Monthly Archives: September 2013

The sorting hat

On entering parenthood, once you are beyond the initial tidal wave of newness and chaos, then the question of questions (much like the tortuous “Am I on the right path careerwise?”) raises its ugly head:

What kind of parent am I going to be?

You look ahead and you see the path to toddlerhood littered with decisions about how you respond to your kid, all of which will necessarily scar him or her for life whichever you choose.

The first few months are in a blissful bubble where you can simply respond to your baby on demand and most of the time she’ll simply be hungry or windy (for all the drama, sitting in a dirty nappy seems to have more traumatic implications for Mummy and Daddy than Elphie). Exhausting and relentless but without very much complexity in how you could or should behave.

But as the weeks go on you realise that your peers are starting to discuss different strategies to cope with their infant and that each of them is reflective of the type of parent they are deciding they want to be. A key question being whether you plan to approach baby wrangling from a baby-led or parent-led angle, and then, depending on which you embrace, which sub-cults you want to be part of.

The decision you make will define whose parenting styles you align with and hence can influence your friendships with other parents from this point forward. The sorting hat of parenthood has commenced, and which house you will join for the rest of time is being defined.

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Yellow cap

Like many babies, Pip’s hair has been falling out and new “baby” hair is sprouting up to replace it. This is mostly happening at the front of his head, leading to a charming mullet effect as it is still comparatively long and luxurious at the back.

I initially thought his hair was changing from brown to blonde. I now realise, as the new hair is coming in thick and fast and unmistakeably brunette, the yellowness I’d seen is actually a spot of cradle cap!

Cradle cap, or seborrhoeic dermatitis to its friends, is scaly patches mostly found on a baby’s head, although it can also occur on other parts of the body. It’s fortunately completely harmless and according to the NHS it “does not usually itch or cause discomfort to the baby”. It is also a really common condition and most babies seem to get at least a small area of cradle cap at some point, usually during the first couple of months.

The suspected cause of cradle cap is the typically overactive sebaceous glands on a baby’s head, and Babycentre also blames our old friends the postnatal hormones!


I’d heard of cradle cap before, but what I wasn’t sure about was whether one should do something about it or just leave it.

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Breastfeeding Mongolian style

Sometimes there’s a story which just has to be shared. This story of a Western woman who went to Mongolia and breastfed her son there and the remarkable differences between their culture and Western ones when it comes to breastfeeding is one of those.

Highlights for me were:

  • The idea that breastfeeding is used as a solution to everything
  • The image of the grandparents (both!) getting their boobs out to distract an unruly toddler
  • Breastfeeding openly on the street
  • The older children could still suckle after they were fully weaned (and milk was no longer being produced) without public disapproval
  • That all members of the family would drink spare milk
  • I can distinctly remember when I was little and my Mum was explaining what breastfeeding was, that I asked if I could do it – should she have said yes??

    Piccola bambina

    So it has been over a week since we returned from holiday and it is high time I shared the story of Elphie’s adventures.

    It was really a holiday of two halves. The first half was hard going, Elphie never being the best at going to sleep at night (wonder where she gets that from), shockingly did not seem to realise there was a time difference and so would not settle till 3am or one night even 4am, and then would feed again at 7 or 8am which then meant it was hard to get ourselves up and at ’em much before 11am, which wasn’t that conducive to a day’s excursion. Indeed the first day was the worst – I don’t know if it was the heat or the change, but she was feeding constantly. I fed her for a total of 6.5 hours that first day, which is over 50% more than the time taken to feed her on an average day. Luckily that was just the first day or I would never have left the villa!

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    Massage attack

    We have done our first Relax & Stretch class and I’m pleased to report that it was a positive experience. The teacher was lovely (I’d been worried about having to feed Pip during the class, but she encouraged us to behave as if at home and just watch anything we couldn’t participate in) and the exercises weren’t too strenuous or weird. It even involved some singing of old favourites such as Hickory Dickory Dock and The Wheels on the Bus!

    I can definitely see the benefits of the Yoga/Pilates part of the class – the bit for the Mums – which focuses on core strength and abdominal muscles. However, Pip looked a bit bemused by the baby massage and while he loved the singing and cuddling bits, I’m not so sure about the squeezing and wiggling. Is there really any point in baby massage? It’s not like he has experienced any stress (unless being born counts!)

    Reading around this, it sounds like there are actually loads of benefits for the baby. Babycentre lists just a few:

    “Massage may help your baby to:

    • strengthen her attachment to you
    • stay relaxed and not get upset
    • cry less
    • sleep better

    One study showed that massage may reduce the number of illnesses your baby has, cutting down on the need for trips to see the doctor or nurse. We need more studies to be done to confirm this, though. There’s also a theory that touch and skin-to-skin contact help to stimulate your baby’s brain development.”

    I didn’t realise that although it’s a physical activity, baby massage can support the brain as well!


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    How to: burp a baby

    With poo a close second, I have found that wind is our number one obsession when it comes to Elphie – specifically how much we can get out of her through burps (we can’t influence the farts so much). The reason for the obsession is that I am convinced that when she decides to cry inconsolably for hours some evenings (unless baby whisperer Hester is around) that this is due to tummy ache caused by excessive wind that has built up during the day as a result of the significant and noisy guzzling that has gone on.

