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Why two small feet mean a world of difference

How difficult must it be to find a tasteful christening present for a nephew who’s future king? (Especially when you have written a book called ‘Celebration’).

Faced with this challenge, Pippa Middleton’s obvious choice for baby George was,wp1155.jpg according to The Express, casts of his own (small) feet. Made of solid silver and designed, surely, for the mother ‘n’ baby with everything, they reportedly cost P Middy a toe-curling £7,000.

But whilst I’m sure George’s treasure trotters will have entranced the royals, this week a venture by the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania shows that small feet could also be the key to helping mothers in first world countries care for their premature babies.

Despite major reductions in infant mortality in the last century, one in ten babies around the world will be born prematurely – before 37 weeks gestation – and over a million of those will die. Yet basic actions like skin-to-skin contact for warmth and regular breastfeeding in the very early days can make the difference between life and death. 80% of the one million deaths are in South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa, and so educating the mothers of premature babies in these areas is vital.

_70967560_baby_feet_304inThe initiative works like this: health visitor volunteers in remote Tanzanian villages show a laminated picture of two different sized newborn feet. If a baby’s feet are smaller than the smallest foot (67mm) in the first two days of life, the mother is urged to take him straight to hospital for care. If the baby’s foot falls between the smaller and larger foot, advice is given to the new mother on how to care best for her child. It’s working: with this information, new mothers gain confidence and often keep a baby alive that would otherwise have died.

I watched the brilliant This World: Don’t Panic – The Truth About Population this week and am in utter awe of what has happened to the human race in the last 50 years. Whilst the population has doubled and is now at 7 billion (bn), it seems we are not destined for a population of 30bn sometime in the next century; just a mere 11bn – and most of those will be ‘oldies’ who will die off, leaving a modest 7-8bn again. The heroes in managing the world’s population? Health visitors in developing countries educating mothers in birth control and infant health.

If Prince George has a sibling, he will be in good company: the average family size in the world is now 2.5 children. However, it also seems likely that where George might get fleeting pleasure from his solid silver plates, for billions of babies in the future, a humble laminated image of feet could prove to be priceless.

You can read more about the Mtunze Mtoto Mchanga – which means “protect the newborn baby” strategy in the BBC Health Check report.

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Colic: is it all in the head?

Massive apologies for another baby-related post but I felt compelled to write about the weird and wonderful practice of cranial osteopathy.

Bea doesn’t really like going to bed. Currently, when she goes down at 7pm there is usually a look of urlsemi-disbelief, quickly followed by a big frown and a little whimper. When we leave the room, she’ll chat to her toys for a bit, biff the lowest hanging fruit on her mobile and conk out after about twenty minutes.

But between the ages of 3 and 7 weeks (admittedly only a month, but a LONG month), the evenings were dark. Most nights, Bea would turn bright red, scream, grunt, yell and work herself up into inconsolable hysterics between 5pm and 11pm. A brief period of calm would fall as we lowered her into a bath, but the minute we lifted her out, the storm recommenced.

It drove us pretty crazy. I don’t need to tell those who’ve experienced it that the sound of your child in apparently unimaginable distress, coupled with six hours listening to a baby’s cries is a mental onslaught. We would eat supper – separately – and stare at each other, tense and unhappy as she wailed. Even now, the sound of the hoover or the oven extractor reminds me of those nights when white noise only drowned out her cries.

I assumed it was colic and, ultimately, untreatable. She would grow out of it at 12 weeks (I marked this date in the calendar). Many people offered brilliant advice, most of which we tried. In the end, almost as a last resort as I work in ethical healthcare and though I’m no Ben Goldacre, I was skeptical about it, I made an appointment with a cranial osteopath.

Carina Petter was recommended by several people. The first thing she did was to ask lots of questions about my pregnancy. I told her Bea’s head was ‘down’ from early on and engaged from 36 weeks. She was born nine days early and Carina suggested almost immediately thatcarina_petter-rnd because Bea is quite big, she was ‘crunched up’ inside, hence the need to come out early, and as her head and chest were still constricted they would need ‘releasing’.

