Can pain be positive? Here’s a second-time mum’s perspective on managing pain during labour:

The birth of my second baby may not have been the smoothest ride (I ended up having an emergency caesarean; an article on that coming soon) but what I would say is that my ability to manage the pain of a fifteen hour labour on a regular labour ward improved exponentially between my first and second baby. Being someone who would shy away from any notion of any “birth plan”, and who found literature on preparing for birth and the plethora of choices facing birthing mothers completely overwhelming, I entered my first labour experience almost completely clueless, and although it went well overall, there was a lot I could have done better to manage —and even embrace— the pain.

You see, pain doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Years before I had children, I had gallstones, and anyone who has had them can vouch for the extreme, acute pain that they give you when you’re having an attack. It’s doubled-over, writhing on the floor, screaming in agony type pain. I ended up having several attacks before I was finally given an operation to remove my gallbladder, and with each one, I became better equipped to deal with the pain. And when I say ‘deal with the pain’ I don’t mean kill it. I mean sinking into some form of primitive, animalistic acceptance of the inevitability of pain, and roaring, groaning and breathing your way through it.

It sounds a bit ‘woo-woo’, but the prolonged, extreme pain I experienced during my gallstone attacks brought me closer than I had ever been to really feeling alive. All-consuming corporeal pain has the power to strip you completely of all the layers of human existence you thought were real and bring you right back to earth as the panting, sweating, grunting animal you really are. And because you’re so completely consumed with the physical reality that your body is getting an absolute battering, you don’t care that all those layers have been stripped back. The part of you that feels anxiety, embarrassment, guilt or fear is turned off, while the part of you that draws on generations of primaeval instinct to cope with the present is turned on. It’s raw, but it’s real.

It’s for this reason that I decided against an epidural to mask the pain of childbirth, and opted instead for a combination of Gas & Air and complimentary coping strategies. This is not to say that I have any judgement against those who do chose to go down epidural route! Every birth experience is different, and I can not for one second begin to judge how or why another person made the choice that they did. Like my first, I was induced for my second baby too, so if you’ve always thought that only ‘natural’ births can be empowering, consider that just because you have a medicated labour in a hospital setting (rather than a birthing pool, for example), it doesn’t mean you can’t be in control of how you handle the pain. As with my first baby, I didn’t have a ‘birth plan’ for my second, but there were a few little things I had in my armoury to help me to boss the experience. I hope they help you to too:

1. Bring a yoga ball to the hospital:

As well as being a comfy place to sit when you’re 40+ weeks pregnant, I found my yoga ball invaluable during labour and I would urge you to invest in one now! The upright sitting position it gave me, with my legs open outwards, my back straight and the pressure taken off my pelvis, made a HUGE difference to my pain levels versus lying down. Each time a contraction struck, as well as taking in Gas & Air and turning up my TENS machine, I would rock and rotate my pelvis on the yoga ball, pushing my bottom into it and gyrating until the pain passed.

Yoga balls are also supposed to be good in the weeks leading up to birth too, preparing your pelvis and helping to move the baby into the optimum position for delivery. I can’t vouch for whether or not that is true, but it is certainly comfortable when you reach the ‘waddling whale’ stage, so any any added benefits are a bonus!

Sat on the invaluable yoga ball, waiting for the next contraction.

2. Use the Gas and Air…properly!!

With my first baby, I suffered more than I needed to, purely because I couldn’t get a handle on how to use the Gas and Air (Entonox) properly. It’s the most readily available and side-effect-free pain relief available to you, so make sure you take full advantage! Having used it properly with my second baby, I can tell you, it bloody well takes the edge off, and it can even make you feel quite merry, so it’s well worth it, especially if you’re feeling a bit hard done by for having to give up drinking for 9 months (and more if you are planning to breastfeed!).

During labour with my first baby, I wasn’t breathing into the mouthpiece properly, so I was sucking in normal air rather than the drugs and wasn’t really benefitting from their pain-killing effects. With my second baby, there was no messing around, I knew what I had to do. Here’s what:

  1. As soon as you get set up with your labour bed and they give you your gas and air, take in some of that good stuff even before your next contractions come on, so that you’ve got some of that painkilling magic in your system before the next wave. This is especially important if you don’t know when your next contraction is coming, because Entonox takes about 20 seconds to work, so it’s good to have it swimming round your system at the ready. I had a mouthpiece with both births (rather than a mask) and you need to put the mouthpiece right into your mouth and inside both cheeks, close your lips and teeth around it to create a seal and then breath deeply and slowly through it, drawing your breath right through the whole thing. The mistake I was making during my son’s labour was that I was taking little sips of the Gas and Air, rather than using it as my sole source of oxygen -which is really the only way you’ll get the full benefit.
  2. Once you’ve breathed in as deeply as you can, don’t take the mouthpiece out to exhale; instead, breath out fully through the mouthpiece and then inhale again. It’s the same as scubadiving and breathing through a regulator, if you’ve ever done that, in that you breath in and out through your mouthpiece.
  3. Once you’ve got a good few deep lungfulls of Gas and Air in your system, you can ease off it for a bit until you feel your next contraction on its way. As soon as you become aware that another contraction is coming (either from the physical sensation, or from the ECG machine), get that mouthpiece back in there and take in long, slow, deep drags through the mouthpiece.
  4. When you breath out through the mouthpiece, you can also groan, moan, shout or scream through it on the outbreath too, without having to take it out of your mouth. This helps to ‘breath out’ the pain by vocalising it.
Go for it girl! Inhaling the Gas & Air during a contraction.

3. Get a TENS machine (and read up how to use it):

I was lucky enough to borrow a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine from a friend for both of my births, but they’re not that expensive if you have to buy one; about £40 new and considerably cheaper 2nd hand. Not as scary as its full name suggests, a TENS machine works by putting some adhesive-backed electrical pads on your lower back and controlling the degree of electricity passing through them with a handheld device. Drug-free, the electrical impulses it sends into your muscles are surprisingly effective at helping to take the edge of the pain of contractions, plus, like the Gas and Air, you can control it yourself.

TENS machines aren’t hard to use, but I do recommend you read the instructions before you go into labour, and even test it out at home in the run up to birth if you can because, once you’re in the labour ward and desperate for some pain relief, you want to be able to just slap it on and get going.

The way I used it was to get a low current going as soon as my partner had helped me get the sticky pads into position on my lower back. I kept the handset next to me so that when the contractions came, I could ramp up the electricity easily in time for the peak of the pain. Combined with rotating my hips on the yoga ball and inhaling Gas & Air, the TENS machine really did help me manage the pain.

In the middle of a contraction, I am inhaling deep breaths of Gas & Air while operating the TENS machine.

4. Darken the room:

I hadn’t heard of this at all when I had my first baby, but during the week-long wait in hospital for my daughter to arrive, a friend suggested that I darken my room and make it as ‘cave-like’ as possible in order to help labour along, because apparently, this taps into the primaeval part of our brain where oxytocin and endorphins are produced. Darkening the room, removing sources of stimulation such as TVs, radios, clocks etc, and making it as cosy as possible with cushions, rugs and throws, helps to calm and relax you, helping your body produce more oxytocin, which in turn helps your uterus contract strongly and regularly.

