As you may know, we bought our first house in April. After years of renting, it was such an exciting prospect to start making it into a home. Plus, y’know, it’s nice to pay your own mortgage at a lesser amount to someone else’s. I’d been dreaming of decorating my own place for so long that I thought I’d want to batter in at full pelt, with swatches and samples in every colour scheme, shade and finish. Turns out moving twice with a baby is knackering. By the time we’d unpacked, cleaned, vaguely rearranged the furniture and stocked up on essentials, we kind of ran out of steam.

Even for an old person’s room this would be ‘eh’

I had an idea of what I wanted for Lucas’s room. I wanted something that would grow with him, but was still suitable for a baby’s room. The colour scheme I had in mind was neutral, so that I could tart up it with accessories. It also had to look homely and playful, but still practical. And nothing involving wallpaper. So far, so many, many requests. Thankfully I’d spotted mountain murals during a tumble down the Pinterest abyss and they ticked all of my boxes. They range from simple and stylistic to complicated and multi-tonal. What I liked, was that it could be as intricate (or not) as you wanted.

In the end, I had so many images pinned that mine became a sort of composite of everything. Having zero experience in the field of DIY (other than glossing windows at seven months pregnant and painting my bathroom window), I recorded it at every step of the way. There were loads of ideas online and a few decent tutorials. Since it’s our first attempt I thought I’d put together a wee step-by-step guide of my own, so here it is!

Research It!

Even if you have a vague hypothetical image, keep an open mind. Have a quick shufti on Pinterest, if it’s possible to do so. Look for blogs, articles, tutorials, videos, hell even a Google image search. You might find layouts or colour schemes you hadn’t thought of, or other decorative ideas. Save ’em, pin ’em, stash ’em in a folder. This can give a good indication of what colours you’re going to use. Roughly speaking you’ll need light, mid and dark tones so make sure your colours mix together.

Samples and tester pots are handy as they can often look different once applied, and even days later. I didn’t put too much thought into where I bought my supplies: there’s a B&Q about two minutes’ drive from my house.

There were loads of murals I liked: some more complicated than others, but mostly all for larger rooms. In the end, I drew a sketch of what I wanted it to look like, mapped out what colours should go where and worked from that.

Have a good base to work from

The room was wallpapered when we moved in and stripping it was the biggest chore. We decided a white base was best to work from, as it’d best show up the mural and would give us a clean slate for the other walls. The previous owners had left a couple of tins of white emulsion- yass. This made our choice easier as even white emulsion is a minefield. We ended up using silk emulsion, which has a slight iridescent sheen to it. If you want something flatter, go for a matt. Silk is easier to wipe, but it can also show up imperfections, so go with whatever best suits your needs.

Choose your tools

I didn’t put a great deal of research into the paints I used. The plans I’d drawn required a light, mid and dark grey, and I went from there. My nearest DIY store was B&Q so went there for convenience, and had a browse of their testers. If you’re not sure what colours to go for, testers are great. I painted a few swatches and let them dry overnight, to see what they’d look like dry. I bought three Dulux shades: Warm PewterPolished Pebble and Urban Obsession. I ended up not using the latter as it was just too dark, but it depends on what you’re going for. For the background, I used colourcourage in Soft Grey. It dried to an almost beige-grey which complemented the other shades nicely.

We got paint pads for the white emulsion, instead of using a roller, as they gave better coverage with less splashback. I used a medium-sized one for the bulk of the mural coverage and tidied up the edges with a brush. Don’t forget a dust sheet if you don’t already have one. It’s a licence to make as much splattery mess as you want.

Make Your Mark

There were loads of murals I liked: some more complicated than others, but mostly all for larger rooms. In the end, I drew a sketch of what I wanted it to look like, mapped out what colours should go where and worked from that. The plan itself was pretty flexible. Once I knew what colours I was using I could play about with it. Even if you don’t stick with it to the letter, it’s handy to have a visual reminder. I measured the height of the wall then got bored of measuring. I’d also pinged myself in the hand with the retractable tape measure and it was hell’a nippy.

Plan in other hand, I marked the design on the wall using Frogtape. It’s easy to apply and can be moved about without losing its stickiness. Every time I stuck a bit down I’d step back and readjust to straighten up my lines. With a Scandi-inspired design you want your lines to be clean. Frogtape is great for giving you really sharp lines. Trim off any excess or overlapping tape with a cutting knife or super-sharp scissors. You don’t want any sad, flaccid, blunt lines.

