baby · health · parenting · teething · top tips

How To Brush Baby’s Teeth (Without Losing A Finger)

It seemed like Little Man was teething for forever before his first tooth appeared! He started teething around three months, and he didn’t get his first tooth until he was gone six months old. It wasn’t until a little while after his first tooth arrived, though, that I realised… Hang on, we need to brush it! But how exactly do you brush a baby’s teeth without losing a finger? Wee Man’s first teeth are like tiny razors, and he once notoriously bit his dad so hard on the toe that he drew blood. We were not looking forward to trying to brush his teeth…

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How To Brush Baby’s Teeth (Without Losing A Finger)

When should you start brushing?

As soon as that first baby tooth appears, it’s time to start brushing (oops! Took us a few weeks to realise). The NHS recommends brushing twice a day, including before bed in the evening, with a smear of baby toothpaste.

What makes baby toothpaste different and do I need it?

Baby toothpaste has less fluoride in than adult toothpaste. Swallowing a lot of fluoride may upset baby’s stomach in the short term, which is why it’s recommended to use only a smear of toothpaste on the brush.

Over the longer term, swallowing large amounts of fluoride toothpaste in early childhood could cause something called dental fluorosis, which can affect the appearance and strength of teeth. However, it is rare in the UK for dental fluorosis to be anything other than very mild, appearing as some white patches on the teeth which may or may not be visible to the naked eye. It is still recommended that children and babies do brush their teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, because it’s the best way to prevent tooth decay. Just don’t let them eat toothpaste straight out of the tube!

Baby toothpaste also often has a milder flavour which children may find easier to get used to, compared to the strong mint flavours of adult toothpaste.

How do you brush baby’s teeth?

And so, to the practicalities… How do you actually brush baby’s teeth?

Firstly, sit baby on your knee, with their head back against your chest (I got this tip from the NHS website!). We use a bamboo baby toothbrush, to try to reduce our plastic waste.

Brush baby’s teeth using circular motions, just like you would an adult’s teeth. Don’t restrict yourself to brushing the teeth they actually have, but brush their whole mouth and gums gently, to get them used to the idea.

Making tooth brushing fun for baby

Obviously tooth brushing is a bit strange for baby when you introduce it, so I think the best approach is to really try to make tooth brushing fun. We sing a little song to our baby while we brush his teeth and that seems to be a really good way to distract him! In fact, he enjoys it so much that he now looks forward to having his teeth brush and co-operates with opening his mouth, handing over his dummy etc.

Ideally if both me and my husband are free, one of us brushes his teeth, and the other one dances Little Man’s hands around to the song, as otherwise he tries to grab the brush. We sing the following song, to the tune of ‘Row Your Boat’:

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Brush them nice and clean
Scrubbly-bubbly, bubbly-scrubbly
Brush them nice and clean

We actually got the idea from the Peppa Pig handwashing advert from the World Health Organisation, if you’ve seen it! We sing through the song three times and the last time we slow it right down so he knows we’re nearly done. After a couple of months of this routine, brushing Little Man’s teeth is not just easy, it’s actually quite a fun thing we do as a family.

I let Little Man take over the toothbrush after I’m done brushing, and he enjoys chewing on it. Then when it’s time to finish, I distract him with a dummy while I take the brush away, and we both watch as I clean the brush under the taps.

So for us, this approach seems to work pretty well. Little Man likes to feel involved and he seems to enjoy the flavour of the toothpaste and chewing on the brush is nice when he’s teething. He does often bite down on the toothbrush while I’m trying to move it, and he also often tries to grab the brush from me, which can be tricky! But in general, starting to brush his teeth has not been as horrendously difficult as I expected!

Your Top Tips For Brushing Baby’s Teeth

Do you have any great tips for persuading a reluctant baby to let you brush their teeth? Let me know in the comments!

