It takes a village to dress a working mother

Usually I get little girl side-eye, or murmurs of “that’s lots of black” about my workdrobe, but yesterday I finally sussed an outfit that my kids are happy with: See it here on my Facebook page. It totally takes a village to dress a working mother though…the leather jacket is a hand-me-down from my bestie in Melbourne, the skirt was a purchase from #Federation ‘strongly encouraged’ by one of my closest friends who rocks the same adult tutu in another colour, the inspo to try something different outside of my usual cloak of darkness came from my WorkWife who smashes out new looks more often than I change the bath towels (and she took the boomerang video – #workwife is taking over #InstagramHusband ), and bonus confidence shot from my little girls who said “Ooooo, Mummy that looks pretty!”.

Can I take a moment to talk about bodysuits though? Of course I can, this is my page. So I wore a bodysuit, which I haven’t done since 1992 when all I wanted from life was a bodysuit and a pair of 501s. I loved the whole tucked-in-top-without-having-to-constantly-tuck-it-in scenario, but because I also had on tights and knickers it meant there was a lot of coverage in the crotchal area. Questions were flying through my head that I never imagined asking myself: do I do the bodysuit up over tights, or under? Do I look like a demented gymnast? What happens if I sit awkwardly on one of the domes? The bodysuit and I survived the day, but it definitely added a significant time delay to all bathroom trips, which turned out to be a common theme for the day as WorkWife was wearing a jumpsuit with a blazer over the top and a blazer tied around her waist for a colour splash.
Has anyone got any good/bad/ugly bodysuit experiences?

The name game

Before I had my own babies, I couldn’t understand why people would say “still deciding on a name” in their birth announcement. What? You’ve had nine months to prepare for this moment! How hard it is to choose a name? Er, actually harder than it looks, I discovered when pregnant for the first time.

Jeremy (my husband) and I had decided not to find out what we were having, so we needed options both ways. We set perimeters on name-choosing rules, such as checking there were no notorious criminals with that moniker, no names of ex-partners or meanies from school, and making sure it wouldn’t sound silly with our last name (when we got married, I was keen on having one family surname, but filled out the forms somewhat reluctantly because my married name makes me sound like a drunk Irishman).

We both loved the same boy’s name. Sorted. A girl’s middle name would be Clare, after my mother. BAM, we were nailing this naming thing and I was only about eleven minutes pregnant.

But then we needed a girl first name option. My favourite name forever had been Nina, but that’s what all the grandkids call my mother in law, so it was struck off for being too confusing. Both of us loved the name Frankie, but we’d already used that name up (without much foresight) on our cat. Jeremy didn’t like my suggestions, and I didn’t like his. And so began months of conversations that started with me enthusiastically reading from a long list I’d compiled that day, then ended with me huffily saying “well YOU think of a better option then. No, not that one. Not that one either”. We opened the floor to family and friends. Ideas flew thick and fast, but none of them quite right. I started watching the credits of movies and T.V. programmes, in the hope that I’d spot The Perfect Name scrolling up our screen. Nope.

I still held fast to my shortlist of favourite names, and one of my wise friends said, “look, pick your favourite, and then if the baby is a girl, just weakly announce that’s what you want to call her in the delivery room. Jeremy will be so relieved you’re ok he’ll go with anything”. Then we found out I was going to need a scheduled caesarean, so that strategy went out the window.

One evening after talking on the phone to my best friend Amy (while making a vat of porridge for my post-dinner snack), I waddled back to the couch and Jeremy said, “Amy is a really nice name. Have you ever met an Amy you didn’t like?” I immediately looked up the meaning and hormonally shouted, “it means ‘beloved’ or ‘loved friend’! It’s going on the shortlist!”

Not long after, our beautiful daughter was placed on my chest, and we immediately agreed she was an Amy. Best-friend-Amy was thrilled, promptly got a puppy and named it Jeremy.

Second time around, I understood why one of my friends got an official government department letter stating they had to register a name for their third baby or one would be allocated for him. We still had our boy name up our sleeve, but not an agreed-upon girl name to be seen. I’d pulled out my old shortlist, but all options were rejected. We started pondering if having a cat and a baby with the same name would really be such a bad thing.

To further complicate things for ourselves, we realised that all our names (including the cat’s) ended in an “ee” sound. Would child #2 feel left out if theirs didn’t, too? Something to ponder as I ate my nightly tub of ice cream.

