Hollyoaks star Ali Bastian reveals her baby daughter had jaundice: ‘I was just staring into the cot worrying’

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Former Hollyoaks star Ali Bastian is in an excitable mood when new magazine call her for a chat, revealing that for the first time since her daughter Isla was born just before lockdown, she’s on her way to a Monkey Music baby group with her little one.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am because we’ve not been able to do any of this,” says Ali, 38, who lives in west London with her hubby David O’Mahony, an actor and also a talented snapper who just so happened to take the photos for this shoot. “It’s literally the first thing we’re doing where we’re going to be around other mums and babies.”

No wonder the actress is looking forward to socialising, as she tells new she didn’t leave their home for months during lockdown.

“We didn’t set foot outside the front door for about three months,” she explains. “We live in a flat so it’s not a sprawling space. We’ve got a postage stamp-sized garden but thank God we do. I remember I had something to post and I said to David, ‘I’m gonna do it, David, I’m gonna go outside and post this letter.’ I went out there and I felt like I was in 28 Days Later!”

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Ali’s isolation coincided with looking after newborn Isla, who arrived on 12 March by last-minute C-section, after Ali discovered at 36 weeks that she had gestational diabetes and Isla had gone through a growth spurt.

It wasn’t an easy decision but one Ali says, “I knew in my heart of hearts… was right for me. And when I was handed her at 9lb 2oz, everyone was like, ‘Good choice!’”

But that didn’t stop the nerves kicking in on the day. “I was so nervous, my teeth were chattering and I was talking at 100 miles an hour. I go into full entertainer when I’m nervous, cracking gags like some weird hospital comedy act!”

Now she’s into the swing of parenting, Ali is starting to look to the future and tells us, with acting roles scarce, she’s passionate about helping those in creative industries who are left high and dry by the lockdown measures.

Here, she talks candidly about the struggles she’s faced in the early months of motherhood, why she’s in no rush to return to her pre-baby weight, and her plans for a new career…

Hi Ali! How have the first few months of parenthood been – are you getting much sleep?

You know what, we just had a really good night and this morning we sat at the kitchen table and I was like, “I love you, David. Not just that, I like you!” Honestly, sleep changes everything!

So it’s not always like that?

She was actually a very sleepy baby the first couple of weeks, but she had mild jaundice so we were put on this crazy sleep-deprived regime, setting alarm clocks to feed her every three hours to get her weight back on, because that helps with jaundice. We were trying anything you can think of to wake her up, like tickling her feet and putting wet cotton wool on her legs. It almost felt quite mean! And it would take an hour to really wake her up and start feeding and then you’d be in that cycle again. Looking back at that period, we were completely cross-eyed, but that was a time of proper teamwork. We started watching 80s movies through the night. Once I started feeding on demand, she settled quickly. I remember the first time she slept through the night, I woke up at 5am and was just staring into the cot, panicking.

Did you read any books or get any help?

Everybody has so much advice, but it all depends on what kind of person you are. Some people lean towards sleep training and letting them cry it out. For me, that never felt right. We spoke to a sleep specialist, Sarah from Teach To Sleep, who I connected with over Instagram. She was about getting me in touch with my instincts. She also told me I’m doing a good job, which is so important. When you’re completely exhausted, you really need to hear you’re doing OK. I found that really empowering.

Was it hard not having family and friends around at first?

We met my mum with Isla through the window, which was kind of heartbreaking. We were just so careful. We wanted to protect her and my stepfather. When lockdown eased, we formed a bubble with my mum and then David’s parents as well, and they’re amazing, but we’ve still not seen many friends. We have some garden visits and it’s been nice going for walks. When you have a baby, you walk and walk and walk some more, because it’s such a good way to get the naps going in the buggy.

Was social media helpful during lockdown?

Yeah, I feel really grateful that there were loads of women who had babies at the same time as me and we formed a little group on Instagram. If you’d asked me a year ago, would one of my biggest support systems come from social media, I wouldn’t have thought that would be a thing. But I’ve ended up sharing more than I would have done, just because I really wanted to celebrate Isla and I wasn’t able to go to a coffee shop with friends.

