Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I Am More Powerful Than Google (apparently)

So, it's been a bizarre evening so far.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a short article in the magazine "What Doctors Don't Tell You" (WDDTY). I was concerned that they hadn't accurately represented a piece of research about possible links between antidepressant use in pregnancy and autism in children. It got a few comments, which was nice. For some reason my comments system is a bit screwy, one of the comments didn't actually show up on the blog, but I got an automatic email telling me about it so I copy - pasted it in and that was that (see! this is the level of Google destroying technical genius you have here dear reader).

Then, earlier today, WDDTY posted a screenshot of that comment on their Facebook group. You can see it here: You can also see the claim that the link it included was intended to manipulate Google and mess up web traffic to WDDTY.

Firstly , that's not how the internet works.

The link in the comment will take people to WDDTY in a way that won't INCREASE their Google rankings. Now if I were some uber powerful web presence and the majority of WDDTY's readers were accessing their site through me, say for example, if I were MORE POWERFUL THAN GOOGLE then that might be an issue,  but sadly, I'm not. If I could get that kind of traffic to my blog I would have advertising the length and breadth of it and I wouldn't have spent 40 minutes this evening on a commuter train with my head in someone's armpit*. But I don't. I get a few thousand hits a month. Most of those are repeat visitors so in terms of unique visitors I'm looking at maybe the low hundreds. I am small, small fry.

It wasn't even me who put the link there, it was a comment made by someone else. Ordinarily I always include links to anything I write about. I want readers to go to the source and make up their own minds. So I thought long and hard about it with this post. In the end my personal feelings were that the depression/autism story badly misrepresented the science, and that in so doing it posed a real risk of distressing already vulnerable women. I assumed that WDDTY have advertising on their website and that the more people visit the site, the more money they will make from those adverts (I don't know if that's true, I was guessing). I knew that the number of people reading my blog wouldn't make much difference to that  but I decided, as a matter of principle, not to link to it. I told readers they could find the magazine in shops and I assumed they could Google it if they wanted to. The link that WDDTY is now complaining about was in a comment made by Guy Chapman, I was glad to have it so my readers could see what I was talking about without helping WDDTY out in the process. I don't think I had even heard of Guy Chapman before he commented.

All that, unfortunately doesn't matter to the supporters of WDDTY. One of them is now calling for my blog to be blacklisted by organisations that rate the trustworthiness of websites. Apparently, because I allow comments on my blog I should be shut down.

Wow. just Wow.

Interestingly, none of these supporters have commented on the blog post I wrote. Neither has anyone from WDDTY, although they have clearly visited the site.

The comments box is right there if I have the science wrong.

I'm really not a big deal, I have absolutely no influence over Google. I'm a mum who works part time in a lab for a charity. When I get time I write blog posts about my kids, about good causes and about the way the media misrepresents scientific stories concerning mothers and pregnant women. I have no idea if Guy Chapman and Josephine Jones are the same person, I've never met him/her/them and I'm not on a personal mission to shut down WDDTY. I've written this blog for 5 years and I've criticised various organisations, the Telegraph, the NCT etc. none of the others ever tried to set their supporters on me, or have me shut down.

Anyway, I have to go clear up the kitchen now, then sort out the kids clothes for tomorrow and hope I can get a bit of sleep before my baby wakes up screaming at 5am, such is the life of the internet's evil overlord....

*This is artistic licence. I am freakishly tall, he had his head in my armpit (which is at least a little less horrible).

Monday, 2 December 2013

Packet Racket - Update

Here's a quick update on my post "Let's End The Packet Racket" from a couple of weeks ago.

Good news! As many of you will have seen in the news last week the government have decided to look again at the idea of plain, uniform packaging for cigarettes. They had originally sounded keen, but then failed to include the proposals in this years Queen's speech so it was looking like they were trying to forget about it. However, following a campaign by Cancer Research UK they have now announced that Sir Cyril Chantler will chair an independent review into the evidence for plain packaging.

This isn't the end of the story of course, CR UK have already been compiling evidence for the benefits of plain packaging. Especially the effect in can have on reducing the number of children who take up smoking. If this new review comes to the same conclusions then the government must take action to bring in standardised packaging, just as the governments of Australia, New Zealand and Ireland are already doing.


Monday, 25 November 2013

How To Buy A Christmas Present That Will Really Be Appreciated

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I've been following @countdeadwomen on twitter as they list all those who have been victims of domestic or misogynistic violence so far this year and, yeah, it is very depressing reading.

Here is something positive though. The charity Refuge help around 2800 women and children every day. On Christmas day they will have women in their shelters who arrived with only the clothes on their backs and their children in their arms. They won't be able to buy their kids any presents this year, but you can, in a few minutes, for a few quid.

To make it easy Refuge have set up a John Lewis gift list. Anyone who's been to as many middle class weddings as I have will be very familiar with those! It has a range of gifts for kids and for their Mums from as little as £6, you can just pick what you want to give.  Here's how:

Select Buy a Gift
Enter the gift list number: 564013
Browse the list, choose and purchase your gifts

I'm sitting here in my lovely warm house, contemplating Christmas food and still wondering what to buy for my kids this year. For Refuge I've bought a toy that was one of baby M's favourite birthday presents. She has boxes full of toys and whatever I get her for Christmas probably won't be as exciting as the paper it comes in. I'm ridiculously lucky. I can't pretend to be able to imagine what it's like to be a mother in a refuge at Christmas. But I do know the joy that that toy brings to a little child and that, even if nothing else I buy causes much excitement, this gift will be appreciated on Christmas morning.

With thanks to The S-B Blog for reminding me about this

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

That Story - Paying Women to Breastfeed, A scientific Perspective

I wasn't going to write about this as so very much has already been said about it in the media and on other blogs. But a couple of people have asked me what I think and I haven't seen much coverage of the science behind it all, so I'm going to bash out a quick post - forgive me if it's not a great read!

If you've missed it, (HOW???) A study is being launched to look at offering financial incentives to women to get them to breast feed.  The idea is that in some poor areas breastfeeding is taboo. No one does it, no one sees anyone else do it and it's thought of as a weird. So the study want to see if they can encourage women to breastfeed by offering them vouchers if they do.

Cue twitter storm and massive outrage in the media.

I agree with a lot of what has been said TBH. I find the hypothesis that poor people won't breastfeed because it's good for their baby, but can be bribed into it, deeply unpleasant. I think that breastfeeding is often incredibly, unimaginably difficult, and that the best way to increase it is to ensure there is adequate and consistent help available. I also worry that those on the trial who "fail" to breastfeed will then have the added guilt of not getting the vouchers for their family. But lots of people have written all that already. What I'm wondering about is the science behind it.

