Tuesday, June 30, 2009

5 tips for successful bed time routines.

As your baby's night sleep settles into more predictable patterns sometime around the third month, you may decide to instigate a bedtime routine. Starting a bedtime routine is a practical way to smooth your little glo-worm's transition into a healthy and long lasting night sleep rhythm. I've put together some simple suggestions for parents to use as a reference while they are settling on the slumber starting system that seems the most suitable for their little sweetheart. And for no reason at all, each of my bedtime routine tips start with an "s".

1. Simple.
Yes, keep your routine simple. You don't want to have to remember any complicated steps or new-fangled techniques while you are trying to soothe your little angel at night. Things like a well-known lullaby, a book or a simple baby massage after a diaper change are popular elements for an effective bedtime routine. I recommend that parents only incorporate 2 or 3 elements that are not strictly essential.

2. Soothing.
Try to keep all of the elements of your baby's bedtime routine nice and soothing. You may find baths very relaxing, however, for a baby, bath time is not only exciting, but quite often it can be somewhat stressful as well. Some baby books also are exciting and interesting and should be excluded from the bedtime reading list. Turning the lights low, ambient music, swaddling and a relaxing scent like lavender or chamomile are great soothing elements to consider including in your little snoozer's run up to bedtime.

3. Short.
There is no need to drag things out. All a bedtime routine is meant to do is identify a clear moment of down-shift from day time levels of activity and play to long uninterrupted periods of sleep throughout the night. There are three elements that need to be included at some point, a feeding, a burping and a diaper change. These three elements, in combination with insuring your baby is warm enough (but not too warm), are important because they help your baby avoid the things which usually disrupt sleep. Other elements you might include in your bedtime routine can also be practical, like swaddling or massage, but don't over load the routine by including everything you can think of which is both soothing and which could help prevent waking. A healthy bedtime routine should take between 10 and 30 minutes.

4. Strategic.
When I say "strategic" I must admit that I was getting a bit carried away with the "s" theme. However, what I mean by it is that there should be a natural flow throughout the routine. For example, a parent may begin with feeding, then burping, then changing the diaper, followed by a swaddle, a song and turning out the lights. Each element flows naturally from one another. As I have mentioned in other posts, I do recommend that parents wipe their baby's mouth out with a damp cloth after feeding to help prevent thrush, this is a good thing to consider including in a bedtime routine just after feeding. There are a few reasons I don't list the feeding as the last thing to do before laying your baby down for the night. Firstly, eating often stimulates bowel and bladder relief, and a cold wet or dirty diaper can cause a lot of problems through the night. Secondly, there is the risk of developing "thrush", which is basically a yeast infection of your baby's mouth. Developing a habit of cleaning out your baby's mouth is also beneficial when it comes to preventing tooth decay after your little punkin' eater starts cutting teeth. Thirdly, it has been my observation that laying a baby down slightly awake for night sleep, and allowing him to nod off there, rather than in your arms, is an extremely effective element that encourages long periods of uninterrupted night sleep.

5. Sustainable.
Whatever routine you arrive at, it should be flexible enough to grow with your baby. Though once your baby is consistently sleeping through the night you won't need to maintain the entire routine all the time, you'll want to be able to keep certain elements for quite a long while. The reason for this is that when you have a toddler or small child they can often suffer quite a bit of sleep disruption from simple things like travelling, potty training or teething. I have found that if there is a soothing routine that you can reiterate when these disruptions occur, they tend to pass much more quickly. As an adult I was surprised to discover that I am still ridiculously soothed by my mother singing certain songs to me while she gently strokes my hair.

1. Feed, change, swaddle, burp, mouth wipe, snuggling and humming time, lay down.
2. Massage with lightly scented oil, swaddle, feed, burp, mouth wipe, story, lay down.
3. Turn lights low, turn ambient music on, feed, burp, mouth wipe, change, swaddle, sway to the music together, lay down.
4. Turn lights low, spray a light mist of relaxing scent over bedding, feed, burp, mouth wipe, change, swaddle, sing 1 or 2 songs, lay down.
5. Feed, burp, change, mouth wipe, swaddle, turn ambient music or white noise on, story, lay down.

Obviously you can see that the subtle variations on this basic structure could go on for quite some time. When deciding on the elements of the bedtime routine and the order they should be implemented each night, remember to include the input from everyone who will be putting your sweet little sugar muffin down at night. Consistency really is an essential part of establishing an effective bedtime routine, and consistency depends on everyone being on the same page. I hope you have found these tips helpful. please do forward them to any new or expecting parents you know, and feel free to leave questions and comments. Happy parenting!

Wordless Wednesday!

Ever get a picture of your little one that gives you a glimpse into what they will look like as an adult? Well, that's what happened for me when I took the top picture. It made me a little excited for the future, and a lot wistful for the past. That's why I'm also posting one of my favorite videos of my baby laughing. I'm going to rely on videos like this one a lot over the years I think.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Toddler Tuesday! 5 tips for shopping with a toddler.

The days of a quick trip to the store are over. For the next couple of years every time you go to the store with your little Tasmanian Devil, you will spend your visit avoiding one disaster after the next. It's a miracle we end up at the check stand with anything we came for in our basket at all. Though tying your little cherub to the shopping cart is a tempting option, I do have a few other ideas you might want to try first.

1. Bring something they love to hold.
There is so much to grab at the store! Colorful, crinkly, even squishy things beckon to your little one from all sides. You may be able to occupy one of her hands in the steel trap that is yours, but the other little hand will have only mischief to do, unless it too is occupied. My son has a piece of pottery that we found on the river bank while we were camping a few weeks ago. He LOVES this thing. I try to keep it away from him as much as possible to preserve the novelty of it. It is one of the few things I bring with me when we go shopping. He holds so tightly to this treasured little piece of clay that his hand is completely unable to touch, grab or pull everything within his reach. If your child has special items like this, they are a life-saver for keeping your toddlers hands to herself.

2. Pretend the shopping cart is awesome.
Shopping carts are not awesome. They are squeaky, bulky and difficult to steer. However, as far as your little Mario Andretti is concerned, they are a shiny race-car. Or a space ship, train, speed boat, dump truck or anything that your little feller thinks is the coolest thing in the world, as long as you say it is. The only hard part is maintaining the illusion while shopping. I try to keep a selection of 5 or 6 special "sound effects" that I can consistently make while navigating the store to help my son maintain the fantasy that I've sold him. Since he likes race cars, I screech when I stop, squeal when I turn, rev the engine while standing still, make gear shifting noises while accelerating and beep the horn when my son taps the cart's handle. What ever sounds you come up with, they can help turn the captivity of the shopping cart into a pleasant game.

3. Have labor intensive snacks available.
Now when I say labor-intensive, I do not mean for you. I mean snacks that it takes time and concentration for your little cart-gnome to eat. A simple one is a small box of raisins. One that takes a little more prep work is a cheerio necklace. If you like, you can also take an old straw-style sippy-cup and remove the straw, then toss in a few raisins, some freeze-dried yogurt drops, small crackers or whatever you want, and then show your child how to tip the cup over to get one or two at a time. I've also brought a Pez-dispenser filled with dried cranberries before, it was a little messy, but it was fascinating for my son.These difficult-to-get-at snacks are a great way to keep your little whipper-snapper's attention on them and off of creating a disaster zone in the store.

4. Ask for help with everything.
Nothing lights up a toddler's day more than being able to teach mommy or daddy a thing or two. A desire for freedom has come along with physical capability, and the ability to use words (or tantrums) to convey his needs to the adults around him. When the confinement of the shopping cart seat can no longer restrain your little "big boy", try letting him out, but asking him for help pushing the cart instead. Or help putting the pears into the bag, or help putting the boxes of cereal into the basket, or anything you are doing. For him it can seem like the most enjoyable thing in the world to help his parents with their tasks, even if those tasks are as mundane as handing the money to the cashier. A quick dose of hand sanitizer is a good idea after your toddler has been touching all of the germ-ridden surfaces at the store, especially if you let him handle money. You don't want to be adding a bunch of cold and flu bugs to the things you are picking up at the store.

5. Play I-Spy
Games like I-Spy are a great way to occupy your child for anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours (as in a long car-trip). Simply tell your little eagle-eye that you can see something, and then encourage her to try to see it as well. If your child is not familiar with this game, try it out in a more relaxed setting first like the park, where your attention can be more focused on helping her grasp the basics of the game. Another version of the game is to look for a certain thing, like "blue pants". Then every time one of you sees a pair, you can do a little song and dance. Oh, yeah, since you are in the super market, you may only want to give a high-five. As your little tulip-bud gets bigger you can try a version of the game where you bring a list of items for her to spot, like curly hair, apples, a baby, a balloon... etc. Then as she masters that version, you can begin to give her her own copy of the shopping list, and the game can become helpful as well as fun.

Over time the trips to the store will get easier. However, since we have to deal with going to the store now, try to keep in mind that as long as you are relaxed and trying to have a good time, your toddler will be more relaxed and open to trying fun new things as well. Think of each excursion as an adventure and you and your toddler will be able to share the fun instead of fighting your way through each trip. Please forward these tips to any parents of toddlers you know, and remember, questions and comments are always welcome. Happy parenting!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

5 tips for burping your baby.