You’ve been open about how you struggled with breastfeeding at first. Were there times when you wanted to give up?

I really had moments where I felt like, I don’t want to do this any more. It’s quite a lot in that it’s on you as a mum and you can’t share that responsibility. David was always, “Absolutely, if you want to stop, let’s stop, no pressure,” but something made me carry on.

Did you feel under pressure?

The time I felt that was throughout the pregnancy. The courses push breastfeeding quite hard. You have to be kind to yourself as there are a million reasons why it’s not always easy or doesn’t work.

Are you glad you stuck with it?

I’m so glad. I thought if I just made it to three months, I’d give myself the most gigantic pat on the back. And actually, it’s the first three months that are the hardest to get into a rhythm. Then everything sort of settles and now I could imagine myself just carrying on.

You talked about having an oversupply of milk – was that tricky to manage?

Mother Nature has a funny way of organising things. I have a big baby to feed so I do produce an awful lot of milk. There were some funny moments, like when it’s literally shooting across the room! It can make breastfeeding out and about quite tricky.

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Is Isla’s personality emerging?

Oh my God, yes! It emerged quite quickly. A lot of people say, “Oh, in the first few weeks, all they do is sleep.” Not Isla! She’s really confident and smiley. The first time she met anyone was when we went for her jabs at eight weeks and she was smiling and babbling to the doctor. She was the first other human Isla had seen and she was in a mask and full PPE!

Who does Isla look like?

She’s definitely got my ears and David’s smile. He’s got one of those smiles that kind of bursts out. It starts small, then his whole face smiles, and she has that as well. And I think she has my eyes. She’s a real mix of both of us.

Has she hit any milestones yet?

The “mamas” have started! She said “mama” actually while we were shooting these pictures. We were doing a little family shot and she started going ,“Mama, Mama” – it was amazing. The “Dada” came about a week later. Every milestone is incredible.

How has parenthood changed your relationship?

We work hard on our relationship, but there are moments when you’re both exhausted and then you’re not always communicating in the best way or recruiting the best language. When you have a baby, it’s very easy for both of your attention to go 100 per cent on the child. We have to choose to find our way back to each other as well, and make that an active decision. That’s something we’re always working on.

You had some counselling too…

We meant to do it when we were getting married, but I was filming Doctors and David was rehearsing Mamma Mia! and we just couldn’t find the time for it. Then, when I fell pregnant, my work slowed down almost immediately so we had a window to do it. We found this lady who’s been amazing. Anytime we’ve felt like we’re struggling, we can just call her and she’s been on Zoom. We’ve had a couple of sessions through lockdown just to try to process everything. I’d really recommend that to anyone, to just put something in place.

Is it too early to talk about having more kids?

It’s a good time to ask at six months. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I’d have been like, “Er, I don’t think so!” But now things have settled a bit, we’re talking about it. At the same time, I really feel my body needed to heal after pregnancy, especially as I was so big – my bump was humongous and my abs are still trying to find each other again. So it depends on how that goes and feeling ready. But I’d love another one.

Do you feel pressure to “bounce back”, seeing all the perfect Instagram mums?

Yeah, I do find it really triggering. There’s something about “getting your body back” that feels like, back to what? Something massive has happened! I’ve found other women I follow who have a similar approach to me so that makes me feel better. I’m still about a stone heavier than I was before I had Isla and I don’t want to succumb to that pressure. I’ve needed time to be kind to myself… and cake, I need cake! I’m breastfeeding, I’m not sleeping and I need the calories! I try to exercise, we’ve got an exercise bike at home and I want to get healthy, but I’m not any kind of fitness expert.

Do you think it’s important to keep it real on social media?

Even I fall into that trap of wanting to put out the picture that I feel the prettiest in, but I try to be as honest as I can. And the more honest I’ve been on Instagram, the more I found I’ve connected with like-minded followers. I had morning sickness until I was 20 weeks and I was so, so sick. I found these videos on my phone where my hair looked like Worzel Gummidge, there’s mascara all over my face and I feel like hell, and I didn’t end up sharing those. I was thinking maybe I might, in case one woman watches them and feels better about herself.

