Archive | March, 2012

Another Cake

24 Mar
Chocolate fudge cake with ganache and pink gumpaste flowers

Chocolate fudge cake covered in ganache and chocolate-flavoured sugarpaste, with pink flower decoration

Phew! Survived the Birthday Party. And even quite well.

22 Mar

Birthday Cake

This is the cake I made for my daughter’s birthday party. It is a lemon Madeira cake layered with orange buttercream and apricot jam. I put her name on the other side of the caterpillar, and dotted around the cake are flowers, butterflies, ladybirds, bees, snails, and toadstools.

I wanted the cake to match the general spring/garden theme of the party, and I’m pleased with the outcome as I managed to construct a cake which matched the mental image I had.

Birthday Cake  with sugarpaste letters and grass

I used 'Tappits' for the letters.


The butterflies, flowers and little animals are made from gumpaste.

Garden spring cake with flowers, butterflies, ladybirds, bees, grass and toadstools

As you can probably see, most decorations were glued in place with royal icing.


A bunch of three-year-olds don’t need loads of activities as they’re probably most happy playing with balloons and running around. Nevertheless, I wanted the party to have some kind of structure, so I put out some craft stuff – butterfly and flower stickers, foam ladybirds, paper flowers, glitter glue – to let the children decorate some plant pots. Once they had done this, they filled their pots with compost and planted seeds in them. I made sure to choose seeds which can be planted in spring and won’t take too long to start growing.

The children seemed to have fun with this, and the parents approved too. Thanks to rainy weather we had to do the planting in the dining room, but thanks to some mats on the floor and parents’ effort to keep the compost contained in a big flat cardboard box, the carpet survived.


You can't see it here, obviously, but some seeds have already started sprouting. Major excitement!

All in all it was a fun party. It’s crazy how much time and effort went into a couple of hours though!

I am the mother of a three-year-old!

16 Mar

How did that happen?!

We’ve had a great day, luckily not at all marred by the fact that we had to visit the hospital in the morning to discuss a possible fish allergy. I was worried my daughter would need a blood test (on her birthday!), but a lovely doctor who took a very thorough history explained how fish allergy usually works and that it would be best if we tried small quantities at home. I’m a bit worried about this, but I suppose we can’t avoid fish indefinitely, so it has to be done.

After the hospital we went to look around our city’s castle. We hadn’t been since just before I found out I was pregnant almost four years ago, so it was great fun. I think we might have to go back with my mum and my best friend when they visit.

Then we had a lovely picnic in the castle gardens, and after that we  went home finally to open presents and eat birthday cake, after which we had a yummy birthday dinner.

After bathtime we just about had enough time to put up the new glow-in-the-dark stars (a big hit), and then my daughter fell asleep in about ten minutes! A busy but lovely day. I can’t believe she’s three years old already! When I was this age, I had a one-day-old sister, and it makes me sad that my daughter will have to wait a lot longer for a sibling, but such is life.

Now we need to prepare for the party at the weekend. We’ve only invited a handful of friends, and although I’m feeling slight trepidations at the thought of having them all running around in my house and having their parents potentially judge my housekeeping, furniture, cleanliness standards, entertainment choices, food offerings etc etc etc…….. I think it could also be a lot of fun.

An Overview of Nursing Bras

13 Mar

I have been breastfeeding my daughter for 36 months and she shows no signs of wanting to stop. So during this time I have amassed quite a lot of experience with nursing bras…

My Nursing Bra History

My varied relationship with The Nursing Bra started with Mothercare. On one of our circa three pre-baby trips out (hyperemesis meant I barely left the house) to purchase what we thought was necessary to get started with the whole parenting thing, I thought I might as well check out the nursing bras in Mothercare. Please forgive me. I was young and naive and thought a chain as big as this would stock a reasonable range of everything. Since then I’ve learnt their shop in my city is mostly full of tat, and when you go in looking for something specific, it’s not in stock. But anyway, before my daughter was born I didn’t know this, so I bought the bra which looked prettiest (a polkadotty one from the general Mothercare range). I at least had the common sense to buy only one because I knew my size was likely to change once the baby came out and the milk came in. I had read all about the evil of the underwire, so went for a soft padded nursing bra. It’s a shame it didn’t really have a shape and was so cheaply made it stretched and stretched and streeeetched. So it wasn’t much use.

The next nursing bra purchase happened when my daughter was 8 days old. Somehow, despite what I would now call a traumatic birth and a hospital visit at 6 days for what I thought was another haemorrhage, we thought it would be a great idea to go into town. Somehow we ended up at John Lewis where a non-plussed assistant fitted me for the only bra they seemed to sell, the Emma Jane. It was white, non-underwired, non-padded (i.e. shapeless), and generally meh. I wore this one for a while until I got bored of it, worried that being a mum meant to be forever consigned to dowdy grandma bras. Luckily after that things got better.

