Blessed & Happy

Some of you may have noticed I’ve been a little quiet on the blog for the last 6 weeks. S and I just got back from the most amazing summer holiday. My cousins were getting married back to back and so the whole family decided to make a holiday of it. We flew to India and spent time in Mumbai, Pune and Goa. We then flew across to the Far East and spent time in Manila, Cebu and Hong Kong.

S got to bond with my four nieces and he had the girls wrapped around his little finger. This trip brought me to many realisations but the two most important are just how happy I am and how blessed I am to have the family and friends that I do. And secondly, how happy S is. The only thing a parent wants is to see a beaming smile on their child’s face and that’s all I see on him.

So now we’re back home and back to routine with a summer full of memories to cherish.

What are your summer plans?

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Pushchair dilemma….solved!

When you find out you’re pregnant, there are so many things that cross your mind. Will I have a boy or a girl? What should I name my baby? Which hospital should I have my baby at? In some cases, which country should I have my baby in? What pushchair should I buy? Will I used cloth diapers or disposable?

Funnily enough, after speaking to many friends, one of the toughest decisions is deciding on a pushchair. There are so many great ones out there at the moment. I always had a name I loved but when deciding on a pushchair, I spent countless hours researching, reading reviews, watching Youtube demos and visiting stores to see how each and every one worked. Quite honestly I drove myself mad and in the end I don’t even think I made the right choice!!

So to help you along a little, here are some tips on picking the right pushchair. For me, the three most important things were:

1. It had to face both ways as I wanted to be able to see S when I was pushing him along.

2. It needed to be lightweight.

3. I needed to be able to fold it easily.

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before deciding on a pushchair:

1. What sort of terrain will I be using it on?

2. How important is it for me to have a bassinet/carrycot with my pushchair?

3. Will I be on my own a lot or will there always be someone to help me with it?

4. Do I have a lift or will I need to be able to lift the pushchair up stairs?

5. Do I want it to be compatible with my car seat?

6. Do I want it to be able to convert into a double in the future?

7. Is it important to me that my baby is parent facing for the first few months?

8. Will I be travelling frequently?

9. How big is my car? Will the pushchair of my choice fit in my booth?

10. Do I want to be able to jog with it? Suspension then is very important.

Now you see how complicated it can get? I used to think maybe I am overthinking things but having spoken to a few mummy friends about it, I think the dilemma of finding the perfect pushchair is on all mama’s minds and funnily enough, I’ve read that a) most people make the wrong choice the first time round and b) the average number of pushchairs owned by a family is apparently 4!!

Here is a round up of some of the best pushchairs (in no particular order) and why:

1. Maclaren – The good ol’ Maclaren, almost every parent has one. Even if it wasn’t their first pushchair, it becomes one that they buy later on as their child grows and they want something lightweight or if they are travelling and want one that folds down umbrella style. The Quest and the Volo are the two popular lightweight choices, followed by the Techno XT and the Techno XLR. I always thought of Maclaren’s as only being forward facing and so a great option for when your child is 6 months+ and not before that (at least for me). Until I discovered the carrycot for the Techno XLR. This can be bought separately and it fits onto the seat of your pram, leaving your child parent facing. Suitable from birth, this pram most definitely grows with your child. Maclaren’s don’t break the bank and they are quite reliable as far as pushchairs go. The Techno XLR retails for approx. £230 but the carrycot needs to be bought separately. It comes with a rain cover, has an extended sun cover, a foot muff, a pram liner and comes in a variety of fab colours.

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2. Bugaboo – Bugaboo’s are relatively new to the pushchair market and now they are all the rage. Almost every second pram in a mall in London is a Bugaboo. The most popular being the Bee, given it’s urban chicness. It’s lightweight, easy to steer, grows with your child, is suitable from birth and comes in a range of colours. The seat can face both ways, the pram folds down quite compactly and can be done one handed. The Bee retails at approx. £500 and you’ll also need to buy the cocoon to make it suitable from birth. This retails for approx. £70. It comes in a variety of pretty colours and designers like Missoni and Andy Warhol have also teamed up with Bugaboo to come out with limited edition Bee’s. Other options are the Chameleon (if you’d like the carrycot option), the Donkey (if you’re having twins or would just like the option of more basket space) and the Buffalo (an all terrain pushchair).