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celebrations · history · Just for fun · Seasonal

Just Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway? Love, Beekeeping and Epilepsy

Ah, Valentine’s Day. If you have no-one to spend it with, it can be an unwanted reminder of singledom. And if you do have someone to spend it with, there’s a lot of pressure for the perfect romantic day. But you may not know that St Valentine is one of those greedy saints who is the patron saint of all kinds of random things, not just romantic love. So just who was St Valentine…?

Who The Flip Was St Valentine, Anyway?

St Valentine The Romantic

First things first: there are various legends and stories surrounding St Valentine, which may actually refer to multiple different figures. Valentine’s Day itself honours Valentine of Rome (who died in 269) and Valentine of Terni (who died in 273), but there were apparently even more early Christian martyrs named Valentine, which at this point seems like it was basically the Roman Empire’s equivalent of the name John Smith.

The legend that most obviously connects a St Valentine to a tradition of romantic love relates to a Roman priest during the reign of Claudius II, who was apprehended performing marriages for Christian couples and assisting Christians, who were at that time being persecuted. This was a major inconvenience to the emperor at the time, who supposedly believed that unmarried men made the best soldiers (legend is silent as to why he believed this, but perhaps the widow’s pension scheme simply proved too costly on the imperial purse). St Valentine was therefore promptly put to death. How romantic.

So next time you’re single and a newly coupled-up friend tells you about their Valentine’s Day plans, you can smugly remind them that Valentine’s Day is a holiday for married couples, and St Valentine (or any one of the various St Valentines) would certainly disapprove of chocolates, flowers and a romantic dinner out of wedlock.

St Valentine The Epileptic (?)

Less well-known is the fact that St Valentine is also the patron saint of epilepsy. And once again, he’s not the only one. According to Epilepsy Action, there are forty separate patron saints of epilepsy, although St Valentine is the most famous one… which does seem a little unfair, considering some might argue that he’s already famous enough for the celebrations on February 14th. He’s very much stealing the epilepsy thunder from other saints like St Vitus. Ever heard of St Vitus? No. But after he freed the Emperor Diocletian’s son from demonic possession (read: epilepsy), he was promptly put to death for doing it like a big old Christian. That’s gratitude for you.

Anyway, the point is that St Vitus literally died to cure epilepsy and you’ve never even heard of him.

So how did St Valentine become one of the many patron saints of epilepsy? Well, allegedly it once again comes back to the name Valentine. Epilepsy was for many years known as the ‘falling disease’ and in German, there is a similarity between the word ‘fallen’ and name ‘Valentine’, which led to alternative names in German for epilepsy, such as St Valentine’s disease. Bit of a weak connection, if we’re totally honest. St Vitus is pissed as all heck about it.

St Valentine The… Everything Else

Saint Valentine (well, one of them anyway) is also, for some reason, a patron saint of beekeepers – a link that seems even more tenuous than his connection to epilepsy, but there we go. The best justification for this link that I could find was a few beekeeping websites that vaguely referred to a supposed relationship between love and honey/bees. I can only assume they’re confusing love with pollen.

Now, you may be thinking that, well, someone has to be the patron saint of beekeepers, and maybe there just weren’t many volunteers for the job. Perhaps St Valentine just offered to help fill a blank spot on the celestial staffing rota? But no. St Ambrose and St Bernard of Clairvaux (you have to include the “of Clairvaux part, because otherwise people assume you’re talking about a dog) are also patron saints of beekeeping. If anything, you might say it’s a little oversubscribed on saints.

On top of this, Catholic Online lists St Valentine as the patron saint of fainting, greetings, plague, travellers and young people. It’s certainly a miracle that he has time to rest at all, especially as he seems to have overlooked the opportunity to become the patron saint of something a bit more chill, like embroidery (Rose of Lima got that gig). No wonder he needs Cupid to lend a hand on the 14th February…

So there you go. If you’re feeling a little left out this Valentine’s Day, why not try a spot of beekeeping, or celebrating your love for travel? It’s just as valid a way to mark the occasion as a box of chocolates and a bunch of roses…

baby · child development · parenting

Why Doesn’t My Baby Blink?

