Parenting with a Routine and Why I Love It

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

Here’s a thing – I don’t really ‘believe’ in parenting books that lay out a specific way to raise a child and tell you that’s how to do it. I especially don’t believe in celebrity parenting advice, or parenting advice from people who have one six-month-old baby. I don’t believe in any of this, because I think your parenting style stems from the type of person you are, and it’s something that grows and develops over time. Plus, as much as I roll my eyes at anyone with a tiny baby giving sleep advice (lol hello 8, 12 and 18 month sleep regressions), I’m sure parents of teenagers are literally screaming at all the ‘wisdom’ from parents of toddlers. Screaming.

I try not to frame any of my ~parenting content~ as advice, more just a sharing of information and experience. I have a kid, and this is what she responds well to. I have a kid, and this is when she did x, y and z. I find these posts the most interesting to read and ultimately the most helpful, because I can enjoy them without feeling like I’m doing absolutely everything wrong and must change my approach to parenting IMMEDIATELY or risk raising a horrible, insolent child who never sleeps and never eats vegetables.

I wanted to preface this post with all that, because this is a post about routine, and I know that following a strict routine is not for everyone. But I love our routine, and I do get quite regular DMs about it, so I thought I would share. No judgement, no patronising, know-it-all advice… just a bit of blather about naps and mealtimes and bed etc.

best baby toddler routines

Here’s the gal in question – Hazel at 19 months

Even before having Hazel, I was into routine. I’m a homebody and I like having my stuff around me. I’m the one making plans and organising. I always order the same thing at Nando’s. But having a baby throws your pre-child routine into complete chaos – you can’t spend every Wednesday night at the cinema, or take an hour getting ready every Saturday morning, or even get up early on Thursdays and go to yoga. Your old routine goes out the window, and for some people that means just winging it for a while, going with the flow and being more flexible. For me it meant creating a whole new routine, based entirely around the baby.

I’m not going to write much about our baby routine, mostly because it was ages ago now and I can’t really remember it (baby brain is real) but also because it’s probably not wise to try force a tiny baby into a strict routine, especially when you’re feeding on demand and awake all hours of the night. We’ve been in our current routine since Hazel dropped her second nap around the 12-month mark – it’s solid, reliable and starting to become ever-so-slightly flexible now she’s older, so I feel confident enough to say ‘this really worked for us’. Here it is:

7.30-8am: Wake up, breakfast

9am-11am: Activity out of the house – playground, soft play, playgroup, library, walk in the park, farm, museum, etc

11.30am: Lunch

12pm: Nap at home in her cot

2.30pm: Snack

3pm: Activity – sometimes at home (playing with toys, film, songs, reading, drawing) and sometimes more of the above

5pm: Dinner

6.30pm: Bath and stories

7pm: Bed

The timings are flexible within an hour – sometimes lunch and nap is a bit later, sometimes bedtime can be pushed if we’re out – but we mostly stick to this day in, day out. Hazel stays with her grandparents one day and night a week and they follow this, too. She also has two days at nursery and her routine is largely the same.

Up until about a month ago, I was an absolute stickler for this routine. I would never travel far for our morning activity because I didn’t want to risk her falling asleep in the car and I would never let her stay up later than 7pm. Hazel is now 20 months and I’m more comfortable with letting the routine slide when needed – if we want to go out for a full day and she has a quick power nap in the pushchair, for example, or if we’re out for dinner and bedtime needs to be later. I think now she’s older, she can handle changes much better than she could when she was younger.

how to create a toddler routine

Having a strict routine and following it every day has helped me retain a sense of control over a life that is very different from the one I had before, but it’s also helped me juggle being a mum and having a job. I went back to work when Hazel was five months old, so before she was in any kind of childcare. The nature of my job (social media) means I have to work every day, and although I can do it at home, I can’t really do it with a baby attached to me so I need Hazel to sleep in her cot for a decent length of time. She is a good sleeper and I credit her character for that, but I do think putting her down in her cot at the same time every single day helped her understand that time was for sleeping. We had many days, weeks, months where she didn’t sleep longer than 45 mins but she got there eventually, and I am so grateful for those 2.5 hours of peace that I rarely do anything to risk it.

