Ho, ho, ho, and welcome to your Winter 2020 Newsletter!
We hope you’re all starting to feel Christmassy despite some of the challenges with family get-togethers this year. If you’re finding it as tricky as us to organise your Christmas menu then check out our ‘Festive food planning’ article, which gives some top tips on how to be as flexible as possible. Plus it includes two scrummy recipes that can be made ahead of time.
Need some ideas for how to fill these cold winter days? Then take a look at our Winter Activities feature, and hear more about our Walk and Talk groups from other mums.
Finally, if you’re a mum-to-be or new mum who’s just started breastfeeding, then do read our ‘Breastfeeding: What to wear’ and regular ‘Birth story’ features.
If you have any comments, ideas on future articles or would like to join our team please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cristabel and Natalie
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NCT Reading News
Walk and Talk groups have been running since the start of November – just in time for Lockdown 2.0 – and they have been incredibly successful. There is a walk running every day of the week somewhere around Reading. Some locations have proven to be so popular that additional walks have been added.
Thank you so much to all our Walk Volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to run so many of these much needed walks without you.
The Sling Library has been running a successful contactless service since October.
The Nappy Library reopened for contactless, doorstep hires in November and the library continues to be a very popular service, so now has a short waiting list. It is definitely worth waiting for as there are 18-20 different nappies in a typical 'birth-to-potty' kit, with everything else you need to give cloth nappies a try for 4 weeks, at only £10 (plus £50 deposit)! We also have a free-to-hire 'budget kit' and several specialist kits for night-time, potty-training and older children. We will shortly be starting monthly Zoom Q&A sessions to get support with your own or hired nappies. Please send a message to our Facebook page or email us at email@example.com for more details or if interested in hiring a kit.
Unfortunately these are not currently running.
If you are interested in hosting an online meet up please do get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep an eye on our Facebook group for any updates on events and daily threads to help with any feelings of loneliness through isolation.
For further local support:
- NCT Reading & Wokingham Breastfeeding Peer Support
- Breastfeeding Counsellors
- Slings and Carriers
- Cloth Nappies
- Lockdown Bumps, Births and Babies in Reading
- Royal Berkshire RBFT Maternity
- Reading Children’s Centres
- Reading Maternity Clothes Library
Walk and Talk Groups
I attended my fair share of playgroups during my first maternity leave, but the NCT Walk and Talk groups are the first time I've been a volunteer. I've enjoyed having a reason to amble around Christchurch meadows chatting to other parents (from a social distance, of course).
And it is good to talk to other parents. Talking at playgroups was where I found out that my first child wasn't the only one waking up 6-7 times a night, or yelling at me every evening, or doing his level best to throw himself off of the bed/chair/sofa.
Sometimes at those groups someone who seemed more confident than me might put a cup of hot tea in my hand and say something along the lines of, "You're doing a good job. See how he looks at you. I can tell you really notice him." Those were the best days.
I have to say I'm not personally worried about the lack of socialisation opportunities for my littlest baby during this pandemic. He mostly only cares about his family - babies his own age hold little interest for him right now.
But for full-time parents, and especially I think for first-time full-time parents, isolation can be a huge issue. Which is odd, given that you often can't even go to the bathroom alone. Babies are lovely, but they aren't great at conversation, and they're generally hotter on negative feedback than encouragement.
So, if you can, pop along to a walk or two. If you really like them and you fancy priority booking, consider signing up as a volunteer so more of them can run. You might have to bring your own tea at the moment (if that's your bag), but the solidarity, sympathy and support are still very much part of this new-normal playgroup.
"Literally a life saver, we love it" - R’s Mum, Forbury Gardens
“Bright light in lockdown” - Libby with 7 week old baby, Christchurch Meadows
“That was a really good walk!" - Oscar, 3, May’s Meadow
Breastfeeding: What to Wear
After your little one has arrived, to begin with you will probably wear some of your maternity clothes, or if you are mostly at home you may opt to be topless. But then you want to start getting back to ‘normal’ clothes. The problem is that you are breastfeeding, and your ‘normal’ clothes don’t really allow for that.