A few nights before baby #2 was due to make a nameless appearance, as my latest suggestion had just been rejected for sounding like a stripper’s name, I sat down to read a new book to Amy. I didn’t have a whole lot of energy (or ankles, for that matter), but I was totally into the main character in the story – a little cutie called Tilly. “Hey, ‘Tilly’ is a really nice name,” said Jeremy as he walked past on his way to find me another bag of chips, “if the baby is a girl we should call her Tilly”. And so we did.

Several days later, I was explaining to the hospital midwife prodding my breasts that Tilly’s middle name was Judge, after my Granny (that was her last name), which I hoped would balance out the cuteness of a name like Tilly. “Oh love”, said the midwife, “I don’t think you’re allowed to call her Judge – there are rules about giving names that indicate a ranking – like King, General, and Duke”. “Nooo!” I shrieked, “I’ve already announced it on Facebook!”

Fortunately the pleading letter I sent to the department of Births, Deaths and Marriages outlining the family history of the name was accepted. I also threw in that I’d probably only use her middle name when she was naughty and I needed to use her full name for effect…I’m pretty sure if they knew how often I now shout “Tilly Judge McPike!” they wouldn’t have let it through.

IMG_0873.JPG    IMG_0872.JPG

This column was originally published in the NZ Autumn 2017 edition of Little Treasures Magazine.

Leave it on the playground


With the weather sending out flirty sunny signals by way of apologising for the recent flooding in our city, we decided to get together with some friends and their kids for a combined family lunch and play. Given that there were nine of us in total (four adults, five kids), there was a bit of a wait for a table, but with a fantastic playground adjacent to the restaurant you could buy wrist bands to play on, the wait was no bother at all. The kids got stuck in to the busy playground, and the adults chatted while keeping an eye out for any potential flight risks, and an ear out for any “I’ve fallen off this thing here and something is probably broken!” shrieks.  A good waiting time was had by all. Or so I thought.

Just after we’d sat down and all disputes over coloured cups had been settled, my five year old daughter whispered “oh no, here comes that mean girl”, and shrank back into her seat as a little girl who looked to be a couple of years older than mine approached our table with her mother. “Hello”, I said to the little girl, who was wearing a rad cardigan. Mother and daughter stared at me silently and I offered up an awkward smile.

Eventually, “your daughter was really mean to me on the playground”, said rad-cardie-wearing-girl. Oh shit. I thought to myself. If she’s hit this kid or said something really nasty I’m going to have to take her home right now, but I’ve just ordered kumara fries and I really, really want the kumara fries.

My five year old is a lot of things, but she’s no bully, and exclusively reserves all threats of violence for her little sister. She genuinely wants to be liked, so only unloads assholery onto me or her dad, which studies show is because kids behave better for other people, then unleash All The Feelings when they’re with their parents because they feel like that’s their safe emotional place. I’ve read about these studies in at least three articles on the Internet, so it must be true. I like to smugly think “my child is being a major dick to me – and ONLY me – right now because I’m a really, really good parent”. That thought carries me through the tanties with my sanity intact.

So, I was fairly confident neither punches nor hate speech had been thrown, but wanted to get to the bottom of why there was a mother/daughter restaurant intervention underway.  “What happened?” I asked. “She said I was being stupid”, said rad-cardie-girl. Rad-cardie-girl’s mother stood glaring at me and my aura of substandard parenting ability. At this point, my daughter burst into tears and said “I didn’t call her stupid, I said ‘wait, this is my hole’ because I was already climbing into a hole and then she tried to climb into it before I had finished climbing through, and Mummy can we please just leave? I don’t want to be here”.

“Oh dear, it sounds like these two might have had a disagreement on the playground”, I said pseudo-cheerily, “it doesn’t sound like it was too serious”. By this stage I had a sobbing five year old on my lap, and the eyes of the eyes of the restaurant were on us, but rad-cardie-girl wanted an apology (for what?!) goddam it, and she and her mother were going to stand silently over us, using The Force to dredge it out. My kid started sobbing harder, because it really sucks when you’ve been accused of something and you feel like everyone is looking at you. It’s like a maître d’ coming to your table and loudly announcing, “I think your credit card might decline even though I haven’t swiped it yet! I shall now cut it up theatrically in front of you, your friends, and all these other patrons!”

If working in the corporate world taught me one thing, it’s how to proffer a passive aggressive non-apology-apology to diffuse a situation without actually admitting any fault. So, “I’m sorry your daughter is upset”, I mumbled, “I think that’s the end of it now thanks”.