As soon as I got into the labour room, I asked my partner to draw all the blinds and turn off the lights, and although somewhat bemused at this request, he obliged. Straight away I felt the difference without the harsh medical strobe lighting, so this is something I would definitely do again for my next birth.

5. Bring some battery operated ‘candles’ and a fur blanket:

Related to darkening the room, and in the spirit of creating that all-important ‘cave’ like environment, battery-operated ‘candles’ would have been a really welcome addition to my labour environment had I had the foresight to bring some. You can get some really good ones these days that look just like a real flame. Basically, while I was labouring with my daughter, I was surprised to note that I craved a warm, dark cave environment with a fire, burning candles and lots of animal furs. In the absence of any candles fake or otherwise, I used my phone to bring up a YouTube video of a flickering candle, and actually, it was the next best thing. I suppose what it did was relax me, and give me something to zone out to in the way that only a flickering candle can.

For my next birth, I will order or borrow some pretend candles to position around me in the room, and will also bring a furry blanket as well, to give me that cave-like feeling my primitive brain so craves during this most primaeval of acts.

The ‘flickering candle’ video I brought up in the absence of the real thing.

6. Watch comedy:

It was totally unplanned, but a few hours into my labour, I suddenly requested that my partner get some “Live at the Apollo” clips up on his phone and let me watch some stand-up while I experienced my contractions. God knows what made me think of it, but it really helped! I hardly ever watch comedy normally, but something in my brain decided that Micky Flanagan, Lee Evans and John Bishop were what I needed, and they was the perfect tonic! As the contractions would come on, I would turn up the volume on the video and laugh my way through the pain. It seemed to be the comics with a tendency towards more physical comedy that really got me laughing while I was in labour, so next time I will be finding some clips and downloading them ahead of time in order to play them in the labour room.

Good ol’ Lee Evans helped me laugh through the contractions.

7. Have some Oreos at the ready:

Again, something I almost never eat normally, my partner happened to have a packet of Oreos he’d bought from the vending machine in the hospital, and when I spotted them, I decided they were just what I needed. And indeed they did help! Perhaps my tastebuds were on high alert due to the pain, because they tasted absolutely amazing, and gave me relief that went far beyond just a sweet treat. I didn’t eat them normally either, for some reason I broke each Oreo biscuit up into about five tiny pieces and laid them on the bed in front of me, and as each contraction came on, I would suck on one tiny piece until the pain subsided.

Sweet tooth? Little nibbles might just help take the edge of the contractions, and give you much-needed energy.

So that’s it. Just a few tips that I hope will empower you to take your labour by the horns and boss that pain like the warrior you are. I’d love to know your thoughts on this and what strategies you employed (or plan to employ) for your labour, so leave your comments below!

You can follow me on Instagram @the_amateur_mama Thanks for reading!

Safe bedsharing: My experience

To bedshare or not to bedshare? That is the question.

Every new parent wants to do the best by their baby, protecting them from harm and helping them develop into healthy and well-adjusted children. Sleep is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that parents face, especially in the early days, and much of the advice in recent years has warned bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived new parents of the mortal dangers of bedsharing, both for the baby’s immediate safety, and for their long-term psychological and emotional development. “Bedsharing increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)” and “Your baby should learn to sleep independently to avoid being clingy later on” are two universally accepted statements that sum up the approach that us new parents are encouraged to take.

It’s no surprise then, that when I had my first child in 2019, I was absolutely terrified of SIDS, and avoided bedsharing completely. I forced myself (and my baby) to adhere to a gruelling nightly routine where I would feed and burp him, before desperately trying to get him into his moses basket without him noticing. I’d lean right over into his cot and slowly slide my arm out from underneath his body, hopeful that he was firmly planted in the land of nod. I’d rest my head on my pillow, but just as I’d close my eyes, my heart would sink as I’d hear him cry and I’d sit back up, try to comfort him, fail, and resort to taking him back out of his cot again to rock him to sleep and try again to get him to settle on his own. Most of the night would be spent awake, in agony from the lack of sleep, nodding off in the sitting position while holding the baby, and generally wanting to die to escape the torture of it all.

With my first baby I was constantly soothing him to sleep in his cot, only to have to pick him up again because he’d cry. A tortuous cycle that repeated itself every night.

This time around, with my daughter, I am doing things differently. I never particularly planned to bedshare with her, but after night one at home, I intuitively decided that it was what we were going to do. The three nights we spent in hospital had given me a false sense of security; she would sleep in her perspex crib without any issue, to the point that I would have to set an alarm to wake up every two hours to feed her. She didn’t cry, and seemed perfectly happy to be put down and left on her own.

My daughter seemed perfectly content to sleep in her own crib on the labour ward, which lulled me into a false sense of security.

It didn’t last. Once home, a switch was flicked inside her tiny brain, and she suddenly found her voice. After one night trying to make her sleep in her moses basket to no avail, I realised that, with not just a newborn, but a boisterous toddler to look after as well, I simply couldn’t spend all night, every night, awake, trying to soothe the youngest one to sleep. I had also learnt, from my first round with a newborn two years earlier, that tiny babies simply love close contact. There is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing wrong with you, it’s normal. They are tiny, utterly helpless, and have just spent 10 months living inside you, so it figures that they prefer to be up close to you, with your warm skin, your regular heartbeat and the comfort of knowing you are there to protect them.

If you’re going to bedshare, then it’s very important you do it safely. The fact that so much of the available advice explicitly warns parents off bedsharing, while ignoring the fact that so many end up doing it anyway, simply makes the whole thing more dangerous. Sitting up in bed, trying to soothe a baby to sleep while nodding off yourself is far more risky than planning for bedsharing and setting up your bed properly for the two of you to sleep comfortably and safely.

If you’re considering bedsharing with your baby, you have to be willing to get rid of fluffy pillows, scatter cushions, duvets and blankets and redesign your sleeping arrangements. This was my bed BEFORE having my daughter.

Planning to bedshare safely

Being properly prepared for co-sleeping and planning for it, rather than ending up slumped over in bed with your baby in your arms through sheer exhaustion, is obviously the safer approach, so here is a breakdown of how I prepare my bed for sharing, which you’re welcome to use as a starting point for setting up your own bedroom. Please note that I am NOT a co-sleeping expert or medical professional, so please also consult official resources such as Lullaby Trust, La Leche or the NHS when making the decision to bedshare or co-sleep.

1. Decide if you and your partner are happy to sleep separately

The first step for me was agreeing with my partner to sleep in separate bedrooms while the baby is very small. This was easy for us as we have two bedrooms, and he was already sleeping in the other room with our son, and had been since I became pregnant and needed to use my (huge) pregnancy pillows (which left little room for him!). If you prefer to stay in the same bed as your partner, do your own research on bedsharing with two parents and make sure you have enough room to do it safely and without the risk of overheating or suffocation. If you do have the option to sleep in separate rooms, I highly recommend you consider it, as in my experience, it makes those newborn weeks a whole lot easier.

