Siblings at the same school

My youngest son is due to start school this September so I recently submitted my application for him to follow his elder brother to one of our local schools.

When I applied for my eldest’s school place I remember ringing the local authority. I explained that on the estate where I live some children went to school A, some went to school B. About 50/50 as far as I could tell. School B was closer as the crow flies and therefore easier to walk to, but I wouldn’t be walking, I would be driving. School A was still close, was faster to drive to and was on our routes to work. Also my eldest was at nursery close to the school so it felt like the most local school.So I asked: which do you consider to be our catchment school? The lady I spoke to would not look me up on her database and repeated it would be the closest school. I therefore applied for School A as my first choice, school B as my second choice. We got allocated School A, my eldest started there surrounded by friends from nursery. It all worked out well.

There has been a shift in catchment areas since my eldest was allocated his place which makes it clear that School B is now our catchment school. The local authority does endeavor to place children at the same school as older siblings, so even though my youngest might be treated as out-of-catchment, there’s a good chance he will follow his brother to School A.

If he doesn’t?

  • We need wraparound care between 8 and 6 so that we can both work 9-5 jobs. Two schools would mean two wraparound clubs, a logistically impossible journey to both clubs, which open at 8, then onto work by 9. We struggle with time as it is, this could be impossible.
  • Two schools means two school offices, two school management teams, two PTAs, two summer fetes, two increasingly complex calendars of fundraisers and non uniform days and cake sales which I already fail to keep up with.
  • Obviously, when the eldest goes to secondary school it will be unavoidable to keep up with two schools, but he will be able to walk or cycle to school so the logistics will be less fraught, and we’ll just cross that bridge when we get to it.

Having my youngest at the same school as my eldest is really very important to me. This isn’t about me being a pushy parent asking for my son to be prioritised over local children, it’s about my sons going to the same good local school, giving us a chance to manage our busy family life.

I heard about the Siblings and the Same School group through facebook and learnt through them that the council was considering a super catchment model which gives them the planning tools to allocate children according to all the important criteria. I wrote to councillors and officers to support the idea, and I was recently interviewed by Central News to illustrate the issue. [Hopefully the interview will be broadcast on Monday 13th January on the 6pm Central News].  My story isn’t unusual, but I hope that telling it will help draw attention to the problem of primary school places.

For me, this is about ensuring that local authorities have the power and resources to plan. Primary school places are not a new issue, I’ve heard stories going back decades. We live on a relatively new housing estate that is still expanding, with two similar estates nearby. There have been little baby booms on each estate. No wonder it’s hard to allocate everyone their first choice. There’s no easy answer, which is precisely why schools need some central planning. And yet so much education policy is going in the opposite direction: free schools and academies reduce or remove local authority control.  The relentless focus on parental “choice” undermines investment in educational infrastructure.

For me, this is about centrally-coordinated good local schools. Fingers crossed my local council will pursue the supercatchment proposal so that they can continue to help families like mine in the years to come.

Free School Meals. Yes! But …

The Lib Dems have announced a new pledge from government to make school meals free for 4-7 year olds.

School meals

I am a fan of school dinners. We pay £10 a week for my 6 year old to have school dinners, and my younger child would benefit from such a policy. I do think a well fed child is better able to learn.

Indeed the evidence has been there for a long time. A search on the academic database worldcat on “school meals educational outcomes” returns 544 results. There is a strong body of evidence that there is a link between diet and performance. But from the news reporting it sounds like it was two entreprenurial restaurateurs (we checked and there’s no ‘n’ in that word!) who were commissioned to create a report that finally got listened to. Ok, so maybe that makes the report more media friendly. The soundbite I heard was one of them saying that a pilot school they had visited was “transformed”. I have worked in education research and policy long enough to know that the first trial of any big change can create a big response: just being in the spotlight and having researchers take an interest can change the tone of the school. For a while. That first phase is not an indication of a lasting change of the same magnitude. (See “hawthorne effect“). That is why research methodologies need to be rigorous to truly assess the overall impact of proposed polices. I suspect that the literature agrees with the soundbite conclusions, but surely too much weight has been given to anecdote?