The reason why I think I have a good overview of what is out there is that, firstly, I’m not swimming in money, and nursing bras are usually pretty expensive, even in the sale, so each one I have purchased has been the result of a lengthy and agonising decision-making process.

Desirable Features of Nursing Bras According to Feeding Phase

Secondly, what you need from a nursing bra changes over time: first you probably want a pretty functional bra which allows some room for an increase in cup size as well as to hide breast pads, and is non-fussy and plain enough not to be too fiddly as you’re getting used to breastfeeding. Then you get used to everything and you come out of the newborn fog. You might even leave the house occasionally. This means you’d probably prefer something a little less plain now. A bra which makes you feel like your boobs are your own as well as the baby’s, and which also looks good under your clothes because at some point you might want to wear something that’s not a baggy shirt. Then, sometime later, you realise that since you’ve been breastfeeding for several months now and your milk supply is fully established, in the absence of a medal for your efforts you deserve a really lovely nursing bra, and this means underwire. But at the same time, sometimes you just want to be comfy, which means no underwire, but you’d still like the bra to give you a good shape.

So let me tell you what your options are in each of those categories.

First, it might be best to give you an overview of what’s important in terms of a bra if you’re serious about breastfeeding.

  1. Non-underwire is best during the later stages of pregnancy and the first months of breastfeeding. This is because of comfort – your ribcage expands in order to accommodate your growing baby – and health – an underwire could potentially press on delicate breast tissue or milk ducts, leading to pain and all sorts of trouble.
  2. Padded bras are best, in my opinion: I’m not particularly well endowed in the boob department, so I find that padded cups add a little bit extra and give me a more rounded shape. In addition, they also hide breastpads very well, so their outline can’t be seen through your clothes. Later, when your supply is fully established and leaks are less common than they are in the early days, you can do away with pads altogether because the padded cups give you enough security for the occasional drip.
  3. Try many different sizes to make sure you’re comfortable. The band needs to be quite tight on the biggest setting so that you still have the option to tighten it when your ribs shrink back or the material stretches. At the same time, you wouldn’t want squashed boobs, so make sure the cup size is big enough.
  4. In the early weeks and months of breastfeeding, your breast size will fluctuate quite dramatically, so try bras on or get fitted when you haven’t fed your baby for a little while so you know you can still be comfortable at your biggest size.
  5. Only go for an underwired nursing bra when you haven’t been engorged for a long time, as this is a sign that your supply has settled down. In my experience this is likely to happen when your baby has begun to eat solids.
Now for the actual nursing bras.
The First Months
Despite my disappointment regarding its look, the Emma Jane nursing bra is actually very decent. It has a wide band which sits snugly around your body, and lovely wide non-stretch straps which make you feel quite comfy and secure. I would imagine that because of these features it might be particularly  useful for the larger-busted mum. It costs around £20 in most shops, which, in my opinion is slightly too much for how plain it is. But then again it has won some award and seems very popular (most nursing bra retailers stock it).
The same brand also does a seamfree bra which looks particularly good for wearing overnight if you require a bra to hold breastpads in place or to feel generally more comfortable. They also do a bra which is marketed just as a sleep bra.
Debenhams does a range of non-wire bras, the only one I have tried is this one, which is nice enough – big straps, not too stretchy, very slightly padded. However, it did bobble quite soon after I started wearing it, but because it was cheaper than other bras and very comfy I bought a second one. Over a year after buying them I now wear these when I go to the gym.
After the Newborn Fog has lifted, but before the ‘extended breastfeeding’ begins…
HotMilk bras are very pretty, almost opulent-looking. There are quite a few different ones, and you can buy matching pants as well. None of them are underwired, and it’s great to have found proof that non-underwired doesn’t have to mean boring. I found that the straps are slightly too short for me to be comfortable, but I kept wearing my bra anyway, and after a while (and I think a minor bit of weightloss) it’s much better now. Because most of their bras are heavily embroidered/decorated, they are not ideal to wear underneath tight tops. But they do some smoother-looking ones too.
Royce, the brand of utterly sensible nursing bras, has one bra in their collection which, despite the lack of a wire and being mostly white, seems extremely sturdy and well-made: the straps are wide and possibly the least stretchy I have ever come across, and the sides are nice and wide. The cup sizes seem smaller than other brands’, so I’d suggest going up a size. It’s also very smooth, so very versatile.

