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.