So … make free school meals universal. If they are so good for learning and wellbeing then all children should benefit. I find myself wondering which schools will get subsidised? all schools? state schools and private schools and everything in between? The boundaries are so blurred now that I fear that private schools are subsidised by my tax. I would not be happy with that.

But leaving that aside, a purported benefit of universal free school meals is to remove the stigma. Now, I remember at secondary school, there was a discrete system. I queued up with my cash-carrying friends and there was a dinner lady with a tupperware box full of plastic coin-shaped tokens and a clipboard. She handed me my token, and I paid at the till along with everyone else. I remember being curious about who else had tokens, but never felt stigmatised because it was handled sensitively. I can’t remember how it worked at primary school. And I definitely can’t remember how it worked at infant school. So, wait … is there evidence that 4,5,6 and 7 year olds suffer any stigma? And … wait … my 6 year olds meals are paid for in advance via an online system. So there is no distinguishing between subsidised and non-subsidised children in that school. There is already a way to remove the stigma: using a system like that not even the teachers or lunchtime staff need to know.

And now we get on to what I think might be the key issue here.

If you read about schools, Ofsted reports, league tables etc you will find mention of “proportion of children in receipt of free school meals”. There’s a reason for that: free school meals does act as a proxy marker for low income households. As I understand it schools don’t know the economics of a pupil’s home, the only signifier they get of a low income home is if that child is on free school meals. This allows them to direct funds for things like subsidising school trips, and rightly so.

It also means that when comparing an inner city school in an area of low income with a school from a wealthy suburb, the “proportion of children is receipt of free school meals” percentage signifies the additional challenges the former school faces. The “free school meals” marker is the main indicator of the uneven playing field between schools. It is part of how schools signal to the regulators that SAT results are not their only priority, that they are doing their best in areas where parents are out of work.

If 4-7 year olds all get free school meals what does that marker get replaced with?  I would like to think that it would just be a simple marker of “children from low income households”. There should be no shame in being on a low income. It’s not a moral issue as far as I’m concerned, it’s just an economic fact. There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to being from a low income household. (I’m less sure that the current government agrees with that, but for what its worth let’s continue to remember that being poor is not a moral failure).

My suspicion, however, is that the marker won’t be replaced by anything. Schools in challenging circumstances will not be able to point to evidence of their challenge. After all, that inconvenient fact that this is not a level playing field has made the present government a little uncomfortable. Gove would like to present schools as “businesses” that “with the right leadership and values can all compete and collectively raise their standards”. That is not an actual quote but I can imagine him saying it.

I don’t think the removal of the marker is the purpose of the policy: I think the Lib Dems probably want it for all the right reasons. But the side effect described above might be partly why the Conservatives are not challenging it. This is the government that is trying to reduce the number of unemployment claimants (which forms a major indicator of economic health) not by creating jobs, but by tightening the criteria for unemployment benefit. The government seems to treat economic statistics as key performance indicators (KPIs) to be met at any cost. I can well imagine that it would be a rather “beneficial” side effect of universal free school meals to make that marker disappear.  First for infant schools, then perhaps further. And then finally the government will be able to paint their picture of a meritocratic UK, where any school can become top of the league tables, and any child can rise to their chosen profession, if only they eat their greens and work hard. I hope I’m wrong

Free School Meals? Yes. But.

Judged and found wanting

I wasn’t watching Jamie Oliver talking about poor people’s food habits last night, but I spotted some annoyance so I went to find out, and am 100% with Alex Andreou’s piece in the Guardian. I can testify that “poor people’s bread does not go stale, it goes mouldy”. In pursuit of the perfect bread-and-gruyere-topped onion soup, I made several attempts to catch my sliced wrapped loaf at the optimum staleness. I  eventually once bought a bread stick specifically to slice, leave out for the day. This for an allegedly peasant dish.