Little hint: once you’ve got your tape where you want it, give it a wipe with a wet cloth or sponge and it won’t budge ’til you want it to. (This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, I just bought, like, three kinds of Frogtape and it turned out pretty sweet).

Have At It

Now that it’s all been marked off, start with the biggest area (that requires the most coverage) first. That way, you can work round the fiddly edges while the middle bit is drying. I started with the mid-grey that made up most of the mountain, then got in about the shady shapes behind it. The peaks were the last thing to start and finish.

Once you’ve painted the edges, remove the tape immediately (or at the very most, after an hour or so). That way, you’ll get the sharpest lines and the paint won’t bleed.

Yes, you’ll need to keep applying the tape to get your lines straight and fill in the gaps. Don’t do this right away. Leave it for an hour or so, or you run the risk of the tape ripping off your paint. When you paint on one side of the tape, you’ll need to adjust it to fill in any blank space. It’s fiddly, but the whole design relies on straight lines, so it’s worth the extra effort.

Don’t paint a second coat while the first is still drying- this will make the paint blister and it’ll look weird. Crack a window and leave it for a day. I repeated the process the following day until the paint was smooth and even, the edges were sharp and any blotchy bits had been fixed. Voila- a mountain mural.

The room is still far from being finished- the opposite wall is a complete blank canvas, and as you can see we don’t have curtains yet. The mural gave a good basis for the room’s colour scheme though, so we have a better idea of what else to put in it. This IKEA Gonatt cotbed also comes in white, but the grey sold me on it. It has two heights and you can remove the bars on one side to make it into a bed. Perfect for the whole ‘room that grows with the baby’ thing. There are other random bits and little touches to give the room some colour, too. For a work in progress, and a first attempt at DIY, I’m pretty proud of it. If you’re attempting something similar, I hope this little guide was useful (even as a fan letter to Frogtape).

Let me clear up one thing, before I go on with the rest of this: I’d never normally re-post or even comment on anything from the D*ily M*il. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you genuinely read it, if it’s your main source of news, I don’t think I want to be friends with you.

However- and it’s a big however- there are some instances in which it’s necessary to draw attention to it. They say the best way to deal with a troll is to ignore it, that they’re looking for attention. I say why should they get all the fun? Sometimes it’s necessary to trump them at their own game. Recently, parent bloggers were in an uproar as ‘journalist’ Anna May Mangan threw up her her hands about the rise of the ‘slummy mummy’.

You probably know the type: ones like The Unmumsy Mum (who was namechecked at length), who proclaim their children to be mini-antichrists, who send said children out as dishevelled riots and rely on chain-smoking, gin and profanities to drag them from sunrise ’til sunset. A parent blogger’s merit, she says, is judged on who can be the ‘most slapdash’. If you dare to say you enjoy motherhood, you’re bottom of the pile. Something is rotten in the state of motherhood, and these scummy, gin-riddled, neglectful wretches are to blame.

I didn’t spend our first child-free date night drinking orange juice

Mangan decries these women, stating that their vulgar lifestyles and constant moaning are an insult to feminism, organised mums and women who can’t have children. There’s nothing funny about being ‘too busy checking Facebook’ to make your children have a proper breakfast. Mangan also throws her hands up at the thought of mothers throwing together frozen meals as a quick fix (sometimes not even defrosted). The worst thing about them, though? They’re not slummy at all. No, in a daring feat of investigative do, she hazards a guess that these women are actually well-educated and middle-class, with well-fed, ruddy cheeked cherubs for offspring.

I can only guess that she did zero research on her subjects if she finds this surprising. Had she ever thoroughly read the books and blogs she was berating, she’d realise that they reek of middle class. Mangan is clearly not someone with an awareness of poetic licence, or indeed exaggeration for comedic effect. I’m not all that enamoured with the phrase ‘slummy mummy’ for one thing. I’m sure it’s meant in jolly japes, but it feels oddly classist. I mean, if the D*ily M*il considered these women ‘slummy’, then what was I? Unmarried, working in customer service, living in a one bedroom rented flat in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow, who took a pregnancy test after a bender in Berlin and- gasp- a bottle feeder? Unmumsy mummies wouldn’t even have looked in my direction to toast hurrah for gin.

Reading The Unmumsy Mum didn’t make me gape in horror. Rather, I felt the opposite. I knew she and I were on an uneven keel when I read that she planned her babies (I didn’t) and was in a good, well-paying, steady career (I wasn’t). No one really thinks of parents like these as ‘slummy’ because they swear and don’t abstain from a drink or three. In the face of most other baby books, though, it was almost a reassurance. It reminded me that it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and have a moan, and swear, and eye-bang a bottle of wine with the kind of lust that got you into this mess in the first place.

