Sunday, 15 March 2015

Chasing Milestones

It’s a dangerous thing, talking to other mums. Without any real reason, my competitive mind turns everything I hear into a developmental target. I know, intellectually, that (within a curve) children develop at very different speeds and with milestones occurring in different sequences (which I find mind boggling, but that’s a matter for a different post). But what I know matters not; what leaps into my head whenever I hear of such an accomplishment is that little Jimmy can pull himself up on the furniture / sing the alphabet / complete quadratic equations and Young Sir can’t.

It’s a daft thing, really – it doesn’t matter (at least so long as we’re still within the curve) and I’m in no hurry to have to staple everything down to protect it from the forces of toddlerhood. And yet, there it is. But still, there goes my brain.

The worst was with food – I’ve read a fair bit about Baby Led Weaning, which is the precocious name used to refer to giving babies bits of food to feed themselves with (in lieu of the puree stage). While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with puree I am exceptionally lazy and this method of feeding my baby seemed to fit well with that. However. The reading I’ve done suggests that it’s best not to start until 6 months of age, when the gut is a bit more developed, whereas babies on puree often start a bit earlier. And so we watched all his peers smearing food goo everywhere with adorable little grins, while we impatiently waited for the opportunity to give him a bit of potato to nom on.

Now I don’t know why it mattered – Young Sir is a champion eater, and puts away an impressive amount of food – but at the time it seemed we were behind, that he might be lacking nutrients or calories or the opportunity to learn table manners (ha!)

Have you had any struggles with keeping up, or are you able to blissfully disengage from competition and enjoy watching your child’s development in its own sweet time?

Friday, 6 March 2015

Cloth Nappy Myths

Having become a bit cocky in my knowledge of cloth nappies (sorry!), I thought I'd bust a few of the myths that seem to hang around about the use and care of modern cloth nappies. I'm all about keeping life as simple as I can, and that definitely applies to nappy care.

I haven't done rigorous testing in a lab, but have done screeds and screeds of reading on various forums, cloth nappy advice websites, manufacturer websites, and probably other places so these are based on my research (and some commonsense).

Happy to be proven wrong but until such a time I am happier to stick with my simple processes and save my energy for playtime. ;-)

You need a special washing powder/liquid
This is slightly true; you should choose a laundry detergent that doesn't contain fabric softeners, as they coat fibres and reduce absorbency. Just check the package in the supermarket - usually the sensitive versions of mainstream detergents are fine, and some others are as well (we use Persil).

You can buy cloth-nappy specific detergents... But often these are weaker than normal detergent and cleaning power is important to me!

You can't use a dryer as it will destroy the PUL
Dryers reduce the life of all fabrics (and are expensive to run), so there is some logic to line drying if you can, but if you don't have a choice / time / warm enough weather the dryer will do the trick - just turn the dryer to low. Note that leaving your nappies on the line for too long can degrade fabric too!

You can't use normal nappy cream
Again, there is a grain of truth here - some nappy creams (ones with a petroleum base) will build up over time and affect the absorbency of your nappies. If you're using this kind of product (e.g. Vaseline, Pawpaw) it's recommended you use a microfleece liner to ensure the gunk doesn't get into the nappy. Sudocrem and other zinc based products may stain slightly, but shouldn't affect absorbency so long as the nappies are washed properly with the right amount of detergent and (ideally) warm water.

You need to change nappies more often
This one I rebel against. While cloth nappies are less absorbent than disposables it's unlikely you'd need the full capacity unless you are seriously negligent (I once tested a Huggies nappy to see how much water it held, and it took over 700ml!), and some cloth nappies can hold 500ml+ which should be plenty.

I'm a believer in the power of troubleshooting if something isn't working - and one of the best things about modern cloth nappies is the huge variety of fabrics and styles, which means plenty of choice. If you're getting leaks and you're not sure how to fix them seek help in a cloth nappy forum as there are lots of tweaks that can help.

I should also note that there are plenty of fabric choices these days which wick moisture away from the baby's skin, so a nappy that is wet (with otherwise good hygiene) is unlikely to cause nappy rash on its own.

(we change Young Sir's nappy about six times a day, which looks to be about average for a baby his age according to sellers of disposable nappies - thought I should put that in here before anyone reports us for negligence!)