The point Andreou raises, though, is a serious one. It is all too easy to judge people and find them wanting.

Since becoming a mum I have felt pressure more than ever before to conform to other people’s views of how I should run my life. It adds up to a pretty lengthy list of things about which I feel guilty, inadequate and even neglectful.

The List of Things I am Supposed to Feel Guilty About


The Baby Years

  • I didn’t stick to a feeding/sleeping routine. Sorry, Gina Ford.
  • I dared to look my babies in the eye when I fed them at night. Sorry again, Gina.
  • I used disposable nappies. Because my house at the time didn’t have much radiator/airing space for cloth nappies, and because I worried about keeping up with the washing. And because £80 for a starter kit felt a lot more that the hundreds I eventually drip fed the supermarkets.
  • I didn’t make all my own baby foods. Sorry, Annabel Karmel.
  • I didn’t carry around a tupperware box full of blueberries. Or quartered grapes. Or mango slices. If they were hungry I bought them something. From a shop. A banana if the shop had one.
  • I bought rich tea biscuits instead of the cutesy packaged baby biscuits. Because they were cheaper. And actually healthier, since you raised your eyebrows.
  • I didn’t take them to tumbletots.
  • I didn’t do babysigning.
  • Some days the telly was on for hours. Some days we watched the same episode of Mr Maker twice.
  • I went out with sick on my jumper. Knowingly.
  • I parked in a layby while they slept in the back, and I slept too.
  • I drank coffee and tea during the phase I was breastfeeding.
  • I drank wine.
  • I drank guinness.
  • I breastfed with a glass of wine in my hand.
  • I went back to work at 10 months, for my sanity and my bank balance. Sure, I had choices, but they tipped heavily towards working, particularly because I’m fairly well paid.

Despite all the bad, bad, terrible things listed above, there are things I am proud of. I did breastfeed them both until they were 10 months, I weaned them to be adventurous eaters. I kept them safe, I got complimented on both of my happy, well behaved little boys. Apart from apparently poisoning them with toxins and neglecting their psychological development, I’ve done ok.


Chapter Two: The School Years

I had thought the worst was over, but I see now that it is just beginning. My eldest is 6 and my list is already growing fast.

  • Not dropping him off at school door, because he goes to before-and-after school club and does a 8:30-5:30 day
  • Not having insightful comments to write on his school report.
  • Not baking for the PTA cake sales. I did a tiffin once but suspect the cost:profit ratio only benefited tescos.
  • Not managing to go to the cake sales. I love cake. But I love using my annual leave up for quality time too.
  • Not going to PTA meetings because they clash with other commitments that my husband and I don’t want to sacrifice.
  • Not being able to have my son’s friends back for tea.
  • Not teaching him mindful meditation.
  • Not doing kumon maths.
  • Letting both my boys eat happy meals sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest drink cola sometimes.
  • Letting my eldest play computer games.

You see, not having delicious wholesome family meals around the dining table is the least of my problems. I feel guilty about everything. Everything.
Right now I’m writing this at the boys bedtime and should be doing that. Instead I can hear star wars on the PS2 in the kitchen and my youngest is jumping around, naked apart from socks. It is 7:40pm.

There’s always something I should be doing instead of what I want to do. If I did everything on my to do list, I would not sleep. I could not physically combine full time work and perfect parenting. By that I mean it’s against the laws of space and time.

All the time I am making these day to day terrible decisions, there is a whole barrage of lifestyle experts looking down their noses at me. And I’m middle class: I work, I pay taxes, I’m married, I have two children, two rabbits and two cars. (I’m not sure where the rabbits fit in that description, apart from a 2.4ishness). I live in a nice house on a nice estate, with nice neighbours. My life is good. And yet I am riddled with anxiety that my life is not good enough. Not healthy enough, not cultural enough, not social enough. To top it all, I am overweight. Health, food, size and guilt: don’t get me started. That’s a whole other yet-to-be-written-blogpost about the “how to be a woman” section of the List of Guilt.