This morning was my turn to get up with Little Man and, in a rare and excellent turn of events, he didn’t wake up until 7am. We were both in a good mood when my husband came downstairs to join us an hour later, and we all started playing together on the floor. At one point my husband jokingly said to Little Man “Blink if mummy’s being difficult!” and I cracked up – I knew I was safe because Little Man just. doesn’t. blink. And he’s not alone – hardly blinking is one of those weird developmental things that’s actually normal for babies. But why don’t babies blink much, compared to adults?

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Why doesn’t my baby blink?

How often do babies blink?

If you’ve spent much time around babies, you’ve probably noticed that they don’t blink much. This actually freaked me out slightly when I was still in hospital just after Little Man was born and I realised he wouldn’t blink for what felt like incredibly long amounts of time. Fortunately, a quick Google told me that it was totally normal. In fact, babies often only blink around once or twice a minute. When you consider that adults blink around fifteen times a minute, that’s a pretty huge difference.

Why do we need to blink in the first place?

Apparently, blinking is still a bit of a mystery to science, which is a mad thought given that there are billions of humans walking around on the surface of the planet blinking 21,600 times a day each. In fact, we blink so often that adults actually spend around 10% of our waking hours with our eyes shut.

Blinking serves a variety of purposes:

  • Lubricating the eyeball by renewing your tear film, which not only nourishes the cornea, but also helps ensure a smooth optical surface to let your eyes see clearly.
  • Clearing away dust particles and any other debris from the eye.
  • Scientists now think that blinking may have a role in allowing your brain to get brief mental respites that help you to concentrate more effectively.

So… why don’t babies need to blink much?

Babies’ eyes presumably need to stay moist just like adult eyes. So why don’t babies need to blink as much as adults?

It’s been suggested that because babies sleep so much, they don’t need to blink as much, as they spend so much time with their eyes shut. Babies’ eyes actually don’t even make tears for the first month of life. Babies also have smaller eye openings than adults, proportionate to the overall size of their eyes. As a result, they might just not need as much eye lubrication as adults.

Alternatively, it’s also been suggested that babies may blink less because they need to focus more in order to take in all the visual information they’re receiving, so they can’t afford to take the short mental breaks that blinking affords to adults. Or that it may be related to babies’ underdeveloped dopamine systems.

So… What does all that mean?

As is so often the case when I’m writing about baby and child development on this blog, the answer seems to be: we don’t really know why babies don’t blink as much as adults. But the take-home message is: it’s totally normal for your baby not to blink much, so don’t worry.

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food · health · Just for fun · Seasonal

Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Now, there are apparently some people in this world who actually enjoy Brussels sprouts, and they will insist on saying things like “it’s not Christmas without sprouts!” and “they’re incredibly good for you, you know!” BUT ARE THEY? I have always believed that Brussels sprouts are the work of the devil, and now it turns out I may well be justified in that belief. So I’m sharing this festive Brussels sprouts safety warning with you: these little green vegetables are dangerous…

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Brussels Sprouts: A Festive Safety Warning

Brussels Sprouts Overdose: The Facts

Back in 2011, a man was hospitalised at Christmas after overdosing on Brussels sprouts. Yes, really. You see, sprouts contain vitamin K, which the body uses to help with blood clotting. This can be a problem if you’re on medication to stop your blood clotting (a.k.a. blood thinners or ‘anticoagulants’ – like warfarin, which you may have heard of). All the vitamin K counteracts the effect of this medication.

The man in question suffered from chronic heart failure, and had been fitted with an artificial pump in his heart, while he was awaiting a heart transplant. It’s normal for patients in this situation to take blood thinners, and he was prescribed warfarin and his blood was monitored to check it wasn’t clotting too easily. All was well for four months, when the festive season approached. Suddenly, blood tests indicated that the man’s blood was clotting much too quickly. The doctors increased his warfarin, but it kept getting worse and worse. They told him not to eat too many leafy green vegetables due to the vitamin K content. But nothing seemed to help. Three days after Christmas, he was admitted to hospital.

