baby · fatigue · health · pain · parenting · top tips

Parenting With Chronic Illness – A Collection Of Articles

Being a parent with chronic illness can be tough. It’s tiring enough looking after a baby or toddler without having to deal with pre-existing issues with fatigue and pain. When I started the Sickly Mama blog, one of the key things I wanted to do was write about parenting with chronic illness, and connect parents who suffer from chronic illness and disability to build a supportive network (you can join our Facebook group here if you’re interested!).

But of course I’m not the only one writing about this, so I wanted to do a post featuring articles from other blogs about parenting with chronic conditions, to bring together a range of advice on the subject from people who aren’t just me…

parenting with chronic illness and disability a collection of advice and articles the sickly mama blog

Parenting With Chronic Illness – A Collection Of Articles

Parenting and pacing yourself:

When you have a chronic illness, pacing is so important! I remember when my hen do was being organised, my husband was basically a consultant to my bridesmaids about how much I’d be able to do before I’d need a break. He did a great job, as did they, and I had a fab time (and then a really, really long sleep lol). But how do you manage pacing yourself while looking after a tiny, unpredictable bundle of energy (or two? Or three?).

I liked this blog post, which gives key tips on pacing yourself as a parent with chronic illness.

Coping with a newborn as a parent with chronic illness:

The newborn period is notoriously an exhausting and difficult time for all new parents. If you already have chronic illness, it can be quite scary wondering how you’ll cope with the newborn phase, especially if you suffer with fatigue under normal conditions. How much worse will it be when you’re woken up constantly by a baby who needs feeding every couple of hours? Will you be able to cope?

I’ve found a couple of articles that give tips for new parents with chronic illness, on how to manage that difficult newborn phase. This blog post covers tips for managing a newborn with chronic pain and chronic fatigue. And this post covers taking care of a newborn and yourself when you’re chronically ill.

I think the best tips for looking after a newborn when you’re chronically ill are about determining the things you absolutely must do each day (feeding baby, feeding yourself) and identifying the things which perhaps are good to do but not essential (giving baby a bath, doing the washing up). That way when you’re having a bad day, you can stick to just doing the essentials without feeling guilty, and on a good day you can aim to get a bit more fine. Oh, and asking for help is important. Always ask for help if you can!

Helping your child cope with having a parent with chronic illness:

When your child is still a baby, it’s not really something you have to worry about. But I’ve already started wondering – when Little Man is a bit older, how will we talk to him and explain things when I’m having a flare up of my symptoms? This is a really special article, which is actually written both from the perspective of a parent with chronic illness and her grown-up daughter, looking back.

I think the key thing I took away from the article was the reassuring sense that it’s totally possible to have a great childhood even with a parent who clearly suffered from very severe illness. Even totally healthy parents tend to suffer from the mum/dad guilt that they’re not doing enough for their children, so naturally the same guilt is there when you also suffer from a chronic illness that is sometimes limiting. But treating your child with respect, honesty, and trying to maintain a stable routine is what they need.

How to thrive as a parent:

So far in this blog post, I’ve used words like “coping”, “managing” and so on to describe being a parent with chronic illness. But that seems to be setting our sights a bit low. What about thriving as a parent with chronic illness? After all, none of us goes into parenting with the intention of just ‘getting by’ – we want to enjoy the experience!

I like this blog post which focuses on thriving as a parent with chronic illness. It includes some general tips on managing your days and practicing self care.

parenting with chronic illness a collection of articles and advice for parents

What are your top tips or best pieces of advice for others who are parenting with chronic illness? Let me know in the comments!

Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Open Your Eyes Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

I’ve previously given my top tips on underwater modelling, based on my time as a professional mermaid and underwater model. So I’m going to continue this as a little blog series! Being able to open your eyes underwater is a really important part of underwater modelling. If you can’t open your eyes, you may still be able to get some beautiful shots with closed eyes, but to be a successful underwater model you need to be able to open them. As the old saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul – and in underwater photography, seeing a model with their eyes open is part of what really brings that magical, fantastical quality to the picture.

So if you’re not comfortable with opening your eyes underwater, how do you get there? Realistically, you do need to accept that opening your eyes underwater is likely to sting, and you’ll need to practice to get comfortable with it gradually, over time. Here are some key pointers that will help you get there.

Learn How To Open Your Eyes Underwater

1. Start By Staying Still

If you swim forwards with your eyes open, it’s more painful, because you’re effectively forcing the water into your eyes. For your first attempts at opening your eyes underwater, try to stay quite still as you open them.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

2. Avoid Chlorine If You Can

Chlorine and heavily salted water are the most unpleasant on your eyes, but even fresh water will sting a little bit. Aim to start trying to open your eyes underwater in lightly chlorinated water, or natural water that is clear and free of other irritants (such as a lot of dirt or sand).

