Baby apps

During the first few months of breastfeeding, it was common to see me checking my breasts to figure out which breast I last fed from –  Oh yes, trust me you can forget. I don’t know if it was the sleep deprivation or the whole new experience, but I kept on forgetting. Sadly, I recently found out there are multiple apps that could have helped me avoid those odd looks from the people around me.  

In a time where there is an app for ordering a chopper from the comfort of your home, such apps about child care are not surprising. However, the options available and not knowing what to look for can be overwhelming for a new mother. Even though these apps can’t relieve you from waking up 10 times at night, they can make your life simpler.

Childcare information – these are available from the time you conceive to parenting tips for toddlers. Baby center, WebMD Baby and The Bump are some of the apps that can help you understand weekly pregnancy development, medical information about common baby problems (so you don’t have to call your pediatrician every day), child development and generally the accepted patterns of baby development.  Mums Village, though it is still web based, is one of the best when it comes to local content.

Baby diaries – it can be an immense task to keep track of everything as a first time mother. During the first 6 week check up, the doctor will ask you questions like

‘How often does she pass stool?’

‘How long does he breastfeed from one side of breast?’

‘How long does she sleep?’

Fortunately, apps like Feed baby – Baby Tracker, Breastfeeding Tracker Pumping, Diaper log, Peekaboo Moments: Baby Journal, Baby Care – Track baby growth are some of the apps that can help you track all that and maintain your child’s growth chart, milestones, feeding schedule, and medication if any.

Apps that replace gadgets – thanks to apps like Dormi – Baby monitor, there is no need of buying that expensive baby monitor. It enables you to use your phone as a baby monitor. There are also apps like Baby Sleep for lullaby songs and Fisher Price Storybook for baby digital books.

F0r momsLose weight after pregnancy is one of the apps which can help you get your fitness level back. Mom Life is also an app that can help you chat with other mothers about everyday issues.

I remember checking apps for tracking my pregnancy as I was starting the journey. Then I settled on one and keyed in my due date as well as other information. It was an exciting experience to wake up to the app notifying me that my baby can now hear me talking. Then a few months down the lane, as if it was magic, my Facebook timeline and my spam inbox was filled with adverts for newborn items. I was amazed but I later learned that was not a coincidence.

Whatever personal information you give out to these apps is easily accessible by different agencies that can use it for different ends. You might think what is the harm of getting customized adverts that work for me on my timeline? A lot, actually. This is behavioural advertising and it reduces your motherhood to a mere number, that in effects controls what you can buy by only showing you what the marketing platforms are paid to show you. Even more serious problems exist such as hackers using your personal data to attack you. As you hit download, consider what data you are handing over and if there are other options which keep your data on your devices than opaque servers with unfettered access to the highest bidder.

This first appeared on The Standard on 19 March 2017

 

She fought and won

I was not prepared for a sick child. I had a very easy pregnancy, well except the anxiety of becoming a mother. But a few hours after delivery, there I was in the hospital bed crying after the pediatrician told me that my daughter is a ‘bit lazy’ and has to be monitored in the nursery as they run a couple of tests. Little did we know that was just the beginning of the continuous problems that kept us in the hospital for the next two weeks. After 6 days of agony, it was discovered that she had an infection which brought more complications.  It is an understatement to say they were the most difficult days of my life.

The picture of your helpless child connected to multiple tubes and beeping machines has the power to undo you. You leave your child in the hands of others, as you go home and spend a night of torture not knowing what awaits you in the morning. So, as I said goodbye to my daughter every night before going home, I kept on asking myself, ‘How did other mothers maintain their sanity in such experience?’. Unfortunately, many mothers end up with their newborns in the hospital for weeks, months or years in some instances. Here is how I kept my sanity in those two weeks.

The number of machines your child is connected to especially if your child is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be frightening. Being well informed about the situation such as learning about how things work in there, details of your child’s medical condition from the doctors and nurses, time of medication and daily updates helps in settling your mind. The nurses, because they care for your child every day, are the best people to ask any questions you might have. Since that experience, I regard nurses very highly.

The first night I spent at home after being discharged from the hospital was pure hell. I broke down looking at my reflection in the mirror just because the breast pump was not working properly then I sobered up and lifted myself up to keep on trying. My daughter depended on me so I had to be strong and breast milk was one of the most important things she needed to get well. An emotional breakdown is expected in such a situation but you have to find your strength and soldier on to help your child. It is okay to cry but don’t let the situation take over you.

