29 Aug

Book Review: Growing Up Pregnant, by Deirdre Curley

I sat up in bed and admired all the women in the room. All of us had different birth stories, and we each realised how lucky we were to have healthy babies. Although we were all at different stages in our lives, we were all going to be going through the exact same transition into motherhood. (p184)

Deirdre Curley is pregnant and 19. She is surrounded by a supportive family and a loving partner. She really wants to be an actress, and she isn’t at all sure she wants to be a mum.

In Growing Up Pregnant, she tells the story, not just of pregnancy and birth, but all the things that bring her to this point. And then in detail she takes us through the months of her pregnancy, and the reader witnesses her maturing from good-time girl to “the most beautiful pregnant lady” one waitress has ever seen. When she and her partner make up their minds that they will be parents, they commit to the changes they need to make, even when it’s hard to adjust to the loss of old pleasures and still-partying friends. It’s so interesting to read about their mixed feelings as they adjust to this new lifestyle, and the strength and positivity they bring to it is admirable.

Deirdre pauses between each trimester to give a little rundown of what a pregnant woman might be experiencing, how her baby is developing, and any preparation she might consider doing. This includes the most down-to-earth “what to buy” lists of any pregnancy book I have read. She refrains from too much specific detail about pregnancy and birth, but gives a useful overview that would be relevant to a pregnant woman of any age.

This is a properly grounded book, both reflective and informative, and does as good a job as any (and better than most) of getting across what it’s really like to be pregnant and to have a baby. Although the focus is on pregnancy as a young mum, most of the feelings Deirdre expresses are pretty universal: what is happening to me? Will my body ever be the same again? Can I rely on the support of my partner? Am I going to be a good enough mum? Women twice her age think the same things.

I enjoyed taking this journey with Deirdre and her partner Gary, as they put down roots and prepare for the baby. The birth itself is well-written, and early motherhood is covered with both wistfulness and joy. It is a very realistic description and I would certainly recommend this book to pregnant women, whatever their age.

[Disclaimer: I was sent a free review copy of Growing Up Pregnant. You can order yours from Pinter & Martin, with a 10% discount at the checkout if you use the code SPROGCAST]

28 Aug

Book review: Why Your Baby’s Sleep Matters, by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

I am full of admiration for Sarah Ockwell-Smith in her firm and thorough representation of attachment parenting, particularly around the difficult subject of infant sleep.

Her Why It Matters book tells us how infant sleep really works, with technical information in the early chapters, and then a good section on the historical context of social attitudes to sleep, advice, and “experts,” which really feels like the most important part of the book. Having read a great deal about the science of sleep, these sections give some interesting statistics, but didn’t really break any new ground for me. The chapter on the Science of SIDS however was particularly useful and gave me much to reflect on.

Ockwell-Smith writes with a tone of despair that sometimes comes close to contempt for the naivete of society and the many common misconceptions and misunderstandings about infant sleep, and while what she says is satisfyingly evidence-based, referenced and well-explained, I do think the tone could be kinder and more compassionate. The fact is that she pulls no punches, hence my admiration, but this might not be the first book on the subject that I would offer to a parent.

[Disclaimer: I was given a free review copy of this book by the publishers. You can buy it from their website, and get a 10% discount with the code SPROGCAST]

01 Aug

RCPCH discovers barriers to breastfeeding

The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health has today published new recommendations that women should be supported to breastfeed for as long as they want to. While I’m fully behind that suggestion, I can’t help feeling like this isn’t exactly a new way of thinking. It’s almost as though the RCPCH have just stumbled across the fact that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, and despite their well-established links with the formula industry, are finally catching up with the rest of us.

Their report quotes UNICEF‘s five year old figure of a £40m saving to the NHS if women were supported to breastfeed for a little longer, and this is a compelling argument of course, but what really matters is respect and support for women’s choices, and societal change to make those choices realistic and achievable, so that no mother is judged either for her decision to breastfeed, or for her decision not to.

I do applaud the recommendation to normalise breastfeeding within the PHSE curriculum in schools, but having seen the cringey sex-ed video shown in Year 5, I would love to see this done in a modern, straightforward and unembarrassed way, preferably facilitated by people specifically trained in this sort of education. NCT Breastfeeding Counsellors, for example.

And yes, please do bring back the Infant Feeding Survey, for which funding was withdrawn in 2010, showing just how much of a priority breastfeeding is for policy makers at the very highest level.

Of course I am pleased to see large and influential organisations like the RCPCH talking about the barriers to breastfeeding in our society, and particularly so when there is such a strong media response, raising awareness across the UK. Now let’s see those recommendations put into action.