Stretching it

Moisturising really brings out the worst in me. You think it’s a pretty innocuous task? For some reason I really cannot stand it… It makes me impatient and a bit ragey: both the time it takes after a shower to rub in and then to soak up into my skin when I just. want. to. get. warm. and. dry. By the amount of moisturisers on the market, I am a bit of a wierdo (anyone else out there…? No?)

I seem to get away fine due to drinking a heck of a lot of water, oil-based bath and shower gels, the occasional overnight body oil soak in, and mostly general luck in having smooth, non-dry skin.

But pregnancy lotions and potions are jumping out at me left, right and centre at the moment and making me a bit paranoid that I should be slapping something on more regularly. Today, I noticed that my belly button appeared to have shrunk – then realised that my stomach had in fact swelled a lot over the past week and a bit. This tummy is definitely growing, and I think it might need some more greasing up to aid it on its way.

Now don’t get me wrong: I adore a beauty product – and any valid excuse to buy one is good in my books. As mentioned, so far I’ve been getting by with a couple of soaking/oiling products and if you’re averse to the whole bottle squeezing-rubbing-soaking in rigmarole, I would totally recommend this trio.

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Image source: Soap and Glory

Exfoliate – this probably takes the same time as moisturising, but I find it a hell of a lot more satisfying – I think it’s because I can immediately feel the difference. Soap and Glory’s Pulp Friction smells zingy and fresh and delicious and the fine particles really cling onto your skin until you’re ready to rinse away all those dead skin cells you’ve just sloughed away. Yummy.

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Image source: Superdrug

Shower/bath oil – this almond one by L’Occitane is absolute manna for your nose and body. I’m not normally an advocate of spending a load on products that are just going to be drained down the plug hole – and at £17.50 a bottle is expensive, but completely worthwhile. The aroma is sweet but deep and so almondy and it lathers up a treat. Also great to use as a shaving oil and completely negates the need for moisturiser – yesss.

Body oil – I’ve recently been using Garnier Body Ultimate Beauty Oil and have been impressed. For some reason the scent takes me right back to Thailand – obviously a plus. It’s a spray applicator so not messy and soaks in fast, so no angry waiting for me. Also not bad value at £7.99 (it’s often on offer too in supermarkets or pharmacies). I’ve been using mine for months (albeit quite grudgingly) and I’ve only used about a fifth.

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Image source: L’Occitane

So, these three products have been serving me well, but I’m thinking as baby M gets bigger and bigger (please baby, not TOO big) – I’m going to need more moisture to make the stretching a little more comfortable. I hear that stretch marks are unavoidable if you’re predisposed to them due to your skin type… but you gotta live in hope, right? Have you used any decent pregnancy oils, butters or *shudder* moisturisers? This might be the one time I take a deep breath and just get on with it.

Maternity wear: an endurance test

I am most definitely a child of the first generation of internet shopping. Or ‘e-commerce’ as I seem to remember it was coined back in the day.

ASOS? I was there when it launched as As Seen On Screen and retailed clothing and home items that allowed you to copy your fave Friends / pop star of the day. I ordered multiple cynical slogan hoodies on my mum’s credit card from Golddigga (after explaining the concept of buying something from a virtual shop and reassuring her that she wouldn’t become a victim of online fraud), before it became unfathomly chavvy. Sometime around the turn of the millennium, I seem to remember purchasing a witty Toby Mott slogan baseball top which took about a month to arrive. Zoe Ball and Sara Cox were wearing them at the time: it was worth the wait.

My point being, I have a deep love of online shopping and spend way more time scrolling through thumbnails; filtering search results to find exactly what I want and scouring the web for discount codes than I do walking around the actual shops. Obviously then, I was straight online as soon as I needed some maternity gear (who am I kidding? It wasn’t long after I found out I was pregnant).

It’s a good job I am well acquainted with online shopping, because there doesn’t seem to be much on offer in the shops these days. Dorothy Perkins and Zara have completely stopped selling maternity wear. Top Shop do some fashion forward pieces, but only in the bigger stores. H&M do offer maternity gear in a lot of stores, but trying to yank the right size jeans out of an overstuffed rail of random grey/black/blue items is a worst experience than going to a jumble sale for me.

