Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Nursing Story (So Far)

A few years ago, I read and reviewed a book called Breastfeeding: Stories to Inspire and Inform. Ever since then, I've wanted to record my own breastfeeding story someday. My son isn't fully weaned just yet, but here's the story of our journey so far.

Two days old.

I don't think I've ever had anyone ask me outright for the reasons why I choose to breastfeed my baby. Probably a good thing, because the response I would have likely given would have been a flippant "Why wouldn't I breastfeed my baby?"

The main reason is this: my milk is my baby's normal food. Sure, formula milks can be used as an acceptable substitution, but no formula will ever be as perfectly matched to my baby as my own milk. It's not that breastfeeding is superior to formula; breastfeeding is what's biologically normal, so any alternative is simply inferior. (I honestly don't say that to be insulting to moms who formula fed for any reason; it's the simple truth.) Babies who are not breastfed are at higher risk for all kinds of health problems (ear infections, allergies, SIDS, diabetes, and heart disease, to name a few), both as a child and in adulthood. Babies who are not breastfed may not have as high of an IQ. Babies who are breastfed have jaws and palates that are shaped differently than babies who are not breastfed. Babies who are breastfed get extra immune support from mom while their own immune systems develop. And the consistency and exact ingredients of breast milk changes from day to day, hour to hour.

If you ask me, breast milk is pretty magical stuff.

And breastfeeding has benefits for me, too. Thanks to breastfeeding, my menstrual cycle did not return until more than a year after my son was born (it's called lactational amenorrhea). Thanks in part to breastfeeding, I was slowly able to return to my pre-pregnancy weight. Thanks to breastfeeding, I am at lower risk for various types of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.

Aside from all that, formula is crazy expensive (according to some sources, it can cost an average of $170/month). I can't think of any good reason to pay that much for something that I can make myself.


Most of my memories surrounding the birth of my Little Bug are a bit fuzzy by now. Blame all of those fantastic post-birth hormones; I remember feeling bliss and empowerment and awe and a million other wonderful feelings, but not many specific details about the hours immediately following the birth.

I do have a vague recollection, however, of the midwife's apprentice helping me to get Bug latched on for the first time. I remember asking, as every brand new first-time mama surely does, how I would know when he was latched on. I don't remember her exact response, but it was something to the effect of "You'll just know."

And you know what? That's completely true. Or it was in my case, anyway. There's the feeling of a baby nuzzling and licking and snuggling with your nipple, and then there's the definite feeling of a baby latching onto your nipple. It's impossible to miss. I had no idea what it would feel like, but I knew the instant Bug latched on for the first time and started nursing for real. That's one of my favorite memories from Bug's first day.

Before they left, the midwives advised me to let Bug sleep a lot (since birth is hard work for the baby, too!), if he wanted to, but also to try nursing at every opportunity. I followed this advice to the letter. Every time he woke up, I tried to get him to nurse. Every time he merely stirred, even if he didn't fully wake up, I offered my breast. (For the record, if you just snuggle baby up to your breast, there's a good chance he'll start rooting and trying to latch on in his sleep!)

The basic mechanics of breastfeeding are this: supply and demand. Letting your baby nurse on demand, especially in the early days, is essential to developing a solid milk supply and building a good breastfeeding relationship with your baby. If you let your baby nurse every time he asks to, you are telling your body that you have a hungry baby to feed, and it will produce milk accordingly! That's why my midwife advised to feed as often as possible.

Despite good advice, the first few weeks of breastfeeding were difficult for me. I struggled with the fears of inadequate supply that all new moms likely have, and I lived life in a haze from lack of sleep. Looking back, I know I should have gone to bed earlier every night, stayed in bed later when possible, and tried to take more naps when my son was sleeping during the day.

But honestly, that was hard. I wanted to hold my baby all the time, even when he was sleeping. (I secretly suspected that he slept better in my arms anyway!) When I wasn't holding him, I still wanted to just be with him: to watch him sleep, to examine his fingers and toes, to sniff his head (babies are like drugs, I swear!), to listen to the little newborn sounds he was always making. Who wants to sleep when they have a brand new baby? I didn't want to miss anything!

I had plenty of colostrum; my body had been noticeably producing it for weeks. My mature milk came in three days after Little Bug was born. Specifically, when I was in the hospital waiting for my RhoGAM shot. It was pretty sudden. We had been nursing normally all day, and then suddenly I was leaking everywhere! Probably the only time I will ever be thankful for being in a hospital gown, since at least I didn't get my own clothes soggy.