If you’re in a public swimming pool, remember that these tend to have higher chlorine levels than private pools or tanks, so your eyes are likely to sting more in a public pool.

Make sure you have eye drops on hand for when you get out of the water – there are lots of great drops on the market, and I recommend looking for the kind that are marketed as being more viscous or gels, such as Viscotears liquid gel.

Check out those pink eyes in this backstage shot by Johannes Hjorth

3. Check The Temperature

It’s also worth being aware that the temperature of the water will make a difference. The most unpleasant underwater photoshoot I ever did was in an indoor tank, and me and the other models noticed that our eyes were burning much worse than normal. We spoke to the tank operators and they did several checks on the chlorine levels, which were completely within the normal range – but by the end of the shoot, we were all barely able to open our eyes (and seriously glad we had brought our eye drops along!).

Afterwards we realised that the problem had almost certainly been the temperature of the water – it was a cold winter’s day and the tank was located in a chilly warehouse, so the operators had very kindly turned the temperature up to ensure we didn’t freeze. However, the warmer water meant that the chlorine was reacting more easily with our eyes and thus a lot more painful than usual. So if you’re shooting in a heated pool or tank, try not to have the temperature turned up too high. You’re better off being briefly cold than having red vampire eyes for days afterwards!

4. Build Up Slowly

Start by opening your eyes for one or two seconds and build up from there. Practice makes perfect, but don’t spend too long practicing at once – spread it out over a number of different sessions to make sure you’re not putting your eyes through too much punishment.

Try opening your eyes while looking upwards initially, as some people find this easier.

Photograph by Hugh Spence

5. And Finally…

If you find that you’re still not comfortable opening your eyes underwater and want to shoot pictures with your eyes shut, make sure that you’re not scrunching your face up to keep your eyes closed – you want to look relaxed!

health · top tips

Coronavirus Second Wave: Surviving Lockdown 2.0

2020 has been a pretty crazy year. I can’t say it’s been a bad year, because my lovely son was born in January, but it’s definitely been a mad year. And now it seems that we’re heading for the second wave of coronavirus… and another lockdown. The first lockdown back in March was a bit of a shock. None of us had been through anything like that before. Will surviving lockdown number 2 be easier, because we know what to expect, or will it be harder – for the same reason? It’s difficult to know, especially as we don’t yet know what a second lockdown will look like.

So in preparation, I’ve pulled together a round up of some of my favourite blog posts about surviving lockdown with your well-being intact…

Surviving Lockdown 2.0 And Maintaining Wellbeing

1. Coping with social isolation

One of the most difficult things about lockdown is the social isolation. It’s particularly tough if you live alone, but even those of us living with family, friends or housemates can struggle not being able to see the people we’re closest to, or even have those everyday interactions with other people that you don’t even notice under normal circumstances – a chat with a friendly check-out clerk, a quick gossip in the office, even just a smile in the street. Humans just aren’t made for social isolation.

This blog post gives some great tips on coping with social isolation, and the impact on our mental health. Check it out!

2. Creating a wellness retreat at home

My idea of maintaining wellness at home is agreeing with my husband an evening that I can have a bath while he feeds Little Man and puts him to bed (Little Man’s room is next to the bathroom and our pipes are super loud, so I can’t bath after he’s gone to bed!). I run a hot bath, add some bubbles, make a mug of herbal tea and grab a book to read while I soak. Luxury!

But this blog post made me realise I was aiming wayyyyy too low. You really can create a luxury wellness retreat at home – it just requires a bit of planning! Even if your family commitments mean you can’t quite clear your schedule for a while day of home spa relaxation, the links at the bottom of this post give some great ideas for lovely ways to boost your wellness when you have less time available. During coronavirus lockdown when you can’t go out or meet friends, it’s so important for your mental health to carve out some time for yourself, and this post is great inspiration for your next block of me-time.

6 ideas for surviving lockdown 2.0 coronavirus second wave mental health and wellness

3. Mindfulness meditations to combat Covid-19 lockdown stress and anxiety

Linked to the above, lockdown is inevitably stressful. Not being able to go out and spend time with friends and family is stressful in itself, let alone worries about catching coronavirus, managing food and medication shortages, employment issues and more. Mindfulness is a great way to combat stress and anxiety, and even as little as a ten minute mindfulness session every day can make a real difference to your mental health and wellbeing.