Sure, so-called slummy mummy bloggers might not be tanking Tanqueray as soon as they wrestle their little hellions into bed. I seriously doubt that they can’t stay sober long enough to feed and clothe their children. Mangan takes this to the n’th degree, stating that they’re making up the whole damn thing for likes and shares. Umm, hardly. A slight exaggeration for comedy value, perhaps, but wouldn’t it be dull if all they offered was the minutiae of their day? What they have done, though, is offer a different take from traditional parenting books. The kind that enforce routine, order and military precision (Gina Ford, I’m looking at you).

Motherhood has long been an exalted undertaking, a miraculous blessing that we should fall to our knees and be thankful for. God forbid we say anything about feeling scared or overwhelmed, or that the first few weeks with a newborn are anything less than hallowed. The fact that women are making public their fears, frustrations and pitfalls chips away at the veneer of perfect motherhood. It might not be their verbatim experience, but it’s a damn sight more relatable than perfect celebrity mums who snap back into their pre-baby clothes. No one tells the absolute truth of what motherhood is like, but they’re offering a version I can concur with.

I’ve written before about how my initial reaction to impending motherhood wasn’t sheer joy. That scared me more than anything else. The thought of pregnancy, labour and childbirth didn’t faze me. I was terrified of the fact that I wasn’t turning cartwheels at the sight of those two blue lines. What if this was how I’d always feel? What if I resented the baby for what it was? I was at an age where friends were settling down and trying for a family, and some weren’t having much success. I knew of people who’d been so desperate to fulfil their familial wish that they’d opted for IVF. I hadn’t planned any of this. When I thought about all of those people who’d struggled to conceive, I almost felt like I didn’t deserve to be pregnant.

Pregnancy brought with it a resurgence in blogging and I sought out other parenting books and blogs with aplomb. There, I found books like The Unmumsy Mum and How To Have A Baby And Not Lose Your Shit. Sure, there are plenty of mums who are always on the ball, planning meals and appointments and enjoy doing so. The point that Mangan missed was that being one type of mum isn’t a ‘fuck you’ to the other. I eventually want to go back to work, but I have the utmost respect for people who want to be stay at home mums. My house is clean(ish) but untidy, my sink is a permanent rotation of clean and dirty dishes and I sat down to write this after washing butternut squash puree out of my hair. I admire those people who can maintain a child and a home, because I can’t. Hats off to ya. Sure, I get frustrated when Lucas cries endlessly despite trying everything to settle him. I like the (very) rare occasion where we leave him with grandparents and I can get in about a large rosé. It doesn’t make me a bad mum. It makes me imperfect, but what doesn’t?

Bloggers like Sarah Turner help to remind us, in their own way, that motherhood can be hard. More importantly they tell us that it’s OK to admit that. However, for every dirty nappy anecdote there’s another heartfelt one about loving her children, or how hard it was growing up without a mother. Being an imperfect mum doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He never has to go without. There’s always an abundance of food, nappies and clothes in our house. And at the end of the night, when one large rosé has turned into last orders, I’m the first to get my phone out and flip through the 1500 pictures of him (and counting). After all, children don’t care that your house is clean, whether you’re wearing make up or whether you’re nursing an ‘adult headache’ and bright lights and noise bring physical pain. They don’t care that you have your meals prepped for the week and they could eat them from your sparkling floor. All children care about is that you love them. If you can offer them that, you’re doing OK.

2017 is the Scottish year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and it’s definitely something we’re not short of. Not only is the country spoiled with a wealth of scenery, it’s also home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites. Ever since I was wee I’ve had a love of history and exploring, ably helped by my mum and dad taking us to castles, heritage sites, landmarks and museums around the country.

Thanks to this, I was/am/will always be a massive history nerd. I devoured any information I could read about historical landmarks, so that when I went I understood its relevance (fun fact: I made a documentary of my trip to Linlithgow Palace when I was nine, putting me way ahead of the vlogging game). It’s been a lifelong passion for me, which has shaped my interests personally and academically. Of course, I didn’t understand the importance of culture and heritage as a kid. I just knew that these places nurtured my imagination and brought what I’d read about to life, and none more so than New Lanark Mill.

