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Editors Welcome...

With Christmas edging ever closer, and the refreshing chill of winter nipping at fingers and toes, we have some treats to warm your hearts and fill you with festive ideas! In this issue, we welcome a new writer, Andrew, who has provided us with an amusing Diary of a Dad (see below for details). We have compiled a very helpful read for the pregnant among us in our “What I Wish I Knew: Packing the Hospital Bag” article, filled with ideas from our Facebook group members. In keeping with the season, we have forayed into the festive with suggestions for Christmas traditions you may wish to incorporate into your plans, and some Christmas craft ideas to keep the children (and adults!) entertained.

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The excellent team of volunteers who helped at the Nearly New Sale in October

In October, Reading Branch held one of our very popular, award-winning Nearly New Sales. As ever, it was well-attended (over 300 shoppers!) and many fabulous bargains were bought. More than 50 lovely people gave up their Sunday mornings to volunteer and help it run smoothly on the day, but a big shout out goes to the organisers: Janice, Caroline, Laura, Michele, Sue, Sharon and Stacey. The sale generated £1245 for the NCT, which will all go towards maintaining and improving our provision, both locally and nationally. If you are interested in selling or buying at future sales, keep an eye on our Facebook page for details of the next sale, which will take place in the spring.

If you would like to be involved in volunteering at such events, or would like to get more involved with the NCT, there are currently several exciting vacancies within our branch. Please get in touch if you are interested in joining the fun and helping out in any capacity: branch.reading@nct.org.uk

Claire, Louisa and Vidya

The Editors

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What I Wish I Knew... 

...about packing the hospital bag

As I prepare for the arrival of my second baby I thought I would take advantage of our ‘What I wish I knew’ article. In case you are not a regular reader, this is where we pose a question to our Facebook followers asking advice on certain parenting subjects. This issue we are asking about packing the hospital bag. You’ll find plenty of hospital bag checklists online but there is nothing better than the views and suggestions of someone who’s actually been there! Yes, I realise I have ‘been there’ but my tired, squishy, pregnant brain is struggling to remember everything and there were some great suggestions I hadn’t considered.

mother and baby

                                                              Baby girl arrived safely after writing this article

The first great tip that came out was to pack a selection of bags:

A bag for yourself

Pack all the bits you will need during labour and things that you will need after the birth. Keeping your baby’s things separate will make it easier for you to find everything you need.

A bag for your baby

Keep this in the car until needed; look after yourself first. You also may be moved between wards prior to the baby’s arrival so there is less for your birth partner to lug around.

A bag for your birth partner

Make sure your birth partner has a bag with their own snacks and entertainment. They could be there a while and you don’t want a hungry/grumpy birth partner

A bag at home

You won’t know how long you will be in hospital for – you could be out the same day. Bring along enough supplies for a couple of days but have a bag of extras ready in case you have to stay longer. This will make it easier for your birth partner to bring anything you need. Also I don’t want to risk letting my partner choose me an outfit!


What to pack:

What you’ll need for the birth

  • You will need your hospital notes and birth plan if you have one.

  • Flannel or water spray – useful to keep you cool during labour.

  • A handheld fan might also be useful, hospitals are renowned for being uncomfortably warm at the best of times.

  • A birthing outfit, something you don’t mind getting ruined. You want it to be something you find comfy and have full mobility in.

  • If you plan to get in the pool, pack for this too. It doesn’t have to be swimwear, just anything you are comfortable. It may that you prefer to wear nothing at all, which is quite normal in labour.

  • Hairbands or clips to keep your hair out of the way.

  • Still isotonic drinks (e.g. Lucozade). Depending on the pain relief you choose, or if you have an emergency C-section, you may not be able to eat, so these will keep you going

  • Bottles of water. Some people suggested a straw was really useful.

  • Snacks. The NHS recommends healthy snacks. The feedback from our post suggested sweets, biscuits and chocolate. Pack what you would most like to eat.

  • A good lip balm is great to have and came up a few times.

  • TENS machine if you are planning on using one. Make sure you have batteries and pads for it.

  • Things to help you pass the time and relax – for example: books, magazines, music or podcasts, tablet (download some things to watch beforehand).
  • Camera. The midwives were good at prompting my husband straight after the birth to take some photos which I was really grateful for.


                                            Pack what you would most like to eat, or follow the NHS guidelines

What you’ll need after the birth

  • Really big pants. Mentioned by several mums and definitely a must for me. If you have to have a C-section you will want underwear that comes up past the scar. Borrowing your partner’s boxers or disposable knickers were also recommended!

  • Comfortable clothes or pyjamas, and dressing gown. Bring tie string bottoms rather than elasticated waist. If you are planning to breastfeed, pack front-opening or loose-fitting tops.

