Breastfeeding to sleep: creating bad habits?

P1040506I am feeling really proud of Poppy right now. For the third night in a row she has just fallen asleep all by herself, after her milk, rather than during, and with me just lying next to her. I know people whose babies did this at 12 weeks old, but at 13 months this is a big achievement and significant milestone for us.

Up until now I have breastfed Poppy to sleep every single night, and never considered doing it any other way. At times I might have wondered if I was really doing the best thing, but these thoughts were very fleeting and I didn’t take any notice of them. Breastmilk is designed to make a baby sleepy, in fact it changes during the day so that the night time milk contains a much higher concentration of the sleepy stuff, and our bedtime feed is a lovely, peaceful time where me and Poppy get to reconnect after even the most manic of days. Luckily for me no one has really questioned this decision and told me I was making a rod for my own back, but I know that many mum’s are told exactly that, and perhaps pressured into teaching a baby to ‘self-soothe’. Although I wasn’t worried about our bedtime feed, I did once try to reduce her middle of the night feeds, which I wrote about here and here, so I understand this idea about self-soothing and worrying that your baby will take forever to do so if you don’t actively encourage it. But although Poppy did start going back to sleep on her own, the whole process was far too emotional (despite us taking a ‘gentle’ approach) and more exhausting for us so we gave up after 3 weeks and welcomed our old ‘habits’ with open arms.

I let go of all of any doubts and just went with it. I find that we have ups and downs and sometimes, yes, I wish she slept through the night, but that is usually when we have other stresses in our life and I am emotionally tired rather than physically. The majority of the time, the night time wakings are more than bearable, sometimes I even enjoy them. Sometimes. At 13 months I would say she is waking on average 5 times a night (between 6pm and 6am roughly), a few weeks ago she only woke twice, a few days later she woke every half an hour.

So how is this all relevant to tonight’s events? Because as Poppy lay in the dark chatting to herself and kicking her legs I got a little impatient that she wasn’t falling asleep quick enough. I picked her back up and tried to offer her more milk, in the hope it would relax her some more and speed things up. She arched her back and made such a fuss; she refused milkies! She got herself back onto the bed, snuggled up beside me and was asleep within 10 minutes. It was as if she was saying “I can do this on my own!” And she did just that. I feel hugely proud of this step towards independence, as well as a little emotional (everyone always tells you how you will miss the little things when they are gone!) It honestly feels as significant to me as her first steps, because I know that she has got there on her own, without any expectation from us, and this is her natural progression towards independence so should be celebrated just like all the other big firsts. As well as that it has proved that letting your baby fall asleep on the boob every night does not mean they will never self-soothe. It may have taken 13 months but this feeling is amazing. It has given me hope that her night time feeds might reduce as she learns that she can get herself back to sleep when she wakes, she doesn’t need me, but I am there if she wants me. That light at the end of the tunnel is enough for me to keep feeding her during the night for as long as she wants, as much as she wants. And I know when the day finally comes that I close my eyes at 11pm and open them at 7am (yeah right, more like 5.30am!) I will feel so much pride for my precious girl, it will all be worth it.

So keep feeding mama’s! All the way to dreamland!

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A Year To Celebrate

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Less than one year ago Poppy was thrown into this unfamiliar world, knowing nothing, doing nothing, completely dependant on her parents. And now she is a walking, almost talking, increasingly independent, huge personality with a whole range of feelings and ways of expressing them and an unfathomable amount of knowledge and skills that blow me away every day. How did that happen?

I was thinking about her upcoming birthday and how much she has changed in that first year, how truly amazing she, and every other baby, is! And it occurred to me that we have so much more to celebrate on that special day. Poppy may have had a shock when she came into the world all those months ago, but it wasn’t just her life that changed drastically. And despite how hard everyone said it would be, how many ‘You just wait’ looks I was given, to be honest, I think we have done a bloody amazing job so far.

For starters, Poppy’s birthday will mark a whole year of exclusive breastfeeding, no formula in her entire life so far, which less than 1% of Mum’s in the UK can say. I know this isn’t always possible so I consider myself very lucky to be contributing to that statistic, but despite the fact that she latched on immediately with no trouble, it hasn’t been without its difficulties. It was always so important to me that she was breastfed, I didn’t ever consider another option, but looking back on how much I actually did to make it possible makes me feel quite proud. Poppy spent the second week of her life crying in pain every time she fed and woke from her sleeps screaming and bright red in the face. She struggled to empty her bowels and had a blistered rash on her bottom. I was horrified seeing her like that, but kept being told that it was normal, just colic that would go away eventually. I didn’t buy it and took things into my own hands, researching how my diet could be affecting her through my breast milk. Looking at the common culprits, I decided to start by cutting out dairy, which was incredibly daunting considering I used to have cheese at every opportunity! I looked at the list of names for hidden dairy and read labels vigorously. It seemed I couldn’t eat anything. But I had to try something, and so for the next week or so I literally ate nothing but fruit and veg to be absolutely certain that nothing was contaminated. I felt pretty fed up not being able to eat the proper meals I was used to, but things with Poppy improved quickly which kept me going. I gradually got used to preparing wholesome meals without any dairy at all, using oat milk in our risotto and almond milk for my breakfast, tea and coffee. It was still so alien to me, but after two weeks on this diet Poppy was a new baby. I felt so relieved that I knew what had been causing the pain and angry that none of the professionals would take me seriously. Even after I had seen the amazing results my doctor and health visitor refused to believe it and made me feel pretty inferior to them. Then one day, after I had enjoyed some dairy free dark chocolate, Poppy seemed to react the same way as before. I checked all of the ingredients and Googled some more. Soy. Many babies who are intolerant to dairy are also intolerant to soy. So another thing to look out for, and this one really was in everything I picked up. I was constantly worried about eating out, or grabbing something on the go, I had to read every label meticulously to be sure that I wouldn’t be hurting my precious girl. I felt miserable that so many things seemed to be off limits, and I worried I would never have a social life again! But I still never considered giving up breastfeeding. I carried on, learning new recipes, changing the entire contents of our cupboards, without even questioning it, because it was for Poppy. I did this with little support and whilst juggling a newborn baby, recovering from a traumatic birth and adjusting to all of the other changes in my life. Of course, I may have felt a little sorry for myself, but at the time, in the blur of those early hazy days, I didn’t fully appreciate my own efforts. It was just another thing I had to do, something that perhaps would pass, like the spit up on my shoulder and the middle of the night feeds (little did I know that they weren’t going anywhere fast either). Almost a year later we are still breastfeeding and my diet is radically different. I don’t even have to think about it now, I am simply dairy and soy free, just like I have brown hair, an embarrassing laugh and a weakness for Pimms. It has become a part of me instead of a temporary fix to a problem. I remember wondering if I would continue to breastfeed for as long as I wanted because of this, but that no longer crosses my mind. For starters I have discovered that dairy seems to have been the main cause of my eczema, and I feel better in many other ways as a result of my new diet. It is difficult at times, going to social occasions, being tempted by my old favourites when we go out for dinner, but I can count on one hand the amount of times I have knowingly slipped up (and Poppy still reacts when I do). I never had that sort of will power on any diet I have ever been on! I have to refuse chocolates and cakes that are offered around without a second thought, pass on a lovely cup of hot tea when there is no alternative milk available, watch everyone else scoffing my favourite foods without making a fuss, accepting the fact that it is my responsibility to avoid temptation rather than expecting people to accommodate for me. It has become second nature and with our breastfeeding journey going beautifully I don’t plan to give up until Poppy is ready, which judging from the earlier statistic, is (sadly) not all that common. Now I know this may not be worthy of front-page news, but I am allowed to brag every once in a while.

