Maternity Leave Must-Dos – Cardiff style

Ah to be pregnant for the first time. I eagerly wrote down all the things that I *would* be doing on my maternity leave. I even created a little rota! L wiped out most of my perfect plans, but I still had a baby bucket list of things that we had to rattle through on maternity leave. But pregnant me was drawn to the activities that had the glossiest adverts or seemed to be the best way to make mummy friends. I hadn’t really thought about what was the most beneficial for L and myself. Nearing the end of my maternity leave, I feel reasonably well informed on what activities I’d recommend for other mummies on maternity leave (and beyond) – and some lovely generous companies in Cardiff that offer these brilliant services.

Babywearing – I’ll be honest, I used to pull faces at mums I saw wearing their babies in funky coloured wraps. I wrote them off as alternative and not something that I would ever do. What if you fell on the baby?! But once I had L, I became aware of the incredible benefits of closeness and touch for newborn babies, particularly those born prematurely. I bought a cheap wrap off Amazon but I was far too nervous to use it on my little 4lb bundle without some professional advice. I stumbled upon the Carry Me Close Facebook page and our babywearing journey began. Julia runs a weekly sling library at Plum Tree Café (every Thursday 10-12pm) and she is a true expert on all things babywearing. She advised me on which slings were suitable for L’s weight until he grew big enough for the buckle carrier that I wanted. Julia also hosts excellent workshops to provide in-depth advice and demonstrations on safe babywearing. Wearing L really helped in the earlier days when he didn’t want to be put down – and he loves being nosey in his carrier as a bigger baby too.

Emotional support – although Cardiff has excellent perinatal support available through the NHS, it can take time for a referral to be accepted for those experiencing emotional difficulty in the postnatal period. Sometimes you just need a chat with someone who is facing the same feelings, an excuse to get out of the house or some 1:1 support. Charlotte Harding set up PMH Cymru to provide courses and activities for families at risk or those affected by perinatal mental illness. PMH Cymru runs mindfulness sessions, enjoy your bump/baby courses and weekly fitness classes. I attended the Enjoy Your Baby course and found it a great support to meet other mums feeling the same as me, alongside the practical advice that Charlotte offered.

Baby singing – babies love hearing their parents singing voices, regardless of their musical capability. I am still stunned that L is enthralled by my singalongs to Little Baby Bum as I certainly can’t hold a tune. But a quick Google of babies and singing brings up a plethora of articles explaining the benefits of rhyme to a baby. There are lots of opportunities to sing with your babies in Cardiff, but only one business promises ‘endless tea and biscuits’ (my kind of class!). Thulamama facilitates sessions of lullabies and inspirational singing for parents and babies. Always good to have some well-rehearsed lullabies in your repertoire for those sleepless nights!

Baby signing – every parent wishes they could understand what their baby was trying to tell them, particularly when you’ve been woken up for the tenth time in an evening. If I was starting my maternity leave again, I’d be interested in pursuing a baby signing class. My usual response to L’s cries is to breastfeed but I’m not so sure that is always necessarily the answer.  Tiny Talk uses British Sign Language to teach babies how to communicate their basic needs and more from an early age. The classes have a different theme each week and are structured with 30 minutes of signing followed by 30 minutes of socialising for mums and babies.

Baby sensory – I was SO excited when L was finally alert enough to engage in baby classes and understand different activities to awake his senses. We really are spoilt for choice in Cardiff with so many interactive classes for babies. Baby sensory classes are a great way to interact with your baby and spend quality time together (away from the distractions of coffee shops and the never ending washing basket at home). The first class we tried was a taster term of Tots Play – Kate fits so many different activities into a short session! Perfect for little one’s short attention span. Tots Play combines music, yoga, massage, physical play, baby sign language AND sensory play into one class. L particularly enjoyed the free play activities at the end with different textures and themes to explore each week.

We also enjoyed an excellent taster from Little Fizz at our last charity baby party. Liz is so energetic and her sessions include music, movement, parachute games, storytelling and sensory play and bubbles. Despite the young age of babies at the last party, they all (L included) love the parachute. There are also classes by Baby Sensory – with a self-explanatory name – which incorporates different sensory activities designed to support your baby’s sensory development every week. These classes regularly have a waiting list and mums I know have really enjoyed their term.

