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Apr 7 14

Why takeaways are important if your friend has just given birth…

by Ann Charles
Two takeaway dishes with food on a white and red background. Photo from neeko-fi

Being the friend of a first-time Mama

Hello, lovlies!  Sorry for the massive delay in updating this blog – I’ve been off travelling, and learning lots about how different people around the world handle this whole pregnancy and birth thing.

I spent a month in Bali and Lombok (Indonesia), and one thing which struck me there is how much care the community takes of a new mother and baby in the first 40 days after birth.

I’ll go into the details in another post, but the idea is that the mother is looked after as well as the baby.  It’s recognised that this is a transition period, and a time where some TLC is required for the adults as well as the babies.

This got me thinking about how we look after newly-formed families in the West.  It can be a difficult time – we don’t always live near our own families, and friends are spread far and wide.

If you don’t yet have children of your own, it can be hard to know what to do for the best for that new Mama in your life.  So here are some suggestions for ways to be an excellent friend when your friend has just produced her first sproglet.

(You will know what works best for your own friends better than I do, of course.  Everyone’s different.)

The way to a new parent’s heart is through their stomach

Feed your friend!  By any means possible.  Send food.  Turn up with food in an obviously disposable container (they won’t have the time or brain space to wash things up and send them back to you).  They might well be bored of lasagne, but easily-freezable stuff with the date on the lid is fab.  Stews, soups, curries…. Frankly, it doesn’t matter, so long as you know they aren’t allergic to any of the ingredients.

Hopeless at cooking?  Get some posh ready meals from the supermarket to bung in the fridge.*

Live miles away?  Send vouchers for the local takeaway.

Honestly, food by any means is crucial.  Your friends are trying to keep alive an entire human being that doesn’t come with an instruction manual.  They will forget to eat.  Going to the shops will seem like a mission too far (for the first little while).  Send them food!

Oh, and don’t forget puddings (a friend of mine survived the first few weeks entirely on muffins which another kind friend had sent.  She said it was the difference between eating and not).  Puddings are the best bit.

Keep in touch (but don’t expect anything in return)

In the first couple of weeks, about a billion people will want to see the baby.  They are so squishy and cute!  New grandparents are thrilled for your friend and want to see how she is doing.

It can, however, all be a bit overwhelming for the new family and baby.

And after the first fortnight – boom.  Everyone vanishes.

Partners head back to work, the stream of visitors dwindles down…

…and your friend is left holding the baby, worried that everyone will find out she is a terrible parent, she will never be able to leave the house again because it is too complicated, and nobody will want to see her anyway because she hasn’t been able to have a shower and thinks she smells.

(She doesn’t, but extreme tiredness and wonky hormones can make this time not much fun.)

This, dear friend, is where you come in.

If you are nearby, arrange to visit when the baby is a bit older.

Keep visits short, and always bring food (bread, milk and loo roll are good offerings).

Send texts with little updates about your day.

Ask how your friend is feeling.  Listen to her.

If you aren’t nearby, you can always send texts and emails.

Make it clear you don’t need a reply.

Just letting someone else know you are thinking of them will mean a lot.

One thing: Under No Circumstances Ring The Landline Or Doorbell Unless You Are Feeling Very Very Brave.

You don’t want to be the friend that woke the baby.


She might not want you to hold the baby

This might be a relief, if you aren’t that keen on very small children.

There are some interesting bonding hormonal things going on when new parents are being made.  Sometimes, it means that they don’t want you to hold the baby.

Or they might want you to hold the baby with the rational part of their brain.  But the secret-must-keep-the-baby-alive-at-all-costs ancient cave part of their brain might make them start feeling twitchy about having the baby back.

So don’t assume you’ll get a cuddle.  And if you do, make sure you wash your hands first (little babies haven’t got great germ defences, yet) and offer to hand the cherub back every so often.

By the time your friend has baby number five, you will be greeted at the door and have the child flung into your arms, ready or not.

But the first one?  Well, they’ve still got time to be a bit protective 🙂

You don’t have to know any of the answers

One thing that worried me when I first started learning how to be a Doula was that – as I hadn’t had my own children – I wouldn’t have a clue what to do or suggest.

I’ve discovered that this can actually be an advantage.

Why?  Because your friends will already know the answers about what is best for them and their baby.

They just need you to point this fact out at times.

And if they need help with something specific, there are lots of support groups out there that cover everything from feeding to helping parents work out what kind of baby sling to buy.

So you don’t need to know the answers.  Just listen, reassure your friends that you still love them and think they are fab, and get good with Google if they need info on local specialist support (doulas call that ‘signposting’).

There’s lots of support out there

From post-partum doulas to free helplines and groups of friends getting together to do a meal rota, there is help out there for new families.  Sometimes, they are too shy to ask – so don’t be afraid to offer specific help.

Nobody will be upset with you if you turn up with loo roll and cake at regular intervals.

And if you are looking for a gift for a friend far away, I can’t help but put in a plug for the ‘New Mama Welcome Pack’.

It’s an email-based gift (no postage fees!) which is designed to offer support and encouragement to new mothers.

Every other day, and email is sent with a specially-made gift that is designed to be supportive of someone who has recently become a Mum/Mom.

From mini blog-posts sharing ‘been there, and here’s my poo story’ detail to advice on how to change careers during maternity leave, there’s something to cover every angle of being a new mother.

(I’ve seen the contents because I am one of the authors… I almost want to have a baby, now, just so I can read it all again!)