Once I’d had a preliminary look around my local high street I quickly retreated back to the computer screen. There are LOTS of options out there but with Google on my side, I wasn’t going to be phased. A couple of months on, and I’ve managed to get a few decent basics but have just about lost the enthusiasm of shopping for anything more fun and fashionable. Possibly good news for my maternity leave savings – but it makes getting dressed in the morning awfully dreary.

Loads of websites raved about ebay for bargain, lightly used maternity wear. Makes sense, so I was right on it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big ebay fan generally – but from the maternity purchases I made, I think I’ve only actually worn one work dress regularly. A couple of pieces went back to the sellers as they were definitely not ‘very good condition’ – or hugely different to the size advertised. A couple of items I’ve just relisted, after finding that the fit was wrong. There may be great bargains out there, but I’m just not seeing them. There seems to be a lot of demand for maternity stuff on ebay, which means the prices are pretty high for a second hand items. Couple that with the difficulty of returning items once you’ve won the auction, and I’ve crossed ebay off my maternity clothing shopping list.

A quick run through the best I’ve found:

ASOS: Ah, ASOS, I knew you wouldn’t let me down. But you are a little hit and miss. I now order two sizes in anything that’s ASOS own brand, as the fit seems to differ on everything. These Ridley jeans were an early pregnancy sales purchase and have turned out to be a lifesaver. Although I actually dyed them black once I realised I needed a black pair of jeans but couldn’t find anything else as comfy (plus the same style black jeans are twice as expensive). The prices are quite reasonable – especially if you manage to get a discount code – and I’m a huge fan of their free deliveries and returns policy and fast returns – other online retailers have a lot to learn. I’ve only splashed out on jeans, tops and tights but am currently considering a couple of dresses to cover me for Christmas time weddings and other events. Prices are generally decent as long as you don’t order a dud item (some stuff is horrible quality). There are often discount codes emailed around or posted on Twitter/Facebook – and the sales are pretty regular and worth a look.

New Look: Good selection of basics for really decent prices. However, I’ve still only bought a vest top from New Look – and that was in store. I hear lots of good things about the maternity jeans, but I can never blimmin’ find the style that I want in the right size and colour. Sizing seems to be off here too – I ordered what I thought would be an 8-10 but pair of jeans, but they must have been at least a 14 fit. Stores are pretty fast at processing returns quickly – although you have to pay to return things by post – annoying! ASOS actually stock a limited range of New Look maternity items – so if you can find what you want there, it’s probably worth it for the free delivery and easy, free returns by post. For the price and decent quality though, I’ll probably return  to New Look when I get bigger and am in need of more over the bump bottoms. There is currently a 25% off code around (think it expires today so hurry!) which makes it even better value… I think I might have even tempted myself.

Jojomamanbebe: Wouldn’t have considered this for maternity wear until I was looking at the delicious babygros and noticed that they stock adult clothing too. Some of the stock is a little ‘old’ (i.e. wrap dresses and bootleg trousers all the way) – but the support leggings I have are excellent quality and a revelation after sticking it out in standard fit leggings for so long. They also seem to stock a rare pair of straight leg work trousers, so I might crack and order those if getting dressed for work gets any more depressing over the next few weeks. Look around for discount codes to take a bit of money off, as prices are a bit higher than ASOS and New Look – I found a 10% code after a little searching.

One last internet shopping related note: CASHBACK! I’ve bored all friends and family – probably work colleagues – to death with this, but as you’re a new audience I feel I have to share the benefits of cash back sites. I use Topcashback as you don’t pay a fee to use it (others like Quidco are very popular but I think you do pay a usage fee). Just sign up, log in, and click through the cash back site to your chosen retailer. The three sites above are all on Topcashback and usually offer around 3-10% cash back. If you’re buying a few bits, it’s really worth it and you get whatever other discount codes are on offer deducted on top of the cash back. You just don’t get that amount of satisfaction from paying full price in a shop.

I think I’ve just about run out of steam on this mission and have finally come full circle, back to thinking about items that are non-maternity, but will work for the last few months of pregnancy and beyond. Like a true online shopping geek, I have a Pinterest board – let me know if you’d like to see a short post on what I’ve managed to find.

Have you had any good maternity wear bargains? Have you bought from any online stores – or actual real shops – that are doing a good job? More recommendations are very welcome – but I might just have to cut up my credit card first.

