Monday, May 24, 2010

Have sling, will travel!

As we head into summer, I know many families, including our own, are planning vacations. We'll be heading down to NYC in August with the kids, I'm so (so!) very excited about this trip, I've never been before! I want to go for a picnic to Central Park, I want to take the subway, I want to go up to the top of the Empire State building... there's a lot I want to do! Obviously, I haven't started packing yet, but there's one thing I know I'll be packing, my Manduca (currently, my favourite carrier for Grace). One of the many (many!) benefits of babywearing is the portability it affords parents, and the inclusion it offers babies. As handy as these benefits are in day-to-day life, they are even more appreciated when families are on vacation.

Despite having four children, we have still managed to travel here and there over the past few years, relying on an assortment of carriers to tote our little ones around with us. From the cobblestone streets of old Quebec City, to the escalators of Las Vegas, to the steep walk down to Hanauma Bay in Hawaii (free travel advice: pay the $2.00 to take the bus back up, it will be the best $2.00 you ever spend!), our baby carriers have proven invaluable, ensuring our kids enjoyed the sights as much as we did.

At the start of our vacations, we have appreciated the hands-free aspect of babywearing, sporting a little one on my back ensured my hands were free to hold our other childrens' hands, or to give my husband a helping hand with our luggage (OK, so maybe I mostly just held the other kids' hands, but still, that's equally as important!). We also avoided the hassle of packing an oversized piece of equipment that's proves cumbersome when using public tranpsortation.

Once we were actually on vacation, our little ones were guaranteed a great view, their perch in a baby carrier offering them a bird's eye view of what's going on. Because of the portability of babywearing, we were able to do a lot more with our babies in carriers than if they had been in strollers -from the top of Mont Tremblant to the belly of a Tall Ship in Halifax Harbour, our kids have been a part of everything we do on vacation (except bike-riding, that goes without saying!).

Over the years, I have amassed many pictures of the kids in various carriers, the pictures taken on our vacations are especially dear because of the memories they evoke. Even though the kids likely won't remember their time in a carrier, babywearing will be something I look back on with fondness.

In the course of chatting with our customers, I know many of you have worn your babies all over the world -- in recent months, I've heard about your trips to France, New Zealand, Hawaii, and more. E-mail me a 'babywearing on vacation' picture, let me know where you went, and what you did with your baby in a carrier, it will be posted to our Facebook group for everyone to enjoy. The picture that gets the most 'likes' (comments don't count, but they're always welcome!) will win a gift certificate for the retail value of the pictured carrier, and one lucky 'liker' of the winning picture will win the same carrier. As a result, only pictures showing carriers currently sold (but not necessarily purchased) at The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe (that's me!) can be posted, we can't give away what we don't sell! So if the winning picture features someone wearing a Sleepy Wrap, that person will receive a $50.00 gift certificate, and one of the 'likers' (chosen randomly) of the winning picture will win an actual Sleepy Wrap. Get it? Got it? Good!

Pictures can be submitted until June 26th, 2010, winners will be posted to this blog on July 3rd at 9pm sharp!

ETA: Okay, since you're all sending me such lovely pics that show carriers I can't give away, I'm going to add a twist to the giveaway -- I will gladly post pics that feature carriers that can't be purchased (or given away) at The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe (that's me!). These pics will be clearly labelled, the pic in this category with the most 'likes' gets a $25.00 gift certificate. Get it? Got it? Good!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Disposable diapers: fact vs. myth

This post is part of the Real Diaper Facts carnival hosted by Real Diaper Events, the official blog of the Real Diaper Association, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to cloth diaper education. Participants were asked to write about diaper lies and real diaper facts. See the list at the bottom of this post to read the rest of the carnival entries.

It would seem the giant corporations behind Pampers and Huggies brand single-use diapers are starting to take notice of the cloth diaper movement, and it's potential impact on their bottom line. In an effort to assuage parents' guilt over choosing to use disposable diapers over their superior reusable counterparts, Pampers have published a list of supposed 'myths & facts' about diapers. Check out their dumb-ass list (I can say that, right?).