It’s a lovely, unusual gift that focuses just on her and not the baby.

Because as much as you love your friend’s new baby, your friend is the reason that you are suddenly reading a site about birth…

Find out more about the New Mama Welcome Pack here (link opens in new window).

What have you done for your friends who have recently given birth?  If you’ve got children, what was the kindest/most useful thing that someone did for you?  Please let me know in the comments below and we can spread the love onto the next batch of new parents 🙂

*Yes, yes, I know some of you are going to be all like ‘Additives! Microwaves! Cheating!’ Whatever… you are saving your friends from a diet made entirely of a three year-old jar of pickle and some soggy rice cakes. Because we all know what gets left at the back of the cupboard…

Being a first-time mama is an amazing experience. The New Mama Welcome Pack blog hop is a celebration of this life changing event! Follow the links to discover more unmissable advice, stories and essential tips. And if you’re a new mama who wants to rock motherhood without guilt, overwhelm or losing yourself, check out the New Mama Welcome Pack here.

New Mama Welcome Pack / Lotte Lane / Dreaming Aloud / Birthing in Conscious Choice / Natalie Garay / Knecht Ruprecht / Lise Meijer / Naomi Goodlet / A Lifestyle By Design / Story of Mum / Like a Bird / Holistic Mama / Birth Geek / Joyful Parenting / Stroller Packing / My Healthy Beginning / Mums and More / Kate Beddow – Growing Spirits / Ellen Nightingale / Stacie Whitney / Maternity Leavers / Photography for Busy Parents / Close Enough To Kiss / Atelier Susana Tavares / Offbeat Family / Katie m. Berggren ~ Painting Motherhood / Winship Wellness Blog / Liberate From Weight / Jessica Cary / Raising Playful Tots / Peaceful Mothering / Play Activities / Lauren Nenna / The Adventure Mama / Be Wise Be Healthy / Doula in Your Pocket / Making Mom Strong / Adrienn Csoknyay / Joyful Parents / Simple Solutions for Photos / Lynne Newman / Mumpreneur Mentor / A Walk in the Clouds / Parenting on the Fence / MiaMily

Takeaway image by

Sep 19 13

A little thank you

by Ann Charles
A thank you sign printed in yellow on the road

It’s so easy, when reading tales of maternity services in crisis, or women and families being treated poorly, to sink low into despair at the state of it all.

But it’s really not all bad news.

I am constantly in awe when I think of the time and talent some people donate to others in order to help them through their pregnancy and early childcare experiences.

So in order to cheer us all up, I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who volunteers their time to help pregnant women and families.

Thank you to the feeding supporters who spend years studying breastfeeding and formula issues in order to then spend many more years volunteering on feeding helplines and drop-in clinics.  For free.

Thank you to the doulas who work for no fee to assist women prisoners and women who have been domestically abused.

Thank you to the people who give up their evenings or lunchtimes to run antenatal groups to encourage everyone to feel positive about birth, no matter what type of birth they want or need.

Thank you to the lawyers who give away their expert knowledge to protect our human rights.

Thank you to the people who stay up late at night and get up early in the morning to support women who need to complain about the treatment they are receiving, and to monitor it on behalf of us all.

Thank you to the volunteers who run the numerous groups and campaigns to fight for choices in Midwifery, support families with complicated pregnancies, multiple birth or stillbirth and miscarriage loss.

Thank you to those that open their homes and phone lines to provide free counselling to women, men and birthworkers affected by birth trauma – even years after the baby has been born.

Thank you to the parents and off-duty professionals who support others in online groups and provide practical signposts and information without mother-bashing.

Thanks to the bloggers who digest research papers for fun and then write them up in a way that makes them easy to understand.

Thanks to the parents who share their birth and feeding stories online, so that we can all learn from their joys and learn from any failings in support.

Thanks to the family and friends of the volunteers, who support those who are giving so much to the rest of us.

And thank you to you for reading this far.

If I have missed you off the list, then I am sorry.  Please know I am grateful for the work that you do.

Now, let’s spread the love.  In the comments below, please tell me about the person or charity/volunteer organisation that has given you the most pregnancy-related support.  What is it about them that makes them so special?

Bonus challenge: call or email someone who has helped you and tell them about how it made you feel.  I can guarantee that you will make their week.

Thank you!

Image from nateOne.

Aug 25 13

Nothing to see, here…

by Ann Charles

Just tweaking some stuff around at present.  Please excuse the mess…

Aug 24 13

The long and winding road

by Ann Charles
Zennor bus stop sign

It’s often been said that birth is like climbing a mountain.

Effort, yes.  Challenging, yes.  Dangerous?  In some circumstances.

But why climb a mountain when you can take a cable car?

I was pondering this earlier this week when I was on holiday.

The landlord of the B&B in which I was staying had recommended a walk along the coastal path.

“It’s only five miles,” he said.

“The views are stunning and it’s a really obvious path.  You won’t need a map.”

Five miles, I thought.  That sounds do-able.  Should take two or three hours and there’s a cream tea at the end of it.


“There’s a shortcut to the start of the walk,” he added.  “Just go up to the top of the hill and down the other side, and then you’ll be there.”

I’ve done a fair bit of walking before, so was reasonably prepared and quite looking forward to it.

Of course, some of my friends would have been horrified.

You can’t go walking on your own like that! they’d say.

What if something were to go wrong?  You could fall over and break your arm.  Or your leg.  I read in the paper that someone slipped off a ledge and DIED.  Far safer to stay on the main road – nobody ever gets killed on those.

