Frida is two!

I wanted to share a few photos from Frida’s second birthday last week. 

I set up a Waldorf celebration ring with two candles for our dining table, Frida chose her own birthday flowers, and I hung the birthday banner. 

We had a lovely, relaxed day at home; playing with new toys, eating pancakes for breakfast and birthday cake in the garden, and just enjoying spending some time together. Frida loved her gifts and cards, and really enjoyed unwrapped the most beautiful gift from her “birthday fairy” (I do a secret-Santa style gift exchange with some friends who all have children born around the same time). 

I couldn’t be happier or prouder or more in love with our little girl. We are very lucky. 

Sleep, and the family bedroom 

Last week we decided to move Frida’s toddler bed into our bedroom (for now the “family bedroom” I guess?!). 

Her bed had previously been in her room, but as we are still cosleeping it wasn’t being used at all. The few times I had tried to get her to nap in her room, it took ages and was just not very successful – and who can blame her? Most of her toys are in that room, and her only association with it is play, not sleep. Moving all of her toys out wasn’t an option (we don’t have a playroom and our house isn’t very big), but more and more I felt that if she was going to sleep out of our bed, moving her into her room with our current set up was not going to work.

It also seemed like a big jump to move her into another room. Lying next to me, she reliably sleeps most of the way through the night, perhaps waking once or twice. All I have to do is lie her back down and cuddle her and she immediately goes back to sleep. The logistics of this seemed much harder if she was in a room behind two closed doors (we can’t leave bedroom doors open as our cat likes to jump on our faces). I know that it’s unusual in our society to bed / room share with a toddler or older child, but for us, for now, it makes sense. It also means that she has a playroom with lots of space to play. 

As for Frida actually sleeping in her own bed? Well, this week was in hindsight not the best week to try as she’s been ill so we have been happy for her to be in our bed. She’s had a few naps in her own bed though, and has done a few stretches from the beginning of the night until around 1am when she’s woken up and I’ve just brought her in with me rather than resettling her in her bed. Now she’s feeling better we’re going to try again, this time resettling her in her own bed if needed. 

When it’s time for Frida to move into her own bedroom (and I have no expectations about when that might be!) I think we will move her into the tiny bedroom (currently used as room for her books and as a guest room) so that she still has a dedicated play space separate from where she sleeps and her sleeping space is calm and peaceful. However, our home layout is always evolving, so we will see. 

Although Frida’s sleep is hugely improved since I night-weaned her a few months ago, she currently wakes around 5:30am asking to nurse, which is still a bit too early for me. I usually ask her to wait until 6 which can lead to frustration for her. I’m considering getting a Gro Clock as an easy way for her to tell the difference between night and day, especially as the days get longer, but the blue light puts me off, so I’m not sure really. Maybe I just need to accept that earlier mornings are the trade-off for better sleep at night.

I will do another post soon showing you around her playroom soon. She’s really enjoying the space so far. 

Life lately 

Life lately has been pancakes for breakfast. Baking, often. Long stretches of child-led play. Cold walks with mittens and hats, spotting the first signs of spring and road-testing a new balance bike. Planning. Piles of books snuggled under the duvet. Deliberations about naps – to drop, or not to drop? To wake, or not to wake? (I never wake). Bird spotting. Puddle jumping, mud squelching, searching through leaf litter for bugs. Wiped noses, wiped fingers. Tea. Bulbs on the tables. Slow decluttering. Slow mornings. Slow days. 

Mindfulness for toddlers 

I wanted to share a few simple ways I draw on mindfulness practice with Frida. 

Although I feel that incorporating little moments of mindfulness into our daily activities is positive in itself, I’ve also found it has the bonus of helping to soothe and reconnect if Frida is tired, or experiencing big emotions (which she certainly does from time to time). 

I have found the following three simple ideas invaluable in helping me support Frida if she is struggling. These exercises are not about distracting her from her feelings – something which as a parent is all too easy to do! – as I prefer to try to validate Frida’s feelings and hold her space when she is having a tough time. 

Quiet listening

I encourage Frida to lie still (with her eyes closed, although she rarely keeps them closed) and just listen to what she can hear. If it’s bedtime I suggest she listen to the cars driving past, and if it’s early morning I suggest she listens to the birds calling out for the dawn chorus. 