Sunlight disinfects nappies
It's true that UV light can disinfect, but the frequency that does this is blocked by the ozone. Sun does help with bleaching out stains (though if you wash well you hopefully won't have much trouble with these) and of course it's cheaper to line dry than use the dryer. But your nappies should be properly clean before hung out, and if there is a bacterial or fungal infection afflicting your wee one best to use a proper laundry treatment like Canestan rather than leaving it up to the sun.

It's really hard work
I guess this is subjective, because we all have different chores we hate... But it's really not that hard. For us, the effort is one extra load of washing every two days, remembering to bring the dirty nappies home from daycare, and emptying soiled ones into the loo (yes, that's the worst part; but no, it's not as bad as you imagine).

It's definitely a bit of extra work, but not that much and we never have to nip down to the supermarket for more nappies, and save on rubbish bin emptying too.

If you use cloth nappies, have you encountered any myths you think need to be loudly and proudly dispelled?

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Stuff you don't need for your new baby

This could be the world's longest list... But don't fret, I'm not going to list every single item you don't need - just address some of the things I think are over-rated. Most things have different values to different people, so even if I didn't find a certain thing useful it might make your life amazing and wonderful and if so you should totally get it!

1. Everything to be brand new
This isn't an item, but I do think we all need to take a deep breath and remember that a bunch of the stuff our babies are spewing and pooping on is only going to be used for five minutes (or, you know, maybe five months or five years) and spending up large on brand new items is not necessary. Sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it doesn't. Check TradeMe before you break out the credit card! Thrifty and eco-friendly, this tip is particularly good for robust larger items like cots (new mattresses are recommended though), high chairs and strollers.

2. A change table
There are a couple of options that can be used in place of a bulky, single-purpose piece of furniture. You can get one of those padded change mats with sides (see above for the sourcing strategy) and put it on top of an existing piece of furniture, like a chest of drawers. Or you can just put something waterproof on the floor. We did the latter, and while it does mean getting down on the ground (so might not work so well if you have a caesarean) it's versatile (a waterproof mat can go anywhere - you can even spring for a couple if it's easier) and doesn't take up much space.

3. Bouncinettes, rockers, swings and hammocks
These all have their uses and babies often love them - but they are by no means essential. We went without any of these, mainly because of space constraints - a different baby could have necessitated one of them but at the very least you can wait until you've met your wee one to make the call.

4. A wardrobe full of newborn clothes
It'd be a good idea to have a few clothes - and mileage varies wildly depending on how big your baby is when he or she is born (premies will get a lot more wear out of the smaller threads - my 3.7kg boy only fit the newborn size for a week or so). But you can stock up after the baby is born - start with a few basics and build up later, once you get a feel for your preferences.

5. Toys
Don't get me wrong, their day will come. But newborn babies are overwhelmed just by being, and (in the small window of awake time they have between feeding and sleeping) will be fascinated by just about anything. Lights! Walls! The pattern on their blanket! Fingers! You get the idea.

What do you think? What "essential" baby items did you do without? Or did you buy anything that then just gathered dust?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Pregnancy weight gain (and subsequent loss)

So here's a topic not that openly discussed, and which causes plenty of grief for lots of us. I'm getting to the end of my battle with weight for this pregnancy, so I've been thinking about it a bit.

The recommended weight gain for a normal pregnancy is 11-16kg. I'm curious though - I haven't been able to find any source for this ideal (if you can point me to info on this please do!), though it sounds reasonable... But most people I've spoken to about it have gained well over this number. I'd love to know what is normal or average!

In the interest of full disclosure, and despite staying very fit and active through my pregnancy, I gained 30kg. Yup, that's double what I should have laid down. I started strong on the hot chips in the first trimester (when you're not supposed to be gaining weight at all because the baby is the size of a poppy seed/lentil/grape), and just kept amping it all the way through.

I knew I was gaining too much, but didn't seem to be able to slow it down - but here's the thing; I've lost almost all of it (29kg - so close!) already. I've been working at it, sure, but I wonder if physiologically I'm just set up this way - it seems easier than it should be. Or maybe it's the breastfeeding. So hard to know. Especially because I haven't been able to find much info on how the ideal range was defined.

