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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Explain it to me like I'm five years old.

Twitter, that is. I just don't get it. For the past few months, I have made a concerted effort to figure it out, but honestly, I think it's stupid and I don't want to play anymore. Aside from offering constant freebies as rewards for followers, I have no idea how the heck you're supposed to acquire followers. I don't follow many people, perhaps that's my downfall? Truth is, I find it hard to keep up, unless you stare at it constantly, it seems easy to miss updates (I'm sorry, 'tweets'). I don't use a cell phone to 'text'. OK, I lie. I sent one text -- I got as far as 'hey', then I gave up. Too much work. Perhaps Twitter is better-suited to people with Blackberries, having to run to the computer every time a thought pops into my head is just not practical.

I despise being limited to 140 characters, it drives me bat-shit crazy to mis-spell words or use poor grammar on purpose to save a few characters (I prefer to mis-spell words or use poor grammar accidentally!). The constant spammy nature of Twitter also drives me mental, it's like a whole bunch of people screaming 'look at me' at the same time. There is a Monday night cloth diapering chat, and holy shit, hang on to your hats! Blink and you'll miss 13,973 tweets!

I do have a Facebook group and a blog (well, duh, you're reading it, so clearly you know!), those are my other efforts at social media, I like Facebook because often times I can put a face to the name behind the screen, I like knowing who I'm interacting with. The blog? Well, it lets me spit out more than 140 characters at a time, though I wonder how relevent content is once a few days or weeks have passed -- do people really go back and read previous entries?

So I'm curious, do any of you tweet? From what I've read, most of the people who join don't actually stick with it, so should I just give up already? I tell you, this business of social networking is *exhausting*! If not for the fact my Facebook group is hooked up to my Twitter account, I wouldn't have made it this far. I suppose I could throw up some freebies and bribe people to follow me, but I don't know, it just seems so desperate (and transparent!).

The only good think to come out of Twitter (for me, anyway) is the dude behind shitmydadsays. I defy you to read it and not laugh at least once!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What detergent should you use to wash your cloth diapers?

If you already use cloth diapers, you know that how well your diapers wash largely depends on the type of detergent you use to wash them. If you use a HE washing machine, the type of detergent you use is even more important. For this reason, we offer the most comprehensive of detergents approved for use with cloth diapers in Canada. When selecting what detergent you will use, it's important to realize that different people will have different results dependent on the type of machine they use, and the quality of water used to wash the diapers. As a result, it may take some trial and error to figure out a detergent and washing routine that suits your needs, however, it's worth the effort -- a good washing routine will ensure clean, fresh-smelling diapers.

Often times, when we talk to customers about detergent, I can't help but feel like we're trying to upsell to the customer, and I think a lot of people assume that anything 'natural' comes with a hefty pricetag. However, if you look at the cost/load breakdown below, you'll see that most of our detergents actually cost *less* than what you can purchase at the grocery store. For example, a box of "Tide HE Powder 80 use" costs $15.97 at, which works out to 20 cents/load for HE machines.

$22.00/120 loads
18 cents/load

At this point, Nellies is the hands-down favourite amongst out customers, many of whom have found it ideal for washing with a frontloader. It is our most cost-effective option for people who have standard top-loading washers. Nellies is hypoallergenic, and it leaves your clothes soft, fresh, and residue free. Its concentrated formula only one tablespoon per wash is needed, even in large loads. If you're concerned about using a powder, rest-assured its fine texture washes completely out, it's not thick and clumpy like typical powdered detergents.

$8.00/36 loads
22 cents/load

In an effort to conserve packaging, and to lower your costs, we purchase Wonderwash powder in bulk, and repackage it for you in kraft paper bags. Yes, it's a little more work for us, but it shaves off about 10 cents/load for you. This detergent has undergone lab testing to establish that it washes out of laundry completely, leaving no residue behind.

$26.00/67 loads
39 cents/load

Same as above, but in liquid form. You'll notice the jump in cost/load, we can't repackage liquid, sorry!

$20.00/90 loads (HE) or 45 loads (standard top-loader)
22 cents/load (HE machine) 44 cents/load (standard top-loader)

Rockin' Green Soap is the only detergent we sell that has been specifically formulated for cloth diapers. The 'soft rock' formula is suitable for those with sensitive skin, and it's recommended if you have soft/medium-hard water. Rockin' Green soap is scednted with a mixture of synthetic and essential oils -- there are approximately 10 drops of fragrance oil per 45 load batch so the amount of oil in each load is negligible. When you wash your cloth diapers in Rockin' Green Soap, they will not hold the scent of the detergent because it is made to wash away completely.

$17.oo/128 loads (HE) or 32 loads (standard top-loader)
13 cents/load (HE machine) 53 cents/load (standard top-loader)

For years, Allens Naturally has been lauded by Mother of Eden, the manufacturers behind Fuzzibunz diapers, as the best detergent for washing their pocket diapers. With an endorsement like that, how could we not sell it?

$10.99/80 loads (HE) or 40 loads (standard top-loader)
14 cents/load (HE machine) 27 cents/load (standard top-loader)

Like Wonderwash, Countrysave detergent has also undergone lab testing to prove that it washes away completely. Countrysave detegent contains borax, a natural water softener, so if you have hard water, it may be a good detergent for you.

