and drinks must be to hand within minutes of exiting the water. The most amusing but strangest thing I’ve seen was two dozen wet women trying to get dry while the changing rooms were a sea of prams with crying, hungry babies and toddlers.
  • Speaking of prams, do not underestimate the power of a parent with a pushchair – the queue for the lifts alone could take 10 minutes so get there early to avoid traffic jams and pushchair rage.
  • Wrap babies up as soon as you can and get them dry and changed by the side of the pool and sort yourself out later. Even if that means you dripping wet with your costume wedged up your bottom (let’s face it, your dignity went out of the window ages ago): practicality now takes over from any post pregnancy body self conscious thoughts.
  • Common sense but get a swim nappy that fits, not like me, who thought I found one that fit and then felt a flow of warm wee all down me which left a nice puddle on the changing room floor, I’m so sorry cleaner. 
  • If you can, take a friend or partner and use the communal baby area, while one sorts out the lockers, the other looks after the little ones with the door closed so there are no escapies. 
Nowadays, going swimming with a toddler is a little bit easier but I still swear by some of the above tips. It’s now a different but fun challenge: this time I have a toddler who wants to go off and swim on his own (he can’t yet, despite the armbands), he wants to run away and jump off things he shouldn’t. He makes people laugh by saying ‘nudie daddy’ in the changing rooms when he’s with his daddy, stands at the top of the baby slide and says ‘big boy’ while we mildly panic trying to get him to sit down in case he slips and topples over and is generally so excited.
He absolutely loves the water and wants to learn to swim and that’s the most important thing for us. Maybe those classes did help after all? If only those pools could just be a little bit warmer...

Glazed and Confused, Baby Steps Magazine, Spring 2013

A spoonful of it might make the medicine go down but scientists say it's bad to give sugar to babies. So where do we draw the line at giving our children sweet stuff and how do we really know what's hidden in foods?
I was given the task of writing this feature about sugar. Mmm, writing about treats? Oh go on then - as a breastfeeding mamma, chocolate and cake was a part of my daily candy-coated cuisine.

So off I venture to the supermarket, I'm a mummy on a clear mission. Words like 'Organic', Natural' and 'Mum's Own' shout at me from the baby aisle - so far, so good. But when it comes to reading the labels, it all becomes a bit foggy.
According to the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA), our Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for sugar is 90g for women, 120g for men and 85g for children, aged 5-10 years old; but what about the under 5s?

The British Nutrition Foundation says: "You should limit the amount of sugar they [babies] eat, as regularly having sugary foods can increase the risk of tooth decay and may encourage a sweet tooth."

While the Government's healthy campaign, Change4life, says: "Giving babies food with added sugar can cause serious problems...such as obesity that can lead to heart disease and some cancers." They go on to say: to keep an eye on sneaky sugars found in foods like rusks, baked beans and some baby foods as they can contain lots of sugar.
Clear as mud? I think so. What exactly is 'a lot' of sugar? And how do we know which baby foods have a lot of sugar or not?

As my research continues into this grey area of glucose, I discover there is no official answer. Right, this calls for a conversation with the Department of Health: a nice chap on the phone points me in the right direction - on the NHS website there is a nutrition guideline - from birth to 5, aha! But when I scour the 42 page document, all it says is to 'avoid added sugar' then it links back to the Change4life info (see above) - I'm going around in circles here; no wonder parents are confused with labelling.

I'm one-of-those-weaning-mummys who cooks from scratch (it probably won't last but I'm giving it a go), let's face it; I'm no domestic goddess. Luckily, our little boy loves food, so I'm happily whizzing up lots of casseroles and fish pies. Good job he likes all his veggies really - unlike his parents - mushrooms (mummy), broccoli (daddy).
Like most parents, I'm assuming, I supplement his meals with baby snacks such as yoghurts and convenient squeezy fruit pouches; which all contain the apparent tooth decaying white granules.
Speaking of which, the sweet ingredient comes in the disguise of many names: Dextrose, Maltose, Fructose, Glucose, Xylose, Sucrose (who knows?).
Worryingly, there's a new 'fake' super-sugar being produced in the UK - High Fructose Corn Sugar (HFCS) - which is cheaper to manufacture, 10 times sweeter and is thought to be a major cause of obesity.
And don't be fooled by fruit juice and smoothies either; some of the concentrated cartons have around 32 teaspoons of sugar in them - eek! - hip expanding stuff.

Maths has never been my strong point but if the RDA for over 5s is 85g, should the RDA for babies be around 40g? Even that sounds too much as that equates to nearly 10 teaspoons a day...