New Lanark Mill is nestled in the Falls Of Clyde, less than an hour outside Glasgow. Like a lot of 18th century villages, New Lanark centred around its cotton mill. Its residents lived, learned and worked in the village. However, unlike many other villages of the same nature, mill owner Robert Owen believed that the most efficient workers were happy workers. Key to their happiness, he believed, was access to education, healthcare and good food. Owen was what you’d call a “Utopian philanthropist”, concerning himself with worker well-being at a time of industrial revolution.

At the time it was a pretty innovative notion (let’s face it, it’d be an innovative notion today). As a result of its legacy, the Mill was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and the village still thrives today. I remember going as a child, but I don’t think I’ve been down that way in about twenty years. It was surprising how much of it I remembered (being a heritage site, there’s not a huge amount you can change, I guess). As soon as we got out of the car, the first thing that strikes you is the setting. The site is based within a conservation area, and the first thing you notice is trees for miles.

We were welcomed with tickets and a little passport which we had to get stamped in each of the five areas of the Mill. The first thing you come across is the Annie Macleod Experience: you hop aboard a pod that transports you through time, offering a history of the mill through the eyes of ten year old mill worker Annie. When the little girl’s voice came through the headsets asking “do you believe in ghosts?“, I remembered the shiver I’d gotten the first time I boarded the ride. It was strange, feeling like both a recent and distant memory. I’d forgotten the specifics of it, so it felt like a new experience watching the ghosts of the past swirl around us, bringing alive the stories of real people that could’ve easily been forgotten.

From then on we went into the mill room to see a real one in action, got a shot at hopscotch and learned some history behind Robert Owen and the establishment of the mill. In all honesty, I have no idea how a mill works but it was really interesting seeing one in action. The mill is still used to this day to make wool, which you can also take home. Textile production is a big part of Scottish heritage, and I found something quite reassuring about it. I think there’s some comfort to be found, in the time of fast fashion and mass production, that there’s still a demand for local, homespun, quality goods.

From then we took the lift up to the roof garden, the views from which were stunning. It was a bitterly cold day and we were short of time, so we didn’t get to take a trek along to the Falls Of Clyde but the views were enough to tick us over ’til next time. The Roof Garden is the largest of its kind in Scotland, contains over 70 different kinds of plants and is decorated with plaques featuring quotes by Owen. After the noise of the mill downstairs, the Roof Garden was like stepping away from the world.

After a quick refresh (the café is pretty decent, by the by) we made our way outside to the Old School House. For having such a large population at its peak, the village is fairly compact which makes it easy to navigate. Seeing the old classroom set up as it would’ve been was pretty cool, and I even had a shoddy attempt at cursive using the slates. Unusually for the time, the school was set up for both children and adults: children would learn during the day while adults (and kids who worked in the mill) could attend after a shift. It included a creche for young children and acted as a hub of activity for the community (it frequently hosted dances and concerts as well as having a library).

Across the way was an exhibition commemorating the men of the village who had fought in World War One, the women who worked in the mill producing textiles for the war effort and the efforts of village fundraisers. It’s hard to imagine the scale of loss suffered by villages like these and exhibitions like this help to keep the memory alive. It’s especially important as there are no more survivors left– it’s up to us to make their story heard and their faces visible. Seeing photographs, family treasures, handwritten letters and personal testimonies made it seem so much more poignant- and tragically pointless.

Most of the mill workers’ houses have been turned into either owner-occupied flats or form part of a Housing Association, with the ambition of keeping the village as a living community. Luckily, they haven’t all been modernised: our next stop after the school were the preserved examples of housing from the 1930s and 1820s. What struck me the most was that the houses were apparently generously spaced and in good condition for the time. It consisted of a kitchen (OK, a pretty big one, but still) and a little bedroom off to the side. The 1820s house consisted of even less: a singl’ end style property could see ten people crammed into one room. It put our current living situation into perspective- seeing the way people lived back then made me feel a little bad for complaining about our one bedroom flat. While the style of housing wasn’t all that different to anywhere else, it was the conditions they were kept in that set them apart. The mill houses had electricity and running water, and latterly indoor toilets- practically unheard of at the time.

We just about squeezed in the village shop before we had to leave: the shop was a co-operative, set up so that villagers could have access to fresh produce at lower prices than in the local towns and cities. To this day it sells Fair Trade products, including New Lanark’s own-recipe ice cream. The mill also still produces its own wool, which is pretty impressive given its inception was over 200 years ago.