Rad-cardie-girl and her silent scowling mother finally slowly moved away from our table, I think mainly because they’d clocked that my friend (who is one of those amazingly loyal friends who’d absolutely cut a bitch if you asked her to) was starting to spit and hiss like an ally cat on meth. She limited her simmering explosion to growling, “that was completely inappropriate!” in silent-mum’s direction #SoRestraint #MuchCompose etc.

When tears had stopped and the fries had arrived, my friend’s 10 year old (he and his brother are the kinds of boys that make me want to immediately race out and have dozens of sons, just like them) backed up my kid’s version of events in PlaygroundGate. He added that rad-cardie-girl had gone and gotten her mum and the two of them had chased my daughter while demanding an apology.  Before anyone suggests I wasn’t watching my child, I’d just like to disclose that this was when I was literally peeling my three year old off playground equipment to get her to the restaurant before we lost our long-awaited table. I thought my five year old was running toward me because she was just as excited as I was about ordering fries. I hadn’t noticed the mother/daughter combo in pursuit.

In a major plot twist, my friend’s 10 year old said that the rad-cardie-girl wasn’t even wearing a wristband! She was illegally on the playground in the first place! I can’t confirm if this information is factual (perhaps it was hidden under her cardie sleeve), but I admire his unwavering commitment to following protocol at all times. The 10 year old was incensed by the whole palaver, and sagely said, “I think that mum is a helicopter parent”.

And he is absolutely right, because what the actual fuck? It’s a pretty intense parent who tracks a five year old down and humiliates her in front of her family and friends over a tiny tiff.

Yes, Silent Mum did a disservice to my child by accusing her of something without knowing both sides of story and ruining what had been a happy day, but the greatest disservice is to her own child, who is learning that she needs someone else to step in and fix every situation she’s not 100% happy with.

My daughter maintains she didn’t say, “you’re being an idiot”, but even if she did, she’s not wrong. You don’t try and force yourself into a space someone is already half in without expecting some sort of verbal backlash. In the same way I say “you silly sausage” when someone doesn’t merge like a zip (if my kids aren’t in the car, it’s less “silly sausage” and more “shitting fuckcake”), telling someone they’re out of line isn’t…well, out of line. A low-key verbal dispute over ownership of a tunnel in a playground is not something you need to call in mummy reinforcements over.

What happens when rad-cardie-girl faces all the disappointments that life is going to throw at her?

I failed a test?

I didn’t get my dream job?

Adele tickets are all sold out?

I can’t drive like a shitstick without people honking at me?

Someone just outbid me on an over-priced ‘renovator’s dream’ in Grey Lynn?


Wanting to step in and do everything for your child is really, really tempting, especially when watching them trying to master a skill or emotion themself is frustrating or heartbreaking. My eldest child still outsources shoe tying to the nearest adult for this very reason. But constantly hovering and intervening creates a rod for your back, and does nothing to prepare your child for Real Life.

Learning the difference about when to encourage them to involve an adult is also a delicate art. I want my children to know that if they’re hurt, sad, in trouble, bullied, confused, or worried then I’m their first port of call. On the other hand, if they’re steaming up because someone else has the green pencil they want, I want them to negotiate that state of affairs themselves.

This particular tiff really should have been left on the playground. But, if rad-cardie-girl’s mum had discreetly pulled me aside and said, “hey, our girls had a slight disagreement over tunnel ownership, I don’t really know what happened but my kid wants to get something off her chest, do you think we could take them somewhere quiet and get them to talk about it so she doesn’t whinge at me about it for the rest of the day?” I would have totally been into that. #LifeSkills #ConflictResolution #ByTheWayILoveYourCardigan #LetsBeBFFsNow etc.

Staging a mother/daughter stand-in over a sobbing five year old wearing expressions like constipated Stormtroopers wasn’t a shining beacon in the stormy sea of teaching kids how to process emotions. Me offering my daughter ice cream to help her feel better probably wasn’t my best parenting choice either, but at least I didn’t spoon-feed it to her.

Rachel’s Boob-boo

On Valentine’s Day, Rachel Smalley used her ‘Rachel Smalley’s Opinion’ slot in the NZ Herald to have a substantial crack at women who’ve gone under a plastic surgeon’s knife or needle.

Boob jobs, in particular, have really gotten Rachel’s natural tits in a tangle. Rachel takes a stab that she thinks plastic surgeons like to call ‘boob jobs’ ‘breast augmentation’. Great sleuthing! Plastic surgeons DO like to call boob jobs ‘breast augmentation’, because that is the medical terminology for the procedure. Enlightened by the first few paragraphs that small nipples are in, and a B-cup is the new D-cup, I started getting a bit antsy when Rachel waded into “just be happy with your body; plastic surgery is for weirdos” territory.