2. Remove pillows and duvet from the bed

The next thing I did was remove the pillows and the duvet from my bed, and make sure that the bed’s surface was firm and flat, with no sheets flapping about. If you have a mattress topper, or a particularly squidgy mattress protector, consider removing them if they create too much of an uneven surface. Basically, you are trying to avoid any chance of the baby’s face or head being covered or immersed in bedding, and you’re removing any risk of them overheating.

First, I removed all the pillows, blankets and duvets and layered two muslin cloths on the middle of the bed, which is where baby would sleep.

3. Place muslin cloths where baby will sleep

Next, I placed two muslins in the middle of the bed which act as a ‘landing spot’ for the baby, and are great for protecting the sheet and mattress from the inevitable spit-ups and nappy leaks. Flatten and straighten them out so they are not posing a risk to baby’s airways. This is where I position the baby to sleep.

4. Use a J Pillow

Then, for my ‘pillow’ I use the J Pillow travel pillow which hooks under my chin and is small and compact enough not to pose a risk to the baby. Because most co-sleeping warnings cite suffocation from pillows as one possible cause of SIDS, you want to find a solution that ideally doesn’t involve a big, fluffy pillow that could move over the baby’s head or face while they sleep.

To support my head, I use a “J Pillow” travel pillow instead of big, fluffy pillows that could accidentally move over baby’s face or head.

5. Dress baby lightly

Next I dress the baby. I keep her totally separate from me in terms of her bed clothes, so that there is no risk of her sliding underneath my duvet or blanket. Depending on the temperature of the room, I will dress the baby in a combination of a vest, babygrow and sleeping bag, but you should check the temperature of your room and the thickness of your baby’s clothing to dress him or her appropriately. As a guide, my room is currently about 19-20 degrees at night, so I put the baby in a short-sleeved vest, a babygrow and a 1-tog Swaddle UP sleeping bag from Love to Dream. NOTE that the use of swaddles when bedsharing is NOT recommended, so please do your own research before using a Swaddle UP bag or any other swaddle.

Dress your baby lightly and consult both a temperature chart, and your chosen sleepingbag manufacturer’s instructions to dress your baby safely for sleep. Note that Love to Dream don’t approve using their Swaddle UP bags for bedsharing, so please do your own research before choosing this option like I have here.

I use Love to Dream’s temperature guide to help me decide how to dress my baby for sleep, and the rule of thumb is always to lean towards dressing them a bit lighter if they are sharing a bed with you, as your body heat will be increasing their temperature, and you want to avoid them overheating. Note also that the use of hats is NOT recommended once babies come out of hospital, and their heads should be clear of any covering (including your arm or face) to enable them to regulate their temperature by losing heat through their head.

A useful guide to how many layers your baby should wear in bed. Remember they will always be a few degrees warmer if they are sharing with you.

6. Sleep facing baby

I always sleep facing the baby, as this way she can breastfeed throughout the night and I can be in a safe position without the risk of rolling back onto her. Facing your baby also means you’re more aware of him or her and their little noises and movements. I place her on her back, with her head turned towards my breast so that she can feed. If I ever turn her onto her front during the night to burp her or relieve wind, I always prop myself up on my arm to ensure that I don’t fall back to sleep and forget to return her to her back. On your side, facing baby, you can bend your top leg forward to stabilise yourself if you find that more comfortable and I normally hook my bottom arm underneath my J Pillow and tuck my top arm down my side, between my body and the baby. This is so that I don’t risk dropping my arms on top of her during the night.

I always sleep facing my baby, which makes breastfeeding easier, and is safer all round.

7. Duvet should only come up to your waist

Now I arrange my duvet. Because heavy bedding such as duvets pose a significant risk to the baby if they slip underneath it, I make sure my duvet comes up no further than my waist, well away from her face. I also wrap the duvet (and blanket) tightly around my body like a burrito, and as I sleep facing the baby, I tuck all the loose ends firmly under my back/bottom, ensuring there are no flappy bits on the baby’s side. The bunched up duvet along my back and bottom also gives me some support to keep me in the side-sleeping position, and gives some extra warmth along my non-baby side. As the weather gets warmer, I will ditch the blanket and eventually the duvet, and just do the same burrito wrapping with a thin sheet instead.

I make sure my duvet/blankets only reach my waist, and tuck them firmly in underneath me like a burrito. This prevents the risk of the baby slipping under the duvet, or it flopping over her face or head.

8. Dress yourself in layers to keep warm

Depending on the weather, you may find that it’s too cold to sleep with your duvet or blanket only pulled up to your waist; I certainly do at the moment. To remedy this, I wear a few layers of clothes as my pyjamas; a nursing camisole underneath one or two button-down cotton nighties, some PJ pants and a cardigan. Make sure that none of your clothes are so loose that they could drop or fall over your baby’s face during the night. If you’re particularly worried, you could pull your arm out of the clothes on the side facing your baby, and pull them underneath you to the opposite side of your body, out the way of your baby altogether, as I have done in the pictures above. This also makes your breast readily available to the baby throughout the night if you are a breastfeeding mum.

9. Have handy items within reach

Finally, I find it useful to keep boxes of handy items such as nappies, spare muslins etc on the bed as well, far enough away from the baby not to cause any issues. I will write a separate blog listing all these items, as it really does make the 1am and 3am wake-up calls a lot easier if everything you need is within easy reach! What I will say with regards to safe bedsharing is that one essential item is the room temperature gauge pictured above; I use it every evening to check the room temperature and to make sure I’m not overdressing the baby.

That’s it! Good luck setting up your room for bedsharing if that’s what you decide to do, and remember, if you have any concerns at all please speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor for advice. You can also find useful safety information at Lullaby Trust, La Leche or the NHS.

Some great Instagrammers who advocate bedsharing are @taylorkulik and @ashleylouisejames. Check them out for great advice and tips.

Shooting for Instagram: Making “Amateur” look “Pro”

If you’re a budding Instagrammer, you may be looking for ways to improve and diversify your photography without breaking the bank or having to move to a more glamorous house. Over the year or so that I’ve been taking photos for @the_amateur_mama, I’ve gradually built up a little box of tricks to give me more options than my small London flat would otherwise afford, and which help me take more creative photos without having to make trips to a photography studio or to costly locations. Especially now that we’re still facing an indefinite number of weeks or months ahead stuck in our houses, at-home solutions that inject inspiration into your photography are more welcome than ever. Here’s my tuppence-worth; I hope you find it useful! Note that I am quite obviously NOT a professional photographer, but these hints will hopefully help you bring your photography game up a level if you’re struggling to come up with ideas.

Lighting

Lighting is arguably the most important factor when taking good photographs, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend fortunes on expensive equipment! A lot of my photos are taken near my windows, where I can take advantage of free, natural light that is undoubtedly the most flattering light source you can use. In this section I take you through my purchases for maximising the benefits of natural light, and also some options for artificial light if you feel that you need it for some of your shots.

Natural light, free!