Every breastfeeding mum finds their preferred way to dress and feed. It just depends on what you are comfortable with, especially feeding out and about.
You don’t have to necessarily buy specific nursing clothes. All you need is easy access. You need something that can go up, down, to the side or comes undone.
- Stretchy or nursing camisole under a looser top
- Wrap tops or dresses
- V neck
You may also like to have some sort of cover, a loose cardigan or scarf can do the job or maybe an extra large muslin.
Be careful not to get caught out by buttons that are only for decoration!
Breastfeeding Fashion Inspiration
I was overdue with my second baby at the start of June, just before mandatory mask wearing began.
I had been feeling uncomfortable all day, but that was to be expected at 41+2, but it was my lower back and bump. I vaguely thought that maybe this was labour starting but didn’t put much thought into it. I went to bed that night as normal.
I woke up at 4am with what felt like light contractions, but I had had similar feelings a few nights earlier but they went away after about an hour so I waited to see how things progressed. I woke my husband to let him know that I thought I was having contractions/ That very quickly changed to I was sure I was having contractions but I wasn’t convinced it was going to continue. We rang triage at about 5am, quickly followed by a call to my in-laws to come and collect our son.
My husband started to prepare to leave the house whilst my contractions were getting stronger and closer together. For some reason, I decided to have a shower, I think because I remembered people saying that water helps with the pain. My husband was very gently trying to usher me out of the door. Eventually we were on our way to the hospital! I was induced with my first baby so this was a very different experience for me.
We arrived at the hospital and then, for reasons only known to him, my husband decided not to park on the ramp outside the maternity block but to use the multi-storey car park. As you may know, this is not a short walk away from the assessment unit. We made very slow progress, stopping for contractions and we were trying to not make much of a fuss as our son was still with us at this point. I arrived at the assessment unit and said goodbye to my husband and son. My husband went to wait for his parents and for me to call him to tell him when he could join me.
By now it was about 6.40am. I was seen within minutes and I was 8cm dilated! I was taken straight to a delivery suite. My contractions were going strong now. I rang my husband and he came back with my hospital bag but he was still waiting for his parents so couldn’t join me yet.
Once in the delivery suite, my waters broke and labour was well underway. It was too late for any type of pain relief except gas and air which I don’t find makes a difference. Maybe I’m using it wrong as everyone tells me how great it is! I called my husband again for an update (for him and me!). Unfortunately, he was still waiting.
Labour progressed quickly and before I knew it I was pushing and then she was out and on my chest. It was 7.30am, less than an hour after being admitted. I was still wearing the clothes that I had arrived in as I hadn’t had a chance to change. I asked for my phone as soon as they placed her on my chest to take a photo to send to my husband. He finally made it to the delivery suite minutes later.
It was unfortunate he had missed the birth. Before COVID, I had sort of thought there might be a possibility of giving birth without him because we already have a son and we don’t live near family. Then with the whole pandemic, I prepared for the possibility that that could be the reason I could be on my own. Labour ended up being so quick, I didn’t really have time to miss him! I think he was slightly relieved that he managed to avoid having his hand crushed by me during contractions. Thankfully I didn’t have any complications during labour, if there had been I would probably feel very differently about the whole experience.
The midwives were fantastic, although honestly I don’t remember too much and I don’t have anyone to fill in the blanks. I do remember complaining to the midwives that it hurt! They were very calming and reassuring which, as I was alone, was much appreciated.
We were able to spend a few hours together before baby and I had to go to Iffley Ward for observation as there was some meconium in my waters. It was strange being on the ward on my own and not having any visitors, but it was also a bit relaxing. Thankfully all was well and we were able to go home that evening.
Sleeping for the Brain?
How’s your baby’s sleep? This question features prominently in every (new) parent’s mind because how the baby sleeps can have an impact on everyone in the household! Babies spend a large part of their early life asleep; a time when they are also developing numerous new and crucial life skills such as smiling, crawling, walking and talking. So it may not come as a surprise that sleep has been shown to play a key role in learning and development. However, we scientists still don’t fully know how that relationship plays out.