And so we are back to the sins of eating chips in front of the tv. How dare they. Whats wrong with carrots and hummus sticks? And why aren’t they watching Film4?

There are too many ways to be judged and found wanting. What’s wrong with just good enough?

My son wrote a message for me this morning. Genuinely, this is not staged.

I heart mum
I heart mum

“I heart mum”. Written in dust. He obviously thinks I’m doing ok.


… in which our heroine travels up north with husband and two boys to escape the golden jubilee, but does not tweet during holiday as husband does not approve of tweeting during holidays. So these are my Tweets I Never Sent (but I composed in my head, ha! can’t stop me!) Hence the name tweetsINS. See also my previous tweetsins from Jersey.


Lock door, check door, lock door, check door. And we’re off.

M6 is eternal

Penrith travelodge is “THE best hotel ever” announces elder son. This despite him having stayed in quite a lot of hotels. He is very excited about breakfast at little chef tomorrow morning.

Drive to keswick and end up eating Mexican. On a previous trip to penrith we were served tapas from a Lancashire woman in a flamenco dress. Is this typical?


I woke up very excited about breakfast at little chef.

The boys loved their porridge! And the coffee was good. #thankyouheston


Loch Lomond boat trip: the middle islands were beautiful. Didn’t see any wallabees though.

view of loch lomond

Arrive at Culcreuch Castle in Fintry, drive up to our wooden lodge in the woods. Pretty #wow. Boys unimpressed. Clearly spoilt by the travelodge.

On a walk about, get into deep discussion with elder boy about whether animals can be naughty, or whether they are just being animals. Just animals, I think. He’s not convinced.

Once the boys are in bed I fall asleep on the sofa, looking out at the mountains listening to the deep silence outside. #bliss


Oversleep, panic panic, all dressed, march down to hotel for breakfast. Remember why I don’t eat kippers much. Dem bones dem bones.

Younger boy didn’t eat breakfast which always bodes badly. Oh oh.

Stirling castle, cool. Elder son asking many questions about goodies and baddies in wars. Gets a bit philosophical. Luckily distracted by a row over the map.

boys dressed liked kings

Stirling T3sco is, like, just the same, but they talk funny. Husband impressed by price of fuel.

Back at the lodge, hear about legionnaire’s disease breakout in Edinburgh. Having hyped Edinburgh to sons, now torn. Younger one wheezy as it is. Decide to avoid that city this holiday.

Another evening watching the mountains from the lodge. I could get used to this

mountain view from the lodge


Perth instead today. Nice wander around.

Find a half0rds for a patch for the windscreen, which had been hit by a tiny stone. Half0rds staff are crap. Didn’t even understand what we wanted.

Back via a whisky distillery right next to a WHOLE SHOP full of Baxters products. (?!?!)

Obviously, the evening is spent “tasting” our two new whiskies


Thankfully not hungover

Fantastic drive through the mountains, due south from Fintry to Glasgow.

Glasgow science centre, riverside museum. Then kelvingrove museum, where sons ran riot with a friend’s daughter. Great day 🙂


Check out, then 40 minutes into the journey south, youngest son pukes spectacularly everywhere. Oh joy. Nice landlord takes pity ad opens up for us to use the bathroom 🙂

Explain situation to friend we’re on our way to. He is characteristically blase.

Across the A66 past appleby horse fair and a very large police presence. Develop conspiracy theories about the hills being full of nuclear bunkers.

Arrive at friends unbelievably posh manor house. Humbled.

7pm Youngest son pukes in friends dining room

Elder son has found new role model in friends son’s Lego skills. He gazes up adoringly.

Something called a gummy bears song, and a poo machine on “little big planet”, son is in nearly-5 heaven.


Husband wakes up feeling sick. I eat a VERY nice cooked breakfast and get a tour of the grounds

I drive home with youngest and husband sick in the back, eldest and me sharing fruit pastels in the front.