Firstly lets look at breastfeeding itself: There are definite benefits to it but they are often overstated. For example, it does reduce the mother's risk of breast cancer, but if you had two children you would have to feed them for far more than the recommended six months in order to get that benefit. Evidence for many of the benefits to the baby is often a bit weak too, a lot more research is needed to confirm it all. As breastfeeding is more common among more affluent and educated groups it's often hard to separate the effects of feeding from other social and economic influences. Ultimately, while not breastfeeding may be one cause of the shameful health gap between rich and poor in this country, there are bigger fish to fry. Stopping poor kids taking up smoking for example would have a much bigger effect.

Now the study. What I can't tell from the reports is how this will actually be conducted. There are issues about finding out if the women really are breast feeding and exactly how you define that. More importantly what controls will be in place? If they are enrolling women onto the scheme and then comparing breastfeeding rates to the norm for the area, how can we be sure that it is the vouchers making the difference? As I said above the biggest barrier to many women is the lack of good advice and support. If the women in the study are regularly seeing midwives or health visitors to prove that they are breast feeding then it's possible that they will be receiving more help and attention than most of their peers. If the voucher scheme were to be rolled out nationally we'd need to know if it was really the vouchers or that additional help, making the difference.

Finally, I have concerns over the person running this study. Dr Claire Relton is a Homeopath. Something she makes quite clear on her university page. Now, I really REALLY don't want to start a homeopathy debate here. It's been done a million times and we are not going to suddenly reach a consensus in one blog post. But whatever side you are on we can probably agree that homeopathy isn't accepted by conventional, mainstream science and medicine. A major reason for this is that there are few if any well designed trials that show homeopathy has an effect beyond placebo. There are plenty of trials with more questionable methods though. A large proportion of Dr Relton's previous publications are in the field of homeopthy and alternative medicine. Which leaves me feeling a little uneasy. If Dr Relton has mostly produced the kind of publications that are generally seen as poorly designed by most mainstream scientists, how can we be sure that this study will be well run? Surely something this important and this likely to be controversial needs to be whiter than white and run by someone a proven tack record of high quality study design? It's also worth noting that this is all being funded by the government, via the MRC.

I've not had a lot of time for this post so I've not been able to find and read the protocol for the trial, it could actually be perfectly good and I don't think that any of the concerns here or raised by others are a reason not to do it. It is possible that it could be beneficial so it's worth a look. But when we do get published results and no doubt a million more media stories about them, I for one will be looking very, very closely at them before I make my mind up.

PS Sorry for the lack of references in this post, I just don't have time to dig them all up - if you're really bothered contact me or, you know, google it.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Exercise In Pregnancy Boosts Babies Brains. Well, Possibly

According to an article on the Guardian website on Sunday:

"Pregnant mothers who exercise boost babies' brains. 
Weekly exercise by mothers linked to better mental performance in later life".  

If you suspect I'm about to lay into this article, you'd be right. Somebody please sound the using dodgy science to attack women, again, klaxon.

The claim is based on a study led by Elise Labonte-LeMoyne at the University of Montreal. The first thing to note is that she was presenting her findings at a scientific meeting. You could in theory say almost anything at one of these meetings. The evidence presented does not have to first be subjecting to the scrutiny of peer review as happens with published scientific papers. I'd therefore always advise caution before taking anything unpublished too seriously.

But lets have a look at what the study actually did. They told ten pregnant women to exercise three times a week and six pregnant women not to exercise. Eight to 12 days after their babies were born, scientists tested for a specific form of activity in the sleeping infants brains. This apparently indicates how mature the brain was.

Ten women in the test group six in the control. These are TINY numbers. Far too small to give statistically meaningful results given the huge number of potential variables. As there is no published paper and I don't happen to have been at the meeting, I don't know  how or if these were controlled for. We don't know, for example, if all these babies were born at full term. With the numbers so low a single premature child in the control group could sway the results of the entire study. 

How sedentary were the control group?  I did little formal exercise in my second pregnancy but I was chasing after a very active three year old most days. I suspect that added up to far more than the hour a week of exercise for the test group in this study. Is it even ethical to insist that a group of pregnant women do no exercise? Quite apart from the practicalities of it, it seems to be common sense that a bit of exercise in pregnancy is a good idea.  Giving birth and then caring for a small baby is likely to be by far the most physically demanding thing that most women will ever do, it makes sense to do a bit of training if you can.

Does brain function at a few days old really equate to "mental performance" in later life? To me this seems like a pretty big leap. Ok so a kid has a slightly less mature brain at eight days old, it's surely not that unlikely that they could catch up a bit over the next 18 years?

I also wonder about the design of the study. Generally speaking randomised controlled trials like this one (the participants were randomly assigned to exercise or non exercise groups) are seen as the gold standard. However, for this to really work you would need a very large number of women who were all very similar (how healthy are they? How active before pregnancy? Were the babies breastfed? Did they have time in NICU? etc.etc.)  They also have to be willing to take part and I for one wouldn't sign up for something if it meant I had to be sedentary for months. 

It's not the study itself that I'm really annoyed with though. What I'm wondering is - Why on earth is this a story from a major national news outlet? Ok we might expect it from the Daily Mail, but the Guardian is usually a bit better about science reporting.

This is a scientist talking about a very small and preliminary study. It may be academically interesting to others in her field and it may form the basis of further, larger studies which would be worth reporting. But at the moment it tells the rest of us absolutely nothing. It really is a non story. Except that it is a story about women's bodies and what they choose to do with them and that, it seems, is always news.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Let's End The Packet Racket

There are a lot of uncertainties in medical science (see my recent post here for just one example), a lot of areas where we just don't have enough research to know if something is harmful. But smoking isn't one of those areas. To be blunt, cigarettes are expensive, addictive and they kill. I hope my daughters will never take up smoking and I think most parents feel the same, even those who smoke themselves. Yet every year in the UK 207,000 children start smoking. Yes, 207 THOUSAND.

Thankfully my children won't be exposed to tobacco adverts on TV and at sports events, they won't see people smoking on trains or in cafes like I did as a child. But there are still a few ways that cigarette companies can entice new users and the major one is packaging.

The current use of design and branding has been shown to be attractive to children*, even very young ones. Cancer research UK are campaigning to to get all cigarettes sold in plain, standardised packaging. This recently became law in Australia and early studies suggest it's having an effect. But it's a global problem, as shown in this new film released today by Cancer Research UK:

The new packets would, basically, be boring. They would be a standard size, shape and colour with no branding or logos. There would simply be the health warnings, the duty stamp and the brand name in a basic font.

