Perfect Night’s Sleep

Perfect Night’s Sleep

Sleep. The number one thing that most mums yearn for more of. What if you could bottle it, hey?

Well…I think that NEOM Organics are pretty much there with their Sleep range including new gorgeous skincare which has launched this year.

I’ve been a fan of NEOM for years – it’s my husband’s failsafe for birthday and anniversary presents. When I escaped for a 4-day yoga retreat in Ibiza with my best friend for our 40th birthdays, I took with me the Sleep set including pillow spray and hand cream and, I swear… I still fantasise about that 4-night sleep, it was bloody amazing. Every night I spritzed my pillow, put in earplugs, and BOOM (or…something that sounds more restful than boom…), a whole night of restful rejuvenating proper actual sleep awaited me. It was honestly the best few days of sleep I can ever recall in my life (although, ok, I hadn’t slept for longer than 2 hours for 15 months by this point so my benchmark might have been fairly low, lolz) . I still find the Neom Sleep scent so powerful for conjuring up immediately that memory of calm and peace in an instant. Aaaaahhhhhh. Ibiza, here I come…

So, I’m completely delighted to be able to announce that I’m going to be part of the NEOM wellbeing expert panel as their Mums Wellness & Pilates expert.

I’ve been using the Sleep range fairly religiously for the past month to counterbalance the relentlessness of being mum of two wonderful and bonkers boys… who appear not to need as much sleep as I feel is just and right for my life (deep sigh).

When I had my first baby my skincare routine went out the window…and that was part of my real loss of identity because up until this point I had been bordering on obsessed about my skincare…and suddenly no time (let alone sleep) was devoted to beauty. I became really craggy and there was certainly no radiance to speak of – no glow from within as if a light had been switch off. This really affected my self esteem and became a bit of a negative cycle of loss of identity and self love: loss of self care strategies led me to feel I wasn’t worth self care strategies as there was no point as I had so far to go to get “back to normal”.

I’ve since learnt that I really need to access this part of myself, looking after my skin and the face that faces the world, in order to feel “like me”. So when Freddie my littlest was born I chose to make time every night to cleanse properly and give myself a facial massage.

Do you use face oils? What’s your skincare regime – do you have one? Lots of people are a bit nervous of putting oil onto their face, worried that it will make their skin feel greasy, but it really doesn’t. It feels gorgeous and indulgent… Oils can actually help to stabilise and regulate the overproduction of sebum.

The Perfect Night’s Sleep facial oil contains a beautiful blend of skin-nurturing essential oils. Rosehip oil which is bursting with nourishing fatty acids to help with skin’s moisture levels, pigmentation. It’s an incredible antioxidant and one of the best ingredients to help dry skin emerge blinking with a glow after this long winter. Almond oil softens, calms and helps retain moisture.

The oil is super relaxing, smells sublime and a dream to massage into skin. I love it – It’s the perfect blend for a mini facial.  I use it after my nightly cleansing routine, just before bed. It’s my evening ritual to pamper myself and “reset” my skin (or my nerves after a frazzled day!).

Depending on how dry my skin is, or how dull or tired it looks (hmm, let’s not discuss that too deeply right now…), I put anything from two to six drops in the palm of my hand, take a few lungfuls of calming deep breaths, fully inhaling the sleep-inducing fragrance of the oils. Then I rub the oil between my hands to warm it up, and give my face a really good massage. I like to work it deeply into the skin with enough pressure to stimulate circulation which is really nourishing for glowing skin. A good facial massage increases the blood supply to the face, giving it a healthy glow. It also helps relieve tension from your facial muscles which we hold onto without even realising (bitchy resting face, anyone?). Massage can even help increase muscle tone and strength. Daily facial massage can work wonders for your skin, plus it’s immensely calming as a ritual before bed – win win.

I have a bedtime routine, what’s yours? I mean, we do for our children so why not for ourselves, right? Do you have a bedtime night time routine which helps you release the pressures of the day, switch off – and sleep better?

Modern life (and technology) makes it so hard to fully switch off, plus I work from home, so often the work/life balance falls well out of kilter. So I’m now much more conscious of making sure I have a non-negotiable routine in place that helps me unwind before bed. Last year I stopped taking my phone into the bedroom – this means I don’t look at Instagram or emails right before falling asleep – scrolling is never conducive to a good night’s rest with no anxiety! My phone lives in the kitchen, and quite frankly who needs an alarm clock when your children are always up by 6am?!