As we go into Lockdown 2.0, I’m going to be proactive about using mindfulness to manage stress, and working my way through this list of 10 minute mindfulness meditations.

4. Managing lockdown food shortages and limited shopping trips

If the newspapers are to be believed, panic buying has already started in advance of the second lockdown. Back in April, I set out some of my top tips for managing with lockdown food shortages and limited shopping trips. I’ll be revisiting some of those tips, and trying to make sure we have a well-stocked freezer before Lockdown 2.0 hits!

5. Improving Wellness At Home

I like this round-up post about improving your wellness at home. Some things are so simple and yet they do really make a difference to how you feel… Like making sure you get outdoors every day if possible. During the first coronavirus lockdown, we always made sure to pop into the garden every evening with Little Man, to spend a little time with nature, and it always really lifted my mood. Unless it was raining, of course!

6. Tips for mamas to survive Lockdown 2.0

Of course a huge focus of this blog is on parenting and being a mama, so I loved this blog post about how mamas can beat the lockdown blues. Of course a lot of the tips will be great for dads too (although probably not every dad will want a mini makeover). There are benefits to being locked down with kids – at least the time goes quickly as you’re caught in the constant whirl of feeding, naptime, playtime and tantrums – but there’s no denying it can be stressful and exhausting.

What are your top tips for surviving lockdown… again? Let me know in the comments!

coronavirus covid 19 second wave surviving lockdown 2.0 with good mental health and wellness
baby · food · parenting · top tips

My Top Weaning Tips So Far

We started weaning Little Man at six months, so we’re now about seven weeks in and having two solid meals a day as standard (I’ll be honest, we could be doing three a day, I just can’t be bothered cleaning porridge off the walls that early in the morning). That means it’s time to share my top weaning tips so far, based on what I’ve learned!

We’re following a mix of traditional weaning (where the food is puréed or mushy at first, gradually increasing in chunky textures, and you feed baby with a spoon) and baby-led weaning (or BLW – where baby is presented with solid food options from the start and has to feed him or herself). This seems to be working just fine, despite some evangelists on the BLW side saying it’s all or nothing and you must never mix the two approaches for fear of confusing baby. Maybe some babies are more easily confused than others… Mine just seems to treat all food of all textures and presentations as an opportunity to coat himself in muck from head to toe.

In general, lunch is more of a purist’s BLW approach, where Little Man gets foods he can pick up himself and the time to have fun with them. Sometimes they even go into his mouth. Then at dinner, he sits in his high chair at the table with me and my husband, and there’s more of a concerted effort to get some food in his tummy.

Anyway, I’ve been reflecting on our weaning journey so far, and I thought I’d share some weaning tips that I wish I’d known when we started!

Don’t make assumptions about what they will or won’t like

Little Man has consistently surprised me with what he enjoys eating. The other day, I was eating some very strongly flavoured salt and vinegar crisps. Little Man was on my lap, and he was reaching for them. We don’t normally let him have any kind of junk food, but I let him have a crisp, on the basis that I thought the flavour would be way too strong and acidic for him and he wouldn’t like it. I even thought it might put him off asking for crisps in the future! Predictably, I was 100% wrong and he loved it… Oops.

Other foods that he has liked despite my expectations have included raspberries, broccoli mash (come on though, broccoli is grim… I practically made myself ill from the smell when I cooked it for him!), risotto, Japanese-style pork croquettes, and more. Now, I just let him try whatever and see what he thinks. Fingers crossed it works and we avoid having a fussy eater later on in life!

Help them get started off

I often offer Little Man one or two pieces of his finger food before leaving him to try to eat himself. Giving him a piece straight to his mouth at the start of the meal helps him get enthusiastic about feeding himself the rest. I then often give him one or two pieces to hold, as he often struggles to pick things up initially and it seems to help him get the hang of it for the rest of the meal.

Weaning is tough

Don’t start sweet (unless you mean to go on…)

The other day, I gave Little Man some raspberries to start him off while I made veggie omelette for his main. Oops. He loves veggie omelette, but after the raspberries he was in no way interested. Every time he put a piece in his mouth, he just made a sad face. Now we don’t do sweet things until the savoury is out the way first…

Let him have his own damn spoon

Little Man ALWAYS wants to hold the spoon. He struggles a lot with his teething and loves chomping on our wooden spoons. He’ll take a bite from a spoon, then if his teeth are bothering him, he’ll get very angry if you try to take the spoon back to give him a second bite. So now I have a back-up spoon on hand, and I just let him keep the spoon he wants. It’s much easier all around.