I was, as I said, skeptical. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t doing anything to Bea – just holding her on the bed and rocking her slightly. She then slipped a rubber glove on and felt inside Bea’s mouth. To give her her due, she didn’t flinch when Bea projectile vomited all over her trouser suit but I was alarmed: it was 6pm by this time: the witching hours were in full force and Bea was screaming her head off. What the hell was all this about?

We left and had one of our worst nights ever: the hysteria lasted until midnight. It had cost £40. I was not impressed.

BUT. The next day, Bea was a sunny angel. No crying. At all. I put her down for naps – she napped. She fed on the dot of her feed times and the miracle really unfolded when she went straight to sleep after bath at 7pm and slept for 11hrs. (I woke at 3.30am and knitted anxiously by her crib until 7am but NEVER MIND).

Bea is now 9.5 weeks old. Since then, she has slept on average for 7 hours at a stretch overnight, is generally happy and last night she even laughed as I put her down – and then went straight to sleep. We have been back once to Carina, who did some more ‘release work’ and is ‘happy that things are more comfortable ‘ now.

I am not saying this is what will ‘fix’ all babies. Of course I am not an expert. I didn’t know the difference between craniosacrotherapy and osteopathy before the visits and still don’t (I think they’re the same thing?). I understand that practitioners hold and observe the baby and then carefully manipulate the body to encourage it to function ‘properly’, reducing the tension and stresses in the baby’s body and head that might have been caused by the birth.

I count myself – and Bea – very lucky. I know there are a lot of people who don’t believe that something like cranial osteopathy could possibly work. I can only vouch for what I have seen … but I’m happy if Bea’s happy and the dreaded long nights of screaming do seem to be behind us … and if anyone asks, I say now that it was all in her head.

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7 things I’ve learnt since giving birth

Bea is now three weeks old. Some things I have learned during this time:

Kirstie Allsopp rules daytime TV

Which is annoying, but her inability to put a cardigan over a dress without it looking like she’s thrownurl-1 a tantrum with oil paints makes me feel a little bit better about not being able to put clothes on at all. The visual metaphors in Location, Location, Location are also wonderful: when Kirstie sagely says, ‘let’s hope they don’t pull the plug on this one’ before draining a small ensuite basin, I am strangely happy.

There is no substitute for sleep

And if my husband and daughter get more than me – which they always do – I am a bit resentful.

Breastfeeding means constant hunger

Mainly for chocolate and bread.

Not to watch scary things

Thanks to Luther and the last episode of The Returned I got even less sleep this weekend.Bea babygrow

Some adverts are ridiculous

Forget the payday loans and no win, no fee lawyer ads. The really mindless ones include the ‘bee strong’ shampoo one with Nicole Scherzinger and the Boss one with Gwyneth P – both phenonenally stupid. The only good one is the O2 ‘Be more dog’ ad, which does deserve a prize.

Monotony is mild torture …

Today, for example, has involved: changing, feeding, changing, taking a nap (Bea and me), feeding, changing, going for a short walk, changing, feeding, napping, changing, lunch (me – cut short by Bea crying), lots of burping, feeding, changing, feeding some more and napping (I hope, though it will probably be more feeding. Or changing).

… but I’m happy to do it for a bit longer.

This part doesn’t last forever, I’m told. And while it’s pretty draining, it’s also pretty wonderful.

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NEWSFLASH: Kate Middleton has NOT had a baby

As I write, Kate Middleton – the Duchess of Cambridge – has NOT had a baby.

This should not be news, but in the frenzied build-up to the new heir’s  birth, speaking as someone who was due, as Kate is, to have a baby ‘mid July’ (my due date was 17th) but gave birth nine days early, and as someone who has felt rather frustrated by the media coverage of the ‘impending birth’ over the last nine months, this morning I feel huge sympathy for her.