There are other reasons why I feel this has been such an achievement. Having always struggled with accepting my body and eating healthily, knowing that I was nourishing Poppy forced me to take better care of myself. Since those first small changes I have learnt so much more, incorporating so many fresh and wholesome foods into my diet, trying new things all the time, constantly learning more about nutrition and ditching the junk almost completely. More importantly ditching the fasts and yoyo diet cycles completely. I am finally respecting my body which deserves to be as healthy as can be, because I have realised it is actually pretty incredible, to have grown and nourished a strong human being all by itself. Funnily enough I now, without even trying, weigh less than I did when I was practically starving myself, but I am happier than I have ever been regardless of what the scales say. I believe food is the most important thing to get right in your life, and I am proud that I have turned my relationship with food around completely. I am also proud that I can offer Poppy the best start and hopefully teach her about healthy choices throughout her life too. 

So I guess my next achievement links in with that perfectly. This last year has made me more confident in myself than ever before. My post baby body and new inner peace is just the beginning! There are so many choices to make, small and big, when you have a child, suddenly you have to be sure of yourself, otherwise you might cave under all the pressure. I have always been headstrong to an extent, but vulnerable and my confidence was easily knocked, over the smallest of things. But starting when I was pregnant, I had someone else to make decisions for, and I started to believe in myself more for the sake of that unborn baby girl. I refused induction when the doctors were making me feel like I was wrong. I knew deep down everything was OK, and I was right. Every other decision after that made me more and more sure that I would do things my way. People who scoffed at the fact that we co-slept, or wore Poppy in a sling for the majority of her newborn life; they didn’t make me question my choices one little bit. Suddenly I didn’t care what other people thought of me, because it wasn’t them who would be affected by my decisions, it was Poppy. Initially I had been worried about postnatal depression, having gone through depression and anxiety many times before. But previous bouts of depression left me feeling worthless, unmotivated and with no sense of purpose. I remember thinking, even during Poppy’s 4 hour crying fits, I had never felt more worthy, important, purposeful or in control of my own emotions in my whole life! There were hard times but I just felt like finally I had found what I was meant to be, I had so much to be happy for and someone else to be strong for and nothing would bring me down. Not that I am claiming to be a better mum than the next, or better able to cope with the hard times; in fact accepting that I cannot be perfect and that is still good enough, was a huge realisation and perhaps part of the reason I did remain so positive. When I see Poppy smile at me every day I feel as wonderful as she thinks I am.

As well as these personal achievements I will be celebrating the more simple things that have happened in the past year. We have moved to a fantastic place, made fantastic friends and we have shared so many good times as a family. Tim has come so far in his career, and I am so proud of him. I have thrown myself into a new life here, juggled a baby and a diploma, which is going pretty darn well, as well as keeping the dog alive and the house tidy (ish). So I hope you don’t mind the very personal (and slightly long) post, but I wanted to share with you all of those positive things that explain why Poppy’s very first birthday means so much to me. People warned me that having a baby would change my life, and it has…entirely for the better.

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What are you proud of since becoming a parent?

Breastfeeding: 10 things they don’t tell you

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It is world breastfeeding week! Instead of a soppy post about how amazing our journey has been and how lucky I feel to be able to breastfeed my daughter (which I do), I thought I would inject a bit of light hearted fun into the week and warn all of you mother’s to be about the things the midwives don’t tell you. I know many of my readers will get this, for those of you without children, and my Dad, I apologise if this is TMI. So here goes:

1. Your newborn doesn’t give a damn who the milk comes from:

You may want to warn visitors to wear high cut tops, unless they are down with wet nursing. Your little bundle of joy will nuzzle into any warm, welcoming chest if their tummy is rumbling, even Grandad’s.

2. You need different sized bras for morning and night:

Depending on your babies sleeping schedule, you will probably find that sometime during the morning you look like Katie Price, and feel like you could model for the cover of FHM. By early evening that E cup bra is hanging off of your deflated balloons and you understand why your mother-in-law warned you that breastfeeding will give you spaniels ears for tits.

3. In the early days – you stink:

This isn’t always the case but I guess I was lucky. All of the weird hormones flying around your body, and I am assuming the fact that your milk producing glands are modified sweat glands, may mean that for the first few months of breastfeeding, you stink. Remember when I told you that I couldn’t make that lunch date because Poppy was over tired/poorly/teething/all of the above? I meant to say that I just couldn’t shift this smell of B.O and didn’t want to put you off your food. Of course if you manage to avoid this lovely by product of breastfeeding, you are still likely to smell pretty offensive. Sour milk anyone?