What sort of parents are you and David?

I really don’t know yet. I hope we’re going to be creative as parents. We’re both creative, but we’ve got a real mix in our families. David comes from a family of scientists, and my side is quite arty, and obviously David’s an actor, so I’m not sure which way she’ll go. She’s very gregarious and I was a child actor and always knew that was what I wanted to do, so I think if that’s in someone you can’t really stop them. So if that’s what she wants, she’ll have two very supportive parents.

With you both being actors, lockdown must have pulled the rug from under you…

It really did. I think we both felt really groundless. In some ways, I feel quite angry at the government and the lack of respect for self- employed people and everybody who works in creative industries. This is of value and I want to shout it from the rooftops. I feel like we’re being made to believe it isn’t. A lot of friends of mine, like crew mates, are dropping out of the creative industries because they just can’t do it any more.


Has it made you worry about the future?

I’m actually training as a business and personal coach with Barefoot Coaching, and that’s part of me reimagining the future a little bit and what else I can do, because it’s hard to get on a set right now. I’m going to do a Masters in it and I want to work with creatives, to help people find new ways to continue to lead the life they want to. I just thought I needed to do something and I believe in this so wholeheartedly. I want my little girl to grow up in a world of storytellers, writers and creatives, and for that to be part of the fabric of our lives.

It must have felt strange having the breaks put on work-wise…

I’ve worked since childhood. It’s just what I know, so I didn’t imagine just stopping. But the other side of the coin is that it gave me some time I hadn’t taken for myself for a long time. At that point I thought, I’m going to pursue work where I’m using my own voice. Then different things started opening up, like my cousin has a podcast called Mum Talk and we’re in the process of putting a series together. David and I have also started a production company and he spent lockdown building us a recording studio so we can do voice work from home.

Have you watched the classic episodes of Hollyoaks?

Yeah, they ran the highlights of the Becca and Justin storyline, so that was amazing. I’m always in touch with Sarah [Jayne Dunn], Jodi [Albert] and Carley [Stenson] – my gang. We go back a long way and they’ve been amazing through all of this. Over lockdown, every Sunday we’d all send each other videos. And we’re always on WhatsApp. Even though we’re all quite far away from each other, they were a continual support.

Strictly was another big part of your life – do you keep in touch with anyone from the show?

Yes. I ended up joining the West End show Burn The Floor straight after Strictly and I really bonded with all the dancers, like Janette [Manrara] and Aljaž [Škorjanec] and Robin [Windsor]. I was so nervous joining as the only non- professional dancer, but they took me under their wings and taught me so much, it was just brilliant. They just held me up and they were an absolutely lovely group.

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You became close mates with Robin, didn’t you?

Yeah, he lived with me for a while and when he was working out in St Lucia, I went out and visited. He’s incredible and just a lovely friend. He’s met Isla actually. He popped around for a doorstep visit, which was amazing.

Will you watch the new series?

Aren’t the contestants bubbling [for social distancing] with their dance partners? Christ, how to make an already completely intense show even more intense. They’ll either all fall in love or they’ll all murder each other!

Would you like to go back for a Strictly Christmas special?

I’d love to. I think about that a lot. It is a very special experience. Strictly took my life off in a completely different direction – it was after that I ended up doing musical theatre. I’d done dancing at stage school and loved it, but a teacher told me with my knees I’d never be a dancer, so I gave it all up. To have that come back into my life again was a real gift.

Do you ever dance with David? He must be nifty on his feet as a West End star in musicals like Mamma Mia!…

Yeah, we do kitchen dancing. With having a baby, one thing that really helped early on was having a morning playlist. No matter what kind of a night you’ve had, you have to start with a clean slate every morning, because otherwise you just feel like hell all day. We have morning songs and we’d have a little dance party in the house to shake off the night before.

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