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.

**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.