To find out more, we are currently conducting an ambitious study where we try to understand how babies’ brains learn and process information while they are sleeping. We are using a novel technology called near-infra-red spectroscopy (NIRS) that has been commonly used here at the Babylab for studying infants’ brain activity while they are awake, but never before to study babies’ sleeping brains. We integrated NIRS optodes into a custom-built, soft cap that is specially made to be comfortable to wear for babies while they are sleeping and have the babies nap in our lab. When they wake up we show them some videos while we measure which information they pay attention to with the help of an eye-tracker. Once we have collected all our data, we will look at how their brain activation patterns during sleep relate to how they pay attention during the eye-tracking tasks.
At the Birkbeck Babylab, we are running in-person and online studies with children from the age of one month up to childhood age. You can find more information about our ongoing studies with newborns and infants on our webpage: http://www.cbcd.bbk.ac.uk/babylab
If you would like your baby to become an infant scientist and help us with our research, please sign up today!
While the baby is asleep, his brain activity is measured with NIRS.
Natalie Gangeswaran, owner of food brands, Little Puku and Gloriously G Free, shares her festive food plans at a time where planning for any eventuality should be the norm.
A lot of Christmas traditions centre around food - the turkey dinner, Christmas pudding, gingerbread, mince pies...need we go on? This year however I’m finding it difficult to plan my festive menu owing to uncertainty around whether my Christmas plans will need to change at short notice.
So many things are out of our control this year with Covid restrictions and sadly we can’t rule out the need to self-isolate over the holidays. On top of this we may have to plan for extra or fewer people at short notice as others’ plans change.
My family are hosting a Boxing Day meal, but at this moment I’m unsure of how many guests we’ll have – making it tricky to plan the type of meal to cook and how to cater for any dietary requirements.
With the realisation that things could change at any moment, I’ve decided I need to be flexible. But how to do this whilst planning the best Christmas feast? Needless to say,the freezer is your new best friend! Read on for my top tips:
- Buy a frozen turkey.If you’re a traditionalist like me, you’d be very disappointed not to have a turkey on Christmas day. Just in case our plans change at the last minute and we don’t visit my parents, I have a frozen turkey on standby. I definitely wouldn’t want to be the person fighting over the last turkey on Christmas Eve!
- Have a plan B menu. To go with the turkey I have what I call my ‘plan B menu’, which is what I would cook over Christmas should our plans change, and I have those ingredients ready in the kitchen cupboard.
- Cook meals that are freezable. Making things that are suitable for freezing will help reduce waste should some guests not be able to make it. Swap beef wellington for beef casserole for example.
- Make a little more than needed and freeze. Making things in advance will not only reduce the pressure on you at the last minute, but will help you cater for additional guests. Did you know that even gravy can be made and frozen?
- Freeze things in portions. Freezing in individual portions, rather than in bulk, will help reduce waste should guests not turn up, and you’ll have something ready in the freezer should someone arrive at short notice.
- Buy some free-from substitutes. If you have relatives who are gluten or dairy free for example, then buy a couple of substitutes to fit your menu, even if you’re not 100% sure they’re coming. For example, you can purchase gluten-free oatcakes to go with your cheese board, or a dairy-free ice cream to go with pudding. Often the free-from products have long shelf-lives meaning they won’t go to waste, and your guests will appreciate the gesture.
- Choose crowd pleasers – you may like your turkey curry hot, hot, hot, but if the rest of your family like a mild korma then it’s probably not going to be a hit. You might be tempted to go fancy or pick something to your own taste, but try to choose a more general ‘crowd pleaser’ when it comes to selecting your menu, and that way if extra guests turn up at short notice then it’s more likely they’ll enjoy it too.
For some festive inspiration, check out our recipes below. The Spiced Carrot Soup can be made ahead and frozen if necessary, and the gluten-free Chocolate Orange Cheesecake is a delicious pudding for all the family.
Spiced Carrot Soup
(Vegan, gluten free, dairy free)
Serves 10 as a starter, or 8 as a main
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 2 white onions, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 800g carrots, peeled and chopped into quarters
- 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 400ml tin of coconut milk
- 1.2L vegetable stock (using 2 x stock cubes)
Heat the sunflower oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion for 7-10 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and ground cumin and fry for a further minute.
