Friday, December 18, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly!

Would you like to know what drives me crazy? Product review blogs. They drive me nuts! Batty! Insane! I have poked around a few, and I have received requests from a few moms who ask me to send them (free) product in exchange for a (positive) review. When I receive these requests, they always end with a "I know I'll love it!". Really? You already know that, eh? So why exactly do you need to review it then?

Often times, blog reviewers will offer goodies to give away, if you follow them on twitter (which I still consider a colossal waste of time, mostly due to the fact I just can't accrue followers, but I digress...), post a comment, or whatever other way they can think of to generate buzz for a product - the manufacturer gets exposure, the blogger gets free stuff, everyone's happy, right!? My problem with this setup is that you very rarely see a negative review, no matter how craptacular a product may be. In October, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established guidelines that will require bloggers to disclose whether or not reviews resulted in compensation (money or freebies). I think this is a step in the right direction in terms of allowing consumers to judge how honest a review is.

Anyhow, what's my point here? I'm a retailer, I blog about the stuff I sell, and I'll admit, I do tend to highlight the positives (and let's face it, I'm awesome, the store's awesome, we do sell a lot of awesome stuff, so what else would you expect?). So here it is. My chance to air out any grievances about the products I sell. I'll give you the good, along with the bad, and especially the ugly!

GroBaby diapers. If you've been following along on Facebook, you know it took a little convincing to get me on board for this particular line of diapers. I'm a hard-core prefold fan. I still can't shake the feeling that GroBaby diapers (or any AI2, for that matter) are just glorified prefolds/covers. I have used the GroBaby diapers with Grace (she was 15 months old when we tried them), and while I had no complaints (the fit was great, it didn't leak), I would still recommend prefolds over the GroBaby system for a newborn. Due to the narrowness of the snap-in soaker, explosive newborn poop will get on the shell, and the mesh lining makes it difficult to spot-clean poop off the shell -- you will have to launder the GroBaby shell more than you would a cover used with a prefold. Once a baby is out of the pooping-every-15-seconds phase, it's a great little diaper.

Booroi covers. OK, for Grace, I really, really like this cover, but keep in mind she's a toddler (she's 18 months old now, can you even believe it?). I think I may have already mentioned that I'm a hard-core prefold fan. At this point, Grace still wears an infant-sized prefold, I fold it in half lengthwise and lie it in a medium Booroi cover. Genius! It's trim, it contains mess well, in fact, come to think of it, whenever Grace wears this cover, rainbows appear and birds sing. But (but!), like I already said, she's a toddler, she doesn't poop so much in diapers anymore (can I get a wut wut for infant pottying?), so that super-awesome gussett that surrounds the entire cover has never been fully introduced to Grace's poop. If she was a newborn, with newborn poop (runny, explosive newborn poop!), that gussett would get soiled, probably with every poop -- like the GroBaby shell, it wouldn't stand a chance! Furthermore, Grace is a girl, so she pees straight down... the overlapping flaps at the front of the Booroi cover can cause leaks for boys, who are built so they pee out front. This issue can be easily solved by pulling the prefold out of the front part of the gussett, ensuring it lies between the baby and the overlapping snaps.

Bravado Original nursing bra. I just don't love this bra. I hate the racer back style, trying to pull it over your head after you've had a shower, when you're still damp, is like a form of Chinese torture. Yes, it's relatively inexpensive, but that's about all it's got going for it. Don't even get me started on the uni-boob caused by the ++ sizes! If you want a nursing bra that accommodates some degree of change in cup size, try on the seamless Body Silk nursing bra, also made by Bravado, but, like, a million times better! It fastens at the back, and it's much more flattering, trust me!

If you've come into the store when I've been working, this is old news to you. I'm very upfront with customers in terms of what I like, and what's worked well for us. Of course, depending on who you talk to, you'll hear different preferences amongst our staff members, but it's always nice to get honest feedback, other people's opinions can be helpful, right? Yes, I still sell the above-mentioned products, after all, when it comes to cloth diapers, it's a matter of 'different strokes for different folks' (and if I really thought something was completely awful, I simply wouldn't sell it)!

So this is your opportunity to comment on anything you've purchased at our store that may not have worked for you. What was it? What didn't you like? How old was your baby, do you have a boy or a girl? Did you prefer something else entirely, or were you able to make it work for you as your baby grew? This is a no-holds-barred opportunity for you to share your experience, of course, if you complain about prefolds, you will be dead to me forever (I kid, I kid). There is no reward for commenting here, just the promise of the cathartic release that comes from complaining in general (you know what I'm talking about!). Have at it!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'll tell you my laundry routine if you tell me yours!

It took a while (six months!), but I've finally figured out a cloth diaper washing routine that I like. After replacing my beloved large capacity toploader with a handy-dandy new Samsung HE frontloading machine, my diaper washing routine required a little tweaking. Since my last update in July, I have further tweaked things, eliminating the need for a monthly stripping (the diapers, not me!). Drum roll, please!

1) I'm washing every 3-5 days (with the toploader, I would wash every 7 days).

2) I'm more vigilant about removing every speck of poop from Grace's diapers.

3) I've eschewed using a sopping wet towel to weigh down the load in favor of pouring extra water directly onto the diapers after I've loaded them into the machine. The plastic "Simply Orange" juice bottle is well-suited for this purpose, I pour three bottles of water onto the diapers, adding an additional five liters of water to the washing machine.

4) I do a pre-rinse (no detergent).

5) I pour three more bottles (another five liters!) of water onto the diapers.

6) I add detergent (a half scoop of Country Save at this particular point in time), running the machine's 'white' cycle, which is a hot wash, followed by a double rinse (cold water).

The pre-rinse in addition to the extra water has worked wonders, I was stripping Grace's diapers with RLR on a monthly basis (and that does work really well to remove stink), but not stripping diapers at all is nice

So there you have it. The frontloader and I are finally friends, cue applause!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Turn that Venti Latte into university tuition!

It often amazes me when people talk about the 'cost' of cloth diapers. Yes, they have a larger upfront cost, but you simply cannot dispute the fact that cloth diapers will save you money in the longrun. If the upfront cost scares you, a smart way to build your stash would be to buy your diapers piece-by-piece; buying diapers one at a time will lessen the perceived financial blow of investing in cloth diapers.

I am ashamed to admit that I have an affinity for Starbucks coffee, and I know I'm not the only one, based on the fact there seems to be a Starbucks on every corner, in every major city. I used to be happy with my Timmy's, however when I was pregnant with #3, I developed an aversion to Tim Horton's that I've never quite gotten over (believe me, I've tried, I'd much rather pay $1.50 for a cuppa Joe than $5.00 for a fancy-schmancy Starbucks coffee!). I typically spend $12.00 a week on a grande something-or-other latte and a molassess cookie habit that I indulge in twice weekly (maybe I'm not so cheap after all!). I bet you're wondering where I'm going with this... how can you turn your Starbucks habit into tuition for your child's first year of university?

So, you just found out you're pregnant (congratulations!!!). Let's say you also have a $12/week Starbucks addiction habit -- you have 36 weeks to slowly build your diaper stash. For those 36 weeks, rather than blowing $12/week at Starbucks, what if you spent that money on diapers instead? Perhaps you could buy one bumGenius 3.0 one-size pocket diaper every other week, or maybe you'd purchase a half-dozen prefolds here, a cover there, whatever the case may be. If you gave up your Starbucks habit for the duration of your pregnancy, you could sink just over $400 into a decent diaper stash. OK, so we've got that part out of the way.

Eight months later, you have your baby (congratulations, she's beautiful!!!). You built your cloth diaper stash using your Starbucks funds (oh how I admire your self-control, what's your secret?). If you didn't have cloth diapers, you would have to purchase disposable diapers (the horror! the horror!). You could reasonably expect to spend at least $2000+ on junior's disposable diapers. Since you're so smart, you're going to put that $15/week you would otherwise be spending on good-for-nothing disposable diapers (and wipes, and rash cream) into junior's RESP fund -- let's say you do this for the first three year's of junior's life (the length of time she would have been wearing disposable diapers). The balance in junior's RESP account at the end of those three years (including contributions from the CESG, assuming an annual rate of return of 6%) would be $3148.69.

OK, so now you're just going to let that money sit there and accrue interest for the next 15 years, you can resume your Starbucks habit, you've earned it! By the time junior turns 18 and she's ready to spread her wings and fly the coop (sniff, sniff...), assuming an annual interest rate of 6%, that $3148.69 will turn into $7546.02, just enough to cover junior's first year of Architecture studies (congratulations, she's clearly a chip off the old block!).

