Thursday, 14 December 2017

Relaxing as a Mum: Spa Experience Baby Massage

"Enjoy sleeping/eating/showering in privacy whilst you still can!"

Before Miss P arrived already-parents would take great pleasure in reminding me to make the most of being solo. But deep in the anticipation of a new arrival you sort of shrug it off... it's not until you're in the thick of parenthood that you realise how uncharming fighting over who gets to eat your breakfast and having someone grinning at you when you pee actually is...

As a new parent it can be hard to find time for yourself. Whilst you wouldn't change your situation for the world you also find yourself longing for the days when you could go to supermarket solo and when you had enough spare hands to actually use a basket! How easy things used to be.

Some parts of your life you can roll a new baby into - you adapt - the coffee with a friend now involves a high chair and sticky fingers grabbing for your mug, the exercise regime evolves into baby-friendly classes... But there is very little that can be done to find much me-time. It's very much evolved into 'we-time' and there is definitely no time to down tools are relax. You're on the go 24/7.

So when Miss P and I were invited to Spa Experience in Kensington to experience their baby massage class I didn't need to think too hard.  Baby classes tend to be bright, colourful, sensory sessions that don't so much relax, but exhaust! Before Miss P was born we shared an amazing experience at a spa, and I wondered whether this would give us more special time bonding, whilst also hopefully giving us the chance to do something less 'glittery' and potentially relax in each other's company.

Miss P settled into the massage almost immediately - as soon as I was guided through the first few movements on her legs by our instructor Neji, she started grinning.

She happily lay on her back whilst I oiled my hands and gently rubbed her legs and feet. She was fascinated by the massage oil. She stilled. I felt myself relaxing whilst massaging her. No it wasn't my pre-baby spa experience, but there was something deeply soothing about knowing I was doing something wonderful for my little girl. She was beaming.

We sang some gentle nursery rhymes, Miss P giggled along. This was quite unlike her other classes, where she's needed a few exposures to get into the swing of things... something clearly just clicked. She was happy. Content. Relaxed.

At the end of the class, she fell asleep almost immediately - right on the yoga mat she'd been using. Sleeping baby = massive win! And with the added bonus that whilst asleep she couldn't notice my smoothie!

One very happy mummy!

I think our first mummy-daughter Spa Day was a positive experience - may it be the start of many more!

Thanks for having us Spa Experience, and for introducing us to a new way to bond.

The Kensington Spa Experience Baby Massage classes start in January 2018 - within the well appointed Kensington Leisure Centre. Parking is limited, but close to tube lines, and buggy parking is available inside.

This post has been written in collaboration with Spa Experience Kensington - however all content is true to my own thoughts, experiences and memories.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Top 5 Lactose Free Foods - How going lacto-free doesn't have to be difficult

Little Miss P spent the first few weeks of her life screaming. She was sick. A lot. You expect some milky overflow, but it seemed to really upset her.  I'd sit up at night listening to our tiny baby girl in her Moses basket gagging, spluttering, snorting, grunting... Every time I picked her up to feed her, I discovered her baby grow sodden with sour milk.

But that was normal right? Newborns don't sleep well. Babies are always sick.

Then one night she screamed all night. She was inconsolable. Everything she ate, came back up. She wasn't just upset, it was like something horrendous was happening that she couldn't explain. Mummy cuddles couldn't make it better. She was distressed, I was in tears. I woke Hubby sobbing, totally powerless to help my little girl. In the end she screamed so much that she pushed her belly button out.

At our 6 week check our GP diagnosed her new 'outie' as a small umbilical hernia and for the first time raised the suspicion  that she had a lactose intolerance. I was primarily breast feeding so an intolerance hadn't crossed my mind... I was told to exclusively breastfeed for two weeks, and to cut dairy out of my diet immediately. Having never had any need to watch my diet (aside from a highly successful spell at Slimming World) I became a fanatic label reader overnight... And slowly my little girl started sleeping more soundly, her tears dried up, and my washing machine wasn't working as hard.