“Ooooh, careful, Rachel”, I thought to myself, “have you forgotten #LardoGate? Remember that one time you accidentally left your mic on during the ad break in your radio show and said that New Zealand women are all a pack of lardos and heifers for having an average weight over 70kgs? People got pretty cross about that”.

So, the woman who looks down her nose at any woman who isn’t sub-70 also won’t abide anyone who doesn’t just accept how she is. I wasn’t alone in my brow furrowing over that paradigm (although the fact I can actually furrow my brow kind of makes me okay in Rachel’s Book of Looks), and found a welcoming community of fellow “What-The-Fuck?!”-ers in the Herald Facebook comments section.

And then shit got weirder. Rachel, the journalist who has brought our attention to topics such as the Syrian conflict and the state of the NZ health system, made a cringe-worthy leap by suggesting anyone who faffs about with their body is giving up their right to be taken seriously. She goes as far as to say it gives her grave fears for the future of women. Equality and a non-natural figure are mutually exclusive, apparently. Um, Rachel? Donald Trump called and he wants you to lead his team of speechwriters.

By that token, am I, with my chemically lightened hair, to be taken less seriously than my naturally hued or male counterparts? Careful with that one, Rachel, because those sun-kissed tresses you rock don’t look 100% god-given. And should a common utterance in boardrooms across the country be, “that’s an excellent idea, Janice, but could someone with thinner lips and a less perky pair of tits suggest it so we can put the plan to our shareholders with some credibility?”

I know some highly intelligent, confident and successful women. Some of them have fake breasts, and some of them don’t. Sure, it’s not a flawless, peer-reviewed scientific study, but I’d like to table my theory that the breasts do not maketh the woman.

A core component of feminism (or a supporter of equal rights for women, if the term “feminist” makes you clutch at your pearls and say, “oh but I’m not an ACTUAL feminist – I shave my armpits!” Side note: men can be feminists, too) is the right to freedom of choice. Implying that it’s anti-feminist for women to make decisions about their own bodies is about as anti-feminist as it gets.

There are many reasons a woman may elect to star in her own personal episode of Nip Tuck. Maybe it’s a breast reconstruction following a mastectomy, a breast reduction to stop chronic neck pain, a spot of Botox so people will stop saying, “why do you look so angry all the time?” a bit of filler to pad out wrinkles caused by a past life of smoking or sucking on sipper bottles (watch out for that one!), having ears pinned back, a breast augmentation to reclaim a bit of pre-motherhood pertness, or a breast augmentation just because she really fucking wants one. Is everyone who has dabbled with the dark arts of plastic surgery to now hide away, shamed by the knowledge that Rachel Smalley disapproves of their life choices? Or, should non-natural ladies be rounded up and burned at the stake for their selfish disservice to the advancement of womankind?

I’d like to know where her editor is in all of this. Did they not say, “Hey Rach…wait, can I call you Rach? No? My apologies, you’re a professional woman who can choose how she wants to be addressed, so Rachel it is. Hey Rachel, don’t you think your column delivering solid burns to anyone who has surgically spruced themselves is a bit on the body-shaming spectrum?”

I want to like Rachel, I really do. She’s intelligent, she’s successful, she supports charities, she’s written some incredible pieces, and delivered some hard-hitting interviews. She’s a mother (I noted the #humblebrag about reading Dr Seuss to her son in the Boobs article), a committed runner, and a woman who has climbed the ranks in her career. Inspiring. Noble.

So why did Rachel take a misguided stab at the synthetic-sisterhood? Spoiler alert: it’s not because she has “grave fears for the future of women”.

Rachel is in the enviable position of being able to reach a great number of New Zealanders, via multiple media forms. She has the nation’s ear, if you will. Instead of using her platform to deliver a thought-provoking or uplifting message, she used it to take a deliberate bite out of a woman who used to be her friend.

Rachel refers in her column to “a woman” she saw in her social media feed over the weekend who had recently had a boob job. Rachel doesn’t like That Woman’s boobs, oh no she doesn’t, because they’re fake and too far apart. She goes on to accuse That Woman’s boobs of not even liking each other because they’re SO far apart. She reckons That Woman’s boobs might even be having an argument, because they’re SO far apart. They’re SO far apart, you could drive a Mini Clubman through the middle of them, she tittered.