I switched midwives mid-pregnancy, mainly because of how my first midwife spoke to me about my weight gain. After telling me early on to relax and not worry about it (I had flagged it as a concern), she suddenly noticed at my 26 week check up that I had gained quite a bit, and gave me a hard time and made me feel pretty awful about it. She also told me (after grilling me on my exercise habits) that I shouldn't be lifting weights anymore and should be easing back on other exercise. At the time I believed her about my weight, but her comments on exercise opposed what I had read at the start of pregnancy (because, unsurprisingly, I didn't want to compromise my baby's health!) and I lost my trust in her.

Emily Oster covered weight gain in her excellent book, Expecting Better - from the data she found her conclusion was that you're probably better to gain too much than too little (complications for little babies are usually more serious than those for big babies).

There are definitely compelling reasons to try to keep the gain to a minimum - gestational diabetes is worth avoiding if you can, and gaining too much is likely to result in your baby being a bit bigger than average. If you're healthy you'll probably have an easier time bouncing back from the birth - not to mention the less you gain the quicker you'll be able to wear your old clothes again!

But overall I can't help but feel that, much as I would have liked to have had a compact little bump and jumped back into my pre-pregnancy jeans, it all seems to have worked out, that there was no need for drama, and perhaps we all need to give ourselves a bit of a break.

What do you think - did you gain more than you would have liked, were you a small-bump person, or do you have another experience you'd like to share? Do you agree with me or am I just trying to justify my chip habit? ;-)

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Work/Life Balance (i.e. rejoining the workforce)

I've been a bit quiet for the last couple of weeks, largely due to my much anticipated return to work. Sorry 'bout that! Thanks for bearing with me while I get my stride.

I think working out the ideal work/life balance for your family is one of those things that is both reasonably unpredictable and also prone to change over time. I guessed that I would relish my full year of parental leave, so had put in leave until June. But once Young Sir was reliably sleeping through the night (don't get me wrong, there are no guarantees, but most of the time he does) it didn't take me long to get itchy feet - I couldn't wait to get back to work.

I still wasn't keen to work full time and have been able to negotiate (until June - then we'll see what happens) to work 20 hours a week, spread over three days. Right now, this seems pretty much perfect to me - I'm really enjoying being back in the working world, but I still get two weekdays at home with my baby, and finish work mid-afternoon on the other days.

I know I'm lucky in the flexibility I have at the moment - though I think employers who refuse flexible working arrangements probably lose out on some great employees... But at the same time I recognise that it's hard for employers to juggle part timers in roles where most folk are full time.

Of course, the ideal for me right now is probably different from your ideal right now - and indeed from my ideal six months from now.

Have you found a balance that works for you and your family? Did it take some tweaking or did you instinctively know what would work? Or do you just make it work?

Friday, 9 January 2015

How to wash modern cloth nappies

There is a lot of talk about how to wash your cloth nappies in internet land, and as with everything on the internet, there's plenty of nonsense mixed into the good advice.

I have recently discovered the Fluff Love University website, which I consider really good advice. It has heaps of really in-depth info about cloth nappy cleaning, along with a well-attended Facebook page offering tailored advice to those with problems. The most frequent problem seems be people using either not enough detergent or detergent that is too weak, which can lead to (among other things) ammonia burn on your baby's bottom from urine building up in the nappies. Severely suboptimal!

Because I wouldn't wish that on any baby (or parent) I thought I'd share our washing routine. This is based on the principles found on the Fluff Love Uni site (though we had this mostly in place before I discovered the site), and works well for us - we have very little nappy rash, our nappies don't stink (unless, uh, they have good reason to) and the process is very easy.

1. Remove excess solids if required. 

I know, ew, but it's important. This is only relevant once your baby is eating actual food, as before then their output is fully water soluble. There are various methods for this; the easiest is using disposable liners, which you can then bin (pro tip from plumbers: don't put these in the toilet if you can help it - can cause blocked drains). Other options include flushing the nappy (or washable liner) in the loo; using a nappy sprayer; or using some kind of scraping tool.

We prefer to do this soon after the nappy change but depending on your preferences and setup you can wait until you're putting the wash on.