While in hospital – eating hospital food – things started to improve. Eventually, under (presumably) intensive questioning from his doctors, he finally admitted that he’d been eating Brussels sprouts three or four times a week during the festive period. But not just that. Oh no. He’d been eating 15 – 20 Brussels sprouts at a time. That means he was munching down around 45 – 80 sprouts PER WEEK.

Now, I have some sprout fans in my immediate family, and they’ve long tried to convert me to eating this appalling vegetable. But I have never met anyone who loves them so much they’re guzzling down 20 sprouts a day (unless they’re so rightly ashamed of this sick behaviour that they’re hiding it from me, I guess). Anyway, the point is: not only are sprouts gross, they’re also potentially little green balls of death, so heed my festive Brussels sprouts safety warning and steer well clear.

Why do I hate sprouts so much?

Random side note: the the hatred of Brussels sprouts is, in fact, genetic (or at least, probably genetic). Those people who have this gene can taste the bitter and hideous taste of a chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, which is extremely similar to a chemical found in brassicas, like Brussels sprouts. And cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower… pretty much all the vegetables I and so many other sensible people hate. So if you’ve ever been sat around the Christmas dinner table, watching your family guzzling down sprouts and wondering: why do I hate Brussels sprouts so much? Now you know!

baby · child development · health · parenting

Why Does My Baby Shake With Excitement?

Recently I’ve noticed that when Little Man gets excited, he goes through a very specific set of behaviours. He will raise both arms up and out wide, lean in with wide eyes, and start shaking. This could happen over a new and exciting toy, a new experience (such as when we first took him to the seaside and dipped his toes in the ocean), or even a new food. It’s such a rapid shaking, it’s almost like he’s vibrating with excitement. This got us a bit worried… Why does my baby shake so much when he gets excited?

Shaking when excited

We’ve all heard the phrase “shaking with excitement”, but I have to admit I assumed it was a metaphor until I had a baby. It’s almost as if he gets so excited that he just can’t contain himself! Now, I know that babies do lots of things that seem weird (like staring at lights, or crawling backwards) but are actually totally normal. So, is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?

Is it normal for babies to shake with excitement?

Yes! It’s very common. It’s to do with baby’s immature nervous system. Their developing nervous system sends too many electrical impulses to the muscles and they get all twitchy. It’s normal for babies to shake with excitement, when they see someone they know or a favourite toy. This can present in lots of different ways – for instance, full-body shakes, or baby may clench his fists and shake, or tense up his whole body when excited.

Some babies may also display shuddering or shaking at seemingly random times, when there’s no particular reason for them to be excited, and sometimes it can last for a few seconds. No-one really completely understands the cause of this infant shuddering, but it’s not harmful and usually goes away by the time they’re four years old. Sometimes it’s referred to as infant shudder syndrome, shuddering attacks, or shuddering spells.

If baby is otherwise healthy, developing well and meeting his or her milestones, then there’s probably nothing to worry about if he or she tends to shake with excitement. Life is just that exciting when everything’s new! There’s no treatment for infant shudder syndrome, because it’s not an illness – it just goes away over time.

However, of course it can look a bit peculiar, and as a parent you may worry that it looks like your child having a short fit. If you’re worried, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and speak to a medical professional.

When to get worried about baby’s shaking movements

Of course, as parents it’s natural to worry. Shaking can be evidence of a seizure, but there are some specific seizure warning signs to look out for:

  • If shaking continues for over 20 seconds
  • If the shaking movement is accompanied by vomiting, unusual eye movements, or loss of consciousness
  • If it’s associated with illness or injury, or if baby sleeps for a long time afterwards

If you notice any of these signs, you should seek medical help urgently.