Burning with the bump

Me, in fitter times.

Me, in fitter times.

I hauled my sorry self out of bed yesterday, ignoring the dark, cold day outside; drove into work; sat down at my desk. And promptly tried not to cry. I haven’t ached this much all over since my pre-pregnancy return to body pump classes. I actually thought I might be coming down with a virus.

But no, I was just being a bit pathetic – although I still feel a little bit awful today, pity me. This weekend saw me do two bits of exercise: the first proper breathless workouts I’ve done in more than three months.

The first was an ill-advised walk-jog down the road with the husband and back again. Aside from the novelty of just about managing to zip up my previously baggy running top over my growing bump, it was probably a bad idea. I didn’t push it too much and alternated a couple of minutes’ gentle jogging with walking – but I won’t lie, my joints really ached the next day and not in a good way.

The second session was a million times better and with a specialist antenatal personal trainer, natch.

I did wonder whether another chunk of cash spent on the one-off session might be a bit extravagant, on top of my second block of pregnancy yoga sessions (and the million other baby bits we seem to be acquiring). But it was absolutely £40 very well spent. You see, I’m one of those insufferable people who gets out of sorts, frustrated, ok even slightly angry if I don’t get enough fresh air and exercise. The past couple of months haven’t been my best (and just don’t ask my poor husband what my mood’s been like). I really needed to snap out of it and get back to a bit of exercise.

My trainer, also a qualified midwife, knew her stuff and had the reassuring air that comes with having dealt with thousands of pregnant ladies. I booked the session partly for some exercise ideas to try out while pregnant – but equally for the reassurance that I could pick up exercise again after months of horrible nausea and tiredness – and not die/hurt my baby.

Advice around exercise while pregnant is extremely sketchy, so I’d lost confidence in what was safe and possible to do, beyond swimming and yoga. I know that women have different needs and conditions during pregnancy, so I can understand the requirement to speak to a GP or midwife before exercising – but even the advice I received from both when explaining my predicament was very vague. If you want to do more than light stretching – but haven’t matched the stealth of Paula Radcliffe and continued to run 10Ks since getting your positive pregnancy test, it seems that you fall into the gulf of No Information. However, apparently, people like me are in the majority and most pregnant women start exercising again when they’re 16-20 weeks pregnant. Phew.

I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of the session, but it gave me the knowledge and reassurance that I needed and has given me a fresh enthusiasm for exercise, which was very much needed.

The workout Bernadette showed me consisted of some interval power walking with weights (this is what caused a lot of my aching I think!) and then some mat work inside, going through core strength exercises. Who knew power walking was so strenuous? I would have mocked it previously, but it really did the trick at giving me a blood pumping workout – while not feeling too hard on my achy running bones.

While we stuck to walking down the road and mat work in my living room – the principles of aerobic interval and core strength training are ones that I can easily take to the gym too. Haha Mr Gym Manager, just when you thought you’d made a packet on my annual upfront payment, I will finally strike back (albeit very slowly – wearing ridiculously stretched gym gear).

Just a few useful points and principles from the workout that we went through that I’ll definitely be using both outside and in the gym:

  • 10 minutes’ warm up – including stretching, around five minutes’ walking and a posture check (the pelvis position check was a revelation – if you’re pregnant, I urge you to do this as much as possible – google it).
  • 20 minutes of cardio intervals – this could be power walking, cross trainer, etc. Five minutes of warming up and down and ten minutes of interval training (two minutes at 50 per cent effort and one minute at 70-80 per cent)
  • 15 minutes’ resistance training – we did a box press up, squats and side leg raises on the mat – and some others which I can’t explain fully in a pithy style… It was good to know that things like press ups and squats are still ok – as this is the kind of thing I wasn’t sure about.
  • 10 minutes’ cool down – gentle stretching.

Ok, so I haven’t actually made it outside in my trainers again yet – or to the gym – but I can actually see it happening this week and have the drive to make it happen, which is a great turnaround in motivation from last week. If you’re in the same situation as me and have the time and cash, I would wholeheartedly recommend finding a trainer who specialises in antenatal fitness and getting back on it. And if you’re based around Warwickshire, I would definitely look Bernadette up.