So there you have it. Do you see how a simple change in your budget can ease the burden of buying cloth diapers? Do you see how the money you would otherwise spend on disposable diapers can be diverted into something more meaningful? And that, my friends, is how you can turn a Venti Latte into university tuition!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

We stock stocking stuffers!

We stock stocking stuffers!
We stock stocking stuffers!
We stock stocking stuffers!

Say that three times fast, eh?

December 1st has come and gone, and if there was doubt before, you know we are full-on in the yuletide season now, knee-deep in garland, up to the eyeballs in wishlists, drowning in decorations! OK, so perhaps a tad dramatic, but you all know that with the warm and fuzzies that come with those first few flakes of snowflakes, there is also a sense of dread at what must be accomplished in the next three weeks. Fortunately, we never took down our Christmas tree last year, so we are actually quite on top of things. January 1st came and went, we kept putting it off, and before we knew it, embarrasingly late turned into perfectly punctual... who knew things would eventually swing in our favor???

One of my favourite Christmas-time traditions is putting together our family stockings, it's always fun to discover goodies that I know the kids will enjoy. I made the mistake last year of giving Grace some treats from the Shoppe, this year, I'll have to be a little more careful, my oldest daughter made the connection immediately! Of course, just because I can't shop at the Shoppe doesn't mean *you* can't shop at the Shoppe!

So, what are our top 10 stocking stuffers? What would I buy as stocking stuffers if I could shop at my own shop?

Jamtown Musical Instruments - made in fair trade, these hand-crafted indigenous instruments are ideal for little hands!

Babies Go CDs ($18.00) - what Dad (or Mom) wouldn't want to rock out to KISS, Depeche Mode, the Rolling Stones, and more with his baby? The Babies Go collection takes the melody of a classic rock song and mellows it out for junior.

Babylegs ($15.00) - what can I say, they're practical and fun, ideal for layering in the winter months.

Montgomery Mites - these little wooden cars are a hit! Made in Vermont, they boast solid construction, and at only $4.25 a pop, you can buy more than one to share the fun!

Snug as a Bug mitt clips ($5.95) - are you tired of losing junior's mitts? Keep them handy where they belong, one clip on the mitt, one clip on junior's coat sleeve...

Padraig wool slippers ($20.00 - $30.00) - pure luxury for your little one's toes, these slippers have been hand-knit in North Vancouver for almost 30 years!

Heimess wooden grasping toys ($14.00 - $20.00) - made in Germany, but reasonably-priced, great for babies aged four months and up.

Teething jewellery ($14.99 - $18.00)- we have a nice selection of both amber and hazelwood necklaces, both of which can make teething a little easier on junior, and they're cute to boot!

Maya wrap doll slings ($11.00) - little ones like to mimic Mommy, a pint-sized ring sling is a great way to tote around a teddy bear.

Gaia Baby Starter Kit - a nice gift for a mom-to-be, introduce her to the goodness of the Gaia skincare line, this kit includes basic items that will nourish, nurture and gently care for your little one's skin.

As tempting as it is, I don't dare bring anything home from work this year, and as the kids get older, they get harder to buy for! Have you started your shopping yet? Found any goodies you'd like to share? Post them here! Have any warnings about gifts bought in the past that turned out to be duds? Post your warnings here! Nothings sucks like the letdown of a gift-gone-bad!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Babywearing in a winter wonderland!

It's hard to believe, given Ottawa's rather balmy November, but winter is just around the corner. I've packed away my birkenstocks, and I'm getting reacquainted with shoes and socks again, so you know I'm not fibbing! Canadian winters, particularly Ottawa winters, can prove to be a challenge when trying to get around with little ones. With two babies born in December and January, I'm all too familiar with the obstacles presented by slush and snowbanks -- I learned fairly early on that navigating the sidewalks with a baby carrier is far easier than trying to do the same thing with a stroller.

I'm sure it always comes off as a sales pitch at the store, but I can honestly say that with all four children, we have relied soley on a collection of carriers to tote them around, the requisite stroller purchased when I was pregnant with our first child gathered dust in our garage until we eventually gave it away. In terms of winter babywearing, wearing our babies has given them a birds-eye view of Winterlude, the Sugar Shack, and many a Santa parade (last night, in fact!). Not only is winter babywearing convenient, it includes your baby in what you're doing.

With respect to wearing your baby in the winter, you have two choices, you can wear him under your coat or over your coat. If you're giving birth in the winter, you likely have a jacket that accommodates your blooming belly, be it a loaner from your husband, or a maternity coat. The extra roominess that accommodates your pregnant belly may come in handy if you want to wear your baby under your coat. Wearing your baby under your coat in the winter is ideal because your body heat will help keep your baby warm (of course, you should still dress your baby accordingly). If you're wearing baby under your coat, be sure to leave your jacket partially open to ensure the passage of air (zipping your coat up entirely with a baby underneath is unsafe!). If you get chilly because your coat is partially open, you can wear a scarf, and put a neckwarmer on your baby -- I would bunch a scarf between the baby and myself to close any gaps.

If you don't have a jacket that accommodates wearing a baby underneath, you can always modify what you have by adding a zip-in panel. There are several free online patterns, if you know how to sew a zipper (even better, if you know someone who knows how to sew a zipper!), you can convert what you have on hand for a relatively low cost. Several of our customers have done this, and the results are impressive -- one of our customers contacted the manufacturer of her regular winter coat to enquire about the make/model of the zipper on her coat, and they were kind enough to send her a free extra zipper to be used in the construction of her babywearing jacket insert (how's that for customer service?).

When wearing baby under a regular coat, your are limited to a front carry -- if you want to carry your baby in different positions (ie, on the hip, or on your back), wearing your baby over your coat is the next best thing. If you're wearing your baby over your coat, you will need to dress your baby in more layers (a snowsuit is a must!), paying particular attention to their extremities (unlike you, baby is not moving his arms and legs, so he will get colder faster). Woollen underclothes are great for layering in the winter (look for them soon at both our stores, we're working with a small German manufacturer who makes lovely garments at an affordable price). Padraig booties are great for keeping little toes toasty and dry.

When wearing your baby over your coat, keep in mind the additional bulk of your winter clothes and baby's winter clothes will make your carrier fit differently. If you're using an adjustable (one-size) carrier, it should not be an issue, although I have found the body of certain carriers more accommodating to winter babywearing than others (I prefer a tall-bodied carrier for this purpose -- the Manduca, the Boba, and the Babyhawk "Oh Snap" are all good options -- a woven wrap is another great option because of its versatility).

If you want to wear your baby on your back, but you would like to keep your baby under your coat, another free online pattern provides easy-to-follow instructions -- again, you can modify an existing coat for this purpose. The finished product is reminiscent of a traditional Inuit Amauti, a babywearing coat that incorporates a baby carrier into its hood. If you keep an eye out, you'll likely spot a baby in an Amauti somewhere in Ottawa during the winter, they are truly beautiful works of art, a timeless nod to the virtues of winter babywearing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

All we are saying.... is give prefolds a chance!

I love prefolds. I mean I really, really love prefolds. If I were stuck on a deserted island, and I could only bring one type of diaper with me, it would be a prefold. Yes, an unlikely scenario, but you never know! When our first child was born, we started out with prefolds (through the local diaper service). When Maddy was a month old, and we decided to wash our own diapers, I stuck with prefolds because I liked them so much. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

So, why do I like prefolds so much, you ask?

  • I know I've mentioned it before, but I'm cheap (cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap!). If there is a lower-cost option, I will go for it. I'm also practical. I would prefer to wash diapers less frequently, which requires having more diapers on hand. Since prefolds are so cheap, I could afford to buy more, and wash less frequently.
  • Prefolds are quick-drying, since you fold them to make them absorbent.
  • Prefolds are made from a natural fiber, they are 100% cotton. Natural fibers are less prone to stink issues.
  • Your baby will feel wet in a prefold diaper. Wetness is generally not bad for baby's skin, feeling wet is why babies who wear cloth diapers are more likely to potty train faster.
  • Prefolds are very durable. No elastic, no closures, they are virtually indestructible. Our prefolds have lasted us through four babies, and while they are considerably thinner now, they still get the job done.
  • Prefolds can be used for other things when you're done using them as diapers. We have had customers come into the store to buy our prefolds for a multitude of purposes -- a car dealership uses them as shammies, one woman purchases them as tea towels, since they're so absorbent. I have used many a prefold to wipe up many a spilled glass of milk (don't worry, I didn't cry).