  • Slippers and/or flip flops. You may prefer flip flops as a cooler alternative to slippers, otherwise they are still useful to have for when you shower.

  • Nursing bra if you plan to breastfeed, otherwise a comfortable bra. Your breasts will get bigger either way.
  • Something comfortable to wear home including footwear. My husband took my shoes home along with some dirty clothes but forgot to bring them back so I went home in slippers.

  • Maternity pads. Several people warned that you should bring more than you think you will need.
  • Breast pads and nipple cream. 
  • Any medication you are currently taking.

  • A wash bag with all essential toiletries and a towel. Someone suggested adding a really nice shower gel.

  • Own pillow and ear plugs came up multiple times to help ensure you get some rest.
  • A really nice treat for after birth when you are allowed to eat again. Maybe some delicious pastries!

  • A phone charger with an extra-long cable so you can still reach your phone in bed whilst charging. A battery pack was also suggested.

  • If it is not your first child, a couple of people suggested presents from the older child(ren) to the new baby and to the older children from the baby.

baby foot

What you’ll need for the baby

  • Nappies.

  • Cotton wool / wet wipes – that first poo is super sticky! You do not want to be caught out.

  • Vaseline to apply to baby’s bottom to help prevent the meconium from sticking.

  • A wipeable, foldable changing mat to prevent the sheets from getting dirty.

  • Nail clippers, as some babies are born with quite long nails.

  • Selections of outfits – vests, sleepsuits and hats. Most sleepsuits have feet and scratch mitts inclusive, if yours don’t, bring booties and scratch mitts too. Bringing a couple of sizes was suggested as you don’t know how big your baby will be.

  • Blanket and muslins.

  • Pramsuit or cardigan if it’s cold.

  • Car seat. Obviously leave this in the car until you are ready to go home.


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A 'traditional' Christmas: celebrating your way

Every family has them, some no doubt passed on from one generation to the next, others established more recently with the youngest generation: Christmas traditions. Those little touches that every year let your family know Christmas is approaching or has arrived. If you have babies or young children, you may want to start thinking about the traditions you can put in place for them, and here we have some ideas for you.

Christmas cards

Perhaps you could get into the habit of making Christmas cards together? These could be anything from a seasonal family photo card to a handmade card using your child’s handprints, footprints, fingerprints or artwork. If you do an internet search for “children handmade Christmas cards”, there are heaps of ideas – even some that will be suited to the more craft-challenged among us (trust me, I know!). There are many websites that print cards, so you can create several crafty cards with your children, and simply select your best effort for printing. This way, you only have to make one really good one (better than making dozens that decline in quality towards the end!) – and have as many copies printed as you need. Handmade cards can work out much cheaper than shop-bought, and you get to have fun by getting messy or dressing up with your little ones.

robin fingerprint card

                                               This year's family card - fingerprint Robins - one by each of us!

Christmas food

Two years ago, I made a Christmas cake, and I started a new tradition: my little boy helped my mum and me with it. Yes, it was messier, it took a LOT longer than I had anticipated, and his idea of stirring was to jab the spoon in a few times and then put the weighing scales in the mixing bowl. But, he loved it, and actually, so did we. We used my Grandma’s cake recipe, passed down through the generations to me, and it is one I will pass on to both of my children in turn. We have continued this and next year, my daughter will be joining in the fun too!

I’ve also been sure to include my mother-in-law. Last year she began establishing her tradition with my son, and he helped to make and decorate gingerbread. My then 2-month old daughter watched – but when we visit in early December, the same activity will be repeated and she can hopefully join in, or, at very least, eat some of it this time!

child baking

In my family, we “pipe the (Christmas) pudding” around the table with a kazoo. Yes, a kazoo. The youngest member of the family able to play a kazoo (always used to be my cousin’s responsibility when we were small, I couldn’t play for toffee!) has the responsibility of leading the piping, and it just wouldn’t taste the same if we didn’t do this. Note to self: buy kazoo and teach son to play.

Visiting Santa

You could have a set date, or set place, where your children go to visit Santa each year. As a cheaper alternative (seeing Santa is rarely free) perhaps you could visit a “winter wonderland”, a Christmas decoration section in a garden centre or department store (twinkly lights, sparkly decorations, Christmas music – what more do you need?!), or ask a family member to dress up as Santa and surprise your children? Older children can also write to Santa at the North Pole and the wonderful Royal Mail will send a reply from Santa himself – see the Post Office website for more information on posting dates, advertised from around October/November.


Christmas lights switch-ons can be quite grand affairs and visits to these events could become an annual occurrence, or perhaps your family could travel to London to see the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and the lights on Oxford Street.