Look at the ladders. See the reporters drink their tea. It is a zoo. Someone has even put a sign up outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, saying ‘do not feed the photographers’.slide_307666_2678989_free

And in the meantime, we as the waiting public are ‘fed’ snippets: the Queen wants the baby to come before she hot-foots it to Balmoral. Camilla wants it ‘by the end of the week’. Carole has ‘indicated (the baby) will be a Leo‘, suggesting the birth date could not be due before 22nd July.

article-2367618-1ADBBC3A000005DC-521_964x689Ease up everyone. I’m quite sure Kate has had enough of all this. am quite happy to have had my baby before his or her royal highness popped out simply because it means the name I have chosen is obviously not a ‘copy’ of Kate’s, as I feared it might be. But the surprise and relief of having a baby a little bit early, compared to a friend of mine whose due date is also 17th July and who has still not had it is immense. Not only would it be fairly hideous still to be pregnant in this heat; the expectation and enquiries from well-wishers would have me grinding my teeth even if I wasn’t the Duchess.

urlI hope Kate is comfortable, not too scared about the prospect of birth (it’s fine. Really.  Gas and air, Lucozade and a strong-armed husband – which I assume William is – went a long way to help me) and getting lots of sleep. Because whilst the baby will likely want for nothing, if we are to believe what we read about Will & Kate being ‘hands on’, that’s one thing Kate can never get enough of.

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There’s something about Murray

‘Murray’ as a first name means ‘lord and master’ and is the surname of an ancient Scottish clan. But for all the name’s highbrow associations, in the last few days, three marvellous Murrays – Andy, Bill and Walker – have brought me down to earth with a bit of a bump with their ‘ordinariness’.

Last week, charismatic Formula 1 commentator Murray Walker (89) discovered he had lymphatic cancer after blood tests following a fall on holiday and, despite his fame and age, his stance is open, positive and grateful: “if I had not had (the fall), … they would not have found out about the cancer. It was a blessing in disguise.”imgres-24

The BBC documentary Andy Murray: Behind the Racquet showed us that the 26yr old can jerk tears without the aid of Wimbledon speeches. The endearingly hesitant way he spoke about the Dunblane tragedy whilst having to bury his head in his dog’s neck to compose himself had me in floods. He might be virtually teetotal but the drive and stamina required to get to his level showed him far from the programme’s producer Jo McCusker’s assertion of ‘ordinary’.imgres-23

Finally, everyone loves Bill Murray, as was supported by The Independent on Sunday which ran a quirky piece on a website housing stories in the first person relating to the Lost in Translation actor. Whether these stories are true or not is questionable but not really the point; it is the image of Murray mingling with ordinary people – handing out $100 bills to fourteen year old girls to buy sandwiches, giving lifts to strangers on a golf buggy and asking to be called ‘Dr Murray’ – which casts the Ghostbuster’s legend in a peculiarly everyday light.

Paul Coelho thinks enlightenment is ‘very ordinary’. I think he’s right.

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Why teens need ‘normal’ sex between the sheets

A strange thing happened yesterday. The Mail on Sunday wrote something I agree with.

Rachel Johnson’sarticle echoed the excellent Malorie Blackman’s call for children to receive their first information on sex through ‘realistic’ scenes in books and not through porn on the net.

url-5The thing is, I don’t think there’s much good fodder about. Earlier this year, The Telegraph reported on a new genre: ‘steamies’ which are ‘flying off the shelves’ and aim to tap into the young E L James market but whilst authors like Liz Bankes are doing well in the US, these books are sensationalist and their storylines lack the ‘normality’ of relationships. Compared to, say, Jilly Cooper’s Prudence and Octavia in the eighties, there are few books around now that address everyday life and sex and allow teenagers’ imagination to do most of the work.