Myth #1: Cloth diapers are better for my baby.

Fact: Disposable diapers like Pampers were developed to offer babies benefits that cloth diapers could not meet. That goes beyond convenience to helping keep babies' skin dryer and more comfortable by reducing leaks and locking wetness inside the diaper in a way that cloth doesn't. As a result, doctors and parents simply don't see the same level of diaper rash that used to exist before disposable diapers.

Pampers diapers were developed in 1961. I think it's fair to say that cloth diapers have evolved since then, wouldn't you? If you want a diaper that keeps your baby dry, buy a pocket diaper, or line your cloth diaper with a piece of fleece. If you want a more absorbent diaper, buy a hemp or a bamboo diaper, or add a doubler to your cloth diaper. It's not exactly rocket science. If 'stays dry' and 'absorbs lots' are all they've got to hang their hat on, it's no wonder disposable diaper companies are looking over their shoulder.

If you want to ensure your baby's skin stays rash-free, change your baby on a regular basis. Regardless of whether you're using cloth diapers or disposable diapers, babies should be changed every 2-3 hours. The 'super absorption' nature of disposable diapers is actually counter-productive to this advice, super-absorbent diapers encourage parents to leave their babies sitting in a soiled diaper for longer than they should.

Myth #2: Cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposables.

Fact: In October 2008, the United Kingdom's Environment Agency published an update to its 2005 Life Cycle Assessment study on cloth versus disposable diapers. The update confirmed the earlier study's findings that there is no clear winner in terms of environmental impacts between disposable and cloth diapers in the U.K., once all factors such as water, energy, detergent, and disposal are considered.

Leave it to the disposable diaper manufacturers to find evidence to back up their claims, even if they have to rely on flawed and/or outdated studies. Yes, this particular study fits nicely with their "oh hey, we're not so bad" assurances, however, a closer look at the facts illustrates a host of flaws with this particular study's findings. If using water, energy and detergent to wash cloth diapers are a valid reason to use disposable diapers instead, we should all be wearing paper clothing following that logic. When washing cloth diapers, there are lots of ways to reduce the environmental impact of the resulting laundry:

  • buy enough cloth diapers so that you wash a full load every time (if you buy 24-30 diapers, you'll be washing every 2-3 days for a newborn, or every 3-4 days for an older baby).
  • wash your diapers in a high-efficiency machine
  • wash your diapers in cold water
  • wash your diapers in a natural laundry degergent
  • line-dry your diapers

When you use cloth diapers, *you* control the variables!

Myth #3: Developing countries prove that cloth diapers are better than disposable diapers.

Fact: Our product provides key benefits in terms of skin health, dryness, and even sleep. In China, for example, we've learned that babies and parents are frequently awakened during the night each time the baby soaks the bed, because the baby has no diaper or a very thin piece of cloth. As a result, studies have shown that a disposable diaper can help a baby there get a better night's sleep. In another test, we have also seen less fecal contamination spread around the home using disposables versus cloth or nothing. Clearly, we have a lot to learn about how to help with basic hygiene needs in countries that have very different access to clean water to wash with, and how to best dispose of products after use. We've also learned about hygiene for older children through our Always feminine care business – where in many parts of the world girls are forced to miss school one week each month during their period because they don't have enough pads or fresh water.

We are working in those regions to better understand what they do with products after use, and how to work with local agencies and other businesses to ensure the best long-term system to manage it.

Are they for real? If they're so confident that using disposable diapers results in better sleeping habits, they should back it up with a money-back guarantee, do they? I didn't think so. Cloth diapers are more effective than disposable diapers at night because you can adapt them to suit your baby's needs.