There are hopeful days where you see your child getting well and then there are gloomy moments where you lose hope. It is good to have a strong partner or family member around you to keep you uplifted through the trying moments. You can also create your own mesh of ‘mothers in crisis group’ in the hospital who have the power to make you laugh as they are going through the same journey.

I also learned to ignore unsolicited advices. You understand people mean well when they offer an advice but how is ‘If only you had enough breast milk.’ going to help your already stressed mind?  So, ignore politely and move on. Yes, there are bills piling up and the doctors might not have positive news but try to focus on giving your best to your child.

In the end, we all have different experiences but we can agree that children are fighters. Ten months later, I write with my beautiful baby girl in my arms, happy and healthy. I always remember what one doctor said to me, that children are born to fight but we have to fight with them. My daughter fought and came out victorious. I don’t take that for granted.

This first appeared on The Standard on 12 March 2017

 

Hellen and Nara

I interview mothers for a small section titled Baby and Me on The Standard. But because of the small space most interviews are cut short therefore, I am posting this one here because I believe there is some lesson to learn from Hellen and Nara.

Hellen is a champion mother of three children. Her last born Nara, a beautiful bubbly soul, is 20 months old. Nara was recently discharged from months of occupational therapy for seizure disorders. Hellen runs an online business and a support group for parents with special needs children.

E: What do you remember about the day you had her?

Hellen: I was thrilled because I had always wanted to have a baby girl since my first two children are boys.

E: How did you choose her name?

Hellen: Her aunt, who is also her godmother, chose the name. I fell in love with it when I heard the meaning. Nara means the bringer of happiness, in the Native American (Red Indians) language. It also has a special connection because she is half Indian.

E: How did you learn about her condition?

Hellen: She had her first convulsion when she was only 10 days old. She was hospitalized and after numerous tests, she was diagnosed with Seizure disorders, episodes of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, which was caused by lack of oxygen to the brain during birth. We were advised to start Occupational therapy and medication of which we have followed religiously. Fortunately, Nara has now overcome the condition.

E: How has the journey been?

Hellen: It started with fear and lack of information. I have had to learn and research from my best friend, Google, to understand and ask for the correct medical and physiological help. But that determination to understand and find a solution to Nara’s neurological condition enabled me to reach out to other parents through my organization, Challenged With Hope. Parents in the group support each other, share ideas, school and doctors referrals and also professionals to understanding better ways of helping their kids and themselves.

E: Three words that describe Nara.

Hellen: Charming, sweet and very mischievous

E: Most challenging moment?

Hellen:Well, when Nara was only four months, she had to wear leg braces for 23 hours a day. Whenever I was putting it on, the look in her eyes would tear a cut in my heart. Tracking her milestones has also been difficult but she is on the right track now.

E: What are her favorite things?

Hellen: She loves her bath time, walking in the garden, being outdoors, other babies and helicopters.

You can follow Hellen on her Facebook page called Challenged with Hope .

Some parts  of this interview first appeared  on The Standard on 26 February 2017

Cow milk allergy or lactose intolerance?

Cow milk allergy is one of the most common food allergies children experience before the age of three. Its symptoms are usually confused with lactose intolerance but they are indeed two different things.

Cow milk allergy is the body’s reaction to the protein in a cow’s milk. The immune system tries to fight of the protein by releasing chemicals which trigger the allergic reaction. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, happens when the body fails to produce the lactase enzyme to digest the lactose ( sugar) in milk.

Since CMA affects the immune system, the symptoms are serious and the only way to prevent it is by avoiding any food that contains cow milk even if it is a small amount. The most common symptoms are

  • Vomit/reflux
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Itchy rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Crying and restless sleep.

Symptoms for lactose intolerance are not life threatening but still stressful for a child. When the lactose remains in the body without being digested, it creates gas and acid which causes bloated tummy, tummy ache and diarrhea among others. The discomfort is easily avoidable by providing lactose free milk or dairy products that have less lactose like yogurt.

Most children may outgrow both conditions after a few years but a child that was born lactose intolerant, will most likely live with it.  But until they outgrow, great care must be taken while preparing food. You have to pay attention to detect the symptoms and know what you are dealing with.

Fortunately, there are allergy tests that are done to understand which condition your child has as well as multiple options to replace cow milk.

Disclaimer*

I am not a medical professional and speaking from personal experience only. Please advice your doctor if you notice any symptoms before doing anything.

This first appeared on The Standard on 5 March 2017

Plastic teeth…Fad or fact?