This is really effective when I am trying to calm Frida before going to sleep, or trying to help her fall asleep again if she wakes in the night. It is also great if I can feel her getting a little frustrated or overwhelmed during the day – I notice it centers her and slows her down straight away. 

Mindful water drinking 

I simply encourage Frida to drink some water, and after each sip feel the cool water going down her throat and into her chest. This focuses her attention on her body and the immediate sensations she can feel. 

Although I sometimes encourage this exercise throughout the day, I find it really helpful if we are nearing a crisis point, for example when Frida is overtired and upset. I am not promising it is a magic cure which will work for everyone, but I have been amazed at how effective this is for helping Frida feel better. 

A “noticing” walk 

This is no more than simply putting on our outdoor clothes and going outside. We don’t go far – sometimes we don’t even leave our street – but what we do do is focus on everything we see. There is no rush, and I let Frida lead. If she wants to spend five minutes looking at s gate, or plant, or bird, that’s what we do. 

This is such a powerful way of reconnecting if we are feeling irritable in the house, and we both come home so much happier. 

I would love to be inspired for more similar activities. What works well for you? How do you reconnect in moments of high emotion, or help support your child when they are feeling tired or overwhelmed? 

A little life update + musings on mum guilt

Some of you might remember that earlier this year I trained as a doula. The training was absolutely phenomenal (I’ve recommended it to friends!) and although I haven’t wanted to practice yet as Frida is still very young, I’ve incorporated lots of what I have learnt into my Hypnobirthing teaching with great feedback.

Anyway, I’m very happy to tell you all that I’ve started working – very part time – doing some press and PR for the utterly lovely Kicki Hansard, the hugely experienced doula and doula trainer who runs BirthBliss and who trained me earlier this year. 

What my usual day looks like!

Although I have had no regrets about leaving my old job as a senior Government press officer, I have at times felt a bit sad that my press and PR skills were going to gradually collect dust until they were no longer useful or relevant. This role brings together my passion for birth and motherhood, and my past experience, so I couldn’t be happier about these particular stars aligning! 

I’m very lucky – my husband works compressed hours over four days, and my mum comes up for an afternoon most weeks – meaning we don’t need to use childcare in order to make this work. 

I’m not going to sugar coat it, it is hard to juggle everything, despite having brilliant support. I often feel horrific guilt  about something, whether it’s working when I know my daughter is not feeling well and would really like mummy cuddles, or cleaning the house (again! Honestly, how is it possible to spend so much cleaning and tidying and still have a house which still only looks about 60% neat at any given time?) when I feel like I should be focusing on playing with Frida, or on resting when I should be trying to develop my own business, or planning posts for this blog. And I pretty much always feel like I should be spending more energy on being a great wife! I try to tell myself that it’s not possible to give 100% to everything, but I still feel bad about it.

Still, I am trying to learn to be gentle with myself, and remind myself that I am setting an example to Frida with everything I do. I want her to see that life – work, motherhood, dare I say it even housework – can be fulfilling, and should be approached positively. I definitely don’t always get it right though.

How do you stay balanced? Any tips for dealing with the mum guilt? 

Frida, be mighty 

This morning our family woke up to the news that Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. Shock, dismay, sadness, fear – my husband and I felt it all, as we lay in bed awake next to a blissfully sleeping Frida.

So far 2016 has been a year full of political dismay. The U.K. voted, bafflingly and heartbreakingly, to leave the European Union. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of refugees – including children – die trying to reach Europe. There is seemingly still no meaningful action from any government on climate change. The list goes on and on and on. It is so easy to feel hopeless and desperate, to wonder what kind of a world we have brought our daughter into. 

I did what I always do when I feel rubbish, and took Frida outside. Into the rain, which felt like fitting ablution for the world’s collective folly. We talked about those we loved, and about peace, and about insects, as I built a simple peace sign out of fallen leaves. 

It feels like there is so little we can do to stem the tide of hopelessness. But raising strong, courageous, moral, bold, mighty children has got to count for something. 

Treating our children with the respect we hope they will grow to show others, modelling compassion and empathy and cooperation and love rather than fear and punishment and conformity. Teaching them that it’s ok to speak out and question the status quo and to be loud and shake the foundation of things and break rules.

It feels like this new world, more than ever, is going to need to be met by people who can love fiercely, who can harness their energy and passion for the good, who will share and work together, who refuse to give into fear, and who can think outside of the narrow boundaries society crams us into. 