Why is it that so many parents seem to have such an easy time burping their babies? It seems like when most infants have gas and need to burp, their parents just prop them up on their shoulder and pat their back for a couple minutes. The fact is, there are many babies that are extremely hard to burp, and learning the right way to help your little one is not nearly as straightforward as you might have thought it would be. The reason it is important to help your baby burp after being fed is that if there is air in your baby's stomach and you don't help it up, it can be forced to exit the other way, which is very uncomfortable for your little tooter. Though the shoulder laying, back patting method is an effective way to relieve newborn gas for some babies, there are many more ways you can try if this method doesn't seem to be working.

1. Dance out the burp.
To help your baby work a bubble up, sometimes some movement side-to-side helps. Take one hand and place it on your baby's chest, cupping her chin with your thumb and forefinger. Now sit her up on your knee, leaning on your hand that is on her chest. Take your other hand and spread it across her back, using a couple of fingers to stabilize her head from behind. Then holding her securely between your two hands, in a sitting position on your knee, rock the top half of her body gently left-to-right and back in a rhythmic repetitive motion. She will look like she's doing a bad eighties dance if you are doing it right. I often combine the dance with some gentle bouncing from my knee. This should help release any gas bubbles that are lodged in odd little nooks and crannies in your baby's belly. If you don't hear any results after about 5 minutes of this, you may want to try something else, since this type of burping is usually immediately effective if it is going to work at all. I usually start with this technique, because it is generally very effective.

2. Bounce out the burp.
If you have a medium to large exercise ball, break it out! You're finally going to get some use out of that thing! Hold your baby close to your chest, with one hand on his hind end and one supporting his neck and head. Then straddle your exercise ball, being careful not to sit too far back on it, and gently bounce straight up and down. Each time you come down from a bounce, a very small amount of pressure will be applied to your baby's abdomen. This repetitive pressure acts almost like a gentle massage, compressing the lower part of your baby's abdomen and encouraging any air bubbles to exit the way they came. This is also a great remedy for colic and motion sickness, but not so great for reflux or excessive spit up. Be sure to protect your shirt with a burp-cloth.

3. Massage out the burp.
For this technique lay your baby stomach down on an incline with her head raised a few inches. When your snuggle buns is comfortable, take one hand and place it at the base of her spine across her hips. Then gently, without using too much pressure, slide your hand up your baby's back until you reach the shoulder blades. Don't go all the way up to the neck, because pressure on a baby's neck is unsafe. Place your other hand at the base of your baby's spine while your first hand is sliding up, and then begin sliding the second one up when the first one reaches your baby's shoulder blades. This creates a kind of "water wheel" effect and can be very effective for some babies.

4. Consolidate the burp.
Now, for some reason, some babies are able to keep a whole bunch of smaller individual bubbles in their tummies. These bubbles can be a little frustrating, because you will finish feeding your sweet little twinkle toes, burp him, and lay him down, and within ten minutes he will be screaming at the top of his lungs from another gas bubble. This sleep-repellent routine can sometimes happen 4 or 5 times in a row before all of the gas is gone. For these babies gas drops like Mylicon can be very beneficial. Be sure to read the directions on the bottle, and follow them carefully. What Mylicon does is break the surface tension between several separate gas bubbles, this makes one large bubble which is a lot easier to get up. It is very important that you get your baby to burp after using Mylicon though, because if that large consolidated gas bubble does pass into the intestines, it will be very uncomfortable, and your baby will most likely have a very sad painful 3 or 4 hours until the gas is able to be passed from below the belt. When Mylicon is used properly it is a great tool to try.

5. Wait out the burp.
There is another kind of baby out there, one that seems incapable of burping. You pat and pat, bounce, jiggle and dance away with no results. Then when you give up and lay your adorable little bunny rabbit down her eyes pop open and she launches into a baby operetta about your shortcomings as a parent. So you pick her up and then, 1 to 2 hours after the feeding, she burps. In my experience, this type of baby will not respond to any amount or type of burp-producing trick. In fact the best way to get her to release her bubble hostage, is to give her some time. Tummy time is best, unless she is asleep, if she is asleep, I recommend wearing her in a nice snug wrap until you hear the magical belch of freedom. If neither of these options are viable for any reason, simply lay her down on her back and tuck her in, then take advantage of the time you have until she wakes crying with an impending burp, instead of burning yourself out with a lot of wasted effort in the meantime.

Preventing gas problems for your baby can be hard, especially at first when they are so small and delicate, but with effective burping, baby gas can be reduced and even eliminated in rare instances. It is good to keep in mind that over the first couple of years your baby's burping habits will change, they may get more difficult or may vanish entirely. So if what you have been doing suddenly doesn't work any more, just keep trying something new. If you have found these tips helpful, please forward them to any new or expecting parents you know. Questions, comments and followers are always welcome! Happy parenting!

Monday, June 22, 2009

5 tips for bathing your new baby.

The idea of bathing a baby is pretty scary. Your baby is so small and delicate. You measure your every move, trying to maximize his safety and minimize his discomfort. And yet the time will come when you will need to get him wet. I'm not talking about the sponge-baths that you give before your baby's umbilical cord falls off, I'm talking about sitting him in a baby tub of water and covering him with slippery soap! There are quite a few things to think about and keep track of while you are doing this but I have made a list of my top 5.

1. Cover your baby with wash cloths.
Even with a warm room and luke-warm water, your baby will probably start to get cold by the end of the bath. This is because the water on her skin is evaporating, constantly cooling her off. The best way to slow this cooling process is to drape several baby wash cloths over her head, shoulders and belly. They will hold more water, making the evaporation process slower. As you was the various parts of your little dolphin-baby, simply remove or fold back the appropriate part of the cloth, wash, rinse and fold it back or replace it. The cloths will also make your baby less slippery, so when you need to turn her to the side to wash her back she will be less likely to slip out of your grasp.

2. Temperate temperature.
As I mentioned in the first tip, the water you wash your little jellyfish in should be only slightly warmer than room temperature. Part of the reason for this is that warmer water dries out your baby's skin and can give him a rash, or exacerbate conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Also, your baby is super sensitive to temperature changes, and hotter or colder water can be very uncomfortable, and this sensitive baby skin can burn at a much lower temperature than an adults. Even if you prefer cool showers or hot baths, don't assume the same is true for your baby.

3. Get in those folds.
Babies are growing at an enormous rate. They can shed more skin cells in a week than we do in an entire year. These skin cells accumulate in every fold of your baby's skin, and become a great breeding ground for bacteria, especially when combined with sweat and milk. The kind of bacteria that feeds on dead skin cells is very irritating to your baby's sensitive skin and can leave bright red irritated patches where it is given time to grow. The danger zones are behind your baby's ears, around the neck, under the arms, behind the knees and elbows and in your sweet little seahorse's rear end (though that area gets cleaned pretty regularly at diaper changes).

4. Have fresh warm water nearby for rinsing.
By the end of your baby's bath the bathwater will be a tepid soup of soapy water and dead skin cells. To make the most of your sweet little water monkey's bath it is a good idea to have a pitcher of clean warm water nearby. If you are doing the bath by yourself, before you begin get a pitcher of very very warm, nearly hot, water and place it nearby. By the end of the bath the pitcher should have cooled down to the point where it will be comfortable for your baby. Then give your baby one last rinse with the clean warm water just before you lift her out of the bath and place her on a clean soft towel (if you have help, one person can lift your baby, while the other pours the water to give her a better rinse). As a side note, do not use fabric softener on any of your baby's laundry, including towels, because the chemicals left in the fabric can be very irritating to that soft-as-silk baby skin.

5. Keep your baby's face pretty dry.
The only washcloth you have draped on your baby that should be kept fairly dry for the majority of the bath time is the one on his head. If this cloth is dry, it can soak up any drops of water that are running down toward your babies face. Babies have a survival instinct that is meant to help them avoid drowning which is to arch their backs and intake a large gasp of air if they feel water running over their face. This is meant to give them a big breath of air before they are submerged in water, but if they are on their backs, as in a bath, they often will accidentally inhale a fairly large amount of water, causing a coughing and crying fit, and creating negative associations with bath time. You should wash your baby's face with a soapy wash cloth, and rinse it with a very wet clean wash cloth that has been dipped into the pitcher of warm rinsing water you have standing by. If you wait to wash your baby's face till the end of the bath, you also can use this as an opportunity to test the temperature of the water in the pitcher, to make sure it has cooled enough. When you wash your baby's hair you can roll up the washcloth and lay it across your baby's forehead to prevent water and soap from running down.

Trick: Wash your baby's back-side first.
Since your baby's backside is undoubtedly the hardest part to wash and rinse, I recommend that parents hold their baby in one arm using the football hold, with their baby's face near their elbow, their forearm supporting their baby's belly, while firmly holding onto one of their babies legs, while they use a washcloth to soap up and rinse their baby's tookus before taking their baby with both hands and carefully lowering her into the bathwater.

Remember to rinse all areas that you have used soap on thoroughly, because soap, even baby soap, can irritate your little starfish's delicate skin. With practice you will get better at the juggling that you have to engage in with the soap and the cloth and the keeping-the-baby's-face-out-of-the-water. When your baby learns to sit up, the whole bath experience will become a lot less stressful (the best tip I know of for reducing the stress of bath time on your baby is described here). If you have found these tips helpful and informative, please forward them to any new or expecting parents you know. Questions and comments are always welcome, unless you are a spammer. ;^) Happy parenting!