After a few days, breastfeeding began to get painful. Really, really painful. Toe-curlingly painful. I-want-to-breastfeed-but-am-dreading-the-sensation-of-baby-latching-on painful. My nipples cracked, although they did not bleed very much. I used several different kinds of nipple creams and butters, and eventually settled on using lanolin because it was the only thing that seemed to help. I used breast shells to keep my shirt away from my nipples, and to give them plenty of space to dry and heal between nursing sessions. (I also spent a good deal of time completely topless! Thank goodness for family and friends who were comfortable with breastfeeding.)

That pain lasted about six weeks or so; after that, the discomfort began to gradually lessen, and Bug and I began to get the hang of this new skill. While I believe he had a perfectly okay latch (a bad latch is one of the most common causes for breastfeeding pain), I also believe he just had a small mouth and was unable to take in as much breast as he needed to during those early days. I also think that my reliance on using a breastfeeding pillow contributed to the pain, and I know that I didn't practice particularly good posture while nursing (which can also contribute to pain).

A little over 4 months old, and obviously getting plenty to eat.

I bet you probably know at least one person who has "failed" at breastfeeding. Probably more than one. Or maybe you know some people who, for whatever reason, never even tried. It's a sad fact in our society today that all too many women do not succeed in exclusively breastfeeding their baby. Most everyone gets pushed to try and is given lots of information about why breastfeeding is "best" for baby, but there are many cultural and institutional roadblocks along the way.

I encountered my fair share of booby traps, like every new mom probably does.

Support, or Lack Thereof.  In my opinion, being surrounded by people who support your decision to breastfeed is probably one of the best things you can do to ensure success. Arming yourself with all the knowledge you can find about the hows and whys of breastfeeding may not be enough if you encounter serious disapproval from others.

Think about it. You want to breastfeed, but your partner is against it: it's "disgusting," it's unsanitary, your breasts "belong" to them. Or they want to feed baby too. Or they believe breastfeeding should be private, and get uncomfortable whenever you nurse in front of anyone else. (In this last case, they generally mean well, but this perspective can still be damaging. More about that later.)

Or your own parents/grandparents/siblings/friends used formula, and they know nothing else, so they're constantly pressuring you to go that route too. Plus, they can't help you when you have questions, and every time you say anything about problems or discomfort, they respond with "Well, maybe breastfeeding isn't for you. You tried it, but it's not working, so why not just switch to formula?"

Or maybe you're the first of your friends to have a baby. Maybe they have never even thought about the idea of breastfeeding, so they're not necessarily against it, but they don't really understand it either. At the very least, none of them can offer support when you face rough patches.

Or your baby's doctor doesn't know anything about breastfeeding. This is not uncommon, since most pediatricians have had little or no education about breastfeeding. At best, they're ambivalent about it; at worst, they tell you formula is superior, or say you're doing a disservice to others by not letting them feed baby. Or they give you bad advice, like recommending supplementation or using formula at night to "help baby sleep better," or telling you you're "spoiling" baby by feeding on demand rather than trying to schedule meals. Or they tell you baby is not gaining enough weight, because they're using growth charts for formula-fed babies (breastfed babies tend to grow differently). Maybe they offer you formula samples at every well-baby checkup, despite the fact that you have no interest in using it.

I was lucky. I never had anything but support. My husband knew from the beginning that I wanted to breastfeed, and he supported my decision 100%. He got a little squeamish when it came to nursing in public (he's more modest than I am, clearly), but he was always willing to plan outings about nursing sessions. My mama supported me, and she helped me as much as she could during the first few weeks after birth. My in-laws never batted an eye when I nursed in their presence. One of my best friends was exclusively nursing her baby, and she was a great source of information and support about breastfeeding and anything baby-related.

Nursing in Public.  This is a doozy to many people. Some are uncomfortable with the idea of others seeing your breast. Some feel breastfeeding is a private act and should be done in a private space. Some are fine with it so long as you cover up. Some people are disgusted by the entire concept of it and don't hesitate to tell you so should you have the audacity to nurse where they can see you.

The truth, of course, is that nursing a baby in public has nothing to do with what others think and everything to do with meeting baby's needs. Baby needs milk. Or baby needs comfort. Or baby is sleepy, and can't settle down enough without nursing.

It's not a political statement, it's not an act of exhibitionism, and there's certainly nothing sexual about it. Breastfeeding, in public or at home or anywhere, is simply about meeting baby's needs. That's it.