Soothing and calming scents (lavender, chamomile, jasmine) transport my mind and body instantly towards sleep mode, so I love NEOM body oils and lighting a candle in the bedroom in the hour before bed. Before laying my head on the pillow I use the pillow spray and have a few minutes of deeeeeeeep breathing, calming the mind. I don’t call it my “meditation practice” but clearing the mind by taking a broom to sweep out anxiety and clutter is meditation and definitely lays the foundations for a better night.

If I’ve got a bit more time to play with for my evening routine, I always use magnesium salts or Neom’s Perfect Night’s Sleep Bath & Shower Drops in a lovely hot bath.

For the past 15 years I’ve used hot cloth cleansing balms such as Eve Lom, Organic Pharmacy carrot butter cleanser, and Neals Yard Therapies Wild Rose Beauty Balm as a staple in my cleansing and evening self care routine. So it was pretty much a given that I was going love the new Neom Sleep cleansing balm.

This is my ritual every night. Every night – however much motherhood mayhem is going on. It prepares me mentally for bed and means I sleep better (even if that sleep is interrupted by renegade small people it can still be a restful overall experience if I gift myself this pre-bed time) and my skin definitely looks better. It makes me feel calmer and more ready to face the world, carving out just that non-negotiable 7 minutes of s p a c e. And it lays the foundation for realising that self care is the least selfish thing in the world – when I’m calmer I’m a much, MUCH nicer person to be around.

Tell me about your sleep rituals! What do you do to stay rested and sane?

I’d love to hear

Xxx

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Returning to “normal” post-baby