Thankfully, those friends weren’t with me, so I set off.

After a couple of hours, I’d reached the start point.  So much for a shortcut – but it was only five miles.

I stocked up with water and ice cream, just in case.

The walk was beautiful.  The path was clear and the views were lovely.

Purple heather in the foreground with twinkling blue sea beyond

Looking out to sea

After what seemed like ages, I still hadn’t really left the start point.  I bumped into a couple of walkers coming the other way.

“How far is it to the next village,” I asked?

“Oh, we’ve just come from there,” they replied.  “It’s about a three hour walk.  But we did stop for lunch.”

Three hours?  I’d been going for about that already.  It was meant to be a relatively swift amble; I wasn’t sure I’d signed up for this.

I continued on.  The path became steeper.  This thing was becoming an effort.

Cow climbing hill

Easy for some

After about an hour, I met some more walkers.

“How far to the next village?” I asked, again.

“Oh, about two and a half hours from here.  It’s about six miles.  We did stop for lunch, though…”

I came to the realisation that measuring things in time wasn’t helpful.  Onwards I went again (turning back was not an appealing prospect).

I went up to little crags, only to find the path turning me back down again.

I slipped and fell a couple of times.

Although I was on my own, it was good to know help was nearby if I needed it (there were lots of other walkers).

There came a point where I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.

But there was no magic helicopter ready to take me off the cliff.  Turning back was no longer an option.  I had to continue ahead.

Although I was puffing and panting a lot by this point, it still felt good.  The view was stunning and there’s a satisfaction from travelling with your own effort.

There’s no point in thinking about how far you’ve come, how long there is to go, or what might be around the next corner.

I didn’t have a map.  And the journeys other people were making, although similar, weren’t identical.

All I could do was tackle each moment as it came and enjoy the rest at the top of the peaks.

It’s all very Zen.

After what felt like a zillion hours, I still hadn’t caught sight of the village.

I met a family who seemed fresh-faced and clean.  They can’t have come far, I thought.

“How far is it to the next village?” I asked, desperately (not that the answer was going to help me much, but anyway).

“Oh, it’s just round the corner at the top of the hill,” they said.  “You’re almost there!”

I didn’t quite want to believe them but once I pulled through the undergrowth, I saw a church tower in the distance.

I felt a rush of elation – mixed with sadness.

I’d quite enjoyed this walk, after all.

View of sea in bay at Zennor

The end, at last!

Half an hour later, I was eating cake in the café.  Which was about to close.  But – good news! – there was a bus back, leaving in ten minutes.

Technical intervention

I wasn’t going to tell you this part of the story, but I went home on an open-top double decker bus.

And I hated it.  After a day of walking at my own pace, suddenly someone was doing the work for me.

It was going too fast.  I felt out of control and sick.

Everything that could go wrong started running through my mind.  What if the bus crashed and fell into the sea?  How about if a tree decapitated me?  What if I missed my stop?

View of the sea from the top of an open-top bus with purple seats

Out of control and about to crash. Probably.

And yet, some people choose the bus as their first choice of transport.

Similar distance.  Same destination.

But isn’t the journey part of the fun?

Walking was hard work.  I felt sore afterwards and got sunburnt.  There were times I wanted to give up.  Everyone lied about it being five miles – it was nearer ten.

But if I’d taken the bus, I’d have missed:

–       The white flower peeping out from behind a stone

–       The cow ambling down the hillside

–       Walking up a river using boulders as the path had vanished

–       Seeing an ancient set of fertility stones

–       Cooling my feet in fresh spring water

–       The sense of satisfaction from knowing that I could do it

Bridge made of stones over a brook

Babbling brook

What has all this got to do with giving birth?

I’ll leave you to work that out.

All I’ll say is that the bus certainly has its place, but maybe those people walking their own paths have got something, after all…

Have you set yourself a physical challenge (e.g. climbed a mountain, trekked the desert, swum across a lake, run a marathon, walked 5 kilometres)?  Please tell me: 1) what it was; and 2) how you felt afterwards in the comments below.

Aug 8 13

The dreadful conspiracy ‘they’ don’t want you to know about

by Ann Charles
Alien Babies by DuncanCV. Green and silver dollies in children's buggies.

I have a terrible feeling that we have had a mini alien invasion and that nobody else has worked it out, yet.

I haven’t been able to uncover all of the facts, but I think there’s a reverse force-field in play.

It’s acting like a mirror and is blocking all the parts of the internet which connect research evidence and common sense to health services.

Before you think I’ve finally lost it (or MI5 comes to get me.  Is it MI5 that deals with alien invaders?  Must Google that…), here are some examples to back up my theory:

Birth in the dark

We know that giving birth with low-level lighting helps a woman to feel safe and secure and to produce more natural oxytocin – the hormone which helps her to give birth.

And yet – WHOOMP!  This information entered the force-field and got switched round!

Instead of giving birth somewhere cosy and dark, the care providers gave us hospitals with noise and bright lights.

Alien interference is the only logical explanation.

One-to-one care

Having a known person with you before, during and after labour gives the best physical and emotional outcomes for mothers and babies.

Continuous support during pregnancy and knowing the people who care for you in labour can make all the difference in how you feel about your birth experience.

And yet, in recent years the vortex has come into play.  The information has been scrambled and instead most women in the UK will not have met the Midwife who is with them during birth until they go into labour.