There are also advent calendars to consider – will you go for chocolate, pictures, Lego or something handmade? There are also “24 Sleeps ‘til Christmas” booklets you can buy now which give children an activity per day to complete in the run up to Christmas – might this be something you take up?

24 sleeps

Christmas entertainment

Is a pantomime up your street? “Oh yes, it is!” “Oh no, it’s not!” Perhaps you could take your child to watch one every year. Or is there a specific Christmas-themed film that you love and want to introduce your child to (for me, it’s only Christmas once I’ve seen ‘Santa Claus the Movie’), or perhaps a book? Last year, I ordered a copy of ‘The Night before Christmas’ to read to my son on Christmas Eve and he loved it.

Christmas clothes

Will you be a Christmas jumper family? Or maybe you will opt for a more subtle pair of themed socks or underwear? Some families buy their children new Christmas pyjamas on Christmas Eve, ready to wear to bed that night. We do Christmas socks and pants here and I am trying desperately to get my husband excited about Christmas jumpers, but he is so not on board… yet. Wait ‘til he opens one of his presents this year…!

elf baby

Christmas Eve

You will be able to decide whether Santa and Rudolf will want sherry, a mince pie, some water and a carrot (and which parent gets to eat which bits!), or perhaps some less obvious alternatives. There are some families I know who go out for a meal together on Christmas Eve so there is no cooking to be done – a nice rest for those preparing the feasts the following day. Others enjoy some board games together as a family, perhaps over a mug of hot chocolate filled with marshmallows (or maybe mulled wine or prosecco for the adults!).

Christmas Day

When will you open your stockings, and where? What about the presents under the tree? Will you have specific things in your stockings every year? In my family, we always have a clementine, chocolate coins, a Lego mini-figure and a pack of tissues (no idea why!) in our stockings, which are opened on our bed first thing. After breakfast, we then have Santa presents, and then family gifts after lunch.

Some families go on a pre- or post-dinner walk – a good idea perhaps to burn off some of the over-excitement and wear out little ones in time for an afternoon nap? There is also the Queen’s Speech, or, for the Christians among us, a trip to church – will you include these in your day?

family walk foggy day

There are obviously countless more traditions you can come up with – this list is far from comprehensive! Perhaps you could look to other nationalities for inspiration. The best thing about Christmas traditions is that they will be your own, for you and your family, and nobody else. They could help to make your Christmases all the more special, as you make precious memories creating and carrying out your very own family traditions and passing them on to your children.

Merry Christmas!


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Diary of a Dad

Noah goes to a busy nursery with lots of other children. As other parents will acknowledge, that means he is effectively in a disease factory for a significant part of the day. Toddlers have no concept of hygiene and will pick one another’s noses if given half a chance, so if one of them has a virus, all of them will have it within 40 seconds.

All of this means Noah gets sick. A lot. But coughs and colds are to be expected, and we are most definitely used to them by now. Which is why we were concerned when he woke up with his latest cough, because we knew wheezing and taking short, shallow, fast breaths was not normal.

Over the last 3 years I have become increasingly laid back about his health. The first time he dropped a teething ring on the floor I washed it thoroughly before I let him touch it. Now I’m generally okay with him eating food directly off the floor, but if we’re outside I try to brush off the worst of the dirt first. Likewise the first time fell over and hit his head it was a disaster, the following thousand times were decreasingly concerning.

Thus when something out of the ordinary happens like this wheezing, my inner parental concern to protect my offspring from serious harm at any and all costs fights a battle with my strong desire not to be one of “those parents” who demands their child is given an MRI because they slipped off the sofa. Normally (much to my wife’s annoyance) I tend to downplay any ailments as much as possible, usually responding to her heartfelt motherly concern with “He’ll be fine”.

This time, however, I conceded that a visit to the doctor was necessary, so an appointment was booked for just after lunch. Fortunately he was awake and alert, and while breathing fast didn’t seem unable to catch his breath. He did have a very bad cold though; we could tell he felt awful because he was sitting still rather than bouncing around the room 5 seconds after opening his eyes. It’s never nice when they are sick, but if there is an upside it’s that you can sit on the sofa under a blanket eating toast and watching cartoons without feeling guilty that you are a bad parent. Like lots of serious millennial parents who over-think everything we are terribly strict regarding screen time, so we are fortunate that Noah’s desire to watch Peppa Pig usually comes second to his desire to be running at top speed around the house all day. So the chance to quietly cuddle him for a few hours is a slim silver lining to him not feeling well.

unwell boy crying

By the time we get to the doctor he has perked up, which means he wants to crawl all over me and jump off the chairs in the waiting room. Fortunately he’s still young enough that other people find this kind of behaviour endearing, and smile sweetly at him. I probably won’t get the same leeway when he’s 16.