Returning to “normal” post-baby

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  • You have a baby. You take it relatively easy for the first 6 weeks, maybe doing the odd squeeze of your pelvic floor (clenching your buttocks hopefully and raising your eyebrows?) when you remember/can be bothered, but you’re itching to get back into it and “lose the baby weight”, “get your body back”. Pictures of Kardashians pinging back into their pre-baby shape make you feel like you’re lagging behind, being lazy, stuck somehow “doing nothing” under your baby when there are other more important things to do. You feel like 6 weeks is a LIFETIME before you can be “signed off as back to normal” and ready to get stuck into regular activity, sign me up for baby Zumba now please!
  • Even if you’ve been “signed off” at your 6-week check, this should be seen as the START line of the marathon of your body healing itself, not the finish line. Your 6-week check is often cursory and currently skips over some fundamentals of your healing.
  • The 6-week check usually marks the formal end of maternity care, and you may think woo hoo I’m good to go, hot baby spinning Zumba here we come! – but at six weeks your body is not yet healed. Too often the GP only has time to offer you a quick glance and doesn’t ask you in depth about pelvic floor healing or check your abdominals for separation (see below). So you shouldn’t take it as read that you’re now all clear to get into high impact exercise – particularly if you weren’t an avid exerciser before pregnancy.
  • Six weeks leaves just enough time for your organs to settle back to their original position once baby has evacuated that space, and the first stage of soft tissue healing. And potentially it takes much, much longer if you’ve had a caesarean. It can take several months for the abdominal and pelvic muscles to recover fully, and for the connective tissue to completely firm up. Your body is healing, there is so much going on under the skin that you can’t see, it needs nurturing and kindness.
  • Running and HIIT exercise appeals to mums because it requires no equipment, costs nothing, and can be crowbarred fairly easily into a suddenly-chaotic yet full-of-nothing-much day. You think getting back into it will make you feel great, lose all the weight, find your mojo. And it might. There’s no doubt about the importance of exercise for wellbeing. But going straight into high impact activities like running if “my 6-week check was fine” (did the doctor specifically say anything about exercise?) may not be the best plan for your long term healing.
  • Breathing is the most crucial starting point for your recovery, physically and mentally. Sooo boring, right? Well, your breathing enables you to release tension and anxiety, to allow your body space to recover from your birth experience, to move you from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest” mode. Breathing is intrinsically connected with the efficacy of your abdominals and pelvic floor, as the diaphragm has to learn how to communicate with your pelvic floor now that your baby is no longer hogging the space between them. Breeeeathe, wide and full into your belly, allow your diaphragm to fully descend and open and it will stimulate the conversation between the pelvic floor with its symmetrical rise and fall motion. It’s the most overlooked healing tool we have: it’s free, you’re doing it anyway might as well make it count, it doesn’t take any extra time ladies.
  • Diastasis whatsi? Diastasic recti – abdominal separation. Your rectus abdominis – your six-pack muscle, has separated during pregnancy due to stretching of the linea alba ‘fascia’, the connective tissue that holds the two bands of muscle together, sort of like unzipping at the front. Trying to flatten the mum tum with sit ups is not the solution as it will make the separation worse. We need to strengthen the deeper stabilising muscles: the pelvic floor, your corset muscle the transversus abdominis, and, fundamentally, get the diaphragm firing properly with proper breathing.
  • I’ll say it again because it’s so important: NO SIT-UPS. NO CRUNCHES. NO PLANKS. These are strictly contra-indicated in the early months of your postnatal recovery, due to weaknesses caused by abdominal separation – and if you’ve never been checked for ab separation, this rule applies for years after postnatally. If you’ve got diastasis it is going to cause problems however “new” or old a mum you are. ‘Ab exercises’ cause an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn increases the load placed on your weakened pelvic floor – sort of like building a loft extension on top of a house where you’ve knocked down a load-bearing wall. It’ll cause back pain, may exacerbate pelvic floor problems, it’ll make your foundation weaker not stronger.
  • If you do go to a buggy running-type group, or attend any fitness group in the year after your baby, your instructor MUST check your abdominals for separation and at the very least ask you in detail about your birth experience, how your pelvic floor is feeling, whether you experienced pelvic pain during your pregnancy. If the PT or instructor omits any of these essential postnatal duty-of-care issues, and particularly if they launch into AB EXERCISES, planking, sit-ups, leg lowers, flat tummy exercises etc., DO NOT DO THIS CLASS. Run, run away (slowly and with care).
  • Bum deal. Your pelvis has taken most of the burden of carrying your baby and probably also provided the exit route, so we need to give it some strong scaffolding. Hormones are still flooding your system, which keep your ligaments and joints unstable for up to nine months (and if you are breastfeeding, potentially longer), so it’s important to regain strength in your glute muscles, in order to stabilise your lower back and hips. If they aren’t firing on all cylinders you’re more likely to experience low back pain or have issues with your hips, knees and ankles. Strong bums are particularly important if you want to ultimately get back into high-impact movement such as HIIT and running…or just lifting and day to day craziness with your minis – I mean, that can be a HIIT workout in itself, right?