Brace yourself for those first weaning nappies

Little Man has always had trouble with his stomach, but as his tummy had improved by the time we came to start weaning, I have to say I wasn’t fully prepared for the violent and explosive nature of the poops he produced after starting weaning. We went through a couple of weeks where he was routinely experiencing such forceful poops that they completely escaped his nappy and went right up his back. He’s also been quite windy, but fortunately doesn’t seem to have tummy pain like he used to when he was smaller. Luckily for us (and our washing machine), Little Man’s digestive system does seem to have begun to acclimatise to solid foods, and poops are now normally being contained within the safety of his nappy. But I really wish someone had warned me about those first few weeks!

What are your top weaning tips? Share them in the comments!

Blog post image for top weaning tips using a mix of baby led weaning and traditional weaning
Just for fun · mermaiding · top tips

How To Look Amazing Underwater (Tips From A Professional Mermaid)

Whether you’re a model heading for your first underwater photoshoot, or just going on holiday and dreaming of getting some awesome underwater shots in the pool, getting a good picture in the water is very different to getting a good photo on land. While I’m not performing now I’ve had my son, I spent years working as a professional mermaid and underwater model, so I’ve pulled together this short guide for modelling underwater, to help you get the pictures you want.

Underwater Modelling Top Tips

1. Keep Track Of Your Location Underwater

Being underwater affords so much opportunity for creative, gravity-defying poses. When you’re getting into position it’s helpful to be aware of the frame that your photographer is shooting into, to ensure that you know whether you can stretch out your arms and legs and still stay in shot, or whether you need to stick to more compact poses. For underwater modelling, aim to keep diving in the same spot unless your photographer wants you to move, as otherwise you’re likely to get a lot of blurry pictures. It can be tricky to keep track of this in swimming pools, as there’s always a tendency to drift in the water, so try to get your bearings each time you surface.

2. Relax Your Face And Open Your Mouth

One of the things that can make your face seem tense or unnatural in underwater pictures is the fact that most people naturally want to keep their mouth closed when they’re underwater. When you’re holding your breath, you’ll naturally want to close your mouth, and most people aren’t that comfortable at first with letting water into their mouth, especially if it’s chlorinated.

But you’ll find that if you can open your mouth underwater, it will help your facial expressions to look relaxed – and gives you a much wider range of expression in your underwater modelling photos. It’s actually probably more important than being able to open your eyes underwater, as closed eyes don’t necessarily make you look tense.

At first, the fact that you’re holding your breath may mean that even with your mouth open, your facial expression will still look a little stiff or unnatural – I recommend just practising at home in the mirror. When you’re doing your breath hold practice, try using a range of expressions, and you’ll find your expression quickly becomes more natural and relaxed.

Photograph by Gregory Brown

3. Getting The Poses Right For Underwater Modelling

You’ll find it helpful to go into an underwater modelling shoot with a mental checklist of poses that you want to try. It’s easy for your mind to go blank when you’re underwater, and communication with your photographer is much more difficult than on land, so it’s useful to be able to work through a set of poses that you’ve planned in advance.​

Make sure you try each pose several times, to give your photographer the best chance of getting a good shot.

It’s also handy to be able to work through a mental checklist of key points as you’re getting into each pose (having something to focus on will also distract you from the fact that you’re holding your breath!):

  • Point your toes (assuming you’re not in a mermaid tail!).
  • Shape your hands – flat paddle hands won’t look good in a picture. Relax your hands and create some space in between your fingers.
  • Relax your face – check you’re not squinting or pushing your lips out.
  • Check your hair – if it’s not floating up, try running a hand up through it for that magical underwater look.
  • Move slowly – give your photographer plenty of time to capture the shot.
  • Use props – props can look amazing underwater! A simple piece of fabric will transform your shot.
  • Think about your lighting (see below).
Photograph by Chiara Salomoni

4. Manage Your Lighting

Just as with normal modelling, it’s important to be aware of your light sources. Underwater lighting can be more complicated, particularly if you’re relying on natural light or surface light, rather than using underwater flashes.

Using surface light in your photography creates that beautiful marbled lighting effect that can be one of the hallmarks of underwater photography.

The side effect of this marbled lighting is the weird shadows that it casts, quite unpredictably – there’s an example of this in the photo to the right. This means that it’s a good idea to have a few takes of every shot – even if your pose is spot-on, the lighting may not be!​

If you are relying on surface lighting, remember to tilt your head upwards and towards your light source, to maximise the light falling on your face. But even if you do this, I guarantee you’ll get some strange shadows in your shots, so make sure you take plenty of photos!