Ultimately, you know your baby best, so even if you don’t spot any of the warning signs, if you think it’s time to call the doctor or NHS 111, then do it. It may help (if you think of it at the time) to take a video of the shaking behaviour that’s worrying you, to show your health professional.

Is baby shaking when excited a sign of autism?

When I got onto Google and started researching about babies shaking with excitement and infant shudder syndrome, it was clear to me from the Google search bar that lots of parents who are researching this subject are worried that their baby’s shaking or shuddering could be a sign of autism. This is probably because some people with autism use repetitive or rhythmic movements to soothe themselves, and this can take the form of shaking or hand flapping.

However, these kind of behaviours are also common with neurotypical children, so just because your baby or toddler shakes with excitement or flaps his or her hands, doesn’t mean that it’s a sign of autism. There are other early markers of autism which are more reliable as red flags that something could be wrong, such as a lack of eye contact or smiling. Again though, you know your baby best – so if you’re concerned that something is wrong, talk to your doctor.

Other causes of shuddering or shaking in babies

There are other reasons that babies may display shaking or shuddering movements, beyond excitement, infant shudder syndrome, or epilepsy. Babies and toddlers often shake their heads from side to side when falling asleep – it can actually be a motion they use to help themselves fall asleep (not that it looks very restful, especially when they start head-banging!), or a sign of teething or even an ear infection.

There’s also some suggestion that infant shudder syndrome could be an early sign of vitamin d deficiency in very young babies, so if you’re exclusively breastfeeding make sure that baby is getting their vitamin D drops in line with NHS guidance (babies who are formula fed get their vitamin supplements from the formula, so they don’t need any more).

In conclusion…

So, in conclusion… there are loads of reasons your baby may shake or shudder, but if he or she is specifically displaying this behaviour when excited, it’s probably nothing to worry about. In some situations, continued shaking or shuddering could be a cause for concern though, so exercise your best judgement as a parent, err on the side of caution, and check with a doctor if you think you need to.

why does my baby shake with excitement is it normal
baby · child development · parenting

Why Is My Baby Crawling Backwards?

If you follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t, you should – @sicklymama), you will have seen that Little Man has started crawling. There’s just one problem… My baby is crawling backwards. And he doesn’t mean to. He’s trying to go forwards.

So he gets very angry as he tries to reach a toy or something in front of him, and instead finds it getting further and further away.

Another novel approach that he has taken to attempting to crawl is the “skydiving pose“, where he lies on the floor and lifts all his hands and legs off the ground at the same time. Not sure how he thinks that this is going to result in locomotion, but he does get very frustrated when it does not.

Now, I posted about this on Instagram and other mums commented that their babies had also crawled backwards before going forwards, which was reassuring as I had been concerned that my baby was quite literally backwards. So, of course, I did some Googling. I always love learning about child and baby development!

Why is my baby crawling backwards?

The internet suggests that babies tend to crawl backwards first when they feel stronger on their arms than their legs. It’s interesting because I’m sure this is not the case for Little Man. His legs are super strong and he’s able to support his own weight standing with just a little help from mum or dad to steady his balance. About two months ago, we thought the main thing standing in his way was his lack of upper body strength, ironically.

But he hasn’t worked out yet how to put power down through his legs when trying to crawl. They just sort of flail wildly behind him, usually in the air. He sort of reminds me of a penguin, the way they scoot along on their bellies.

Is it normal for my baby to crawl backwards instead of forwards?

All the baby sites say not to worry about backwards crawling, or even if baby skips crawling altogether. So if your baby crawls backwards but not forwards, don’t worry! It’s totally normal and, let’s be honest, slightly hilarious.

We’ll just wait and see if Little Man works out how to go forwards, or if he just decides to make the most of going backwards…

How long will my baby crawl backwards for?