4. You might just leak all of the time:

Pre-baby if someone had told me they had enjoyed a milk bath it would have conjured up romantic images of some new age spa treatment in a mountain retreat, surrounded by exotic flowers and floating candles. 9 months later and I was having them on a daily basis, through no choice of my own. But hey, at least when we had unexpected visitors we didn’t need to worry about having the fridge stocked with fresh milk.

5. Your baby does not care about your dignity:

Poppy has never been the type to settle down for a cosy, lazy, relaxed feed. At least not when we are in company. God forbid she misses something more interesting! She latches on and off and on and off, making sure everyone gets a good look at my chest in the meantime. I have heard people say it IS possible to feed discreetly…I am sceptical.  At first you feel self-conscious, but you soon surround yourself with understanding people who you know are not offended by a woman’s beautiful, natural anatomy. If that isn’t possible you get very quick at the top up, top down, top up, top down manoeuvre and hope that in your sleep deprived state you don’t get it the wrong way around. TIP: By all means relax in the comfort of your own home and let your baby latch on and off as much as they please without a care in the world. But I speak from experience when I say that if you are so relaxed that you haven’t noticed you are still undressed after your baby is finished and playing on the floor, just make sure the curtains are shut if it is around the time that the postman does his rounds. That parcel exchange was the most awkward I ever had.

6. Nursing bras are hideous:

When I was pregnant I went to get fitted for a new maternity bra. The woman in the shop clearly mistook me for an 80 year old virgin as she fetched the most hideous contraptions I have ever seen. I swore that I could still be a Mum, a breastfeeding Mum, and be sexy too. I was wrong. A year later and I am longing for those supportive, practical, beige, boulder holders as I desperately faff about with uncomfortable, lacy, balconette bra’s every time Poppy gets hungry. I try to pretend that she isn’t the only other person who ever sees them, but who am I kidding?

7. Babies are not immobile, floppy, blobs forever:

Eventually they learn how to sit up, crawl, do the crab…and you might find they like a “drive-thru” as much as the next person. You see babies are busy little beings with lot’s to learn, and sometimes they just don’t want to stop and do nothing whilst they eat their lunch. If you breastfeed lying down, like I do on occasion, you may find your baby getting into all sorts of funny positions, nipple still in mouth. It is actually quite amazing how stretchy those things are. Downward dog was a favourite in our house for a while, sometimes with a little twerking for good measure. Sometimes she doesn’t have time for a full tank. She stops, mid-play, pulls down my top as affectionately as you would unscrew a petrol cap, and refuels, sitting bolt upright the entire time. The blue-eyed baby in the follow-on milk advert doesn’t do that.

8. Babies are also very flexible:

Settling down for a good feed is the perfect time to practise their acrobats. Foot to face is the favourite…your face that is. I am kicked in the face and have toes up my nose on a regular basis. A word of warning: when your baby first discovers they can do this. DO NOT PLAY KISS THE FOOT! It is cute the first time, your baby looks at you and giggles as you pretend to nibble their sweet little toes. But the thing is, babies like repetition. Mums like peace and quiet. So if you want to make the most of that “peaceful” twenty minutes, try not to interact with them at all.

9. Nipples are to babies what speed is to sniffer dogs:

There are times during the night when I do my best not to feed Poppy back to sleep. But, for practicality reasons I don’t always sleep with a top on (sorry for the mental picture, or you are welcome depending on who you are). So there I am lying on my front, absolutely adamant that my goodies are staying firmly squished into the mattress as I attempt to shh her back to sleep. Poppy is rooting around and I have this very brief smug feeling of power (I did not just say that, all of my AP friends close your ears!), when all of a sudden, out of nowhere I feel a familiar suckling and Poppy is looking pleased as punch as she drifts into a milky dream. How….? Wha…? I told you they were stretchy!!

10. Breasts are really interesting for a 10 month old:

*See earlier points about elasticity of nipples

So we are 11 months in and the fun continues! But would a change a thing? Absolutely not. For all of the inconveniences, there are so many positives. If you are considering breastfeeding, do it, do it, do it – just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

HAPPY BREASTFEEDING WEEK EVERYONE!

Routines and responding respectfully

For those of you who missed my recent post, we decided that it was time to make a few changes to our night time parenting in order to ease the pressure on myself. Poppy is essentially being taught to self settle. It is tiring, but it is a gentle approach designed to respect Poppy, it is not a quick fix. We had a couple of wobbly nights but things are back on track. I said I would post about exactly what we have done to change Poppy’s sleeping habits so here goes (the “sleep training” element is at the end):

Routine: WP_20140604_023I know it is the oldest trick in the book, and considering the number of books I scanned through during pregnancy I really should have been a bit stricter with this one. I am talking about the bedtime routine; bath, massage, book, breastfeed, bed. We started off well, but gradually we dropped one thing at a time until it was just bath and feed to sleep. No wonder she was still pretty wired and wouldn’t instantly go to sleep! No more skipping steps. It has been amazing how quickly this took effect, and even when she still seems wide awake during the story, as soon as she is in my arms feeding she starts dropping off. Sometimes it takes longer than others, but she isn’t getting that second wind just as I think she is falling asleep, which seemed to be happening so often before.

Black out blinds: I told myself this was the reason for her difficulty in realising it was bedtime, and maybe it played a part, but I think the routine was more important. The blinds have helped, but they don’t quite cover our windows!! Even so, there is enough of a transition from lights on to lights off that helps reinforce that routine.

Introducing a lovely: Poppy now sleeps with the same teddy (cat actually) every night. I put it in her arms as she feeds, and she has started to grasp it, so I think it is working. The cat is currently nameless – ideas on a postcard please!

Moving her into her own room: This was the saddest change, as it came way before I thought it would. But realistically I knew that I was unlikely to make the other changes, like reducing her feeds, without it. We wanted her to learn to settle with Tim, and eventually alone, but when she is at arms length and we are half asleep I act on auto pilot. Tim wouldn’t have had the chance to even try to settle her, he probably would never have woken up at all. Amazingly she didn’t seem to protest to the move, I think she realised very quickly that we were still there for her, all she needed to do was ask.