5 tips for introducing solids to your baby.

Just when you have gotten good at figuring out how much and how often your baby needs to nurse or have a bottle, it is time to introduce solids. This doesn't mean the end of nursing and bottle feeding, your baby will continue to receive the bulk of their nourishment from the breast and/or bottle for quite a while yet. Whether you decide to introduce early (4 to 5 months) or wait as long as possible (1 year) the time will come (usually at about 6 or 8 months), when you will just have a feeling that it is the right time for you and your baby to take this big step. However, as soon as you make the decision, you may find yourself faced with a long list of questions, like: what food to give first and why, how long to wait in between introducing each food, what you should be watching out for, what to do if a food is rejected and what you can do to help avoid picky eating behaviors. Well, I may not have all of the answers you are looking for, but I do have a few tried and true tips that can make the whole process a lot easier.

1. Start bland, don't stay bland.
Nearly every pediatrician will recommend that you begin by introducing things like powdered rice or oat cereal prepared with breast milk or formula, because these grains are easy on the stomach, and the fluids will help maintain the flavor profiles that your baby is used to. You should consult your pediatrician at every step of introducing solids, since they will most likely be up to date on any new information about foods to avoid or to be extra cautious about giving based on any risks of E-Coli or other risk factors you might be unaware of. Which food to introduce after your baby is consistently taking the cereal is the cause for quite a bit of debate, I personally think that spices should come next. The benefits of introducing spices early on is that you will be able to pinpoint spice sensitivities more easily during the first few weeks of introducing solid food, and as you introduce more foods you will have the freedom to add a touch of seasoning to help keep your babies palette open and flexible, which can head off picky eating later on. Spices such as cumin, fennel, nutmeg and ginger are great because they soothe digestion as well as add a beautiful flavor to many fruits and veggies. Also, garlic, mint, and turmeric can help boost immunity and thyme and fennel can help sooth gas and relieve constipation. Another great benefit of including spices in your baby's food is that they almost all contain B vitamin complexes (that are associated with maintaining a positive mood) and calcium, fiber and iron (which we are always trying to get more of into our kids diets). Some major spices to steer clear of are cinnamon and celery which are both higher than average allergy risks (fresh celery is not as high a risk as the powdered spice version is), salt, and any hot spices, such as black pepper, cayenne and jalapenos.

2. Keep a log.
Tracking your baby's new foods is ultra-important, since introducing new foods properly is easier than you'd think to get confused about. Each new spice or food should be introduced, then given to your little taste-tester a few more times over the next three days. After the initial introduction, the new food can be mixed with the foods which your baby has already been introduced to during the three day waiting period (of course spices would be mixed with food on their very first introduction as well). Keeping track of what was given and when is crucial to this process, because if at any point your baby has a reaction, it will be simple for you to pin point the culprit and steer clear of it. Also, if your baby has a dangerous allergic reaction requiring hospitalization, the information about exactly what he has been eating will prove invaluable.

3. Watch for food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities are basically allergies that are mild and will most likely be outgrown. However sometimes these sensitivities can develop into serious, even life-threatening, allergies, so watching out for them and keeping track of them is a very good idea. Most food sensitivities will show up as hive-like bumps on your baby's face. Sometimes, however, the reaction might be stronger. It is not uncommon for babies with strong food sensitivities or allergies to projectile vomit, have acidic diarrhea and intense abdominal cramping and gas. Egg, Milk, Peanut, Tree nut, fish, shellfish, wheat and soy are the 8 most common food allergies, which is good to keep in mind not only while introducing foods, but while breastfeeding. None of these foods should be given to a baby who is under the age of one, unless you are directed to by your pediatrician. Now, There are soy, and milk based formulas, which are formulated to be gentle, but if you do try one of these be on the lookout for increased gas, cramping, diarrhea and spit-up. Any of these symptoms, if severe, could be an indication that your little snapdragon is allergic to the formula you are using.

4. Use your own favorite foods as blueprint.
If you love mashed potatoes, apples, asparagus or yams, introduce these foods first. If you were eating the foods that you are introducing to your baby while you were breastfeeding, it makes it considerably more likely that your sweet pea will be keen on trying them. It is important to keep the associations that your baby forms with the experience of trying new foods positive, and anything you can do to minimize the number of things that your baby needs to adjust to at each turn, the better. For example, if you love peas, and were eating peas fairly regularly while pregnant, they would be a food that your baby will very likely enjoy, and after experiencing that enjoyment she will be more receptive to new foods in the future.

5. Experiment with texture.
Some foods when pureed will be fairly thick, like mashed potatoes, and some will be quite watery, like pears. That is why when you are first offering your baby cereal, you should experiment with the texture to find the consistency your baby seems to like best. Many babies find a slightly thicker consistency (like the consistency of toothpaste) easier to manage, while some prefer a more soupy style that they can practically drink. The reason you'll want to know your baby's preferred consistency is so you can thicken up those pears with some rice cereal, or you can add some breast milk or formula to the mashed potatoes if he rejects them the first time. Sometimes a new flavor can be quite overwhelming on its own, if you can adjust the texture so that it is more familiar you increase your chances that your sweet little goober-cluster will chow down with enthusiasm.

Though this milestone will mark an end of a special time for you and your baby, it is also the first step into the wide and amazing world of delicious dining discoveries. Try to remember that your baby isn't "spitting it out", the first few times his food comes right back out, but the sucking motion automatically pushes his tongue forward, and until your yummy little peach-bottom figures out the oral gymnastics required for moving solids through his mouth, quite a bit of each new spoon full is bound to get shoved right back out. It won't take long before your baby learns to clamp his jaw shut at the approach of any undesirable food items, but even then, if there is no evidence of food sensitivity, reintroduce any rejected foods after a few weeks (One very gross but effective technique for introducing solids is described here). This is a fun and exciting time for your baby, try to have fun and allow yourself to go on the journey of discovery with him. If you have found these tips helpful, please pass them on to any new or expecting parents you know, and remember, questions and comments are always welcome. Happy parenting!

Wordless Wednesday.

Two weeks ago at the zoo. SO much fun!


Toddler Tuesday: 5 tips for toning down tantrums.

Why do children whine, cry and throw tantrums? Is it only because of their age, like a developmental gauntlet that they must put us parents through to be sure we will survive their teenage years? Perhaps, but I don't think so. It has often been put forward that toddlers throw tantrums because they WORK, I don't know about that either. Most of the children I have worked with over the years have certainly had times that they used the tantrum as a way to motivate parents to give them what they wanted, but more often it seemed to be more of an emotional outlet. One that they use to express everything from pain & disappointment to sadness & anger, but most of all, frustration. Imagine, you are old enough to know what you want, but not old enough to understand why your mom doesn't give it to you, or why it hurts when you bang your head, or why the boy at the park keeps taking your toy. The overwhelming onslaught of emotion could be quite overwhelming to you! I kind of think of toddlers as robots in a sci-fi show who have just received their emotion chip, and are having short circuits while figuring out the appropriate way to channel their new feelings. Even though there is no sure fire way to help your little howler monkey get through this difficult stage, I have five tips that might help smooth the process a little.

1. Be incapable of understanding whining.
Because your little one probably does understand that they have the power to communicate now, if whining gets in the way of you hearing them, they will tend to rephrase their request in a less whiny voice. Be careful, responding even one time to whining can make it more difficult for your toddler to believe that you cannot understand them, and if they become frustrated, it may make their impending tantrum worse. Also, though it is tempting to make a game out of not understanding your little giggle-bug's whines, this can lead to hours of whiny play, which might lead to YOU throwing a tantrum. It is best if you pretend that whining is a language that you just don't speak, and which doesn't interest you all that much (focusing attention on a toddler while they are whining can be interpreted as a reward for that behavior). If your toddler believes you, they will drop the whining in favor of a more effective form of communication.

2. Respond to crying by offering physical comfort.
When your sweet little sugar tart starts screaming and crying on her belly in the middle of the grocery store, the best response is to pick her up and give her some cuddle time. If the tantrum is an angry one, chances are this will not be something she wants and can make things worse, but at least no one will call the authorities on you. For most tantrums this response will work fairly well, especially if you are consistent. What you are teaching your toddler with this type of response is that screaming and crying are an appropriate way to ask for hugs and kisses, and that is all they are likely to receive when they engage in those behaviors. It's also a good way to keep your own frustration and anger in check.

3. "Translate" your child's emotions for them.
Since we can often tell that the reason our little Donald Duck has blown his stack is from frustration or another powerful emotion, it is a useful technique to use language to narrate your toddlers episode. For example: "You sure are angry! When I'm angry I like to stomp my feet(or whatever you do) like this (make a big show of illustrating what you do when you are angry). When dogs are angry they bark like this (make a big barking sound). When gorillas are angry they beat their chest like this..." etc. You can do this type of modeling and translation for your toddler with any of the emotions that you think are the underlying reason for the tantrum. Keep in mind that although frustration is most often the final reason things escalate to tantrum status, disappointment, embarrassment and anxiety are common underlying emotions that lead to the frustration as well.