Places like New Lanark are crucial to our understanding of social history. It’s one thing to study it or read about it, but seeing it first hand brings it vividly to life. It makes history tangible, shows us where we came from. The mill and other places like it were milestones in social justice. Its emphasis on humane conditions was innovative at the time and remains so today. Access to education and healthcare are now recognised as fundamental human rights, and places like New Lanark realised this in a time when workers’ rights were unheard of. The layout of the place is easy to walk through, picking up information on the various attractions as you go. Lucas might have been a little young to appreciate it, but it was still nice to have a little family day out and take in some culture. There’s so much to see that we didn’t even have a chance to get around it all in one day. We’ve still got the Falls Of Clyde to explore, and we’re already looking into going back in the summer for the Brick City Lego exhibition. Who says history has to be boring?

We were invited to spend the day at New Lanark Mill as part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017 celebrations, but my opinions are all mine.

  • The Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology celebrations are running across the country throughout the rest of 2017 and you can find out more here.
  • More information on UNESCO and its world heritage sites across the UK can be found here.

Confession time.

One time, I left a mum and baby class without staying to feed my son even though I knew he was about due one.

He woke up when we left, as he normally does if he hasn’t taken a feed in a few hours. I hurriedly said my goodbyes and made haste for the door. We trundled through the park to the post office, that I had to get to before 5. It was half 4. I could see him gurning, prayed that it wouldn’t escalate before we got home. Of course it did though. He started screaming right at that point where I was closer to my destination than to home.

“Aw, someone’s hungry”, commented the woman who served me in the post office, as he spat out his dummy and screamed.

The woman who held the door for me gave me a sympathising glance as I hustled him into the cold, hoping that might calm him down. But no. He continued screaming.

He screamed as I pushed the pram in the wrong direction and had to stand in the street with my phone out trying to figure out how to get home. He kept screaming as I hit upon the brainwave of feeding him in the safe, neon foyer of the New Victoria Hospital, a safe space, where I’d attended my midwife appointments and antenatal classes. I knew I could sit and feed him comfortably and without judgement. It was one of those piercing, sore-sounding, slightly pathetic screams that only newborn babies have. People tutted, gave us the side eye, dodged the pram to get by us without making eye contact. We made it to the hospital, he had his feed and we could make our way home.

The reason I didn’t want to feed him in the mum and baby class left me feeling ashamed. I didn’t want to feed him because he takes a bottle, the mum and baby class was a breastfeeding workshop and I was embarrassed. Lucas slept all the way through it while I tried to explain how hard and frustrating and tiring feeding had been. The other mums nodded and said yes, they were exhausted too, their precious darlings breastfed too much. One mum dominated the conversation humble-bragging about how tiring it was feeding a newborn and a twenty month old at once. I had to stop myself from telling her it clearly hadn’t had any positive effects on her twenty month old’s behaviour, as the little shit wrenched a succession of toys from the hands of an eight month old baby.

Some mums were nice, but they still had their own judgements. I said that our midwife had advised me to give Lucas pre-mixed formula as a top up. They tutted, turned up their noses, they shouldn’t be telling you that. They overlooked the fact that we’d been told this because Lucas had lost 13% of his body weight and had to be readmitted to hospital. It didn’t take into account his as-then-undetected tongue tie which meant he couldn’t latch on to breastfeed and was pretty much starving. This group felt like a last lifeline, though. All of the mum and baby workshops, baby cafés and support groups were for breastfeeding. There was no bottle-feeding support. If I couldn’t breastfeed him, where was I going to go? How would I meet other mums?

It turns out there are plenty of other options- it just didn’t feel like it at the time.

My post about Lucas’s first month, and a post on Instagram, detailed our experience with feeding and the tongue tie clinic and I got a lot of feedback from mums who’d been through similar. I still couldn’t find a lot of support for bottle feeding, though. Even buying formula online had a “breastfeeding is best!!!!” disclaimer slapped on it. Sure, the NHS website had a step-by-step guide to covering the basics, but the support is notable by its absence. The difference in menu options says a lot…

There’s bottle-feeding information, yeah, but look how- pardon the pun- formulaic it is. How to sterilise bottles, how to make up formula, what types are available. On the topic of breastfeeding, there’s a wealth of information about how to feed, what positions are best, feeding your baby in public, trouble-shooting, even testimonies from other mums. There are no testimonies from bottle-feeding mums.

I know, I know. I’ve seen the posters, read the literature, spoken with health professionals. I know “breast is best”. Bottle-feeding was never my first choice. For one thing, well, the health benefits. For another, the convenience. Like I could take my baby out for hours and not have to worry about making up feeds because they were right there. And yeah, the crucial factor for me, it’s free. Formula is EXPENSIVE and you only go through more of it because, let’s face it, your baby’s only going to get bigger.