If you live in a house or flat with large windows, then you can take advantage of the abundant natural light that you undoubtedly enjoy throughout the day. All of the photos above were taken in natural light in my flat. Shooting with natural light is best when it’s overcast or foggy, and if you stand right up close to the window, facing out, you’ll get a nice, soft, even light source that will make your skin look great and your eyes pop! Bright sunlight on a clear day may look nice and lift your spirits, but you’ll find it harsh in a photo, blanching your skin, casting annoying shadows or making your squint. If you are shooting on a day where there isn’t much cloud coverage, and the sun is casting bright shards of light across your face, try pinning or hooking up a translucent or white fabric at the window in order to diffuse the harsh light source. You can buy a light tent or white scrim very economically to soften the light falling on your subject, and here’s the one I bought:

Neewer 2 Yard Nylon Silk Diffusion Fabric £26.99

You can also make the most of natural light by using a reflector. A reflector can help you salvage bad light, and turn okay light into something magical. You can use your reflector from below to fill in shadows, which is great when your light source is directly above your subject (not flattering!), or from above to block distracting light. You can bounce the sun from a silver reflector to create a main light, or you can use a reflector with a black side to create deeper shadows. Here is one that’s similar to mine:

Selens 5 in 1 Reflector Kit £17.99

Godox LC500 LED Ice Light, £143

If you’re finding that your photography often suffers due to rubbish lighting either at home or when you’re taking photos of people on location, then investing in lightweight, portable lighting equipment could be a good move. It is much harder to edit badly lit photos, and if you’re taking them on your camera phone rather than a professional camera (like me!) then you’ll find your photos will suffer if they’re not taken in good light, making them blurry and unclear, and harder to improve even with good editing software. I really like the handheld, rechargeable Godox LC500 because of it’s lightweight portability; you can charge it up and take it out with you on shoots where it’s likely you won’t have enough natural light. It’s a cheaper version of the Westcott Ice Light, which my pro photographer friend Arnab Ghosal uses for his portraits. The Godox has two colours; cool and warm, both of which can be adjusted for brightness to create a scale of light from natural daylight to a harsher flash, plus ‘barn doors’ to narrow or widen the field of light. The photos below were taken using my Godox LC500.

Where to buy:

Godox LC500 £143: This is out of stock on Amazon at the moment, but you can buy it elsewhere online. Or instead you could go for the better model than the one I have, which is the full colour version, at £239:

Godox LC500R Handheld RGB LED Video Light Stick

Neewer Table Top 10-inch USB LED Ring Light, £26.94

I got this for Christmas as I found that solely relying on natural light to shoot beauty or make-up tutorials was a bit unreliable, and I also wanted something that I could use in darker areas of my flat where there was no natural light available. This table-top ring light needs to be plugged in to work (it doesn’t charge for portability) so that’s one downside, but I just use an extra long extension lead to maintain it’s connection to the mains. It does say it can be mounted on a tripod stand too, though I’ve not tried this yet as it needs an adapter. The ring has varying brightness settings, as well as warm or cool light options so it’s pretty versatile. Great for fairly close-up portrait shots, it will brighten up your skin, give an even light across the face, and brighten the eyes, and it has a useful holder to mount your mobile phone, which can bend and swivel to allow you to get the angle you want. I haven’t used it for video tutorials yet, but I reckon it’ll be great. The photos below were all taken using my Neewer LED ring light.

Where to buy:

Neewer Table Top 10-inch ring light

Clip-on Selfie ring light, £12.99

For a smaller, on-the-go version of the ring light, grab yourself one of these tiny clip-on lights that you can attach to your mobile phone to take great selfies even in dim light. Especially useful if you want to record pieces to camera and videos for stories and reels when you’re out and about and the lighting is unflattering. This cheap and cheerful little ring light will instantly brighten your face and get rid of unsightly shadows caused by overhead lighting.

Where to buy:

Clip-on selfie ring light

Abeststudio Photography Softbox Lighting Kit, £62.99

If you need something a bit more heavy-duty, for example if you’re in quite a dark flat or house, or need to light bigger areas for wider scenes, then a softbox set-up will be a good option for you. Luckily there are economical options for this too, and I went for an all-in-one set that had everything I needed and is relatively simple and quick to set up and take down. The softbox diffuses the light from the bulbs, giving an even, softer light than if you were to shine a light directly at the subject. With two of them, you can set up a nice, even, clear light across your scene. Mine has two stands, the light bulbs, the soft box covers and a bag, and I use it for filming when I want to ensure a crisp, clear visual and plenty of digital information on the camera for editing afterwards. It’s also great if you want to take photos inside your (ordinary!) house and make them look more professional, as the resulting better-lit photo will be a lot easier to edit to achieve the final look you’re after.

Where to buy:

Abeststudio 2 x 135W Continuous Lighting Kit

Backdrops

If you want to create studio-style shots with clean and plain backgrounds, then a photography backdrop would be a good investment. Even if you have blank white walls where you live, a photographic background will enable you to create that ‘infinity cove studio’ feel —albeit on a smaller scale—in your own home. Great for product shots or fashion shoots where you just want to blank background that doesn’t detract from what you’re shooting, and to give that professional feel to your shots. I’ve done this a few times with my baby son, and it works well, especially when brightened up in post-production. If you’re going to use it for an infinity-cove shot, make sure the paper is lying on hard, firm flooring —I’ve tried pulling mine out onto carpet or play mats and all that happens is that your feet or whatever object you place on it just crumples or rips the paper! I bought a stand first and then chose two coloured backdrop paper rolls which I could interchange for different pictures:

Lux Light Backdrop Frame Kit

This kit is pretty lightweight and easy to put up and take down. I routinely carry it up and down my stairs to use in different rooms and it’s been great for shooting sponsored products and blog cover photos. I’ve even used it as a backdrop for Zoom interviews when I want to hide a messy room and look more professional!

Where to buy

Luxlight 2.4 x 3m backdrop frame kit, £41.95

Backdrop paper

I bought two rolls of backdrop paper; white and a bluish grey, so that I could mix and match depending on what I wanted to shoot. I bought mine from https://genesishire.com/ in London, but you can also order some online on Amazon. Just make sure that whatever roll you buy is not wider than your stand!

Seamless Background Paper Backdrop 1.35 x 10m, Charcoal, £31.99

Seamless Background Paper Backdrop 1.35 x 10m, White, £31.99

Brick wall background

I live in a pretty characterless flat and the biggest wall in my living room is covered with a giant mirror, which is great for making the room look bigger, but absolutely useless for shooting photos and videos for Instagram! In order to maximise my location options, I decided to invest in a brick wall backdrop, so that I could shoot in my living room without the camera phone and tripod being visible in the reflection of the mirror. It also gives you another, perhaps more interesting option to shoot in front of, if, like me, you live somewhere that doesn’t have a great deal of character of its own. The only downside with this is that it creases quite easily, which is a sure giveaway if anyone notices the creases in your photos. Thankfully no one has so far, and it can be ironed (on a low heat; don’t burn it!), so not all bad. These photos were shot in front of my brick wall backdrop (eek, you can see the creases in the left-hand photo! Time to get the iron out!).