Sadly the government isn't pushing this idea forwards as they had initially said they would. So Cancer Research UK are trying to keep the pressure up on them to do something about this. If, like me you don't want your kids to think that cigarettes look "cute, classy and feminine"** then have a look at their website here, share this blog post and tweet: end the #packetracket .

Companies go to a lot of effort to make their packaging look attractive. Let's make this simple: if the packs are boring, there is one less reason for kids to reach for that first smoke.

* Full version of this report here
**From: Adolescent perceptions of cigarette appearance. European Journal of Public Health. Ford et al: (to be published this Autumn).

Disclaimer- I am an employee of Cancer Research UK, however I have nothing to do with this campaign and have received no money or any other incentive to write this post. I saw a request for bloggers to get involved  and decided it was something I wanted to help with because I don't want my or anyone else's children taking up smoking.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Canada Water Culture Space

It's all been a little bit serious on the blog of late - so here is something more fun. A lot more fun actually.

I have a soft spot for Canada Water. It's where F and I first shared a flat. A studio so tiny that I had to put most of my belongings into storage (including, accidentally, some fairly crucial clothing - oops). A lot has changed in the area since then. I knew there was a big shiny new library but I hadn't realised that it contained it's own little theatre, until I was invited to come and take a look.

Canada Water Culture Space is a 150 seat venue, but for kids shows it can also become small and informal. When E and I arrived to see "Yumm!" there were just two rows of seats for grown ups (which was plenty) and the kids were all encouraged to sit/ wriggle about on mats next to the performance area. The show itself was a sort of contemporary dance piece about food and flavours. I was a little worried that it would be overly preachy on healthy eating but they got the balance about right. We went in to find one of the dancers holding a cabbage aloft, while another hid under a giant chair with a small pink cupcake. The kids were encouraged to smell and touch the food and joined in with great delight when a super long string of "spaghetti" was produced and used to entangle the entire stage.

As a venue for children's theatre it worked very well and not just because of the mats and pasta set up. Firstly it was very easy for us to get there. The library is right over Canada Water station which is on the Jubilee line and the London Overground. It also has lifts to all levels so buggies are no problem. If like us you (somehow!) accidentally  arrive early, then there is the library to explore. E initially insisted that we read books in the little wooden sailing boat but I persuaded her that the sofas looked more comfortable. My only complaint about the children's area was the TV showing Cbeebies. The sound was off but I kept catching E's eyes drifting up to it when I was reading to her. The library also has toilets, including some in rooms big enough to take a parent, a buggy and several kids all at the same time (handy). Next to the theatre entrance there is a cafe which looked nice but we didn't actually try it out - despite E's many requests!

All in all a really nice and very easy afternoon out with a four year old.

You can find the programme of future events at the Canada Water Culture Space here, there are quite a few kids things and some for the grown ups too.

Disclaimer - Photos were provided by Canada Water Culture Space. I was given free tickets for E and myself to this show

Thursday, 7 November 2013

WDDTY - Depression, Drugs and Autism: Blame Mum

The latest edition of "health" magazine "What Doctors Don't Tell You" claims that if a mother takes antidepressants during pregnancy, she triples the chances of her baby developing autism. Except that's not quite what the study it references actually said....

Firstly - I have to thank the lovely writer of Nurture My Baby who posted about the WDDTY piece on twitter and brought my attention to it. She is also working on a blog post about it and I'll update this post and link to it when she gets that up. She also makes lovely crochet things, I have no idea how to do that!

For those of you lucky enough not to know what WDDTY is, it's a magazine, widely available in supermarkets etc. which claims to reveal the truths that doctors are hiding from us. That cancer can be cured with massive doses of vitamin C, that vaccinations give kids autism, and that all manor of "natural" remedies can cure pretty much everything. That sort of stuff. Of course they throw in lots of helpful adverts for these remedies to help us all out as well. So that's nice of them.

This month they carry a small piece based on a study published in the BMJ.  Here's a few quotes from that piece:

"Women who take certain prescription drugs while pregnant are increasing the chances of Autism in their child"

"Antidepressants ... have been associated with the learning and behavioural problem" *

"Women who suffer from depression during pregnancy should seek out non-drug therapies, say researchers from the university of Bristol"

The message from WDDTY is carefully worded but here's how I reckon it would sound to a pregnant woman with depression, a women who already feels that she is utterly useless and inadequate:

If you take those pills from your doctor, you will damage your baby. You selfish cow.

This though, isn't at all what the paper actually says. It doesn't show a tripling of the chances of autism. It's a bit less than double and it's doubling a very small chance to make another very small chance. The researchers found no increase in the types of autism that include intellectual impairment (to my mind that doesn't fit with the claims about learning problems). In fact you can't actually tell from this study if it is the drugs that cause the few extra cases or autism or if it is the depression itself.

Depression is a horrible, horrible disease, but it comes and goes. We know from the study that autism is more likely in children whose mothers have been diagnosed with depression, but only if they were on antidepressants during pregnancy. What we don't know is who was actually suffering symptoms of depression during pregnancy. Perhaps those who weren't on medication were well at the time and those taking the drugs were suffering from current and severe depression? Perhaps this depression is what caused the autism and the use of medication merely indicates the severity of the mothers condition?

This isn't me nit picking the data to suit my needs, the authors of the paper say the same thing, repeatedly:

Importantly, it is not possible to conclude whether the association between antidepressant use and autism spectrum disorder reflects severe depression during pregnancy or is a direct effect of the drug

There are a lot of things we just can't tell from this study and the authors make this quite clear. They don't call for an immediate end to antidepressant use in pregnancy, they call for more research, more information and a cautious approach in the mean time. That's science. If the drugs are causing autism then they would still only account for 0.6% of cases and the rates of autism have rocketed in recent years. We still don't know if this is due to increased awareness and willingness (perhaps over willingness) of doctors to diagnose the condition. It could well be that there is something causing a genuine increase, although it's clear from this that if that thing exists it's not just antidepressants in pregnancy.

Of course the small effect shown in this paper could be down to the drugs, so it's not unreasonable to suggest caution when prescribing antidepressants in pregnancy. The paper's authors suggest that psychological therapies may be a better alternative, but they also acknowledge that, sadly, it just wouldn't be possible for most women to access these quickly enough. Over all, even if the drugs were definitely responsible,  the risks of coming off medication may be far greater than of taking it. What doctors would tell you (hopefully) is that you need to weigh up these risks together, and for your own personal circumstances.