Teens know sex pretty well. Even if accessible porn didn’t exist, they have friends who’re doing it if they aren’t already themselves and relentless media coverage of the Jimmy Savilles and Jeremy Forrests of this land make it only too clear what one sex wants from the other (sex).

It’s true that when I was fifteen, my education mainly came from Judy Blume’s Forever with the male protagonist’s endearing use of the name ‘Ralph’ for his penis (though I always thought he’d named it ‘Frank’ for some reason). But, as Ms Johnson says, “the curious thing is, as visual culture has become more pornified, the literary scene has become less so.”

She attributes this in part to the annual wooden spoon of the Bad Sex Prize. I attribute it to More! magazine’s url-6Position of the Fortnight, which I think started balls rolling (no pun intended) away from the written word*.

Perhaps there should be a ‘good sex’ prize for young adult fiction. As well as keeping some things private, it might balance out children’s inevitable absorption of stark newspaper reports and graphic porn sites a bit, to be frank.

*More! Folded in April of this year, with The Guardian terming the magazine an ‘embarrassing mum trying too hard’ and killed off by the internet.

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Maternity leave matters

In just over a week, I will be staring maternity leave  firmly in the face and, whilst I’m undeniably excited, the thought of putting my career on hold for a few months is panic-inducing to say the least.

Although I no longer live in London, doing without the buzz  after ten years in the capital is something that will take adjustment. When not in the city, I have been in the classroom: again, not a job conducive to having time on my hands. url-4The indications are that having a baby will be the toughest job in the world and I won’t have time to think, sleep or eat, let alone miss working. A man on the train (bearing in mind this was First Class)  told me yesterday to get a maternity nurse. “Best money (they) ever spent.” I smiled and nodded: a nice thought that within days of giving birth I might be able to watch The Apprentice and go to bed for eight hours, blissfully unaware of nocturnal disruptions … but not an option.

Everyone tells me to enjoy the lead up as it’ll be the last opportunity for a while. So this is what I plan to do:

Writing

Yes, the writing has taken a back seat whilst I sort out the car one, etc. But whilst blog posts have dwindled, I HAVE been working on book number 3. It’s called Foxtail Lily – there’s a bit to do still but, well, watch this space …

I am also investigating getting Rosy George (still a total bargain at 77p) and To Be Honest available as print on demand as there has been aphoto-2 lot. Thanks to all my readers and everyone who has enquired: these little gems are mine and have pride of place on our new (straight!) shelves but with any luck, soon there will be enough for anyone to order a hard copy. In the meantime, do your bit for the environment and restrict your purchasing power to t’internet:

Sewing

Pol moses basket 002The Great British Sewing Bee (yes, yes, somewhat deludedly I applied: my rouleau straps are more tagliatelle than spaghetti) but that Threadneedle Street studio looked so amazing and the tasks so tempting, I had to give it a go). Anyway, I’ve made a few things and, inspired by my friend Katie, set up an Etsy shop, LittleBearStitches. The photos are crap but it’s a work in progress. My current favourite thing to make are personalised, monogrammed hats. Very therapeutic. (Katie’s wonderful shop can be found here).

Reading

Forget the ‘new parent’ books – there’s only so much conflicting information I can take. But I came across a new mother’s thread about people wishing they had read more for pleasure before having a baby. So I have gone out and borrowed / bought:

Watching 

I’m not a massive fan of TV – unless it’s The Great British Sewing Bee. But despite agreeing with most of the content on Stylist magazine’s top fifty box set list last week, the ones I’m interested in aren’t all on it. I’m going to imgres-21get Jeeves and Wooster (which I see is coming to the West End with the lovely Matthew MacFadyen), re-watch Summer Heights High and My So-Called Life (which did make the list). I recently finished watching the only ever series of Freaks and Geeks, which I can’t rate highly enough – watch it.

That’s the plan. Of course, in the famous words of the Duchess of Cambridge, ‘babies have their own agenda’. So we’ll see.