This is why so many people have turned to Doulas.  Doulas appear to be able to cross the alien portal and still keep their connection to the outside world.  Maybe they are double-agents?  Hmmm…

Delayed cord clamping

Letting the baby have its own blood rather than stopping the supply as soon as he or she is born has been known to lead to better outcomes for decades.

But the alien translators got it backwards, and at the time of writing, the NICE Guidelines still recommend cutting the cord as soon as the baby is born.

You’d have thought with these three clear examples, even the worst sceptic would be convinced of the existence of a force-field.

But I know some of you are really cynical, so there’s more…

Birth on your back

Giving birth on your back is known to be a not-very-fabulous position for most women having a baby.

But something really odd is going on.  Despite lots of information that standing, squatting, kneeling or doing pretty much anything that your body and your baby tells you feels right is better than being flat on your back, most women in the UK still give birth lying down.

Does the vortex operate around hospitals?  Do they know they’ve been affected?

Do we need to issue protective layers of tin foil and hats made of colanders to every pregnant woman in the land?

What’s going to stop this reverse force-field from taking over?

Length of pregnancy

We have known since – forever – that babies don’t come on a particular timetable.

But the force-field has been at work again.  Scientists are ‘surprised’ by the idea that there’s a five week difference in the length of most pregnancies.

And the NICE guidelines?  They ‘offer’ induction to anyone over 41 weeks.

Even though we know that babies aren’t ‘overdue’ until 42 (or even 43) weeks.

As I’m sure that most healthcare professionals are marvellous and intelligent human beings, the only obvious explanation is an alien force-field.

Otherwise, it’d be like saying that a lot of humans in positions of authority are really, really stupid – and that just won’t do.

The aliens are trying to intercept women’s knowledge, and stop it from getting to those who care for them.  I don’t know why.  Maybe they are afraid women are too powerful.

It must be a conspiracy…

References and further geekery:

Oxytocin – Michel Odent (Daily Telegraph)

One-to-one care – Midwife4Me

Cord clamping – Delayed Cord Clamping

NICE Guidelines

Five week window for giving birth – BBC News

Ms Average

Ms Standard

Ms Evidence-Based

Thank you to DuncanCV for the image of the alien babies.

What other evidence of this alien force-field have you found?  Please report your findings in the comments below.  They can’t round us up all at once…

I strongly refute any suggestions that I have spent too much time watching announcements about the new Doctor Who.

Aug 2 13

Who are the breastfeeding experts?

by Ann Charles
Mother kneeling over her breastfeeding toddler, by Mothering Touch

As it’s World Breastfeeding Week, I thought it would be a good time to give a potted ‘who’s who’ guide to breastfeeding support.

Except, that’s not quite accurate.  Because some of these people provide feeding support, too.

Formula, breastmilk, pumped milk, donated milk, mixed feeding – you name it, there are people who are ready to support you.

As always, however, you need to know the ‘right’ person for the job.  And they may not be who you think…

Disclaimer alert!  None of this is medical advice, yeah?  Talk to your own team if you are having issues… we’re all agreed that random ladies off the internet aren’t going to be able to know everyone’s individual circumstances?  All cool?  Let’s continue…

The hierarchy in your head is probably wrong

If we are honest, most of us have a mental medical hierarchy which goes something like this: Consultant is the top, Doctor/GP/Paediatrician comes next, then Midwives and Nurses, then volunteer support workers and then me as a parent/patient.

Sound familiar?

Even just a little bit?


The problem is: when it comes to breastfeeding support – that model just doesn’t work.

Turn it upside-down

Right at the top of the ‘experts’ list?

You and your baby.

Even if you haven’t known each other in the outside world for very long, you’ll still know a lot about whether your baby is feeding happily.

Baby looks and feels fine, is filling nappies with poo and wee and you feel good?  Hurrah!

It hurts when your baby feeds, he’s floppy or your instinct says something’s ‘off’’?

Get some help.

You and your baby are the experts in your own bodies.

So who else can help you if you need some support?  Let’s have a look at some possible candidates:


Contrary to popular belief, most Doctors don’t have much training in breastfeeding (unless they’ve done some extra study themselves).

Paediatricians, whilst being experts in sick children and babies, aren’t experts in infant feeding, either.

Lots of people fall into the trap of thinking that a ‘doctor has told me xxx, so it must be what we need to do’.

I’m not suggesting that you should ignore medical advice!  But it is worth asking how much breastfeeding training a practitioner has had.  And it’s possible to thank them for their suggestion and seek an alternative view from someone else if you feel you need it.


Midwives will have had some formal training in breastfeeding as part of their initial Midwifery education.  Some of them also receive further training as their career progresses.

However, their main area of expertise is in the first few days after a baby is born.  They have to care for mothers as well as babies, and breastfeeding is not their only focus.

They won’t have any expertise in babies who are older than a few days.

Again, it’s always worth asking what their experience is, and getting extra help from elsewhere if you need it.

Health Visitors

In the UK, Health Visitors will come to see you and your baby after the Midwife has handed over care.

You would have thought that they would have a lot of feeding expertise.  But it varies.  The key thing?  Ask them about their experience and the evidence for their suggestions – and second opinions are fine!

(Do you see a theme, here?)

So if the conventional forms of support don’t work out, where else can you go?  Cue the breastfeeding volunteers!

Peer Supporters

A Peer Supporter (role may have a different name) is a mother who has breastfed her own child and volunteers with a breastfeeding support organisation to help other mothers.

She will provide encouragement and empathy, but not medical advice.

Peer Supporters can help with suggestions for common breastfeeding issues and provide a listening ear.  They can also signpost you to further sources of support if you are having a more troublesome problem.