What message does it send, though, that bottle-feeding is treated like such an afterthought even by our health service? I don’t mean this to descend into a breast vs. bottle debate, and it shouldn’t be. However, the drop in mums who breastfeed goes from 81% in hospital to 55% after six weeks. Surely they can’t all be ‘just lazy’? A study on baby café services in the UK concluded that unrealistic expectations from antenatal services left mums unprepared for the reality of feeding.

In my experience this was absolutely true. I wanted to breastfeed, so I never felt pushed into it by antenatal services. However, at no point did they say just how hard it’d be. I seem to remember there being talk of it being a new skill that you had to learn, but it revolved around the first couple of days in hospital. Lucas’s first feed, in the hour after he was born, went without a hitch. I mistakenly thought that was it. It was a different story at home. He couldn’t feed or get the energy to feed and so he cried. The more he cried, I cried, and the whole process just felt torturous.

We took him to the tongue tie clinic at the Royal Hospital for Children, in the hopes that it’d help him latch on. It didn’t, and we went back to the same routine. In between this he was happily taking formula. He was steadily putting on weight and the health visitor commented on how alert he was. I tried to express but got less and less each time. It came to a head when he screamed even before he tried to latch on. “What the fuck DO YOU WANT?” I yelled. Then it hit me. I was shouting at a baby for something that he couldn’t help or understand. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

This post by the brilliant Not So Smug Now was really eye-opening. I didn’t know that it was illegal to advertise formula. The government, it seems, views formula in the same regard as tobacco. The World Health Organisation isn’t too keen on it either, believing that its use should only be considered following an informed and impartial decision.

It’s a good thing that breastfeeding is being encouraged, as is the push to normalise it in public. Studies have shown that a woman’s decision to feed can be based on environmental factors, and that young mums are more likely to bottle-feed as it’s deemed as socially acceptable (although a big part of me thinks this is due to a confidence issue as much as societal). Expectant mums should absolutely encouraged to breastfeed, or at least be made aware of its benefits. However, if mums do choose (or have) to bottle feed, similar information and support should be offered.

MP Alison Thewliss published a bill last week on the marketing of formula feeding. She’s done a lot of work in promoting breastfeeding, and I agree with many of the points, but I do have some concerns. I definitely think it should be tested independently under scrutiny, and companies should be held accountable for misleading promotion. Independent findings should also take precedence over formula-sponsored ‘research’. It’ll allow mums to make a more informed decision regarding feeding choices, which can only be a good thing. I think follow-on and ‘hungry baby’ milks are a complete con, and shouldn’t be marketed as a supplement to weaning (we bought Lucas ‘hungry baby’ milk only to be told that it’s not more dense in nutrients. It just bulks up more).

Plain packaging feels like an easy target, like formula should be something that’s hidden away out of sight- much like tobacco products. Same goes for not allowing it to be discussed in mum and baby clubs. Excluding support for mums because of their feeding choices isn’t going to help them feel included and supported. I doubt that’s the intent, but who knows. You can read the bill here and make up your own mind. These measures aren’t going to increase breastfeeding awareness. That can only happen through education, continued research into feeding choices and better access to feeding consultants and postnatal care.

What I do know is that we need to refocus our own scrutiny. 50% of new mums in England and Wales feel that their mental and emotional wellbeing was overlooked due to a lack of access to midwifery care. In 2016, Citizens’ Advice reported a 58% increase in expectant mums raising concerns over employee rights. There is still a gulf between maternity pay and maternity allowance that can cause anguish for mums on zero hour contracts or who are self-employed.

Instead of shaming mums for their feeding choices, let’s direct that energy elsewhere. It’s a crazy notion, but let’s support them instead. Being a new mum can be an extremely lonely, vulnerable and emotional time. Lucas was referred to the tongue tie clinic a second time, but they said there wasn’t really much to be done. “If the bottle works for you, keep doing that- just enjoy him”. That’s exactly what we’ve done. As long as a baby is fed, clothed and loved, it’s no one else’s business what teat it prefers.

Useful Links

The NCT’s advice on bottle feeding includes how to prepare feeds and deal with common feeding problems.

The fantastically funny (and honest) ladies over at Frank About Feeding talk about all things breast and bottle- no prejudice here.

Fearless Formula Feeder, aka author Suzanne Barston, offers a refreshing look at formula feeding, with enough support and information to help you make an informed decision.

You can keep up with official developments from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding.

NHS Scotland has a with lots of resources.