Best Bras for ‘Extended Breastfeeding’

I ordered the Smooth Underwired bra by Anita Maternity a little while ago and was very disappointed. The description and pictures didn’t make it clear whether it was padded or not, but it looked so ‘taut’ in the advertising photos that I thought it was worth a try.
But one of the BEST nursing bras, which I just came across a few months ago, is the Velvet Delight Plunge bra by Cake Lingerie. It fulfils most of my essential criteria: it is underwired, so gives a great shape, it’s a plunge bra, which is quite unusual for a nursing bra, so it’s possible to wear slightly lower-cut tops, the straps don’t stretch very much and are a good width. But the best feature: the sides are boned in the middle, which means that they don’t roll up, but rather keep the whole bra securely in place throughout the day. I think this is a genius idea. It’s not uncomfortable at all, not needing to adjust the bra every few minutes is lovely. Apart from all of this, the colour is really pretty – it’s a strong lilac/purple, and the lace edging around the cups which also extends up half of the straps is adorable. Probably the most elegant nursing bra I’ve seen, and I’d probably wear it once we’re done with breastfeeding because it is so lovely. I’m keen to try out more of Cake Lingerie’s offerings, so next time I’m in the market for a nursing bra, I’ll probably go for one of theirs.

Spring Spring Spring

12 Mar

Apologies for the long absence from the blog. I don’t know why, but it’s only when the weather gets brighter and the days get longer that I realise how downtrodden I was feeling over the winter months. Of course at the time I think everything is going well, but now that I’ve put away the big winter coats I feel so much lighter.

My daughter’s birthday is in spring (this week, in fact), and every sunny day reminds me of the day she was born. I feel best when I’m planning something, so plotting to make her birthday lovely and her party entertaining yet free from pink-barbie-plastic type stuff has been fun. Four three-year-olds won’t need many activities as I reckon they’ll be most happy running around and playing with toys, so I’ve decided to let them plant vegetable and flower seeds in plant pots which they can decorate beforehand if they wish. I’ve chosen plants like carrot, sunflowers, beans, so everyday staples they’re probably familiar with which can be planted in spring and only take a few weeks to grow so they stay interested.

On top of this I have been accepted to present at not one, but two academic conferences! The smaller one is a one-day event in London, so I hope (depending on the programme) that I can travel there and back on the day. The bigger one takes place on an exciting Mediterranean island in the middle of July! I’m pleased to have been accepted for these conferences, especially as I haven’t presented anything since the first year of my PhD, in pre-baby times. Having to put these papers together is spurring me on in my work, but I’m just ever so slightly daunted by the financial challenge of going to the big conference. This week, on top of planning The Birthday, I’m going to write my funding application. If my university decides to be generous, that should pay for about half of the trip. We shall see.

Today I got a letter from my letting agent telling me I’ll have a house inspection (they do these every few months to make sure I haven’t turned the house they’re letting me rent despite not having a job and at a less-than-average price into a crack den) – on my daughter’s birthday! But I’m not worried because I have been tidying up and prettifying a little bit every day for a while now to make sure I won’t get too stressed before the party.

Plus we’ll probably be out anyway because we have a hospital appointment to attend. Yes, that’s right, my poor baby (quite big baby, but still) has to have a bloodtest on her birthday! I’ve been worried she might be allergic to fish, and after waiting since before Christmas, this is the one and only say available.

My daughter’s dad will take the day off work, so we’re planning to take her somewhere fun with a yummy picnic.

Then the week after that my mum will be visiting for two weeks, and a few days after she leaves, my best friend is going to visit for a few days! This will keep us nicely busy until after Easter!


Birthday Preparations!

12 Mar


It’s my daughter’s birthday this week and I’ve been busy planning her first ever party with friends, and her cake. Both will be spring-themed, and I’m very excited.

Book Review! Gabrielle Palmer: Complementary Feeding: Nutrition, Culture and Politics, London: Pinter & Martin (128p., £9.99)

2 Mar


Having helped established Baby Milk Action, co-directed the International Breastfeeding: Practice and Policy Course at the Institute of Child Health in London, and served as HIV and Infant Feeding Officer for UNICEF New York, Gabrielle Palmer can speak with authority on infant feeding. At just 128 pages (including appendices and references) her 2011 book is much briefer than the impressive Politics of Breastfeeding (Pinter & Martin 2009; originally Pandora Press 1988), but no less thought-provoking.

The book is divided into three sections. Part one, ‘The Big Picture’, covers aspects such as entitlement to food and water, as well as an explanation of what Palmer means by ‘Complementary Feeding’: she decided against the use of the word ‘weaning’ as this suggests that food replaces breastmilk in the baby’s diet – ideally, babies continue to receive breastmilk while trying out their first foods.