This photograph by David Ballard shows typical dappled underwater lighting

5. Beware Of Bubbles

Unfortunately, bubbles have the propensity to pop up and ruin an otherwise awesome shot. If they’re in the right place, they can add to that magical underwater feeling in the photograph – if they’re in the wrong place, they will cast weird shadows and distort your facial features. When you’re doing underwater modelling, the key is to try to be aware of them and control them as far as possible.

When you first submerge under the water, the dive will usually create a cloud of bubbles and you will need to wait until after these have cleared to get the perfect shot. You can minimise this by diving into the water more slowly, and by getting your clothing and costume fully submerged beforehand, ensuring there aren’t any air bubbles trapped within the fabric. Checking your costume for air bubbles is a good idea in any case, as these can create peculiar floating bits of fabric in the picture.

So far, so straightforward. But now… introducing the ninja nose bubble! When you drop below the surface of the water, pockets of air are trapped in your nose and sinuses. These have a tendency of creating a surprise stream of bubbles from your nose at unexpected moments, particularly when you tip your head backwards in the water. The best thing to do is to just to be aware of the possibility of this happening when you tip your head back – if a ninja nose bubble does appear, just hold your pose and be prepared to wait for the bubbles to dissipate. You may need to repeat the pose a number of times to get the shot you want.

If it’s really ruining your shot, the best thing you can do is to get underwater, tip your head really far back, let the bubbles out and the water fill your nose, and then take your pose. This is not particularly recommended, as the sensation of water pouring into your nose is pretty unpleasant, especially if it’s chlorinated.

A nose bubble ruining this great shot by Shamira Crivellaro of MiraMarc Studios

And those are my top tips for your next underwater photoshoot! I’ll be continuing this series of tips and tricks for underwater photography, so keep an eye out for the next blog – and let me know in the comments if there are any aspects of underwater modelling that you’d be interested in finding out more about.

baby · parenting · top tips

How To Save Baby’s Clothes After A Poo Explosion (And Get Them Good As New!)

When you become a parent, regrettably dealing with your offspring’s explosive poops is a part of the package. I’ve come across lots of mummies both in real life and online bemoaning the fact that their kids have had such a severe poonami that they’ve had to throw their favourite clothes straight in the bin.

What a waste! The thing is, you can easily get those clothes looking good as new, and no-one will be any the wiser that they were once quite literally covered in crap. Some of Little Man’s nicest outfits have been coated in turds three or four times (when we started weaning, it had quite the volcanic effect on his digestive system for the first month or so). So for all the other mamas (and dadas) out there, I thought I’d share how I deal with poopy clothes. I’ve never come across a poo stain this couldn’t deal with (yet…)

1. Initial de-pooping

As you’re getting baby out of the poopy clothes and nappy, use an extra wipe or two to wipe down the outfit and get as much poo off as possible.

2. Soak in cold water

Get the clothes in cold water for a soak as soon as possible. We have a bucket on hand for this purpose (for god’s sake don’t use the kitchen sink! Unless you want to give the whole family dysentery). You can soak for half an hour, but can also leave overnight if e.g. it’s not practical to put a wash on straightaway.

With your rubber gloves on, give the clothes a gentle scrub in the water, to get as much of the remaining poop off as possible.

3. Vanish pre-wash spray

Not an ad, I just love this product! Vanish pre-wash stain remover is great for these kinds of stains, but also for mucky bibs and muslins etc. as well. After removing the clothes from soaking, wring them out and generously spray the affected area of fabric on either side with Vanish spray. Leave the poopy clothes to soak in the spray for 5 – 10 minutes.

4. Normal wash cycle

Then in your washing machine just run a normal 40 degree wash and voila – your poopy clothes should be good as new. If the stain hasn’t completely gone in one wash, reapply the spray, leave for ten minutes and wash again… But you probably won’t have to!

how to save baby's clothes after a poo explosion laundry tips
health · medication · top tips

How To Decide Whether To Have Surgery/Radiation/Take the Medication…

I’m a member of lots of Facebook support groups for people with pituitary tumours and other chronic or long-term illnesses. One of the most common types of post is people saying they’re not sure whether or not to go through with whatever treatment has been recommended by their doctor. It’s a big decision, and not something that strangers on the internet can really answer for you! But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any process or technique you can use to make healthcare and treatment decisions… That’s why I’m writing this blog.

I want to share a process I learned doing National Childbirth Trust classes when I was pregnant, which I think is a great technique to follow to help you make these kinds of decisions. It doesn’t have to be restricted to use in healthcare settings, either.