4. Distract, redirect & change the subject like crazy.
It won't take too long before you are so familiar with your baby's moods that you can see a tantrum coming. Right then is the time to change the subject! Maybe you just remembered a half-stick of gum in your purse that you toddler could have a taste of, or you could burst into your little one's favorite rhyme or song. You could ask your little Einstein some questions about the things around you, or start a quick game of I-Spy. Whatever you do, steer clear of the sensitive topic. If all else fails, a tickle war will usually drive the blues away before they can arrive. It is a lot of work to drop everything and focus on your toddler, but it is a lot more work to drag a limp, screaming little banshee around town with you while you are trying to finish your errands.

5. Give in sooner.
Did you hear me right? Yes you did, I said "give in sooner", and I meant it. Actually, try to give in BEFORE there is a problem. When your two year old asks for something that you want to say "no" to ask your self first "why not"? Since you might end up giving in after a big tantrum anyway, be extra sure that your "no" is a reasonable one to begin with. So your funny bunny wants a lemon drop and it is an hour before lunch, is it really all that bad if you say yes? What if she doesn't want to share her new truck at the park? Is today the one time when she will learn the importance of sharing or will it just reinforce to her why she doesn't want to share if she is forced to? I guess what I am saying is, have the fight with yourself first, and if it is important enough to have a tantrum over, go ahead with your first response but be ready to defend your position no matter what. It won't help anything if you take a stand only to fold after 15 minutes of screaming, anyone can see that the lesson learned in this instance is very counter-productive to teaching your toddler better ways to express her emotions. This strategy is an old tried and true one, my grandma called it "choosing your battles".

I don't think there is any absolute solution that will prevent every tantrum, if there is I haven't found it yet. But tantrums don't have to last forever, with a little understanding and strategy they can be shorter and fewer in number. I know that for myself I still throw little tantrums from time to time, and they are almost all based in a feeling of being out of control and the frustration that comes from being misunderstood. I think about that when I see my son scrunch up his eyes and stick out that adorable bottom lip. Keeping a broader perspective helps me not to take things personally, and that helps us both get over the tantrum faster. I hope if you find these tips helpful you will forward them to any new or expecting parents, or parents of toddlers you know. Questions and comments are always welcome. Happy parenting!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

5 tips for better sleep during baby's 3rd month.

The first two months of a baby's unpredictable sleep routine can really take a toll on a new parent. The wakeful nights, the crying and gas, it is a constant struggle for parents to get enough sleep of their own at night. Though the magical "end of the third month" when sleep is supposed to even out, is just around the corner, there are a few things you can do in the meantime to help prepare your baby to slip naturally into a long and healthy sleep routine.

If you have followed my baby tips for better night sleep during the first two months, hopefully your baby is only getting up to eat 2 or 3 times during the night. The tips from the second month still apply to babies who are in their third month, as a matter of fact, if you have successfully extended the times between your babies feedings by 15 minutes, for the third month I would suggest that you attempt to extend the time further to 25 or 30 minutes. Your goal in doing this should be to have at least 4 hours between the start of each feed. Here are 5 more things you can do to encourage longer periods of night sleep during your baby's third month.

1. Integrate aromatic associations into bedtime routine.
I know I have mentioned in other posts how smell is our most powerful sense tied to memory, and one of the most fully developed senses that our babies have, but this is a different use for that association. As you begin establishing a bedtime routine, if you integrate a special soothing scent into it, your baby will begin to associate that scent with bedtime. As your baby grows, and sleep disruptions occur, when you need to re-establish the bedtime routine, using the scent will help remind your baby that night is a time for sleep. I used a lightly scented lotion to massage my son as a part of his bedtime routine for his first 8 months after coming home from the hospital, so he has that scent associated with relaxation, mommy and sleeping. When he is sick I will rub a little of the scented lotion on the collar of his pajamas, and it soothes him even now at 2 years old.

2. Try different swaddles.
At different stages of development your baby will resist different types of swaddling. For a few weeks you may need to leave one of your baby's arms free, or use a swaddling technique that folds your love-burrito's arms across his chest instead of straight down to his sides. Nearly all babies will insist on having their feet free after the second month, which is fine. You can return to a full swaddle any time if your baby's sleep begins to suffer.

3. Establish a bedtime routine.
Now is the time to start creating the a routine that will signal to your little snuggle-bug that it is time to bid farewell to the conscious world for awhile. The exact elements of your routine don't particularly matter, as long as they are calming and consistent. Since you will need to perform the exact same routine every night from now on you will probably want to choose elements that are easy and flexible, like reading a story, "brushing teeth", baby massage, singing a song and rocking together. If you want to include a bath in your bedtime routine, try to have it earlier. Baths can be more stimulating than relaxing for babies, and are hard to remain consistent with especially while traveling. Feeding will most likely be a part of the bedtime routine, but I do encourage parents to try NOT to have it be the very last part. It is a good idea to wipe out your babies mouth after eating especially before night sleep to reduce the risk of thrush, and eventually that mouth-wiping out part of the bedtime routine can be replaced with teeth-brushing. Whatever routine you develop be sure that everyone who puts the babies to bed for night sleep maintains a very similar version, since consistency is the real key here. You do not need to use this same routine for naps because of the amount of time involved, but if you find that it works for you, then there is nothing wrong with it either.

4. Reduce your baby's night feeding amount.
Your baby still needs a large amount of food spread over full 24 hour periods. However, in order to begin reducing subliminal expected feedings, try to offer your baby about half an ounce less than you would normally offer at night feedings(for breastfeeding mothers this would translate into reducing the time spent breastfeeding by about 3 or 4 minutes, though you should probably pump afterward to completely empty your breast, in order to preserve your milk production). This will most likely be difficult at first, and if your baby insists that she is still hungry after about 15 minutes of after-meal soothing, bouncing and burping, go ahead and give her a little top-off. In time your wee wiggly giggler will be satisfied with less at night and will instead bulk up by eating more during the days.

5. Soothe your baby while laying down.
Wherever your baby sleeps at night, when he begins to fuss, try to sooth him back to sleep while he is still in bed. If it is obvious that he needs to be picked up, try to pick him up when he is not crying. Of course, this is not always possible, so if your baby is beginning to get really worked up, pick him up immediately. If you can soothe your fluffy little nightingale back to sleep at night, or at least into a calm state before being picked up, it will help to create the expectation in your baby that comfort can be found without being swept up into your arms every few hours or so. This change in expectation lends itself very well to the development of natural self-soothing habits. Quiet long-sleep periods at night are reliant on your baby's ability to develop healthy self-soothing techniques.

Though it may seem like the third month will never end, if you have some things to focus on in the meantime it will help time to pass while laying a useful frame work for any kind of sleep training that you might want to do in the future. Whether you think that a no-cry solution will work best for your family, or if you are leaning toward a quick-but-painful cry-it-out method, the process will be easier and faster overall if your baby has some of the skills she will need to adapt. I do not recommend that parents plan on implementing any sleep-training on the eve of their baby's third month "birthday", it is rare that any baby will develop so exactly as to actually change over night from an infant who needs on-demand-feedings to a baby that is ready to adjust to a whole new sleep schedule. If you watch your baby's schedule closely you will see a subtle shift over the fourth month, and at some point it will be apparent that your baby does not need to wake for food, but is waking more out of habit. This is when you will want to be ready with your sleep training plan already decided upon. What ever your parenting philosophy is, it will be easier once you start being able to get a decent amount of sleep at night again. Chin up, keep your eye on the ball, and keep telling yourself: "It DOES get easier" (for another tip that might help when laying your baby down to sleep check here). Happy parenting!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

5 tips for choosing the right stroller.

Whether you call it a stroller, pram, baby buggy, carriage, perambulator or a pushchair, picking the baby-mover that you will trust to carry around your most precious cargo is no small decision. Should you get a light little umbrella-style, or a heavy-duty ATV looking job? What about a jogger or one developed by some young cutting-edge designer? There are so many different choices available today that a parent can get to feeling quite overwhelmed with the amount of research there is to do. Here are a few things you can do to help you narrow down your search more quickly.

1. Get a car seat-frame for the first few months.
For the first few months your baby will spend a lot of time in a car seat. Those car seats are heavy, bulky and hard to handle. Taking your baby in and out of a car seat can be difficult and frustrating for you both, so you may want to get a stroller frame that you can simply attach your baby's car seat to. They are lightweight and inexpensive and can save you both a lot of time and effort.

2. Evaluate your lifestyle.
If you are the type of parent who will be heading out for long outings on a fairly regular basis, you will want a stroller with a big basket, and easy turning capability, if you are more of a fashionista, a cutting edge design will suit you better. If you are really outdoorsy, an all-terrain style will be best, joggers will benefit from a jogging stroller (obviously) and impulsive families who like to travel a lot or run out for a quick visit to the park at a moments notice would be better off with a lightweight umbrella-style one. Of course it is possible to find strollers which straddle a few different categories, but if you take a good look at how your stroller needs to fit your lifestyle before you start shopping you will save yourself a lot of confusion.

3. Prioritize your most desired features.
There are certain features that most parents look for in strollers, like awnings, easily collapsible, weight, size, food tray, cup holder, fully recline-able and quality of construction. Some of these features are available on at least a few types of every style of stroller, but not all of them, so it is good to know which ones are less important, and which ones you cannot live without. For me an awning and fully recline-able seat are paramount because napping is so much easier with these two features. For many parents a food tray may not be very important because they don't anticipate needing to feed their child while she is riding in the push-cart. Whatever your personal list of important features are, if you have the ones which matter most to you in mind while shopping, it will greatly simplify the process.