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3. Baby Jogger City Mini – Funnily enough, in all my research, I never came across this one!! Go figure?! The BJCM is sturdy, easy to steer, super easy to fold (again, one handed) and good value for money. The only thing that would have put me off is the forward facing only position. But if you think that is something you can compromise on and you live in the city then this is the pushchair for you.

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4. Uppababy – A bit like the Bugaboo, the Uppababy range of pushchairs have become quite popular in recent years. When I was pregnant with S, the one I had my heart set on was the Vista. However, after much deliberation, I realised it would be quite big for Hong Kong and so changed my mind. If I lived in London at the time, I think I definitely would have gone for that. The Vista has won several awards since it came out a few years ago. It comes with a carry cot, 2 raincovers, 2 SPF 50 sunshades, 2 insect nets and Maxi Cosi car seat adaptors. All this retails for approx. £630 which is good value considering how much you’re getting. The carry cot mattress is good enough for your child to use as a stand alone bassinet at home as well as out and about. When S was a few months old, Uppababy came out with the CRUZ pushchair. It’s a compact stroller solution that doesn’t compromise on the features of it’s big brother the VISTA. It’s suitable from birth (with a carrycot), compatible with a Maxi Cosi car seat, has a great canopy for those sunny days and their USP is most definitely the size of their basket.

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5. Mama’s & Papa’s – M&P’s carry a huge range of pushchairs, I could go on forever if I had to go into each individual one. Essentially I found that many of their pushchairs were inspired by existing models in the market. The Mylo reminded me of the Stokke and the new Armadillo is very similar to the Bee. M&P’s thrive on great products at decent prices. I actually ended up buying a Sola, used it a few times before I realised I wouldn’t be able to manage it alone in Hong Kong without any help. Although the seat faces both ways, the pram only folds down with the seat forward facing which gets annoying very quickly. The sola retails for approx. £340 but look out for deals because M&P’s are always adding on their Aton car seat at a bargain.

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6. The BABYZEN Yoyo Stroller – Why oh why was this not available when S was born? The BABYZEN Yoyo was created by 5 French individuals who probably thought “Why on earth are we carrying our babies around in big, bulky, difficult to fold pushchairs?” It is a lightweight stroller that offers spectacular folding, a smooth ride and a sleek design. It is the perfect pushchair for city dwellers and frequent travellers. If I’m not mistaken, it is the only pushchair you can actually take on a flight with you because it closes down small enough to fit in the overhead compartment. Now that is small!!

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There are lots more pushchairs out there – Graco, Quinny, Icandy, Stokke, etc but I think the line needs to be drawn somewhere and above are my top choices.

For my readers who live in Hong Kong, the Combi is a great option. To be perfectly honest, I was never a fan initially but having lived in Hong Kong and realising how un-pram-friendly it is, the combi is super super lightweight, folds down one handed, steers easily and the new ones even face both ways. My only reservation would be the small (and somewhat un-sturdy) wheels but many Combi users reassure me that this isn’t an issue.

What pushchair do you use and are you happy with it?

Mums' Days

Flying with a toddler

Back in May I flew with my almost 15 month old from Taipei to London, via Hong Kong. I planned it so that he was awake for the first 5 hours of the longer flight and then slept for the rest. Although he was a proper walker by then, I was still able to keep him occupied enough to get through those 5 hours.

On Thursday this week, we took a day flight from Lagos to London which is 6 1/2 hours. Easy, right? Not with a 20 1/2 month old toddler. But I was prepared. I took into account that he probably wouldn’t nap as there would be too much going on around him and so not counting take off and landing, I had to keep him occupied for a little over 5 hours.