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Cutting down the feeds: This was my main aim of the transition. I didn’t make a plan, not really. I told myself I would see how she reacted if I just didn’t feed her, and to my surprise it was really not that bad. She grizzled a little but then dropped back off. So I tried to resist a few times. I realised her cry was different when she was really hungry…more about that in a minute. I found she needed a feed at around 3am every morning, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, I am still being led by her in that regard. At the moment we are down to a feed to sleep at 6pm, a top up ‘dream feed’ before I go to bed (although I am sure she wakes up for this) and then the 3am fed.

Listening to the cry NOT cry it out!: You know that study about how stress hormones wash over a crying baby’s brain? The one that makes us AP mums feel guilty every time we hear our pumpkins sob? Well did you know that when they are being held or even if they are next to you that the stress hormones could be almost non existent? Just being there through the tears makes your baby feel safe and by the end of that crying session they could have even learned a thing or two; that they are able to regulate their emotions and that their feelings valid because you stuck around and showed them love when they felt sad. That is very different to leaving them to cry themselves to exhaustion on their own and eventually give up on anyone coming to them. We knew that Poppy would cry to start with. She had no idea why she was suddenly not getting what she had been used to for 8 months! But I honestly thought it would be much worse than it was. We agreed to be with her when she cried and try to comfort her but not desperately try to fix it immediately. First we would listen to the type of cry and ask ourselves what Poppy really needs. Just like other stages in development learning to fall asleep on your own can be frustrating, and we would be there to support her through that. If this was the sort of emotion she was expressing, what does feeding really do? I am all for comfort feeding, but I can’t do it whenever Poppy faces something challenging or when things don’t go quite the way she had planned or hoped. We quickly learnt the difference between her cries and when it was frustration we lay with her, stroke her head and talk to her calmly and lovingly. She falls asleep within minutes. And if she doesn’t, we know that she really needs me instead of Tim or she needs a feed. If it is getting towards 3am and her cry is intense and builds I feed her straight away, and some nights she does still refuse to settle without feeding, but those nights have been few and far between. She is sometimes able to fall back to sleep during the night with no more than a quick rub on the back to know we are there, or even a ‘shh’ at the door. There are still times when she needs more and we are with her for 20 minutes or so, but the point is we know that she can do it. She is only waking once or twice, tops before her early morning feed, which is an improvement, and Tim is able to share the responsibility. I think this is good for their bond as well, although not so good for the dark circles under Tim’s eyes!

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There have been a few downsides to this change. The biggest being that for some reason she is waking up earlier, 5am most days, and I don’t really know why. I have even tried to feed her back to sleep despite my better judgement in a desperate plea for a lie in, but she enjoys the feed and then wakes up anyway! It means we have all started napping at about 7.30am, which is a nice way to make up for the lack of cosleeping. I am also finding it harder to switch off knowing that I might have to get up at any moment to go into her room. But it is getting easier to relax as time goes on. We are quite tired from going back and forth to her room, but it has lessened. Even if things stay as they are for the time being, it means I have my evenings without interruption, the nights are becoming more predictable, I probably have longer chunks of sleep even if the waking up is more effort, and Poppy has come a long way which is great. I have loose aims of what will happen as we go forward, but I am not going to put any pressure on Poppy or get my hopes up too much. I might try this weekend to drop the dream feed before my bedtime, because I don’t really know how long she would go into the night if I didn’t give it her. If it turns out she doesn’t really need it then that would be ideal because it would free up my entire evenings! (oops I said I wasn’t going to get my hopes up!) If that doesn’t work and she wakes up at midnight each night, hungry, then I will revert back to the original plan and perhaps aim to gradually push the 3am feed later and later, until she is going through from our bedtime until her ridiculously early waking up time. That sounds wonderful! Of course the biggest bonus would be if she decides that other than the hungry feeds, she doesn’t need us at all to help her settle, and we could go to sleep every night knowing that we will get ‘x’ amount of hours In before she wakes. But that sounds far too structured for otherwise chaotic lives, and I am sure those babies don’t really exist.

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One step forward, two steps back

Following on from my last post about our new sleeping arrangement I am calling out to anyone who has tried anything similar. For advice, reassurance, wisdom…As I said before Poppy was settling herself to sleep without feeding fairly often in her new room. During the evenings I simply had to go in and put my hand on her back and give her a little shh and she was back to sleep. Leading up to her middle of the night feed she was a little harder to settle and she always cried more if Tim was settling her, but it was a frustration cry and she went back to sleep without my heart breaking.

The night I published that post everything changed! Tim just couldn’t settle her. She cried but it got more and more intense until I went in and she started to settle again. One time she had got herself too worked up and needed the boob to relax again. I ended up waking up at 3.30am that morning, listening to her cry as Tim attempted to get her back to sleep (I had aimed for no feeds before 4am as she had a late one at 11.30pm) He eventually succeeded only to hear her wake again 15 minutes later. This time she didn’t accept him and I had to step in. She woke up fully and started smiling at me and stroking my face (“Aww how cute!” you say…not at this time in the morning!) There was no convincing her it was the middle of the night so I tried to feed her into drowsiness again. Long story short I got her back to sleep at 5.30am and fed her more than planned, and by the time she was asleep I was too wired myself to go back to bed. So yesterday I was a zombie. Last night I had to decide what to do, seeing as she refused Tim again twice in the evening and I ended up feeding her at 9pm. With Tim away all weekend I needed sleep so I pondered weather sleeping in her room would be enough to give her the comfort each time she woke and stop her getting herself worked up to the point that she needed to comfort feed. After all I knew she could fall asleep without the feeds, but she still needed a little support. I gave it a go, and our night was even worse. I was so tired when she woke up I could hardly be bothered to try (hence why I moved her out of our bed in the first place!), and her cry just didn’t sound like that frustrated cry, it sounded more distressed, and I cannot listen to that for too long without feeling like the worst mum ever. Coupled with the fact that she was putting her hands down my top I felt like I was completely suppressing my natural response and not listening to her. So I gave in, multiple times, and fed her throughout the night. I convinced myself that she must just be hungry, but her fluttery, lazy sucks proved otherwise! She decided it was time to get up at 5am, and as well as that her morning nap is all out of sync for the second day in a row. Back to square one?