4. Shop within your budget.
The perfect stroller is almost always available for hundreds of dollars. It sometimes seems that the more perfect it is the more expensive it is. However, with a sharp eye for the most important features, and a preferred style in mind, staying within your budget should be completely attainable. Besides the top designer brands, there are knockoffs available which nevertheless have a wide range of features and styles to choose from. You don't even need to sacrifice style in many instances because there are several sites where people sell covers for all kinds of strollers made from beautiful and creative fabrics.

5. Let durability be your deciding factor.
I think the single most important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a stroller is durability. Durability translates into monetary savings and safety for your precious little passenger. If you can find a stroller that will grow with your child as well, it will also save you money, but only if it is durable enough to last through the abuse that it is likely to suffer as it is tossed in and out of trunks, tumbled through the airline baggage system and taken on countless excursions through every type of terrain. A quality brand I can recommend which is on the less expensive end of the spectrum is "Safety 1st", they use high-quality materials, and have a fairly good range of features available as well.

After you have a short list of a few contenders for the title of burp-buggy-extraordinaire, you might find yourself at an impasse between two similar push-carts. This site http://strollers.baby-gaga.com/reviews.php is great for helping to differentiate between similar strollers in your price range. It rates strollers on durability, has honest parent reviews and makes quick easy comparisons between strollers based on size, weight, price and design. This site is the best resource I have found for choosing the right stroller, though there are more out there, as well as many review blogs and of course Consumer Reports. I hope these tips prove helpful (for my personal choice in strollers look here). I've received so many requests for stroller advice over the last couple of weeks that I wanted to give parents some really good tried and true ideas for how to make the right decision for them when it comes to strollers. Please share these tips with any new or expecting parents you might know, and feel free to leave questions or comments. Happy parenting!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

5 tips for pain-free breastfeeding.

Imagine that you had a personal chef who could make you the perfect food, specifically formulated to your own chemical balance and physical needs. Breastfeeding is like this for your baby. The milk you naturally produce is the perfect food for your yummy little gummy worm. The vast majority of mothers are physically able to breastfeed their babies, yet some find it extraordinarily difficult and painful. Quite often the task of breastfeeding can be eased with just one or two basic techniques. Though milk production is often one of the most basic concerns a breastfeeding mother has, in this collection of tips I am focusing more directly on ways to make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable over all. These 5 tips are designed to be most helpful to breastfeeding mothers who are having a hard time with chapped nipples, getting a good latch, releasing a good latch and making the overall experience of breastfeeding more enjoyable.

1. Make your baby a nice breast sandwich.
If your nipples are getting chapped, it is most likely a latching issue. Getting enough of your breast into your baby's mouth so that they can form a good latch is a tricky maneuver. The best way I found was to compress (or pinch, really) my breast between my first two fingers just outside my areola, while pressing my entire breast in toward my chest. This made my nipple and areola somewhat flatter, like a sandwich, and it was easier for me to get more breast into my son's mouth, which made it easier for him to latch on. This tip is especially helpful for mothers who have been overly compensated with volume in the chest area.

2. Give your baby a little cheek tickle.
Of course it doesn't matter how compact and accessible your breast is if your baby doesn't open her mouth wide enough to get more than a nibble. Luckily nature has given babies an instinct to help them open their mouths nice and wide. If you touch your baby's cheek lightly with your nipple, your baby should turn her head toward your breast with her mouth wide open. This opening will only last a second, so be quick about shoving your breast as far in there as you can get it. Don't worry about filling your baby's mouth too full with nature's bounty, she can always self correct after she finds a good latch.

3. Try different nursing positions.
Most of us have burned on our brain one specific visual image of breastfeeding. The mother holding her baby in her arms across her chest in a horizontal position with the baby's belly button facing up, and the head turned into the breast, rests in the crook of the mothers elbow. This is commonly referred to as the "Cradle Hold" and is the image most mothers reflect on when they first imagine breastfeeding. However, what this image doesn't reflect is that for babies with reflux this position would be difficult, and probably painful. For babies with gas, this position is less than ideal, and that mother's arm is gonna fall off if she holds her baby like that for every feeding. There are several different styles of nursing position, and most rely on some sort of nursing-pillow support. The most similar variation is the "Cradle Crossover Hold" in which the mother holds her breast with the hand and arm that she had been using to "cradle" the baby, and uses the other arm to hold the baby belly-to-belly with her hand supporting the head while nursing. There is also the "Football Hold" which is most commonly used to tandem feed twins, but which some single babies find more comfortable as well, where the baby is tucked next to the mother under her arm and she uses the same arm to hold the baby's head to the breast. There are several official positions like these that are easy to find illustrated online, but you should not feel restricted to these exact positions. My son's favorite nursing position as he got larger was vertically belly-to-belly while straddling my thigh. I supported his head and neck from behind though he was pretty good at holding his head up by the time we found this position. I don't think this is an "official" nursing position, but I like to refer to it as the "Koala Hold".

4. Use your little finger to help release a good latch.
Another source of nipple chaffing comes from improper latch-release techniques. Once your darling little rose bud gets a good latch, it can feel like he is vacuum-sealed to your breast. If you need to interrupt a feeding for some reason (like running to the restroom or answering the door), if you need to disengage your baby after you know that your milk is gone or if your baby has fallen asleep at the breast, it can be hard to figure out how to remove him gently. If you simply pull him away until the latch is broken, it will be traumatic to your nipple, and perhaps to your baby's delicate mucus membranes as well. I've seen some mothers even try to pry their baby's jaws apart by pulling on their forehead and chin, it did not look comfortable for the baby and I do not recommend it. Instead, try inserting your littlest finger into the corner of your baby's mouth and pressing into your nipple just enough to let air in. This gently breaks the seal without causing either of you any undue stress or discomfort. It seems simple, but it can really help reduce nipple irritation and pain.

5. Give your baby a little mouth-wash.
Though some nipple irritation is caused by improper latching and releasing, less commonly it could be a sign of thrush (a yeast infection). A yeast infection of your nipple is caused by the growth of yeast in your baby's mouth, due to high sugar content and an imbalance of healthy bacteria. The most important thing you can do to help prevent this from happening is to take a clean, damp baby washcloth and wrap it tightly around your finger and rub it over your baby's cheeks, gums and tongue after every breastfeeding session. Keeping a spray-bottle filled with very weak chamomile tea and a pile of clean wash clothes near where you usually breastfeed will make it easier to remember to do this after every time you nurse. If your adorable little smoochy-face develops an infection in spite your best efforts, some things you can try to help resolve the infection quickly are: eating some unsweetened yogurt ever day for a few days, cutting sugar out of your diet for a few days and replacing the weak chamomile tea in the spray bottle with a very weak mixture of baking soda and water (1/4 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 & 1/2 cup warm water). I also would wash your baby's mouth out before naps and before night-time sleep as well as after breast feeding.

Trick: Vary your diet while tracking your baby's gas.
This trick doesn't have so much to do with your comfort while breastfeeding as it does with your baby's long-term potential to resist becoming a picky eater. The flavors of the food you eat while breastfeeding come through your breast milk in a very diluted form. Fostering a familiarity with many different flavor profiles while your baby is experiencing her first relationship with food fosters a flavour flexibility which can come in very handy later in life. I especially recommend eating as many different types of vegetables as possible, because they are traditionally the most resisted food group for children. You should be sure to keep a log of the foods you eat each day, and the times that your baby expresses discomfort and excess gas, because this will help you eliminate foods that are causing your baby discomfort more quickly.

Trick: For Chapped nipples use bag balm.
Your baby cannot eat this substance, so you might want to take some time off of the breast for one or two feedings. Pump enough milk to keep your baby fed for about 24 hours, and slather on the bag balm. It is sticky and can be staining, so I recommend for mothers to use breast pads to shield the balm-covered nipples while they heal, and wear a soft sleeping-bra to keep the pads in place. In about 12-18 hours you should see a significant decrease in the irritation, and you may be able to begin breastfeeding again. Be sure to thoroughly clean your nipples before returning to breastfeeding with your baby. Many mothers also recommend lanolin, since it is something your baby could ingest small amounts of with no ill effects. I did not find that it was effective for me, but it is another remedy you might want to try.

Breast feeding is a special and magical bonding time for mothers and babies, especially if there is less discomfort and anxiety involved in the experience. Hopefully these tips will help keep your nipples pain-free and your breastfeeding experience a positive one (for one more great tip for better breastfeeding look here). If you have found these tips to be helpful, please forward them to any new or expecting parents you might know. I also love, and respond quickly to, questions and comments. Happy parenting!

Wordless Wednesday!

Here are a couple of pictures from our camping trip:

Camping with a toddler is TOUGH. We had a great time though.

Toddler Tuesday! 5 tips for camping with a toddler.

Toddlers are wild and crazy, you might think that taking them out into the wild would be as natural as breathing, but it is really a lot of work. There are more ways for your snuggly little tsunami to hurt themselves out in the woods than there are in a public restroom! However, getting your favorite bunny-hopper out doors is good for them too. You might not be able to enjoy the peace and solace of nature like you used to, but with a few tips, navigating some of the common pitfalls will be much easier.