A prefold diaper does require some degree of folding, though not as much as a traditional flat diaper. A prefold is called a prefold because it is sewn in such a way that less folding is required. Prefold diapers are usually classified according to the number of layers sewn into the diaper -- we sell 4x8x4 layer prefolds, meaning the prefolds we sell have four layers of cotton twill sewn into the sides of the diaper, with eight layers of cotton twill sewn into the middle of the diaper. The diapers we sell are unbleached prefolds, manufactured in Pakistan.
There are two basic ways to put a prefold on a baby:

  • fold the prefold and lie it in a wrap-style cover
  • fasten the diaper onto your baby with a Snappi

When people come to the store, and we start the diaper tour, we usually start with prefolds, since it's the most basic diapering option we offer. Sometimes people will stop us right away and tell us to skip the prefolds because they're not interested. I usually oblige and move on, after all, if you want to be successful with cloth diapers, you should buy what you know you'll use! However, if I can get people to watch me put a prefold on our demo doll, more often than not, they're surprised at how easy it can be to use a prefold (a lot of people associate prefolds with pins and pull-on rubber pants -- it doesn't have to be that way!).

Of course, there are many different ways to do both, and like everything related to cloth diapers, it's a matter of personal choice. I rarely used a snappi with our prefolds, I would just fold the diaper in thirds (the short way, against the lines sewn into the diaper), and lie it in a wrap. I like to use the prefolds this way because it means that putting the diaper on the baby requires only one step -- you can have a prefold folded into a cover ready to go on the changetable, so it's really no harder than putting on a disposable diaper. A drawback to using a prefold in this manner is that the diaper is quite bulky through the baby's crotch, however, I tended to dress our babies in stretchy cotton sleepers and pants, so the bulk was never a problem. I actually felt the bulk helped keep poop in its place, on the diaper and off the cover.

If you prefer a trimmer fit, or if you find your covers are getting soiled with poop, fastening the diaper onto your baby with a Snappi may work better for you. I did use a Snappi occassionally when our babies were newborns, however, once they were pooping every 1-2 days, I didn't bother. For the record, I also didn't make a point to do the 'boy' fold for the boy -- no matter how you fold a prefold, it's still the same diaper, and I found the simple trifold worked as well for him as it did for our girls (of course, he was never a heavy wetter, so perhaps that's why he didn't need extra absorbency in the front of his diaper).

We sell two sizes of prefolds, however, you could get away with using only one size from birth to potty training.  Infant prefolds can be used with babies who weigh approximately 8-20 lbs, although if you are using the prefolds with a Snappi, your baby will likely outgrow the infant prefolds around 15 lbs. I used our infant prefolds with all of our kids until they were out of diapers. When they were wearing the prefolds with a small cover, we trifolded the diapers, when they moved into the medium covers, we folded the prefolds in half, lengthwise, so they would fit in the covers from end-to-end. There is a considerable size difference between the infant prefolds and the medium prefolds, which fit from 15-30+ lbs (though I'll be honest, a 15-lb baby would be swimming in these prefolds, realistically, they start to fit well around 18-20 lbs). Since none of our kids were heavy wetters (thank-you infant pottying!), this size was overkill for our needs, so we only used them at night.

I would strongly encourage anyone who is considering using cloth diapers to give prefolds a whirl. Seriously, most people who try them like them. Even if you want to build a stash around easier diapers like pocket diapers, you should still pad your stash with some prefolds, it's a cheap way to squeeze an extra day out of your stash, even if you don't love them, you can still have them as a backup -- in a pinch, they'll do, trust me!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Buying a baby carrier -- tips to make your purchase successful.

Choosing a baby carrier can be a daunting task, however, I promise you, a baby carrier will be one of the best purchases you make.

We have four children, and I can honestly say we have rarely relied on a stroller as a method of getting around with any of our babies. A baby carrier is much more practical than a stroller -- nothing to fold down and lug around, no need to worry about navigating small stores or narrow doorways, and it's well-suited to around-the-house use (let's face it, some babies require constant motion all the time, not just when you're out and about!).

If you're in the market for a baby carrier, I cannot stress the advantage of buying a baby carrier in-person rather than online. As babywearing becomes more mainstream, you've probably noticed that most baby stores are starting to stock a selection of slings. If you're lucky enough to have access to a store that is staffed by people who use baby carriers, then you should consider yourself lucky! Hands-on instruction is much more useful than an instructional CD, although not everyone has access to such stores.

Another potential resource to learn about baby carriers is local babywearing groups - you may be able to connect with local moms who can show you their own slings, as well as provide advice by sharing their own experiences with babywearing. A great place to find local babywearing groups is, which has forums where you can search for local babywearing moms; alternately, if you have a local La Leche League group, that's also a great place to meet babywearing moms.

I also cannot stress enough that if you are still expecting, you should wait to purchase a sling until after your baby is born. Some carriers, like pouches for example, are sized to the user's frame -- obviously, when you've got a beautiful, blooming belly, your body is a different shape than when you're not pregnant. Size issues aside, you won't know how you really feel about a specific carrier until you have a real, live baby -- your baby -- to put in the carrier. Weighted demo dolls may give you an idea of how a carrier feels to wear, however, a demo doll doesn't squirm or fuss, so you won't have a true sense of how you feel about putting the carrier on and getting your baby into it. Your baby will also have a say in how well a carrier works for you both. For example, some babies clearly prefer a reclined position over an upright position, or vice versa, but you won't know what your baby's preferences are until she's in your arms. Some carriers are better-suited to different carrying positions, so waiting until after baby is here will ensure you select a carrier you're both happy with.

If you're worried about getting out and about after your baby is born, don't worry, you will have lots of friends and family eager to help out in exchange for snuggle time with the new baby. If you're more comfortable shopping with assistance, take them up on their offers to help and bring them with you to try on baby carriers. If you're at a store with a good selection of carriers, it may take a few attempts with different slings to see what works for you both.

It helps to have an idea of what your needs are before you start shopping for a sling:
  • Do you want to share the sling with your partner? If there is a signficant size difference, a sized sling may not be a good choice.
  • Do either of you have back or neck problems? If so, a two-shouldered carrier would be a better choice than a one-shouldered carrier. A two-shouldered carrier will distribute the weight more evenly across your back and shoulders. A carrier with a waist belt is also a good choice for anyone with back or neck problems b/c the waist belt takes the weight off your shoulders, and puts it on your hips.
  • For what purpose are you buying the carrier? Around the house, or long walks with a dog? Two-shouldered carriers are better suited for extended periods of use.
Once you have purchased a baby carrier, make sure to read or view any instructional materials that came with it.
When you want to begin using the carrier, do it when your baby is happy, for example, after she's been fed. Don't try to start figuring out the carrier with an already agitated baby. Once you've got your baby in the carrier, move -- motion will help to settle her, I promise!
With patience and practice, you will learn to love your baby carrier, and you will enjoy a pleasant babywearing relationship for years to come.

As my youngest (and last!) child is moving from babyhood into toddlerhood, I'm starting to get nostalgic about our babywearing years. Practicality aside, wearing my babies has helped to foster a close bond -- there is nothing like having a sweet baby nestled against you. When people say enjoy the baby years because they go by so fast, they're not kidding!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Say what?

Our son Owen is speech-delayed, significantly speech-delayed. I noticed it quite early on, when he was about 18 months old (if not younger) -- he was still coming to the store with me at that point, so I had a chance to watch him alongside other children who would come to the store. Even at such a young age, there was a noticeable difference.

There was no lack of communication, but there was a definite lack of verbal communication. If Owen wanted to show me something, he would gently place both hands on my cheeks, turn my face to look at something, and point to it. If he wanted to communicate his displeasure at something, he would let out a very long, very loud high-pitched scream, it would get not only my attention, but the attention of everyone around us. Not pleasant, but highly effective!

At the time, many people around me, including our family physician, shrugged off his speech delay, laying blame on the fact he had two older sisters who did all the talking for him. Many people suggested he would just wake up speaking full sentences one day (wouldn't that be nice?). We took Owen to a local 'First Words' clinic where he was assessed as being speech delayed, but due to his age, they recommended we give him more time before seeking therapy. Rather than putting our name on their waiting list, I started to doubt my intuition, people thought I was over-reacting, and I was starting to wonder if perhaps I was blowing things out of proportion.

To put it in context, there were no other issues of concern. Owen was social and outgoing, and he responded well to verbal directions. There didn't seem to be any indications that his speech delay was related to hearing -- short of simply not starting to say any words, Owen was perfect in every other way. His lack of speech wasn't due to a lack of effort on his part, there seemed to be a disconnect between his brain and his mouth. He would often open his mouth and attempt a word, but an open mouth would be as far as things got.