 

After a bumpy start, Ally and I have managed to look after our li’l bean- or Lucas James, officially- for a whole month. It’s not been easy but he’s on the right track. He’s putting on weight and growing into his newborn clothes (after spending the first couple of weeks in tiny baby size). He’s feeding, he responds well to lights and sounds, he sleeps in a little cot next to me snuggled in a blanket and cries on cue for feeds and changes. To all intents and purposes, he’s happy and developing. Getting to this point though, has not been so straightforward.

After a fairly straightforward labour our three days in hospital felt like a blur. On our second day we were told that we were getting kept in another night, and I was actually relieved. At 6lb 5oz and ten days early, he was a little on the scrappy side. I didn’t feel ready for us to be out on our own yet and wanted to know we were doing OK. Most new mums- from what I’d read, anyway- talked about how they couldn’t wait to get their babies home. Right from the off, I felt weird because I didn’t want to. Well, I didn’t want to take him back to our flat. A draughty, cold, one bedroom, rented tenement which hadn’t had a proper clean in time for his arrival? Not exactly a dream family home. The hospital was safe and clean. We had advice on demand. Still, it all had to come to an end. Ally couldn’t stay overnight in hospital with us which he hated. It wasn’t fair, and I knew we had to go our own way eventually. We were discharged on the Sunday afternoon, although we had a couple of hours to get ready. I looked out of the window, watching the endless stream of buses and cars. Their lives were going on as normal and they had no idea how ours had changed. It was grey, cold, dirty with rain and traffic. I didn’t want to take my baby out in that, but we had to start our new family life.

I might’ve overestimated how big he would be at first when I bought this outfit, though.

Thankfully my mum, a former mental health nurse, had warned me about the baby blues. Knowing they were on their way didn’t help when they actually kicked in, though. Childbirth is a raging hormone-fest and obviously this has a direct effect on your mood and emotions. Around two to four days after giving birth the baby blues kick in. It’s a combination of exhaustion, low mood and a feeling of being overwhelmed. Some mums also find childbirth to be an anti-climax after pregnancy and labour. This is ALL normal and DOES NOT mean you don’t love your baby. I staved off the blues in hospital floating along in a new baby bubble, and just got through the getting home part. We stopped off to pick up Lucas’s pram en route and it really upset me that people weren’t stopping to coo over him. The fact that I barely glanced twice at a baby before pregnancy didn’t occur to me. That first night saw a whirlwind of family visits. We ordered Chinese, drank tea, played records and opened presents. We were listening to Rumours when Songbird came on. Ally was seeing family out and it was just me, my baby and Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard the song countless times but this time, it just hit me. Out of nowhere, the blues had crept up on me and the tears came on heavy.

No one really tells you how it really feels to be released into the wild with a baby. I mean, I knew having a baby was hard but I didn’t really know. I knew it was hard in the same way that I know that being a doctor or riding a horse is hard. I was fully unprepared for the exhaustion, the frustration, the general feeling of being so utterly overwhelmed. On our first full day home we decided to take Lucas a short walk in the pram. As well as giving birth, there had been a few other stressful things to deal with so I thought the fresh air would do us good. We accidentally ended up out for two hours, which was further than I’d been in months.  We got to a post office after trekking forever and I was getting sore. When we got there, it was bright, noisy, the queue was huge and there were annoying kids diving about everywhere. I walked straight back out and burst into tears. I just about made it home before almost fainting coming out of the shower and having to phone the triage nurse. My skin was cracked and dry, I hadn’t slept in four nights, my milk had come in but my baby wasn’t feeding. He was so small, his little ribs poked out and he spent the whole night screaming. I can’t even remember what I thought or felt because I was thinking and feeling so much. Barely three days in and I already felt like we were falling behind.

It was the second morning after discharge that I took this picture. I’d tried to take a picture of the two of us at home and that was the result. I knew I was tired, hadn’t been eating properly, hadn’t been drinking enough water, was getting stressed. I hadn’t realised how much it showed in my face. It’s probably the worst picture that’s ever been taken of me. There’s no filter, no editing. It pretty much summed up how lost I was feeling. I was supposed to be responsible for feeding my baby and he all he did was scream because I couldn’t. After two days at home, the midwife recommended that Lucas go back in to the special care baby unit due to his weight loss. Most newborns lose around 5-10% of their body weight after birth, but he had dropped 13%. I almost felt relieved. Maybe it’s something to do with him, I thought. Maybe I’m not a bad mum after all. At the very least, they could tell us what to do. Immediately I felt a little confidence returning- if we were staying in they could keep an eye on him, help us, make sure we knew what we were doing. After six hours they told us he was a little jaundiced and was losing weight because he didn’t have the energy to feed- but couldn’t feed to get energy. I was over the moon that there was nothing seriously wrong with him, but felt like the cause was my fault. Once again I was sent home, although the loan of a breast pump meant I could at least monitor his feeds. Our midwife also visited every day for the first week, which was a huge help. She made sure he was seen to as soon as she thought there was an issue. I’ve seen some mums have a hard time with their midwife- if so, you have every right to ask for a change. It’s a huge life event and you need all the support you can get. A stranger coming into your home shouldn’t add to the stress!