The amazing thing when we get home, is that after months of it, our kitchen no longer smells of egg! #win

.. and that was our mini roadtrip: 80% castles 10% whisky 10% vomit. Classy 🙂

IWD Thoughts on Unpaid Work

It’s International Women’s Day.

One of the most important concepts I learned in my Sociology A Level at South Notts College was from Ann Oakley in “the Sociology of Housework” (1974). It is the concept of unpaid work.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently.

In the UK we’ve had news stories around internships, unpaid enforced labour for jobseekers. Underlying the concept of the Big Society is a reliance of volunteers. My own cousin is doing fantastic work with charities and NGOs, but largely unpaid. Her career is a different sort of world entirely from the one I had at her age.

Meanwhile in the sectors I work in: education and technology, we have concepts like cognitive surplus , we have a culture of overtime, of knowledge economy work that crosses the boundaries between personal and professional. We all bring our work home with us in our heads.

While I’m at work supporting this world, my children are looked after by a childminder (one is full time, the other is with her outside of school hours). From my salary, I pay another woman to look after my children. Quite a few women in my position rely on their mothers to play that role, and usually without payment. For very good reasons, that would not be a suitable solution for me. But it does make we wonder about the real economics of childcare.

And thinking ahead … with women of my generation having babies later and later … and having to work to a late retirement … will I ever be able to help with caring for my own grandchildren? I doubt it very much. So I’m guessing that will we see a big change in women’s the pattern of work, semi-retirement and old age. For every well paid “career woman” (whatever that means) there will be a woman (or man) paid to look after her children. It’s a strange economy.

But then I stop and remember that salaried labour is a very recent invention in human history. For most societies that have existed, people have roles, they work, they barter, they live, and the question of salary, income and wages doesn’t come into it so much.

So what am I saying?

Be mindful to the possibility that some of the directions we are going in are propped up by unpaid labour. We can’t play the game of costs/benefits, balance sheets and economic growth without recognising that a lot of the work that is taking place is not counted as jobs. It’s too easy to have only a partial view of “work”. That goes for health and social care, education, technology … the nature of work has changed over history, and we would do well to remember that.

That’s it really. Just a plea to remember that.


Holiday Tweetsins

Tweets I Never Sent on Holiday*

– Day 1 –

I drove to weymouth 3 hours non-stop! Go me.

Need coffee. NOW.

Ferries mean a lot of sitting in queues of cars.

I feel sick.

Here at last. This hotel is like a cruise ship.

omg I have no internet, twitter or phone service. I might shrivel and die.

– Day 2 –

Huge banners in the harbour for barclays wealth services: "protection" and "growth".

Learning about sand, sea and wind at Jersey maritime museum, nicely done.

Wandering around St Helier. Some of the people look sickeningly rich.

I forget how much I love the smell of roses

I cannot be trusted with buffet dinners. This is a very unpleasant combination. Like that time I went to a mongolian bbq in belfast.


– Day 3 –

Just passed a school playground sponsored by a bank.

Oh, here already. This island is tiny!

Zoo 🙂 The one where that boy fell in and the silverback kept him safe. Awwww.

Aye ayes, Cute.

This holiday is costing a fortune and the kids are being ungrateful sh1ts.

Oh dear, I have confused son when he asked about gerald durrell memorial statue. Now he thinks he "died and turned into a metal"

Someone teach me restraint at the pudding counter.

– Day 4 –

So full of accumulated buffet I look pregnant. That might be why people are smiling indulgently at me.

St Brelades bay, beautiful.

Sharing olives with two small boys in an expensive crab shack that's not a shack at all. I am so bourgeois it hurts.

Sea slugs, jelly fish and those weird dune worm things. The sea is disgusting.

Oriental beef, curry, and some sort of duck thing in orange and cinnamon. And a vegetable.

– Day 5 –

Well, better make the most of my last free breakfast.

"Amaizin" park pretty cool. Clever avoidance of teletubbies copyright. Tractor ride: healthy 2 fingers up to H&S.