  • Posture matters. Everything hinges on your alignment in terms of your body systems working effectively post-birth. No amount of pelvic floor exercise will be truly effective if your alignment is poor and you’re not breathing fully. You do a lot of lifting and bending when you have small children and it’s important to soften and balance your body – especially if you are breastfeeding.
  •  I wet myself! LOL! IT’S NOT FUNNY. The main thing to remember about your pelvic floor after birth is that you should not suffer in silence, or laugh it off. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that pelvic floor issues get better if they are ignored. If you are struggling with pain, discomfort, lack of sensation, a feeling of heaviness or ‘bearing down’, or even if things simply don’t feel ‘normal’ – not asking for help and laughing it off only means that the problem will definitely get worse over time.
  • Think about your 70-year old self and how you want her to feel. There is a real risk of pelvic organ prolapse postnatally, and it is so important to strengthen your pelvic floor to increase your chance of avoiding this, particularly if you want to have more children. If you feel any sensation of your insides ‘falling out’, do not ignore this. A prolapse is when the uterus, bowel or bladder descends into the vagina. Go to your GP and ask to be referred to a women’s health physio.
  • I had a C-section, pelvic floor exercises don’t apply to me. Sadly you don’t get let off the hook. Your pelvic floor has provided a neat pillow, punch bag and trampoline for your baby for 9 months. It needs some attention even if it didn’t serve as the exit turnstile.
  • Whatever birth you had, start your pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible. The sooner the better. BUT IT’S NEVER TOO LATE. So start now. NOW. If you had a perineal tear, whatever grade, begin these exercises without delay, as they’ll promote healing, send blood circulation to the area, reduce swelling, increase sensation and help you to regain your strength and function.
  • To do your pelvic floor exercises correctly: lift your back passage – imagine you are trying to stop breaking wind – then travel the engagement forward as if you want to stop the flow of wee, squeeze and lift forward and up.
  • Try not to hold your breath: lift up with an exhale, and then allow the entire pelvic floor to fully open, soften and relax on the inhale. Do a few repetitions, slowly and intentionally, a few times every day with this breath pattern. Then progress to doing some quickly. Squeeze and repeat 10 times, breathing normally without holding your breath, and always fully releasing and resting with an inbreath at the end.
  • Remember that when you lift your pelvic floor there should be no clenching or tension anywhere else: bum, shoulders, jaw, inner thighs. It’s an internal engagement. A strong pelvic floor is the key to healing your mum tum.
  • Look at the Squeezy app for more guidance and information about pelvic floor exercise.
  • Pilates is a perfect postnatal activity to strengthen your core and bum, to release tension – but it has to be the right kind of Pilates. Check your instructor has experience and the right credentials for working with mums.
  • Yoga is brilliant to. But as above.
  • Swimming is low impact yet surprisingly challenging, and meditative – just keep swimming just keep swimming just keep swimming….
  • And walking. Especially in green spaces. Walking is very healing and strengthening.
  • Your postnatal mojo is so linked to how your body FEELS and how you’re functioning. If you’re weeing when you exercise, or even when you cough and sneeze, that’s going to make you feel like shit, and make you scared to speak up about it or to continue to exercise, which perpetuates a negative cycle for your wellbeing.
  • Depletion in body: make no mistake, pregnancy withdraws all you got. It takes you well into your overdraft of energies, nutrients, minerals, strength. And then you don’t often choose to make deposits back into your account once baby is out (the “bounce back”!).
  • Your gut health may well be affected by your birth experience – antibiotics, caesarean birth – which will compromise your absorption of nutrients from your food. And crucially, may compromise your production of serotonin – the hormone of JOY, which is largely produced in the gut and therefore arguably could be one of the missing links in some out of the blue experiences of postnatal depression.
  • You’re not sleeping well, and probably not drinking enough water so you’re dehydrated. And you may only be eating toast, biscuits and mainlining coffee anyway, so your poor gut doesn’t have that much to work with.
  • Postnatal depletion is not depression. But it can make you feel generally a bit meh and crap. Which lends itself to becoming depression if left unchecked over time. The most basic form of selfcare is to tell yourself that you matter, to feed and water yourself adequately. How do you FEEL? Are you strong? Are you strong enough to carry a toddler in your dungarees like a sling for a mile when they refuse to go in the buggy?
  • It’s normal not to feel amazing all the time. But if it’s affecting your every day and you just feel “not right”: this is the tipping point. Check your PHYSICAL needs today: drink enough water, breathe properly and fully – this will be affecting your mind and spirit too. Our body image is so intrinsic to our happiness and identity, and postnatally this can take a real kicking.
  • It takes time to heal and regain your strength, you are only human, you’re not a Kardashian. It’s not frivolous to prioritise you and getting your body back safely and effectively. If you return to sit-ups, planks, running, HIIT too soon you can do more harm than good.
  • So ladies please: drink enough water, remember to breathe, and if you’re at all worried, ask your GP to refer you to a women’s health physiotherapist. Look after YOU!