Have you heard of the plastic teeth? Apparently when children are born with visible teeth (one or two) through the gum or they develop them early, they are called ‘plastic teeth’ and must be removed. The traditional belief is that they will bring bad omen and the child will succumb to illness and die soon. The latest (and improved) belief I heard is that it is false and will come off when the real primary teeth grows which may cause choking and other problems.

Traditional doctors or some mothers use harsh methods to remove the ‘plastic teeth’ which has caused some children to go unders serious health problems. You may be surprised to know that many mothers ask (yes, in 2017!) where to go to in Nairobi to remove this bad omen.

According to health professionals, (and our common sense too)  it is perfectly normal for a child to be born with white teeth showing through the gum. It is also common for some children to teeth before six months. It is also good to mention here that some children get small abscess or swelling on the gum while they are teething which can also be seen as ‘plastic teeth.’

Children develop at different rates and with various experiences thus we should not absorb everything we are told. Filter and ensure the genuinity of every information you hear from others either from multiple people, especially medical professionals before acting on the advice.

For further information please visit this page.

This first appeared on The Standard on 5 March 2017

The ABCs of vaccinations

This first appeared on The Standard on 26 February 2017

You have most likely heard that vaccines contain a weakened antigen causing the disease you are protecting yourself from. But do you know how they work? Let me save you the trouble – when your child gets vaccinated, the body interprets the vaccine to be the disease and the immune system is stimulated to create antibodies to fight it. Here are more interesting facts about vaccination for your child.

Do you know that the common Kenyan practice of giving painkillers to the baby before vaccination is not recommended? Research suggests that it could interfere with the immune response to the vaccine. It is recommended to give the painkiller after the jab to deal with the side effects of vaccines such as fever.

Hold your baby while they are administering the shots – Instead of putting the baby down, it is better to hold them to help minimize the pain. Breastfeeding afterwards or offering a sweet pacifier are proven ways of easing the sting.

Swelling and oozing pus on the vaccination area – This is common for BCG vaccination – against tuberculosis which is given before the baby leaves the hospital after birth. It is perfectly normal and you should not rub the swelling as it will heal on its own after leaving a scar.

Baby friendly vaccinations – these are basically the same as the government  offered types but with fewer side effects. They are available at private health institutions. If you have a medical insurance cover, find out if they cover them as they are a bit pricey.

 

Source: sciencebasedmedicine.org

The price of being a working mom

Motherhood penalty? Heard of it? Lived through it? Apparently it is the loss new mothers encounter at the workplace for the time off with their little ones in the form of reduced earnings, trainings or promotions. But to what extent does this balance off with the social gains one makes for being a mother?

From my limited experience with working mothers, the most challenging thing most of them share is the lack of work-family balance and the guilt that usually comes with it. To succeed in motherhood and career building requires massive time investments. But your time is finite.

It thus becomes a delicate balancing act to achieve optimal success as a mother and a career person. It is not just being a biological mother who hands over the baby to house helps but also a nurturer, spending sufficient time with the baby. On the same beat, it is also not just about being a professional who just shows up in the office waiting for the clock to tick you home and bring with it a paycheck. It is about innovative engagements and problem solving initiatives. Achieving these two is simple said than done. But it is worthy the trial, precisely because the satisfaction of bringing up a family while being economically independent is the ultimate measure of success.

Securing a reliable support system around you in both the workplace and family-space is vital. This allows you to give your best while at home, you can give full attention to your family and while at the workplace, you can execute your duties diligently. Try not to bring your work home or family related issues to the office.

As with all social balances, be smartlook for ways around the workplace which can give you more time with your family. For example, negotiate with your office to have a day off by working extra hours for the remaining days, or take calls in the traffic instead of at home, cook over the weekend, dedicate a family time every week, etc.

Every decision comes with an associated opportunity cost and you can not avoid making a choice between the two mutually exclusive alternatives.

However, don’t feel guilty for dedicating time to something you value. Motherhood should be recognized as an achievement in life not a setback on your career.

This first appeared on The Standard on February 26, 2017

O sleep, where art thou?

You can breastfeed, cook and make calls as well as go for a short call simultaneously (yes, you can. I have done that) but one thing you cannot do with a newborn is get enough sleep. Much as newborns are said to sleep for long hours, their sleep patterns are so haphazard that as the parent you have to keep vigil all through.

You find yourself waking up every other hour to change the diaper or feed the baby and help them burp. (Burp! that is another story altogether). Before you go back to sleep, they are up again.This in effect spins a new mum’s sleep pattern, which just a few weeks ago was long, deep and abundant. What is not easily observable though is how this affects your very wellness as a mum.