Regarding the use of China as an example to make assumptions about night-time diapering, Pampers should consider how cultural differences in potty training may account for how babies are diapered (and therefore sleep) at night. Traditionally, Chinese parents have not relied on diapers as a means to deal with their babies' elimination needs, instead pottying their babies from birth. The practice of elimination communication is a wonderful way to faciliate early potty learning, and it's steadily gaining acceptance throughout North America. Parents in China may choose to use not to use diapers at night because they don't need to. Babies who are pottied through the night may wake more frequently as a response to their own need to void. Yes, early infant pottying (like any potty training) results in accidents, but you clean them up, and you move on.

Suggesting that using cloth diapers is somehow less hygienic than using disposable diapers is simply false. Wash your hands when you're finished changing a diaper, store your dirty diapers in a leak-proof bag or pail, and wipe down your baby's changing surface on a regular basis to guarantee good hygiene (yes, it really is that easy).

Myth #4: Disposable diapers are harmful to the environment.

Fact: All of the component materials in Pampers diapers are gentle to consumers and safe for the environment. Pampers diapers are made of materials that are also frequently used in a wide range of other consumer products. We are committed to continuing to reduce our environmental impact. For example, Pampers has decreased its diaper weight by one-third and packaging weight by two-thirds. And innovative technologies, raw materials, and product design improvements have led to significant reductions in energy, water use, emissions, and waste at our plants. We are working so that our diapers in the future will have less impact on the environment than even today's diapers.

In terms of the safety of the chemicals used in disposable diapers, that's a matter of debate. Disposable diapers contain a number of questionable substances, they haven't been used long enough to fully understand the potential risk of putting those chemical substances into contact with baby's genitalia (you know, that part of the body responsible for procreation -- a pretty important part of the body, if you ask me!).

What resources are used to keep a baby in disposable diapers for one year?

  • 300+ pounds of wood

  • 50 pounds of petroleum feedstocks

  • 20 pounds of chlorine

The fact that other products also waste our natural resources hardly justifies the environmental impact of disposable diapers. Considering the recent catastrophic oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, we should all be more cognizent of how we contribute to the overall health of the planet. Every single thing we do affects the environment.

Resource consumption aside, using disposable diapers places a significant burden on our landfills, approximately 4 million disposable diapers are tossed every day in Canada alone, these diapers take anywhere from 250 to 500 years to decompose. I have cloth diapered four children using mostly the same set of diapers. When we're finished using our cloth diapers, what is in decent shape will be given away to someone else who can use them, the rest of our stash will fit easily into one (one!) garbage bag. Imagine how many garbage bags would be used to contain the 32,000+ disposable diapers we would have used had we gone that route!

Myth #5: The materials that make up Pampers diapers are depleting our forests.

Fact: The pulp used in our diapers comes from well-managed forests in North America. In some cases, we source our pulp from scrap wood chips from lumber and saw mills. Our pulp suppliers are required to be certified by an independent third party as practicing sustainable forestry. Certification includes standards and criteria for replanting trees, protecting biodiversity, water, air and soil, and for obtaining broad stakeholder input into the forest management plan.

OK, maybe, but Pampers contain a lot more than pulp, don't they? If Pampers is going to pay lip service to the trees cut down to make disposable diapers (approximately 4.5 trees per baby), they should also talk about the rest of the resources used in the production of disposable diapers. It's awfully convenient how they can pick and choose the information they want consumers to have, however, it's the only way they can make a case for their product.

Pampers wants people to believe their diapers have minimal impact on the environment, but anyone with an ounce of common sense can see through these outrageous claims. Pampers provides zero accountability in terms of facts to back up these statements, I questioned a representative from Kimberly-Clark about statements provided to a local newspaper for a recent article about cloth diapers, and I was told the 'competitive nature' of the diaper industry prevents them from disclosing details about company-sponsored studies (how incredibly convenient for them!). We all want the same things for our babies, we want them to be safe and healthy. Using cloth diapers will keep your little one clean and comfortable, they are just as good (if not better) than using disposable diapers.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The top 10 things I have to look forward to.