1. Child-safe bug repellent.
Coppertone Bug & Sunscreen With Insect Repellent, Kid's Formula, SPF 30 is the highest rated bug repellent for kids on www.goodguide.com, however I prefer a more natural approach. I bring a spray bottle with 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon eucalyptus oil and 2 tablespoons lemon oil in it. Then while we are camping, I mist his clothes and hat with it every morning, and as soon as the air starts to cool off each evening. I am careful not to get it in his eyes or near his mouth, and always shake it up before each application. This seems to work well in combination with long loose-fitting pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a cotton hat. I try to keep one outfit for him to wear each evening and morning over his regular clothes so that I only have a couple of things that are covered with the smell, which while not unpleasant, can linger in clothing long after it has been washed.

2. Safe play area inside tent.Secure all of your dangerous camping items in containers you can keep outside your tent, and keep the inside area clean and organized. This way, if you need to take a few minutes to start the fire or chop up some potatoes, you can put your toddler in the tent with a few books or toys, unzip all of the windows, and close the main door flap. Your child will be contained and safe while you finish doing whatever it is that you have to do, then you can let him out and resume the chase around the campsite. Make sure your tent is secure and stable before placing your child inside, and never allow yourself to be out of sight or earshot in case your baby needs you.

3. Bring a high chair or booster seat with a buckle.
If it is feasible for you to lug this type of equipment out camping with you, it is a great idea. It's hard enough for your little explorer to hold still long enough for you to get a good picture, let alone long enough to down a whole meal. If you can strap your toddler into a secure seat for 10 to 15 minutes, it will be a lot easier to make sure he is eating and drinking enough. It is also another place you can secure your bouncy one while you do food prep or work on the fire.

4. Pack proper camping attire in place of over-using sunscreen.
Sunscreen is a good idea whenever you and your toddler are outside, but sometimes sunscreen wears off, and it provides no protection from biting insects or rash-producing plants. I recommend that parents pack lightweight long sleeved shirts and long legged pants for sunny camping days. The material is a good way to reduce sun exposure, and it is protective of your child's sensitive skin. Remember to bring a hat, preferably one with a chin-strap to keep it on your toddlers head through wind or rambunctious play. Of course, if you intend on wading in streams or swimming, bring water shoes, a bathing suit, water-safe diapers towels and sunscreen.

5. Pajamas & bedding.
When it comes time to go to bed for the night, you may have the same problem I have. Do you have a wiggle worm who will find a way (while completely asleep) to get out from under any type of blanket you put on her? If so, to make sure she will stay warm enough throughout the night, layer on the pajamas. Several layers of warm pajamas will keep your bundle of kisses warm while allowing a full range of movement. As long as she has a soft comfy surface to sleep on she should be able to stay comfortable until morning, in spite of the cool night air. I like to bring our portable baby cot, but we tend to camp at drive-up sites where this is more feasible.

Camping in the great outdoors, is a wonderful way to share a love of nature with your small child. Though there are many pitfalls awaiting toddlers, if you come prepared for the most common ones, you'll be able to have a much more relaxing time together. Enjoy the summer safely, and you can revel in your little explorer's sense of adventure and fun! If you found these tips helpful, please forward them to any parents of toddlers you might know. Happy parenting!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

5 tips for safe and effective bottle feeding.

Breast is best. However for a lot of mothers this isn't the way things worked out. No matter the reason, many parents find themselves faced with the task of using a bottle to feed their baby. Though there are some benefits, there are also many drawbacks to using the bottle. Whether you are using breast milk or formula in the bottle there are a few simple things you can do to make it a lot easier on yourself and your baby.

1. Be sure you are using the right speed nipple flow.
All bottles initially come with a stage 1 nipple. This slow-flow nipple is usually good for a couple of months. However, the age suggestions for increasing the speed of nipple flows are general at best. Every baby is unique, often even identical twins will not advance at exactly the same time to a higher flow. Some of the ways you can tell if your baby is ready for the next stage of nipple are: if your baby is losing suction pretty often while eating, becoming frustrated after eating for just a few minutes, eating a lot less but becoming hungry much more often, a sudden increase in the amount and intensity of gas, and a lot of chewing on the nipple during meal times. If you see any of these signs, or a combination of them it is time to get a faster flow bottle nipple.

2. Choose a non-toxic bottle.
BPA's and PVC's have been shown (to my satisfaction) to be dangerous as containers for baby's milk, unfortunately most bottles on the market still contain these chemicals. Also, plastic containers that advertise as BPA and PVC free have often replaced these unsafe chemicals with chemicals which have little or no research available on them. The best materials for containing your baby's milk are glass and stainless steel. Kleen Kanteen makes a wonderful stainless steel baby bottle, which is not only safe for your baby's milk, but easy on the environment. I have not personally used this bottle, so I cannot attest to how effective it is at reducing gas, but purely from a green and chemical-free perspective, it is the best choice. As far as glass baby bottles, you have many options, however my personal favorite is Dr. Brown's glass baby bottles. In my opinion, Dr. Browns is hands-down the best baby bottle for reducing gas. There were many times when I used this brand of bottle that the baby I was feeding would not only not have a burp, but also sleep peacefully without any of the usual discomfort that can result from not burping after a meal. The only drawback to the glass Dr. Brown's is that the production of glass is very hard on the environment. However, some families may not be able to afford to buy only the most non-toxic and environmentally safe bottles. For these families, the best ways to reduce the leaching of chemicals from your baby's bottles into milk and formula are: choose bottles that are colored, and not see-through; and do not warm your baby's milk or formula, but serve it at room temperature. Babies usually are not particular about the temperature of their meals (especially if they have never been breastfed), and there are no reasons why the milk or formula should be served at any particular temperature besides your baby's willingness to drink it. Chemicals do not leach into milk and formula as much from cool bottles or from plastics that are an opaque color.

3. Try to keep air out of the nipple during feeds.
As your little honey-suckle downs a big bottle of creamy goodness, try to keep the bottle at such an angle that air does not get into the nipple. If your baby takes in a big mouthful of air during a feed, the easiest thing for her to do with it is to swallow it and continue eating. This is very bad for gas. If that bubble is swallowed near the beginning of a meal, it could be forced through the stomach and into the intestines by the time your baby is finished eating. A large bubble of air going through your baby's intestinal tract is very uncomfortable for her, and though it will eventually be expelled at the diapered end, sleep may be difficult in the meantime. If your baby does swallow some air during a feed, try to get the burp up right away. If it does not come up, I recommend giving your baby a "bicycle legs" massage or regular clockwise stomach massage about 30-40 minutes after eating.

4. Sterilize your baby bottles and nipples regularly.
It is true that as soon as you touch a baby's bottle or nipple it is no longer sterile, however, regular sterilization cuts down the risk of getting thrush or a bacterial infection drastically. The only time when it is shown to be consistently safe to go without regular sterilization is if you are only using fresh breast milk in the bottles. Fresh breast milk has antibacterial properties that render it very resistant to thrush and the risk of infection (thank you @katrinayellow from twitter for reminding me to include this information). For the first two months you should sterilize the bottles every day, for months 3-6 twice a week is sufficient, from 6 months to 1 year, I recommend trying to do it at least once a month, and after 1 year it is usually fine to completely discontinue sterilization. The reason I recommend continuing with the occasional sterilization at this pace is based on the general ability of babies to fight off infection. If your baby is more prone to bacterial infection, or would be more adversely affected by an infection than most other babies, I would continue with at least bi-weekly sterilization for as long as your baby is using the bottle. Also remember to wash and sterilize pumping equipment after each use. To sterilize your baby's bottles, you can use a Medela microwave bag, which is handy and easy, you can boil them, or run them through the dishwashers heating cycle. Washing the bottles and nipples with soap and water is important as well, this should always be done before using the bottle and nipple again for another feeding.

5. Make sure your baby's milk and/or formula is fresh.
Fresh pumped breast milk can stay out in a bottle at room temperature for about 10-12 hours before it begins to have a risk of growing bacteria. Fresh mixed formula can only be out for about 1-2 hours before it begins to develop a bacterial risk. Fresh pumped breast milk can be refrigerated for up to a week (though sometimes as little as 2 or 3 days. A sterile container helps retain freshness in refrigerated breast milk.) with no significant bacterial growth risk, and fresh mixed formula can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Breast milk can be frozen for 3 months in a soft-freeze, 6 months in a hard freeze and 1 year in a deep freeze. Thawed breast milk (and sometimes even refrigerated breast milk) is nearly as susceptible to bacteria as fresh mixed formula is, and should be held to a minimum of the same standards. If you pre-mix a large amount of formula, refrigerate the bulk of it for up to 2 days. If you have thawed breast milk, it should be served within 48 hours as well. For night feedings, you can pre-mix or thaw your formula or milk and keep prepared bottles in the refrigerator. Leave out the first bottle for up to an hour before it is used for the first feeding, then take out a bottle for the next feeding to warm over 2-3 hours. By the time it reaches room temperature, it will probably be within an hour of your baby's next feeding time. If you prefer to mix your baby's formula by the bottle rather than all at once, keep sterile bottles of pre-measured water with pre-measured formula to mix just before each feeding (the only drawback to this is the bubbles that are caused by shaking formula can cause severe gas in some babies). It is very important to keep in mind that once your baby's mouth has touched the bottles nipple, that formula or breast milk will only be safe for 1 hour, TOPS. I know it is hard to throw out breast milk, and formula can be expensive, but if your baby only eats half a bottle and refuses to finish it, throw the rest away. Also, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the smell of fresh formula and breast milk, as well as the smell of breast milk and formula that has "turned", because if you are in a pinch and need to offer your baby some milk that you are unsure of, you will be able to use your nose to warn you of bacteria growth.