Now that we've got the worst bit out of the way...

2. Put nappies in washing machine

This step is easy, especially if you use a bin liner wetbag you can just upend into the machine.

3. Add detergent

Preferably without fabric softeners (as they coat fibres to keep 'em soft, so can inhibit absorbency), but otherwise pick your favourite (or cheapest) supermarket brand. You want your nappies to get clean so a good detergent, and the recommended amount, is important here. Detergent doesn't build up in nappies so don't be shy! If you're worried about cleanliness Persil is the Consumer NZ choice for best laundry detergent.

4. Pre rinse

If your machine can't do this without adding the detergent you might need to reverse these two steps. This step removes most of the soiling from the nappies so that the cleaning step can get a better clean. Some people skip this and have no trouble, but it makes sense to me that a quick rinse first will get better results so we do.

5. Wash 

Ideally you'd do a warm wash but many people have success with cold. We tend to do ours at 40C. Evidently temperatures over 60C can damage PUL (the waterproof stuff) over time so best avoid the 95 degree cycle. Don't skimp on the wash but no need to go overboard either - keep it simple.

Many machines can have the pre-rinse programmed in at the beginning of the wash cycle so that steps 4 and 5 merge together - as if it wasn't already easy enough!

6. Dry

On the clothesline is ideal but inside on a rack or in the dryer is fine too. The sun has magical bleaching powers but its antibacterial abilities are compromised since the UV-C rays you need for that are blocked by the atmosphere (i.e. make sure your nappies are clean before hanging them out - well, duh!).

So that's how we do it - a bit boring but hopefully useful to someone out there wondering if they need to buy fancy-pants cloth nappy "safe" detergent.

Do you have any tips to add?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Naming a baby - first name edition

New Zealand's most popular baby names of 2014 have just been announced by the Department of Internal Affairs, which I always find interesting and particularly so this year, since we contributed to the list.

Naming a baby is a pretty daunting undertaking - it's kind of a long-term decision. We treated it like we do most other things, which is to say, we read all sorts of information and looked at (too much) data and made lists. Not everyone will take our approach but I thought I'd share our thought process.

We wanted a name we both liked
The obvious first! I read somewhere that you never realise how many people you don't like until you try to name a baby. We didn't veto too many this way but it was interesting how easy it was to strike quite a lot of names out immediately as one or the other of us just didn't like it.

We wanted something easy to spell and pronounce
Keeping it simple... But actually we haven't quite succeeded because it turns out that there is another way to pronounce our boy's first name that we weren't aware of until after we'd given it to him. It wouldn't have changed our choice but we thought we were safe on that front!

It had to work with our surname
A friend said to me the best way to test a name was to go to the back door and yell it into the yard a few times. The neighbours might think you're nuts but you'll get to hear how it sounds... And let's be honest, that's about the only time you use middle names, right? We also were keen to avoid awkward initials and I had a weird obsession with the rhythm which, once we'd chosen a short first name, had me seeking a middle name with at least three syllables. I don't know either. I'm weird.

We wanted something that wasn't too popular... Or too rare
Picky, I know. We found a really cool tool called NameVoyager which maps popularity of names over time - it's US data so not quite applicable here but still very interesting. Go and type in your name - you might be surprised at the trends (for example, in the late 1800s Elizabeth was sometimes used as a boys' name). We actually used the graph from this site in our birth announcement. We're nerds.

Closer to home we checked out the DIA name lists, and struck out a few names for popularity.

Though as with any decision where there are too many options one needs some arbitrary conditions to narrow the field, the popularity condition is not really terribly important these days - even the most popular names aren't used by that many people. Young Sir's name comes in at #89 on the DIA list, with 49 other little New Zealanders sharing it with him. Even when added to the longer version of the name (#63) there are still only 121 kids his age in the country with that name, so the chance of one being in his class are pretty slim. Apparently in the US in 1880 25% of boys were given one of the top four names; now it's less than 4%. We're all a whole lot more creative than we used to be!

If you're looking for a baby name sometime soon you might find some of this useful - or you might have a completely different set of criteria. So long as you end up with something that works for your child it doesn't really matter!

If you have kids how did you choose their names?