Rebirth post-caesarean

Rebirth post-caesarean

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This month is Caesarean awareness month.

First time round, I had that blissful naivety that as long as you “planned” your birth, in the organised and methodical manner that you planned other stuff in your life, and you were “relaxed enough”, everything would be great. I hadn’t yet learnt the very fundamental motherhood lesson that, from the moment you see those lines on the pregnancy test, this is a ride on the rapids. You can research everything about rapids riding before you get in that canoe, but essentially most of the time you’ll just have to cling on and get swept along. My first birth was my first, indelible, lesson in this fact.

I wanted a “beautiful”, calm birth, where the baby arrived when it chose to, emerging with a hearty wail as it took its first breath and was delivered straight to mummy’s breast. Doesn’t everyone…? While we’re fantasising, it would have been great to have looked instagrammably radiant to pose for pictures afterwards too…

My reality was slightly different. Maurice didn’t seem to want to come out, he was quite happy slumbering inside…it turned out my placenta was failing and he wasn’t thriving, so probably simply didn’t have the oomph to try to push and squiggle his way out.

Induction at nearly 42 weeks preggers was followed by a 2-day labour, and Maurice’s heartrate slowed dangerously – a sound that is imprinted in my soul. Nothing in my mental preparation had imagined my birthing room being suddenly rushed by medical staff with such a sense of urgency, being sped down a corridor on a trolley so that you can be prepped for surgery and have your baby pulled out within 15 minutes of the call being made. He wasn’t breathing when he was born, and the following minutes of waiting to see how the dice rolled remain pretty much the worst of my life.

He was very tiny due to my grumpy placenta’s failure – everyone thought he was a premmie at a scrawny 5lb 12. I was also very ill, and couldn’t touch him for the first 8 hours of his life, which meant that his first days were fraught and filled with fear and tears which set the tone for our breastfeeding journey and first challenging months.

Hello, ripeness for PND and PTSD anyone?

Quite apart from the physical, there is a huge mountain of emotional issues that confront you after a caesarean, particularly if it’s been an emergency and you maybe hadn’t allowed yourself to contemplate it as an option prior to the event – a c-section would be a cop out, a failure, right? We set our expectations on each other and ourselves unbearably high throughout this birth and motherhood party.

I talked to many caesarean mamas in the aftermath and there was a common theme, that with emergency C-sections particularly, you have a sense that, although you have a baby, you didn’t actually give birth to him. Like your body has let you down completely, and that you’re a bit of a failure, you didn’t do it “right”. Particularly if you allow yourself to feel jealous/envious of other friends who can recount “perfect” birth stories involving steady progression and dilation, birth pools and no drugs (albeit also a lot of screaming, swearing and threatening to jump out the window no doubt…), where the natural order is preserved and things are as they should be.

For me, my frightening and shocking caesarean birth laid the foundations for the spectrum of PND and PTSD which influenced and framed the early months/year of motherhood. Heightened anxiety, painful feelings of bitterness and anger when hearing of better birth experiences, that everything was a barb intended towards me and my failure to get any of this right. Feeling like suddenly I had been stripped of a protective top layer and was exposed and sensitive to anything thrown at me. Thrown in with an unhappy (similarly traumatised?) colicky baby who cried all the time and didn’t sleep at all like “newborns are supposed to”, there are potential dangers of feeling more than a little bit of the “baby blues” in this time.

The wound heals and the scars eventually fade: it’s the emotional healing that is the challenge in the long term. This kind of experience tends to be locked down into your fibres and lead to physical aches and tensions even if you no longer acknowledge it as a current influence. If not addressed, it gets packed down under many layers, but distantly, constantly remembered in your muscular and emotional tissue. That pain in your neck, the dull ache you have in your pelvis.

If you’ve had a difficult birth experience, you can be left thinking, “I wish I’d done this instead”, and this can lead to ruminating over the same parts of the birth that you are unhappy with. “I wish I’d said this…”, “I could have done more”, “I could have tried harder”. Underneath these thoughts can be the core belief, “I’m weak”. It can be helpful to think about the birth in a different way. Were there times during the birth when you showed warrior strength, no matter how small? Some women describe trying to move or speak (even if they couldn’t due to medication) or trying to control their own minds – by taking it out of the situation, shifting their focus or telling themselves, “It’ll be over soon.”

Accepting the birth story that you had is essential, and reconciling yourself to the way it turned out, not comparing it to other “better” experiences, and embracing it as a legitimate birth as any other. Letting go of any fear, anger and disappointment that might have unfurled from the experience, and living in the present, the success.

I personally decided to take it day by day, practise mindfulness, offer myself time to breathe regularly (as much as having children allows that…), to try and soothe the emotional wound as the physical was also gradually healing. It’s often only in retrospect that you fully understand the depth of an experience and can appreciate how much of a warrior you were to get through it all.

I powerfully believe in the remedial magic of Pilates – for strengthening after abdominal surgery it’s unrivalled but particularly post caesarean. But not to be underestimated is the emotional power of reconnecting to your body through movement and breathing, and rediscovering a faith in it which may have been lost.

The Supermum Myth is out now.

You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here