Where to buy:

Muzi White Brick Wall Photography Backdrop, £16.30

So, that’s it —for now! With any luck this has given you some inspiration to create better or more interesting photos for your Instagram page! Be sure to comment and let me know your thoughts, and if you buy any of the items and take some photos with them, please do DM me so I can take a look as I’m sure they’ll look great! Happy shooting!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents; follow along on Instagram: @the_amateur_mama

Plastic Pregnancy Tests: What’s Inside Yours?

When you suspected you were pregnant, you probably ran out to the chemist like I did and bought yourself a well-known branded pregnancy test. And not just the one either; how many of us have bought two or three tests just to ‘make sure’? I’ve been pregnant three times, and have taken many tests while trying to conceive (plus a few more over the preceding years) but what I never really asked myself was just how much plastic is used to make these tests, and, crucially, whether any of this plastic was even necessary?

It was only when Rob and I were actively trying for a baby, and I was finding myself spending quite a bit of money on tests, that I looked into a cheaper alternative that I could use throughout my cycle without breaking the bank —or filling the landfill. It was then that I discovered another type of pregnancy test that I’d never seen before: a tiny cardboard strip that had no plastic casing and no bulky packaging, that I could buy as a pack of 10 or 20 on Amazon for a fraction of the price of the shop-bought version. What I hadn’t realised, was that I had seen them before; the NHS use them as standard, and indeed my own GP had used one when I went to her to confirm my pregnancy with my son Odhrán.

The simple cardboard testing strip that your NHS GP or maternity unit will use to test if you’re pregnant has no plastic casing but works just as well.

If you take apart a plastic pregnancy test kit and look inside, what’s even more intriguing is that there is even one of these tiny strips inside it anyway! The bulky plastic around the strip is essentially just a single-use plastic case, making it a bit easier to hold, to give it a more aesthetically pleasing look, and to make it marginally easier to read. I decided to investigate mine, opening up both my Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test and their Digital version too, to see what was inside.

Inside the Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test. That little strip on the left of the photo (with the blue line) is the testing strip. The only bit that actually tests if you’re pregnant or not! The rest is essentially a single-use plastic case.

Inside the Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test:

  • Two-part white plastic case with results window cut-out
  • Urine pad
  • Blue cap
  • Testing strip with blue line
  • Blue foil packet
  • Instruction pamphlet
  • Box
  • Cellophane wrapping

The only part you need out of all of this is the tiny little strip with the blue line on it! That strip is the bit that actually tests the hormone in your urine to tell you whether or not you’re pregnant, and it’s similar to the tiny cardboard strip that you can buy for a fraction of the price on Amazon.

The Clearblue Digital test. Spot the testing strip in the middle? That’s the only bit you really need.

Inside the Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Test:

  • Two-part white plastic case with results window cut-out
  • Blue cap (missing from this photo)
  • Urine pad
  • Small piece of wadding
  • Black plastic case for digital reader
  • Desiccant moisture-absorbing tablet
  • Black plastic strip with digital screen
  • Testing strip with blue line
  • Foil wrapper
  • Instruction pamphlet
  • Box
  • Cellophane wrapper

What is important to know here, is that both these plastic kits do essentially the same job as the little cardboard strip version, but all the extra plastic is just there to give you a different reading experience. All of them have the tiny testing strip which is where the HcG pregnancy hormone will turn the ink blue (or pink, depending on your choice of test), so the question is, do we really need the bulky plastic casing as well, not to mention the digital screen? The simple cardboard strips are easy to use if you just read the instructions, and to be honest, not that different from the branded version: let’s face it, all of them require you to wee on the end of the strip, wait for a few minutes and then check to see how many lines show up!

In this photo you can see the difference in the amount of waste generated by the simple strip, compared to the branded test kits. The cardboard strips come in packs of 10, 20 or more, all in just one small plastic bag with one (unlaminated) paper instruction note. It makes you think, doesn’t it!!

Now there is even a flushable, 100% biodegradable pregnancy test coming to the market, which will hopefully make these other big brands think twice about using so much plastic in theirs. It’s called LIA and it weighs less than 4 squares of toilet paper, is easy to read and can be flushed down the toilet when you’re done. It will biodegrade in as little as 10 weeks according to their website. Now that is something! They aren’t on sale yet, but you can join their mailing list to be notified when they are.

In the meantime, if you’re keen to cut down on your single-use plastics, the simple test strips you can buy on Amazon that I’ve discussed here make a good, ecological alternative to using bulky plastic testing kits, and I can tell you that I’ve used them, and they work. You can read about my experience testing with them in my blog Am I pregnant: How early can you test?

Let me know your experience of using pregnancy tests, and whether you’d make the switch to a more ecological choice next time!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents; check out her Instagram page @the_amateur_mama:

The Geriatric Mum: What’s it like being pregnant over 40?

When you’re twenty, forty sounds REALLY old. I’m fully aware that any twenty-somethings reading this are probably thinking that by forty they will be very different people; much more steady, sensible and worldly-wise, and that they will, like, totally have their shit together. When you’re forty however, you realise that no-one ever really has their shit together, and as for being more stable and wise; in some ways you are, but in many respects you just learn to manage the capricious and immature side of yourself, rather than grow out of it. You compartmentalise it, as if it were an over-excited chimp that you keep in a room on the other side of the house (if you’ve got your shit together enough to have bought a house that is….I haven’t.)

I never really thought about how old I’d be when I had children, but I suppose I didn’t really think I’d be as old as forty. Throughout my twenties, having children was a far-off concept, and I just vaguely thought that “in ten years time I’d think about it”. It wasn’t on my radar at all; I’d been brought up by a single mum who was a career woman; I’d seen her go from 1980’s benefits mum to training for seven years to be come a chiropractor and subsequently opening her own clinic, so my idea of womanhood was working, not mothering. My grandmother was the same; she came to the UK in the 1940’s and worked every day of her life —pretty much— until she died in her eighties. Getting married and having children was never really put on the plate as ‘the thing you do’, and if anything, seeing my mum struggle with two children on her own, coupled with her mental health issues, never made family life look particularly appealing.

My late twenties were spent travelling the world

My trajectory was doing my “A” levels, followed by University, and then throwing myself into life in all it’s wild, colourful, scary and exciting dimensions. I travelled, lived abroad, learnt languages, worked in TV, partied and studied, and when girlfriends discussed marrying rich men and ‘settling down’, it never quite hit home as something that was for me. I had a few serious relationships with guys who were ready to settle down, but I ran away as far as I could whenever things got serious. Not physically necessarily, but mentally; pushing them away because I was scared off by the thought of commitment. I took a long time to ‘mature’ in that sense, and it wasn’t until I was about thirty-seven that I started to change my mind about the whole “in ten years I’ll think about it” thing. Which is good, seeing that I didn’t really have ten years by that stage. Thankfully, I met my partner Rob, and thankfully he was also pushing the big four-“o”, so he also wanted to have children straight away, before he lost too much more of his hair.