Part two, ‘A Closer Look’, gives an overview of the industrialisation of food systems: how brand power exploits consumers’ trust, and de-skilling and poor access to healthy food leads to dependency on processed products.

Part three, ‘Processes For Change’, discusses the importance of clearly-worded legislation (‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ can be used in surprising ways) and the benefits of eating primarily locally grown food. This section also contains a brief overview of Great Britain’s food distribution policy during the Second World War which led to remarkable improvements in mother and child health. The success of this policy is contrasted with the US Special Supplemental Programme for Women and Children (WIC) which despite preventing undernutrition in economically disadvantaged people, Palmer states, is likely to have had a negative effect on breastfeeding rates and contributed to obesity problems in the US.

Particularly fascinating was how Palmer neatly linked a discussion of the complexities of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods in developing countries with children’s malnutrition in richer countries due to marketing and misinformation: in developing countries babies starve when breastmilk is replaced with substitutes which cannot be prepared safely because of inadequate water supply or watering down; in developed countries babies are overfed when breastmilk or formula are replaced too early with baby rice or mashed food.

Palmer repeatedly highlights the fact that healthy and adequate nutrition is not simply achieved through the provision of food: complementary feeding is also a learning process for the child during which she becomes part of the community, forms taste preferences and learns appetite control. An astonishing fact mentioned by Palmer is that our oxytocin levels increase and the digestion and metabolism of food becomes more efficient when we eat together with others.

Palmer states several times throughout the book that her aim is not to be prescriptive, but rather to stimulate thought. In this she is certainly successful. At no point does she admonish parents for their feeding choices; instead she places blame for both starvation and obesity on political decisions and companies’ unethical behaviour. The tone of the book is factual: it is for information purposes rather than an attempt to make mothers feel good about their choices, thus I would imagine that, for example, puree-feeding mothers would be uncomfortable with hard-hitting facts such as “[p]ureed, semi-liquid and diluted foods are unnecessary, because if a child cannot chew, he is not ready to have anything other than breastmilk (or the best possible breastmilk substitute)” (49).

I was pleased to see Palmer repeatedly mention the benefits of delayed cord-clamping as this is a rare practice whose benefits do not seem to be widely known outside ‘earth mother’ circles. The volume of blood a baby receives when the cord is cut only once it has stopped pulsating provides a vital amount of iron. While babies are born with sufficient iron stores to see them through ca. the first six months of their life and breastmilk provides a large percentage of a baby’s micronutrient requirements throughout the first and even second year of her life, delayed cord clamping makes a significant difference to the baby’s long-term iron stores: Palmer notes that 100ml of blood from a newborn is the equivalent of taking over a litre from an adult.

All of Palmer’s statements are backed up by a solid grounding in research, details of which can be found at the end of the book, together with an index. This makes Complementary Feeding a good choice for readers who have a special interest in nutrition and its politics.

One aspect of the book about which I’m not quite sure is its structure. First, the purpose of the appendices is not clear: they are written in the same style as the main part of the book and contain information which simply could have been included in the chapter to which they pertain. Similarly, the inclusion of both an introduction and a foreword is confusing, especially as they are separated by the acknowledgements.

Second, although Palmer’s arguments in general are very clear, I find that in some instances the chapters’ internal structure is not strict enough for my taste which makes it difficult to understand the particular chapter’s aim (e.g. why are the benefits of fermented milk products included in the chapter on cereal?). I suppose the book’s great strength, the wealth of information it contains, means that it is sometimes difficult to separate interlinked facts in favour of structure.

I can’t help the impression that most of the book consists of the paper which Palmer wrote for the International Baby Food Action Network mentioned in the introduction with added black and white photos of eating children to make it marketable to the average reader. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as thanks to Pinter and Martin we can have access to this information too. It is worth having a look at the other books by this publisher, by the way, as they include influential works by Grantley Dick-Read, Sheila Kitzinger and Ina May Gaskin.

All in all, then, in my opinion Complementary Feeding is a great book: Palmer’s accessible style, as well as the short chapters and lists of key points at the end of each of the three sections (both presumably leftovers of the book’s original purpose), make it easy to read in short bursts while Palmer’s arguments and the way in which she questions public policy makes it particularly satisfying.

Although the style of Complementary Feeding is very matter-of-fact, Palmer occasionally uses humour in a way which reminds us that, despite being fact-heavy, this is not a book about dry biological processes, but about children – small vulnerable people with funny quirks who need our protection to let them develop into strong adults with healthy attitudes and access to good food.

Disclaimer: I was sent this book for free by the publisher as part of their reviewers’ book club. (But I probably would have bought it myself at some point anyway as I enjoyed The Politics of Breastfeeding!)

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