Feeling confused, annoyed, disheartened and guilty. Go with the flow and hope she decides to play ball again sometime soon? Or push on through the heartache knowing that at least I am there with her as she cries? But what if she just doesn’t stop?! Is this her way of telling me “Yes I figured out your plan, and I gave it a go, but I don’t like it so you had better stop right now because I’m not having any of it!” I have had enough of thinking about who needs what…I have no idea what I need anymore, apart from a strong coffee.

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(Less Than) Perfect Parenting

When I was pregnant I started reading about attachment parenting and it resembled what we would have done naturally anyway. It opened up a new community to me and got me thinking about other things, such as elimination communication and home ed, which I may not have considered without the Facebook groups, blogs and small collection of AP books on my bookshelf. It made me think about more general aspects of parenting, such as the way in which you speak to your children, and how you choose to deal with specific situations, and I believe the new perspectives I have gained will benefit Poppy for her entire life. For that I am grateful for the books and the groups, but there is an element of this community that needs addressing.

Mother’s who choose to parent this way are often mother’s who have very high expectations of themselves. From socialising with many like-minded Mum’s I have noticed a few things. We over think everything, believing that all of our choices will have a life long impact on our children. We are labelled as ‘alternative’ (or other more amusing names like ‘crunchy’) and so begin to label ourselves. By doing this we inadvertently label others, which is something I never wanted to do. At first I felt like mainstream parents were judgemental of my choices, but I am starting to feel that the alternative community do most of the judging. By believing so strongly in doing everything for the best of the child, it is too easy to believe that any other way is wrong, or worse still, damaging for the child. To make sure you don’t get it wrong you seek information about every aspect of parenting from those very books that made it all sound so blissful and simple (despite the fact that at the very core of natural parenting is trust in your instinct). I have lost count of the amount of times I have read that a baby cry’s because they have an unmet need. So what if your baby just cries and you have done everything you possibly can?

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When Poppy was a newborn and suffering from her dairy intolerance, I did not know at first why she was crying. Yes she had an unmet need of sorts because she needed me to adjust my diet, but it was not something that could be solved instantly. She was fed, changed, warm, well rested, secure and in my arms, but she could not always be soothed. I had to relax and just make it easier for her by holding her, but in that moment I couldn’t make it stop. Similarly when Poppy became over tired she could not shut down, she seemed to fight her sleep to the point that she was so over tired she would scream for 4 hours until she finally gave in and fell asleep from exhaustion. There was nothing else I could have done, that was part of who she is; she was fascinated by the world and didn’t want to miss a thing, and at times even half an hour of being awake was too stimulating for her. In those early days everything that I had read rushed around my head; I didn’t think babies would cry if they had everything they needed? They don’t cry in Africa! What was I doing wrong? I tried everything to stop her from becoming over tired in the first place, abandoning my social life completely, but we still had episodes. All I could do was be there with her through the tears, letting her know she wasn’t on her own and that she was loved. There was nothing in the books that made me feel I was still doing a good job. The way I read it was that AP parenting should mean the baby has no reason to cry at all after you have responded to their needs. Maybe I over exaggerated that expectation, but being the stereotypical alternative mama I am sure I’m not the first.

Poppy settled soon enough, and now at 8 months old she is pretty easy going. She can still be distracted, but the majority of the time getting her to sleep has become easy, and we never have prolonged crying fits anymore for any reason. I am happy with all of our choices; I have completely and utterly devoted myself to her. It has worked very well for us, it has actually made life really easy, and I believe we have a very securely attached, happy little girl. But about two weeks ago I suddenly felt a page was turned. Poppy is no longer a newborn whose wants are the same as her needs, I believe they are starting to blur and she is gaining more and more understanding. There are certain things that she could probably learn not to need anymore, even if she does still want them. With our busy lives my constant devotion to her was starting to feel less natural and more forced. With Tim working longer hours I had no time left for me, and as a result I wasn’t being as good a parent as I can be. I never want to resent my child, so it was time to make some changes.

I need a bit of the old me back, and for those of you who know me well you will know that I need to really let my hair down from time to time. Rather difficult when your baby feeds to sleep, wakes up 3-4 times before you even make it to bed and then feeds throughout the night. And will not, ever, be comforted by Daddy in the night. So am I suddenly a bad mum for considering forcing my baby to change these expectations that we created just so that I can have a night out? I scanned a few forums and was guilt ridden to read that no one else would consider leaving their cosleeping, breastfeeding 8 month old baby for one night and their comments reminded me that her needs had to come before mine. But what if by compromising your own needs your child’s need for a happy and healthy mother is not being met? That was a more important long-term need in my mind.

In my confused state of mind I even typed the following into google: “Sleep training with attachment parenting.” I found blogs written by people in my position. I also found more hating from the AP extremists. I felt like there was no middle ground; you either leave your child to cry it out, which I never wanted to do, or give up your whole life for them. And then I came across something called RIE parenting which encourages listening to the type of crying and not immediately trying to fix it when it could simply be an expression of emotions. You can read more about this here and here. Suddenly something clicked. I have always known it and told Tim numerous times; there is a big difference between leaving a baby to cry on their own and letting them cry in your arms. Just like when Poppy was a newborn and I had no choice. This changed my whole perception of so called sleep training or simply teaching your baby to fall asleep alone, and I became more open minded to the gentle approaches. I will write another post about exactly what we have done and why I am happy with it soon.

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It has been just over a week since Poppy moved into her own room. I would have happily carried on cosleeping but wanted to drop the constant feeding, and I didn’t think that was easily achievable if she was in our bed. I miss the cuddles with her but am thrilled that she is now self-soothing and accepting Tim as a comfort during the night at times. She is still feeding to sleep in the evening, having a feed before I go to bed and one during the early morning, but that is massive progress. And she I not being traumatised, she has never been left on her own to cry, not even for a minute, and if she had protested too much I wouldn’t have continued.

We are still very much following a natural parenting style, but it is what is natural to us right now, not necessarily to every other AP advocate I will meet. Nor have I been converted to RIE or (heaven forbid) to baby training methods! We are simply finding what works and evolving as Poppy grows up. And I am doing my best, whilst realising I can’t be perfect. If you are a confused mama who has a tendency to put yourself under so much pressure to do the right thing, remember that there are no rules. You can, and should, allow yourself to compromise on your beliefs at times for the sake of your own sanity (even if some AP devotee on some forum somewhere has raised 6 kids back to back and tells you otherwise.)