Being a mother, gently raising a mighty child, has never felt like a more important job. For my family, for our community, and for our future. 

A quiet revolution perhaps, but a revolution nevertheless.

Gentle night-weaning at 18 months

It probably won’t surprise you to know that I am a big fan of attachment parenting – and more generally, doing what feels instinctively “right” to me. As such, we have bed-shared with Frida from birth (genuinely from birth – the midwives in hospital were horrified at my shunning the cold plastic crib in order to have my new baby sleep on my chest).

Our aim with Frida has always been to be as child-led as possible. Breastfeeding, weaning and eating, sleep-routines, play – since day one we have endeavoured to let Frida guide us as to her needs and truly “follow the child”. She is still breastfed, with no plans to stop until she is ready or I decide I don’t want to do it anymore.

That’s why the decision to night-wean Frida (rather than waiting for her to give up night time boob by herself) wasn’t an easy or quick one. But I am so pleased that I decided a week ago that it was the right time for us, as it’s been such a genuinely smooth process. I thought I’d share a little bit about our journey with you, in case anyone finds it reassuring or helpful or normalising in any way.

As a newborn Frida’s sleep was fantastic. Oh how smug I felt to have a three month old who woke only once or twice a night! What an amazing mother I must be to have such a great sleeper! Pat on the back. Then the four-month sleep regression hit us and Oh. My. God.  Her sleep never really recovered from it. At its worst, she was waking every 20-30 minutes all night, and at best I would maybe get a two or three hour stretch, if I was really lucky. I was exhausted, permanently (still am actually). During the worst times, I got ill, picked up every bug going, triggered my labyrinthitis, and generally sported coldsore after coldsore, accessorised with lovely eye bags and grey skin. Frida would spend huge parts of the night latched on, sucking, not for milk but for comfort, and I kept waiting for the magic day when her sleep would improve. Except it didn’t.

I think it’s important to say here, I don’t think there is anything wrong with comfort sucking or feeding – what could be more vital to a baby or toddler than comfort? I also don’t believe that babies or young children can “self-soothe”, or that they are physically capable of “sleeping through” the night, and I am not a fan of “sleep training” of any kind. The Gentle Parenting Facebook group I’m a member of definitely kept me sane at the times that I questioned myself, as did Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s writing on infant sleep.

Despite this, and despite my initial hope that night weaning would just happen naturally for us, I was starting to feel like breastfeeding was definitely hindering our nights rather than helping them. A week ago, after a particularly exhausting night, I decided I needed to take the next step and night wean.

After reading up on night weaning, I decided not to go for any structured method – they looked like too much work – and that I would just explain to Frida that we no longer breastfed at nighttime. One of the factors in deciding to wean was that I felt that Frida’s understanding is so good that she would understand me telling her that night-time boob was no more, and quickly adapt to the new norm. Cuddles, water, singing, soft taking – whatever she needed, I would give her, but breastmilk after bedtime was no longer on the cards.

The first night went much better than I had expected – she woke a lot, but wasn’t sad, and was ok with being cuddled to sleep. Since then, things have just gotten better and better – she has stopped asking for milk in the night, and has even mostly stopped asking to be cuddled back to sleep, often sitting up and then lying herself back down and closing her eyes again. She totally understands that we no longer have “mummy booboo” at night time now, and we often talk about it.

She is still waking a few times in the night, but no where near as much. I honestly can’t quite believe how much of an improvement I’ve seen in her sleep already. It’s also had a knock on effect on bedtime, and for the last two nights my husband has put her to bed – a huge milestone for a toddler who until a week ago would always boob to sleep (unless in a sling). My mum was also able to babysit for us meaning we could go out all evening and not worry about rushing back for bedtime.

I think that waiting until the time was “right” for us made a huge difference; I am sure that even a few months ago she would have found night-weaning upsetting and difficult. I do wonder if we should have tried sooner, but I have to trust in my gut feeling and hope that we have done the right thing at the right time.

Frida is still sleeping in our bed, so the next step will be to move her into her own room. I don’t feel a huge rush to move her though – I really, really love co-sleeping – so I think we will just wait and see what feels right for our family. I will miss her when we move her, although I will also relish having more space to sleep in! And she will always be welcome back into our bed if she wants to.

If you have got to the end of this post – well done! How was your night-weaning journey? Did you co-sleep?  Have you struggled with sleep, or were you lucky to have a baby who settled easily and slept long stretches?