$18.00/500 grams

Soapnuts are a fruit grown on the Rittha Tree; when the fruit ripens and falls from the tree, local families harvest them and remove the inner fruit from the outer shell. The shell is then dried in the sun, using no chemical or manufacturing processes. The shell of the fruit has a protective waxy coating which contains saponin. When the soapnut is used to wash clothes, the saponin acts as a water surfactant reducing the surface tension of the water and freeing the dirt, grime and oils from the clothing, leaving your clothes clean and fresh without the use of any harmful synthetic products.The locals of India have been using the soap nuts for centuries as a safe and effective way to clean their clothes. Kaley's Soap Nuts are ethically sourced from India.

Regardless of what detergent you use, please keep in mind the old adage 'less is more' -- don't throw in three times the recommended amount of detergent in an effort to get your diapers 'extra' clean. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that, you will only cause yourself a headache down the road, detergent residue build-up is often a culprit of smelly diapers, reduced absorbency, and diaper rash. Use 1/4 to 1/2 the recommended amount of detergent.

If you have a 5-gallon jug of detergent sitting on your laundry room shelf, and you're unsure of whether or not it's safe to use with cloth diapers, please refer to the Diaper Jungle's list of recommended detergents, they list many brands. Bummis also regularly tests detergents, they have a list of recommended detergents that is regularly updated.

If you are unsure, you should err on the side of caution and purchase a cloth diaper-friendly detergent. As much as it sucks not to use that $30 jug of store-bought detergent that may or may not be good for cloth diapers, it sucks even more to ruin your $300 stash of Fuzzibunz! All of the detergents we sell are suitable for use with cloth diapers as well as your regular laundry.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Scoop on the Scootababy...

We've been retailing this lovely carrier for a year, and I have to say, it really deserves a mention. Although it's a fabulous carrier, it's easy to miss on our shelves due to its non-descript packaging -- a black nylon bag with a picture of a turtle on it. I'll be the first to admit, the packaging does little to convey the greatness inside -- we do have a sample Scootababy out with the rest of our demo carriers, but there are so many demos, it's easy to overlook. If people manage to make it to this carrier when they're demoing carriers in our stores, most are blown away by its ease-of-use and comfort.

The Scootababy is a variation of a soft-structured carrier (SSC). A SSC is usually defined as a carrier that features a rectangular body with waist and shoulder straps. What sets Scootababy apart from other SSCs is the fact that it's a one-shouldered carrier as opposed to a two-shouldered carrier, which we all know is ergonimically better for the user since it distributes the weight evenly across your back and shoulders. While the Scootababy may be a one-shouldered carrier, its padded waistbelt takes the weight of your child off your shoulder and places it on your hips -- the result? This carrier feels so much different than any other one-shouldered carrier -- you will not feel any strain on your neck or shoulder as a result.

The Scootababy's unique shoulder does a great job of ensuring the carrier is worn properly -- it's idiot-proof, to be blunt. It's not uncommon to see people wearing ring slings or pouches incorrectly, with the shoulder of the carrier riding too high, sitting entirely on their trapezius muscle close to the neck, which causes discomfort. Ideally, any one-shouldered carrier should cup the wearer's shoulder. With a heavier child, you may notice this impedes the movement of your arm. The Scootababy's shoulder is constructed from fleece that conforms to the shoulder -- it is both stretchy and supportive, allowing your arm free range of motion.

Packaging aside, another reason the Scootababy is often overlooked is the fact that most people write it off as 'only' a hip carrier due to the fact it's a one-shouldered carrier. Admittedly, early on, the company strictly marketed the carrier as a hip carrier, however, they have added video tutorials to their website demonstrating how to use the carrier on the front and back -- unlike other SSCs, I can endorse this carrier as a great front, back and side carrer. Basically, to use the carrier on your front or back, you shorten/lengthen the shoulder buckles accordingly, not unlike how you would move a child from the front to back in a ring sling.

The Scootababy is not made for newborns, it is not a birth-toddler carrier. You can start using the Scootababy with your baby around 4-6 months. The baby needs to be able to straddle the user's torso (like other SSCs, the Scootababy has a wide base). I was able to get Gracie into it at three months old, but she was too short to see over the carrier, so that's another consideration in terms of when you can start using this carrier. We often recommend this carrier to parents who come in looking for a carrier that allows them to wear their child in a forward-facing position, some babies simply like to see more than what a typical SSC allows. By wearing your baby on the hip, you allow him a better vantage point in a manner that is more comfortable than a traditional forward-facing carrier, keeping him in a seated position that follows the natural curve of his spine.

Lastly, functionality and comfort aside, the Scootababy looks good. Audra, the carrier's creator, clearly has an eye for design that goes beyond the current staple of browns and blacks offered by most other SSC manufacturers. Her carriers are made in a range of vibrant prints sure to please both moms and dads -- the new Santorini/khaki combination is a great example of that. If you're in the market for a carrier for your baby aged 4-6 months, I strongly trying on the Scootababy alongside our selection of other great SSCs... you may be surprised by how much you like it!