I admit that right now I am more exhausted than I was before because this is requiring some effort! But I know that we are heading in the right direction, and I have booked a celebratory night out later in June, guilt free, knowing that Poppy will be happy in her Daddy’s arms.

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Poppy at 7 months

I thought my family and friends were due an update on their favourite baby (sorry about the first blurry photo!) I have an essay due Tuesday so blogging is taking a back seat but seeing as said baby is curled up asleep on my lap and all I have to hand is my phone, I thought it was a good time to write.

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Firstly I am completely cherishing this moment; after spending the best part of Poppy’s life telling everyone that she is not the sort of baby who just falls asleep in my arms, she has done exactly that twice this week. The first time we were at a friends too, so plenty to distract her, but she happily breastfed to sleep without the usual fuss when she is tired but too interested in what’s going on around her! I tried again yesterday at another friends with no luck, she got all squirmy, but to be fair to Poppy her boyfriend was watching so she just couldn’t relax!!

P1020693She is in the process of dropping her late afternoon nap, completely of her own accord. Yesterday she was awake from 3pm and still had more energy than ever at 6.30, when she is normally exhausted! It changes often though, if she wakes any earlier than 2.30pm she doesn’t last until bedtime. She is coming to the village quiz with us tomorrow so I wonder how she will be! She did very well at Nan’s party, socialising until past 9pm (as you can see from the pic on the left she is going to follow in her Mummy’s footsteps!)

Weaning: Everyone loves to hear how the weaning is going, is she eating any more now? I’ll let you into a little secret: when we were ready to start baby led weaning, I thought she would just get the hang of it immediately…despite what I had read about it being a slow process. She was so interested in what we ate and she made chewing motions as she watched us, surely she wanted to gobble it up! But that hasn’t been the case at all! She plays with her food, although usually plays with the tray or spoon more, and she does put things to her mouth, but if she swallows even one teeny bit seemingly by accident I am amazed!

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I am making much more effort to give her two meals a day now instead of just offering her bits and bobs. She has porridge or fruit for brekky and whatever I have for lunch, or leftovers from dinner the night before. Her milk feeds haven’t reduced at all, because she really isn’t eating anything! But I am not concerned, I know she will get the hang of it sooner or later, when she is ready. I can already tell that she is very independent and will not be told what to do!

Anyway, here is a video of lunch yesterday, which pretty much sums up our meal times. If you are wondering where all the food is, it is on the floor. The bouncing lasted a good ten minutes at least.

 

On the move: Poppy has recently discovered that she can crawl to me, rather than just to retrieve toys or objects she shouldn’t have, such as my camera. It is really quite sweet when I leave the room and seconds later Poppy is frantically making her way towards me. I am sure the novelty will end soon! I have definitely noticed an increase in her separation anxiety in the last couple of weeks, but that is natural at this age, and a sign that she is securely attached… go us! Unfortunately it is very noticeable during the evenings after putting Poppy to bed on her own. I know that I should just continue to settle her back to sleep each time she wakes and she should learn that although I am not right there I am still there. But as we know from the last post, I can be a tad lazy at times and have ended up bringing her downstairs on several occasions to allow myself to relax!

She has been pulling herself up on anything and everything, the sofa, the printer, the stool, me and Tim, other babies…I have a bad feeling that I will be the mum constantly pulling my child away from poor victims at baby groups as she claws at their faces and tries to sit on their laps…in a ‘let’s be friends’ kind of way of course. She is constantly wanting to stand up and can get very grumpy if you insist it is sitting down time. I thought tantrums came much later?! She had to pause in this video to chew the sofa, and she is a bit whiney as she is tired and wants to get her hands on that copy of Juno on the sofa, which she has already eaten the corner of (she will eat that but not my delicious cooking?!)

 

Potty power: Today is the second day we have had a completely dry nappy having caught all wee’s!! (so far) I am so proud of myself and Poppy, but also feel a bit frustrated with myself that I am so inconsistent. Being home all day and focusing on Poppy so much shows me just how capable she is of cueing us, but when we are out and about I hardly bother trying. I am starting to wonder if this inconsistency is worse than not doing anything at all. Maybe she is cueing me on those busy days too and I just don’t notice? Or maybe she gives up because she doesn’t expect us to take her. This morning I started off taking her regularly to see if she needed it, and by lunch time she was clearly signaling by starting to fuss during her play, and sure enough I took her every time and she went, every time! I am going to start taking a potty in the car at least so that we can give her the chance to go more often when we are out of the house. At least I know that she definitely understands the concept, and I know that in the long run it is going to make life so much easier. Poppy isn’t the one who needs to improve, we are. But we are certainly heading in the right direction…

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Socialite: We have been busy meeting up with other babies and friends as most of you will have seen on my facebook, our social calender is always full! We know a few people with babies of a similar age to Poppy, and we still go to baby groups when we get a chance. We are also hoping to meet some more home educators soon as there is a good community around here. Yesterday we went to Aylesbury to visit Mia and Noah and Poppy and her (boy)friend Noah were properly chatting to each other. One of them would say something whilst the other listened and then either giggled back or responded with babbling! It was the cutest thing. I love this age, she is just becoming such a sociable baby, she ‘talks’ to me and Tim all day long.

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Pearly whites: Her first tooth seems to be taking things slow. It has definitely fully cut through the gum but barely noticeable still. Her gums seem swollen again, so I wonder if there is another on the way? Oh and for anyone who wonders what breastfeeding is like with teeth (I get asked what I am going ‘to do’ when she has teeth quite a lot!) – so far so good, despite the fact that the toothy peg is insanely sharp!

In other news she is blowing raspberries non stop and showering us all in spit. Happy Friday! ❤

Attachment parenting is lazy parenting

No you did not misread that. But let me explain myself.

A few things that people have said to me since I have become a Mum:

“You give so much to Poppy but what about you?”

“I worry about you because you do so much.”