Update! I’ve come back to this post a few months down the line. I’m writing this in early September – Little Man is now crawling forwards and has already started pulling himself up and trying to walk. But in case anyone reading this is wondering how long baby will crawl backwards for, I thought I’d share an update. Little Man ended up crawling backwards for around 6 – 8 weeks (between the age of 5 month sand 7 months) before he cracked it and finally started going forwards. That’s not too say that it would be the same for your baby, but just to give you an idea!

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baby · child development · parenting

Why Is My Baby’s Hair Falling Out?

When Little Man was born and they handed him to me for his first cuddle, one of the first things that really struck me was his hair. He had a pretty good head of hair for a newborn, but the thing that really surprised me was how wavy it was. I was convinced that when it grew longer he would have a head of lovely corkscrew curls.

For the first couple of months, debate raged about what colour his hair was. Blonde? Ginger? Strawberry blonde? There are several redheads in the family, who were pretty invested in the idea of him joining their number.

And then… The hair on one side of Little Man’s head started disappearing. Then the hair on the other side. And finally the hair on top. It’s now grown back to about it’s original thickness – but it’s much blonder, and straighter. It looks totally different, except for right at the nape of his neck, where there’s a little patch of wavy ginger hair still hanging on. See below for photos!

why is baby's hair falling out before and after photos the sickly mama
Little Man’s hair – before and after

So… What the heck happened? Why was my baby’s hair falling out, and why did it grow back different? I love finding out about child and baby development, so I had to get a’Googling!

Why does babies’ hair fall out?

It’s totally normal for babies to lose all the hair they were born with, during the first six months. It’s thought that this is to do with changing hormones inside their body once they’re no longer sharing mum’s pregnancy hormones. In fact, baby’s hairloss may be caused by the same hormonal shift that causes post-partum hairloss for mum.

Baby’s hair falling out can also be affected by sleeping position, from the friction of baby’s head rubbing against mattresses etc. That’s probably why Little Man lost the hair on his right side first – he much prefers to sleep on that side.

How long before baby’s hair grows back?

Baby’s hair will grow back, but when that happens varies from child to child. Some babies have a full new head of hair by six months, while for others it can take until as late as three years old. For some babies, the hair grows back as it’s falling out, so you may not even notice much of a change.

Most experts agree that by the end of the first year, most of baby’s lost hair will have grown back.

Why does my baby’s hair look different now it’s grown back?

I haven’t been able to find the answer to this one! Lots of sites note that baby hair often grows back a different texture/colour/both, but are silent about why this happens. Do you know? Let me know in the comments!

birth · health · parenting · post-partum · pregnancy

Post-Partum Body Bullshit

After having a baby, you expect to have a tummy and some weight to lose. That much is expected! But there’s so much weird body stuff that lingers after pregnancy that I didn’t really know about. I suppose that other than the weight, possible stretch marks, and any scars from c-sections or episiotomy etc., I assumed everything else would go back to normal. Oh, how wrong I was!

And even though some of it is minor in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s still okay to find it difficult that your body has changed in ways you weren’t expecting. So, I thought I’d write about it…

Post-Partum Body Bullshit: Weird Stuff Your Body Does After Pregnancy

Post-Partum Hairloss

This one is the worst! I have had issues with hair loss for over ten years, thanks to my pituitary issues. For the last four years or so, since my symptoms have mostly been under control with medication, my hair has been growing back slowly, although it’s still a bit patchy in places. But when I was pregnant, my hair improved so much! It got thick and shiny and generally great. In fact it was pretty much the only good thing about being pregnant (other than getting the baby at the end, obviously!)

Hair tends to get thicker during pregnancy, but not because you’re growing more hair – actually, it’s because it’s falling out less. Strange but true. Of course, what that means is that sooner or later, your scalp needs to catch up on all the hair it would normally have lost during those nine months of pregnancy. Enter post-partum hair loss, which normally kicks in about three months after giving birth.

Even though I know it’s totally normal, I’m still finding it a bit stressful to be pulling handfuls of hair out of my hairbrush on a regular basis. It just takes me back to when my own hair loss was really really bad before my tumor was diagnosed, which was a horrible, stressful time.

