Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Increasing breastfeeding rates in Canada

Giselle B√ľndchen caught a lot of flack recently for suggesting that all new mothers should be legally obligated to breastfeed for the first six months of a baby's life. While the suggestion that breastfeeding should be legally mandated is admittedly ludicrous, I can appreciate the sentiment behind her suggestion. Breastmilk is best, breastfeeding rates are lower than they should be, what can be done to change that?

I realize that there's a perception that things are 'just fine' with respect to breastfeeding rates in Canada, however, the duration of breastfeeding rates has been declining since 1960:

Recent Canadian statistics show that while almost 75% of mothers begin breastfeeding in hospital, only 60% and 30% are still exclusively breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months, respectively (Health Canada, 1996). By 9 months, only 18% of mothers still breastfed in a Vancouver cohort (Williams et al., 1996). Breastfeeding trends vary across the provinces; rates are higher in the west and drop off from Quebec to the east (Health Canada, 1996). Breastfeeding initiation and maintenance rates increase with increasing education and income levels. This suggests that there are many social factors that influence the method of infant feeding (Health Canada, 1996).

There are a number of things parents-to-be can do to increase the likelihood of a successful breastfeeding relationship, however, it is fair to suggest that more can be done to improve breastfeeding rates. If the Canadian government is going to recommend breastfeeding children until two years of age, it's not outrageous to suggest the government can do more to increase breastfeeding rates across the country.

Introduce information about breastfeeding into the school curriculum. Children need to know what breasts are for. Not all children are exposed to breastfeeding women and babies, introducing the idea of breastfeeding at an early age will help children develop a healthy attitude towards breastfeeding.

Encourage the use of human milk banks. Historically, babies who were not breastfed by their mothers were breastfed by relatives, friends, or hired help. Donated breastmilk is the next best thing to a mother's own breastmilk. Mothers who donate to human milk banks are medically screened, and their breastmilk is pasteurized. There is only one human milk bank in Canada -- why aren't there more?

Make formula available by prescription only. Harsh? Maybe, but it would reinforce the idea that formula should be a last-case resort. Obviously, donated human milk would have to be readily available to make prescription-only formula feasible.

Make lactation consultations a government-funded health service. Lactation consultants typically charge upwards of $70.00 per hour, however, it is money well-spent when you consider the health benefits offered to a mother and her baby by a successful breastfeeding relationship. If mothers need help, financial status should not determine who gets help.

Make ongoing, formal breastfeeding education compulsory for all physicians. I am SHOCKED at the stories I hear from women about incorrect advice received from the medical establishment. Clearly, many doctors are not capable of dispensing medical advice as it relates to a breastfeeding baby, or a lactating mother. Often the first line of defense when breastfeeding problems are encountered, they should be in a position to help, not hamper, the breastfeeding relationship.

As a first-time mother, Giselle B√ľndchen approached the subject with a holier-than-thou self-righteousness we have all been guilty of at some time or other. However, I think her motivation behind making the suggestion was a noble one. A positive attitude towards breastfeeding should not be mistaken as judgement against those who were not able to breastfeed their babies. The next time Ms. Bundchen chooses to speak out in favor of breastfeeding, I hope she chooses her words more carefully.

Monday, August 23, 2010

No washing machine = no cloth diapers?

Occasionally, expecting parents come into the store, and comment that they *can't* use cloth diapers because they don't have laundry facilities in their house or apartment. While I can appreciate these circumstances may make using cloth diapers more challenging, it certainly doesn't make using cloth diapers impossible.