“When do you get any time to yourself?”

“I couldn’t do what you do, I don’t have the time/patience/energy.”

“How do you manage to stay so positive and energetic?”

“She will be fine if you leave her to cry for a bit, you need to rest.”

“She still wakes that many times a night? You must be shattered!”

I thought about this the other day when my lovely Mother In Law said she worried about me, and I couldn’t explain why but I told her that 99% of the time I feel great, despite still feeding at night, carrying Poppy for all of her naps, breastfeeding on demand, scheduling our life around her and not ever having a break…

Well I understand why that is after Poppy and I became sick last week, and I was completely exhausted. Poppy was crying, clingy, irritable, restless, tired and I was losing patience. Now that she has recovered I have suddenly realised that she is happy almost all of the time. Unless of course she is tired or hungry, she is generally smiling and laughing and our days are stress free. I started to appreciate how easy my parenting choices have made my everyday life.

ImageParenting is tiring full stop, and yes I have days where I feel particularly shattered. But what is the alternative? Let me look at a few different scenarios. The easiest one to explain is our sleeping arrangement. We co sleep and Poppy wakes up on average 3 times a night to comfort feed. She has always slept amazingly well during the night since birth though, meaning she will not fully wake up and she will fall back into a deep sleep very quickly, allowing her to get 12 hours sleep each night. By lying right next to her I simply roll over, let her latch on and we both fall back to sleep within minutes. In the morning I can hardly remember if I woke up at all in the night.. Of course I look forward to the day Poppy is sleeping through in her own room, but aside from the fact that I don’t feel comfortable with sleep training methods, I actually just cannot be bothered to even try to encourage the transition. Not now and possibly not ever. She will choose to go into her own room eventually, definitely by the time she is bringing boys home! Our current arrangement means that we are both well rested and happy the next day. I am sure I could find a suitable no cry method in the future that may result in Poppy sleeping in her own bed after a few weeks, but even just a few weeks of implementing that is too much effort for me to be tempted! See, pretty lazy of me!
How about the baby wearing during the day? Poppy used to go down for naps in bed every now and then, until I became super lazy and decided that the half an hour it took me to get her to sleep that way really bored me. Now she has every nap in the sling or carrier, because I can carry on with what I am doing and most of the time she will drift off peacefully all by herself. She also sleeps for much longer in there so I am getting a longer break and she is getting more valuable sleep and wakes up happier! Doesn’t my back hurt? Sometimes, yes. Enough to make me want to go to the effort of ‘teaching’ her to sleep longer on her own? No.

ImageBreastfeeding. I plan to breastfeed for a long time. A large reason for this is definitely the health benefits. But also…you guessed it…I can’t be bothered to wean her! I have no problem with our current arrangement and Poppy loves it! So why would I go out of my way to try to put and end to it, potentially leaving Poppy feeling confused and upset which in turn presents daily challenges and could leave us both exhausted? I have heard of Mum’s who have multiple children who have said that they simply do not have the time to even consider weaning their babies, so they just let them wean themselves and barely notice that it is happening. When I merely think about the process of fully weaning Poppy I am filled with anxiety and stress at the prospect of such a difficult process; I wouldn’t even know where to start. This is especially true of night weaning, considering Poppy is only settled by me during the night I can’t even begin to imagine the impact of night weaning on our general sense of happiness! Of course lots of Mum’s wean with no problems and there are times when you can take advantage of your babies natural reduced interest in breastfeeding. You can gently encourage it, but that still involves a considerable amount more effort than doing nothing at all. So I choose the latter.

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Baby led weaning is an interesting one, as most people think you are super patient for doing this and putting up with the mess. Me, I think it is really lazy. I don’t have to prepare any purees for a start. And at the moment because Poppy isn’t all that bothered about swallowing her food, and is still getting all of her nutrition through milk, it is incredibly easy to skip a meal if we are busy or out of the house one day. Obviously this is not going to last for long! But my point is that I don’t have any worry about whether she is eating enough, or that she has suddenly lost interest in food, or that the health visitor says she should be on this many meals, or she won’t take the spoon, or when I am going to fit in meal times, or what I will do when we go to someone else’s house at lunch time. I can’t really be bothered to spend half an hour each meal time trying to shovel food down her throat, I would rather enjoy my own lunch, because we all know I love my food, whilst she makes a mess and I can worry about that later, like when she is in bed. It only takes a few minutes to wipe the high chair and the floor, and it probably balances out when you think that I don’t have extra washing up from making the baby food in the first place.

ImageAs for elimination communication, leaving them nappy free helps everyone get the hang of it, but sometimes I admit she is really nappy free because it seems easier than getting a fresh one and getting her all dressed again, and I am definitely too lazy to be washing nappies more than once a week. Now that she goes so often in the potty I have less washing, and barely have to wipe a stinky bum from one day to the next. It really doesn’t require that much effort of my part and will certainly make the complete potty training transition one big lazy fest for me because one day she will just be 100% ‘trained’ without me doing anything different from now.

There is a theme that is very apparent when you are responsive to your babies every need, all around the clock. They are happy! Seems obvious but I have seen in the past Mum’s despairing because they feel their baby should be putting themselves to sleep, sleeping through the night, eating three meals a day, playing happily on their own…whatever they have read or heard from the ‘experts’ or interfering friends and family. The result of those concerns has been for Mum to get extra stressed trying to implement a sleeping routine that just doesn’t seem to be working, leaving baby stressed and crying and Mum tearing her hair out and feeling like a failure. Truth is that Mum is far more tired and giving way more in terms of her energy, sanity and independence than I am. She is burnt out, and baby is too. When baby is over tired or confused about what Mum is trying to achieve, they are not happy. And an unhappy baby is much harder to look after. And so the cycle continues. Stressful nights follow challenging days, because you don’t have the energy or patience to deal with a grumpy baby, and the more inconsistent you are during the day the more clingy your baby is likely to become. In the long run you become exhausted and resentful.