As soon as we took off I put him in his seat (we booked seat plus on Virgin, a god send) and let him entertain himself with the controls, the window shutter and the headphones. After about half an hour, I took out 6 plastic ikea bowls I’d taken on board and a mixture I’d put together. It contained raw rice, pasta, black lentils, yellow lentils and red maroon kidney beans (lots of colour). He absolutely loved this! It kept him entertained for almost an hour. He poured this mixture from one bowl to another, attempted to eat some (ofcourse!) and got lots of it all over the floor.

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At this stage we were over 2 hours into the flight and it was his lunchtime so I took out his thermos of food (I don’t like plane food so can’t expect him to eat it) and started feeding him. After his lunch I gave him an apple which kept him busy for a while. He loves fruit and enjoys eating an apple whole rather than having it cut into pieces.

3 hours into the flight, we’d already had 3 nappy changes (something to do with the cabin pressure?!) and I’d attempted to put him down to nap twice but he made it very clear he had no intention to sleep. So we went for a walk and S charmed lots of ladies and became friends with the cabin crew.

4 1/2 hours into the flight, we’d had another nappy change, attempted to nap again (still didn’t happen although he looked extremely tired) and so I pulled out the big surprise…a brand new shiny train from the Thomas & Friends collection.

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This kept him busy for another 45 minutes as he drove it all over his table, his seat and the floor below him, making a brum brum sound (how do they learn these sounds?).

We went for another walk, he played Candy Crush with my mom (who was flying with us) and listened to some music.

Before I knew it, the captain was announcing our descent and S was on my lap and strapped in, playing with the TV control. As “they” say…boys do not sit still!

The flight went by pretty quickly and we landed before I knew it. I much prefer night flights when S can sleep for the majority of it but day flights aren’t as daunting as I expected.

I’d love to hear your suggestions and fun activities to keep a toddler busy on a plane!

Inspiring Mama Series: Samar Shaheryar & Alicia Wieser

Samar Shaheryar & Alicia Wieser

The story of friends, Samar and Alicia is quite a similar one. Allie and her husband are college sweethearts and were living in NYC before moving to Asia. Samar met and married her husband in NYC before moving out to Asia. Both women were working in finance before their husband’s jobs took them to Tokyo.

While there, they founded “Tokyo Helps”, a non-profit group to raise money for special causes. In the winter of 2010, Allie moved to Hong Kong and Samar soon followed in the summer of 2011, after the Japan Earthquake & Tsunami. Both ladies loved Tokyo but have since grown to love Hong Kong as much. In Tokyo they organised fundraisers for Pakistan & Haiti and in Hong Kong they continued to do so, raising money for Japan & East Africa.

But that wasn’t enough. In 2012, they wanted to create something that was more sustainable in a business sense. Baby Hero was conceived. They had decided to create a baby product that funded maternal and infant health. And as it is when something is meant to be, all the pieces of the puzzle fell together. A friend posted on Facebook about her husband’s friend (Dr. Shaun Morris) who was looking for a grant to help with maternal health in Pakistan. The ladies immediately got on Skype with him and started brainstorming how they were going to work together.

The idea behind Baby Hero is to provide essential wearable onsies and toddler t-shirts made out of the finest organic cotton. For every onsie and t-shirt sold, a clean birth kit is given to a mother in need and life-saving medical products to her baby.

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NM: Where did the name Baby Hero come from? I’m also intruiged by your website address. www.babyhe.ro

BH: We were discussing our idea over lunch with a particularly creative friend, Unum Muneer, and she suggested a social media campaign where parents could post photos of their babies in our clothes on Facebook: “My baby is a hero!” We loved it immediately especially as it not only references those wearing our clothes but also all the heroic babies who survive and thrive in unimaginably difficult circumstances around the world.

Website address is us staying true to our social entrepreneurship goals and keeping costs low. By using a little used domain (in this case Romania), we were able to avoid the high fee to purchase a .com and also generate a bit of interest/buzz around our website.

NM: What is your vision for the next 2 years?