This was generally not a problem for me. I tried using a cover early on, as many new moms do, but Bug hated it, and I kind of did too. (And by cover, I mean a light blanket.) San Diego gets pretty hot, after all, and who wants to sit under a blanket on a hot day to eat? I did my share of nursing in the car (with the A/C on, of course), and I did nurse in a bathroom a few times (but never sitting on a toilet in a stall), but early on we mostly tried to plan for outings right after Bug had nursed so that we could hopefully get an hour or two out before he needed to breastfeed again. And honestly, I was a bit of a homebody for a long time after the birth; we were just more comfortable staying home most of the time, and Bug and I didn't have a car most days anyway. After my husband deployed, I started getting more stir-crazy, and I started slowly getting bolder about nursing my baby wherever we were, whenever he needed it. I got better at getting Bug latched quickly and efficiently, and most of the time there was no skin shown. I also learned to nurse with Bug in the Ergo carrier, which was fun; I wandered around Target or the mall on more than one occasion with a sleepy baby latched on, and no one was ever the wiser!

Eventually, nursing in public became a total non-issue. Bug needed to nurse. So we nursed. Simple as that. I have never once gotten a negative comment about it, and to my knowledge I've never even gotten dirty looks. That's probably a good thing; anyone who had tried to take up arms against me would have gotten quite a tongue-lashing!

I also eventually recognized that simply seeing more women nursing in public helped to normalize it for me, and helped me to become more comfortable with doing so myself. And that made me want to nurse in the open more often too, to help normalize it for others.

As a quick aside, did you know that almost every state in our country protects a woman's right to breastfeed in public? It's a good idea to know what the breastfeeding laws are in your state! Know your rights, and don't let anyone bully you.

"Let me give baby a bottle so that you can sleep/take a break."  Yes, sleep is definitely important to maintaining a solid milk supply. But, as stated earlier, breastfeeding is supply and demand. Every time you skip a feeding and let someone else feed baby, you are essentially telling your body that baby doesn't need milk right now, and eventually your body will start producing less milk to compensate. Ultimately, skipping nursing sessions will hurt your supply, no matter how good intentions are.

Note that I am certainly not advocating against letting others feed your baby, if that's what you want to do. While I firmly believe that there are plenty of other ways for your partner, other family members, and your friends to spend time with baby, if you choose to give your baby a bottle, that's your decision. But you need to pump or manually express your milk at the same time, so that your body knows that baby is still demanding milk.

This was also never really a problem for me. My wonderful husband only offered to get formula for our baby once, and that was early one morning after an exceptionally exhausting night during a growth spurt, a night of near-constant nursing that left me feeling inadequate and near tears from lack of sleep. It was said in the best of intentions, and when I reiterated my dedication to seeing this through, he never suggested it again.

When I was pregnant I had fully intended to buy a breast pump eventually, so that I could express milk and let others feed Bug on occasion. But between my understanding of supply and demand and the knowledge that just nursing was so much easier, I decided not to spend the money and just keep on with what I was doing.

Nine months old. This is the only picture I have of me breastfeeding Bug.

In all honesty, the pain in the early days was the biggest issue I had with nursing. I had dealt with engorgement in the days after my mature milk appeared, which was extremely uncomfortable, although I managed okay with frequent nursing and occasionally hand expressing a little in the bath. I had a few clogged ducts along the way, but thankfully never dealt with full-blown mastitis. Cluster nursing was hard, when he was going through growth spurts or sick or hitting his "wonder weeks," but also manageable. I did get one milk blister, sometime around Bug's second birthday, strangely, which almost inspired me to wean on the spot until I figured out what it was and took steps to make it go away.

Considering the things I know my friends have gone through, I realize I have gotten off very lightly. I am very grateful that breastfeeding has gone so smoothly for me overall.


The process of weaning starts as soon as you begin feeding your baby food other than mama milk (or formula). For us, that started somewhere around Bug's six-month mark. I honestly don't remember what his first solid food was, but I do know he wasn't particularly interested.

I have already written about how baby-led weaning worked for us, so here I'll just say that Bug honestly wasn't interested in solids until well after his first birthday, although I did valiantly offer them to him every day starting at around 7 months. Sure, he ate a few bites here and there, but breast milk was definitely still the primary source of nutrients for him.

After his first birthday, he started eating more solids, but he was still nursing every 2-4 hours around the clock. Shortly before his second birthday, he seemed to finally be eating more solids than breast milk.

But oh, the night nursing continued. Some people may accuse me of being crazy for "allowing" this, but Bug continued waking every 2-4 hours at night, every night, to nurse. Many people don't realize that this is actually well within the spectrum of normal nighttime behavior for babies and toddlers. I was committed to parenting on my own terms, based on intuition and what's actually evidence-based, and in this case, that meant nursing completely on demand, night as well as day. Some nights, I got lucky and got a 5 or 6 hour stretch of sleep, but those nights were rare. (And even when he slept longer, I still woke up out of habit. Oh, the joys of motherhood.)