    Wind should be less of a problem for a breastfed baby as the worst culprit for causing wind is the bottle as the fast flow of the teat means the baby has to gulp in air in between sucking and hence gets bubbles of air alongside its food. Apparently the obsession with burping is a very first world problem and a lot of the rest of the world don’t bother! In theory this is because they breastfeed more and do so in a more upright position and hence less air is taken in.

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    Sugar and spice

    We all know alcohol, caffeine and everything else vaguely exciting do not mix with breastfeeding. But what about food? Specifically, does different food produce different tasting milk? Pip is occasionally fretful at the breast and although I expect it’s something to do with milk flow, gas or or even more likely just “one of those things”, I can’t shake the notion that he might not like something I’ve eaten.

    There isn’t much out there on this topic, but one 2008 Danish study of 18 women’s breast milk showed that particular food flavours do filter through up to 8 hours after being consumed. The researchers did this by feeding the women “flavour capsules” (yum!) and taking milk samples. Different flavours peaked in the milk at different times and most interestingly of all in my opinion the banana flavour never appeared! I eat a banana most days so hopefully this means my milk isn’t too bland-tasting…

    This presumably means that tasting breast milk ice cream would be a bit of a Russian roulette situation!

    breast milk ice cream

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    Lies, damned lies and statistics

    Going right back to the beginning of the pregnancy journey, there was a fascinating article on BBC News yesterday based on a new book (The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant) about the sources for statistics used about conception and fertility rates.

    A few key excerpts:

    “Take this often-cited statistic: one out of three women over the age of 35 will not have conceived after a year of trying.

    The data on which that statistic is based is from 1700s France. They put together all these church birth records and then came up with these statistics about how likely it was [someone would] get pregnant after certain ages.”

    “A graph based on 17th-19thC birth records still features in the “Figures and Tables” section of the 2013 Nice fertility guideline”.

    It amazes me even if it doesn’t entirely surprise me that some of the data being used to advise us is completely out of date. We worry about having children in our early thirties rather than late thirties when in reality there is no “cliff” when you turn thirty five that, as you blow out the candles on your cake, “poof” goes your fertility as well.

    As the article mentions, if you actually use a more up-to-date study (Dunson et al, 2004) you find that the story is a lot more rosy for those in their late thirties with conception rates above 80% within a year. For those that are interested, I have included some more on the findings from the study at the bottom.

    Because of the ethics involved in conception, pregnancy and birth, the ability to run true experiments where you can control factors is limited, the science becomes more like social science where you can’t control much if anything and just hope you can identify the main factors contributing to an effect (something the Chancellor will be wringing his hands about in the case of austerity economics!).

    I guess the moral of the story is one drummed into me during GCSE History – know the reliability of your sources. If a statistic is making you change your behaviour then it is worth knowing where it came from, and judge for yourself its relevance. And if NICE are guilty of dubiously relevant statistics then anyone could be at it.

    Trust no one Mr Mulder!

    More from the Dunson et al 2004 study

    The graphs show the probability of falling pregnant for each age group cumulatively against the number of menstrual cycles they have been trying for. The difference between the first and the second graphs is that in the first, couples were having sex twice a week and in the second once (interestingly there is no graph for three times a week because they found no statistical difference between two and three times).

    “The proportion of women failing to conceive within 12 cycles (thus meeting the criterion for clinical infertility) ranges from 8% for 19- to 26-year-olds to 13–14% for 27- to 34-year-olds, to 18% for 35- to 39-year-olds. If frequency of intercourse is reduced to once per week, the rates of infertility increase substantially to 15%, 22–24%, and 29% for women aged 19–26, 27–34, and 35–39 years, respectively”.

    Like father, like son?

    From the start, most people have said that Pip most resembles Mr Cath rather than me. There are exceptions: for example, my parents think he looks like me as a baby. And one friend who shall remain nameless recently commented that Pip looked like his father when he was born, but he is looking more and more like me “now that his cheeks are filling out a bit”. Um, cheers.

    The funny thing is, it’s not just Pip, and certainly not just boys. Most babies really seem to look like their Dads. But why? Babies’ genes are split 50/50 so they should look like both their parents equally… but my experience and that of other people appears to suggest that this isn’t the case.

    There are a few credible-ish theories as to why this might be:

    1. Cavemen


    One reason why babies look like their fathers could have its roots in evolution. To reassure the father that the baby is his own offspring, and therefore not a threat, this particular resemblance developed. As in the animal kingdom, it also discouraged the man from eating his young… possibly. The instinct to hunt and gather would also be stronger when one is providing for one’s own child.

    2. A mother’s honour

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    Three months

    Yesterday, Elphie was three months old. The difference between her now and at birth is incredible, I can barely remember her being as small as some of the babies at the Health Visitor clinic but she must have been. The grub is now looking around herself, actively interacting with stuff, smiling and chortling and in a few weeks she will have doubled in size from her birth weight. The rolls of fat are gathering on her arms and her thighs. She can sit against something and not immediately topple over. And she is showing signs of the little girl she will become – just glimmers, but occasionally I can almost imagine what she might grow up to look like.
    As for me, that’s a different story.

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