I know That Woman. She helped Rachel integrate into a new community several years ago. They had shared interests (That Woman even inspired Rachel to take up running. Go, Sisterhood!), kids of similar ages, and mutual friends. Kids’ birthday parties were attended, ladies’ getaways were shared, lasagnes were delivered during times of sickness, all good friendship stuff. Then they had a falling out. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular falling out – Julie Christie isn’t clambering for the rights to turn it into a series – but feelings on both sides were hurt, and the friendship was laid to rest. Relations were frosty, but then last year I was with That Woman at a marathon event and we bumped into Rachel. Smiles and running results were exchanged. It seemed that the frost had thawed and the two of them could happily exist around each other at mutual gatherings without any blood (or Chardonnay) being shed. Because moving on and letting go is what grownups do.

Apparently not, judging by Rachel’s Valentine’s Day column.

I get it. Friendships end, and that’s really sad sometimes. But passive-aggressively pissing in the nation’s ear about it and body shaming many others by way of collateral damage is a dick move at best.

There’s a lot of sadness and uncertainty in That Woman’s personal life right now, which made the “yo titties SO bad” jibes a bitter pill to swallow (and having seen them in the flesh, I can confidently state that those boobs are things of beauty). Another friend and I stood beside That Woman as she worried her unintentional #PersonalProblems weight loss made her chest look too bony for the dress she was about to wear to her 40th birthday party (which she’d just almost cancelled). We assured her she looked amazing, because she did. Celebrations ensued, fun times were had, and guests peppered their social media with the party pics that Rachel found oh-so-offensive.

Rachel’s boob shaming column tried to take the shine off That Woman’s 40th (seriously, it must be a special kind of bitterness that drives someone to choose a woman’s 40th birthday as the ideal time to start ankle-nipping like an inbred Jack Russell). At first it did. That Woman felt humiliated, hurt, and angry. But then she decided that she’d take this particular lemon life had lobbed at her, slice it up, and pop it in a gin and tonic.

So, That Woman has commemorated Rachel’s sanctimonious drivel with a custom printed t-shirt. She’s had two made, and has sent one to Rachel in the hope she’ll remember to use her privileged platform to build women up instead of picking them apart.


That Woman is an awesome woman indeed.

Step aside, Sanctimommy

Not only does the Internet offer up things that make me laugh and give me the opportunity to see what complete strangers are doing with their lives and décor, it helps me feel connected to the world on days when I don’t see any other adults. The Internet has also introduced me to the concept of the ‘Sanctimommy’.

A sensational mash-up of the words ‘Sanctimonious’ and ‘Mommy’, a Sanctimommy exists to tell the rest of us exactly when and how we’re screwing up parenting, without sparing our mediocre mothering feelings.

Let’s say you entered a picture of your family enjoying a picnic at the beach for an online competition. “Oh cute”, chimes in the Sanctimommy, “but I can see a bottle of bought sunscreen on the blanket there – it blows my mind that people rub toxic chemicals on their precious baby’s skin. I make my own from organic oils. It’s time consuming, but I actually love my children so it’s worth the effort. Those sandwiches are clearly made from refined flour – are they even homemade?” Suddenly, your happy family snap has become a metaphor for your failings as a parent.

In the same way that my grandfather used to listen to talk back radio just to wind himself up, I often find myself reading comments’ sections in the full knowledge that I’m just going to get all huffy and nostril-flarey about the outpouring of judgement from mothers who think they know best. Sometimes, ignoring the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” advice I dish out to my kids, I’ll even bash out a snarky and defensive comment in retaliation. I’m not alone in getting my hackles up – one clever mother has devoted an entire Facebook page to rolling her eyes at Sanctimommy chatter.

‘Attachment Parenting’ seems to be a hot button for many a Sanctimommy. Strict followers of the movement uphold that attachment concepts such as baby-wearing, co-sleeping, breast-feeding on demand, and practicing positive discipline will result in children who are more secure and empathetic than their counterparts. Some followers believe in it so strongly that they form mothers’ groups only open to women who adhere to the attachment guidelines (ok, I get it, I often like to surround myself with like-minded people), and seem to revel in shaming mothers who don’t in online forums, suggesting that they obviously don’t love their babies as much as attachment parents do (yeah, that’s where they lose me, too).

I dabbled in a bit of Attachment Parenting myself. Not from any position of moral superiority, but because I had a noisy little baby who seemed insatiably hungry and would not sleep unless she was carried, and a toddler who wanted to get out and do stuff. The front pack became our best friend as I sashayed into my role of Baby Wearer. The baby slept in our room in a Moses basket, purely so she didn’t wake the entire household when she woke every 45 minutes demanding to be fed. I was an Accidental Attachment Parent, and it worked for us for a while. I’d like to say I also strictly followed the “positive discipline” angle, but somehow I don’t think “please do what I’m asking so I don’t lose my mind for the 47th time today” is quite the positivity Attachment Parenting is gunning for.