Now that my uterus has been forced into early retirement, I've been thinking about the things I have to look forward to as our kids get older. Aside from the obvious (no more sleepless nights, no more diapers, no more toddler tantrums, lots of wild weekends in Vegas...), there are quite a few perks I hadn't considered before. So here they are, in no particular order!

1) Not wiping someone else's shitty ass (pardon my French). When your little one is out of diapers, you still have *that* to look forward to. Owen has been out of diapers for just over three years, and I still have to take care of business down there on a regular basis. It's a mystery to me how much toilet paper he can use, and still be no further ahead (is he wiping his forehead?). I'm worried I'll send him off to University lacking that one critical skill -- best of luck to his roommate, he'll need it!

2) Less peeing *around* the toilet, and more peeing *in* the toilet -- close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades!

3) Living with people who chew with their mouth shut. It's like I mated with the Cookie Monster.

4) Not sweeping the kitchen floor eleventy million times a day. I have a feeling that when #3 is achieved, #4 will shortly follow suit.

5) Giving the kids chores. I didn't birth a child army for nuttin'!

6) No more tiny baby socks. I love tiny baby feet, and tiny baby toes, but they make doing laundry a bitch.

7) No one will say "*It* wasn't me." Or "I didn't mean to do *it*." Or "*It* wasn't my fault." Or "She made me do *it*." Or multiple variations thereof. Hopefully one day, they'll just say "Sorry." (or just stop doing *it*, a girl can dream, right?).

8) No more maternity underwear. Yes, I gave birth to Grace almost two years ago, but I can't help it, underwear the size of a flag is surprisingly comfortable, and as I like to point out to my husband (over and over again), "You're not going anywhere." But it's time to let go, isn't it?

9) Regaining my figure. Lost: one waist. Have you seen it? Neither have I, not for a decade at least. I'll do what I can and leave the rest of it up to Spanx (it'll be our secret, right?).

10) Grandchildren. Is it too soon to start thinking about that?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I can breastfeed here or there, I can breastfeed anywhere!

If you're local to Ottawa, you may be aware that a breastfeeding mother was recently asked to cover-up as she nursed her infant pool-side at the St. Laurent Recreation Complex. The city of Ottawa was quick to offer an apology to the mother, the lifeguard who asked the mother to be discrete did so without consulting any of her superiors or co-workers first. The media has picked up on this incident, and some of the resulting comments have been unsettling, to say the least. Granted, the majority of commenters agree that women have the right to breastfeed in public, however, it's astonishing to see even a few individuals suggesting babies should be fed in bathrooms, some even comparing breastfeeding in public to defecating in public. It's hard to believe that people can be so ignorant, however, an incident like this, and the ensuing coverage, provides a good opportunity to educate the general public about breastfeeding rights.

Women in Canada are allowed to breastfeed anytime, anywhere. This basic right is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under section 15(1) which guarantees equality. In Ontario, the Human Rights Commission covers a woman's right to breastfeed in public:

You have rights as a nursing mother. For example, you have the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from nursing your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to “cover up”, disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more “discreet”.

I have always considered myself fortunate to be a breastfeeding mother in the city of Ottawa. We have access to a number of free breastfeeding drop-ins througout the city, a great resource for moms who need assistance. Going one step further, Ottawa's Breastfeeding Buddies program pairs a new breastfeeding mother with a volunteer who has breastfed for at least six months.

I have breastfed our babies all over the city without encountering a single negative comment, much less a sideways glance. Perhaps the silver lining behind this particular incident is that it provides an opportunity to educate people about their rights. Breastmilk is best, breastfeeding is not offensive. If you don't agree with me, you can suck it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cloth diaper advocacy... you can do it too!

–noun, plural -cies.
the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal: He was known for his advocacy of states' rights.

There is currently a campaign underway to get cloth diapers onto The Ellen Degeneres Show, a daytime talkshow featuring comedian Ellen Degeneres. The goal of Operation Fluffy is to expose the idea of cloth diapering to a wide audience. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind Operation Fluffy, I don't think the campaign itself has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding. Why not, you ask? Quite simply, as nice as Ellen may seem, her daytime show is simply a vehicle for advertising.