These continued night wakings made life a little harder in some ways, but I just adapted my sleep schedule and went with it. I went to bed early, usually by 9:00 P.M., sometimes shortly after Bug went to sleep. I frequently took naps with him during the day. (You don't even want to know how little housework I got done for the first year of my son's life.) We bedshared for a long time, which made night nursing easier. While I never developed the skill of sleeping while Bug was actively nursing, there was something to be said for letting him drift off to sleep while nursing, and then to just have to unlatch him before I could drift back off myself.

Shortly after his second birthday, I made the decision to partially night-wean him. Originally, I had intended to fully night-wean him, but soon decided he wasn't ready for that. After a few very unhappy nights (during which I stayed next to him, rubbing his back and singing quietly and offering many kisses), Bug started consistently sleeping for a 7+ hour stretch at the beginning of every night, although he continued waking up around 3:00 or 4:00 A.M. for a quick nursing session. I am completely okay with this. Just having that one long stretch of sleep is doing wonders for me, and at this point I am content to let him give up that last night nurse whenever he is ready.

I know lots of people will think I'm nuts to be still nursing my son at night. To each her own, I guess. In all honesty, I'm pretty sure that night nursing is the reason why we are still breastfeeding at all right now. After we mostly night-weaned, my supply diminished dramatically. I am still making milk, but not nearly as much now that the demand has dropped so significantly.

And by this time, his daytime feedings had already been reduced to just before and after sleeping, with maybe the occasional mid-morning nursing session. After factoring in partial night weaning, we were nursing just a handful of times every day.

A month or so past his first birthday, milk drunk and passed out.

I remember reading once in a blog post or article or something about full term breastfeeding, that many mothers never plan to keep nursing as long as they have. They simply "fell into it."

For me, that is so true.

Here it is, plain and simple. My son is coming up on his third birthday, and he is still nursing. Not a lot, generally only a few times per day, but he is still nursing. And he doesn't seem likely to quit completely anytime soon.

And I'm okay with that.

For me, breastfeeding started out as a day-to-day thing. I wanted to breastfeed, but it was so painful that I just kept pushing to go for one more day, one more day. Then it got less painful, and I was determined to make it to six months of exclusive nursing, as is the recommendation by pretty much every organization that supports breastfeeding. At six months, I aimed for a year of breastfeeding (with the addition of other food on the side), which is the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (and one of the requirements for becoming certified as a natural childbirth instructor with Birth Boot Camp, which I was at one point in time). At Bug's first birthday, I set my sights on two years, which is what the World Health Organization recommends. And once we reached that mark, I just decided to let the process run its course.

So we're still nursing. Not sure for how much longer, but I'm not worried about putting a deadline on it. Bug will stop when he's ready to.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Non-Toy Gifts for Toddlers

Christmas is almost here... and the toys are creeping in. I freely admit to being guilty in this: D and I bought Bug a train table as his "big present" this year. In my defense, this is the first year that we're really celebrating the holidays since Bug was born, because this is the first year he's old enough to understand (kind of) what's going on, and the first year he can appreciate the family time, the feasting, and, of course, the abundance of gifts.

He's not getting a ton from us. He's getting the train table, and two new sets of pajamas (I made pajama pants for everyone this year!), and a new box of crayons. He's gotten a handful of new holiday books over the past few weeks. I intend to pick up a few more small "stocking stuffer" type of gifts, even though I don't think I'm going to bother with actual stockings this year.

But that's just from us. And we're not the only ones who are giving him gifts.

Bug's grandparents, of course, are sending gifts, primarily toys as far as I know. His great aunt and uncle sent some kind of toy. One of my best friends down here in San Diego is giving him a toy, and one of my best friends from the Bay Area is sending him a toy. I think the mom of one of my other best friends might be sending him something (probably a toy).

All in all, Bug is making out like a bandit this year.

And he already has too many toys, as far as I'm concerned. Not that I'm not mostly guilty for that. I know I buy him too many toys, and I lament that he has so many even when I'm buying him something new. I've got a problem, one that many parents can identify with, but a problem all the same. Come January, I plan to divide all of his toys into thirds and start rotating them in and out, both to reduce the clutter in our living room and to hopefully entice him to actually play more with the toys he does have.

I'm pretty sure most of my mama friends also feel their kids have too many toys. We complain about how they're everywhere, underfoot and in the bathroom and in the car and sometimes in unexpected places like the fridge.

And yet, when the holidays or a birthday comes around, we all do the same thing and just buy more. For our own kid, and for each others' kids.

But if I don't buy toys, then what the heck do I buy?