 But of course this isn't what WDDTY is all about. They don't seem to see anything wrong in telling unwell, vulnerable women that if they are not actively out there, ignoring their doctor, hunting for alternatives themselves and throwing away the only thing that may be helping them, then they are permanently harming their precious unborn child. I mean, it's not like these women are already feeling a bit bad or anything is it? Depressed people could probably do with a bit more guilt - right?

If this is the first time you've come across this magazine - this piece is only one small section of it. Most of the rest of the issue is devoted to cancer, and the little I could bear to look at isn't any better. Just think on that for a moment.

PS. I've linked to the paper but not to WDDTY as I don't want them to get the traffic, but if you see one in a shop have a look, then put it back, preferably in the wrong place and backwards.

* the piece also makes these claims about Epilim, an epilepsy drug which has numerous risks in pregnancy. What What Doctors Don't Tell You doesn't tell you is that these risks are well known and acknowledged. Official advice doesn't just caution the use of Epilim in pregnant women, that is pretty common, it goes further and states that doctors should ensure any woman of childbearing age who is on the drug must take serious precautions to avoid pregnancy.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Can you be a 'mummy-blogger', and still be a feminist?

Did I mention that I'm going to Blogfest? Yes? Well one of the sessions that caught my eye on the programme is titled : Can you be a 'mummy-blogger', and still be a feminist?

I hadn't given much thought to feminism until fairly recently. As a child of the 80s I remember hearing something about womens' struggle for equality, but it seemed like it had all already happened. Bras had been burnt, horses had been jumped under and the three most important people in the world (Margret Thatcher, the Queen and Madonna) were all women. Job done.

As young women my friends and I encountered all the usual stuff, the guys in nightclubs who were "just being friendly".There was an unspoken protocol for dealing with them: pull the "help" face, rearrange the dancing circle. Move closer together and dance with elbows out behind you to keep those unwanted bodies from your backs. It was annoying and sometimes rather intimidating, when they just wouldn't go away, but it never occurred to most of us to be outraged. It was just something we all expected and put up with (being almost 6 foot tall didn't help much either. Daring your short mate to try and pull the tall bird seems to be something of a national sport). 

At work It was sometimes difficult to command respect, because I was young and female. I would dress older than I was and be sure to use my height to its full effect. But this never really held me back. It was only when I became a mother that I began to realise how far we still are, from where I thought we already were in the 80's.

I was very lucky, my employer readily agreed that I could take a years maternity leave and then return part time. I assumed it would be like this for most of my friends. We were all educated and in professional jobs. But as more of them began to have babies, very different stories started to emerge.  The women who were squeezed out their jobs, even out of businesses they had set up. The single mums whose employers refused to let them go part time, in the full knowledge that they'd be forced to quit. The senior employees expected to make the tea and take the minutes for men who had half their experience.

Then there is the constant media judgement, the lazy stay at home Mums, drinking lattes and sponging off their husbands or the state. The heartless working mothers, callously dumping their sprogs in nursery so they can pursue their careers while expecting the taxpayer to chip in for the costs. 

Being a Mummy can certainly make you think about feminism - but can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?

Mummy blogging is, unsurprisingly, mostly women writing about raising children. It often includes cooking, crafts, fashion and beauty. Basically, the little, everyday domestic worlds that some women have fought for decades to escape. You could argue that advertising a life of kids and cupcakes is totally letting down the sisterhood.

I disagree though. For me, now I've thought about it,  feminism is about equality of choice. Its about being able to take up crochet or car mechanics, whatever your gender. Its about the contents of your pants being irrelevant to weather you want to be the prime earner or the prime carer in your household or if you choose to share both those roles. We don't make women equal to men by stopping the girls doing anything girly. We are equal when we can choose to blog about baking, fashion or nuclear physics and we're judged on the quality of our writing, not the gender of the writer.

That's the world that I want for my daughters. One where they can stay home and bake with their kids or run a multimillion dollar industry. Where they don't have to dress up as someone else to be taken seriously and where they can go out with their friends and have a proper good dance.

It'll be interesting to see what the debate at Blogfest brings up, the speakers know a whole lot more about this than me and I'm aware that there is an enormous amount of feminist philosophy and politics that I am completely ignorant of. Perhaps I'll even completely change my mind - isn't that a woman's scientist's prerogative?


PS - What do you think? Is all this twittering on about babies and bunting setting back the female cause? 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Gulp, I'm Going To BlogFest

Eeek. I'm going to a Mumsnet parent blogging event. Eeek.

Although this blog (or it's predecessor) have been going for almost five years now, I've never made much effort to put myself out there in the Mummy blogging world. Doing so seems to require a fair bit of time and there is only so much of that that I can devote to a hobby. My science rants in particular take a long time to research - so there goes my window.

OK, that is partly just an excuse and I could make more effort, but to be honest, self promotion terrifies me. SouthwarkBelle has just been an outlet for rants. A place where I can type them out and send them off into an infinite, digital world. Rather than have them all crashing about inside my one little skull. It's also a place where I can save up all these memories that my kids keep throwing out. The big things like holidays that I'd probably remember anyway and the silly/funny/infuriating every day stuff that I wouldn't. It's all here in my little personal treasure trove of massive over share.

But I would like more readers. I had one little moment of fame when Kirstie Allsopp promoted one of my posts on twitter but otherwise it could well just be my Mum and a few facebook friends reading this. So, I need to put in some effort. *Deep breath* I'm going to a blogging event.

I've always avoiding these things in the past. The idea of trotting about with a name badge on and "networking" fills me with a quiet, despairing resignation when it's work related. So paying to do it in my spare time has never really appealed. But the programme for this event has finally tempted me out of my safe little online cave. As well as a whole pile of successful bloggers there are authors such as Lionel Schriver (We Need To Talk About Kevin), campaingers, including Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project and even a few science/techy types including Professor Tanya Byron. Oh and it's all topped off by my local Comedian Jo Brand (hmm wonder if she'd be up for sharing a cab home...)

So, *another deep breath* I'll be there! Even though I know almost no one else who is going. If you see a stupidly tall woman standing on her own, probably at the bar,* pretending to be engrossed in twitter do say hello. If I instantly say something nonsensical, forget who you are two seconds after you told me or fail to recognise the name of your mega successful blog, please forgive me. I'm a newbie (and have been for some time now).

* Is there a bar? There is a bar right? I don't get out some point there will be a bar???