Four months down the line her belly button has settled back in and I'm really in the swing of lacto-free. 

I know it can feel like a minefield when ylu suddenly have to avoid foods so I thought I would share the top 5 products that have helped me to transition to a world without lactose.

1. Arla Lactose Free Semi-skimmed milk

When I first left the doctors surgery I thought that lactofree meant I needed to essentially go vegan. I swapped out all my milk, yogurts, cheese for soya and nut alternatives. Whilst the yogurt was good, it quickly became clear to me that I hated almond milk in tea... I was desperate.  I then discovered Arla. Real milk that has somehow had the lactose removed!  My tea no longer had the tell-tale oily residue at the bottom of the mug, and my morning coffee was back to normal. That small change made a huge difference psychologically - I could do this.*

2. Arla Lactose Free Semi-skimmed UHT sachets

(Okay, so maybe this should be 1A as this is essentially the same product, but I think it deserves its own shout out.)

One of the lovely things about maternity leave is making new friends. Taking your babies for playdates and grabbing 5 minutes for Mum with a quick coffee and natter.  Whilst the big coffee shops have soya milk, there's always the time when a lacto-free isn't available, or when you're visiting another Mum and they only have 'normal' milk in the fridge. I keep these little sachets always in a dedicated pocket in my changing bag - UHT so they don't need refridgerating they are always on hand to add to one of those much needed coffees.

3. The Foodie Market Almond and Raisin/ Peanut and Chocolate Chip Cocoa Brownie Bars

The thing that I've missed out on the most since going lacto-free are puddings. I was always someone who would flip to the back of a menu in a restaurant to check out the desserts before selecting my main meal. Whilst I've found that a lot of the big chains suck at catering for dairy-free, some independent coffee shops make their own stock and often have an option available, but sadly I've found that I've had to miss out a lot.  And when you're breastfeeding you want that extra calorie hit!

So these bad boys have been a life saver. I actually make a special trip to Aldi for them. They aren't in their free from section, but they are shelved with their healthier bars... they are nice and chewy and chocolatey with a satusfying crunch from the peanut/almond. Yum yum yum.

4. CocoLoco Coconut Oil

I've always loved baking. But it took me a little while to realise that being lactose free meant I'd need rethink my usual baking habit. How do you cook without milk, butter, yogurt etc... coconut oil had worked amazingly for me. It can be really expensive, but again Aldi has come to the rescue with a large jar for just over £3. Since switching to the coconut oil I've had 3 people ask for my brownie recipe! If you're lucky, I'll write up the recipe and will share on here too.

5. Oreos and PartyRings

So technically these are two different things but what I love about these classic biscuits is that they are not specifically dairy free! They are found in the 'normal' aisle! Hey, and it's not a party without Party Rings!

* It should be noted that lacto-free and dairy free are not the same. Having lactose free products may not be sufficient if a dairy intolerance is suspected. Always work with your GP

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Baby Loss Awareness Week - Finding the words to talk about my rainbow baby

The English language is a great thing. For those of us who enjoy writing, we can mould and shape words into beautiful landscapes, capture memories, and share details of personal moments. Words bring us closer together. But what happens when there are no words? I started Learning Early four years ago when I first found out I was pregnant, and naively threw myself into baby-world, immediately deciding to blog my way through pregnancy.  Hubby and I were ecstatic, the situation wasn’t ideal, but we knew we’d make it work.  I remember it clearly – it was a Sunday morning, I’d suspected for a few days, but needed to wait until I took the test.  I sat in the bathroom, trying not to peek before the required 2 minutes had passed… but right on queue little blue line appeared.  I woke hubby up with the news, he swore a bit, grinned, and then scooped me up in his arms and laughed. We lay in bed for a while in a bubble of happy contentment, chatting about our new future as a threesome  – his hand occasionally stroking my belly.  

We excitedly told our families.