BH: Our aim with Baby Hero is to bring giving into people’s daily life. Every time they purchase a Baby Hero product they set in motion an action that has the potential to save the life of a mother or baby. Over the next two years and beyond, we want to positively impact as many families as possible – make our Maternal and Newborn Care Kit available in all the areas in which maternal and infant mortality are particularly high due to lack of medical facilities and also continue to explore and fund other low-cost medical interventions. The way we achieve this goal is to continue to expand our product offerings, reach consumers globally and stay true to our vision for a completely ethical brand made with 100% organic fabric using fair-labor.

NM: Even with the existence of several NGO’s and charities, the infant mortality rate remains high, especially in Africa and South Asia. Why is this?

BH: This is a very good question. It is an issue of scale and weak healthcare systems especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Infant and maternal mortality solutions are harder to scale up as they often require multiple remedies, greater equipment or expertise. This is why we, and Dr. Shaun Morris, our partner who developed the Maternal and Newborn Care Kit we are funding, believe it can be so effective. While there is evidence that all the low-cost and easy to use interventions included in the Kit improve infant health, no one has packaged them together in precisely this way. We anticipate the Kit will reduce newborn mortality in the study population in Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan by up to 40%.  To determine if we can actually achieve this benefit, we are conducting a randomized controlled trial.  If our trial is successful, we would then take steps to scale up delivery of the kit to a wider population.  One of the problems with ‘aid’ in the past is that interventions have often not been properly studied and sometimes the impact is quite a bit different than had been anticipated. As the Kit is cheap, effective and easily portable, it is very scalable and can even be funded and implemented by the local community once aid groups step back.

NM: I love the idea behind the factory you work with. Could you tell my readers a bit about how the factory you work with also plays into your vision for women.

BH: We love the factory we are working with in India too! Assisi Garments is an organic, fair-trade factory in Southern India founded by Franciscan Nuns. Many of the women it employs come from disadvantaged backgrounds – widows who carry a great stigma in the local community, women who have been abused or are otherwise on the margins of society. They also employ disabled workers. All their employees work in safe conditions and are paid a decent living wage. When you buy one of our garments, you are positively impacting so many lives – the organic farmers and cotton producers, the workers at the factory who are being paid and treated fairly and of course the families who receive our Kit and whose mothers and children will lead healthier lives as a result of it. This to us is the perfect circle and the only way to do business – to take care of our planet by choosing an eco-friendly fiber, by taking care of our fellow human beings by making sure to use fair labour and giving back through our product and to do it all while remaining an economically sustainable business. Our goal is to eventually have our own fair-trade factory that boosts the local economy in the areas in which we are distributing the Kit. This is how you start to level the playing field and eradicate poverty – economic self-sufficiency and aid working together.

NM: For those of us who don’t live in Hong Kong, can we buy Baby Hero onsies and toddler t-shirts online?

BH: YES! We ship internationally – everywhere. And we’re currently working on our Spring/Summer line – expanding our offerings – so keep an eye out for more products!

If you’d like to get involved or donate, please visit http://babyhe.ro/pages/get-involved

To buy one of these adorable onsies and t-shirts, visit their online shop.

With Baby Hero, you can make a life saving difference to a mother and child in need.

PEKiP – Prager Eltern Kind Programm

When S was 6 months old, I decided I needed to get out there and do things with/for him. I picked up on the fact that he was a fast learner and so eager to do things but I guess as a first time mom I was unsure how to encourage him to reach the milestones he was so eager to get to. I looked into a few classes and came across PEKiP.

PEKiP focuses on supporting babies and their parents in their first year. The instructors use play and move motivation techniques to get the babies to find themselves – their torso, their arms, their legs. Before babies are on the move, they spend the class nappy-less. This allows them freedom of movement without having a nappy constraining them.

We did the classes for 9 weeks and absolutely loved it. I saw huge differences in S. Funnily, not always in the class. We’d go to class on a Wednesday and so often he wouldn’t do what he was being encouraged to and I’d never push him. But by the Friday at home, he’d start doing it. Whether it was crawling, pulling himself up or cruising.

There are many people who feel PEKiP pushes your child to do things that they may not be ready for but I’d like to disagree. Having watched many babies of different levels in the class, I came to realise that children will do what they want when they want and as long as you’re not physically forcing them to do something but just showing them their capabilities, they’ll do it when they are ready.