I read a lot of parenting stuff that talks about ‘children fitting into your life’ and how you can just crack on with all your favourite things, kid in tow, and not worry about it. Maybe this works for some people, but for me… extremely not. I fit my life around hers – I don’t plan anything between the hours of 12-3pm, we go to a playgroup every Tuesday, she’s always home for 6.30pm and bath time is always followed by a story.

setting a routine for your toddler

I know for some parents this won’t work at all, and that’s cool. I’m becoming less uptight about The Routine as I grow more confident in my parenting – for example, about a month ago we stopped using the white noise machine in Hazel’s room. Rob just didn’t turn it on one night, and I was convinced she would wake up and her sleep would be terrible and it would all fall to pieces because omg it’s part of the routine… but it was fine. She didn’t need it any more, and we haven’t used it since.

For any future babies I think I will be more relaxed in general, but as a first-time mum trying to work out how the hell to parent a tiny child, having a routine helped me hugely. If you’re a fan of planning and organising and lists and schedules, I’d highly recommend applying those skills (yeah I’m calling them skills, try planning a wedding without professional help and tell me that isn’t a skill!) to your parenting style.

What To Expect After 18 Months Of Motherhood

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

And just like that, she’s a toddler.

what to expect at 18 months toddler

It’s weird how sudden the switch from baby to toddler is. One minute they’re mewling for milk, the next they’re tearing around on two feet and doing the actions to Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Huh.

Hazel is now 18 months old and in the last few weeks, she’s exploded with new skills. After taking her first tentative few steps about two months ago, she’s finally cracked the walking game and is literally running about the place as fast as her little legs will carry her. Walking is my favourite development so far – it’s SO much easier to go places now she can toddle along with me rather than being confined to her pushchair. Granted, it’s slow going and a trip to the farm takes about three hours, but still. I love it.

We also have a handful of fun words, including ‘nana’ (banana), ‘bub-bel’ (bubbles) and ‘noooos’ (nose), as well as some kind-of sentences – ‘oh nooooo!’ and ‘oh deee-arrrr!’. We probably should introduce some positive affirmations at some point…

For a while I was worried Hazel was a little behind in her development – at 16.5 months she had very few actual words and wasn’t walking, which was different from pretty much all other babies we know. I am impatient, and seeing other children leaping ahead in their development made me wonder if I was doing something wrong – do I need to read her more books? Take her to toddler classes? Train her with flashcards?! I reminded myself often that children develop at their own pace, and ofc as soon as I’d made my peace with the lull, all the skills came rushing at once.

developments at 18 months toddler

Alongside walking, the biggest development over the last few months has been in the sleep department. Hazel started sleeping through at around 14 months, and now usually sleeps a good 13 hours overnight with a 2-hour nap in the day. Although I think we’re on the fringes of the 18-month sleep regression, as 1/2 wakeups have been creeping back in – sleep regressions have always hit Hazel hard and she struggled with them at 4, 8 and 12 months, so I’m prepared for a few weeks of turmoil before (hopefully) things settle back down.

I’ve also stopped breastfeeding completely, a decision I made just before Christmas. I wrote a whole post about the how and why here. And following on from my 12-month update, when Hazel had just started nursery and it was all so horrible and shit – she now LOVES nursery! Everyone told me she’d settle eventually and they were right – it was so hard to leave her upset every time but I am SO glad we persisted, because she responds so well to the nursery environment. I’ll write a full post on this, but her confidence has come on massively since she started and it’s a joy to see her experiencing so many new things while she’s there.

Oh, and I’m hoping for a break from teething soon, as we now have 14 teeth with 15 and 16 on the way! Once these canines are through it’s just the dreaded back molars to go before she has the full set.

18 month toddler update

For me, this stage of motherhood is a bit like being in limbo – something I’ll write more about separately, I think. I’ve snatched back a bit of independence, but I don’t really know what to do with it. I’m hovering between two lives, not quite embodying either of them – I’m not a stay at home mum as Hazel is in nursery/with her grandparents three days a week, but I also don’t really have a career any more. I’m treading water, which some days is nice and enjoyable and other days is bleak and a bit soul-destroying. I know I will work it out eventually, but for the moment… limbo it is.

And that’s 18 months!

How To Make Toddler Toys Look Stylish

Posted in Home, Pregnancy and Baby.