We could have only been five weeks gone when I found myself gazing through a shop window at all the baby toys and trinkets, when hubby squeezed my hand and asked if I wanted to buy something…

Miscarriage never crossed my mind.  

A couple of weeks later we lost our baby.  And with that moment the words started to dry up.

Child loss plunges you into darkness.  You grieve for the life you’ve lost, but also for the future.  There’s a moment in the scan room when the world that you’d so carefully started to build and cultivate in your mind just evaporates.

And you’re alone.

We spent days crying - I told colleagues I had back ache.

I was prescribed codine for the pain - I told the pharmacist I had whiplash.

I stuck to the taboos.  Kept the real source of my pain hidden.  Slowly, I started to paste a smile on my face that I didn’t feel and head back to the real world.  I hated every second.  I was lonely.  I wanted others to understand the pain I was feeling.  I wanted comfort.  I wanted to talk about my child. But I didn’t.

I never thought that it would take 4 years to fall pregnant again.  I started Learning Early anonymously because I was worried that potential employers would find it and become aware of my family plans, but slowly when no pregnancy appeared, my blog slowly dried up... 

Then I had a missed miscarriage in February 2016. We’d learnt from our first pregnancy and had decided not to share our pregnancy news with our families (why risk causing them the pain of a lost future too?), but told them and a few close friends about the miscarriage. We needed support.  I’d decided not to blog about the pregnancy either – I felt I’d been na├»ve previously, but now that the little one was gone, I didn’t know how to bring up that loss on a blog that I was already struggling to maintain…

I wasn’t ashamed.  But it was really really tough on me physically.  I got an infection, I needed constant check ups and scans at the hospital – and I fell back into old habits.  Twisting the truth to not make others uncomfortable about our situation, our loss, our grief,– I was seeing the doctor for “a surgery follow up” or I “needed a blood test” or whatever I could come up with on the spot.  I felt guilty.  I was reducing the loss of our son to a check up.

I've inadvertently gone by all the stereotypes that I've learnt to hate.  I despise the miscarriage taboos. We should talk.  We should support.  We should share our stories.  Miscarriage is horrible.  Miscarriage is painful.  But miscarriage is awfully common. There’s no reason it should be isolating.  

For those of us who have experienced this loss, we need stories of hope – we need to know that after all the suffering and grey skies there is the potential for happier times.  We keep on chasing those rainbows.  

Little Miss P's 12 Week Scan

It’s been a long road, but I’m currently nursing my little rainbow.  It took a while to find the words, to tell people we were expecting for a third time, and for then those words to take shape into physical action. Eventually Hubby and Father in Law started working on turning our third bedroom the nursery.  We bought a buggy. For my birthday Hubby got me a nursing chair.  

Then in May this year the little bubble of happiness that I had been growing in my belly swelled to new heights when our much waited for, and much loved daughter arrived by cesarean section.  Her warm little body curled up again mine, I have never felt such peace and joy as in that moment.  It felt like we’d crossed a finish line, and  won the biggest prize.

This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, and it will also mark five months since Little Miss P’s arrival.

Hubby and I have lost two children – and we will never know why,  What I do know though is that no one should go through that alone, or think that loss will be the end of their story.   We hold our little girl close every day and love her fiercely and are grateful to have her in our lives.

I shouldn't have kept quiet about our earlier losses. I think I was trying to protect myself in someway, but I am ready to come out of the shadows.  To openly come clean online, shake off my anonymity and to not just tell my story, but to really share my experience.  

I firmly believe that we should all talk. Loss is nothing to be ashamed of. 

I will never forget the children that I have not been able to hold, but we are constantly making plans for  Miss P our rainbow baby, and the family that we have become.  Yes we continue to be anxious, and careful, and jumpy – but what parents aren’t? But we also enjoying bonding over our little one, from her first kicks to her first smile, wondering what her taste in music will be, and whether she will also love words as much as her Mum and Dad…

We know we’ll have lots to teach our little one, and lots to learn.

My name is Claire Dunford.  

I am Learning Early.