By the time Owen was 2.5 years old, it was clear he wasn't just going to wake up speaking sentences. He's been in therapy for over a year now, and my biggest regret is not pushing for it when he was younger, when I took him to that first clinic. I see a lot of parents with young children at the store, and when I notice non-verbal behaviour like Owen's, I will usually start a dialogue about it with the parent, not because I'm trying to be nosey, but because the road to fixing a speech problem like Owen's is such a long one, the earlier you start, the sooner you can resolve it. If I could pass on some tips to make it easier, my advice would include the following suggestions:

  • take your child to a speech screening clinic. Many municipalities offer government-funded programs that focus on the prevention, early identification and treatment of speech and language problems in young children.

  • look into your insurance plan's coverage for speech therapy. Private speech therapy is very expensive, to the tune of approximately $100/hour. When we started this journey, my husband's insurance plan gave us $500 towards speech therapy. That' doesn't go far! We changed our plan at the first opportunity to bump up our coverage for Owen's speech therapy.

  • if you can afford it, see a private speech therapist. Yes, it's expensive, but it's money well-spent. Even if you pass (or should I say fail?) a speech screening clinic, you can expect a delay of up to a year before getting your child into a therapy program.

After Owen went to the second screening clinic at 2.5 years old, it took almost a full year (1o months, to be exact) before he was placed in a therapy program. We were seeing a private speech therapist at that point on a weekly basis. The First Words speech programs that we've attended have typically ran for eight weeks, with an eight week break, then a reassessment, then a new round of treatment. On our eight week breaks, we go back to the private speech therapist.

Speech therapy is a very arduous process, unfortunately, there is no quick fix. We work on sounds one at a time, it basically boils down to patience, practice, and perseverence. Owen's speech delay is related to his fine motor skills -- until you stop and think about it, you likely don't realize how complex the process of speech is. Your mouth is a fine-tuned machine, any verbal sound is the result of a series of actions, from the way your tongue curls, to how air passes through your mouth or nose, to how you shape your lips. If any one part is broken, the whole machine is broken.

We kept Owen out of school this year, he should have started JK, but we wanted his first year at school to be enjoyable, and realistically, in a class with 20 other kids, a teacher wouldn't have the time to try and understand what he's trying to say. I was also concerned about Owen socially, that he wouldn't be able to make friends because he wouldn't be able to communicate with kids, who often ask "Why doesn't he speak?". This past summer, I caught some older boys being mean to Owen at one of his sister's soccer games, they had convinced him to take his shoes off, he had his eyes closed, and they were in the midst of hiding his shoes. If I hadn't happened upon the scene, we wouldn't have known what happened to his shoes, he wouldn't have been able to tell us what the boys had done. I wanted to string those little buggers up, if looks could kill, let me tell you!

Owen has come a long way, admittedly, there are many times when we still can't understand him, and nodding and smiling just doesn't cut it anymore, so there are a lot of tantrums around these parts (both him and us) when Owen is trying to say something, but we're very proud of the progress he's made. If you even suspect your child is dealing with a speech delay, you can start the ball rolling by taking him to get screened. If your child magically wakes up one day speaking full sentences, you can always take your child off the waiting list, no harm, no foul. If he does actually need help, the sooner you start, the better.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dealing with diaper rash

One of the (many!) benefits of using cloth diapers is the reduced likelihood of diaper rash, due to the fact that cloth diapers are more breathable than disposable diapers. A lot of parents who use disposable diapers apply diaper rash cream at every diaper change as a pre-emptive strike against diaper rash, however, diaper rash cream should only be used to *treat* diaper rash, not to prevent it.

Disposable diaper companies have done a great job of making parents believe that the 'stay-dry protection' of their diapers will help prevent diaper rash, however, diaper rash is rarely attributed to wetness, very few children will react to a wet cloth diaper. It is in the interest of disposable diaper companies to keep your child from feeling wet because it ensures you will be buying their products for as long as possible -- when your child feels wet in a cloth diaper, she can potty train up to a year earlier, with your help, of course. So, what causes diaper rash? There can be many reasons your child develops a rashy bum:

  • sitting too long in a soiled diaper; ideally, you should change your baby every 2-3 hours (or when she poops), regardless of whether she is in cloth diaper or a disposable diaper. Once a cloth diaper gets saturated, it will leak, as a result, you are forced to change your baby more frequently in cloth diapers. The SAP (that's super-absorbing polymer to you!) in disposable diapers, on the other hand, can absorb up to 200-300 hundred (hundred!) times its weight in liquid, meaning you can go longer between diaper changes (you can, but you shouldn't!).
  • food sensitivity/allergy; when you start feeding your baby solids around six months of age, you are supposed to introduce one food at a time, for two-three days in a row, so you can determine if your baby has a sensitivity or an allergy to it. Some foods may result in a diaper rash. I remember journalling my first daughter's inputs (and outputs!) when she started solids. Then she ate dog poo when she was 18 months old, and I loosened up considerably (the dog poo did not give her diaper rash, if you care).
  • diarrhea; yes, the 'D' word, never pleasant to deal with, no matter what type of diaper you use. Diaper rash can be caused by contact -- loose, frequent stools can irritate your baby's delicate skin.
  • teething; when your baby is teething, excessive drooling can cause diarrhea (see above).
  • overheating; if your baby spikes a fever, or if you are dressing your baby too warmly overnight, you may notice a sudden onset of diaper rash. This type of rash is often accompanied by fluid-filled blisters.
  • sensitivity to wetness; it's rare, but it happens. If you're using cloth diapers that hold wetness against your baby's skin, a fleece liner will wick moisture away from your baby's bum.
  • chemical irritation; your baby may react to the chemicals in disposable diapers or disposable wipes. If you are using cloth diapers, your baby may be sensitive to certain detergents.
  • fabric sensitivity; some babies may be sensitive to certain fabrics used to make cloth diapers, for example, the synthetic lining of a pocket diaper, or a certain type of binding on a diaper cover.

How do you know if your baby has a diaper rash? Diaper rash is ofen accompanied by some or all of the following symptoms:

  • redness of the skin
  • pimples, blisters, or broken skin
  • tenderness -- baby will cry when you try to clean the area
  • hotness -- the affected area feels warm to the touch

We have four kids, and until recently, we never really had to deal with diaper rash, save for the same rash all of our kids developed at around two weeks of age. I point this out to all new parents, not to scare them, but to warn them, newborn babies poop a lot. A LOT! If your baby is farting every 10 minutes, and each fart is accompanied by what I like to call a 'hershey squirt', your baby's bum is going to get rashy. This newborn rash was easy to clear up with frequent diaper changes and nekkid bum time.

My youngest daughter is 17 months old, and I was recently introduced to the misery of dealing with diaper rash (two separate bouts, a couple weeks apart). She woke up one morning with red, burning skin on her bum cheeks, each cheek had at least 20 fluid-filled blisters on it. To say she was in discomfort was an understatement -- she had woken through the night screaming, and I should have realized from the tone of her scream that something was amiss, however, hindsight is 20/20, when I took her diaper off in the morning, I felt awful!

Figuring out what causes diaper rash is basically a process of elimination, since there are so many possible causes. First, I blamed our (bleepity-bleeping) frontloading washing machine, and I stripped all of Grace's diapers. No dice, stripping the diapers didn't help the situation. We considered her diet, the fact she was cutting molars, etc. It took a while, but we finally figured out the culprit -- a new pair of footed fleece pyjamas paired with a pocket diaper overnight. We have used fleece pants overnight before, but her feet were never covered, and we have used pocket diapers overnight many times without issue.

Grace was overheating through the night, when I unzipped the pyjamas in the morning, I was overwhelmed with the smell of ammonia (that's why I assumed it was a detergent residue issue). Heat encourages the growth of bacteria, and fleece is not as breathable as cotton, so the pee in her diaper was turning into ammonia faster than it would if she was in a more breathable pyjama/diaper combination. The footed fleece pyjama/pocket diaper combination was essentially the 'perfect storm' for Gracie's poor bum!

If you are dealing with diaper rash, once you've figured out (and eliminated) the cause of the rash, there are things you can do to speed up your little one's recovery:

  • avoid store-bought wipes, use facecloths with warm water to clean the diaper area thoroughly.
  • change your baby's diaper more frequently -- the more, the better!
  • use a diaper cream with calendula -- calendula is great for healing skin. If you're using cloth diapers, apply the cream sparingly to the affected area, and use a liner.
  • give your baby diaper-free time where possible. Lay baby on an old blanket or a waterproof mat (put a facecloth on baby boy's bits!), or restrict mobile children to rooms with easy-to-clean flooring.