Swimming – I hesitated about booking swimming lessons for L because of the cost. I told myself that he wouldn’t know what was going on and I could take him swimming myself every week for a fraction of the cost. I had taken him to a taster when he was still small (but not young) and he cried for the whole thing. But months later, I still hadn’t taken L back to a pool. It was just impossible to commit without a big price tag motivating me to attend each week. I signed up for lessons when he was around 9 months old and we’ve never looked back. L is learning new skills every week and he seems to recognise our new routine. He kicks his legs and gets excited when I change him into his happy nappy, so cute. Puddle Ducks Cardiff currently has an offer for new customers to get 8 lessons for just £90 – bargain!

Mum and baby fitness classes – I met the amazing Claire from Yumi Yoga whilst I was pregnant with L and my hour at her classes each week did wonders for my anxiety levels. I used to try and schedule my trains back to Cardiff from London to allow me to attend one of her classes. So once L was home from NICU, we were enrolled onto her mum and baby yoga classes – and we’re now on our third term! Yumi Yoga classes are the perfect workout for new mums to do alongside babies, with plenty of exercises to help common postnatal problems (eg pelvic floor) and calming techniques for babies.

Cardiff mums are also lucky enough to be local to Samala, who founded Fitbump – a comprehensive pregnancy and postnatal training package. Fitbump provides classes, advice and structured exercises to support mums who want to stay fit, healthy and empowered with the right knowledge on their journey during into motherhood and beyond. Samala currently has a 2 week free trial for her online training programmes via the Fitbump website.

Mummy pampering – most Cardiff mums will have heard of Funky Little Chickens, the child-friendly salon to get little ones used the hairdressing scissors. But Funky Little Chickens also offers some well-deserved pampering for mums too! On Wednesdays Fiona hosts a range of holistic treatments including adult or child reflexology, Indian head massage or pregnancy massages. Sounds like bliss! If you can’t face entertaining the baby whilst in the salon seat, a mobile hairdresser can be the perfect solution. Emma Rose Hair Design is a well-recommended mobile hair dresser in the Cardiff area.

Making memories forever – new parents are always reminded to cherish the moment, babies will never be this small again etc etc. I look through the photos in my phone almost daily, wondering how my teeny tiny baby has grown so fast. My living room wall is pretty such a L shrine with various photos of him from NICU. But the special photos are the ones I had professionally taken – L was only 5lbs when we had our first photoshoot and the image of him in a little basket melts my heart. I can’t wait to book a shoot for his 1st birthday to celebrate how far he has come (over 5 times his birth weight!).

Catherine Booker Photography aims to encapsulate precious memories and describes her work as capturing real intimacy, real personalities, and real relationships to be turned into beautiful, natural, fully finished photographic works of art. Here are some gorgeous examples of her work:

Summonfire is another fabulous local business, run by Clare Wilson, who provides photography services (including adorable baby photoshoots), graphic design and website design.

A helping hand – by the end of a baby’s first year, most families will have accumulated far too much baby goods than you can reasonably hoard for another future child / just in case. There is a thriving market for staple baby items on sites such as Gumtree and quality branded baby clothing can sell for over half RRP on Facebook reselling sites. If reselling doesn’t suit you, a brilliant local charity called Cwtch Baby Bank will gladly take most items off your hands. The baby bank provides essential equipment, clothing, toys and toiletries for newborns and toddlers through referrals from social care, health professionals and other support agencies.

Celebrating –  a baby’s first birthday is a brilliant excuse for a party! If you decide to have a DIY party in a community or church hall, there are plenty of options to hire in entertainment to hire your guests. Party Fizz can provide ANY theme of your choice and will entertain children with anything from parachute games, bubble machines, musical games and percussion instruments. Or if you’d like children to explore at their leisure, Sharon’s Toyshare can provide a whole range of soft play equipment from mats, blocks, ball pits and cars. Perfect for your own private soft play (something I prefer to stop bigger babies knocking my little L over…) And something for the adults, why not treat yourselves to a gorgeous cupcake bouquet from LoLo’s Cake Away – an alternative to the traditional birthday cake.

And the best bit – ALL of the businesses listed in the blog have kindly offered their products as either taster sessions or raffle prizes at my third ‘Baby Party’ in Cardiff this Saturday! Please do come along to support the UHW Neonatal Unit and enjoy an action-packed day of baby and toddler fun.