If you don't own a washing machine, you can still use cloth diapers:
  • use a diaper service. Not as cost-effective as buying and washing your own cloth diapers, but certainly a better alternative to disposable diapers.
  • invest in a mini washing machine. The Wonderwash portable washer is suited to washing small loads, making it ideal for washing cloth diapers. With its small footprint, and low pricetag (less than $50.00!), it's a worthwhile investment for anyone who lacks access to laundry facilities.
  • wash your cloth diapers in a laundromat. Sure, it will cost more money than washing cloth diapers in your own washing machine, but you'll still spend far less money than if you were to use disposable diapers. You can offset the cost of a laundromat by buying more cloth diapers, and washing less frequently. If budget is an issue, buy your cloth diapers a few at a time before junior makes his debut, or consider using prefolds. Line-drying your cloth diapers in your home or apartment will also offset the cost of a laundromat, while reducing the time you spend at the laundromat.
  • wash your cloth diapers in someone else's washing machine. Make use of the laundry facilities at a friend's or relative's house. If nothing else, it's a good excuse to visit often -- you do the laundry while Grandma enjoys the extra cuddle time with junior.
  • hand-wash your cloth diapers in the bathtub. Granted, this approach isn't for the faint of heart, but I've hand-washed cloth diapers on vacation, and I lived to speak about it. You can use paper liners or a mini-shower to make dealing with poopy diapers easier, and I would suggest you invest in a pair of rubber gloves, but it's definitely doable.

So there you have it. No washing machine? No problem! Not owning a washing machine is not a barrier to washing clothing (paper clothing, anyone?), there's no reason it should be a barrier to washing cloth diapers. And besides, you can always put the money you save by using cloth diapers towards the purchase of a shiny, new washing machine, right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Woven wraps vs. Stretchy wraps

We have a great selection of slings at both of our stores, however, one type of sling is noticeably absent from our lineup. We have stocked a variety of woven wraps over the years, but we've never had much luck in terms of selling them, not because of the products themselves, but more because of customers' apprehension about what appears to be nothing more than a 'simple piece of cloth'.

Contrary to their basic appearance, woven wraps are probably the most versatile type of baby carrier currently available for sale. Despite other carriers' claims as a front/back/side carrier, woven wraps are the only type of carrier that will allow a parent to carry a baby in all three positions, both safely and comfortably. The Scootababy hip carrier is a close second -- although most soft-structured carriers (SSCs) claim to be suitable for a front/back/hip carry positions, they are really only suited to either a front or back carry. Since its shoulder straps are so narrow, when an SSC is are used for a hip carry, it can be quite uncomfortable because of the pressure placed on the wearer's trapezius muscle.

The most popular carrier we sell for newborns is a stretchy wrap. Although it looks quite similar to a woven wrap, a stretchy wrap is an entirely different beast. Stretchy wraps are less intimidating to new parents because they are tied on first, then the baby is placed into the carrier. The elastic fabric of a stretchy wrap makes this possible -- it is more forgiving than a woven wrap, which requires that a baby is placed into the carrier as the user ties it on. The benefit of being able to tie a carrier on beforehand is that a user can have the carrier ready to go at a moment's notice (immediate satisfaction!). The user can also remove the baby from a stretchy wrap without having to remove the carrier. Poppability (placing a baby in and taking a baby out of a carrier) is important when you're out and about, or if you have a fussy baby. Speed and ease of use aside, being able to tie a stretchy wrap on beforehand (at home before you start running your errands, for example) reduces the likelihood that you'll be tying your wrap on outside in the slush, rain or snow -- a drawback to wraps (both stretchy and woven) is that it's hard to avoid the wrap touching the floor as you tie it on -- better inside than outside, right? Fear not, however, most wraps are manufactured from a cotton or cotton blend, so they are quite easy to care for, simply machine wash and dry as needed.

Both stretchy wraps and woven wraps claim a weight limit of approximately 35 lbs, however, due to the give of a stretchy wrap, a weight limit of 20 lbs is more realistic. I have attempted to wear a baby who weighs 25-30 lbs in a stretchy wrap, only to have them sagging well below my waist after ten minutes in the carrier (not comfortable or practical!). Tying a stretchy wrap tighter will help compensate for a heavier child, but only to a certain degree. A woven wrap, on the other hand, is made from a significantly sturdier fabric. As a result, you can safely and comfortably carry a child who weighs 35 lbs in a good woven wrap. Keep in mind that not all woven wraps are created equal, a thin fabric will create more pressure points than a plusher fabric (anyone who has felt the difference between a Didymos woven wrap and an Ellaroo woven wrap can attest to this!).