Well, I have been thinking about that. And let me just say here and now that I'm going to try to make a concerted effort to buy less toys, both for my son and for the children of my friends. Instead, I'm going to try to start focusing more on buying things that are not toys.

Things like...

Didn't you know that books are the best gift ever? A child can easily have too many toys, but one can never, ever have too many books. To be honest, I already tend to gravitate toward books when shopping for birthday presents for the little ones in my life. Babies and toddlers love being read to. And I know I, at least, love reading to my toddler. (Well, most of the time. There are times when I get tired of reading the same book over and over and over again, but that's a rant for another day.) I can only hope that by being constantly surrounded by books, Bug will grow up to love them as much as I do.

     Arts & Crafts Supplies!
The last few times we have seen my in-laws, my mother-in-law has brought little craft projects to do with Bug. They're always simple, low-cost, and create relatively little mess, using just things like construction paper, glue sticks (something he never gets to play with otherwise at this age), stickers, etc. And Bug loves them. The allure of art projects can be clearly felt at even the tender age of not-quite-3, and these little projects keep him entertained for awhile (and out of my hair!) while giving him a chance to bond with grandma. And they always inspire me to come up with my own projects to do with Bug, giving me a chance to get in on that bonding opportunity.

So why not put together a little craft project for the toddler in your life? The Internet is full of ideas, and you can easily put together a little package that they can enjoy with some supervision from a parent. Put together a felt Christmas tree that mama (or papa) can hang and toddler can decorate (and redecorate, and redecorate, and lose the ornaments, and find the ornaments in unexpected places, and hang the ornaments in the real tree, and then ultimately redecorate the felt tree a few more times). Send a bag of popcorn and a spool of thread for popcorn garlands (and remember that simply making popcorn on the stove is a great way to entertain a toddler). Send red construction paper and a bag of cotton balls for making a Santa hat. Send flour and salt for making salt dough Christmas tree ornaments. Send a jar with the dry ingredients for your favorite cookie or brownie recipe, along with a list of other (wet/perishable) ingredients needed and step-by-step instructions. And those are just holiday craft ideas. Go get lost on Pinterest and find a myriad of other ideas for the rest of the year!

And what if that's a little too crafty for you? Well, I can't speak for every mama of every toddler, but I know that in my house a gift of basic art supplies can never go wrong. A blank coloring pad and a brand new box of crayons will keep Bug busy for a long time. Throw in some stickers and he (and I) will be eternally grateful.

     Playtime Activity Book!
This kind of ties together the first two ideas. I am currently reading/reviewing a couple of different books that are are full of projects that will occupy little ones of all ages (including toddlers, of course). There are recipes for various play doughs, slimy things, homemade paints, sensory activities, and more. There are plenty of similar books on the market; why not pick one of them up and pack it in a box with the ingredients necessary for a handful of the projects in the book? This is win-win for everyone: toddler stays busy, and mama doesn't have to make an extra trip to the store.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post. I just wanted to show off one of Bug's early presents from his grandma.

The most obvious thought here is a magazine subscription. Bug already receives Highlights High Five magazine, and I can't even describe to you how excited he gets every time a new issue arrives in the mail. We end up reading it over and over and over again, and we frequently go back and reread past issues that are still floating around too. Ranger Rick offers a kid's magazine too, albeit one that's geared towards kids a little older than Bug, and I'm sure there are other options out there too.

Or maybe consider one of those subscription box ideas that are so popular these days. Kiwi Crate offers a great monthly craft box, GiftLit offers a book-a-month club, Green Kids Crafts features educational activities. There are, of course, plenty that offer toys too, and those ones listed here are just a small sampling of the subscription boxes available! If kids delight in getting a magazine, I can only imagine how much more he'd love getting a package every month.

     Kitchen Tools!
Put that toddler to work! No, I'm serious. Bug loves to help in the kitchen, and is constantly asking to bake things or stir things. Most of the time, he is just fine working with my regular kitchen tools, but there are some things that I kind of wish I had in a toddler-friendly size. I'm not talking about toys here; I want to get my son some actual, usable kitchen tools. On my mental list are ones like those offered by Curious Chef, which are available from their website and on Amazon. Think kid-size mixing spoons, utensils with grips that kids can keep hold of, a petite rolling pin, and even plastic nylon knives that can easily cut fruits and veggies but not skin. It's too late for this year, but some of these tools are what I'm planning on getting Bug next year.