Monday, 21 October 2013

Book Review: Expecting Better

Economics professor Emily Oster got pregnant, then she got very annoyed, and then she wrote a book about it. The result is Expecting Better. A pregnancy book which, refreshingly, expects it's reader to still have a functioning brain.

Society has (mostly) moved on from treating all women as stupid, or at least doing so openly is now non PC. However, it sometimes seems like this doesn't apply when the woman is pregnant. Official medical guidelines are frequently so over cautious that they seem to treat expectant mums as little more than irresponsible foetus carrying devices. While the natural birth lobby insists that these poor vulnerable females will plunge into a spiralling cascade of unwarranted medical interventions and "unnecaesareans" at the merest mention of a negative "birth story". (sorry excessive use of " " there, too many silly phrases!). So Oster's approach is very welcome in that it starts by assuming the reader still has a brain.

Rather than just trotting out the conventional pregnancy "facts" like a million other books. It aims firstly to give the reader a method for determining how reliable these facts actually are and secondly a means of using this knowledge to make decisions for their own specific situation. I'm right behind this idea. There is surprisingly little good data about many aspects of pregnancy and birth, but there is a heck of a lot of dodgy studies, made up stuff and outright woo. Even where high quality studies are available there is rarely a single right or wrong answer to any decision. Take epidurals for example. Should you choose to have one in labour or not? One woman may decide that she'd prefer to avoid it as they increase the likelihood of an instrumental delivery, the Mum in the next room might decide to have one because nothing very bad is likely to happen and they make the really really hurty thing stop hurting. When based on the best available evidence these are both perfectly logical decisions. Yet I have UK friends who have felt they had to apologise for having an epidural and justify the need for one beyond just wanting the pain to stop (such is the pressure to avoid one in certain circles here). For Ostler the opposite was true and not wanting one in the US was seen by some as wrong mostly just because it was unusual.

This conflict between the UK and US experience of birth brings me to a major concern with this book. Overall I really rate it. However, despite this being a UK edition, it is clearly based on Ostler's experience of having a baby in the USA. Standard policy is often very different between the two countries and anyone who has had a baby on the NHS is likely to be utterly horrified by some of what is in this book (not being ALLOWED to eat or drink anything when you've been in labour for days?? wow). There are a lot of examples of doctors insisting on policies which are at best overly cautious and at worst potentially harmful and many that are based on no good evidence at all. As someone who has already had two babies in the UK, these sections made me feel incredibly grateful for the NHS. But there is a risk that first timers reading this, perhaps before they've had any dealings with medical professionals (it's common not to see anyone before 12 weeks), will go into their first appointment needlessly spoiling for a fight. In the US perhaps this would be justified, but over here many of the major issues in the book just won't come up for a low risk pregnancy. In fact if everything is low risk and normal you may never see a doctor at all as midwife care is the standard.

Another problem is that, as I mentioned above, misinformation doesn't only come from doctors. Ostler touches on this but only barely. I've come across a lot of natural birth advocates who would gladly pump you up for a fight with the doctors, despite having no good evidence for their argument either. The dominance in this book of the problems with conventional medicine could potentially form yet another science bashing stick. I doubt this was the authors intention and the same methods of appraising data and making decisions could be applied to alternative advice, but I'd have liked a bit more balance.

Finally, most women, even the smart ones, won't have a professional background in analysing statistics. They won't have access to the many scientific papers that are published in subscription only journals and they probably won't have the time to analyse everything in this depth anyway. However, the principle that women should be able to question what they are told and make the decision that is best for them is an important one. Even if most only actually do it for the one or two things they really care about.

The good thing about this book is that it is a starting point. It says that it's not ok for pregnant women to be treated like idiots. This won't be the new pregnancy bible for first timers and a lot of what it says needs to be treated carefully in the UK. However, encouraging parents to take an active and informed role in decision making is important. Hopefully this book will be followed by others* which are more appropriate for the UK and which also cover alternative / natural birth advice and the post-birth minefield too. Hopefully it will also lead to more women knowing they can question those setting out the pregnancy rules, weather it's the obstetricians, the midwives, the NCT teachers or the know-it-all woman at the bus stop!

*I also recommend another recent book: Bumpolgy by Linda Geddes. Which uses scientific data to bust a whole bunch of pregnancy myths.

Disclaimer - I paid for my own copy of the book and as far a I know I have no connection to the author of anyone else involved with it.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My First Family Festival

More on our activities this summer - for the first time the Southwarkbelle family went to a music festival. We camped, got soaked, ate burgers and discovered that missing most of the headline acts is worth it, for a three day long look of wonder on your child's face.

This summer was an opportunity that had to be grabbed. F had most of the school holiday off and I'm still on maternity leave, we probably won't get this much time off together again until we retire. So we (or to be honest, I) decided we should try going to a festival as a family.

After considerable research I decided on Beautiful Days. Compared to the likes of  Glastonbury, Beautiful Days is pretty small. But it was touted as being very family friendly and had one major selling point for us - it's very close to the warm beds, flush toilets and babysitting services of my parents house. This also meant that we could leave the girls with them while we dragged everything from the carpark to the campsite and set up our new family sized tent. Actually that process was all pretty stress free. It turned out that, with the seat removed, our buggy makes a great festival trolley (it's an Uppababy vista btw)!

Pre-kids, my idea of a good festival would involve sitting in the sun with a pint of cider watching some bands I was vaguely interested in and maybe heading for the front if there weren't too many unpleasant things flying that way (anyone else who was at the infamous  Daphne and Celeste incident  of Reading 2000 knows what I mean). With the girls in tow our plan had been to try to see the headliners by letting E crash out in the buggy and M in a sling. We did manage a bit of this, but actually that wasn't the highlight.

The really good bit was seeing the amazement on E's face when a hoard of stilt walking, fairies came to say hello. Or the unblinking delight as she sat in a circle of huge Redwood trees every evening listening to stories about trolls and giants. Then there was the huge helter-skeleter, the kids shows in the circus tent, the fancy dress day and of course lots and lots of dancing.

Fancy dress day with my little Bees

Oh and the other really good bit - A long day in the fresh air and a late night watching the bands = very sleepy children!


PS here's a few top tips for other festival newbies:

Ear protectors are a great idea - Although M lost hers within hours of arriving

A big pack of glow sticks costs a few quid on ebay, they provide entertainment, help make kids visible in the dark and - if your tent ends up right next to a path - you can use them to mark your guy lines so no one falls over them in the night!

Battery powered fairy lights on the buggy stop anyone stumbling into that too.