Because they are so versatile, woven wraps have a higher learning curve, however, with a little patience and perseverence, it's easy to fall in love with this simple carrier and all it can do. A good wrap will come with clear, easy-to-follow instructions. Alternately, there are lots of great online resources that offer both written and video instructions. We often refer customers to Wear Your Baby, a fabulous website that provides instructions based on age, position, and type of carrier. If you are nervous when you start using your woven wrap, it's a good idea to wrap your baby over a soft surface, like a bed, for example, or to have a spotter close by, particularly when you are learning back carries.

While stretchy wraps tend to come in a one-size-fits-all format, woven wraps are often sized. Different ties require different lengths of fabric. A rucksack back carry requires significantly less length than a front wrap cross carry, for example. Aside from position, the user's frame also determines which size woven wrap is appropriate -- when in doubt, size up. You can make something bigger, smaller, but you can't make something smaller, bigger (I'm talking about wraps, get your dirty minds out of the gutter!).

In terms of cost, stretchy wraps usually cost less than most woven wraps, priced anywhere from $50.00 - $80.00. Woven wraps tend to cost upwards of $100.00, however, when you consider the longterm use of a woven wrap (you can comfortably expect to use a quality woven wrap for three or more years) compared to the short-term use of a stretchy wrap (typically 4-6 months), it's a worthwhile investment. If you want a woven wrap, but you can't justify its cost, you can always DIY, although it's important to note that woven wraps are typically manufactured from a fabric that has been woven specifically for that purpose, you will not likely be able to duplicate the comfort of a Didymos with fabric purchased at Fabricland -- sad, but true.

I will fully admit that before using a woven wrap myself, I regarded them with disdain. Like most people, I couldn't see past the meters of fabric before me until I actually tried a woven wrap on. The more comfortable I became using a woven wrap, the more enthusiastic I became about this 'simple piece of cloth'. Anyone who has had the pleasure of using a quality woven wrap will certainly agree with me -- it's not uncommon for 'wrappers' to own more than one! We've had many requests to stock a woven wrap again at both stores, and thanks to some gentle prodding from the fabulous Annie at PhD in Parenting, we're going to take the plunge again and bring back woven wraps to The Extraordinary Baby Shoppe. We want you to feel the woven wrap love too!

Friday, August 6, 2010

My brush with celebrity...

When I went to Las Vegas earlier this week, I had a few goals, a bucket list of sorts. While I didn't drink a yard of margarita (easier said than done), and I didn't wear any makeup (apparently, applying makeup is not like riding a bicycle, you will forget how!), I am happy to report that I met a real-life, bonafide celebrity (I also didn't have to wipe anyone else's poopy bum, clearly worth noting!). On the flight back from Vegas to Toronto, I was seated next to Arlene Dickinson. Not this Arlene Dickinson, or this Arlene Dickinson, but *this* Arlene Dickinson. From Dragon's Den. I know, right?

I spotted her in the waiting area before we boarded the flight, her telltale streak gave her away. She's sporting a new, shorter 'do (it looks great!), I pulled out my laptop to confirm it was her (Google to the rescue, again), I was satisfied just knowing that I could cross that Vegas goal off my list. I sent a text message to my brother and his wife (they were flying home on a different airline, so they were seated in another terminal), since I'm so crap at texting, I was only able to muster "arlene is on my plane" before collapsing from exhaustion (am I the only person in the world who finds texting taxing?). The thought that she could be seated next to me briefly crossed my mind, but I quickly dismissed it, I mean, what are the odds?

Turns out, the odds are very good that when you're seated in executive class, you may be seated next to someone famous! When I got to my row, and looked down at my new travel partner, I didn't flinch on the outside, but on the inside, I was going ballistic (OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!). I casually pulled out my phone to text my brother and his wife, but since I'm so crap at texting, I gave up on that idea immediately, I didn't want to bother Arlene Dickinson with my furious pecking (seriously, I am *that* bad at texting!). I'm pretty certain the flight attendant also knew who she was, at one point, we shot each other a knowing look. I did my best to ignore Arlene Dickinson, I didn't want to bother her. In short, I tried my hardest to be the best travel partner Arlene Dickinson had ever had.