     A Vacuum Cleaner!
I don't think I have ever met a toddler that doesn't love the vacuum cleaner. There are plenty of toy versions available, but most of them don't look like a real vacuum cleaner. (And believe me, kids know when they've been given the toy version. Those fake plastic keys were never as satisfying as my actual car keys, and don't even get me started on the toy phone.) And most of them don't actually clean. I know, I know, it's probably in bad taste to make my son do menial work at this age, but he honestly wants to help. I would never dream of leaving all the vacuuming up to Bug, but if he's going to be pushing around a vacuum cleaner anyway, why not make it functional? Thus, one of my husband's upcoming projects is going to be to convert a real vacuum cleaner to a kid-sized vacuum cleaner, which looks easier than you might expect. If you're handy with tools, you might consider doing the same for the toddler in your life.

     Learning Kits!
Teaching our kids new things is instinctive. I know I am constantly trying to impart new wisdom to my son, whether directly (What is that shape? Let's count together!) or through modeling with explanations (Let's stop here on the sidewalk and make sure there are no moving cars before we cross!). There are some concepts that props are incredibly helpful for teaching, and while the Internet abounds with ideas for making your own, sometimes you just want someone else to supply the materials. Of all of the similar products I've looked at, Teach My... provides some of the best tools for teaching concepts to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

I'm already planning ahead to Bug's birthday, when I plan to finally buy him a CD player. (Can you even buy those nowadays?!) See, I really want to start building a music collection him, CDs featuring non-annoying children's music (it does exist, I promise). Then he can listen to music during the day and I don't have to have my own iPod taken over by his stuff. He already loves music, and he loves singing, and so I'm pretty sure he would enjoy being able to control what we listen to during the day. I already have a few of Sandra Boynton's CD/book combos, and I have my eye on other kid-friendly music like San Diego group Hullabaloo, Raffi, and A Child's Gift of Lullabyes. (And I am always open to other suggestions!)

There are so many things to do in San Diego that, so long as you have the ability to travel, there's really no good reason to ever be bored. And there are plenty of kid-friendly things to do here too. Sure, there are tons of parks, which are completely free to go to. There are also a lot of places that cost money that I would love to take Bug to, but I can't always afford them (or justify spending the money on them when there are so many free places to go). There are activities I'd love to try too, but those are another thing my budget usually won't allow for.

Surely I'm not the only parent in this boat! I know I love meeting my friends for playdates at museums and the zoo, so perhaps I should add tickets (or, if I'm ever feeling more extravagant, a yearly membership) to some of these places to my mental list of potential presents.
     Museums.  Here in San Diego, we have the Children's Museum downtown, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the Model Railroad Museum, and the puppet theater in Balboa Park that are especially appealing to toddlers. There are many more options for older kids, too.
     Zoo.  I already have a membership to the San Diego Zoo, although I will have to buy a membership for Gregory too once he turns 3 next year. I have gotten my money's worth several times over. Honestly, a membership is really the best way to go when you have little ones. There's no need to try to rush and see everything when you can go anytime you want to, and going for just a few hours in the morning doesn't feel like a waste.
     Classes.  There are so many great classes for little kids here! Baby sign language, music appreciation, yoga, art classes, gymnastics, soccer... the list goes on and on. For some you can buy single classes, while others are available in multi-class sessions.
     Indoor Play Places.  In some cities, you need indoor play places to get out of the rain; in San Diego, you need them to get out of the sun! There are less of these now than there were when I first moved here (RIP Jungle Gym and Java Mama; we still miss you), but there are still lots of great indoor places scattered around the city and the surrounding area. And many of them offer punch cards, which make great gifts.

     Gift Cards
Wait, wait, hear me out, guys. I know that some people look down on gift cards as kind of a lazy gift idea. (For the record, I am not one of those people. Gift cards are awesome. Heck, I'm down with just giving straight money too.) But honestly, gift cards can be a great present for toddlers.

Say you want to give a book, but you have no idea what kind of book to get, or maybe you just don't want to buy a book that the recipient might already have on their shelf at home. Instead, pick up a gift card for a neighborhood independent bookstore (or Barnes and Noble, whatever). In my house, going to the bookstore is a big outing. We spend hours browsing, reading different books on display, debating which one to finally bring home. By giving a gift card to the bookstore, you're giving us the prompt needed to take a trip, and to bring home a souvenir to boot!

Consider also gift cards to toy stores (also a fun outing, and one that we hardly ever do in our home, so it'd be an even bigger treat!), food places (Bug loves Jamba Juice but we hardly ever go; or perhaps consider one of San Diego's many amazing cupcake shops that I usually refuse to set foot in; or there's always Starbucks, judge me as you will), or movie theaters (Bug has only been to the theater once in his young life, but I imagine that will change eventually).

If you still think gift cards are a lame gift for a toddler, you've never seen the look of pride on my son's face when I let him hand over his own money to pay for something. How much cooler would it be for him to have his own card to use?