Getting rid of Grace's diaper rash proved to be as challenging as figuring out the cause -- at the recommendation of our daycare provider, we used diaper rash cream in combination with disposable diapers (the horror! the horror!). When our newborns got rashy, we always left them diaperless, however, having Grace in part-time daycare, that wasn't an option. After a few days of disposables coupled with rash cream, we saw no improvement. At that point, we switched to good ol' cotton prefolds coupled with a wool cover (and lots of diaper-free time at home), and we saw immediate results, the blisters started to scab over and peel off.

If your baby's bum does not improve within 2-3 days, you may want to check with your care provider for suggestions -- diaper rash should be easy to clear up once you've identified the cause, if you're dealing with a yeast infection, you will need to take a different approach to solving the problem.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We're wild about wool!

Let's cut to the chase, wool is fabulous. The natural properties of wool make it ideal for use as a cloth diaper cover: wool is breathable, naturally anti-bacterial, and it will hold up to 30% of its weight in liquid before feeling wet. When we sing the praises of wool at our stores, people have a hard time imagining how something that feels so soft and squishy could be waterproof, however, before we had access to all the technical fabrics available today, wool covers were a staple of any mom's diaper stash -- there's a good chance your parents wore wool diaper covers!

For the reasons already listed, a lot of our customers choose to use wool covers overnight. When your baby is going to wear the same diaper for 10-12 hours, breathability is important. Likewise, when your baby is going to wear the same diaper for 10-12 hours, absorbency is important. If you choose to use a wool diaper cover at night, go for something that is constructed from two layers of wool. Aristocrats wool pull-on soakers have a reputation as the tank of night-time diapering -- they are bulky, but the additional bulk translates into additional absorbency.

Night diapering aside, wool covers are also great for clearing up diaper rashes, due to their breathability. If your baby gets rashy (less likely in cloth diapers), nothing clears it up like air (have I ever mentioned my uncanny knack to talk customers out of a sale?). Through the day, you can give your baby some diaper-free time on an old blanket or a waterproof mattress pad (you may want to put a facecloth over baby boy's bits!), when baby has to be in a diaper, a wool cover is the next best option.

There is a perception that caring for wool diaper covers is hard because they must be hand-washed. Fortunately, wool is naturally anti-bacterial, so you only have to wash it as needed, which is usually only once every couple of weeks, or when it's been soiled with poop. For practical purposes, we do not recommend putting a newborn in wool when they are still pooping every 5 minutes -- not because of the hand-washing, but because wool takes 1-2 days to dry (for this reason, it's a good idea to have two covers in your stash). If you want to use wool covers with your newborn, plan to have extra covers on hand.

Hand-washing wool diaper covers is actually quite easy:

  • put the cover in a sink with enough warm water to cover it.
  • add some baby shampoo or woolwash to the sink, and massage the cover a few times in the water. Let the cover sit for about five minutes in the water.
  • let the water drain out of the sink. If you washed the cover with baby shampoo, rinse it under running water. If you washed the cover with woolwash containing lanolin, do not rinse the cover, you want the lanolin to say in the wool, it's what makes the cover waterproof!
  • gently wring as much water out of the cover as you can -- the more water you can get out, the faster the wool cover will dry. You can put the wool cover in your washing machine's 'spin' cycle to get more water out, or you could wrap it flat in a towel and sit on it, transferring the moisture from the cover to the towel.
  • To dry the cover, lie it flat -- if you put the cover on a rack over a warm air return, you can decrease its drying time.

See, easy-peasy! If hand-washing still makes you nervous, we sell felted wool covers which can be laundered in your washing machine's 'delicate' cycle.

Wool covers contain lanolin, a naturally occurring oil that makes the wool waterproof. Your wool covers will need be re-lanolized periodically, moreso if you choose to wash them with baby shampoo (if you wash them with a woolwash that contains lanolin, you will be adding lanolin to the cover every time you wash it). If your wool cover starts to lose absorbency, you likely need to re-lanolize it.

Lanolizing is another easy process, you likely have what you need already. Many moms tend to have a partially-used tube of PureLan or Lansinoh, medical-grade pure lanolin that is used to treat sore nipples in those early days of breastfeeding (seriously, has anyone ever used a whole tube?) -- you can repurpose what you have left to lanolize your wool covers:

  • fill a small lidded container (like a clean baby food jar) with boiling water, about 3/4 full.
  • add a glob of lanolin to the jar, and a squirt of baby shampoo or woolwash, put the lid on, and give it a good shake to melt and disperse the lanolin.
  • put your cover in a sink with enough warm water to cover it, and pour the lanolin mixture into the water. Massage the cover well to ensure it soaks up the lanolin, and drain the water (do not rinse).

Alternately, you can rub some lanolin between your palms to soften it, then massage the inside of your wool cover, working the melted lanolin from your hands into the fibers of the wool cover. If you don't have any lanolin around the house, we sell liquid lanolin and spray-on lanolin (yes, a shameless plug!).

When you make the switch to wool, it may take some getting used to. Some tips to make the transition successful:

  • do not pair a wool cover with tight onesies, pants, or pyjamas. They will apply pressure to the cover, resulting in 'compression wicking' whereby moisture is basically squeezed out of the cover, resulting in damp clothing or pyjamas. For the same reason, wool is not ideal on long car trips.
  • at night, ensure you are using a wool cover with an adequate diaper. A wool cover will enhance the performance of a good diaper, but it will not compensate for a diaper that is not absorbent enough.
  • rotate between two wool covers to ensure covers dry completely between uses. By allowing two days drying time between each use, you will ensure your cover stands up to night-time use.
  • if you're using a wool soaker or wool pants, turn it inside out to ensure it dries fully. I actually reverse the soaker every time I use it. Yes, that means I use it inside out, but don't knock 'til you try it!

If you're concerned about the scratchiness of wool, you can rest-assured that most wool covers are quite soft, and they get even softer as they are broken in. If you're concerned about temperate, rest-assured that wool is self-regulating, it's warm in the winter, and cool in the summer - your baby will always feel comfortable in a wool cover!

You don't have to buy wool covers, if you (or Grandma!) know how to knit, there are plenty of free patterns online, check out our DIY section for some great links. We're holding wool soaker workshops at our stores, the Waterloo workshop is filling up, details for our Ottawa workshop will be posted shortly.

I used wool diaper covers (old school Sugar Peas wool jersey, if you must know) on a regular basis with our second daughter, she was a peeing machine at night! I have recently been reacquainted with wool after Gracie battled a mean bout of diaper rash. It took a while to figure out the culprit, but we've narrowed it down to a new pair of footed fleece pyjamas that, combined with a pocket diaper at night, proved to be too warm for Gracie. She woke up with 30-50 fluid-filled blisters on her bum. She's back in cotton pyjamas at night, and we're pairing a wool cover a cotton prefold -- a simple, but effective combination!

I want someone else to feel the wool love, so I'm offering a start-up wool package with 2 (two!) Baby Beehind wool covers of your choice and a Sheepish Grins lanolin-rich woolwash bar. If you want a shot at this giveaway (contest open to Canadians only, eh?), simply leave a comment at the end of this post -- tell me what diaper combination you're using at night right now, I'll pick a random name on Friday, November 6th).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Got guck?

From time to time, we get customer calls about leaks. Usually (more often than not) this is an easy problem to solve. We have a pretty fabulous troubleshooting guide on our website, it does a good job of identifying leak problems and solutions. One cause of leaks is repelling caused by diaper cream build-up. In general, you should avoid using zinc-based creams, or creams that contain fish oils. You should only use cream to *treat* rash (not prevent it), you should use a small amount, and you should use a paper liner to prevent the cream from touching your diapers.

How do you know if you have a repelling issue? The diaper will leak, but it will not feel wet. If you pour water onto the diaper to test it, it will likely bead up and roll off the diaper. In the case of a pocket diaper, you need to apply pressure to the fleece or microsuede lining to check for repelling. If you the water pools, stick your finger in the puddle, and it should go through the lining into the insert -- if nothing happens, you've got a repelling pocket diaper.

We recently had a customer complaining of repelling issues with her bumGenius pocket diapers. Initially, she was quite sure she was dealing with a product defect, however, she left some diapers at the store, and it was quite evident that the repelling was caused by the use of a zinc-based diaper cream. Although the care instruction label clearly indicates 'no rash creams', she has been using Desitin diaper cream on an ongoing basis, resulting in a very severe repelling issue -- what good is a cloth diaper if it doesn't absorb? Unfortunately, using rash creams voids the Cotton Babies warranty, in fact, most (if not all) cloth diaper manufacturers recommend against using barrier creams with their diapers.