Take TONS of clothes for the kids and more than one pair of wellies. It poured one day, E had full waterproofs and didn't mind a bit but she managed to (literally) fill her boots and we had to hurriedly buy some more.

Keep M away from your beer....

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Family Holiday in the Alpujarras

The blog has been quiet over the summer, but we haven't been. In the next few weeks I'll try to update some of what we've been up to. Starting with - Spain.

Small mountain villages with no kids entertainment where the main attraction is hiking - perhaps not the obvious choice for a holiday with an (almost) four year old and a baby, but this July we headed up into the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucia and, surprisingly,  had a wonderful time.

As ever, we didn't so much wind down towards the holidays as accelerate head long at them. F was working longer and longer hours while I was left to deal with a furiously energetic E and a rarely sleeping baby M. I was also beginning to question our decision to book a weeks holiday in an area that we'd previously visited for some pretty serious hiking. But somehow, as our overstuffed hire car wound it's way up the mountain roads above Travellez I suddenly recognised an old sensation - I actually felt relaxed.

Despite arriving horribly late at our accommodation, Ludwig the owner came straight out to welcome us and show us around our apartment. He seemed more concerned that we might have got lost on the way than that we'd kept him from his bed. Horray for Spain (and it's German ex-pats), no icy glares from BnB owners because you turned up after 8.30pm here! 

Patio of one of the other apartments

We were staying at Cortijo Prado Toro. A beautiful old stone house that has been divided into apartments. We stayed in the largest (El Taller) which was spacious and well equipped, it also had shutters which kept the bedrooms so dark and so quiet that even baby M slept in late in the morning (thinking about this again now - perhaps I should just move there).

One of the Geckos, who joined us for dinner on the roof of our patio

I needn't have worried about keeping everyone entertained, we quickly discovered a great activity for all the family - lunch. Ludwig provided us with a list of the best restaurants in the area we managed to make a mid day meal start at 2pm and last most of the day. This was aided by the shutter induced lie- ins.  By the time we'd had a light, lazy breakfast on the patio, and driven over the winding roads to one of the villages it was time for lunch. Everywhere offered a "Menu Del Dia" - three courses for 8-10 euros - bargain, although by the end of the week we were happily parting with more than that for massive plates of the fabulous local ham.

Gazpacho+Cherries+3 year old = happy mess
When we were finally able to move again the little white villages of Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira were good for a bit of a potter (you may recognise the names from the Driving Over Lemons books) and then it was back up the dirt road, past the helipad(!) to the Cortijo to cool off in the pool - or rather to be jumped on and splashed repeatedly by a small child.

Pool with a view

We even managed to get in a bit of walking. Thanks to another of  Ludwig's print outs we did a 5km loop from the cortijo which took us past little waterfalls, alongside an ancient acequia (watercourse) and under enormous old chestnut trees. E did amazingly well despite the Spanish heat, and only had to be bribed with Haribo for about he last km. M rode along in the sling  (although that did get rather sweaty!). Not quite the length of walk we've done in the area previously, but it was lovely to be able to share with the girls something that we've enjoyed so much as a couple.

Before we arrived I'd been expecting to end the week desperate to get somewhere with a kids club and a beach, or at least a TV with kids channels. In fact that was exactly what we had booked for the following week, but when the time came to shoe horn everything back into the (now utterly filthy) hire car we were wishing we had 2 weeks in the Alpujarras instead. Maybe next year.

Some info:

Where: The Alpujarras is a small (and beautiful) area on the Southern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucia, southern Spain.

Fly: We flew to Malaga, Granada is slightly nearer but has fewer flights

Stay: We loved Cortijo Prado Del Toro, but there are also quite a few places in the villages if you want to be walking distance from bars and restaurants

Bring:  - Arm bands - the one negative about the cortijo was that the pool is very deep, we're super tall and                neither of us could stand up in it so we were glad to have arm bands on E.
          - Insect repellent - I had a total of 57 bites by the end of the week, I was especially lucky though, F                  only got 2 and the girls got none!
           - The full excess waver for the hire car - this is the only place we've ever paid for this and it was a                    good thing we did, both times. (I don't think hire companies in Malaga expect you to be taking the                 little hatch back up mountain dirt roads, oops)

Before we left we took the girls higher up into the mountains to a mirador (viewpoint) that we'd been to on our first trip to the area - so we could take a photo:



Sunday, 22 September 2013

I Really Hate This Symbol

Let me share with you a little symbol that really, REALLY annoys me:

It appears on the labels of bottles of wine and beer, making it quite clear that pregnant women should not be drinking.

Now, I certainly don't advocate going out and getting lashed when you're pregnant. In fact this post came to mind after I read about a recent study which showed some of the harm done by binge drinking during the second trimester, but my question is this:

Why is this the only warning label on my Friday night beer?

There is currently no evidence that an occasional drink is harmful, it's clear that heavy drinking is a really really bad idea but exactly where the cut off lies is unknown and is likely to vary for every individual (the same could of course be said for driving after drinking alcohol). Official advice is to drink nothing or stick to nothing for the first three months then one or two units once or twice a week. But there is concern that exactly what constitutes a unit is a bit confusing and that some women won't be responsible enough to limit themselves, so best just stop them drinking all together.

Ok fine, there is some sense to that, there are always a few people who act like idiots, who are irresponsible enough to go out and get drunk despite the damage it could do and who don't pay attention to official limits.

So we have:
Don't drink anything if you're pregnant

But where is:?
Don't drink anything if you're driving
Don't drink anything if you're 14 and sitting in a park
Don't drink anything if you're likley to wake up next to someone you really don't want to wake up next to
Don't drink anything if you tend to get so wrecked that you end up wasting precious NHS resources
Don't drink anything if you might get aggressive and start fights

Don't drink anything if you have a history of going home drunk and beating up your partner.

Now I'm going to say it again, just to be quite clear: I don't advocate heavy or regular consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. But why is it ok to single out pregnant woman as the one group that need a special symbol to remind them of the dangers of alcohol? What about the brawlers, the pukers and the wife beaters? Are all pregnant women assumed to be more brainless and selfish than them?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Womans Hour: Kirstie Allsopp V NCT

This morning, Womans Hour was guest hosted by Kirstie Allsopp. She chose to devote the entire programme to discussing childbirth and why many women don't have the birth they had planned. Her guests included Belinda Phipps, CEO of the NCT, an organisation Allsopp has been (very) critical of in the past.