Add the carrots and grated ginger and cook on low for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
Wait for the soup to cool before liquidising. At this point the soup can be frozen for a later date, or refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Heat for 5 minutes on the hob before serving.
Chocolate Orange Cheesecake
- 85g butter
- 175g gluten-free digestive biscuits, crushed
- 150g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
- 2 eggs
- 400g mascarpone
- Zest and juice from one orange (optional)
- 115g caster sugar
- 2 tbsp cornflour
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and grease a 20cm springform cake tin.
Gently melt the butter in a pan and add the crushed biscuits. Tip the mixture into the cake tin, flattening it down with the back of a spoon and pushing it into all corners. Cool, before chilling in fridge.
Heat the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, stirring gently until it’s melted. Remove from heat and leave it to cool for a few minutes.
Separate the eggs and add the egg whites to a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk until they form stiff peaks. Don’t throw away the yolks, as you’ll need them in a minute!
In another bowl, whisk the melted chocolate, mascarpone, orange zest and juice if using (if not, add 2 tbsps of cold water instead), sugar, and egg yolks. Then gently fold in the egg whites.
Pour over the biscuit base and smooth with a knife. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until firm.
Cool completely before removing from the cake tin – run a knife around the edge to help it release. Cheesecake can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.
This winter is a tough one with all the restrictions in place. All the usual winter plans are out the window, so what can you do instead? We asked our Facebook community for their suggestions.
Out and About
A Peter Rabbit winter adventure activity trail
Open from 5 December to 10 January, (except 24 & 25 Dec). Please pre-book your entry to Basildon Park.
£2 charge per trail pack and normal admission applies
Suitable for children of all ages
Reading Twilight Trail
A magical festive trail full of sparkles and illuminations, leading you through Reading’s iconic Forbury Gardens and Abbey Ruins
8th December 2020 – 3rd January 2021
Tickets start from £9 (adult) and £8 (concessions)
Family tickets (2 adults, 2 children) from £30. Under 2s go free
All tickets must be pre-booked in advance
Alice Holt Forest
Gruffalo Sculpture Trail
Free except for parking
NCT Walk and Talk Groups
We are running Walk and Talk groups at parks around Reading. Spaces are limited and they do fill up quickly.
Free to attend
Mad Hatters Pottery Painting Cafe / Art Jam Studio
The Living Rainforest
Discover the wonders of the rainforest.
All tickets must be purchased in advance online.
You can print off an eye spy sheet, walk around looking for the pictures in people's windows and colour in the pictures you find
Alder Grove PCSA Christmas Tree Trail
Santa's Christmas Rescue!
Online streaming of a fabulous festive show from the team behind The Hexagon's annual Christmas panto.
10 Dec 2020 until 3 Jan 2021
Tickets for the show are just £5, however there will also be an option to purchase a ticket at £7.50, with the additional amount going to Acting for Others, a charity supporting theatre professionals throughout the UK.
Up to age 7
There are so many themed baked goods to be made and decorated at this time of year. Gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, fairy cakes, mince pies, and more! Little ones love to get involved.
Put on a show as a family for relatives on Zoom by reading and acting out a short picture book and/or singing some songs and dancing. If a few members of your family are so inclined they might also read a story or sing a song.
Zoom have lifted their 40 minute limit for free accounts on select days over the festive period. The limit will be lifted on Thursday 17 for the last day of Hanukkah, from 3pm in the UK until 11am on Saturday 19. It will then be lifted again between 3pm on Wednesday 23 and 11am on Saturday 26 December. The limit will also be lifted over new year - between Wednesday December 30 and Saturday January 2
Christmas Cards / Wrapping Paper / Gift Tags / Thank You Cards
With so many cards to be sent, gift tags to write and then thank you cards to send, little ones will love getting involved in ‘designing’ and making these.
Baubles, paper chains, popcorn strings, snowflakes, salt dough ornaments are just a few of the many kinds of decorations that you can make together.