Like anything on television, The Ellen Show is designed to fill the space between commercials. Watch any daytime TV show aimed at women, specifically mothers with young children, and you will notice very specific types of commercials. Without knowing what show, or what channel you're watching, I can guarantee you two things:

  1. you will see at least one (likely more) disposable diaper commercial.

  2. you will see no cloth diaper commercial commercials (nada, zip, zero, zilch!).

Fact of the matter is that disposable diapers are big business, the corporations manufacturing disposable diapers have deep, if not bottomless, pockets. Kimberly-Clark just released their Q1 2010 quarterly report, indicating net sales of over 2 billion dollars in their Personal Care business segment, which includes the Huggies brand of disposable diapers. As you can imagine, the advertising budget that accompanies this kind of revenue is monstrous. As a result, a company like Kimberly-Clark carries a lot of clout with respect to product placement on shows like Ellen. Rumor has it that Kimberly-Clark managed to bounce a cloth diaper manufacturer from Ellen's Mother's Day show on May 7th, 'treating' (ick!) studio audience members to a six-month supply of Huggies diapers. The folks behind Operation Fluffy are going to give the campaign another go, however, I think a different approach is warranted. Rather relying on one woman, Ellen Degeneres, to get the word out about cloth diapers, I think a grassroots approach would be more successful, with cloth diaper users advocating for cloth diapers on an individual basis, converting parents one at a time.

I have built my business for the past eight years using this approach, rather than shelling out cash for flashy advertising, I have relied on word-of-mouth to build my customer base. It's thrilling for me when customers come into the store with expecting friends, it's great to see other people showing enthusiasm for cloth diapers. Sooo, if you're as passionate about cloth diapers as I am, and you'd like to help convert the masses (one at a time!) to cloth diapers, there are a few things you can do to lend yourself to the cause:

  • use cloth diapers when you're out & about. Other people will take notice and ask you about them. Grab a few business cards from your favourite cloth diaper retailer (hint, hint) and hand them out if someone asks about your cloth diapers.

  • are you attending a baby shower? Buy an easy-to-use cloth diaper as a gift. Maybe mom-to-be doesn't know how much cloth diapers have improved since the era of pins and rubber pants, getting one into her hands is half the battle.

  • talk to your children about the choices you make as a parent, including your choice to cloth diaper. I used cloth diapers with our first child because I can remember my mother using cloth diapers with my younger brothers. It will take a while to reap the rewards of this approach, but I certainly hope that by the time my own children are parents, people who use disposable diapers will be in the minority.

  • if someone challenges you about your decision to use cloth diapers, challenge them right back! A little healthy debate never hurt anyone, and as we all know, it's easy to make a case for choosing cloth diapers over disposable diapers.

  • contact your local Member of Parliament and suggest that cloth diaper purchases should be subsidized by your local government. A number of municipalities in Quebec already subsidize parents' cloth diaper purchases. It costs money to cart those nasty disposable diapers off to the landfill, they are the third largest single consumer item in landfills. Fact of the matter is that using cloth diapers saves the government money.

  • contact local media outlets and suggest that they run a story about cloth diapers. Your community newspaper or cable channel is always on the hunt for interesting stories.

When they are fully-informed about their choices, most parents will choose to use a diaper that is less expensive, better for their baby's skin, and kinder to the environment. For this reason, disposable diaper manufacturers do not want parents to know they have a choice. These companies simply cannot make an argument in favor of their product based on facts alone, this was clearly obvious when a representative from Kimberly-Clark referred to the results of a 1993 study in a recent article about cloth diapers. Cloth diapers have evolved significantly since 1993, there are several types that boast the same features of disposable diapers, minus the disposable part. Making a sweeping statement about today's cloth diapers based on information that is almost two decades old is intended to mislead consumers.

You don't have to be a cloth diaper manufacturer or a retailer to have a voice, all you have to do is speak up. Slowly but surely, together we can make a difference.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy International Day of the Midwife!