St Helier. Had to drag tantruming son out of posh french department store as he screamed "I want the motorbike".

Overall Jersey is less french than I'd expected. More like Dorset.

Jersey cars seem to either be hugely posh, or fiat 500s. And national speed limit is 40. Probably because you might drive into the sea if you went too fast.

Dread of seasickness approaching, so yeah, why not eat a whole pizza and cookie dough pudding, that'll help.

That ferrari driver looked like a man of ill gotten gains.

Car, ferry, car, home, zzzzzz.

*disclaimer/explanation: I didn't actually write them as tweets, I may have broken the 140 characters rule, geez, allow me some artistic licence. Did you see what I did with the "tweetsins title"? I do seem to now think in tweets, which is very pathetic and annoys my husband but amuses me, so the idea of privately sinning by tweeting in my head is quite fitting.


2010: my year in senses


A year of two halves: maternity leave, then returning to work in july. A year full of memories, but I thought I'd challenge myself by focussing less on words and ideas and more on my physical lived experience. So here goes …


Clever Photograph by my auntie Carolyn Black 2010 (c) all rights reserved


Touch The feel of my blackberry buttons and the tracker nippley thing: the outside world lives in there. The horrible gaping hole left after the "difficult extraction" of my wisdom tooth, metallic fleshy cavity of pain. Shudder.

Sights My beautiful boys, obviously. The view from the Hampton Road as I drove around endlessly seeking the elusive holy grail of two boys sleeping at the same time. The twitter alert icon on my phone.

Sounds Baby Crying. Imaginary baby crying (hallucinated after too much listening to baby crying). The XX (thanks to my friend Dawn for forcing modern music on me after a year in the wilderness). The theme tune to True Blood "I wanna do bad things to you". Peppa Pig song.

Tastes Not much of a year for food, though some exceptions: kayal, a south indian restaurant (with my mum) and jamie oliver's 15 in watergate bay (with my in-laws). Children's orange nurofen tastes nice: the cointreau of the medicine world. Gingerbread latte from evilbucks: so wrong it's right.

Smells Dirty Nappies. Imaginary dirty nappies (hallucinated after too many dirty nappies). Keep-me-awake-drinks: indian spiced chai, strong earl grey, coffee, coffee, coffee. Oh, and did I mention coffee?


Looking forward to seeing what 2011 brings …


Things I wish someone had told me about breastfeeding

Making feeding more comfortable

You can spend forever holding a newborn baby, particularly if you are breastfeeding, so if you want to go with the flow, then expect to be out of action for long periods several times a day. Accept it. It won’t last forever! Here’s some tips to make it more bearable:

  • Find some way of marking which breast you last fed from. A hair bobble, scrunchy, rubber bracelet on the wrist are all good options. Transfer it from the left to right wrist to mark which you last fed from. It saves clutching at breasts trying to work out which one is fuller!
  • Keep a pile of cushions anywhere you might need to breastfeed or hold your baby, they can be put behind your back, under your elbow, it’s worth spending 10 seconds getting comfortable to avoid a bad back. Get help adjusting things, you’ll get better at doing it yourself eventually
  • An occasional table might come in handy, so that you can have things within reach
  • When you sit down to do a feed, gather together your kit: a muslin, glass of water, remote control and/or something to read, phone(s)
  • Treat yourself to a couple of games on your mobile that you can play silently with one hand (or even better, get an email/internet/facebook/twitter friendly phone that will keep your sanity during those long lonely feeding sessions)
  • Think ahead to when you need to eat and fix a sandwich or cup of tea before you pick baby up. Its ok to let baby cry for a few minutes if it helps you be a more effective mum in the long term
  • Identify meals you can eat while holding baby: foods eaten with a spoon are usually messy, so find foods you can eat with a fork or with one hand

Breastfeeding and pain

Here’s the secret: it can hurt.  Sure, it’s natural, it’s best for baby, and it’s best for mum, but so is labour and so are after pains. Remember your first time having sex? Maybe that hurt a bit too, the first few times! Life isn’t always painless. The first few weeks of life hard work for mother and baby, and breastfeeding is part of it.