The process is called “BRAIN” and it’s an acronym to help you to remember the questions you should ask about your recommended treatment. You should consider:

  • Benefits – what are the possible benefits of this treatment?
  • Risks – what are the risks of doing this?
  • Alternatives – what alternative options are there? Why are they not the recommended option?
  • Intuition – what does your gut feeling tell you?
  • Nothing – what would happen if you don’t do anything?

I think this provides a really great format to have a constructive conversation with your healthcare provider, and to ensure that you’re fully informed about your treatment. It can be helpful to take this list to your appointments so you can work through each question when you see your doctors (if you’re anything like me, you forget what you want to ask if it’s not written down!), to inform your treatment decisions.

I’ve also written previously about my experience of pituitary tumor surgery and making the decision to go ahead with surgery (twice) – you can read about that here.

health · top tips

How To Get Your Doctors To Listen To You

It took me about five years to get diagnosed with my pituitary tumour. That’s a guess, really – looking back, the first symptom I had was my hair starting to fall out, which started when I was around 16 years old. I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was 21, and I spent so many years wondering: how do you get your doctors to listen to you?

Now don’t get me wrong, my illness is super rare, but five years is still an incredibly long time to wait for a diagnosis. For the majority of that time, I had steadily increasing symptoms of hyperthyroidism, and was consistently told it was all in my head. I went to the doctors numerous times about:

  • Hair falling out
  • Heart palpitations and fast heartrate
  • Fatigue
  • Getting ill all the time – I caught every cough and cold going, and half the time it would turn into a chest infection or sinusitis or tonsillitis

My GPs pretty much just kept doing the same blood tests, which came back fine, or simply suggesting I was stressed and asking me how things were at home. I actually got to the point of wondering whether it was possible to be so stressed that your hair falls out without actually feeling stressed out about anything at all (other than the fact that your hair is falling out, ironically).

It was only when my resting heartrate suddenly jumped to 140 beats per minute (a normal heartrate is 60 – 100 bpm) and there was something unambiguously WRONG with me that they started taking me seriously and sending me for more tests and scans, and eventually worked out what was going on. I’ve since experienced, both with my own medical problems and those of others, numerous other occasions of feeling not believed/not listened to by doctors. So, I wanted to share my best tips for getting your doctor to listen to you and take you seriously.

5 Ways To Get Your Doctor To Listen To You

1. Be Organised

When you’re on the spot with a busy GP who you feel is being dismissive of your concerns, it can be difficult to remember everything you wanted to say or all the questions you wanted to ask. Write your key points down in a notebook or on your phone before you go, and take it with you to the appointment. You can also jot down the key points the doctor says during the appointment, to ensure you don’t forget anything.

Stick to your guns and make sure you say everything you wanted to say at your appointment (but make sure you get straight to the point and don’t waffle – doctors are busy people!). If your doctor interrupts you, you can go back to what you were saying later on (easiest if you have a list of your key points). If your doctor asks you only closed questions (yes/no questions), you can expand on your answers and give more detail.

2. Be Specific

If you are experiencing symptoms which concern you, write down:

  • How frequently they are occurring
  • How long they last
  • The impact this has on your daily life
  • Anything you’ve done to try to treat the symptoms and how successful this was

And tell your doctor this specifically. If you say something like “I’m getting quite a lot of bad headaches”, this is open to interpretation. How bad is “bad”? How often is “quite a lot”? On the other hand, if you can say “I’ve had five headaches in the last two weeks. They lasted between three and six hours, and I had to go to bed every time because paracetamol didn’t help. I’ve had to take three days off work because of it”, that helps your doctor to gauge exactly how serious your symptoms are.

3. Bring A Friend

Having someone else there (partner, parent, friend, housemate) can also be helpful, especially if that person can attest to the impact your symptoms have had. When my husband was quite poorly with his gluten intolerance, he kept going back to the doctors about his symptoms and getting fobbed off. When I went with him to one appointment and also talked about how he had lost a lot of weight and wasn’t himself, we finally got the doctors to listen and refer him to the hospital for proper investigation of his symptoms. I think if you’re relatively young and fit-looking, it helps to have someone else back you up when explaining how I’ll you’ve been.

4. Ask Questions

If you feel like you’re being fobbed off or you’re not getting the treatment/investigations you expected, asking questions is the way to go. Questions like:

  • “I thought you might want to do some blood tests. Can you just explain to me why you’re not doing that?”
  • “If you’re not concerned at the moment, are there any particular symptoms I should look out for that would be more of a concern?”
  • “If my symptoms don’t improve, how long should I wait before I come back to see a doctor again?”