Our first child Odhrán was born two days before I was thirty-nine. Because I’ve never experienced pregnancy as a younger woman, I didn’t know how the treatment I received throughout that pregnancy differed from that given to any other woman. I was assigned to a specialist maternity unit, but that was more to do with my family history of mental ill-health than my age, so the more frequent visits to the midwife were less to do with me being thirty-eight and more to do with me being likely to lose the plot. I managed to get through the pregnancy unscathed, and then went on to get pregnant again when Odhrán was sixteen months old.

This time, it seems my most recent birthday means I have crossed the line over to “Geriatric Motherhood’, and I have definitely noticed that my age is now a factor, if not with my own health, then with the supervision of the medics. Thirty-five maybe be the age at which you’re considered to be having a “geriatric pregnancy”, but forty is the milestone that, if crossed, flags up a whole host of other things on which the health professionals looking after you will be keep an eye.

Baby Odhrán was born when I was almost 39.

So what can you expect if you’re forty and pregnant? Well, again, I was assigned back to the same specialist unit as with my first pregnancy, but this time I’ve noticed a few added extras. Here is a run-down:

More frequent midwife (antenatal) appointments:

I see my midwife every three weeks for urine checks, blood pressure, fetal heartbeat checks and bump measurements. In these appointments she asks me how I am generally, mentally, and whether there is anything that concerns me. On one appointment, she picked up on my vaginal thrush symptoms, and also sent me for tests which showed that I had Group B Strep (a common bacteria that two in five people have living in their body, which is normally harmless but does need some management during birth to ensure the baby doesn’t get ill, so it’s important that the delivery team are aware). My midwife will also flag up any concerns she has with fetal growth, for example if your bump is measuring big or small you’ll be sent for extra scans at the hospital.

How does this differ from a younger woman’s experience? For younger pregnant women, visits to the midwife would be much less frequent. According to the NHS, for first pregnancies, you can expect to have up to ten antenatal appointments throughout the whole pregnancy, and that includes all your hospital scans. For women having their second baby, you’ll have only around seven antenatal appointments throughout the whole pregnancy. In my case, if you add up all the midwife appointments, scans and seeing the consultant, I will total about sixteen or seventeen planned antenatal appointments (and this isn’t even my first baby!).

At forty, I see my midwife every three weeks

Aspirin:

Despite being fit, active and with no health conditions (thank God) being over forty means that I’ve been told that I have to take a daily 150mg dose of Aspirin in order to prevent blood clots, hypertension and possible preeclapmpsia. I don’t have any other warning signs for developing any of these conditions, so although it can be taken from as early as twelve weeks, I was only prescribed it from twenty-seven weeks. As there is no evidence that it does any harm, I decided to heed the midwife’s advice and take it as a precaution, even though developing these conditions is not one of my concerns.

I’m taking the recommended 150mg of aspirin a day to prevent preeclampsia

Consultant appointment:

Another thing I’ve been told just recently is, that in addition to all the extra antenatal appointments I am having because of my age, I will also be given a consultant appointment at around thirty weeks. This is to discuss our birth plan and to advise me that they recommend an induction. Which brings me on to the next point:

Induction plan at forty weeks:

Being aged forty or above means that a consultant will advise that I am induced on my due date (forty weeks), as according to the NHS, losing your baby as a stillbirth once ‘overdue’ carries about twice the risk of a younger mother (which is about the same risk as that to a thirty year old woman at forty-two weeks pregnant; one in five hundred).

As an over-forty mum, the consultant will advise that I am induced at forty weeks

Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT):

The NHS say that developing gestational diabetes is approximately four times more likely in mothers over forty when compared to women in their twenties or early thirties (about one in twenty-five compared to one in one hundred). My midwife tests my urine for sugar at every antenatal checkup and I also had a GTT test to check that my body was able to metabolise sugars in the normal way. It is: yay!

My verdict?

That’s about it…for now! It’s important to note that despite older mothers seeming more likely to experience problems in pregnancy and childbirth, what is unclear is whether the increased chance of complications applies to all pregnant women over forty, just first time mothers
over forty, pregnant women over forty who have a large number of other children or pregnant women over forty who have additional underlying health problems. If you’re fit, active and healthy like I am lucky enough to be, then conception, pregnancy and childbirth are all highly likely to go as smoothly as if you were in your early thirties. So don’t let any of this worry you! Pregnancies over forty are also on the increase, with loads of women now waiting until they’re in the right relationship or for other conditions to be right before embarking on motherhood. So if you are one of them, you are in good company!

If anything, I count myself extremely lucky to be living in the UK, where I have access to all these extra check and measures, as I’m a firm believer that there’s no harm in being extra vigilant, and of putting your mind at rest. I feel very fortunate that both me and my baby girl are in such great hands and that our health is being monitored every step of the way, “geriatric” or not! Bring on the zimmerframe!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, alongside Rob, her partner. Head over to Instagram and to see all the latest posts from @the_amateur_mama

New Year, New Start: Meet the dad who made a business out of motivational underwear!

Wisdom is truly knowing what is of value in life, what happiness is and how to put it into practice and share it with others.”

Brendan Lo is a father of two from Byron Bay, Australia who decided to launch his own business, “smartass undies” two and a half years ago, after what he describes as a ‘3am brain fart’. From the moment his kids started to read, he’s been collecting toilet wall quotes and snippets of wisdom from the likes of the Dalai Lama, Thoreau and Dr Suess, to help his family reflect on life’s values and what brings true happiness. One night, Brendan lay awake trying to think of a way to incorporate these inspirational messages into his everyday routine, and realised that undies and socks would make the perfect billboard. Two and a half years later, smartass undies sell underwear and socks that feature inspiring, motivational messages which, Brendan believes, help the wearer stay on track with what really matters.

smartass undies is now a fully fledged company selling motivational underwear online.

“Of course, you can’t see the undies’ messages while you’re wearing them” he says, “butt when you pull’em out of the draw to put’em on, take’em off, put them in or out of the wash, hang them up, take them down, fold them and put away, the messages are always there to help keep you on track.” His smartass socks’ values are visible when worn, and act as toe-wiggling reminders of how we should act throughout life.

Brendan grew up in Darwin, in the North of Australia, living across the road from a large Aboriginal community and surrounded by Crocodile Dundee country —an environment that formed his love of nature and a desire to protect it (Smartass undies are made from recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) while their socks are made from certified organic cotton. Brendan’s also committed half the company’s profits to supporting the planting of trees and the protection and regeneration of rainforests). He describes himself as a 3rd generation Australian-born Chinese man married to a Dane, with two children who are a blend of East meets West; North meets South. Two year old Mini Fox Terrier Juno completes what he says is a quirky family who aren’t shy about laughing at themselves.

Like most budding entrepreneurs, Brendan continues in his day job while smartass undies gets properly off the ground, and indeed his career as an Occupational Therapist has been part of what has driven him to understand and seek meaning and purpose in life —and put the answers on his underpants! He’s worked as both a paediatric and a disability specialist, and has been training staff who support people with a disability for more than a decade. He currently works with one of Australia’s largest disability services.