Depending on the organisation which she volunteers with, Peer Supporters will have had about 12 weeks’ training or done a home study module.  You can always ask about their background and experience – they won’t mind.

Peer Supporters work with charities and won’t charge you for their support (donations to their charity are always welcome!)

Breastfeeding Counsellor

A Breastfeeding Counsellor (they may have another name) is a senior volunteer in the breastfeeding world.  She will have breastfed her own child and will probably have started supporting other women as a Peer Supporter.

Depending on the organisation with which she volunteers, she will have done around 2-3 years’ training.

Yep.  2-3 years.  In her own time.  To offer a service for free.

*Stops in awe for a moment*

Breastfeeding Counsellors offer non-judgemental support.  They can offer suggestions for more complicated feeding issues and also offer support and strategies for women who are formula feeding.

The Counsellor part of their title is important.  Breastfeeding Counsellors are trained to listen to you and can help you to debrief any feeding problems you had with previous babies if you wish.

If you ring a breastfeeding support line, it’s usually someone at Breastfeeding Counsellor level that you will talk with.

Breastfeeding Counsellors are volunteers and won’t charge for their services.

Problem too tricky for a Breastfeeding Counsellor?  Serious medical issue?  Step forward:

Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

A Lactation Consultant is the lead professional in the world of infant feeding (breastfeeding and formula feeding).

In a hospital, they may sometimes be called an ‘Infant Feeding Coordinator’.

They may have been Breastfeeding Counsellors who did further training, or they may have had a more medical background such as being a former Midwife or Health Visitor.

Technically, anyone can call themselves a ‘lactation consultant’, so it’s important to check that they are ‘board certified’ (look for ‘IBCLC’ after their job title).

In some parts of the country, IBCLCs are available on the NHS.  Elsewhere, you can go to one privately.  There is a list of practitioners on the IBCLC website (see below).


Last but not least, your partner can provide loads of emotional and practical support.

Whether it’s because they pay attention to the breastfeeding stuff in the antenatal classes because you can’t stop thinking about labour, grabbing you a glass of water and making sure you are fed, or reading everything there is to know and calling for help if you need it – encouragement and belief from someone else can go a long way.

These people are all here to help you.  So don’t be shy – if you are in need of some feeding support, ask for it as early as you can.  Nobody will mind!

References and further geekery:

Analytical Armadillo – The Pyramid of Breastfeeding Support

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – Breastfeeding Support Titles

Maddie McMahon – The Who’s Who of Breastfeeding

Milk Matters – Who’s Helping You?

NCT – How Dads Can Help to Support Breastfeeding

Sources of support:

Help! page

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers

The Breastfeeding Network

La Leche League International


The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

IBCLC finder

As well as phone feeding helplines, the four charities above also offer drop-in groups around the country.  They can also signpost you to good books and videos for support.

There may also be other breastfeeding cafes or groups in your neighbourhood.  You can go to these at any time – even whilst you are still pregnant.  They usually have cake and biscuits, so it’s all good…

Thank you so much to Mothering Touch for the breastfeeding picture!

Have I missed anything off the list?  Got the wrong end of the stick?  Please let me know in the comments below.

You may also like: Who are the pregnancy experts?

Jul 26 13

The book I’m telling everyone to read…

by Ann Charles
Men Can Do It! by Gideon Burrow book cover featuring 1940s style poster with a man holding a bottle of expressed milk and carrying a child on his back whilst pointing to his own arm muscle

Men are lazy and don’t want to look after children, says Gideon Burrows.  But they should do it anyway.

A bold statement for anyone to make.  But that’s the kind of writer Gideon Burrows is.  Funny, engaging – and not afraid to shy away from the bigger issues.

Equally shared childcare

My personal utopia, when it comes to having a family, has always been two parents, both of whom work part-time.*

So when I saw Men Can Do It!  The real reason dads don’t do childcare and what men and women should do about it, I ordered it straight away.

And now I’m telling everyone to read it.


Gideon’s style is relaxed and informal.  This is a well-written book that is an unexpected page-turner.

When Gideon’s children were born, he didn’t realise that most couples don’t share childcare evenly.  He and his partner split all the duties – and it was only ‘too late’ that he twigged he could have got off with a much lighter share (like the rest of his friends).

The book charts his experiences of trying to be an equally-involved father.

Problems start before his first child is born: he’s ignored by Midwives and chucked out of the hospital in the middle of the night.

He feels that men miss the first few lessons in babycare this way.

Originally, Gideon took one day off work per week while his partner did the rest of the childcare.  But when he saw her career ‘go down the toilet’, he realised that perhaps his own job sacrifices hadn’t been that great and it was time to reduce his own work hours, too.

From then on, they were equal.  He took sole charge of the children for the same number of hours a week as his partner.  And he strongly encourages others to do the same.

Discrimination and excuses

Instead of the couple being applauded for their stance, they met with some discrimination.  The general assumption that men are ‘useless’ with childcare meant that whenever Gideon was in sole charge of his children, people would ask ‘Are you babysitting today?’

He claims that the worst offenders were the mothers at the toddler groups, who would form ‘cliques’ and exclude him from the conversation.

And whenever their work/life balance arrangements were explained to friends, they’d be given a catalogue of excuses as to why equally-shared parenting ‘wouldn’t work for my family’.

The common objections: career ambition, finances, men’s ability to parent are addressed in the rest of the book.  The couple even managed to work out a way to continue breastfeeding whilst splitting the house and childcare duties.