A sore back, sciatica, exhaustion, and nipples that were in danger of looking like the thumbs of a cross-eyed builder all indicated that perhaps Attachment Parenting wasn’t for me. The Sanctimommies peppering my online research into how to break out of attachment revealed that perhaps I was just a crap parent. Fortunately, I was immune to the wrath of their judgement, having been fully inoculated against it whilst researching caesarean deliveries before my first baby was born. Terrified by the tales of surgical complications, babies that wouldn’t bond with their mothers, and the surety that I would be less of a woman if I didn’t welcome a baby into the world via my lady-parts, I asked my obstetrician to reconsider his caesarean recommendation. Who did he think he was, a doctor with a mere twenty-year’s obstetric experience, to question me, a first time mother with a solid six hours of Googling under her belt?

Commonsense prevailed, and baby #1 was born via caesarean with her collarbone intact. She still seems to love me just fine, and I’ve never heard her say “I’m throwing this tantrum as a direct result of the fact that I came out the sunroof instead of the door!” By the time I was pregnant with #2, I was Team C-Section all the way. Both my caesareans were medically necessary, but – get your pitchforks ready now, Sanctimommies – I’d have one again even if it wasn’t. Because it worked for our family. Am I scathing of those who birthed naturally? Hell no! I tip my hat to you all.

Support, humour, and a space to vent make up the best parts of the online world for parents. Pregnancy and child rearing are minefields, and we can all learn a lot from each other through sharing experiences and solicited advice. What the Sanctimommy seems incapable of understanding is that there is no one definitive correct way to parent. Different approaches work for different people, and so long as no child (or mother!) is being put in harm’s way, then that’s ok. You over there with your dolphin assisted birthing and paleo cupcakes, well, you do you, and I’ll do me. I may even check out your blog sometime and attempt to make your buckwheat pikelets.


Originally in the Summer 2017 edition of Little Treasures Magazine

Body Shaming on The Spinoff

Rachel Smalley made a boob-boo in a national publication. Offence was taken. T-shirts were printed. I wrote an opinion piece about the whole storm in a D-cup, because body shaming is pretty shit, really, and so is brandishing a feminist banner in front of a very un-feminist notion. The fine folk over at The Spinoff decided to run it. Here it is! The Spinoff


I explained the difference between a statement and a question to Tilly, because she was saying “I have to tell you a question!” before every single thing she said. But now she struts around the house shouting, “I need to make a statement!” And it feels like we’re living a preschool version of Law & Order

Go with your gut

In the glamour stakes, the gut ranks somewhere alongside the armpit in the eyes of most people, and is generally left to its own devices. Far from simply being a means of getting food from one end of our body to the other, the gut is the powerhouse of our immune system, and a factory for brain chemicals. I spoke with Rosanne Sullivan from The WellBeing Centre in Auckland and found out why we should be giving this part of our body a whole lot of love and attention.

“It’s estimated that roughly 80 per cent of our immune system is location in our gut”, says Rosanne Sullivan, ” and a significant amount of serotonin (our ‘happiness hormone’) along with other brain chemicals are made in the gut. Yet despite being one of our biggest organs, the gut is not often a popular topic of conversation. But it’s something we should pay a lot more attention to, as the negative effects of an under-performing gut can present in surprising ways.

“The gut is a big, long tube”, explains Rosanne,  “existing to extract goodness from food whilst providing a barrier to unfriendly organisms and toxins entering the blood stream. Good gut flora (the “good” bacteria) keep the cells of the gut healthy. When they’re out of balance with interlopers, such as bad bacteria or certain yeasts, the gut may become permeable, meaning toxins or even food particles could make their way into the blood stream”.

A hostile takeover

Certain foods, stress and antibiotics have the potential to upset our insides.

With diet, it’s the usual suspects we know we should avoid that could trigger or exacerbate a gut imbalance. Rosanne suggests minimising the family’s intake of processed cane sugar, refined white flour, sugary soft drinks and too much fruit juice.

Rosanne points out, “It can be hard to avoid antibiotics, as they are necessary to treat certain illnesses. But antibiotics kill off some of the good bacteria in the process of killing off the bad bacteria, so multiple courses of antibiotics without re-balancing the gut may cause issues. Good flora numbers may also decrease for adults and children during periods of stress”.