Brendan, the founder of smartass undies, with his wife and kids.

Another motivator for starting his business is Brendan’s family. His amazing mother used to say to him, “Wisdom is truly knowing what is of value in life, what happiness is and how to put it into practice and share it with others.” Since he and his wife had children themselves, riding the “big-ass learning curve” and embracing the kaleidoscope of uncertainties that parenting brings, one thing he believes most parents are clear on is that they want their children to be happy. But how many people stop to think about what the key ingredients are that lead to a deep sense of happiness?

As a parent, Brendan feels that starting his own business has also been an exercise in modelling to his children that it is worth stepping out of your comfort zone to take on challenges, to learn, to pursue your ideas and have a purpose that is bigger than yourself. He’s a firm believer that children learn a little from what we say, but they learn much more from what we do.

I See Magic Everywhere! Here I try out the men’s Boxer Brief, which are super comfy!

I See Magic Everywhere!

Freya: When did you first see the magic in starting a sustainable undies company, and how do you keep the magic alive two and a half years later?

Brendan: Starting a business is so like having a child, it needs nurturing, attention and care. There’s a mighty steep learning curve; learning to roll, crawl and getting up on your feet, and of course there is a whole bunch of mess along the way.

The magic of being a parent and starting a business is in seeing it grow and reach its first milestone. We went through a bunch of teething problems to reach the point where we were able to launch in the midst of the Covid pandemic in July 2020. We’re still working to find our ass in many ways, butt, there is magic in creating something off your own back, that reflects your values and vision, and serves as an outlet for your wacky ponderings!

In a modern world with an infinite array of entertainment available at our children’s fingertips, it’s perhaps never been so important to encourage our children to see the everyday magic that exists around them. I love those moments spent with our kids observing things like a caterpillar contracting and expanding as it moves along a twig, or how a drop of water stays intact while it glides across the surface of a leaf. What totally lights me up is when our kids discover something new; an insect they haven’t noticed before perhaps, or a mythical creature formed by the clouds, and they race to grab us to share in the magic. There is magic everywhere, and if I can give my children the gift of developing the eyes and mind to see it then I will have made their life rich indeed. If our unconventional tools for motivation can do the same for our customers, then I hail mission success.

Stay Focussed On The Important Shit & Leave The Rest Behind! Here I am again, sporting the women’s bikini brief.

Stay Focussed On The Important Shit And Leave The Rest Behind!

Freya: What was the most important shit to focus on when you started your own business?

Brendan: From the get-go I knew I wanted to create something that would bring more positivity to the world and have a net benefit to the planet. The effect of climate change is the most significant threat to our children’s future. It impacts on everything, from the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the price of our home insurance, to a broad swath of illnesses and diseases that are on the rise. If the world becomes 2°C warmer, the impact will make Covid appear as an insignificant blip in comparison.

It’s been one hell of a journey exploring the world of textiles and swimming through the cloudy waters of what is and isn’t sustainable for our undies. I was completely naïve about the apparel industry when I started out and I was convinced that natural fibres were going to be the most sustainable materials to use. But as I dug under the surface, I discovered numerous complexities, such as modal and bamboo which are all the rage in sustainable fashion, butt the actual impact of converting these hard, fibrous plants into soft fabric requires extreme processing which often uses harsh and toxic chemicals and substantial amounts of water. Cotton farms have seen river systems depleted and chemical use has lead to the death of marine life on a grand scale.

All natural fibres still use petrochemicals throughout the farming practices and half the world’s natural forests have now been cleared, with the vast majority of this clearing due to agriculture. I think most people now realise that single use plastic is an exponentially growing monster, leading to immense landfill issues and degradation of our oceans, so when I discovered that single use plastic drink bottles could be turned into a high-performance, soft, moisture wicking fabric, I was sold. With a million bottles a minute being discarded, I wanted my biz to be part of the solution to this big ass problem.

From the concept stage I planned to be carbon-neutral through partnering with organisations that plant trees. I’ve been a long-time fan of Sir David Attenborough’s work, growing up with his soothing, yet stately voice beaming the wonders of the world straight into our lounge. His recent film and witness statement: A Life on Our Planet had such a profound impact on me that I have now made the decision to become not just carbon neutral, but carbon positive. To achieve this I’ve partnered with HalfCut.org (referring to half the world’s forest already having been destroyed) and have committed 50% of our profits to the planting of trees, joining the international Billion Trees Campaign and supporting the saving of precious rainforests. HalfCut are quirky like us; in their trademark annual campaign they encourage folk to go out on limb and shave, braid or colour half their hair to raise funds and awareness of the need protect forests and plant trees.

The data and science is clear; we all need to make changes in a broad range of ways. We can turn things around, butt it will take all our asses.

You Only Fail If You Quit!

Freya: What ‘failures’ have you had to overcome in the course of launching your own business?

Brendan: Oh the list is long, but each failure guides the next step and those steps they have led me to connect with some amazing, open-hearted people such as yourself. I want our children to understand that there will always be things that are difficult, hard and even painful, but that they are not to shy away from them; it is the tough stuff that makes us stronger, not the easy. “Easy now” often leads to “hard later”.

Happiness Ain’t Luck or Privilege, It’s a Badass Choice!

Freya: What conscious choices do you make to stay happy?

Brendan: A commitment to mindfulness, to put the effort in to keep dragging my ass and mind back to the reality of things and reign it in from creating looping negative stories. I created smartass undies because I need regular reminders to keep my own mind on track, I absolutely get high off my own supply.

Surround Your Ass With Those On The Same Mission As You!

Freya: What tips do you have for finding the right co-workers, employees, joint ventures and collaborators to work with your brand? 

Brendan: Skills and specific knowledge are of course important, but it’s shared vision and values that are the real deal breaker for me. My experience tells me that being up front, open and honest about your intentions is the key. All elements of smartass undies come from my values and desire to bring more positivity to the world, and to do what I can to create a more sustainable future for our children. It’s these intentions, along with a little cheeky humour thrown in, that attract folk who also give a cr*p.

The Way Your Ass Sees The Problem Is The Problem!

Freya: How do you teach your kids to approach the problems they face?

Brendan: I constantly challenge my children, and myself, to find multiple angles to see things from. When we take a moment to step back, walk around and take a look at a problem from different perspectives, we can then see things more objectively, and we’re then in a better position to start problem-solving. Seeking opinions outside of our own framework is also important; perhaps not always easy to swallow but being open to others’ opinions can lead to greater understanding of a situation and a more effective approach. I encourage my children to seek out the stats, learn to understand the science. Some problems will seem overwhelmingly large, but when we can hone in on the part that we can solve, we then become part of the solution.

Today I Kick Procrastination In The Ass And Get Shit Done!

Freya: What is your tip for kicking procrastination in the ass?

Brendan: Ain’t gunna lie, this one’s numero uno on my challenge list and not something I can claim to have mastered yet. Not very original, butt my method is a simple handwritten To Do list that I go through at the start of each day. It often ends up being an A4 page or two, butt if I can knock off the top three priorities for the day then I feel like I’ve made progress.