Annoyingly, my amazing pregnancy lips, which to be fair also looked great and incredibly plump during pregnancy, vanished almost as soon as Little Man was out! Now I’m back to relying on lipstick again…

Moles and Skin Tags

I’ve always had a lot of moles and freckles, but when I got pregnant they went into overdrive! New moles and skin tags appeared everywhere, often seemingly overnight, and they’re still here four months after having had the baby. They particularly seem to have arisen on my chest, back, and belly. Existing moles have also grown, and in some cases turned kind of scaly (ew, sorry).

The development of moles and skin tags in pregnancy is associated with all the oestrogen sloshing around your body. I’ve had my moles checked over by a doctor and she’s said that the changes appear normal and nothing to worry about. But I can’t help but be unimpressed with this new weird bobbly skin.

Weird Tan Lines

So there’s a thing that happens in pregnancy called the linea nigra, a dark line of hyperpigmented skin that runs down your belly. Typically it shows up around the second trimester, caused by pregnancy hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which stimulate the production of melanin in your skin. You may also notice skin darkening on your face and elsewhere as a result of the same process.

When you read about linea nigra online, most sites say it should disappear a few months after delivery. Well, I’m four months out and mine hasn’t faded a bit despite not getting any sunshine. And there doesn’t seem to be much consensus on what to expect, because some other sites say that the line may take a year to fade – or never go away at all.


As well as my linea nigra, I seem to have developed a patch of unpigmented skin on the right hand side of my belly. I’m quite pale so it’s not super noticeable, but it’s big enough that you can see it if you look for it. I haven’t found anything online that suggests that this is a thing which happens with pregnancy, but it definitely wasn’t there before!

What weird post-partum side effects have you had? Let me know in the comments!

fatigue · health · hypermobility · parenting · pituitary

Fatigue vs. Tiredness (It’s Not The Same Thing!)

The other day, I was sat with Little Man on my lap I’m the evening. This is, of course, a common occurrence. He’d been very difficult all day with an upset tummy and teething pain. I’d just been playing on the floor with him to distract him, doing tummy time and walking practice and licking Mr Bun Bun (the best part of playtime, of course). I sat back down with him in the armchair, and five minutes later I completely ran out of energy. And I knew I’d overdone it.

I get tired like everyone else, but I also get fatigued, thanks to my medical conditions, and although they sound similar, they’re not the same thing. These days I’m pretty good at managing my activity levels to avoid getting fatigued, but being a parent creates a new challenge in that respect, as you can’t plan for when the little man decides to kick off! So, what are the differences between normal tiredness and fatigue? How can you tell them apart?

Fatigue vs. Tiredness

How is fatigue different from tiredness?

I think a lot of people who haven’t had a chronic illness think that having fatigue is the same as being tired. Which is understandable if it’s not something you’ve experienced! Fatigue does indeed involve feeling tired, but also often includes:

  • Aching muscles
  • Difficulty concentrating or “brain fog”
  • Feeling physically weak
  • Difficulty with decision making
  • Slow responses
  • Poor memory

Plus, the sensation of tiredness/exhaustion is often quite extreme.

As well as having more extensive and severe symptoms than tiredness, fatigue is different in terms of what causes it and how you fix it. It can be caused by long-term illness, including mental illness, or stress.

Most significantly, it often doesn’t resolve with sleep, and the feeling of tiredness is disproportionate to the level of activity you’ve been doing. As a result, it can be quite tricky to understand where your limits are and not go too far. In my case, the other day I was completely surprised that I had apparently overdone it and hit a fatigue wall. I felt like hadn’t had much more of a strenuous day than usual, but obviously it was enough to tip me over the edge.

My experience of fatigue

Firstly I should say that I’m fortunate because my fatigue has improved a lot over the past few years. I first experienced fatigue when I had glandular fever at university and afterwards was left with post-viral fatigue syndrome for a number of months. Then once that started improving, my pituitary tumour started giving me more symptoms…including fatigue!