Asking questions can help to open up more of a dialogue between you and your doctor, and also give you more reassurance about why the doctor is making certain decisions.

5. Remember Your Options

Ultimately, if your doctor isn’t listening to you, you can always ask for a second opinion from another doctor. Although the ideas listed about should help to get your doctors to listen to you, they won’t always work and not all doctors will be interested in listening. Changing doctors may be a better option than feeling like you’re banging your head against the wall with a physician who isn’t taking you seriously.

What are your top tips for getting the most from your interactions with doctors and healthcare staff? How do you get your doctors to listen to you? Let me know in the comments!

how to get your doctors to listen to you sickly mama blog graphics
health · top tips

How To Manage An MRI Scan If You Have Anxiety Or Claustrophobia

Having an MRI scan is a really important diagnostic procedure. If you have a pituitary tumour, chances are that the diagnosis was confirmed via an MRI scan, and there are lots of other conditions that require you to be scanned as well.

I’m an old hand at MRI scans, I’ve lost track of how many I’ve had to check on the pituitary tumour in my head. I just had a scan on Monday, to try and work out what’s going on with my current raised thyroid levels.

Having your head scanned requires your whole body to be inside the MRI scanner, which can be especially daunting if you suffer from claustrophobia or anxiety, and other people usually aren’t allowed to be in the room while the scanner is on.

So how can you manage anxiety or claustrophobia if you need to have an MRI?

How To Manage Anxiety During An MRI Scan

Talk to Your Doctors

The most important thing is to discuss your claustrophobia or anxiety about your scan with your doctors as early as you can, before the day of your scan if possible. They may be able to make special arrangements for you or help to allay your fears!

Sedation During An MRI

You may be able to discuss your anxiety with your doctors, and either your GP or hospital staff may agree to prescribe a mild sedative to help you manage the MRI process. If you think this may help you, it’s important to raise it with your doctors as early as possible before your MRI scan, as it can take time to discuss, arrange and agree.

Open or Upright MRI Scanning Machines

Now, if you’re lucky enough to have private health insurance or a big wad of cash stuffed under your mattress, you may be able to access different types of scanners through private providers. There are upright and “open” MRI scanners available, which are designed to reduce claustrophobia, but these are not normally accessible on the NHS. In some areas, these types of scans may be available if a formal application is made by your doctors, but funding these types of scans is not usually considered a priority.

You should also be aware that these types of scanners usually use lower magnetic fields and thus give lower resolution images than traditional MRI scanners, so they may not always be suitable for the type of scan you need.

tips and strategies to manage anxiety and claustrophobia in MRI scans the sickly mama

Know What To Expect During An MRI Scan

If this is your first time having an MRI, it’s really helpful to know what to expect, so you can prepare yourself mentally for the experience. Most of us have seen an MRI scanner on TV, but that doesn’t give you much of a picture of what will happen to you when you go for your scan.

Some key things to be aware of:

  • MRI scans can take a while! 20 – 40 minutes is completely normal. If they have difficulty getting a clear picture (for instance, if you move during the scan), it can take longer if they have to re-do scans.
  • Linked to the above, you will need to stay as still as possible in the scanner while the pictures are taken.
  • MRI scanners make very loud, jolting whirring and metallic noises which can be a little overwhelming and don’t follow any sort of pattern or rhythm so are hard to predict. You will be given ear plugs. The sudden noises can be stressful and make you jump, which obviously makes it hard to stay still!
  • You will be in the scanner in a room on your own, however you will be able to hear the staff through an intercom. You will have a panic button to press at any time if you need it, and they will come and get you. In some scanners I’ve been in, you can see the staff via a mirror, which I think is nice.
  • You may need to have an injection partway through the scan if your doctor has ordered an MRI “with contrast”.
  • If you are having an MRI scan of your head, your head will probably be placed inside a mask, with padding, to make sure it doesn’t move during the scan. It’s not uncomfortable but can feel claustrophobic.

Non- Medical Ways To Manage Anxiety During An MRI Scan

There are ways to manage anxiety during an MRI scan without sedation or alternative scanners. Here are my top tips!

Distract Your Brain

Give your brain something to do to distract it from what’s going on. I learn poetry before a scan and then during the scan I challenge myself to remember the poems! It’s a great way to make the time go faster and take the focus away from what’s going on around you. If poetry isn’t your thing, try:

  • Mental maths puzzles – practice your times tables up to really high numbers or try long division in your head!
  • Remembering lines from your favourite TV show or film.
  • Navigating a familiar journey – give yourself a destination and visualise yourself travelling the route of that journey from your home.
  • Remembering names – people in your primary school class, old teachers, university classmates or work colleagues.
  • Anything else that challenges your brain to remember or complete a difficult task.