Freya: Thanks Brendan for a great interview and some lovely undies and socks!

Intrigued? Wanna know more? Read my blog about smartass undies’ inspirational SOCKS, and how I’m using them to motivate me in 2021 HERE

Brendan’s company smartassundies sell men’s and women’s undies and socks that are available online for worldwide shipping at smartassundies.com They can also be found on Instagram. Note that I earn commission from any purchases made following the links in this article. But I never promote products I don’t try and love myself!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents and you can follow her for more parenting wisdom on Instagram at @the_amateur_mama !

New Years Resolutions: Could these SOCKS help you keep them?!

Do what is right, even when no one is looking!

Most of us are used to getting socks for Christmas, but how many of us can say those socks can INSPIRE us for the year ahead?! Brendan Lo is the dad of two who started his own company smartass undies in order to keep his favourite inspirational quotes about his person at all times —and encourage us to do the same! He kindly sent me a box of his organic cotton socks to try for myself, and after everything that happened in 2020, I am certainly in need of some positive vibes as I step into 2021!

I’ve decided to give myself a six day Instagram challenge; to think about how I can incorporate each value on my daily socks into my daily life! Here’s how Brendan does it:

KINDNESS

Freya: What’s one way we can keep kindness in mind in both our professional and personal lives?

Brendan: Be aware of all the things small and large that others do to support our endeavours, and regularly thank them for their contribution.

RESPECT

Freya: Who do you most respect, and why?

Brendan: Mum dear mother is at the top of the list for all the wisdom and love she shared. The Dalai Lama for his compassion and laughter, Nelson Mandela for his fortitude and unity, the three David’s: David Attenborough, David Bellamy and David Suzuki for shinning the light on unsustainable practices, their impacts along with path to solving them.

SELF-DISCIPLINE

Freya: What is one example of self-discipline you need when trying to start your own business?

Brendan: Starting something from scratch and being your own boss needs a tonne of self-discipline. I’ve discovered that self-discipline is uber important, not only for working hard and tackling obstacles but equally important for being disciplined enough to know when to put down the tools and spend time with family and friends. The discipline of balance.

COURAGE

Freya: Courage: How can we have more?

Brendan: I’m a firm believer in the value of reflecting on death, morbid as it is. Logically we know life is short, butt practically we often act as though it’s endless and it’s easy to put off doing things that really matter. Our message “Don’t let your ass go to the grave with your song still in you!” which is my tweak on a passage from Thoreau, is a regular reminder to get our ass off the couch and take on our fears, especially when there is so much potential for great things on the other side. The act of being courageous is really about recognising our mortality and deciding to embrace life and being true to ourselves.

INTEGRITY

Freya: Why is integrity important in business?

Brendan: Businesses that are respected are founded on relationships, and the value of relationships is not the mere measure of dollars and cents —OK, pounds and pennies for you mob in the UK — and let’s just say inclusive of all forex, metals and cryptos too! The value in relationships is a measure of trust. Trust comes from integrity, our ability to do what is right even when no one is looking. If you want a business with customers and partners that you have a great relationship with, integrity is a must.

GRATITUDE

Freya: What are you most grateful for?

Brendan: Everyday I reflect on how grateful I am to be a father and to have the privilege to nurture and support my children to live a life with meaning and purpose. My little gig, smartass undies is very much a culmination of the key lessons and values I want my children to follow in life.

Thanks Brendan for an uplifting interview and of course, the great socks!!

If you want to get yourself a box of inspirational socks to step into a more positive 2021, follow this link! smartass undies Note that I earn a commission from every purchase made through this link, but I never promote something I’ve not tried and loved myself first!

Read more about Brendan’s story and how he started smartass undies in my accompanying blog NEW YEAR, NEW START: MEET THE DAD WHO MADE A BUSINESS OUT OF MOTIVATIONAL UNDERWEAR!

Visit Instagram to follow Freya, aka @the_amateur_mama

Dressing the Bump: The Latest in Winter Maternity Style

For me, maternity fashion needs to tick three boxes; be comfortable, flattering and show off my bump. During my first pregnancy I loved dressing my new shape and really embraced maternity fashion, filling my wardrobe with bump-friendly styles that showed off my changing shape. It was a time for experimenting with colours and patterns and somehow, being pregnant gave me license to be much more creative with my outfits than ever before. Now, in Lockdown, there’s less opportunity to show off any new outfits you might buy, but in my opinion, even a walk to the local park is an excuse to wear something that lifts your spirits and makes you feel stylish, so here’s my selection of some of the latest winter styles from Mama:licious that will warm the cockles and put a spring in your step! Thank you to Arnab Ghosal Photography for the fabulous shots!

First up is this gorgeous Woven Tie-Belted Maternity Coat in light grey. A real compliment-magnet, I’m in love with its clean lines and cool, wintery colour, and it’s a lovely alternative to my usual parka for when I want to look a bit more ‘dressed up’. Its wrap style means you can get away with wearing it even after the baby is born too, as you can draw in the waist with the belt. Super soft and comfy, it ticks all the boxes. It also reminds me of an iconic Ted Baker coat that I’ve wanted for ages, but a fraction of the price!

With the freezing, dark days drawing in, a super warm, stretchy, and comfy jumper dress is the order of the day. I chose this MLFERDI knit maternity dress because I love the flattering body-con style over leggings or opaque tights as it gives you a fashion-conscious look while still being one of the most comfy, cosy things you could wrap yourself up in! I was pleasantly surprised at just HOW warm this dress is, perfect for our long, cold winter and covid-safe outdoor meet-ups!

Something pretty now for party season (even if it is just a zoom party!) with this PCMROSIA maternity dress in a beautiful, autumnal golden leaf print. The fit on this was lovely; flatteringly fitted without being clingy, roomy enough to move and long enough to drape over the bump and booty while still showing a bit of leg. You can pull in the waist with the tie belt, and I love that this piece can transition effortlessly from winter to spring; it’s light enough that it’ll be comfortable even when the weather hots up a bit.

When I saw that this Padded Windproof 3-in-1 Maternity Parka was effectively three coats in one, I just had to have it! In these pictures I’m wearing it as a maternity coat, but you can also remove the widening panel at the front (the piece in between those two zips) so that it fits as a regular coat when you’re not pregnant, AND it has another panel that can be zipped in which has a cute, fur-lined baby hood incorporated in it, so it’s perfect to wear over a baby carrier when your new arrival makes an appearance and you want a coat that fits over the both of you. Magic!

Last but not least, another warm jersey dress, this time in the form of the MLLOLA maternity dress in dazzling blue. Again, super comfortable and easy to slip on, while the ruffled sleeves give it a bit of glamour if you want to look like yo’ve made an effort! I love the colour and the fit was perfect, just form-fitting enough with being skin-tight. Win-win!

All these pieces are currently on the Mama:licious website and available for home delivery. I am 5’8″ tall and my normal non-pregnant clothes size is a UK 8-10. I chose SMALL in every style and found that they all fit true to size. I was approximately six months pregnant at the time of shooting.

All photography by Arnab Ghosal photography on location in Greenwich, London.