I was one of those people. You know the ones. The pregnant women who declares she’ll never let ‘plastic crap’ take over her house, or the new mum who is adamant her child will only play with environmentally friendly wooden toys. If you’re currently cuddling a tiny baby and thinking ‘well, yeah! Who wants a house full of ride-on fire engines and bright orange plastic drums that flash and make more noise than actual drums?’, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. I was one of those people.

I soon learnt, however, that there is nothing more attractive to a toddler than a piece of bright plastic vaguely moulded into an animal shape, preferably with flashing eyes and a voice loop that asks ‘WHAT’S YOUR NAME’ at 100 decibels every five seconds. They cannot get enough of shit like this. It’s a sad truth of parenting that you learn in time, along with the names of all the Little Baby Bum characters. Your hopes and dreams for a perfectly Instagrammable living room featuring a delightful baby in a pristine white cotton outfit playing quietly with a vintage wooden spinning top from 1952 are soon dashed as you realise the only thing that’ll keep your toddler quiet for more than 20 seconds is your iPhone.

But! All is not lost, interior fans. This week I shared a few snaps of Hazel’s new ‘play corner’ on my Instagram Stories and I got loads of DMs from fellow parents about it, so I thought I’d write a proper post about how I created her space and made it fit with the rest of our house.

We live in a pretty standard Victorian terrace house without the space for an additional playroom to house Hazel’s toys, so almost everything is stored in our living room. I wanted to give Hazel her own space within the room without letting the plastic crap take over – my home is my sanctuary and there is nothing less relaxing than the neon glare of My Pal Scout when you’re trying to enjoy a glass of Malbec. The key is in clever styling and storage, storage, storage.

stylish toy storage baby toddler wooden
creating a childrens play room small space
play corner for children toddlers
I started out by creating a ‘play corner’ for Hazel. Initially this part of our living room housed just the Ikea kitchen, but there was lots of dead space in the corner next to the piano. With a little rejigging, I managed to squeeze this table and stools set from Aldi (a Specialbuy last summer so sadly not available now) in there too, giving Hazel space to sit and ‘draw’ on her magnetic drawing board, or ‘read’ a book. I taped a few cute prints to the wall and dug out some of her more aesthetically pleasing favourites – the Grimm’s rainbow, Little Feminist books and Aldi baking set.

toddler table and chairs scandi
ikea wooden toy kitchen toddler
stylish toddler toys
Hazel absolutely loves this set-up – she’s really into ‘homemaking’ stuff at the moment so will stand at the kitchen and ‘stir’ a pan and ‘feed’ me with a spoon. Behind the kitchen doors there’s loads of pretend fruit and veg in baskets along with more pans and utensils, so plenty to explore and discover.

She won’t sit for long at the table (and I have to remove the stools if I want to leave the room as she is a climber with no regard for personal safety) but she loves a proper seat and drawing will keep her occupied for a bit. What I love most about this is it’ll grow with her as she gets more into reading and colouring, plus once she’s not so reliant on a highchair she can eat her lunch here, too.

ikea wooden toy storage kallax
how to store childrens toys
storing baby toddler toys
At the other end of the room is where I’ve hidden the plastic crap. This is an Ikea Kallax unit with soft storage boxes (also Ikea) which house all Hazel’s toys. I go through everything in here every few months and move the stuff that’s too young for her out to the cellar, so it’s never overflowing. On top I’ve pulled out some of my favourites – the Grimm’s Three in a Boat and Mini Monochrome Tunnel displayed with some artwork and books. The pram is by Ooh Noo and the cute bunny doll is Maileg.

toddler book storage
nice book storage childrens wooden
Hazel loves books and likes to pull lots out and flick through them. Rather than keep all her books up on shelves where she can’t reach them, I store them in this Rainbow Box which sits under the window. Similarly to her toys, I go through the books every few months and put any she’s outgrown into storage.

stylish baby toddler fire guard
Our final Hazel-friendly living room addition is this fire guard. This was actually one of the first things we set up when Hazel started crawling as she developed a taste for fake coal quite quickly! It’s a BabyDan Fire Guard in XL which comes in black and white and is fully adaptable to fit your space. We took one piece out to make it narrower and it fits perfectly around our fire – when Hazel was less mobile we used foam tiles to cushion the little strip of hearth that sticks out, but she’s much more agile now and rarely gives the fireplace a second glance. We also have a BabyDan gate on the living room door.