Breathing Exercises

It’s easy to dismiss breathing exercises as hippy nonsense, but they really can help you manage stress and anxiety. Slow, controlled breathing has been proven to affect the nervous system and brain activity, and to increase sensations of comfort and relaxation. So it’s definitely worth a try!

The NHS provides basic online guidance on breathing techniques for stress that are simple and easy to do. You can also easily find guidance and videos online via a quick search. Breathing exercises usually involve counting patterns of breath, which also works to distract you just like the suggestions above!

Close your eyes

This one seems too simple to be true, but I know lots of people swear by it! Close your eyes when you’re being put into the MRI machine, and don’t open them again until you’re done. This strategy seems to work especially well for people who struggle with the claustrophobia aspect of MRI scans.

How Do You Manage Anxiety During MRI Scans?

Do you have any other suggestions for how to manage MRI scan anxiety? Let me know in the comments!

baby · parenting · sleeping · top tips

Baby Parenting Hacks I Wish I’d Found Out Sooner

So Little Man is now four months old, which is hard to believe! And I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in four months of being a parent, and some of the tricks I know now, that I wish I’d known four months ago. So the time seemed ripe for a blog post about it…

The Hold

We discovered this when Little Man was nearly three months old, which was a shame because it meant I found him a bit big to actually use it. Basically it’s a way of holding a young baby that is very effective at soothing them. My husband found it really effective with Little Man, but I do think it’s easier if you have big hands! It would have been super useful when the little dude was really tiny and screaming the house down.

The Magic of Horsey Rides

This is a discovery from the last month or so which I wish I’d found sooner! Basically, sitting Little Man on my knee and gently bouncing him for a ‘horsey ride’ (ideally with sound effects included, and/or the silly Horsey Ride Song which I’ve made up) is incredibly soothing for him. It’s a great way to chill him out when he’s being really grumpy.

The Chill Wind

Little Man is a baby boy, and as we discovered to our detriment, apparently baby boys have this reflex which means that there incredibly likely to pee when you take off their nappy and the cold air hits them. Consequently for some time, nappy changes were like a weird, very damp game of dodgeball, with me and my husband leaping out of the way of wee jets at regular intervals, and the little dude managing to pee on his own face on more than one occasion.

Then we discovered that if you opened the nappy to let some cool air in, and even blow into the opened nappy, before shutting it up quickly, it usually helps to make him pee before the main nappy change takes place! According to the internet, this is called the “cold activation method“, which sounds very sciencey indeed.

The Try Before You Buy

I’m due a rant about baby clothes any time now, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s not really a hack per se, but just having the knowledge and forethought to check how baby clothes fasten before buying them. Poppers = okay. Zips = better. Hundreds of tiny buttons = every parent’s nightmare at nappy change time!

The Peg Swaddle

Okay, bear with me on this one. When Little Man was a teeny baby, we got into swaddling him to help him sleep (in line with safe swaddling guidance). However, once he got to about three months old, he was strong enough to sometimes be able to partially escape from the swaddle during the course of the night, so we stopped swaddling as there was a risk of him ending up tangled in blankets or with the blanket on his face. I was worried that he wouldn’t go to sleep well once we stopped, but actually he transitioned fine and would fall asleep happily without the swaddle.

At least… Until a week or two ago, when he developed a bad habit of fussing at his face with his hands. I think it’s a combination of teething and itchy eyes from hayfever. When he’s sleepy, he will fuss like mad, poke his own face, bite his fingers, pull out his dummy and then cry because he’s hurting himself. Understandably, this makes it very difficult for him to fall asleep!

We were staying to lose both our minds and a lot of sleep as a result of this, because it was just so hard to get him to fall asleep. Then I invented the peg swaddle! I basically wrap him up in a blanket as if he were being swaddled, but crucially don’t tuck any part of the blanket underneath him. I fasten it at the side with a peg. It keeps his arms away from his face and allows him to fall asleep. Then when he’s sleeping soundly, I undo the peg, open out the blanket and tuck the ends underneath the mattress so there’s no loose covers. Obviously we only use this when he’s supervised, but it’s just such a useful trick for getting him to fall asleep!

There’s actually quite a few more that I can think of, but in the interests of making sure this isn’t the longest post ever, I’ll save them for another time…