The overall message is that potential problems are challenges to be overcome, rather than complete obstacles.


There are some parts of the book where I feel the author misses the point.

The naïve surprise he feels about being discriminated against on the grounds of his gender is almost funny as a female reader.

Childcare is not considered a high-status job SHOCK!  People can be quite nasty to each other about parenting decisions HORROR!  Healthcare professionals are sometimes patronising GASP! 

He is advocating for male equality and some sections of it feel like feminist writing must have done thirty years ago.  It shouldn’t be ‘them and us’, but rather ‘everyone together’.

There are also some places where, in his desire to be equally involved, he doesn’t recognise that actually, it’s his partner who deserves the credit and attention.

For example, he is hurt when in labour, the healthcare team in hospital didn’t ask him what he thought about any of the medical options being offered.

That’s because a women has a right to decide what happens to her own body and it’s not an option ‘offered’ to her male partner.

And whilst I am sure that having him helping and supporting during labour made a huge amount of difference to his partner’s experience, giving birth is a uniquely female achievement and deserves to be celebrated.

How would you feel if you’d just run a marathon and your friends who held a banner and cheered took all the credit for your completion of the race?

On another occasion, he is offended when another mother asks how he is ‘coping’ when his partner is away for several days on a business trip.

Clearly, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the tone in which the question was asked.  But I didn’t feel the question was discriminatory as he did.  I think she’d have asked exactly the same question to a female friend and it was a subtle way of reaching out to offer help.

It does highlight how hard it can be to be the trailblazer, however.  People will attack you for being different, and after a while that can take its toll.

I would have loved a bit more of a look at the psychology of bonding – is it true that children ‘need’ more mother input at certain stages, and father input at others?

And, for an equally-shared parenting book, it would have been nice to have had a chapter from Gideon’s partner about how she had found the whole experience…


Overall, this is a very engaging book with lots of great ideas for how to make equally-shared parenting work, and anecdotes that anyone who has looked after children will laugh at and relate to.

There is lots of humour in this book and I like that as well as an overarching manifesto for how government could change legislation to make it easier for fathers to take a more hands-on role, there were also more practical tips that individuals could implement straight away.

(Heard of the ‘toilet squat’?  If you are a women, chances are you’ll never have needed to do it.   Male childcarers, however…)

This book will make you think and question your own assumptions about gender roles in families.  It will also flag up that women can be really sexist, too – and we should stop sabotaging our male partner’s involvement in childcare (even unconsciously).

It’s interesting that Gideon reports that more women than men are reading the book.  Maybe his point that most men ‘just aren’t interested’ in childcare is true?  I do hope you all prove me wrong…

Because, single male readers of this blog, if you read this book and take it to heart, there will be a queue of intelligent and funny women lining up to go out with you.

And I’ll be at the front.

Men Can Do It!  The real reason dads don’t do childcare and what men and women should do about it by Gideon Burrows can be ordered on Amazon (£).

(£) = a link where I receive a small commission.  It doesn’t affect what I review or write.  If you don’t want to use it, here’s a plain link instead.

Read the book?  Have your own equally-shared parenting adventure?  Please tell me about it in the comments below!

*OK, I’ll scrub that, slightly.  My personal utopia is that I’ve won the lottery and am living on an island somewhere where money is no issue, but you know what I mean.

Jul 20 13

Lolcats giv birth

by Ann Charles
Ceiling cat is watching you give birth

Wun dai Sally cat had bin out doin nauty stuf in teh alleys wiv Stanley cat an dey had hooj sekz.

Few wks l8r, Sally cat realize dat she iz well up teh duff.

Stanley cat haz buggerd ov coz he doan rally care coz he iz well rubish.

Sally cat iz liek oh moi daiz so she iz den goin 2 C teh Midwif cat.

Midwif cat tellz her 2 calm down cuz she iz only havin kittehz an dat liek not rally hooj deal.  Milloins ov teh cats iz havin kittehz eveyr dai an she shudnt git all stresseh ova it.

Sally cat iz well offendud cuz she finks dis iz speshul tiem 4 her & she want sum extruh attenshun.

Midwif cat is liek K ill look aftr U.  But everthin goin 2 b alright an u probs wont need me anywayz.

Me not fat becaus icecream me pregnant

Sally cat git all fat wit the kittehs on teh inside.

Midwif cat sez were wud u loik 2 hav teh kittehs?  Lawts ov cats iz now goin 2 teh Vets.

Sally sez oh noez not teh Vets!  Dey iz liek hurtin me last tiem i woz der an i doan liek dem i iz rally skerd ov teh Vets.

Midwif cat sez but sometimez Vet dey save ur LIF.

Sally sez but i doan wanna go Vets unles emerjenC.

Midwif cat iz liek K den how bout u stay at home?  Catz hav alwayz had deir kittehz at home.  Only recentlee dey goin 2 teh Vets.

This is how we cut the cord...

Sally sez she prefr bein in her houz.

Sally iz worrid abaht teh pain.

Wot if it hurtz me 2 hav de kittehz?  she ask Midwif cat.  Dey iz havin claws an i fink dat wil be painfull on teh wai out.

Midwif cat iz liek trust me u will B fine.  All u iz havin 2 do iz goin in 2 teh cupbord.

Teh cupbord? sez Sally wot in der?

Teh cats hav allways bin goin in teh cupboard 4 teh havin kittehz sez Midwif cat.  But teh lites must not b on cuz u will frighten away teh oxytocin.