What can happen when the good guys are outnumbered?

Reflux, colic, excessive spilling, eczema, oral thrush and nappy rash are on Rosanne’s list of symptoms that could signal your baby’s system isn’t working as it should, and she suggests a nappy check for unusually sloppy or hard stools, or for undigested food (for babies on solids).

“Sometimes”, says Rosanne, “a temporary food intolerance can occur when good gut flora is at a sub-optimal level. For example a child may have tolerated dairy all their life, but a compromised gut barrier following a bout of sickness or course of antibiotics has allowed dairy proteins into their blood stream. This could trigger an immune response to dairy. Temporarily avoiding dairy whilst taking measures to boost gut flora can help bring things back to status quo”.

Aside from tummy troubles and skin woes, Rosanne points out that with so many brain chemicals being manufactured in the gut, it’s worth giving your child’s gut flora a bit of attention if you notice a change in behaviour. No promises though – it might just be the terrible twos kicking in! And, of course, do contact your GP if you have serious concerns about your baby or child’s behaviour.

Building up your family’s flora


Rosanne says taking probiotics is a great way to help good bacteria repopulate the gut when numbers have been depleted (for example, after a course of antibiotics). Available from pharmacies, health food stores and directly from Naturopaths, probiotics are available as loose powders or in capsule form for babies through to adults, and generally need to be kept refrigerated.

“Following a course of antibiotics, 3-6 weeks of probiotics is beneficial in regenerating good gut flora”, Rosanna suggests.

For children and babies on solids: You can try adding probiotic powder to drinks or cold food (e.g. mix into yoghurt).

For babies: Try mixing probiotic powder with a little cooled, boiled water and feed it to them from a soft spoon. If you’re having trouble getting probiotics into a breastfed baby you can even sprinkle some of the powder on to your nipple during feeding.

Everyday diet

Besides taking probiotic supplements, there are foods we can introduce into the whole family’s diet that will help promote good gut flora numbers day-to-day. Rosanne’s top picks are:

  • Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and miso soup
  • Coconut kefir (you can find this in the fridge in health food stores)
  • Milk kefir, and plain yoghurt
  • Sourdough bread might be an alternative to standard bread.

(Note: Sauerkraut and kimchi need to be unpasteurised as the pasteurisation process may kill the good bacteria. Most New Zealand-made ones fit the bill, which can be found in the chiller of specialty food stores, or you could try making your own at home.)

For babies, Rosanne suggests using an eye dropper to drop a few drops of sauerkraut juice, straight on to their tongue: “Some babies make a funny expression the first few times they try sauerkraut, but they soon develop a taste for it”.


Prior to birth, a baby’s gut is completely sterile. Gut flora is passed from mother to baby at birth, from the birth canal, and/or from the mother’s skin following delivery. With that in mind, building up a healthy maternal gut flora during pregnancy is a good way to help your baby on the path to a healthy gut and immune system. Along with the healthy, balanced diet always recommended during pregnancy, you could try boosting your good gut bacteria with kefir, plain yoghurt or fermented foods such as sauerkraut.


Many a breastfeeding mother has suffered through a bout (or five) of mastitis. Sometimes home remedies such as massage and a warm shower may stave off mild mastitis, but antibiotics are often needed to combat the flu-ish, painful condition if it becomes serious.

Antibiotics passing through to the baby via breast milk can be a cause of concern for parents. Rosanne explains “taking probiotics may be of benefit to your baby during and after a course of antibiotics. You can take them yourself, AND give them directly to your baby as well – there are special formulations for babies and children. Probiotics can help to repopulate good gut flora, and if thrush/nappy rash occurs in the case of a yeast imbalance, then a Candida cream with zinc might be helpful as well”.

If you suspect you or your child has an ongoing gut flora imbalance, it may be helpful to see a naturopath. In the case of severe or sudden illness, always seek immediate attention from your doctor, or call 111 in an emergency situation.

Dr Nicola Mohan from Mt Eden Village Doctors adds her views on the probiotic movement:

“Our gut contains a multitude of beneficial bacteria, and when this balance is disrupted (for example by antibiotics) problems such as antibiotic induced diarrhoea can result. A probiotic is a preparation containing live bacteria that aims to replenish or add to the number of helpful bacteria in the body.