Understandably, this customer was upset that she has hundreds of dollars worth of diapers that no longer work. She had been advised by Cotton Babies to strip her diapers using 'blue' Dawn dishwashing detergent, however, we are in Canada, Cotton Babies customer service is in the US, and it would seem that 'blue' Dawn down there is something entirely different than 'blue' Dawn up here. The only 'blue' Dawn available to Canadians is 'Dawn PLUS with power scrubbers', which is labelled as containing 'enzymes and surfactants', which most cloth diaper manufacturers recommend against. In place of Dawn Original, you'll need to find a dishsoap that cuts grease, I used the generic Sobey's brand Our Compliments grease-fighting detergent (it's green, if you care!).

Before stripping the diapers, I checked the inserts to see if they still absorbed -- they sucked up water, so I didn't need to strip the inserts (phew!). I wet the pocket shells and squirted dishsoap directly onto the affected areas. It can be tough to see the zinc cream against white microsuede, holding the shells up to the sun made the cream obvious, or looking at the underside of the microsuede revealed the problem areas. I used a toothbrush to scrub the dishsoap into the affected areas, then I used both hands to scrub the microsuede together. I left the pocket shell folded in half for an hour or so, rinsed it out, and scrubbed it down a second time with dishsoap and a toothbrush, focusing on the affected areas again. At this point I put the diapers into an overnight soak with dishsoap and Rockin' Green Soap (if you've seen their Youtube video on diaper residue, you'd understand why!). In the morning, I rinsed the pocket shells and washed them in our frontloader with extra water, on a hot wash cycle with a double rinse, again using the Rockin' Green Soap.

When all is said and done, there are still stains left on the pocket shells (albeit fainter), but (but!) they are absorbing now. If I hadn't been able to strip the pockets successfully, the diapers wouldn't have been a write-off, the customer could have worked around the repelling issue by using the pocket shells like covers, and simply laying the inserts on top of the microsuede lining. She would lose the stay-dry effect of the microsuede, but the diapers would at least work.

I will be returning the diapers to the customer tomorrow, along with a free pack of RLR (it would be wise to strip the diapers after using scrubbing them with dishsoap) and the remainder of the dishsoap and Rockin' Green Soap (she still has to fix the remainder of her diapers, and I want her to be successful at it!). If you experience leaks with your diapers, it's more than likely a fixable problem, and if you adhere to the manufacturers' recommended care instructions, you won't run the risk of voiding their warranty if you do run into problems down the road. Treat your diapers well, and they'll treat you well right back!

Friday, October 23, 2009

To vax or not to vax, that is the question!

If you've been paying attention to the media, H1N1 vaccines will be available shortly, and the Canadian government is suggesting that everyone between the ages of 6 months and 65 years should be vaccinated against this 'new' flu virus. The Ottawa Citizen has been dedicating pages of coverage to this issue for weeks, if not months, now, and despite all the information I've read, I'm still thoroughly confused.

To start, I'm really unsure about vaccinations in general. When I had my first baby, I vax'ed her on the schedule recommended by our ped., without giving it much thought (doctors know what's best for us, right?). At that time (almost 9 years ago), the chicken pox vaccine was relatively new, and as little as I knew about vaccinations in general, I knew that I wouldn't be signing up for that one. As far as I was concerned then (and now), chicken pox is a right of passage, an inconvenience at worst. I had it when I was a kid, and there was never a history of complications in my family, so no real need for concern.

When my second daughter was born, I started her on the same vaccination schedule, at one of her 'well baby' check-ups, we were seen by our ped's partner who assumed I was going to vax Hannah against chicken pox, I said no, and didn't she go up one side of me and down the other. I was backed into a corner in a little examination room while this doctor repeatedly told me I was a horrible mother, and that my child could die because of my decision not to vaccinate her against chicken pox. How did that appointment end? I'm sorry to say that against my better judgement, I had Hannah vax'ed against chicken pox, the doctor wore me down and I gave in. Since that experience, I've been loathe to take any doctor's advice 'because she knows best'. As a result, Owen and Grace have been given delayed selective vaccinations, though admittedly, I know as little now as I did back then, I just feel better waiting.

No members of our family have ever been given the flu vaccination, much like chicken pox, I think the flu is just one of those things you deal with, it's an inconvenience at worst. We have no underlying health issues, so again, no cause for concern. My mother, on the other hand, gets the flu shot every year, and wouldn't you know it, she's never managed to avoid the flu despite getting the 'magical' flu shot.

So now there's this H1N1 flu strain, and you'd think the sky was falling, judging by all of the media coverage it's been receiving. There are often (so far, unwarranted) parallels drawn between H1N1 and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, which killed approximately 50 million people, most victims were young, previously healthy adults. The Canadian government has ordered $400,000,000 worth of vaccinations with the goal of vaccinating the majority of the population against this particular strain of flu, but a lot of people (myself included) are wondering if it's necessary.

I'm not about to roll up my sleeve just because I've been told to, and I would strongly encourage anyone else who's considering it to give pause for thought. So far, H1N1 has contributed to 86 deaths since the Spring, and evidence suggests the H1N1 death rate is similar to the seasonal flu death rate. Fact of the matter is, thousands of people die from seasonal flus every year, despite the fact that flu vaccinations are doled out annually. It would seem the 'science' behind flu vaccinations in general is flawed, it certainly isn't the silver bullet the medical community would have you believe it is.

There is very little known about H1N1. The government doesn't know how many people have already had it and recovered because the only people in Canada tested for the virus are people who have been admitted to the hospital with complications. What about people have have caught it and recovered already? The government doesn't know why some people are able to shake it off more easily than others. There is little known about the true cause of death of those who have succumbed to H1N1, postmortem results suggest that many of those casualties had existing underlying medical issues that may have been a contributing factor.

There is even less known about the effectiveness of the vaccination, which has not been evaluated by Health Canada, rather, they are relying on the results of a small (130 people, if you can believe it) clinical trial in Belgium (trials ran by the manufacturer, I might add). Adding to the unknown is the fact that for the first time ever, a flu vaccination is being paired with adjuvant, which boosts an immune system's response to a vaccine. Basically, it's a way the government can vaccinate more people with less medicine, however, there is uncertainty in terms of whether the adjuvanted vaccine is safe for pregnant women or babies, so there is a small amount of unadjuvanted vaccines available for those groups. So are we to *assume* the adjuvanted version is OK for us to take? Are we supposed to take it, wait, and hope for the best? Lastly, it is reasonable to expect some serious possible side effects, inevitably, some people will have a reaction to the H1N1 vaccination that will be far more severe than suffering through what will likely be a mild case of the flu for most people.

Again today, the Ottawa Citizen has published a lengthy article on why Canadians should not be suspicious of this new vaccine, as well as a testimonial from a doctor who will be vaccinating his own family (the basic tone of that piece was 'doctors know more than you, so you should just listen to us'). Of course, if you consider how the Ottawa Citizen has handled previous virus outbreaks, you'd be right to take what they say with a grain of salt. Remember their coverage of West Nile virus? Every time a dead crow was found, there would be double-page spread. How about the promised Avian flu pandemic? Did anything actually come of that? I would like to see media outlets like the Ottawa Citizen publish the view of doctors who oppose this mass vaccination, there are individuals within the medical profession who disagree with this course of action.

At this point, given the relatively low risk of the flu, the unknowns of the vaccine, and my gut feeling, it's highly unlikely that I'll be vaccinating myself or my children against H1N1. I think that common sense and good hygiene will be far more effective in preventing an outbreak, we've talked to the kids about the importance of hand-washing and coughing into their sleeves, and a recent bout with the flu saw our family staying at home (no work, no daycare or school) longer than normal. If you you have thoughts or links to share, please post them. I think the scariest thing about this decision is that little voice in the back of my head that wonders 'what if?'. I would hate to be wrong about this approach, putting my kids in harms' way. By the same token, I feel like blindly listening to what the media tells me I should do for myself and my family could have equally disturbing consequences.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Product comparison: CuddlyWrap vs. SleepyWrap

At both of our stores, we frequently see parents with brand new (days-old!) babies in the market for a sling. We offer lots of suitable options, but our hands-down favourite is the cotton stretchy wrap. Cotton stretchy wraps provide great support to new babies with low muscle tone. Since a cotton stretchy wrap is a two-shouldered carrier, it is comfortable for the user, it spreads the weight of the baby evenly across the user's back and shoulders. Cotton stretchy wraps are one-size-fits-all carriers, the length of the carrier ensures it will fit any build; petite users simply wrap the tails around their waist 1-2 more times than larger users.