Teh oxytocin? ask Sally cat wot iz dat?

Oxytocin iz hidin i iz findin it

Teh oxytocin iz Luf hormone explain Midwif cat.  It liek majik.  Wen u hav teh kittehz, it der.  Wen u hav teh hooj sex, it der.  Wen u hav lot ov catnip it der.  Wen u in dark it der. 

It mak u feel al warm an luffly an halp ur pusy cat git teh kittehz out.

But basement cat liek to chase it away.  An if teh oxytocin git chasd away u will B gettin all stresseh & angree an if it gits chasd all away u will EAT TEH KITTEHZ an im gonna hav 2 tel Vet on u.

Sally cat duz not wont teh oxytocin 2 go away.

Wot can i do 2 keep the oxytocin in teh cupbord? she aks Midwif cat.

Michel Cat Luffs Teh Oxytocin

Stay in teh cupboard on ur own.  i will be outside wiv Michel cat 2 protect u.  We will stop basement cat frum gettin in.  U can ask Ceiling Cat 4 halp if u want 2. 

We wont turn on teh lites or cum in unles u ask us 4 halp.  Stay positif and relaxeratd an ur body will do teh rest.  Everfin goin 2 B fine.

A few dayz l8tr Sally cat iz on a walk an den she wants 2 go inside rally bad.  She check teh houz an der iz nobody der.  Iz all quite.

Sally cat go upstairs 2 teh cupbord.  Iz all warm & cozee an she curl up on teh blanket.

She haz a nice rest an den her body go OOF OOF an out pop teh kittehz!

This was not the delivery I was expecting

Woz not expectin dat fought Sally Midwif cat isnt even heer.

She lie on her side an teh kittehz iz all feedin frum her teets.

Dis liek well eazy fink Sally but i iz well knackered nao.

Just feeding the kittens

An round teh cornr cum Midwif cat wiv sum catnip.

i iz always rite an i sez u cld do it she sez.


 I can haz no sleep but it all worth it

An dey all lif happly eva afta an Stanely got cawt by teh cat suport agenyc cuz he liek well deservd it.

Teh End.

Kitties u are being watched by ceiling cat

TU 2 LOLCat wedding ceremony 4 teh inpirashun.

Pikturez frum joelogon, Takashi(aes2562), kakissel, Phil Hawksworth, Iain Patterson, hamburgerjung, shioshvilli, metaphoricalplatypus, Romana Klee.

All text by Ann Charles.  Lolcats text & imagez combind usin rolfbot.

Plz share dis post.  Kthxbai x

Jul 12 13

Why birth is a lot like a wedding…

by Ann Charles
Young child wearing a white and pink wedding outfit and trying to remove her itchy headband

I’m writing this on the train on the way to my Aunty’s wedding in Cornwall.  Happy days.

I’m not the first person to make the analogy between weddings and pregnancy, of course, but it got me thinking: there are quite a few similarities…

The date seems to be very important

“Congratulations!  When’s the wedding?” say your friends.

“When’s it due?” asks every random passer-by in the street to a pregnant woman.

We are obsessed by measuring and numbers.  However, unlike a wedding ceremony, a baby doesn’t have a fixed date on which it will definitely arrive.

And it doesn’t come in a pony and trap, festooned with flowers…

Your mother wants to be involved

She needs a special outfit.  You shouldn’t do things like that.  We never had all this fuss when I was young/getting married/having babies/magically saying the wrong thing to make you feel bad.

The groom gets sidelined

Yes, OK, technically you can’t have a traditional wedding without a groom.  But nobody’s really thinking about him.  He’s just a minor detail, right?

Similarly, fathers can feel excluded from pregnancy and birth (and some fathers exclude themselves).  If this is happening to you, check out sites such as DaddyNatal and Beer + Bubs.

(And yes, I know sometimes weddings happen with two women or two men.  I trust you to reread this and replace words to suit your own circumstances.)

The wedding day is a big event

Wedding days are very important.  They mark a new phase of your life and the event will be something you remember in great detail for years to come.  Everyone wants it to be a happy time.

Similarly, the baby’s Birth Day is a big deal.  A new person has joined your family and the memories – good and bad – will be etched in your mind until you die.

No pressure.

Wedding v marriage

It’s all too easy to focus all your energy and attention on the big day itself, and forget the teensy-weensy fact that you will be living with this person for the rest of your life.

How do you want your marriage to work?  Who will be responsible for the finances?  What do you think about different childcare methods?  How do you change a nappy?

You can learn as you go along but a few discussions before you commit might smooth the way.

And just as with having a baby, the memories of those nights without any sleep will soon fade…

You probably don’t need to spend as much money as you think

A marriage ceremony costs around £50.

Giving birth is free.

Yes, you can buy heaps of stuff in matching colours…. But you don’t need to.

It’s more fun with friends

Weddings are a chance to celebrate and gather friends and family around you.

The time after birth is similar.  Although you may not want crowds of people, drawing on your support team can be useful.

Just make sure you give them useful jobs to do rather than letting them come up with their own mad ideas (remember your hen night?  Exactly).

Trivial details suddenly become ma-hoo-sively important

There’s a difference between ivory and cream.  Your baby is 2/5 engaged.  You had no idea that either of these things existed six months ago.  And suddenly, they really matter.

In both cases, your friends don’t want to hear about it.

This will piss you off.

Location, location, location

The place where you get married will be important to you.  Some people will recommend the standard state provision.  Others will suggest that you spend lots of money going somewhere fancy.  And you may have a religious tradition which means the ceremony’s venue is a done deal.