Hazel’s larger toys like her Buggly Wuggly ride-on and Little People farmyard live behind the sofa, while her rocking horse and soft toy collection are in her bedroom. When she’s playing, everything is pulled out to enjoy but as soon as she’s asleep we pack it all away so we can reclaim our space for the evening. By choosing kid-friendly pieces that fit with our interior style and hiding the rest away, our living room is a space for Hazel and us. I’m really pleased with how it turned out!

stylish storage for toddler toys

How to Stop Breastfeeding

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

If you’re looking to establish breastfeeding, keep breastfeeding going after a setback or continue breastfeeding past a certain age, there’s so much support to be found online. Which is, of course, how it should be – breastfeeding is an amazing thing and the abundance of support online goes a little way to make up for the lack of it IRL.

But… what happens when you’re ready to stop breastfeeding? When our babies are born, from the very first second we’re encouraged to breastfeed. The NHS recommends breastfeeding until at least six months, while WHO advocate for breastfeeding until 2 years ‘and beyond’. We are pushed (but not necessarily supported) towards breastfeeding at every turn, but all breastfeeding journeys come to an end at some point – whether that’s through self-weaning (some children become disinterested in feeding as they get older, and all children eventually lose their ability to latch) or through choice. And if you choose to stop breastfeeding for yourself, it can be a tough situation to navigate.

stopping breastfeeding at 1 year old

I started thinking about the length of my breastfeeding journey when Hazel was around 10 months old. At this point, she had fallen into a nice routine – I’d feed her first thing in the morning, around 11am, around 3pm and at bedtime. But I found the 11am feed meant she wasn’t interested in lunch, so I decided to cut it out. And that started our process of gradually reducing breastfeeding until, after 13 months, I stopped completely.

For me it was quite an easy decision to make – despite my initial struggles, I’ve had a happy, positive and mostly straightforward breastfeeding experience. What’s more, Hazel has never been a ‘milk monster’ – she never really cluster fed, she didn’t feed to sleep and she rarely fed for comfort. When I realised breastfeeding was hindering her enjoyment of food, I made the decision for both of us – it was time to move on.

And it may sound selfish, but a big driver of that decision was my need for freedom. I wanted to leave the house before 7pm in the evening. I wanted Rob to take the night feeds for a while. I wanted to have a whole day away, by myself. I wanted to drink more than two glasses of wine. These sound like small, insignificant things but after months and months of dedicating yourself to another person who relies on you for every conceivable aspect of life, they add up. I’m not ashamed to say it – I wanted an out, if only for a small part of each day.

After cutting out the mid-morning feed at 10 months, I let Hazel lead the way for a while. Her interest in food picked right up, and soon I found she wanted an afternoon snack rather than milk at 3pm. So for a couple of months, I just fed her in the morning and at bedtime, and if she woke in the night. Then she started nursery and all hell broke loose with illness, no sleep and food refusal, so breastfeeding was back, big time. But that was ok – I wasn’t in a rush and if she needed it, that was cool with me.

At 13 months things settled down again and we were back in our two-feeds-a-day routine. I had a spa weekend looming – my first night away from Hazel, ever – and so decided to try introducing cow’s milk at bedtime. Rob gave Hazel her first bottle of cow’s milk (warmed gently for a few minutes on the hob because we were being very Precious First Baby about it) and she downed it in a few minutes then went straight to sleep. Result!

After a few days of bedtime bottles and no complaints, I decided to see how Hazel felt about skipping the morning feed. Looking back, it’s weird that the morning feed was the last to go as it was always the most stressful – especially on nursery days, we were constantly rushing to get out of the house, and as lovely as those 20 min milky snuggles were… they just didn’t quite fit. The slow-moving newborn days were most certainly over! I started by giving Hazel a cup of water when she woke up, then she’d have milky porridge for breakfast. For the first few days I offered her a breastfeed after breakfast just in case she wanted it, but she absolutely was not bothered and mostly refused. So that was it – after 13 months exclusive breastfeeding, we were done.

moving on from breastfeeding

Hazel at 14.5 months

For us, the transition has been seamless, completely painless and absolutely transformational. I’m in no way trying to dissuade anyone from breastfeeding for as long as they feel comfortable doing – I support mothers in making choices that suit them, whether that’s stopping at 6 days, 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years. Or more. Or less. And I want to recognise the pain of having that choice taken away, whether that’s because you are unable to breastfeed due to a physical problem or a lack of support, or because you feel pressured to stop breastfeeding before you are ready due to the (incorrect and totally baseless) opinions of friends/family/society. But for me, stopping at 13 months was absolutely right.