By ‘spoiling’ Poppy I am keeping her well rested and happy. She is happy enough that I don’t feel I am constantly seeing to her or cheering her up. A happy baby is a healthy baby and enjoyable and easy to look after. Which means I am not stressed out, or feeling unconfident about my parenting abilities or resentful about why my baby is the only baby who doesn’t seem to conform to what the textbooks say. Maybe she would be fine if I left her to cry a bit, but she would probably just cry more, and that isn’t my idea of ‘me time’. Yes I do give a lot to Poppy, but no more than any other parent, and I probably give less of my time and effort than a lot of parents who put everything into getting their babies into a routine in the hope that life will become easier. Mine is already easy and will get even easier but a lot more slowly. No I don’t get any time to myself, because the cost of it is not worth it. An unhappy baby makes an unhappy Mummy. Overall our well being is pretty positive and our quality of life is great. So until that changes, I will carry on being lazy and enjoy every minute!

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Hope you have all been enjoying the sunshine like Poppy has! I am not managing to fit much blogging in lately between studying, but I will definitely be posting about my super exciting weekend next week! 

Holy cow!

If I were to offer you some of my breast milk what would you say? I mean I would put it in a glass first. Or I could mix it with some fruit and whack it in the freezer to make some ice cream? Still a no? And yet no one seems to bat an eyelid at the fact that we consume the equivalent from a cow on a daily basis! Dairy is not designed for humans and the more I read, the more convinced I am that we shouldn’t be consuming it on such a large scale. 

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Since eliminating dairy from my diet over 5 months ago I have noticed a lot of positive changes. The biggest of these is the improvement, in fact complete eradication, of my chronic eczema on my hands, as well as much clearer skin on my face. I only really appreciated this when I tried reintroducing dairy for one day over three weeks ago; my hands are still healing as a result. I had dry cracked skin, open wounds that would not heal and tiny blister type things all over my right hand. I also broke out in spots. On top of that after consuming dairy I noticed stomach cramps and a severe headache, as well as feeling very lethargic. Having read up on the subject it seems I am not alone, and worse still dairy may increase your chances of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many other ailments.

Interestingly Poppy didn’t seem to react in the same way she used to, (crying in pain, struggling to pass stools and breaking out in severe nappy rash were a few symptoms) which was initially a relief, but I still believe that dairy will probably do more harm than good to us both if I do decide to reintroduce it permanently. Unsurprisingly our bodies struggle to break down the milk that is designed for the baby of a different species, a species that has a different digestive system, diet and nutritional needs to us. Cow’s milk contains way over double the amount of protein than human milk. If we look at the two proteins found in milk, casein and whey proteins, we see that cow’s milk contains a vast amount more casein than human milk, and a lower ratio of whey proteins. Casein is difficult to digest, it is even used to make glue, and it is linked with a range of diseases and allergies, including type 1 diabetes. Excess protein causes changes in a babies blood PH balance, weakening their immune systems and making them more prone to infections. It is clear too see why we are advised not to give infants cows milk. Cows secrete rennin which breaks down casein, but most adult humans do not, which helps to explain why many adults also suffer digestive problems due to dairy.

Let’s move on to lactose. Around 75% of the worlds population is lactose intolerant, which to me says a lot about the suitability of dairy for human consumption. Yes there is lactose in breast milk (so be careful if you are told that your baby is lactose intolerant, it is more likely the proteins causing problems), but most of us stop producing the enzyme that breaks down lactose at around 5 years old, suggesting that we should no longer be including lactose in our diets.

milkYou may still feel that dairy is perfectly good for you but then perhaps more worrying is the way in which cow’s milk is now mass produced. Like most types of non-organic farming you can bet your bottom dollar that these animals are not having the happiest of lives. Once you get past the disgusting living conditions that many of the animals are subject to, you are then faced with the reality of exactly how these animals continue to produce milk month after month after month. Well first of all they have to continue to be pregnant, and so are pumped full of hormones and artificially inseminated. They spend most of their lives pregnant, which you will know if you have ever been pregnant yourself, is going to put a massive strain on their bodies. They become exhausted from the weight and producing ridiculous amounts of milk which makes their udders unnaturally heavy, putting pressure on their legs. To counteract the problems that are obviously going to arise from this process, the cows are then pumped full of antibiotics to treat a long list of inevitable infections including mastitis. In the end the cows are rendered useless and killed at about 4 or 5 years old, many years before their natural lifespan. Cows today can give 25 times more milk per year than they did 50 years ago. This is achieved with drugs, hormones, antibiotics, forced feeding plans and specialized breeding. Would you be happy taking drugs, antibiotics and hormones regularly whilst breastfeeding your baby? Probably not, but we are consuming another mammals milk which potentially contains plenty of them.

Of course I’m not saying it easy to cut out dairy completely. I spent at least a month feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I was overwhelmed by food labels and going out to eat anywhere was a no no. But gradually I got used to it, I purchased a great recipe book, and found lots of dairy free versions or alternatives to our regular shopping basket items. I will write a post about these soon. The most common concern when eliminating dairy is where you will get your calcium from. Contrary to popular belief the calcium in cows milk is much less easily absorbed than calcium in other foods, and some people even believe dairy increases the likelihood of osteoporosis. I haven’t felt the need to supplement my calcium intake in any way; my healthy, balanced diet already contains plenty of easily absorbed calcium.

I admit I miss chocolate and cheese, I used to eat so much cheese! And no doubt when we are in Italy later this year I will indulge, but aside from the odd holiday I can see this being a permanent lifestyle change which I feel very positive about. I have enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen, I feel healthier and happier than ever before and am slimmer than ever before despite eating like a horse. A couple of my dairy free treats can be found here and here. I am curious to see if my hay fever is reduced this year on my diary free diet.

For more information I found this very interesting, but a bit of a long read, or look here for simple facts.

A note for breastfeeding mummies: The proteins in dairy do go into your breast milk, despite what your doctor may tell you, just like alcohol and other substances do (of course your doctor and health visitor may warn you about consuming too much alcohol, but dairy, no way, must be colic!) If you suspect that your baby has intolerances then trust your instinct and do your research, it is well worth the effort. Also, a lot of babies with this intolerance are also intolerant to soy which we soon discovered was the case with Poppy. This is called Milk Soy Protein Intolerance (MSPI). 

Credits image (top right): Jelle (CC) Credits image (bottom left): saltaylorkydd (CC)