Lucas was born two weeks before Christmas. Usually a newborn baby means an influx of visitors and over the festive period, this was even more intense than it would’ve been. It’s a good complaint, I suppose. It would’ve sucked even worse if no one had bothered with him. However, I did find it hard to keep up and often found myself wishing we could have more than a couple of hours or so with our wee bundle. I didn’t want to pass him around and have everyone hovering and fussing. I found it hard to let go. People laughed when I begrudgingly handed him over, knowing full well it was new mum overprotection. I knew I was being oversensitive but it made me uncomfortable. In hindsight, I wish I’d had the confidence to say that I wanted some time to myself. I spent a lot of our alone time crying because everything felt so daunting. It felt like a chore that I was struggling to keep up with but felt awful because people were only trying to be nice. I cried with guilt because I didn’t have time to reply to all the messages and comments on social media. All I could think was how ungrateful I felt for not sending messages or wanting other people to see him.

Five weeks on and I still don’t feel like I have it together. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to us. I know I shouldn’t care as long as he’s being fed, but keeping going feels important to me. On the advice of my midwife we went to a breastfeeding workshop at Merry Go Round, where the consultant detected a tongue tie. It meant he had trouble fully opening his mouth and therefore couldn’t latch on. It’s actually really common and is easy to correct. My health visitor referred him to the Royal Children’s Hospital to get it treated (basically, snipped), so I’m hoping this will be what we need to get ahead. At times I feel like I’m being selfish ploughing on with breastfeeding. He clearly finds it stressful and when he can’t latch on starts screaming. In saying that, the expressed milk is better for him so… we’ll see how we get on, I guess. If you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding habits- or lack thereof- tell someone. You’re not a bad mum if you struggle, although it’s easy to feel down if you can’t. The help is there for you. It’s hard to admit- I’m terrible at asking for help- but there’s no such thing as a stupid question when your baby’s health is concerned. After all, it’s better to ask and have nothing be wrong than say nothing and worry.

It’s hard, but if this last month has taught me anything it’s to treasure the smallest moments. I know in the first month or so, everything feels like a battle. All the plans I made for being a mum went out the window. I thought I’d have time to clean out my flat and make a little space for my baby. I thought, after the first feed, that breastfeeding would be easy and we could get out and about knowing he was getting everything he needed, whenever he needed. I pictured myself reading to him, playing music, using naptime to keep up with housework. It’s not that easy- but we’ll get there. I had no idea how to read a baby’s cues. Sometimes you get frustrated when they won’t stop crying. It’s also normal if your partner doesn’t feel the same way as you. Ally seemed to take to parenting a lot more naturally than I did, and it wasn’t fair. I was the one who’d carried him and it took a while to realise that he wasn’t doing it to spite me. I still had to find my own knack, and we’re still figuring out a routine. Lucas is only five weeks old. I’m always going to worry about money (or lack thereof, urgh), or his health, or like I’m not doing something right. At the same time he’s already changed so month in a few short weeks. Learning to cut us both a break is important for us. After all, he’s not going to be a newborn very long. Rather than worry about doing things wrong, it’s time to remember that we’re doing the best we can. We’re all new at this. And I think we might be getting on OK, for now.

Thank you to all the staff at the Princess Royal Maternity Hospital and Special Care Baby Unit in Glasgow, as well as the community midwives who looked after us at home. We would’ve been lost without you. 

Useful Advice

Bounty have articles and advice for every stage of pregnancy and beyond, including the baby blues.

National Breastfeeding Helpline are open every day of the year on 0300 100 0212 (09:30-21:30) as well as online.

NCT run loads of free classes and support groups for expectant and new parents, including help with feeding. Lucas and I like our local baby café!

NHS Choices, ‘Postnatal Depression’

Mind, the mental health charity, have plenty of information on postnatal depression.