By the time we get in he seems back to his old self, chatting away, active, bright, alert, all the usual signs. Imagine my surprise when I’m told that his breathing rate is too high to be sent straight home, so could I please take him to paediatric specialist at the hospital. Huh. Now at this point I should say Noah is fine, and there was nothing seriously wrong, which makes me feel guilty about the concern I had for something so minor. I know there are parents out there whose children have got very seriously ill, and I am hugely lucky and thankful that I have never experienced that. And I have tremendous respect for those parents who deal with that and keep it all together as well as they do.

I was mildly alarmed to be sent to the hospital, but the doctor assured me it was just a precaution so I was not overly concerned. We were sent to the children’s A&E waiting room and were told it would be “well over an hour”. Fortunately the room had a corner full of toys to keep the children occupied. Unfortunately this is a hospital, it is where all the sick people come to cough and sneeze and spread whatever they are carrying all over those toys. This was added to the fact that, for all I knew, Noah had some horrible pathogen that I didn’t want him spreading. So on the one hand I wanted to let him play, but on the other hand I very much wanted him to NOT TOUCH ANY OF THE FILTHY PLAGUE TOYS!!! After 20 minutes reading the books we had brought with us I settled for letting him play but covering his hands in sanitiser gel every 5 minutes. It was certainly a low point when he found the plastic food in the toy kitchen and put it in his mouth.

The paediatric specialist was not concerned, mostly because he was so happy and active, but prescribed a steroid inhaler. I’m sure many parents are used to giving this to a small child, but we were not. It involves persuading your toddler to sit very still while you hold a rubber cup over their face and mouth, then not move their head at all while they breathe in and out as you count to ten. And you do this *ten times*. It is exactly as difficult as it sounds. After performing this herculean task and checking him over we were given the all clear and sent home with instructions to repeat the process 4 times a day.


We finally got home 4 hours after I left to “pop quickly to the doctor”, but I still count it as a good day. I got to have lots of cuddles in the morning, Noah was fine, I got to see both a GP and a specialist for non-emergency treatment within a few hours (the NHS is amazing), I learned how to give an inhaler to a toddler, and I have one more experience to back-up my usual opinion that “he’ll be fine”.

Andrew Murphy

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Crafty Christmas Ideas for you and the kids!

Christmas is just around the corner and what better way is there to get into the festive spirit than to whip up some stuff with the kids? We have put together a fantastic selection of activities to do with your children this holiday season, from making Christmas cards to baking, painting etc. If you are looking to mix it up this Christmas with the DIY stuff, look no further. Here are some ideas from members of the Reading NCT Facebook group as well as our own homes.

What could be better than to create some things along with your children that will not only bring joy to you but to family and friends when you share it with them? After all, 'tis the season to be jolly!

Let's kickstart the festive spirit with some lovely ideas:

  • Homemade Christmas Cards

There are several fun designs that you can do to get your little one involved. Using their hand- and foot-prints to create Christmas tree prints, reindeer, etc is a fantastic way to transform your little one's prints into Christmas themed designs!


  • Wreath Making

The 5-minute DIY pages on Instagram are a good place to start to get some ideas on how to make some easy wreaths. You can go for a walk in the woods with your toddlers and collect leaves and berries together. Find an old coat hanger and form a circle, then create a beautiful wreath for your door!

  • Pottery Painting

How about transforming those little hand- and footprints to create some awesome, unique keepsakes for your loved ones? There are some wonderful cafés such as the Mad Hatters Pottery Painting Café in Tilehurst to help you create these if you are looking for inspiration.

  • Tree Decorations

Find a salt dough recipe, make it (with the children's help!), cut out circles and make handprints in them, then pop a hole through the top and paint them. Thread some ribbon through and ta-da! Homemade tree decorations. Alternatively, pop along to Hobbycraft - they have lots of options of tree decorations ready to decorate with glitter, paint, stickers and so on. Another creative way of decorating the tree is to buy baubles and paint family names or objects special to you onto them, in order to personalise them. It's a great opportunity to bond with your children and make your tree even more special with a personal touch.

salt dough

  • Christmas Baking

Christmas doesn't begin until you start baking! There are some lovely ready-made kits available in the supermarkets that you could use to bake cookies, gingerbread men, cakes, pastries and cupcakes. You can then cut out and decorate these with your own icing. How about icing the name of your little one on a gingerbread man or a tree-shaped cookie?

  • Table Decorations

These are a favourite in our household. We buy some of those paper tablecloths and use our handprints, footprints, fingerprints etc to create our very own table cloth. For more Christmas cheer, you could use block prints (there are several Christmas themed ones available at Hobbycraft) and create some fabulous printed tablecloths!


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