On the day:

  • We will have taster sessions from Party Fizz, Fitbump by Samala, Thulamama and Tiny Talk.
  • Fi from Funky Little Chickens will be providing free reflexology and Indian head massage tasters for all the well-deserving parents attending.
  • Julia from Carry Me Close will be bringing along her vast sling library to help you find the perfect way to carry your baby
  • Hilary from Cwtch Baby Bank will be available to receive any donations for her worthy baby bank to help families in the local area
  • Charlotte from PMH Cymru will be on hand to provde information on the perinatal support her charity offers to all families in need
  • Sharon and her fabulous selection of soft play from Sharon’s Toyshare will be out for the babies to explore and enjoy

And enter our raffle on the day (£1 a strip) to win amazing prizes including:

  • A photoshoot worth £150 from Catherine Booker
  • A children’s haircut from Funky Little Chickens
  • A holistic treatment from Funky Little Chickens
  • A choice of prenatal/postnatal/baby massage voucher from Yumi Yoga
  • A sensory toy bag from Tots Play
  • A cupcake bouquet from LoLo’s Cake Away
  • A voucher for swimming lessons from PuddleDucks
  • A voucher from Emma Rose Hair Design
  • A photoshoot of winner’s choice from Summonfire
  • A £20 fuel voucher from Texaco Pentwyn
  • A voucher for free classes from Tiny Talk
  • A free term of classes from Baby Sensory

**I have not received any financial incentives or freebies for myself or L from the companies listed above. All businesses have been visited by me or recommended – they have kindly offered their services for free to support the UHW Neonatal Unit.

 

Cardiff city centre with a baby

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I’ve spent a good chunk of my maternity leave mulling how I can successfully combine a baby with a shopping trip to Cardiff city centre. I had visions during my pregnancy of wandering around town, long lazy afternoons drinking tea and meandering around the shops in the arcades that I’ve never had time to visit. And yes, you can do all of these things with a baby.  But the baby will probably be crying/bored/you can’t fit your buggy into that fancy tea shop with actual tea leaves.

Like most things baby-related, I’ve finally figured out the perfect solution right at the end of my time off. But mums with babies yet to be born, babes in arms and my fellow compressed-hours-having-it-all mums. Here is my formula for a perfect day shopping with baby in tow.

As all of those baby books gathering dust on our shelves tell us (particularly us preemie mums who had the baby before we could even pretend to read them), babies are so easy and have three basic requirements: to play, to eat and to sleep. Don’t skip a step – you want the magical period of sleep  last to get your shopping done or some precious ‘me’ time!

Play

It doesn’t matter if I spend all morning with L at a playgroup or hours of peek-a-boo, he will sleep in the car en route to town and expects entertainment in his new city-centre playground. I can usually get away with a little distraction from the bright lights in shops (Debenhams/John Lewis thank you) and looking at himself in the mirror of lifts (but as much as he’d enjoy it, I’m not riding lifts all day…plenty of time for that when I’m back in work!).

Rhymetime at Central Library is a fab, free way to entertain your baby for half an hour (10:30 on Wednesday and Thursdays). This is one of the better Rhymetimes that I’ve attended and you need to book in advance as it’s so popular. The lady who facilitates the session is great and makes a fuss of each child. All parents and children sit in a circle and it’s a nice cosy environment. Room on the sidelines for hangers on (dads/grandparents – me watching L’s dad moan about his legs being too long for the circle…). There is buggy bedlam by the lift, so if you’re precious about your buggy (like me) you will have to leave it unattended. I have made a mental note to leave it in the car and swap back from the carrier later (sad right, but I love our Bugaboo). Also means you avoid dashing off as soon as the last rhyme finishes to get in the lift first (also me).

The toddler area at House of Fraser (Howells) Restaurant is often mentioned on Cardiff Mums as THE thing to do when you’re in town. I had a lot of buggy faff trying to find it – it is NOT Café Zest, you need to go to the top floor. I can see the appeal for older toddlers but your child needs to be walking to really enjoy the facilities. I did manage to pass a bit of time showing L a xylophone but he mainly wanted to a) eat the filthy stick and b) get out of my arms and onto the floor.

Soft play at Queen’s Arcade is our winner. It is perfect! And free! The small area is located on the ground floor opposite Bravissimo (who did the best bra fitting I’ve ever had, FYI). It has some lovely bits for babies to play on, particularly a green tunnel with a dome at the top to see the ceiling. L loved lying in it and kicking his legs on the side. His face lit up as soon as I took him out of the buggy and put him on the padded floor – absolutely perfect for a leg stretch after being cooped up. Our last visit backfired slightly as he got too tired for lunch, but this is now a regular stop on our town trips. It is very quiet during weekdays. He enjoyed it as much as fancier soft plays that I’ve spent a few quid on, so well worth a visit.

