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.

 

Now I am 30.

My twenties have now officially come and gone and I’ve entered the realm of 30. Honestly? I couldn’t be happier about it. Sure, it’d be nice to be turning 20 now instead of when I did, growing up savvier and with so many more information and opportunities at my disposal.

But I’m not, and wishing for it is just encroaching more on my thirties, so why bother.

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Since crashing into my third trimester, I’ve actually started to feel… well, pregnant. It sounds stupid, I know- like I haven’t known I am the whole time. I just feel like there’s been a marked change in how I look and feel. The last couple of weeks have seen some particularly significant growth. When I look down, my feet have all but disappeared. In the last two weeks alone my bump seems to have grown significantly. Even Ally commented that it looked like it had grown in the last week- and he’s the last person who’d think to make a comment on my size (for his own wellbeing and, well, because he’s not a tool).

29-week-baby-bump-selfie

He has a point though.

 

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While I was never one for cooking, I used to bake all the time. Whether it was a birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Thursday… there was something about the progress I enjoyed, and always went down a treat. It helped when I couldn’t think of what to get someone, and everyone appreciates home made cake, right?

cakey

I’d tried my hand at gluten free baking before, and it turned out pretty well- my mum was having some friends round at Christmas time and I had various intolerances to work with. There wasn’t a crumb left, but thankfully I’d used some of my excess batter to make cupcakes.

cakeys

I made my dad cookies and a birthday cake, with two different kinds of frosting. For my boyfriend’s birthday I’d sprung for two tickets to see The Cure in London, so in order to save pennies I made Valentine’s Day muffins. If there was an occasion, I would bake for it, I guess is my point.

Vegan baking should’ve been a relatively easy transition, but there was a reason why baking was always a cheap alternative: I pretty much had all of the staples at home anyway. I just had to add embellishments. Vegan baking meant buying in a whole load of new ingredients, and from the offset it seemed like it could be pretty costly. Alot of cake recipes seemed pretty oil-heavy too, which I wasn’t keen on.

When my best gal Claire asked folks to bring along food-shaped treats for Sheri‘s surprise birthday, I was a little stumped. Surely most folk’s instincts would be to bring sweet thangs? Should I just bring hummus? Does anyone like ‘that guy’?

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After agonising over some recipes I’d printed off, it hit me. I’d pretty much perfected my ol’ brownie recipe. I’d always managed to nail the crust on top/chewy on the inside ratio. Adapting it to a raw, vegan recipe was just crazy enough to work. I’d also found a three-layer cake recipe which I, umm, borrowed my idea for a base from. Not only that but it tasted exactly like a Nakd Cashew Cookie bar, meaning I’ve stumbled upon a way of saving myself a fortune. A little late and unsurprising, really- the Nakd bars have all of two ingredients. Why I never thought that before, I dunno.

These aren't the vegan brownies- they were gone so fast I didn't manage to get a picture. Which can only be a good complaint, no?

These aren’t the vegan brownies- they were gone so fast I didn’t manage to get a picture. Which can only be a good complaint, no?

I wasn’t sure about flavour combos: when making brownies before, I’d tossed in some cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. But I’d also tossed in eggs and milk. Without this, or actually baking the recipe, the dark chocolate taste was pretty strong. Then I remembered I had some peanut butter to use up and raspberries are in season, so PB&J it was. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

PB&J Raw Vegan Brownies

For the base: 

100g(ish) dates

150g cashews

Desiccated coconut (optional, but damn tasty)

1 tbsp peanut butter

For the Brownies:

150g coconut oil

150g cocoa powder

1 punnet of raspberries

2 tbsps peanut butter (or however much you want, really)

100g(ish) dates (I could’ve used more than I did, but I’d only bought one packet so…)

  • Soak the dates and cashews in some warm water for at least 20 minutes to soften them a wee bit (in separate bowls, that is).
  • Chop the dates to make it easier to blitz, and mix them with the cashews and coconut. Give it a good seeing to with a hand blender- any blender is fine, but I only have a hand blender, and it’s easier to gauge consistency.
  • Stir in the peanut butter to retain its crunchiness, mix well and spread the whole lot in a tray. Put it in the fridge or freezer until it sets. Mine didn’t set properly because I added the chocolate mix too quickly, so don’t rush it.
  • Put some hot water in a bowl, and put your coconut oil in a jug. Put the jug in the bowl until the oil has completely melted, or it’ll be weird and lumpy.
  • Put the cocoa powder in a bowl with the dates, and add the coconut oil. Give them a quick blend until they’re all nicely mixed.
  • Toss in the raspberries and peanut butter and blend until they’re as smooth as you like.
  • I tossed the raspberries in some sugar before adding a couple of teaspoons in. If it’s a wee bit on the bitter side, vanilla extract or liquid sweetener will sort that right oot.
  • Spread on top of the (hopefully now set) cashew base and leave in the fridge until firm. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the top, cut it into squares and try not to eat the whole goddamn tray.