Anne, the teacher in Hong Kong, may come across as “tough” but you can see she loves children and has a keen eye when it comes to their development. I was trying to help S do something once when she said to me “You’re doing too much for him”. So I let go and he was actually able to do it himself. Often, in trying to “help” our children, we end up holding them back.

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Learning how to crawl (above).

You can find out more about PEKiP here.

And one of the best things about PEKiP: Anne only takes babies who come with their parents and she actually encourages the dads to come along too. In Hong Kong where kids are sent to most classes with a nanny, this was a refreshing change.

 

Virgin’s little secret

Before anyone starts getting too excited, this post is about Virgin Atlantic’s little secret and not anything else 😉

I’ve noticed on the HK mom forum I’m on, one of the most frequently asked questions is “Which is the best airline to fly with my baby/toddler?” The people of HK are lucky in that most UK based flights fly via HK to Australia and so they don’t just have to consider Cathay or Quantas but can also fly British Airways and Virgin from Hong Kong to Australia.

For the last five and a half years I have flown with Cathay Pacific and I have to say, they have been great. Their level of service, their offers and for the most part, their aircrafts, have been of a good standard. Then along came S. Cathay Pacific charge 10% of the highest fare in your class of travel for infants. Said infant does not even get a seat but rather a bassinet or your lap. They have no hand baggage allowance and only 10kg checked in luggage and you can either check in a stroller OR a car seat. Suddenly flying with an infant, Cathay doesn’t sound that appealing.

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In come Virgin Atlantic. Last week S and I flew from London to Lagos (Nigeria) to visit my brother. It’s a relatively short flight (6 hours) and there is no time difference between London and Lagos so jetlag isn’t an issue. When we booked our seats, the lovely lady at Virgin let us onto a little secret…seat plus!! So what is seat plus you ask? Staring from only £60, you can essentially buy the seat beside you. Virgin guarantee it will be free, making your journey in economy a lot more comfortable.

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Seat Plus was a lifesaver! The seat beside me was free so after take off I was able to lie S down and he could sleep comfortably for the duration of the flight. The second great thing about Virgin Atlantic is their baggage allowance. An infant gets 10kg hand baggage, a 23kg checked in bag and the option to check in a stroller AND a car seat. Also, you can buy up to 10 checked in bags for a fee on any route and an infants ticket is 10% of your ticket and not the full fare on that class.

The staff were pleasant and helpful and we enjoyed our journey with them. I’m still a Cathay fan but when travelling with an infant, Virgin gets my vote!

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What airline do you usually travel with?

Being an expat doesn’t make you a brat

I was browsing the web last night when I came across this article.

http://expatchild.com/expat-brats/

As I went through the list of clues, many of them resonated with me. Especially considering myself a “third culture kid” and not really knowing what to say when I’m asked where I am from. But I definitely don’t think of myself as a brat. While I found the article interesting, I think brat was a wrongly used term.

I was born in Monrovia and lived there for 3.5 years. My family then moved to London. When I was 7, we moved to Nigeria. I went to school there for 4 years and at 11 went to boarding school in India and at 14, switched to boarding school in Dublin. I then ended my education studying for my degree in London. At 21 I lived between 3 different countries, working and volunteering with children and in early 2008 I moved to Hong Kong where I have lived for the last 5.5 years. I’d call myself an expat kid (or child of the world) but not really a brat. I was born in Africa, of Indian descent, with a British passport – confusing or what?!

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But, like with most things, I think the way children perceive things is down to their parents. Growing up, for the most part, we had domestic help, drivers, club memberships and I flew before I could walk. But my parents raised me to say please and thank you, even to people working in our home. Our house help were always treated like a part of our family. And if my brother and I were out of line, we were definitely set straight. We were always told, God gave you two hands, use them.

Ofcourse, saying this, there are things that we took for granted. I remember going to the supermarket with a friend once and I started bagging things as I always did, putting all tins together, all fruit and veg together. He soon showed me the error of my ways. I’d always driven to the supermarket or had the shopping done for me. He pointed out that when you were walking home with your groceries, you had to balance the bags out so there was a mix of heavy and light items in each bag. You learn something new everyday, that lesson has stayed with me since.