You will probably find that getting to know the person running the ceremony first will make you less nervous, but unfortunately, this option isn’t always available in all wedding settings.

Or birth ones.

Do it your way to have the most fun

As soon as you announce you are getting married, people will start giving you lots of suggestions and telling you things you ‘must’ do.

Not doing some of them will probably mean your partner will die (or so they say).

You may find that getting a copy of Debrett’s (£) and following it step by step rocks your world.

Or that breaking with tradition and having a wedding in water might be more your thing.

Although your family and friends want to support you, the best kinds of weddings are the ones where you and your partner have thought about what you want.  It’s all about you.

You might even write your wishes out into a plan.

You’re only going to do this a few times in your life (unless you are working towards an appearance in a Channel 4 documentary), so go for it!

Body fluids will be involved

It’s a legal requirement (for a non-voidable marriage, at least…)

And hey – what gets a baby in will get a baby out! (£)

Wearing white is a stupid idea

‘Nuff said.

Have I missed anything?  How else is a birth like a wedding?  Please let me know in the comments below (the funnier, the better)!

Thanks to akeg for the gorgeous photo of the wedding baby.

The (£) symbol means I get a small commission if you buy something via the link.  It doesn’t affect what I post.  You can always use this plain link for Debrett’s or this one for Orgasmic Birth instead.

Jul 4 13

Who are the pregnancy experts?

by Ann Charles
CLose up of ski warning sign, reading 'Experts Only'.

You’re pregnant.  Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of you.  The old lady on the train stops to offer you advice.

Friends who’ve had children regale you with stories.

People tut if they see you in the wrong part of the cheese aisle at the supermarket.

And every other day, there’s a story in the national press telling you that you should/shouldn’t/must/mustn’t/definitely can’t or it will drop off/do or do not do THE THING that they are writing about.

So who exactly are the pregnancy experts?

It might not be who you think.

You and your baby

Coming in right at the top of the list are you… and your baby.  With your partner (if any) a close third.

Think about it.  If somebody told you they’d been working in a certain field for twenty (ahem) years, you’d assume they were an expert in it.

You’ve lived with your body for your whole life.

You’ve known your baby since before s/he was made.

That’s a lot of expertise.

You know when something doesn’t feel quite ‘right’.

You know if your baby is moving differently from normal.

You are the expert.  Everyone else is here to support you, but the person with the most knowledge?

That’s you.


The main professional expert in pregnancy (in the UK, at least)?

Your Midwife.

Depending on how old she is, she will have had three-four years’ undergraduate training in all things related to pregnancy, birth, and the first few weeks after a baby has been born.

Around half of her training will have been in ‘normal’ pregnancy, with the other half focussed on ‘high risk’ and less standard scenarios.

S/he is the lead carer for women with standard pregnancies, and is a health professional in her own right.  She’s nobody’s assistant (a bit like a Physiotherapist or an Occupational Therapist  – she is an expert in her field and involves other health care professionals when needed).


Obstetricians are Doctors who specialise in abnormal pregnancy and birth.

They will have undergraduate and post-graduate training, but are not experts in normal pregnancy.

They come into their own if there is a problem.  Obstetricians are surgeons and can perform operations such as caesarean sections.

They can also advise on ‘high-risk’ births and may be called if instruments (for example, forceps) are needed to assist a baby who is stuck.

Unless they have taken a special interest in normal birth, their knowledge of low-risk pregnancy is limited.

According to Amali Lokugamage, an Obstetrician who trains Doctors, Obstetricians-to-be receive eight weeks’ worth of training about normal birth in their fifth year of training.

Many Obstetricians are also Gynaecologists as well – Doctors who specialise in problems with women’s reproductive organs.


Doulas are ‘experts’ (though they probably don’t like the term) in non-medical options around pregnancy and childbirth.

The key here is non-medical.  Doulas do not have any professional responsibility for your health and do not offer any medical advice.  It’s not their area of expertise.

Instead, they can talk you and your partner through your options, signpost you to places for support around the issue you are having, and help you learn techniques to make sure you feel in charge of the decision-making process.

Suddenly discover that your baby is Breech (pointing bottom or feet-first)?  A Doula can help you find the space to think through all of your options, and point you in the direction of experts, support groups and research to help you work out what you would like to do.

Because, after all, you are the expert.

Other parents

Last but not least – there’s lots of support available from other parents in your local community.

Perhaps you know about a parents’ and toddlers’ group.  Or a fab antenatal class where you can meet other pregnant parents in your neighbourhood.  Maybe it’s even a Positive Birth Group.

If you prefer to stay behind a screen, there are hundreds of online communities – from virtual home-birth support groups, to organisations for families with twins and triplets and general parenting discussion boards.

Whatever fear or life issue you are facing, someone else is bound to have gone through something similar.  And just feeling like you are not alone can be a big help in itself.

It’s all about you

Anyone on this list can help support you in your pregnancy and birth.

But – no matter how ‘official’ they appear – they cannot make decisions for you.

Imagine you are the Prime Minister of your own pregnancy.  You’ve gathered a team of specialist advisers and experts around you… but you are the one that will make the final call.

Your own intuition about your own circumstances is worth more than any degree.

Your body.  Your baby.  Your birth.

…Yours to enjoy.  Good Luck!

Image by Joe Shlabotnik.

How did you make decisions during pregnancy?  What would you need to feel confident in listening to yourself?  Please let me know by leaving a comment below.