Eat

Cardiff has loads of restaurants and cafes, so there is plenty of choice regardless of your feeding preferences. My priorities for L are a meal that we can both share, plenty of buggy room, helpful staff and suitable highchairs (he can’t sit in wooden high chairs or IKEA-style ones). After a few disasters with wooden highchairs (including falling THROUGH one!), I only ever go to one place for lunch in town with L.

Debenhams ticks all of our boxes, every time. A huge baby changing room with an adult toilet, two chairs and enough room to do a dance with your buggy if needed. A delicious carvery meal with generous portions, so I can feed L and not starve myself in the process. He loves nibbling on some meat, sharing my veg and I can spoonfeed him some mash if he’s feeling particularly lazy.  There are several high-back booths where I can breastfeed L without too many stares and he can kick about on the seat next to me if needed.  The buggy parks nicely alongside too. But the biggest perk for us is the wonderful baby cradles they offer (below), in addition to the normal (evil) wooden highchairs. The cradles are suitable for babies up to 20lbs and are simply perfect for L’s weird high-chair aversions. The staff are very helpful and always offer to take my tray to the booth/grab cutlery etc. They have plastic cutlery, a bottle warmer and microwave available for customer use too.

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Although not for us (highchair woes), I also had a good experience in Milk and Sugar (Windsor Place). Good range of healthy food that babies could share (sweet potato jacket was delicious) and the staff couldn’t do enough to help me with L.

Sleep

This is my ultimate goal in town – quality time with L, feeding us both and then a long nap for him to help with his brain development, protect his immune system…and time for me to chill. I personally try and get any shopping done asap so I can catch up on texts, read a book (ha – carry a book in my bag at least) or waste my time writing this blog. I’ve been on the hunt for a coffee shop with Wifi that actually works for months. I had some recommendations from a post on Cardiff Mums, but perhaps I’m just Wifi-challenged but I can’t get that bloody Cloud to work. Ever. It hates me. I just want somewhere with a comfy sofa, Earl Grey on tap and a bog standard Wifi like I have at home.

Through trial and error (and lots and lots of overpriced tea), I’ve finally found my spot. So please don’t steal my sofa when I share it with you…we love Coffee Heaven on St Mary’s St. The window tells me it’s an independent coffee shop, so no corporate tax guilt, and the Wifi is superb. Friendly staff, plenty of Bugaboo space and reasonably priced tea. If you avoid the lunchtime rush, it’s relatively quiet in the afternoon. They also have some seats outside on St Mary’s St – I can vouch for it being a suntrap as I’ve just squinted my way through most of this post on their patch. L has a 90% sleep success rate here but they do have wooden highchairs available and changing facilities if needed. But hey, follow my advice and you too can enjoy a child-free (ish) few hours in (Coffee) Heaven!

Amenities

Okay so I may have told a little white lie. Yes, L does sleep for hours in the afternoon when we go to town. But there are some other boring things we have to do along the way too. I’m probably repeating what you already know, but for anyone who’s planning a trip to Cardiff (does this mean you’ve found my blog on Google?!), here are some basics:

  • Parking – we tend to just splurge on the John Lewis car park, particularly if I have a lot to buy. It’s reasonably priced for a multi-storey car park and you pay-on-return which means you don’t have to wake up a napping baby. If I’m staying a long time or doing something the other end of town, we park at the Richmond Road pay-and-display bays as there are always spaces whatever time of day we arrive. We’ll usually do a quick loop around the side streets too as there is sometimes off-road spaces available for free.
  • Baby changing and toilets – Matalan has nice clean baby changing facilities, huge toilet rooms but I particularly like the big feeding pods. I have been known to use them to breastfeed L and then eat my lunch too (#budget). My mum has also used them to bottlefeed L (back in the amazing days when he’d actually accept a bottle…sob) as she felt comfortable being alone and concentrating on his feed. We’ve both had random people stumble into the pods though so not one for the conservative breastfeeder.
  • John Lewis also has good feeding facilities, with separate stalls and chairs. They do have signs for ‘bottle feeding’ and ‘breast feeding’ which I find a bit odd. We might do different things with our boobs but last time I checked we had the same bums to sit on a chair. And I always get irrationally concerned that I’ll get told off for breastfeeding in the bottle feeding seat.
  • The new JoJo Maman Bébé in Royal Arcade is very baby friendly and there is a nursing area just outside the changing rooms. They also have a large toilet with space for buggies. They also have a colouring table with crayons for older children. But don’t blame me if you end up buying something in there…inevitable.

Play, eat, sleep and enjoy your trip to the city centre!