In my opinion, her list were more “isms”. I would think of a brat as a child with lack of manners, lack of empathy and snobbishness. I don’t think you have to be an expat kid to be a brat and vice versa.

I personally think if you’re lucky enough to be an expat kid, it is a privilege. I have an accepting nature of all cultures, I love to travel and see new places, meet new people. I have friends in almost every part of the world, I can clean and manage my own home if I need to but also appreciate and value the help if it’s there. Given all that, I’d love to raise my son as an expat kid. He’s been to 10 different cities in 19 months, I guess we’re on our way 😉

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What do you think? Were you an expat kid/third culture kid? Do you think it gives you a broader outlook on life and more accepting of different cultures?

 

 

5 must do’s if you’re pregnant in Hong Kong

One of my happiest moments was finding out I was pregnant. I have always looked forward to being a mother. But as a first time mom it can very overwhelming. Our bodies have never been through this before, we often feel ill for the first trimester, worried about what we should eat, whether we should take supplements, how to ease our aches and pains. If this is you then look no further.

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Below are my top 5 must do’s in Hong Kong when you’re pregnant.

1) Exercise
As our bodies grow and expand, we need to keep ourselves flexible. Exercise helps us look good, feel good, prepares our body for birth and also helps gain our pre-pregnancy bodies back, post partum. In Hong Kong, Pure (Soho) do great pre natal fitness classes. Zosha’s class on a Monday is more pilates based and Dora’s class on a Wednesday is more resistance and strength training based. They both also have great advice for expecting moms.
Pure Yoga do some pre-natal yoga classes, as does Hersha Yoga and Nealy Fischer (through Annerley). Yoga helps keep you soft and supple in preparation for the birth. Swimming is also another great form of exercise as it puts no pressure on your joints. In your third trimester when you have an ever expanding bump, the weightlessness of water can have a very calming effect. Hong Kong boasts some great public pools at Kennedy Town, Causeway Bay and the YWCA on MacDonnell Road. But if you feel like splurging, you can also visit the pools at the Island Shangri La or the JW Marriott in Admiralty.

2) Massages
One of the best things about living in Hong Kong is the sheer number of places to get a massage. While I was pregnant my favourite haunt was The Mira Spa. They do a “pea in a pod” massage which is simply divine. But I didn’t just go there for their massages. In the heart of bustling Nathan Road, The Mira Spa is an Oasis of calm. They have a relaxation area with 4 water beds and soft classical music. 90mins spent there is enough time to rejuvenate any pregnant mama. Friends assure me that a massage with Jenny Woosley (at the Sutherland Chan Centre) is another must have.

3) Annerley
If you’re a first time mom you’re probabaly nervous and anxious, not sure what to expect from the whole thing. While the internet can be a great source of information, it can also bring out fears you didn’t know you had. Annerley is a maternity and early childhood centre founded by Hulda Thorey and Kristrun Lind. They run antenatal classes, workshops for dads and even courses for helpers. They are your one stop shop for all things maternity related – their talks cover everything from episiotomy to breastfeeding and handling the different phases of labour. Book one of their classes and put your mind and worries to rest. In the words of a good friend “Annerley was a life saver, I walked into that labour room confident and ready…labour, bring it on!!!”

4) Join HK Moms
There’s a Facebook page called HK Moms. Want advice on which OBGYN is the best, where you should take your child swimming, who does the best cakes in Hong Kong or even ideas for your child’s 2nd birthday. Look no further. HK Moms is by moms, for moms. No question is too trivial. For some great advice and any question answered, join the HK mom’s network.

5) Sassy Mama
Sign up to Sassy Mama in Hong Kong. They have the scoop for all things mom and baby related in Hong Kong. You can also find information on Annerley’s Blooming Bellies event which is held at the Mandarin Oriental a couple of times a year. It’s a great way to meet expectant moms, learn about new products and be in the chance of winning some fabulous prizes (I won an acupuncture session at IMI).