Back in the supermarket, it's a battle of logic versus poor packaging: clever marketing bellows 'Low in sugar' in super-bold graphics then you read the small print next to the figures that say 'per serving', 'per 100g', 'per half, quarter', etc. They also say things like '10% of your RDA' but that refers to an adult's intake.
With all these confusing sums, my head is in a spin. Looking at what a typical baby diet may include, I'm scanning the shelves and totting up daily consumptions, for example:
  • Baked beans (the well-known brand): 20g per can, or 14g for the can with low sugar.
  • The French branded fromage frais': 6.1g per pot
  • Organic branded fruit pouches: 7-10g
  • Reduced sugar rusks: 3.5g per rusk
  • Custard 1/4 pint: 12g
  • A typical slice of white bread: 1.4g
  • Rice cakes: 0.7g per 100g
  • Biscotti: 1.1g per biscuit
  • Creamy porridge (certain brand): 35.5g per 100g
  • Formula: 1g-8g (depending on the brand) per 100ml

So maybe Mary Poppins had a point; a spoonful might be harmless, and anyway; surely little ones need calories to grow and for burning all that energy. However, it would be useful if food labelling and proper guideline amounts were clearer - instead of RDA/GDA perhaps there could be a new PDA system: 'Parents, Do Approach!' - you never know it might catch on...

  • Blog published in the NCT Newsletter, December 2012:
Santa Baby… 
Ah the joys of Christmas shopping in December; I vow to start early every year but then it suddenly creeps up on you doesn't it? Add a baby into the equation and it requires a military planned operation. 
Since having our little one, I do everything by the rule of three. Not because I'm superstitious mind, but because every three hours the following needs to happen: feed, nappy change, play and sleep. Unlike some babies, our gorgeous little pea likes to have short naps to keep us on our toes. I'm on a 24 hour mammary-mummy-merry-go-round; you could wind me up like a ballerina in a musical box and watch me spin until it's time to start all over again. So when considering a trip to hit the High Street, I have to time it with exact precision.
Now at this point you might be thinking 'Why not get a babysitter?' But unfortunately, our bubba doesn't take to the bottle very well, so I feel bad for whoever has to endure the bottle game/nightmare.
So, here I am with my long list of rellies to buy for and the timer is already on - I'd be a great contestant for Supermarket Sweep. When I reach the shops, I'm already scouting for a secluded location in case he needs a feed. I have been known to breastfeed in the car; lay-bys, dodgy pub car parks or low lit cul-de-sacs whilst the Neighbourhood Watch twitch their curtains.
If you're breastfeeding, or have tried it, I'd be interested to know the funniest or most unusual place where you've suddenly had to nurse - use the hash tag: #emergencybabyfeed and catch me on twitter, below.
So back to the shopping - the list is ready, the boy has been fed, changed and ready to nap, then I realise something crucial that I've missed in the retail rampage: carrying the actual stuff.
With all the excitement and naivety of being parents for the first time, we bought a spaceship instead of a pram. It does these fancy things with the car seat and folds up in an Inspector 'Go-Go-Gadget' way. But it's as bulky as a bulldozer; the wheels alone look like they were made by the Flintstones and our ‘lil boy is already growing out of it. The storage tray underneath is simply too small which also houses the unpractical rain cover; no good for present storing then.

This got me thinking about some of the unnecessary (and sometimes surprisingly necessary) things we all buy for our babies as new parents:-
 Things we never used:
  • The 7,000 Babygrows - OK I'm exaggerating slightly, but all the clothes that never got worn.
  • Nail clippers – far too scared to use them.
  • Scratch mitts – good in theory but they never stayed on. 
  • Bath stuff – all the products you buy that don’t suit sensitive skin.
  • Soft toys – all the ‘first teddies’ and animals that sit on the shelf that you don’t want to get rid of as to offend anyone who bought them; the interactive toys have been played with much more. 
Things we used the most that surprised us:
  • Nasal Aspirator AKA ‘the snot sucker’ – speaks for itself.
  • Breast pump – for emergency bottles and that all important boob relief!
  • Infacol – this probably had the placebo effect on us but it helped, nonetheless.
  • Bouncer – used for multiple purposes including a sleeping aid.
  • Night light – this was mainly so I could actually see.
And can I make one suggestion: roof racks for storing Christmas shopping perhaps? - OK maybe this wouldn't make it onto Dragons' Den...
And so my venture for festive gifts stopped short as I pushed the impractical spaceship along with bags digging into my wrists. I then decided everyone is going to get 'one click' amazon vouchers instead. This year, Santa baby, please can we get a more practical pram?

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