Clearly Hallmark hasn't done their research, because if they had, they'd know that there's a huge market for "Happy International Day of the Midwife" cards. Ok, so the the title of today's celebration could use a little work, it's a little clunky, but still. Women love their midwives, anyone who has enjoyed the privilege of midwifery care can attest to that (can I get a holla?).

Our first two babies were born in a hospital, under OB care. The same doctor followed me for both pregnancies, however, she did not deliver either of my babies. Truth be told, I don't know who delivered Maddy or Hannah. My OB seemed nice enough, my appointments were always quite brief, usually checking my weight and blood pressure. No small talk, no banter, just straight to business. Fair enough, time is money, I get that. When I was pregnant with Maddy and Hannah, I assumed that's how all babies were born, in hospitals under OB care. I didn't realize midwifery care was an option, and I certainly had no idea that babies were born at home on purpose (gasp!).

Maddy's birth was OK, as OK as anything can be that involves squeezing something really big out of something really small, if you catch my drift. Before I continue, I'm going to confess I'm not a birth junkie. Giving birth hurts. And it's extremely messy. And you try not farting when you're trying to squeeze something really big out of something really small. But I'm getting off track here. I happen to really like babies, so I put up with the whole birth thing, it's a means to an end. I had an epidural for both Maddy and Hannah's birth, as it turns out, being numb up to your chin is a great alternative to the pain associated with pushing something really big out of something really small. However, being numb up to your chin isn't so great for the actual act of pushing something really big out of something really small. Maddy was born after about three hours of pushing, Hannah's birth involved pushing for about two hours. Can you imagine how tiring it is to push something really big out of something really small for three hours? It's really tiring.

I became aware of midwife-assisted births after Hannah was born, so when Owen was conceived, I called the Ottawa Midwifery Group. I was extremely fortunate, and I was accepted as a client immediately. This time around, I wanted to know who was going to deliver my baby, and I wanted to avoid the epidural. I'm convinced that not being able to feel what was happening was the reason why I had such a hard time pushing Maddy and Hannah out.

The thing that struck me most about my care under midwives was how friendly they were. Our appointments were not strictly about weight and blood pressure, in fact, they didn't weigh me at all! They asked me if I wanted to be weighed, and I said "no", and that was it. That's how everything went at my appointments, I was presented with options, and given choices. Under the care of my midwives, I felt I was a part of the decision-making process.

When it came time to give birth to Owen, my primary midwife spent about five hours with me before he was born. It was a hot August day, we spent a lot of time on our backyard deck alternating between chatting and throwing up (me, not her). To say I'm not graceful while birthing is an understatement. I was a barfy, moaning, sweaty mess. Through it all, my midwife held my hair out of the way and rubbed my back, never missing a beat. Owen, all almost-ten-pounds of him, was born after twenty minutes of pushing. Since I had been so long without food or drink, Chantal made a point to get me a glass of water and some yogurt, spoon-feeding me as I put our new son to my breast. Her care and compassion in that moment spoke volumes about her motivation for doing what she does. Owen's birth was followed by several home visits, Chantal and Josee came back to weigh Owen, check on my recovery, and ensure breastfeeding was going well. When my six-week postpartum appointment rolled around, like most women, I was sad to say good-bye. After being under their care for nine months, Chantal and Josee were more than care providers, I considered them friends.

Like her brother before her, Grace was born at home under the care of a midwife. Most people, once they've experienced a midwife-attended birth, never look back. We are very fortunate in Ontario, midwifery care is fully covered by OHIP. When friends announce they are TTC or expecting, I am quick to suggest they consider using a midwife. If you are TTC or expecting, I would urge you to do the same. If you're unsure, at least get your name on the waiting list (there will be a waiting list, that's how popular midwives are!). Midwives are trained professionals (four years of university, thankyouverymuch!), they can attend births in a home or a hospital setting. You owe it to yourself and your baby to fully explore your birthing options.