We sell two brands of cotton stretchy wraps, the CuddlyWrap and the Sleepy Wrap. Upon first glance, they appear quite similar: they are both long pieces of cotton fabric, serged at the edges, and tapered towards the end. Both slings have a logo sewn into the middle of the carrier, a marker that enables the user to position the wrap properly when they start tying the carrier on. So how are they different?

For starters, if you feel both carriers, you'll notice an immediate difference in the weight of the fabric. The CuddlyWrap is comprised of a single-layer of organic cotton jersey, it feels quite thin, but don't worry, it's still very supportive. The Sleepy Wrap, on the other hand, is a heavier weight cotton/spandex jersey. Regardless of the weight of the fabric, parents always ask "How hot is it to wear?", assuming that a wrap will be hot. Truth is, wearing a baby in any carrier will be warm, you've got a little heater (the baby!) strapped to you. Grace was born in early June, and we lived in the Sleepy Wrap all summer, I simply dressed her appropriately (one layer less than I would normally put her in). With a smaller baby, you can wear the carrier without the middle piece pulled over the baby, reducing the number of layers of fabric wrapped over the baby.

The slight variation in fabric actually makes a world of difference in term of how the carriers feel. Although it is still stretchy, the CuddlyWrap has considerably less give than the Sleepy Wrap. When you are tying on the Cuddly Wrap, you have to leave a little slack to get the baby in. Due to the small amount of spandex in the Sleepy Wrap, you begin by tying the wrap so that it is snug (clinging to you!).

When I first started using the Sleepy Wrap, I made the mistake of tying it like the CuddlyWrap, leaving a little slack to fit the baby in. The first few times I used it, she was *very* saggy, to the point the carrier felt unsafe... Then I read the instructions and realized I was using the carrier incorrectly. I tied it tighter, and voila! Loved it! The stretch of the Sleepy Wrap made it very easy to nurse in without having to adjust the carrier or remove Grace. I simply fanned out the shoulders, took the middle piece down (if we had it up), and pulled her down in front of the breast (nursing her in an upright position).

The cotton/spandex blend of the Sleepy Wrap also makes it easier to wear without a baby. With any stretchy wrap, you can remove the baby from the carrier simply by spreading apart the 'V' in the front of the carrier and lifting the baby out under her arms. A wrap comprised of 100% cotton, like the CuddlyWrap, will shift without a baby in it, pieces will tighten and sag, you will likely have to re-tie it after a period of time. The Sleepy Wrap, on the other hand, retains its shape, so you can wear it for hours on end without a baby in it, and it will not have to be readjusted -- excellent poppability (the act of popping your baby in and out of the carrier -- it's a technical term!).

Both manufacturers advertise their carriers as accommodating children who weigh up to 35 lbs, however, we always tell customers that 20 lbs is more realistic (you will comfortably get 6 months of use out of a cotton stretchy wrap). As a baby gets heavier, the stretch of the fabric will result in sagging. Sagging aside, from a practical standpoint, as your baby grows, you will likely find it more convenient to carry her on your hip, or on your back. Cotton stretchy carriers are really one-trick ponies, they do great front carries, but we don't recommend them for hip or back carries, due to the fact the fabric has give -- if you're wearing your baby on your back, you want her to be secure!

The makers of the Sleepy Wrap recently introduced their own version of a Soft Structured Carrier, the idea being that you transition from the Sleepy Wrap to the Boba carrier. We offer a $10.00 credit to customers who have purchasd a Sleepy Wrap that can be used towards the purchase of a Boba carrier, which is a great back carrier.

Cotton stretchy wraps are reasonably priced, the Sleepy Wrap retails for $50.00, the CuddlyWrap comes in at $75.00, since it's organic, and made in Canada (Sleepy Wrap carriers are made in China, though the Boba carrier is manufactured in the USA). A lot of parents are initially turned off by the appearance of wrap carriers when they see how long they are, but once they have it tied on, and their baby is nestled against them, they come around.
Cotton stretchy wraps are a wonderful introduction into the world of babywearing, your baby was carried for nine months in your womb, it's only natural that she's going to want to stay close to you in those first few months -- rather than lamenting 'how much' your baby wants to be held, enjoy it while it lasts, it's a wonderful time. On Saturday, October 24th, receive a free pair of instock Babylegs with every CuddlyWrap or Sleepy Wrap purchase.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Breastfeeding tips for success

When parents-to-be come into the store looking for cloth diapers, we often ask them if they plan on breastfeeding when we talk about caring for diapers (breastfed poop is water-soluble, no scraping or soaking!). It's common to hear parents reply "We hope to, if it works out" At this point, I try to offer some advice and encouragement without getting preachy about it (it's a fine line, lol).

I think a lot of people expect the first few days or weeks of breastfeeding to go off without a hitch, however, in reality, most people experience problems. I don't say this to scare you, but to point out that it's common, and it doesn't mean you won't be able to breastfeed successfully, it just means you have to work at it.

There are things you can do to increase the likelihood of a successful breastfeeding relationship:
  • arm yourself with information. In Ottawa, you can register for free breastfeeding preparation classes through the Ottawa Hospital. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read Dr. Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding. The more you know, the better-equipped you'll be to deal with whatever problems you may encounter.
  • get your friends and family onboard. You need to let them know how important breastfeeding is to you, if you encounter problems, you will need their encouragement and support.
  • join a support network. La Leche League holds monthly meetings, and they offer phone support for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Alternately, Breastfeeding Buddies pairs a volunteer who has been breastfeeding for six months with a new breastfeeding mother.
  • find a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician. Not all doctors have received formal education about breastfeeding, and not all doctors are of the mindset that 'breastmilk is best'. You can contact a local lactation consultant to get a recommendation for a breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician.
  • keep formula out of the house. If you're having a hard time, it may be tempting to use that formula sitting in the cupboard, despite your best intentions. Formula companies often offer free samples to pediatricians, if your pediatrician is 'kind' enough to offer you a sample, politely decline his offer.
  • if you encounter a problem, get help right away! We are very fortunate in Ottawa to have access to free breastfeeding drop-ins. Alternately, you can have a lactation consultant come to your home. Yes, a lactation consultant costs money, but it's money well-spent, and a consultation may be covered by your health insurance company.

When our first baby was born, we had latch issues. I was a regular fixture at the Civic hospital's breastfeeding drop-in, they helped me with position and latch (a little advice: baby's mouth has to be wide, wide, wide open before you put her to the breast). When our second baby was born, I assumed there wouldn't be any issues since I had already breastfed one baby successfully, but I was wrong... I may have breastfed before, but Hannah had never breastfed! I visited the drop-in at the Civic again, and we were able to fix her latch pretty quickly.

If you're hoping to breastfeed your baby, these tips can help ensure a successful start -- if you do encounter problems, with effort and patience, you can likely work through them. Good luck!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Can you believe Christmas is just over 10 weeks away?

Neither can I! Last year, I sent out a request to friends and family to kindly limit how many gifts they brought for our children, and I set out guidelines that helped steer them towards things that would be appreciated. I felt a little awkward sending the request, however, I really wanted people to know we enjoy their company over the holidays more than what they bring with them, and as a mom of four kids, I often find myself overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we have in our house, so any opportunity to limit the amount of picking up I have to do is welcome, and besides, as we all know, kids don't need a lot of 'stuff' to find ways to amuse themselves!

So, do you want to know what I asked for?
  • gift certificates from the city of Ottawa. We enroll our kids in their aquatics programs, the girls have enjoyed city summer camps for a few years now, and we've signed the kids up for city soccer from four years old on -- to say this is money well-spent is an understatement!
  • movie tickets. My husband is a big kid at heart, and he loves to take the older kids to a good movie, a fabulous get-out-of-the-house-card we can play when the weather outside sucks.
  • annual museum memberships. We have enjoyed the Experimental Farm since Maddy was a baby, even now, eight years later, she still gets a thrill going! A yearly memberhsip to the Agricultural museum also gets you into the Museum of Science & Technology, and the Museum of Aviation.

We also asked people to avoid gifts that were made of plastic and/or required batteries, and we asked them to purchase goods made in North America. I know a lot of products are made overseas, but it is possible to find things made within North America, even made locally, for that matter.

When people come into the store looking for things we can't source, I often take a look on Etsy and point them in that direction. You've never heard of Etsy? It's a fabulous marketplace that connects crafters with buyers. We have a few staff members who sell their wares on Etsy, Melissa and Laura are both talented, creative seamstresses, you may have seen Grace rocking one of Laura's creations this summer in the shop. If you take a look at Etsy, you'll see there's a fabulous selection of one-of-a-kind handmade creations, many of which are sold at very reasonable prices (I'm often tempted to contact sellers and suggest they raise their prices, lol).