This post is shared at the Special Holiday Edition: Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Salt During Pregnancy

One of my biggest pet peeves is the spread of misinformation, whether unintentional or deliberate. Here's a topic that comes up frequently: salt consumption during pregnancy. A common train of thought seems to be that sodium causes fluid retention, which can lead to swelling, which is a possible sign of preeclampsia, and therefore pregnant women should cut all or most salt out of their diets.

This is, quite simply, not true. Well, not entirely true, anyway.

Mamas, you need to be eating salt during your pregnancy. But please eat salt in natural ways; the need for sodium does not give you free rein to eat all of the fast food and processed packaged junk (most of which is completely loaded with salt) that you want. Rather, most caregivers recommend that you salt your food to taste, preferably using the highest-quality salt you can find. If you think your soup or your egg or your whatever needs a dash or two of salt at the table, then add some, by all means!

Here's a simplified explanation. Yes, salt does contribute to fluid retention. However, this is necessary during pregnancy. Most caregivers recognize that mild fluid retention in the feet and ankles is normal during pregnancy, even somewhat desirable, since it is a sign of your body having enough extra fluid. (Note that while swelling in the feet and ankles is normal, swelling in the arms and face is not, and should be brought to the attention of your caregiver immediately.) This extra bodily fluid is essential for your increased blood volume; while pregnant, you have about 40% more blood in your system, and limiting your sodium intake restricts this blood volume expansion. Cutting back on salt will not lower your risk for preeclampsia; on the contrary, it seems increase your risk, according to some studies. Additionally, you could be hampering your placenta's growth and potentially hurting your baby.

One of the best explanations I've seen regarding salt during pregnancy comes from the Brewer Diet. But every pregnancy book I own (and I own quite a few) that mentions salt specifically is in favor of including salt in your diet to taste.

From Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simkin:
"Experts know that gradual, moderate water retention in pregnancy is not only normal, but the extra fluid is necessary for an adequate volume of blood and amniotic fluid. During pregnancy, consuming an adequate amount of salt helps maintain your fluid balance. Feel free to salt your food to taste."
From Eating Expectantly by Bridget Swinney:
"Sodium needs increase during pregnancy because of the extra fluid your body retains to cushion your baby... Some swelling is a normal part of pregnancy; cutting your sodium below what's recommended won't help and may hurt."
From The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger:
"It used to be thought that salt was dangerous in pregnancy and a cause of preeclampsia, but when a group of expectant mothers were given no-salt diets, they had more preeclampsia than a control group who had as much salt as they wished."
From Heart & Hands by Elizabeth Davis:
"Contrary to popular opinion, salt is a necessary nutrient and should be used according to taste."
From The Pregnancy Book by Dr. Sears (and also in the section "Satisfy With Salt" on AskDrSears.com):
"Unless advised by your health-care provider, you should not restrict your salt intake while pregnant. Salt causes your body to retain fluid, of which you need more during pregnancy... Salt your food to taste."
From YOU: Having a Baby by Michael F Roizen:
"Women may get cravings for salt because sodium is needed to balance their extra fluid volume during pregnancy."
And lest you think that I only own weird, non-mainstream pregnancy books, it's worth noting that even What to Expect When You're Expecting by Heidi Murkoff says salt in moderation is good. Even their website says "don't blame salt for those puffy feet." Here's what the book says:
"It's believed that some increase in bodily fluids in pregnancy is necessary and normal, and a moderate amount of sodium is needed to maintain adequate fluid levels. In fact, sodium deprivation can be harmful to the fetus."
Your Pregnancy, Week by Week by Glade Curtis isn't fully on board with the idea of salt to taste during pregnancy, but even they grudgingly admit that some is important.
"You do need some [salt] every day to help deal with your increased blood volume."
So there you have it.

Were you concerned about salt during your pregnancy?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Books: Best Present Ever!

Welcome to the December 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Greatest Gifts
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have suggested go-to gifts and gifting experiences for the holiday season for all your loved ones.


I am doing my best to raise my toddler son to be a bibliophile.

In case you don't know the term (and are too lazy to hit up Google), a bibliophile is someone who loves books. Or someone who hoards collects books. Or both.

Which is exactly what I am. Oh, I have tried to change my ways over the years. When my husband enlisted in the Navy, I swore to give up most physical books (except for cookbooks, graphic novels, and select other books) in exchange for slowly obtaining a vast collection of ebooks. After all, we'd be moving around a lot, so it just made sense to not have a dozen boxes of books to pack and unpack every time we changed duty station, right? And so I proceeded to sell/donate/give away boxes and boxes of books.

