24 Nov

Book Review: Sweet Sleep, from La Leche League

Sweet Sleep is a La Leche League publication, written by some of the well-known names in the LLL world: Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. Smith and Teresa Pitman; and as such it sets out a very definitely baby-centred philosophical position, as you might expect. It very nearly does manage to achieve a balanced tone with regard to the fact that not all families breastfeed, and even includes a chapter on how to cope if you don’t have this powerful parenting tool available to you (adoptive families, for instance), but its subtitle clearly states “for the Breastfeeding Family” and this is where its real strength lies.

There is a wealth of advice available online, from health professionals, and among families and friends, for parents who want techniques to “train” their babies to sleep. Sweet Sleep fills a gap for the parents who want to work within their babies’ normal development, with gentle nudges from stage to stage, but allowing for kind and responsive parenting.

Sweet Sleep is packed with practical suggestions, and sensibly begins with a chapter full of immediate ideas for getting more sleep tonight. It focuses straight away on the Safe Sleep Seven, which are rules for emergency bedsharing. Given that statistics show unplanned bedsharing to be far riskier than planned bedsharing, helping parents to plan for it is a really good place to start.

It goes on to explain normal sleep, drawing on anthropology, biology, and worldwide cultural practices. This is followed by safety information, gentle nudges for different ages and stages, and suggestions for different scenarios such as premature babies, twins and so on. The chapter on SIDS and suffocation is comprehensive and well-explained; and finally the book offers suggestions for talking to supportive and non-supportive people about an attachment parenting approach to coping with nights.

This book is well-referenced throughout, and illustrated with quotes from the authors’ own stories and from other families. Once too often I found myself frustrated that the authors touch on a point and promise to explain it more in a later chapter, making me dip about in the book rather than reading it through as I wanted to. I was not particularly surprised that the section on Getting Help/Giving Help only mentions La Leche League, when there are quite a number of other organisations, including NCT, who could also support parents in these situations.

On the whole I found this book useful both in terms of practical help for parents of co-sleeping/breastfeeding babies, and ways of thinking/talking about risk and responsiveness, which I find a lot of new parents and parents-to-be worry about. It’s good to have a book that supports parents to follow their instincts and find their own rhythms.

DISCLOSURE: I was sent a free review copy of this book by Pinter and Martin Publishers. To order your own copy with a 25% discount, just follow the link and use the discount code KH25 at the checkout.

20 Nov

Swaddling your baby

Swaddling is surprisingly controversial. Many parents find that it helps their baby to settle, particularly if they have a strong moro reflex that disturbs their rest, but there is some research suggesting that swaddling might be problematic for a baby’s hip development, and could increase the risk of cot death.

NCT provides a how-to-swaddle video, and some further guidelines on doing it safely are offered by ISIS.

If you are going to swaddle, the Lullaby Trust recommends the following:

  • use thin materials
  • do not swaddle above the shoulders
  • never put a swaddled baby to sleep on their front
  • do not swaddle too tight
  • check the baby’s temperature to ensure they do not get too hot.

Views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of NCT.

17 Nov

Safe Sleep

Many new parents want more sleep, and one way to get that would be if their babies would sleep peacefully through the night. In fact, so often when asking a new parent how they’re getting on, well-meaning friends, relatives and complete strangers in the street focus on how much the baby is sleeping: “is she good?” usually means “does she sleep through the night?”

In fact it’s completely normal and, biologically speaking, healthy for newborns not to sleep through the night: a difficult truth for new parents to hear. The stomach capacity of a newborn is 5-7ml, and breastmilk is highly digestible, so it’s normal and necessary for a baby to wake to feed at least two or three times a night. All that feeding supports the rapid growth and brain development that goes on in this stage, as well as helping to boost the mother’s milk supply. Formula fed babies could also be fed little and often to mimic this frequent refuelling which is appropriate to the baby’s growth and capacity.

SIDS research also shows that babies’ light sleep helps them to arouse quickly in response to any changes or risks in their environment. This may reduce their risk. This is why it’s recommended that babies who sleep alone are put down to sleep on their backs, where they may not sleep as deeply or as long, but are at a lower risk of cot death. It’s also recommended that babies sleep in their parents’ bedroom until six months of age, when the risk levels drop.

The other safe sleeping guidelines are:

  • Place your baby on its back to sleep, in a cot in a room with you
  • Do not smoke in pregnancy or let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
  • Do not share a bed with your baby if you have been drinking alcohol, if you take drugs or if you are a smoker
  • Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair
  • Do not let your baby get too hot or too cold, keep your baby’s head uncovered, and place your baby in the “feet to foot” position
  • Breastfeed your baby

There are some great resources on sleep, including the Infant Sleep Information Source, which is fully-evidenced. We haven’t even got into some of the more controversial practices such as bed-sharing and swaddling here, but perhaps those are posts for another day.

13 Nov

Birth Plan Prompt Sheet

Birth planning is a vague science; some birth workers now refer to “birth preferences” instead, and some prefer to avoid this sort of planning altogether. I’ve found a few resources online including this comprehensive tool from the NHS, and cobbled together a list of prompts so that my clients and I can go through it together and make something that is completely tailored to their needs. I’ll be taking several copies with me to the birth!

Birth Plan

Early labour – where?

Where to give birth – MLU/delivery suite/pool etc

Who do I want to be with me?

Equipment I plan to take with me

Intermittent/continual monitoring of baby during labour

Keeping active during labour

Positions to adopt

Trainee midwives/doctors in the room

Immediate skin to skin

Pain relief preferences


Third stage – active/managed


Vitamin K

Any special requirements

03 Nov

Getting started with solids: Purees

If you have chosen to offer pureed food for your baby’s first taste of solids, don’t forget it doesn’t have to be baby rice! For a healthy term baby showing signs of being ready for solid food, lots of other colours and flavours are available for those first steps on the journey towards a healthy enjoyment of food.

The main nutrients your baby needs in his or her diet between 6-12 months are still protein, fat and calcium, so there is no hurry to cut back on milk, which is such a great source of these things. When you start solids it’s all about the taste experience, so try not to let your baby fill up on food and have no room for milk. Just one or two teaspoons is plenty for the first few meals.

Vegetable Puree
You will need: approximately 100g of any suitable vegetable. This could be a small sweet potato, a carrot, a few florets of broccoli or cauliflower, half a butternut squash, a parsnip, a handful of peas, a fresh beetroot, some spinach leaves, or anything that can be cooked in the following way.

If you would normally peel the vegetable, then peel it. If not, just wash it. Cut larger vegetables into small dice.

Steam for 5-7 minutes, or boil in a small amount of water for 6-10 minutes.

Check it is soft enough to blend.

Using the chopping attachment of a hand blender, or in a food processor, puree the cooked vegetable until it is smooth. If necessary, add a small amount of cooking water to thin the puree.

If you want the puree to be smoother, pass it through a mouli or sieve. If you want it to have a little more texture, you could mash with a potato masher or fork.

Separate out a portion (two teaspoons) for the meal, and allow to cool before serving.
Cool the rest and store in clean containers in the fridge or freezer.

Fruit Puree
Hard fruits such as pears and apples can be prepared using the method for vegetable puree described above.

Soft fruits such as nectarines, peaches, plums, mangoes and apricots can be peeled and simmered for 3-5 minutes with a tablespoon of water, and then blended to a puree.

Bananas make a very convenient no-cook puree: simply mash or mush with a fork, and use immediately.

Lots more introducing solids resources can be found here.