So, do you have any kid-friendly gift ideas you'd like to share that meet the above criteria? Maybe it's an Etsy shop, or perhaps you know someone who'll be selling their wares at one of the many local craft shows coming up in Ottawa (or elsewhere). If so, please post the details in the comments section of this blog entry, one random comment will be selected to win a Bamboline doll, one of Laura's handmade soft dolls we sell in the Ottawa shop.

Friday, October 9, 2009

One-size vs. Sized diapers

If you followed along with our recent journey to the mecca of all kids' shows in Las Vegas last month, you know I lamented the fact that all of the cloth diaper manufacturers seem to be dedicating all development efforts towards one-size diapers. When customers come into our stores to ask about cloth diapers, they are overwhelmed by choice with respect to the styles and brands of cloth diapers available. Not only do they have to pick a type of diaper, often times, there's the additional decision of whether or not to purchase a sized or one-size version. Which one is best? That's a good question! Not an easy answer, though.

A one-size diaper is often sized from approximately 8-35 lbs. A sized diaper is sized according to the baby's weight, when your baby outgrows a size, you purchase the next larger size. There are many considerations to make when deciding which version to purchase.

Do you plan on reusing your diapers with multiple children? A sized diaper is likely the best option in this case. A one-size diaper may be used continuously for 2+ years, washed every 2-3 days. That's a lot of wear and tear! A sized diaper, on the other hand, is used for a shorter period, then set aside in favour of the next larger size, resulting on considerably less wear & tear on each set of diapers.

Do you want to sell your diapers when you're finished with them? If so, you want to keep your diapers in good shape. For the same reasons listed above, a set of sized diapers will likely have a higher resale value than a set of one-size diapers.

Do you want to use cloth diapers from day one? Most one-size diapers are advertised as fitting from 8-35 lbs, however, in reality, most one-size diapers don't start to fit well until a baby weighs 10-12 lbs. In some cases (Mother-ease one-size fitteds, for example), the diaper is so large on a newborn baby, she is literally diapered from her armpits to her knees. As long as the diaper is snug around the baby's legs and waist, it will contain mess, however, you have to consider how well clothing will fit. One-size pocket diapers are a trimmer option than one-size fitted diapers since they often come with a newborn insert.

If you want your baby in cloth diapers from day one, but you want to use one-size diapers, you should consider signing up for our newborn diaper rental program, a fabulous way to get your baby into cloth diapers on the day she's born without making the upfront investment required to buy the diapers.

Is your baby taller or stockier than average? Although most one-size diapers claim to fit babies who weigh between 8-35 lbs, you have to take this claim with a grain of salt. All babies come in different shapes and sizes, 'one size fits *most*' is a realistic way to describe any one-size diaper. If you have a tall skinny baby, she may outgrow the rise before she weighs 35 lbs. If you have a stocky baby, he may outgrow the width of the diaper before he weighs 35 lbs.

Are you buying diapers to supplement an existing stash? If so, one-size diapers are a simple stash-filler. When used in rotation with a stash of other cloth diapers, they are used less often, so they hold up better over time. Realistically, most people use more than one type of cloth diapers. Prefolds are one of the most popular types of diapers we sell, they work well, and they are cost-effective. However, they are bulky and a little more involved to use. A one-size pocket diaper makes a great 'easy' diaper to supplement an existing supply of prefold diapers. It's nice to have an 'easy' diaper for when you're out and about, for night-time diaper changes in those first few weeks, or for babysitters.

So, are you noticing a bias? My preference is definitely sized over one-size diapers. I've been in this business long enough to know that realistically, most one-size diapers, when used alone, won't last through more than one child. If you washed a t-shirt every 3-4 days for two years, for example, imagine how well it would hold up! That being said, you would still save upwards of $1500 per child if you purchased a set of one-size diapers for each baby (disposable diapers: $2500+; 28 bumGenius one-size pocket diapers: $640).

Of course, I can understand the lure of one-size diapers, you make the purchase once, and you're done (although seriously, wouldn't you miss us?). If you do want to go the one-size route, you can extend the life of your diapers using the following tips:
  • the more diapers you have in rotation, the better they will hold up. If you purchase 24-30 diapers, you'll be washing every 2-3 days for the first 6-8 weeks; once your baby is pooping 1-2 times a day, you'd be washing every 3-4 days.
  • snaps will hold up better than velcro. Velcro is more prone to wear and tear than snaps, especially on a pocket or AIO diaper that is washed every single time it is used. Your velcro will hold up better over time if you ensure it is fastened shut before you wash your diapers. Periodically picking lint and hair out of your velcro will also help extend its life.
  • use the 'low heat' setting on your dryer, or line-dry where possible. Diapers will last longer when they're not exposed to high heat on a regular basis. Covers and pocket diapers will often line-dry as quickly as they machine dry.

If the velcro or elastic wears out on your one-size diapers, it's well worth the time and/or investment to repair them. Replacing worn-out velcro is a fairly easy task requiring little to no sewing skills, Cotton Babies, the manufacturer of bumGenius one-size pocket diaper, provides free repair kits upon request. If you need to replace the elastic in your diapers, there are a couple of online tutorials that demonstrate how to do it for serged or encased elastic. If you don't have the time or inclination to make these repairs yourself, it's still worthwhile to pay a seamstress to do it, cloth diapers are an investment, it's far less expensive to fix them than to replace them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mama cloth: what, why, and how!

We added reusable menstrual products to our store a couple of years ago, and like cloth diapers, we field a lot of questions about them. Recently, I've had a couple of suggestions from both staff and customers that I blog about them, so here you go!

If you're asking 'why should I switch', if you're using cloth diapers, you're probably familiar with the reasons -- the same benefits apply to both reusable feminine products and reusable diapers:

In terms of options, cloth pads are a reusable alternative to disposable pads. We stock Lunapads, a system comprised of three items:

  • pantyliners - used alone, pantyliners are ideal for daily discharge or very light menstrual flow, and are popular as backup protection for menstrual cups, like The DivaCup. Need a cloth diaper reference? A pantyliner is like an all-in-one diaper, absorbent and waterproof.
  • pads -- a waterproof pad with wings that fastens around the gusset of your underwear. Need a cloth diaper reference? A pad is like a diaper cover - it contains the blood, preventing leaks through your underwear.
  • liners -- comprised of 2 layers of highly absorbent cotton, liners absorb the majority of your menstrual flow, leaving the Pad base relatively clean and dry. Need a cloth diaper reference? A liner is like a prefold or a fitted diaper -- it absorbs the blood.

A single pad will get you through a whole day; you just change the liner when you need to. The pads and liners come in different sizes that accommodate light to heavy bleeding -- you simply buy liners that suit your menstrual cycle.

If you prefer to use tampons, a menstrual cup is a reusable option to tampons. A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped cup that is worn internally to collect blood flow. It is emptied several times a day, as needed. We sell the Diva Cup (only in size 2, required after pregnancy), a silicone cup that is latex-free, BPA-free, and plastic-free. A menstrual cup can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time, it is safe for overnight use.

So, you want to know what I think? First, off, I'm going to admit I've not had much experience with them. In the past ten years, I've had (brace yourself!) two (two!) menstrual cycles, not by choice, but due to the fact I've been either pregnant, breastfeeding, or both. I have made the switch to using cloth pads, and I've used them post-partum for two babies, so I can tell you about that. First of all, it's not gross (I know that's probably what most people assume). The pads do not smell -- due in part to the fact they are more breathable than disposable pads, due in part to the fact they're not scented with masking chemicals. The cotton pads are far more comfortable than stiff paper pads, and they are less likely to leak because cotton absorbs faster than paper.

I have never used a menstrual cup, though I have friends that do. From what I've been told, it's something that requires a little practice to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, the cup is so comfortable you won't know it's there.

In terms of washing cloth pads, I just store and wash them with our cloth diapers, so it's really no more work for me. When you're out and about, you can store use a wetbag to store soiled pads. If you check the Lunapads care & instructions, you'll see that even if you don't use cloth diapers, caring for cloth menstrual pads amounts to little more than a simple load of laundry.

So there you have it -- using reusuable feminine products is really no different than using reusable cloth diapers, in terms of reasons and results. If you're considering giving Lunapads or the Diva Cup a whirl, you can use coupon code MAMACLOTH until October 15th to save 10% on the Lunapads Intro package or a Diva Cup. Offer valid online and instore, cannot be combined with offers or discounts.