I think it’s important to recognise that many mothers simply want to stop. It’s vital that we talk about this – to normalise it and to make it ok. It’s ok to want a bit of your ‘old’ life back. It’s ok to want to lessen your responsibility, just a tiny bit. It’s ok to want to get blind drunk and dance on a table without worrying about inadvertently giving your baby their first taste of tequila. It. Is. Ok.

Breastfeeding was without a doubt one of the hardest, strangest, most emotionally draining experiences of my life. It is also one of my greatest achievements. I have absolutely no regrets about our journey – I am so proud that we made it to 13 months, but I’m also bloody delighted it’s over. I do miss it, sometimes – when we’re cuddling, or on the rare occasions Hazel wakes at 3am. But I know stopping was right for the three of us, Rob included. And that’s all that matters.

If you’re thinking of stopping breastfeeding, here are a few quick tips to help the process go smoothly. Please note, these tips are based on my own experiences with Hazel, who was 10 months when I started reducing feeds and 13 months when I stopped. For younger babies I would always, always recommend speaking to a health visitor, midwife or breastfeeding counsellor for proper advice on this. 

– If possible, reduce your feeds slowly over time. Stopping cold turkey can lead to blocked ducts, engorgement and mastitis, none of which are any fun. Cut out one feed at a time over a few weeks to gradually reduce your supply.

– Let your child take the lead with some gentle guidance. Work out which feeds they need (i.e. a morning feed because they’re hungry, feeding during illness) and which feeds they want (i.e. a pre-nap feed for comfort), and try to offer an alternative to their ‘want’ feeds instead, like a cup of water, a snack or distraction with a toy.

–  Think about a breastmilk replacement, either to give as a drink or to use in food. Remember that for babies under 12 months, cow’s milk can be used in cooking but not as a drink.

– If you’re feeling uncomfortable when cutting down feeds but before your supply regulates, try hand expressing for some relief. Pumping can take the edge off too, but remember that regular pumping will increase your supply again.

– Invite your partner to take over more feeds. This was one of the greatest parts of stopping for me – Rob does almost all our bedtimes now, giving Hazel her milk and reading her a story. We’ve made this our new routine and it’s really helped, both in giving me some space and in creating an amazing bond between dad and daughter.

– If you have a bottle refuser, try milk in a sippy cup, a 360 or a doidy. We used a MAM bottle with a wide teat for a while but NHS advice is to ditch bottles after 12 months (tough to follow, I know!), so we’ve just introduced bedtime milk in a doidy, which is going down well.

– Don’t feel guilty. Celebrate your journey, whether it was long, short or somewhere in between. Look back with pride. Buy yourself some breastmilk jewellery if you’re into that kinda thing (I am!). Focus on the future and all that is to come. You have done and are doing a great job, mama.

What To Expect After 12 Months of Motherhood

Posted in Pregnancy and Baby.

My last proper update on Hazel’s development was six months ago (read it here), so I thought it was about time I did another. Now she’s one whole year old (!!!), she’s acquired a whole bunch of new skills and we’ve navigated various developments and changes – some of which have been super challenging. 6-12 months has been fun, certainly… but it’s also been a really hard stage.

baby 1 year update

But, here we are! Almost 13 months into the mumming game and I’m surviving (sometimes even thriving… mostly on nursery days, tbh). The last six months has been a struggle, mostly because just as I start thinking I’ve got things cracked, it all changes and the rug is pulled from under me yet again. In the newborn days you expect to feel a bit out of control, slightly manic, severely sleep deprived. No first time mum knows how to handle a newborn! It’s totally normal! Pass me another Diet Coke! But at eight, nine, 10 months there’s a niggling feeling that you should have this down. You’ve probably established a routine, you smile knowingly at other mums and you know Dear Zoo off by heart. It should be easier by now, right?