I had big plans to take advantage of the perks of travelling executive class (it's a pretty sweet gig, quite frankly), but in the interest of not disturbing my new travel partner, I politely declined the alcohol, chips, and hot breakfast that Air Canada tried to ply me with. I was on my best behaviour! At one point, my nose started to run, I went into a panic, I didn't want to waken Arlene Dickinson with my sniffles, so I willed the snot back into my head. Do you know how hard it is to will snot back up your nose, and into your sinus cavities? It's very hard! I tried my best to fall asleep, however, the buzz of sitting next to a celebrity (CBC royalty, if you will) was a powerful stimulant, and I spent approximately 3.5 hours in a constant state of giddyness.

My husband and I are serious Dragon's Den (and Shark Tank) fans, we never miss an episode. Of course, I had all these ideas in my head as to what I would say to a real life Dragon if I ever met a real life Dragon, as it turns out, what you think you might say and what you actually say are two completely different things! As we were about to begin our descent, when I was sure she was awake, I turned to Arlene Dickinson and blurted out "I can't let this flight end without telling you my husband and I are *huge* Dragon's Den fans, we love your show!". She asked me if I was in Vegas on business or pleasure, and I sheepishly replied "pleasure" because I was terrified (terrified!) to admit to her I was self-employed, and attending a tradeshow. We exchanged some friendly chit chat, I'm glad I plucked up the nerve to talk to her at the end of the flight.

Now that I've had a couple of days to reflect on my brush with celebrity, I've come to the following realizations:

  • there is never a good time to eat a bunch of roasted garlic cloves (my pre-flight meal). Never!
  • although it tastes really good, watermelon flavoured gum does nothing to cover up the stench of roasted garlic cloves. Nothing!
  • I would probably suck at being on Dragon's Den. Unless you like awkward pauses, stilted conversation, and nervous laughter, in which case I'd be *awesome*!
  • unless you meet Hannah Montana, or Selena Gomez, or some other young, bubbly Disney star, your nine year old daughter will not care. She will. Not. Care.
  • it is very frustrating when you're super-excited about something, and your nine year old daughter is not. Very. Frustrating.
  • nine year old daughters cannot fake excitement. They won't even try.
  • if I'm ever seated next to George Clooney on a flight, I will probably explode. For all parties involved, let's hope that never happens!

I'm fairly certain my family (especially my nine year old daughter) is sick of hearing about Arlene Dickinson. With this brush with celebrity under my belt, if I'm fortunate enough to be in the same position again, I will be better-prepared. At the very least, I will have extra-strength breathmints in my purse!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

SkyMall: the mall in the sky!

On my way to Las Vegas yesterday, I killed over an hour flipping through the SkyMall catalogue. Twice. If you're not familiar with it already, SkyMall is a shopping magazine located in the seat pocket that also houses the plane's safety instructions. It's like a mall in the sky... genius! The catalogue offers an eclectic mix of goodies (health meets home meets high-tech gadgets meets pet gizmos, and more!). There are so many items for sale, you can't not browse through it more than once.

There were a few items that caught my eye, in no particular order, here are my top ten must-haves from the SkyMall catalogue:

  1. Face Trainer - Also known as the "Not tonight, honey, I've got a headache" mask.
  2. Foot Alignment Socks - Also known as the "Not tonight, honey, I've got a headache" socks.
  3. Pet Crate End Table - Why, just the other day, I was looking at my end table and thinking "Stupid end table. Why can't you do anything else?" Problem solved!
  4. Brobdingnagian Sports Chair - Perfect for Bluesfest, dontcha think?
  5. Zombie of Montclaire Moors - For the horticulturalist in your life who already has everything.
  6. iHome Radio Spy Hidden Camera - For the pervert in your life who already has everything.
  7. Wrist Cell Phone Carrier - Never lose your cell phone again, and look cool while you're at it.
  8. SkyRest Travel Pillow - Because it wouldn't be awkward to sit next to this guy. Not awkward at all!
  9. Brightfeet Lighted Slippers - Why should toddlers have all the fun?
  10. Roll-up Electric Piano - Because idle hands are the devil's workshop!