Don’t be disheartened by the idea if baby is latching on then it shouldn’t hurt at all.  Expect some discomfort and even some pain but know that the pain will pass. Obviously there are cases where women find it difficult or impossible to breastfeed I can’t advise on that that’s consider that the human race has got this far without bottles for most of human history.  Start from the assumption that it’s natural but that, like lots of things in life, it’s not completely painless!

I feel strongly that the polarisation of breast vs bottle is very unhelpful for all mothers, whatever way they choose to feed their baby. The strange thing is that despite keeping us alive as a species, we have spent so little on understanding how and why it works. Perhaps because it works so well there’s no money to be made from improving breastfeeding knowledge? Who knows! But be aware this whole area is laden with bias and can be quite emotive.

In my experience the first suck of any feed might hurt the nipple and you could feel the pull in the breast uncomfortable. This is especially true in the first few weeks. When baby latches on and sucks I take a deep breath and count to 5, then decide whether to remove him using my little finger. When my milk first came in (day 2/3/4), most feeds hurt like this, but I knew it would get better.

That said, take care of sore breasts, particularly:

  • Shooting pains in breast (as opposed to tenderness and the feel of the pull of sucking). This could be mastitis, don’t let it build up, seek advice
  • Blisters. Use a balm you can leave on during feeding. I use lansinoh.
  • Very pink and itchy nipples, and baby starts gagging on feeds and/or vomiting them up. This could be breastfeeding thrush so seek advice.

Don’t soldier on, as things can get worse if you don’t take care of your breasts.
This is useful:

As time went on with baby#1 I got to really enjoy breastfeeding, I’m sure I got a hormonal feelgood reward from it. Despite bad engorgement and fast flow, plenty of tears and doubt, I came to really enjoy it, and only stopped at 9 months when I had to because the feeding routine didn’t fit with my working hours. I am already enjoying feeding with baby#2 and I’m in the worst bit!

When i updated this when son#2 was 4 days old this was the situation: “My breasts are like cement and make me look like Katie Price, poor baby#2 has to be very brave about facing the gush of engorgement, and most feeds are a bit painful, but seeing him finally start the slow contented gulping makes it all worth it!”

“Establishing breastfeeding”

With baby#1 I didn’t really understand what “establishing breastfeeding” meant. That is, until 2 or 3 weeks in (I forget exactly how long), which I realised it had happened! It means your breasts and baby are in sync, and when it happens, you’ll know. It seems to take at least 2 weeks so don’t be tempted to think its happened early. Be patient and wait before using a breast pump or bottle, not out of any dogmatic/purist reason, but because mixed feeding or exclusive breastfeeding both seem to be better once the breastfeeding side of things is established. I have nothing against mixed feeding, and plan to do it myself again, but I think its better to suffer a bit in the first few weeks, as it will give you better chance of success in whichever route you take.

Breastfeeding through a growth spurt

Weeks 6, 12, 24 are times for growth spurts. With son#1 I used bottles to supplement, but with son#2 i’m following the approach of letting him suckle more, to increase my milk supply. It seems to be working, so i recommend going with the flow and letting them feed as much as they want. Since apparently even sucking on an empty breast prompts milk production, it might frustrate them a few times but don’t worry about that, it’s frustrating being a baby anyway so its par for the course that they’ll get upset at feeding times sometimes! In my experience so far, coming out the other side of a growth spurt can be really liberating as you see all their new skills emerge, and sometimes new behavioural patterns too, like the transformation my son#1 made at 12 weeks, from feeding every 2-3 hours day and night to something much more manageable. My advice is to feed through it, and know it will only last a week or so.

Read all about it

If, like me, you find it helpful to read more, and it adds to your confidence rather than your confusion, then try these:

General info:

Read what the experts have to say:,0,0

Read what mums have to say: though beware very strong opinions!