Nope. 8-9 months especially was hard work, because Hazel couldn’t crawl and she desperately wanted to. She was frustrated by the lack of movement, there was a sleep regression thrown in there too and solids hadn’t fully clicked, so we were stuck in some weird baby/toddler limbo. She finally cracked crawling at 9.5 months, which made a big difference.

Yes – the sleep regressions. You hear a lot about the big 4-month one, but many babies also regress at 8-10 months AND at 12 months. We experienced both these regressions and it was hell. Unlike the early days, you’ve been lulled (quite literally) into longer stretches of sleep only to have them cruelly snatched away as your baby reverts to waking every couple of hours, now handily combined with standing up in the cot and literally shrieking. The wake-ups during these regressions were much longer and we even broke our golden nighttime rule (‘never leave the bedroom’) to bring Hazel downstairs on a few occasions. Like I said – hell. Luckily we seem to have left that stage behind (f0r now) and Hazel is sleeping through the night.

The two biggest developments in the last six months are social changes – starting nursery and stopping breastfeeding. Hazel now goes to nursery two days a week and has one day with her grandparents, so I have three days to work. It’s been a tough change – we’ve caught every bug going and a month in, Hazel is still struggling to settle. I’m really hoping it just takes time and eventually she won’t cry her eyes out on every drop off… tell me it gets better?! In the long-run I know nursery is the right choice for us – it gives me the space I need to work and despite her protests, Hazel is a really sociable baby who loves being around people, so I think she’ll love it eventually. Getting to that point is hard but I have hope it will come!

Stopping breastfeeding is something I need to write a full post about – it’s such a huge change and one I have fought many an internal battle over, but it’s made a HUGE difference to me. After struggling to establish breastfeeding in the early days (read about that here) I really thought I’d want to keep going as long as possible, but in reality I needed to step back. Breastfeeding ties you so completely to your baby, which is wonderful but also so limiting. Rob can now put Hazel to bed with a bottle, which is a bit of a revelation. I can leave the house before 7pm! It’s a Christmas miracle! We’re down to one morning feed a day (and Hazel has a bottle of warm cow’s milk at bedtime), but I think we’ll probably drop that one soon, too. And I’m cool with it.

baby developments 12 months

Watching Hazel change and grow over the last six months has been amazing. Here are her 1 year highlights:

Movement. Crawling is still happening, but now we’ve added cruising and walking with the help of her pram into the mix. She’s not very steady on her feet without something to hold on to so I’m not sure unaided walking is that close, but she loves her newfound freedom and is actually scarily fast (especially if you happen to be holding a rice cake).

Teeth! 12 of ’em, to be exact. Hazel has eight teeth in the front and four molars, although I think two of the molars are still making their way through. The molars have definitely been the most painful for her, and Nurofen has been our friend these last few months.

Sleeping through the night. As mentioned, Hazel has been sleeping through for a couple of weeks now. I know nothing is reliable when it comes to sleep and so am not kidding myself that it’ll last forever (hello, 18 month regression) but for now it is AMAZING.

Communication. Hazel is a proper little chatter and loves nothing more than a good babble, even if it is mostly to herself. She can now wave hello and goodbye, clap, nod and shake her head in response to words rather than copying us. She can say hiya, is starting to link daddy/dadda to Rob and often says mum-mum when upset (classic). My favourite, though, is ‘mmmmm’, which is the noise of a cow and sometimes a horse (in her defence, the figurines look very similar).

Temperament. We’re seeing so much more of Hazel’s personality, which is delightful and daunting all at once. She loves music and will dance along to any beat, she is cheeky and playful, inquisitive and curious. She’s also sometimes shy and cautious, preferring to sit back and observe before joining in unfamiliar situations. We haven’t seen any full-blown tantrums yet but she knows how to voice her dissatisfaction and has very little patience (like her mother, I guess). I’m prepping for when her stubborn streak kicks in!

We’ve celebrated Hazel’s first birthday and now we’re ready for Christmas – her second, but the first she can be properly part of. The first 12 months have absolutely flown by, so I guess the saying is true – when it comes to raising children, the days are long but the years are seriously short.