It’s gradually improved since my second pituitary surgery, when I started taking medication to treat my tumour (lanreotide). The improvement has been so slow as to be imperceptible, but looking back five years it’s a huge change in retrospect. I think as well that I’ve got much better at managing my fatigue in general. I can usually do a busy day or a late night, as long as I have nothing to do the next day. I’m also fortunate that my husband is really helpful at understanding and helping me manage my symptoms.

For me, it’s about ensuring enough downtime around periods of activity. It doesn’t need to be sleep necessarily, but just rest time without much physical or mental exercise. For instance, if I’m doing housework, I need to make sure I sit and have a short break every 15 – 20 minutes or so. If I don’t, I can end up so exhausted I’m useless for the rest of the day. When I got married, my husband had to act as a consultant for my bridesmaids organising my hen do, to ensure that it was enough of a balance of things that I’d be able to make it to the end!

When I’m tired, I can usually power through. Also, even severe tiredness tends to come and go over time, so I’ll feel better for half an hour before the tiredness hits again. When I’ve got to the point of being fatigued, though, there’s no powering through. I am completely useless.

What’s your experience of fatigue? Let me know in the comments!

tiredness vs fatigue they're not the same thing the sickly mama blog
baby · child development · colic · parenting

Why Are Babies’ Digestive Systems So Utterly Useless?

I can’t be the only parent who has looked at their beloved baby, covered in vomit at 4am after waking up crying because of trapped wind, and wondered… Why are babies born with such completely useless digestive systems? Are we the only mammal this bad at eating and pooping? Do baby monkeys get colic? And when will my child finally be able to get through a day without continuously leaking milk curds from the sides of his mouth like a pint-sized Vesuvius?

Reflux and Spitting Up

In young babies, the lower oesophageal sphincter, which separates the stomach from the oesophagus, is weak and immature, and consequently does a terrible job of keeping the contents of baby’s stomach where they’re supposed to be.

Additionally, it can take a while before baby’s stomach gets into the swing of it’s normal squeezing pattern, meaning that milk may sit in the stomach longer than normal.

The good news is that reflux should subside in around four to twelve months!

Painful Wind

Babies are rubbish at eating properly, so they take in a lot of air when feeding. Then because they just lie around like lazy little beached porpoises all day, they can’t easily eliminate the gas via the normal route of burps and farts.

Tiny bubbles of gas then cause pressure and stomach pain. And that causes very grumpy babies. Here’s the irony: crying babies also often take in excess air. Which causes gassy pain. Which causes more crying. You see where I’m going with this. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.

In theory, this should improve around 3 – 4 months of age, or when the baby starts rolling on his own, as this helps to get the gas out.

Tummy Upsets

Humans are supposed to have a (delightfully named) “digestive mucosal lining” or layer of mucous, which protects their digestive tract from microbes and other contaminants in food. In babies, this layer is thin and does a bad job at protecting their gastrointestinal tract from infection.

Weaning

Current recommendations are to avoid weaning babies until they are about six months old. Why? I found it really interesting to read about this:

  • Babies can’t produce digestive enzymes to digest starches until they’re six months old.
  • They don’t produce enough enzymes to digest complex carbohydrates until nearly seven months.
  • Their bile and lipase for digesting fats don’t reach full levels until six months.
  • Until about six months, babies’ guts allow large molecules to pass directly into the bloodstream. This is to allow antibodies from mum’s breastmilk to pass into baby’s blood. But it also allows larger molecules from solid food through, which could create a risk of infection or allergy.

Little Man has had a bad tummy ever since we got him home from hospital. I think a lot of it is due to him taking in air when he eats, because when he was in intensive care and then on the ward with me, we fed him through a naso-gastric tube, and he didn’t vomit as much or have anything like as much trouble with his tummy. Can’t wait until it all settles down, but it doesnt seem like it will be happening any time soon…