When you are sleep deprived, you are the most dreadful person to be around with. You are extremely tired, lacking concentration, very grumpy and moody, forgetting which breast you last fed your baby with or you forget to put it back in your bra (if you happen to be wearing one). You might even dislike that beautiful baby in your hands for a few seconds, who is giving you the ‘Mommy, I have a beautiful idea! Let us swim to India’ look at 3:07am. In short, you are miserable.

There is lack of sleep and there is sleep deprivation. The later happens when you have four or five nights of broken sleep which for a mother of a newborn is the way of life for months. Since caffeine and sleeping pills are unthinkable at this stage here are simple things you can do until they are able to sleep for longer hours, which means you too.

Sleep when your baby sleeps

During the day – Yes, the house is a mess and you have to reply to all those messages but all that can wait. Please sleep. If you are back to work from maternity leave, try squeezing time from your busy schedule to nap even if for a few minutes after lunch.

During the night –  try taking a glass of warm milk to help you go back to sleep after feeding baby. A few drops of lavender oil on your pillow can also help to relax you.

Try relaxing exercises

A simple stretching exercise for a few minutes will do miracles to your system and energize your body. You can even take a walk or dance with your baby as they enjoy the movement too.

Ask for help

You cannot take care of your baby if you are not fit. Accidents can happen when you are feeling drowsy. Don’t be shy to ask for help be it from your busy husband, relatives or friends. Try to have a me-time for a few minutes either in the bath or on the bed when your baby is with someone else.

(This first appeared on The Standard on July 31, 2016)

What I wish I knew before I had my baby

I think if I was to prepare for everything in life like I prepared for my child, I would be a very successful person. The unknown world of parenting was scary that I read and read and asked around until my mind could handle. But if I could meet myself a few months ago, I would tell her these.

You don’t need a lot of baby stuff especially clothes

The word ‘receiving blanket’ has become a family joke in our house because I kept on nagging my husband that we do not have a receiving blanket yet and the baby is due any minute. Little did I know that was already in the house, four to be exact. Kids outgrow clothes fast and all those cute clothes you see in the stores, you don’t need to buy. Keep things basic. The bed, stroller, bouncer, play mats… are also not things you will need right away.

Having a baby will change you and your relationship with your partner

Running an errand will not be a simple task anymore so will every outing. It will require planning. You will find yourself putting your child ahead of everything and thinking through things. And all those sweet times you spent alone with your partner will be on hold for a while until you get used to parenting and learn to dedicate time to yourselves. It will change how you look at each other and it is upto you to make that change for the better.

Every child is different

Don’t worry if your child is not hitting milestones like other children his/her agemates or even your other children. Every child is different and will grow in his/her own pace.

The first three months will be tough

You will be sleep deprived, cranky, tired, leaking fluids from everywhere but it will all be alright.

You need a mommy friend

Someone who has gone through this process comes in handy. Then you can call at an ungodly hour and ask if the color of your baby’s poop is normal or if the yellow spit up is just milk. (Thank you Jane!)

This first appeared in The Standard on 11 September 2016

Lipase enzyme

A few weeks ago, I tried bottle feeding my daughter the milk I had expressed for the first time. She did not refuse it but she was not enthusiastic about it either. I was curious because I knew she was hungry. Therefore, I tasted the milk myself and it tasted and smelled like spit up milk. I thought that packet must have gone bad and opened a recently expressed milk which ended up being the same way. I was devastated looking at the stash I had in my freezer and started researching online. I found out that I might be suffering from excess lipase in my milk. Let me save your curiosity.

What is Lipase Enzyme?

Lipase is an enzyme that breaks down dietary fats into smaller molecules called fatty acids and glycerol. In another term it simply helps your child digest your milk. Some mothers have excess lipase in their milk which makes the milk taste and smell bad after sometime. Milk with excess lipase is safe to drink as long as your child is okay with it. But some will not like the taste.

What can you do?

There is a process called scalding the milk, which deactivates lipase from breaking down the fats  faster. Once you have expressed your milk,  scald the milk immediately, which is to heat the milk until you see bubbles forming on the corners of your container but not boiling. Then you quickly let it cool and freeze until use. This process will affect the nutritional value of the milk but if your child breastfeeds often it will not be a problem.

Disclaimer*

Before making this conclusion, make sure your milk storage containers are sterilized and your freezer is working well. I am not a medical professional, only sharing my experience. Since there are other reasons to milk smelling off, consider visiting a doctor.

 This first appeared in The Standard on 23 October 2016