It was actually all very civilised at 10am on Radio 4, I'd been expecting crochet hooks at dawn* and to be honest I was a little disappointed. But when I listened to the podcast this evening, with the advantage of a glass of wine and on-going sleep deprivation, I was overwhelmed by the need to post ranty tweets. Unfortunately after adding @anyonewhomightlisten, even if I broke every rule of the English language, I was out of space. So I'm ranting here again, it's about time anyway.

There were a few things that bugged me, but here's the biggy: When Phipps was being quizzed about how supportive the NCT were of caesarean birth, she stated that there was: "an awful lot on the (NCT) website"

Really? Not the last time I looked but perhaps I'm being unfair. So I went to the NCT website and I searched for articles and pages about caesareans, out of interest I also searched for "home birth" (" "is there for the search term).

Now, bear in mind that around 1/4 of UK births are by c-section and about 2% happen at home. Also, note that Phipps said during the programme that the NCT was a charity for parents, driven to support whatever it was that parents needed. On that basis you'd expect "an awful lot" of information about caesareans and a bit about home birth. Here's what I got:

Number of articles/pages mentioning search term:
Caesarean 37
Home birth  56

Number of articles/pages specifically/solely dealing with search term:
Caesarean 3
Home birth 10 (actually it may have been more, I got bored going through the list after that)

On it's own that's not great, of course there should be articles on there about home birth but when more then ten times as many births happen in the operating theatre, shouldn't a charity driven by parents reflect this?

When I took a look at the c-section articles I was even more disappointed. One went through what happens during the surgery, good good, but here are the other two:

Reasons for Caesarean Birth includes information on choosing not to have a C-section when one has been recommended, eg for a breech baby, or foetal distress. Of course woman shouldn't just blindly do what the man in the white coat tells them, but there are good reasons for suggesting surgery in those situations and that isn't really acknowledged in the article (doctors don't tend to suggest major surgery just for a giggle). Also, I don't see any pages offering support to women who want a C-section but are being refused one.

Giving birth by caesarean section: elective and emergency caesareans has a whole section on the risks of surgery, but nothing on the benefits, like, for example, there are a whole lot of people in the world who aren't dead because of c-sections, that sort of thing.

In addition there is a whole page about choosing a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) but I can't find anything devoted to opting for an elective C-section in those circumstances. Then there's a page entitled, rather disdainfully: "Other modes of birth" which links to a helpful information leaflet about caesareans which urges you to "Know your rights. Protect yourself. Protect your baby" then moves on to state that "experts agree" that too many women have c-sections and that vaginal birth is "much safer". Hardly balanced, or indeed factually accurate.

Oh, and there is the press release (found on a different search) about the NICE caesarean guidelines issued in 2011. The NCT charity who supports all parents choices were "glad" that the new guidance "does not suggest that caesarean should be offered as an option to all"

Phipps did her best to convince listeners that the NCT is a charity for all parents, for those who dream of giving birth at home and those who, through choice or necessity, end up under the knife. No judgement, no right or wrong. Sadly that isn't backed up by the information on the charity's website. Claiming to speak for everyone, while providing only limited and often negative information on an issue effecting 24% of births just doesn't seem right to me. We need an organisation to stand up for parents at one of the most vulnerable and emotional times in our lives, but for many or us, the NCT just isn't doing that right now. I hope Kirstie Allsopp and others will continue to put pressure on them to become all that they claim to be.


*Actually, sorry about the crochet hooks comment - every women reading this who's had her waters broken for her just squeezed her knees together a bit...

A couple of other points from the programme:

BBC health correspondant Jane Draper, stated that the World Health Organisation recommend a Caesarean rate of no more than 15%. The WHO dropped this recommendation in 2010, acknowledging that it wasn't based on any actual evidence.

When asked about problems arising in labour Phipps agreed that things can go wrong: " I mean hospitals can't always provide a one to one midwife and all of that sort of stuff" but failed to mention that the sheer physical lunacy of human reproduction may occasionally play a part too.

And a couple more positive notes to end on:

Zoe Pen (Obstetrician) said: Most births are normal but not everything is controllable. If you and the baby are ok why is that not considered a success? 

Christine Hill (Author and former childbirth educator - with a deliciously posh voice) - "you can not have a baby without a sense of humour.. its all too grizzly"

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Answer to Everything (Almost)

Blogging Challenge - Day 20: Questions, Questions

Today on the blogging challenge I'm supposed to do an FAQ post, but it's Friday night, I have a glass of wine and I'm not feeling entirely sensible, so here are some frequently asked parenting questions - with my own, utterly infallible answers:

1- Natural childbirth or drugs and doctors?
whatever works best for you.

2- Breast or bottle?
whatever works best for you.

3-Co-sleep or cot?
whatever works best for you.

4- Puree or baby led weaning?
whatever works best for you.

5- Stay at home or go back to work?
whatever works best for you.

There, that ought to cover it, the major baby dilemmas solved in one blog post. Dear reader, you are now fully equipped to be an awesome parent.


PS. I am assuming that what "works best for you" will be to do the safest possible thing for the baby - based on good scientific evidence of course!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Under Pressure

30 Day Blog Challenge - Day 13: Sing a song

(yes I'm a bit late again with this one)

Today's blog challenge was to pick a song for the post title. I had no idea where I was going to go with this until I realised that E's current favourite song actually fits nicely with a post I've had in my head for a while.

A post about going back to work.

M is now seven months old so I can feel the end of maternity leave looming into view. Not going back just isn't an option for us, and it does make me rather proud when E says "Mummy does science!". I love that in her mind, scientists are perfectly normal looking women, not crazy haired men bent on evil conspiracies. I hope that both my daughters will grow up thinking they can do any job they choose, get to any level, so long as they work hard enough for it. Except that, increasingly, I don't really believe that and a little part of me worries that I'm setting them up for a fall.

Put simply, if I worked the same hours my husband does, we couldn't cope. One of us has to make compromises, and because he earns far more than I do, it has to be me. Without 24/7 childcare there needs to be one of us who can leave early at short notice, run out in the middle of the day when nursery calls, or take the following two days off to watch Cbeebies with a bucket. Essential for a parent, not great for an employee.

I'm very lucky to have been able to stay in my job but work part time since having E. The down side is that it's always the interesting stuff and the things that could help progress my own career that get shunted out. So promotion is unlikely and anyway, being part time wouldn't be desirable for those jobs. So I find myself static, doing the same thing I've been doing for the last decade. Going elsewhere isn't an option either, turning a full time job into a part time one is pretty rare, finding a part time professional job is all but impossible in many fields.

