Claire Sweeney: 'Becoming a mum has made me so happy'
Claire Sweeney came through two miscarriages to become a mother at 43. She tells of her baby's recent choking scare and why he's the best thing that's happened to her.
New mum Claire Sweeney and I are having a mothers' meeting - and the big topic up for discussion today is when to stop breastfeeding.
"How did you cope with the teeth? He's got teeth coming through now and he's biting me!" says the bubbly blonde actress. "I love it and don't want to stop, but the pain when he bites me ... it's getting a bit ridiculous!"
Her son Jaxon is now nine months old, but he's already travelled the country with Sweeney on her UK tour of Sex In Suburbia, the musical comedy she co-wrote and stars in. From February to the end of May, he was waiting in the wings while she took to the stage each night - and she'd feed him during the interval.
"I'm lucky, 'cos if I worked in an office, I'd be leaving him from nine o'clock in the morning until five at night, but he comes to work with me, so I literally go on for 45 minutes, come off, do a breastfeed, he goes to sleep, come off after the second half, take him home and he goes to bed. Or if I'm near home, I'll leave him at home with my mum.
"I did pantomime when he was nine weeks," she adds, matter-of-factly. "A woman knows what she's got to do, doesn't she? It's not about wanting to carry on with my life, I've got to earn a living, I've got no one else to pay my bills if I don't. It's not an ego-trip or me wanting to prance about on stage in sparkly costumes, it's my job."
The 44-year-old recently split from Jaxon's father Daniel Reilly again after a rocky few years. The couple got engaged on Christmas Eve 2012 but split in April 2014. She discovered she was pregnant just weeks later, following two miscarriages, and the couple reunited in September after their baby was born.
Last week, she said in a statement: "Whilst we have decided not to remain together, we are committed to bringing up our wonderful son and making sure we are great parents and supporting each other to achieve that."
So while there's no happy ending just yet in Sweeney's love life, she tells me: "My baby's a happy ending, he's wonderful!"
"My life is about him," she adds, revealing how much becoming a mum has changed her, mostly for the better.
"I feel more grounded and settled, I feel more cautious about things. I get deep-rooted pleasure out of simple things now, just a smile, sitting playing with him or feeding him."
She's back on tour again with Hairspray from September to March 2016, playing former beauty queen and high-powered stage mum, Velma Von Tussle: "It's the first time I've played a mum on stage and I'm going to be like a bitch from hell!"
Liverpool-born Sweeney is currently an ambassador for Table Table restaurants, who are encouraging families to sit down to eat together and searching for Family Tasting Teams, who'll win Table Table meals for a year.
"They've been doing research and found that one in five Brits admit they don't spend any time eating as a family in an average week," says Sweeney. "Couples admit to spending just two hours a week having dinner together when the children have gone to bed. And the most talked about conversation is TV or other people, there's no, 'What are you doing? How are you feeling?'"
Family meals are really important for the Sweeney household and the actress's mum even appears with her in the campaign photos. And now baby Jaxon is beginning to eat solid foods for the first time - but Sweeney had a nasty shock the other week when he choked on some fruit.
"I bought a big bunch of bananas, sat him down, broke a bit off and let him start eating it. And he just went purple and choked.
"I had him upside down, whacking his back and I panicked - it frightened the life out of me. He was fine, the banana just flew out and hit mum on the face and the next thing he's laughing and smiling and I'm sitting crying, it was terrifying!"
Sweeney has spoken before about her struggle to have a baby, including two miscarriages in 2013. When she was pregnant with Jaxon, she started spotting and was diagnosed with placenta previa, where the placenta drops down above the cervix and any impact or too much movement can make it bleed. She was rehearsing for Sex In Suburbia, so had to take it easy, but she was also suffering from a condition called symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD) - inflamed pelvic joints - which made it painful to walk. As the due date drew nearer, Jaxon was in breach position, so she had to have a caesarean section.
She admits she's not sure whether she wants to have more children yet, saying she wants to just enjoy spending time with her son for now.
"People spend too much time not enjoying the moment and looking ahead to think, 'What's next?' I'm enjoying every single minute with Jaxon and I'm not thinking, 'I must do this'. I'm just enjoying playing with him. One thing people say is that it goes really quick, so I want to enjoy every minute."
Claire Sweeney has teamed up with Table Table restaurants as part of their Family Tasting Teams campaign, which encourages families to spend more time together at mealtimes. To enter, visit: tabletable.co.uk/families