I’ve more reflections to share on breastfeeding, but I don’t want to attract the wrong kind attention by using certain words too much, and I don’t want to scare you off if you have no interest in the topic. So please email me if you’re interested in more.

Things I wish someone had told me when I had my first baby (although perhaps they did and I didn’t listen)

I started this document when my baby#1 was a month old. I’d read all the books but there were still some things I wish someone had told me. Maybe they had and I didn’t listen! Anyway a friend felt the same so here are some things we thought it would have been useful to know. I’ve since updated it to include reflections on baby#2, who is currently 3 months old. This is not expert advice, just thoughts from a mum! Please pass it on if you find it useful, I’d be delighted to get feedback!

When to change a nappy?

This sounds obvious but in those first few weeks you can find yourself obsessing over it. Newborn babies need lots of sleep, and unless the nappy is really disgusting, or they are developing a sore bottom, don’t worry about a strict changing schedule. My friends and I agreed on this as a rule of thumb:

Criteria for changing a nappy (in priority order)
there is more than a few dots of poo 2) there is wee 3) it’s more than 6 hours since nappy was last changed

How many layers?

I’d love to see examples of how to dress a new baby (up to 3 months?) in bed, at home, outside, at different temperatures/times of year, and what they should wear. Unfortunately I never saw such guidance. In general we went for one more layer than us. Its scary at first but it becomes second nature after a few months

Swaddling for sleep

With baby#1 swaddling seemed cruel, constraining his arms. But now I think it makes for a better sleep for baby. They’re not used to so much space around them and find it more calming to be enclosed in blankets, so save them the confusion, at least for the first week or so! Look up instructions on swaddling, then fold a blanket or sheet flat and use it to tuck them in firmly from shoulder height, tucking it under the mattress on both sides. Its a useful approach to try for the first month.

Tips for sterilising

  • Don’t expect to find definite consistent answers on sterilising: different people and different manufacturers say different things
  • Have a big tupperware box to store items in
  • If you get a steam steriliser, be careful that there is space above the vent because it gets hot: you can’t use it under a wall cupboard
  • Wash items in warm soapy water, then rinse, then put in the steriliser
  • Once sterilised, items count as sterilised for 1 hour, I think!

Tips for storing and using milk

  • Breast milk can be expressed and stored in breast milk bags, in the fridge for 24 hours, or the deep freeze for 3 months
  • Breast milk bags are cheap, and babies only take small amounts of milk at first, so use a bag per express, even if you only manage 30 ml at a time. It avoids wasting milk>
  • Until you have a routine for expressing, having small amounts of breast milk in bags makes it easy to combine them into different amounts in bottles, and avoids wastage
  • Even if you are using a breast pump with an integrated bottle, transfer milk to a bag for storage so that you can sterilised the pump kit ready for next time
  • Most people warm up milk to room temperature
  • Once milk is warmed up it should not be re-warmed
  • If going out for a few hours or more, put a sterilised bottle in the changing bag and a small carton of formula just in case, “they” will tell you not to, but its piece of mind in an emergency

Even though you’re planning to breastfeed …

  • Buy steriliser and bottles because you might want to express at some point (see below) even if you wait a few months, and you never know if you’ll need to express if baby really won’t take to the breast for a while, or if baby is in special care.
  • Buy some small cartons of formula mix, because you might want to top up baby if you are having problems with breastfeeding, or baby is still hungry after breastfeeding, or if you are exhausted
  • Buy breast pump in case your milk comes in a lot or fast. “they” will tell you not too, but for £20/30 you can keep it in the cupboard for a few months on when breastfeeding is established

If you’re having problems, or just not sure if you’re “doing it right”, get help. NCT breastfeeding councillors can help. Family members can help. Lose your boob embarrassment and just ask. Your helper might need to touch your boob, see your nipple, and look at the baby’s mouth as they suckle. Just go with it. Its how women help each other all over the world