As I said before, I didn’t leave my base to set for long enough. It wasn’t a total disaster as I flipped the brownies and claimed it was frosting, but I’ll definitely leave it longer next time- I just didn’t leave myself enough time to do so.

We had a pretty expensive time of it during April and May: a whole host of gigs came up within weeks of one another, and we ended up averaging about two a week.

I kept meaning to go and do a proper food shop during the month, but funds just kept getting diverted elsewhere. When June rolled around, it was a relief. Some time off from social engagements. But what to do with the time?

It’s good for the soul, every now and then, to do a little exploring further afield. To step out of your comfort zone and take in some culture. Saturday was mostly spent in a post-wine haze (although after braving a Tesco trip, I rustled up a damn fine vegan hangover breakfast). It was teeming down with rain and we had dog-sitting to do, so we decided Sunday would be our day for action.

This wee face demanded full attention, rain be damned. Except when he wanted to go walkies. In the rain.

This wee face demanded full attention, rain be damned. Except when he wanted to go walkies. In the rain.

Rather than stick to the city centre, we ventured west for the West End Festival parade. It rained on and off, but it certainly didn’t deter the swarms. It hit us as soon as we stepped off of the underground, and a romantic stroll down sunny Byres Road was a fool’s errand. Weans with balloons and street performers stretched as far as the eye could see. The smell of food from street stalls hung in the air, but sadly nothing vegan-shaped crossed my path.

Took some selfless, bought some comics and blu-rays, probably missed the point of the festival.

Took some selfies, decided we hated crowds, bought some comics and blu-rays and probably missed the point of the festival.

After ducking into Fopp and City Centre Comics to escape the crowd, we headed to Brew Dog. It wasn’t, as we thought, far enough from the main drag to be quiet. A quick glance at the menu revealed a hefty vegan haul (all of their side dishes, plus at least one main), which will definitely be due further investigation once festival madness has dwindled.

Et tu, Brew Dog. We'll see you on payday.

Et tu, Brew Dog. We’ll see you on payday.

We made our way back to the city centre relatively unscathed, and conveniently found ourselves feeling hungry within strolling distance of Stereo. It always comes up whenever ‘vegan scran’ is mentioned, unsurprising given that it’s still not that big of a market. However, I’d only been in once for food (their Monday Sharing Platter tapas deal is pretty epic), and Ally is decidedly un-vegan.

I had my work cut out for me. We’d went to Tchai Ovna a few months before, and as much as I love it, the falafel-to-salad ratio left us still feeling hungry. And quite a bit poorer.  I sold Stereo on it being cheap, cheerful, plentiful (again, my opinion was based on hunners of tapas so it was a risk) and, more importantly, close by.

Stereo was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen it- usually it’s a struggle to get a table- and we got seated right away. I was intrigued by the special of vegan black pudding, but not enough to try it. What would vegan black pudding be? Burnt vegetable bits from the bottom of the oven? Answers on a postcard please… we both settled for the safe option of falafel. It’s the one vegan option that most carnivores can happily settle for, and one you can’t really get too badly wrong.

The falafel sandwich, with added chips, works out to a mere £6.50– not too shabby. It also comes with a healthy smear of houmous and a side salad that was actually tasty, rather than just a limp sprinkle of leaves. The real test of any place, however, is the chips. Nothing lets down a decent scran like tasteless, frozen chips- and these did not let me down. They were proper home-made efforts, a little bit burnt in some bits and perfectly fluffy inside. Just like my nan makes. Well done, Stereo.

There was a slight mix up with our order- when our waiter brought it over, he was chased by a barmaid who needed some convincing that they weren’t for another table. I’ve had the same problem when working in hospitality, but mostly during busy shifts. I’ll chalk it up to being Sunday. Sunday shifts are the utter worst. We also only got one teeny pot of ketchup between two of us- for a sauce fiend like me, this involved some serious rationing. What’s wrong with a full bottle- or at least, a bigger ramekin?

Lack of sauce aside, it was pretty damn tasty and filled us up without feeling overly stuffed.  I finished mine off in no time, and was amazed to see that the boy had left all but the crispy, skelfy end chips too (which, conveniently, are my favourites. Success all round).

Both full, we headed homewards to dive into our comic book and blu-ray haul. After all it had been a pretty long day, and we’d managed to achieve what we set out to do. It’s good to get out of the comfort zone, but sometimes it’s just as good to dive back in.