Feeding a baby is both a joy and a chore, but with these 5 tips you can be more confident that your baby is getting the best from each feeding (for more information on how to make good choices for your baby's things read this). I hope that these tips have been helpful. If you know any new or expecting parents, please don't hesitate to forward them my site address. I also love questions and comments. If you have a topic that you'd like some tips on, feel free to ask, and I will credit you when I write them. Happy parenting!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

5 tips to help relieve your baby's constipation

Within days of becoming a new parent, one of your very favorite topics will be...poop. Suddenly one of the most fascinating topics in the world is your baby's bowel movements. So naturally, when your baby has constipation, finding a way to relieve it is a top priority. Unlike adults, babies cannot simply eat more fiber to help their bowel movements be more regular and comfortable, they rely on us to provide constipation relief. Of course, it is important to be sure that your baby is indeed having constipation before you try to treat it. Babies, especially breastfed babies, can sometimes go up to 3 or 4 days between bowel movements, simply because they are metabolizing nearly all of their feedings.

One dangerous symptom which is sometimes confused with infant constipation (or that goes unnoticed because of focusing to closely on a baby's constipation), is having a sharp drop in the number of wet diapers per day. This could be a symptom of a serious condition and you should consult your pediatrician if you notice your baby producing significantly fewer wet diapers. Some signs to look for to be sure that your baby is constipated are: absence of bowel movements for more than 3 or 4 days, reduced appetite, trouble sleeping, slightly bloated abdomen, grunting and straining interrupted by high-pitched cries, and very smelly gas. Here are a few home-remedies for helping your baby get things moving down below.

1. A small amount of diluted fruit juice.
This should be given in addition to your baby's regular feedings, it should not replace any of them. Try mixing 1/2 ounce of juice with 1/2 ounce water, and offering it to your baby 3 to 4 times a day between feedings. Do not sweeten the juice, the sugar will not help with your baby's constipation and could upset her digestion. A popular choice of juice is prune juice, however, I have found that many fruit juices are just as effective. I prefer to use apple juice or pear juice, though you could also try grape juice or blueberry juice, I would recommend staying away from stone-fruit juices such as apricot or peach, and also acidic fruits such as orange, grapefruit, kiwi, pineapple and nearly all berries, because they can irritate your baby's sensitive stomach, and they are higher allergen risks.

2. Use the "bicycle legs" baby massage motion.
In a warm room, lay your naked little nummy-toed koala on a soft clean changing pad, with a cloth diaper under his rump, and another one draped between his legs and over his behind, but none secured over his whole bottom. Then take those chubby, yummy feet in your hands and slowly push your baby's right knee toward his right shoulder. When your baby's knee cannot comfortably go any further, raise his foot slightly and pull his leg toward you, slowly straightening it. As you straighten his right leg, begin pushing his left knee toward his left shoulder. If you are doing this correctly it should appear that your baby is very slowly peddling an invisible bicycle. His hind-end should be slightly raised off of the cloth diaper and gently leaning right-to-left then left-to-right as you continue the motions. The reason your baby has no diaper on is to encourage the natural expulsion of the waste that has been stopping him up, so that diaper draped between his legs is very important, you don't want him painting the walls (or you) a new shade of green.

3. Offer your baby small amounts of very weak peppermint tea.
Heat a pot of water till it is comfortably warm, not boiling. Then and pour a cup, and dunk a peppermint tea bag into the water about 5 times. Now pour one ounce of this water into a bottle and offer it to your baby in addition to regular feedings. The most important element of this solution is the water. Water is one of natures fastest and most effective ways to stimulate proper bowel function. The peppermint is soothing to your baby's stomach, and can help to ease digestion, which will help keep things in your baby's bowels moving along smoothly. If this doesn't produce any results you could try to substitute a bag of white tea for the peppermint. Caffeine won't help your little wiggle-worm sleep, but it does make a great diuretic. You should only use white tea as a last resort, since caffeine can be hard on a baby's sensitive system. Chamomile is another herbal tea that has a calming effect on tissue and the nervous system. If you don't have peppermint tea, it would be a good safe substitute. Use the same brewing instructions as given for the peppermint tea. Also, warm water by itself is quite often effective in relieving constipation.

4. Give your baby a warm bath.
Warm water isn't just effective on your baby's insides. When your baby is uncomfortable from the symptoms of constipation, a nice soak in a warm aromatic bath can be very soothing. Being uncomfortable because of the gas caused by a dense stool is part of what causes the muscle tightness that exacerbates infant constipation. If you can relax your baby's stomach muscles, while soothing the pain of excess gas it should help ease the passing of the bowel movement. I recommend adding a chamomile teabag to your baby's bathwater, the smell is soothing, and can assist in the achieving the desired level of relaxation.

5. Take your baby's rectal temperature.
If you are unsure of how to do this, ask your pediatrician for detailed instructions. As one of my son's nurses explained it to me, when your baby feels pressure down there, it reminds him where to push. So instead of straining and tensing all of his muscles without being sure which ones will help relieve the discomfort, your baby can focus on one area. I have heard parents describe using a q-tip with a small amount of Aquaphor on it to place pressure on the opening of their baby's rectum, but I have not had this recommended to me by a medical professional, nor have I tried it myself. Since I am comfortable and confident with taking my son's temperature rectally, I used this method with great success several times. As with any physical assistance in regards to constipation, it is important not to use this type of assistance too often as there is a danger of your baby becoming reliant on your assistance. This type of technique should only be used when all other suggestions have been tried first.

If these suggestions do not help get the ball rolling, your pediatrician can recommend more extreme measures. However, I do think that these tips will most likely get your little diaper-soiling-factory up and running again (one more of my favorite home remedies for infant constipation can be found here). Keep in mind that while your baby is experiencing constipation, the physical and emotional symptoms of distress may get you a little tense as well. Be sure to get plenty of fiber in your own diet, and you'll feel better and have more energy to deal well with your baby's discomfort. If you have found these tips to be helpful, please pass them on to any new or expecting parents you might know. As always, questions and comments are welcome. Happy parenting!

Wordless Wednesday!

A day at the zoo. What fun! Daddy and son wait in line for the zoo train, while mommy stalks them with the camera!

For a couple more pictures of my little charmer click here. I'll be back tomorrow with 5 tips to help relieve your baby's constipation!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Toddler Tuesday! 5 Tips to help cut costs.

What can a family do when they have to feed, dress, entertain and educate the same number of children on half the budget? Times are tough right now. Most people are tightening their proverbial belt, and most people with kids are tightening their literal belts. In other words: money is tight. Well, I'm no financial guru, but I will share with you a few toddler-based cost-cutting techniques that you can implement to reduce the over all strain on your budget.

1. Use inexpensive alternatives when planning nutritious meals for your toddler.
Bulk up on the beans, rice, pasta and potatoes. Your meals will cost much less if you can place the emphasis on these inexpensive, filling and nutritious staples. Try to make sauces in large amounts, and freeze portions for use at a later date. Frozen veggies are another less expensive way to add variety and nutrition to the meals you create. Adding more of these things as the base of your meal means you will need to add less meat and cheese. Meat and cheese are very expensive, and the less you can get away with using the better for your budget. Try to compensate for losing the iron source in the meat by adding fresh leafy greens to your dishes when possible since they also are rich in iron. Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season, because they will be cheaper, and always try to buy local produce. Locally grown produce is less expensive, and it is usually much higher quality, since it has not passed through any"middle men" or been shipped across the country.

2. Substitute found objects and home made items for buying new toys.
You may have been used to buying new toys for your baby as he grew, but now find that he is suddenly a toddler and you cannot afford to purchase new age-appropriate toys for him. Well, lucky for you Toddlers can have fun playing with just about anything. Try the old "pots and pans drum set", or a bucket of water and a cup in the back yard. You can go to your local grocery store and ask for old cardboard boxes to use for imaginative play. Re-purposing odd socks to make hand-puppets or stuffed animals is an old trick that still holds up. Though trading used toddler toys with people you've found online is a good option, if you decide to connect with parents over the Internet who are giving their toddlers old toys away, please don't go to meet them alone.