Perhaps I'm fretting about this because I have a birthday looming. I'm really a very grown up age now and I feel I should have achieved more. But for many families something has to give. Someone has to accept that they can't have the career, or get to the level, that they want and in most (although by no means all) cases that's the woman. Ultimately it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. The kids are worth it a million times over and of course I get to spend far more time with them than my husband does, stuck at his desk or in late running meetings. I also know that I'll be glad to be back talking science not nappies, even just having twenty, uninterrupted minutes to read a book on a crowded commuter train will be a treat. In the grand scheme of things, not achieving my full potential at work isn't the end of the world. I have a heck of a lot really, I just somehow need to stopping feeling under pressure to have it all.

PS. In an attempt to end on a cheerier note and in case you were wondering how come E's favourite song is Under Pressure -  take a look at this clip from Happy Feet 2:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Review: Sea Life London Aquarium

I grew up on David Attenborough documentaries, bug hunts and trips to the safari park. I suspect that's where my interest in science was originally sparked, and I really hope my girls will come to share this fascination with the natural world. Sadly I've heard a few people say that London kids must find all animals really weird, as they never get to see any. Actually the city can be a great place for introducing children to the wilder world and I was really pleased to be invited to take E and baby M to the Sea Life London Aquarium this week and get them face to face with some fishes!

E- Ready to head underwater
 Our first encounter was a mildly terrifying walk over a glass floor with sharks swimming beneath us. E was less worried about this than I was, but I held her hand and did my best impression of thinking it was brilliant. After that she was able to run about and find the tanks that really interested her, climbing up on the steps and peering in at octopus, sea urchins and even poison dart frogs.

 We've actually visited before, on a busy bank holiday weekend. This time it was mid week, and I'd definitely recommend that if possible with pre-school children. It was still fairly busy but I could let E range around and still keep up an eye on her, even with a buggy. It was much more fun for her to decide what she looked at, rather than me dragging her attention to everything (look it's a piranha! please can I tell you the story about me and your dad going fishing for them in the amazon - PLEASE, oh no, you just want to look at "Nemo". fine.). Also, the place is huge, so although we probably didn't see absolutely everything we did get around it all with interest levels still high.

The big attractions for us were the sharks, gliding around in their tank with some surprisingly unconcerned looking fish (apparently the sharks are too well fed and too lazy to bother eating them), the great big turtles and the penguins, in their genuinely chilly Antarctic area. E also rather liked the seahorses but looked a bit confused when I tried to explain to her that it's the Daddy Seahorses who have the babies in their tummies (and that this was a brilliant idea)!

On the practical side, the aquarium is well geared up for young children, the entire thing is buggy accessible with lifts to every level and quite a few disabled / baby change toilets which are big enough to take the buggy in with you (so it is possible for parents to have a wee too). there is a buggy store, which we used last time, but walking around the entire thing may be a challenge for little legs. There is at least one drink stall on the way around and for food there are all manor of places nearby (including sushi).

Penguins! (ok this one isn't my picture)

The other great thing is the location. Next to the London Eye and opposite the houses of parliament. Entry to the aquarium isn't cheap (although you can often find offers, or 2 for 1 tickets if you travel by train) but after a morning in there, there is plenty to entertain the kids for free on the Southbank;  street performers, skate boarders or just exploring the Southbank centre which often has free events.

Overall the city kids had a great time, Baby M veered between wide awake and gazing in wonder and completely zonked. E was clearly utterly exhausted by the time we got home, but didn't want the day to end. It took quite a long time to coax her out of the bath as she insisted that she was now a turtle (and not at all tired).

She was out like a light when we finally got her to bed, probably dreaming of fish. I'm hope this little insight into the wonders of the wild things will stick with her. I think it probably will.

Disclaimer - We received free entry and lunch was provided, this review represents my honest opinion of the day.

Monday, 10 June 2013

RCOG: Baby On Board, Brain Out The Window?

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 10: Key Phrases

Pregnant women aren't stupid (ok some of them are, grab any large enough selection of the population and there will be someone who thinks dolphin midwives are a great idea, but that's got nothing to do with pregnancy hormones).  Most women are reasonably intelligent AND can still make grown up, rational decisions, even with a baby on board. So long as the advice they receive is accurate and helpful. 

Ah but there's the rub. You'd need a heck of a lot of spare time, not to mention post graduate qualifications in a variety of maths and science subjects, just to make sense of all the information out there. The media of course loves nothing better than piling guilt on parents (see my post on the Telegraphs "Too Posh To Push" story for a great example of lazy, data fiddling journalism), but even seemingly venerable medical institutions  can sometimes be really unhelpful. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynacologists (RCOG) for example. From the people who brought you a totally arbitrary C-section target rate (then withdrew it, then re-instated it) comes new advice for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on chemical exposure. A lot has already been said about this in the media so I'm not going to go into great detail, but it basically lists a huge number of everyday things that "could" contain harmful chemicals which "might" possibly be harmful, although there is currently no evidence for this, no way of testing it and they may all be perfectly safe. It suggests that women should be made aware of all this so that they can make an informed decision as to weather they want to "play it safe" and avoid these items.

Now, as I said I'm totally in favour of informed decisions (I love 'em, soooo my thing). But how is this helpful? No doubt there will be some, very anxious, women who will take on this advice and spend their entire pregnancies in paranoid fear of shower gel. It's quite likely that trying to avoid everything on the list will result in levels of stress far more harmful than any of the chemicals. But worse than that, for many women this document, and the media interest it inevitably attracted, could be the tipping point that turns them off all medical advice. Being bombarded with this sort of thing over and over again and then told some of it has no basis in evidence could diminish the credibility of important, and proven, pregnancy advice (such as stopping smoking and heavy drinking, or taking folic acid supplements) to such an extent that it all just gets ignored. 

It's great that RCOG want women to make informed choices, but throwing out panicky advice, based on little or no scientific evidence risks doing more harm than good to the reputation of the field and to the babies it aims to help. 

If there's a baby on board, there's still a brain (actually two!), but let's not make it's job too difficult please!


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Picture This

30 Day Blogging Challenge - Day 8: Pictures

In case you're wondering, yes I have missed a couple of days, only one of them because I just didn't have the time/inclination, the others are because the challenge doesn't actually involve a new post. Today's however is going to happen and it's a nice easy one - to include some pictures.

There's been plenty of things going on with the girls recently that I just haven't got round to blogging about so here are a few of our activities from May and the Start of June 2013:


M masters the beaker with surprising speed

M's first Go on the Swings, helped by big sister

and E's first trip to the bowling alley

M eating her dinner/ throwing her dinner all over the kitchen

Meeting Daddy for lunch

The vintage steam fair comes to town