Research supports the use of probiotics in some settings – for example, probiotics are routinely given to very premature babies in neonatal units to protect them from serious gut inflammation. There is promising evidence to suggest that probiotics may also be useful in shortening the duration of an infectious diarrhoeal illness and preventing bowel upset following antibiotics, helping clear gastric infections, and reducing the frequency of upper respiratory tract infections (the common cold). Probiotics might provide benefit in a number of other situations, and many studies continue to investigate this, as well as the optimal type, dose and duration of use of probiotics.

While probiotics are generally thought to be safe to take, with few to no side effects, people with serious problems of the immune system or severe gut disease should seek medical advice first”.

Published in the August/October 2016 edition of Little Treasures Magazine (New Zealand)

The upsides of the massive front side

A few friends are pregnant with their first babies at the moment, which has propelled me into a surge of nostalgia – combing through our newborn photos, and getting teary about little socks that I can’t face giving away. My pregnant friends agree that yes, tiny clothes are gorgeous and perusing Moses baskets online is a worthy cause for reaching their data cap, but they all look at me like I’m drunk at 10am when I say, “and isn’t being pregnant just so wonderful?”

Flicking through my pregnancy diary, there are tales of sore hips, exhaustion, uncomfortable nights, and all-day sickness, but I think Mother Nature suppresses those recollections so that the human race continues. Or perhaps the sleep deprivation after Tilly (my youngest) altered my brain function. Either way, the upsides of having a massive front side are dominating my memories.

The clothes

I loved maternity clothes, that wonderful comfortable world of elasticised waist bands and stretchy tops. Seriously, jeans that appear normal, but with little elastic inserts where no one can see? Genius! A couple of friends had babies just before I did and were keen to offload their maternity stuff, so I suddenly had a wardrobe full of extraordinarily comfortable clothes, for FREE. Gone are the sailor dresses and overalls that our mothers wore – preggy gear has taken some serious steps forward in fashion.

Pro tip: hang on to at least one maternity bra. They’re invaluable for stuffing with socks and wearing to costume parties. My husband wore mine just last week when we both had to dress up as Uma Thurman for a quiz night.

The body

Now I realise this one is contentious, because not everyone enjoys the way they morph whilst growing another human, but I thought it was incredible. After years of endometriosis and infertility I’d been feeling a bit let down by my body, but when I was pregnant I felt like it was finally doing something I wanted it to. And when I exceeded the weight gain recommended by the pregnancy books by roughly double (cough), the aforementioned stretchy clothes covered it all up.

Oh, and the boobs…undoubtedly the best bit. When I was six months pregnant, I thought, “Wow, I guess this is how my knockers are going to look from now on, and I’m not at all disappointed”. I realise now I was deluded, but the perky cleavage was fun while it lasted.

Freaking out strangers

A man on a plane displayed his annoyance at having to get out of his seat after I pointed out that me climbing over him with my gigantic bump was a greater inconvenience to both of us than him standing in the aisle for a moment. He then hogged both armrests and rolled his eyes when I asked for the cassava crisps AND the cookie. So just for funsies I spent the flight sporadically wincing and checking the seat for dampness while shooting him worried looks. I’ve never seen anyone bolt so quickly from their seat upon landing.

Terrifying children

When I was pregnant the first time, a curious little boy asked me what was under my shirt. I told him it was a baby, and he asked to hold it. I explained that he couldn’t because it was inside my tummy. He started to back away, looked at me with wide eyes, and whispered: “you mean…you mean you ATE that baby?” Having little experience with the fragile minds of preschoolers at that time, I let out a wicked laugh as he scurried back to his mother and carried on with my day. Now that I have two little girls who cover their eyes during the giant snowman scene in Frozen, I’d like to extend a formal apology to the parents of the little boy who probably still has nightmares about a baby-eating lady.

Food, glorious food

The list of food to avoid when pregnant is lengthy and disappointing. So the logic I employed was to go carte blanche on anything approved for consumption. Eating for two may be a myth, but woe betide anyone who challenges a pregnant woman at a buffet.

The fact I “showed” from eight weeks probably had more to do with the potato scones and lamingtons I inhaled than any actual baby growth. One afternoon I consumed an entire family-sized bag of jellybeans, which I felt justified in doing, as I was, myself, family sized. Then I freaked out about gestational diabetes and was consumed by guilt for days (now there’s a non-fun bit of pregnancy I do remember – the worrying that you’re doing everything wrong bit).


Pregnancy is a roller coaster for some, and a walk in the park for others. Then all of a sudden you find yourself moments from holding your baby in your arms and wondering how you’re going to cope with a newborn. But as I remember, all newborns do is sleep, right?

(originally published in the June/July 2016 edition of Little Treasures Magazine)



Blog at

Up ↑