3. Help your toddlers clothes last longer.
Who needs an entirely new wardrobe every 6 to 12 months (besides various starlets and heiresses)? Your toddler, that's who. I knew that my little boy would go through clothes like crazy, but knowing it, and having to deal with how frustrating it can be to buy something that your child only wears once, are two very different things. I thanked heavens for parents who gave their old baby clothes to me in the beginning, but as my boy grew these donations seemed to dry up. I asked my friend where all her boy's old clothes had gone. She said that Toddlers are a little harder on their clothes than little ones who can't walk. Now I am in the middle of it and sure enough, my boy rips, stains and loses such a large portion of his wardrobe that I find myself faced with buying him new clothes more and more often. So, what do I do to extend the life of the clothes he has? Well for onesie undershirts, I've begun cutting the snaps off of the bottoms. He can still wear the undershirt tucked into his pants for a long time before it will be too small on the upper body portion. For pants, I've started patching knees, and letting out the elastic a little, so that his pants sit lower on his hips, then, as summer comes in I cut and hem his worn out or short pants into shorts. For shirts, I buy packs of white t-shirts and then dye them and decorate them with iron-on printouts or fabric paint. It is a bit more time-consuming, but if I have time, and no money, it helps. I have also started cutting the feet out of my boy's footy pajamas, and sewing warm socks on the ends of the legs as well. I always keep two or three nice outfits in the closet that are only for going out to nice places. As soon as we get home I change my boy out of these clothes and launder any spots right away. It makes keeping his nice clothes nice much easier if there are fewer articles to worry about.

4. Entertain your toddler with a variety of free activities.
Entertaining a toddler gets harder and harder every day, especially if you don't use T.V. very often or at all. The best way to keep your toddler entertained without having to spend money on going to expensive places like the zoo, a children's museum or an aquarium, is to have play dates with a small group of other toddlers and their parents at inexpensive or free areas like city parks, pools, nature centers and the back yards of members of the play group, which should rotate for fairness. If each parent who is part of the play group takes a turn putting together some sort of fun art project, educational or otherwise, it takes the pressure off of you to come up with something fun every single day for your little steam roller.

5. Try home remedies for the bulk of your medical care.
I know that no one wants to skimp on health care, especially for their precious children. However, the fact is that many of us are losing our health care coverage along with our jobs, and even if we have savings to help us bridge the gap we can't afford to whisk our kids off to the doctor for every little sniffle. Old wisdom such as "Starve a cold, feed a fever" still holds true today, and when you combine that with herbal remedies like garlic, and the well-known strategy of drinking a lot o f fluids, you can sometimes chase a cold out of your toddler in under 48 hours. The Internet can hold a wealth of information for a family that cannot rely on the doctor like they used to, and you can always try one or two of the many home remedies you find here (though you should always be sure to use reputable sites). Fresh fruit is packed with vitamin C, and should be given liberally to any child who begins to show signs of a fever or sore throat. Putting fresh fruit in a yogurt based smoothie is a great way to soothe the pain of a sore throat while delivering the nutrients your toddler will need to fight off the virus. Fresh steamed veggies or pureed vegetable soup works wonders for many common ailments as well. My own mother always treated earaches with a few drops of warm olive oil, though I've heard that garlic oil is even more effective if you can get some. If you ever feel that your toddler is not reacting well to a treatment of any kind, do stop at once and call your pediatrician. Getting advice over the phone from either a doctor or a nurse is also a great way to save a little money while still using a reliable source.

I hope these tips are helpful. I know that tight financial times are not easy, but with reliable knowledge of a few of these quick and easy techniques for reducing the biggest toddler-related costs, it can lighten the load on the whole family. If you know any parents who might benefit from these tips, please send them to this site. Also, remember that questions and comments are always welcome, and if you have any cost-cutting ideas for toddlers, I'd love to see them! happy parenting!

Monday, June 8, 2009

5 tips for helping your baby nap better.

"How often should a new baby nap?", "When and why do napping schedules change?" and "How can I get my baby to sleep better during the day?" Are all questions that most new parents will have at some point during their baby's development. Napping is such an inconsistent habit, always changing and developing along with your baby. It is hard to know if your baby's day-time sleep is normal for her age, and encouraging a healthy sleeping pattern isn't exactly something they teach you in pregnancy school. However, I do have a few tips that might prove helpful for parents who are struggling with keeping their double-snuggler on an appropriated napping schedule.

1. Keep in mind how often your baby "should" be napping at different ages.
Keeping this general schedule in mind will help you understand why your baby's naps are suddenly changing in frequency or why your baby suddenly refuses to nap at all at certain times.
Birth to 1 month: Napping should be on-demand, and very frequent during the day.
From 1 month to 6 months: Your baby will begin to gravitate toward four predictable naps a day, early morning, noon, afternoon, and evening.
6 months to 1 year: The evening nap will be dropped, or turn into the start of night-time sleep, but the other three naps will stay about the same. One of the naps, usually the noon nap, will be longer than the other two.
1year to 2 years: One more nap will be dropped, either the early morning one or the afternoon one. The bulk of day-sleep will probably take place during the noon nap.
From 2 years on: Only the noon nap is commonly kept after this point, and by 2.5 years or 3 years, your baby could drop their nap all together.
This schedule is just a basic framework, if your baby keeps an extra nap a bit longer, or drops a nap a bit earlier than I've described, don't worry, it is natural for babies to refuse to conform to blanket statements about what they should or should not be doing at any given time. Only if your baby is consistently getting a significantly smaller amount of sleep than described for longer than a week should you begin to be concerned. If you have any nagging worry about your baby's lack of naps, or if you think your baby is sleeping too much, ask your pediatrician for a more focused assessment.

2. Differentiate for your baby between night and day sleep.
It has been argued recently that it is important for really refreshing and restorative day sleep, that the circumstances be different than for night sleep. It is a theory that I have always encouraged simply because I have observed that babies tend to sleep better if they have naps in loud, bright areas of the house than if people try to tip toe around them in the middle of the day. At night after the third month, night sleep should be in a fairly dark environment, with white/or no noise, your baby should be swaddled and the smells in their room should be consistently associated with night sleep. For naps, there should be light, noises that are consistent but not too loud, usually no swaddle and the smells should reflect daytime activities like cooking and cleaning. This encourages your baby to block out light, sounds and smells during the day, and that makes it harder to accidentally wake him up. If your baby is used to this kind of day sleep it is a lot easier to be out and about with him because he will have the ability to nap in different environments more easily. If his day time sleep is full of light, smells and sounds, he is already conditioned to block out his surroundings during a nap. The earlier you start implementing this strategy the more effective it is. I recommend starting at the very beginning, and keeping the separation of sleep environments consistent. If you start later on, say at 8 or 9 months old, the adjustment will be very difficult and may never take hold all the way.

3. Use an appropriate progression of play and feeding.
When your baby begins to have consistent sleeping periods throughout the day you can encourage good sleep by engaging in intense, stimulating play with her one hour before her expected nap time. Then, about 30 minutes before you expect her to fall asleep, give her a nice big feeding, and make sure to get a burp up afterward. Change your baby's diaper and lay her down, chances are she will be asleep within moments. A major function of naps is to process the mental stimulation that your baby experiences through out the day. However some of the most common disruptions of day sleep can be wet or dirty diapers, and hunger. So if you give your baby a lot of stimulation, then address her other needs, she should sleep deep and long. Keeping up this routing for a few weeks will also encourage a healthy napping habit in your baby that should last even if you stop using the full progression routine.

4. Use a portable cot for your babies naps.
Using a portable cot will make traveling or going on holiday with your sweet little sun bear a lot easier. Even a play-date will be easier if your baby can go down for a nap in his portable cot. Imagine, if you don't have to rush home for nap time, you can stay and have some grown up mommy-time with your friend while the babies nap. As long as your boo has the familiarity of the same cot, it will be easier for him to adjust to sleeping in a new environment. For vacations where your baby will be using the cot for night sleep I would bring some elements from his night sleep area, like a familiar bed sheet and maybe a mobile to help with the continuity. However, even if the things you bring are all from your baby's day sleep routine, they will help to comfort your baby in a new environment and will smooth the transition to night sleep in a new place.

5. Utilizing the educational opportunity with sound and scent encourages deeper sleep.
There is no sense as powerfully tied to memory as the sense of smell, and there is no better time to stimulate your baby's early mental development than nap time. Day time sleep is when new neural pathways are being formed in your baby's brain that will constitute the framework of her cognitive processes later in life. As part of putting your baby down for a nap, try dabbing a small spot of scented lotion on your baby's earlobe, and then playing classical music or audio tapes of literary masterpieces. Your baby is way too young to understand or grasp any of the higher concepts of such works, but the brain development is still stimulated by the input. Also as your child gets older she can continue to use the olfactory assisted study method (which is basically applying a distinctive scent when studying, then applying that scent again just before a test). Try to choose a scent that your baby will not mind wearing when she is all grown up. Giving your little Einstein a heavy dose of mental stimulation while they are sleeping gives their subconscious mind something to do, and makes it that much easier for them to sleep deeply and serenely.

Your baby might still have napping issues from time to time. As babies develop they often will hit little "sleep hiccups" that throw off their whole routine. However, if you have some tricks up your sleeve you can get them back on track a lot faster(I share one of my very favorite tricks for better naps here). One common mistake many parents make is to try and limit the amount of day sleep their babies get in order to encourage night sleep. Though it may work in some cases, the sleep a sleep-deprived child gets will be less restful, and more easily startled out of. To help a baby sleep better at night one of the first things I recommend to parents is that they try to increase the quality, and the amount, of sleep that their baby is getting during the day. Not only does day sleep do wonders for your baby's mood, it can be just what the doctor ordered for a tired new parent.I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful, if you know any new or expecting parents please forward this information to them. Happy parenting!