But it didn't last. Between being a book reviewer and my inherent, inescapable love of bookstores and libraries, I am always acquiring new books. And I'm continuing that tradition with Bug.

His library grows and grows.

Every time we go to the library (which is generally at least once a week), we check out the used books for sale. I pick out review books with my son in mind. I only ever go to the bookstore these days to buy presents for other people, but I always end up buying at least one book for Bug too. And many other people who know and love Bug buy him books sometimes, too.

In fact, whenever anyone asks me what makes a good present for Bug, books are my top answer. Clothes are handy sometimes, and goodness knows he loves toys (although he honestly doesn't need any more of those most of the time!). But one can never, ever have too many books!

There are many reasons why I love getting new books for my son's personal library:

Books provide a bonding experience.  Is there anything better than cuddling a normally squirmy toddler while sharing a good book together? Feeling his intense need for you to turn the page and tell him what happens next, even if you've read the story more times than you can count? Watching as he points out parts of the pictures that he loves, or things he's never noticed before? Hearing him "reading" along with you? Reading with Bug is one of my favorite things to do, and I'm pretty sure he feels the same way. Every book in a child's library is an opportunity to spend time together, an opportunity that can be used again and again.

Books provide some quiet time.  It sometimes feels like Bug is always on the go. But when we sit down to read together, it provides a nice, calm break in the middle of an otherwise busy toddler day. It's not passive quiet time, like watching a cartoon would be, but an active sort of quiet time that engages his mind. Goodness knows he needs those little breaks sometimes! And when we have new books that have been recently added to his collection, those little breaks will often stretch out into an hour or more at a time.

Books can be an integral part of life's little routines.  In our home, we always read at least two books before nap time and at least two books before bedtime, sometimes usually more at each occasion. So even if we don't do any other reading on a given day (not sure that's ever happened, actually, but it's theoretically possible), Bug knows that we'll read together at those times, and he looks forward to it. In fact, some nights the quickest way to get him into the bedroom is to tell him to pick out his bedtime books.

Reading can be incorporated into other routines too. My son looks forward to weekly story time at the library, and sometimes we attend the sign language story time as well. And now that he's getting older and starting to understand holidays and different holiday seasons a little better, I'm getting excited about introducing seasonal books into the mix; our Thanksgiving book collection grew this year, and I'm starting to pull out the Christmas (and other festive winter holiday) books now that December is upon us.

Books help kids learn a variety of good skills.  Reading with your kids can help build their vocabulary. Reading with them can help them learn to sit still. Reading with them can help them learn appropriate ways to interact with others. Reading with them can help them cope with big milestones like potty training or a new sibling. Reading with them can help them learn to read themselves. Perhaps most importantly, reading with them shows them that reading is something we do because we love it, not something we do because we have to.

Books are delicious.  Well, not precisely. (Younger babies certainly seem to think they taste good though! Didn't you know it's the first stage of learning to love books?) Not to sound cliche here, but books feed the soul. Reading stimulates the imagination, gets my son thinking, and inspires questions. As Bug gets older, books will be great ways to start conversations, and launch points for learning about other related topics. I sincerely hope that books will feed his brain for the rest of his life. (And the things we cook together from my cookbooks truly are delicious!)

But you want to know one of the best reasons that books make such a fabulous gift for little ones? When you choose to give books, you get the opportunity to share some of your favorite stories with a new reader, as well as the chance to discover other great ones. Since my son was born, I have delighted in acquiring copies of the picture books I remember fondly from my own childhood. My siblings have suggested books that were favorites of my nieces and nephews. Friends with children have gifted us with copies that their own babies enjoyed, my in-laws have introduced us to books that my husband loved as a child, and my own parents have suggested titles I had forgotten were awesome. And in turn, every time one of my friends has a baby, I can present them with books Bug and I have read and loved.

It's a beautiful cycle.

So the next time you're wondering what kind of present would be best for a little one in your life, why not head to the bookstore? 


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • I Want to Buy All of the ThingsThe Economama discusses whether there's a way to buy all of the baby stuff she desperately wants for her daughter without spoiling her.
  • The "Collectors" and the "Concentrators": How Children React to Lots of Presents — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., at Parental Intelligence discusses two types of children who receive gifts: the "Collectors" who rip open the wrappings on their their presents and love to count them and the "Concentrators" who spend endless time on each gift ignoring the array of presents around them.
  • The Joy of Giving and Receiving — Ellen at Life With Lucien shares her three-year-old son's new favorite toy for imaginative play.
  • Books: Best Present Ever! — Holly at Leaves of Lavender discusses some of the many reasons why books are the ideal gifts for little ones.
  • 10 DIY Gifts You Still Have Time To Make — A roundup of 10 DIY gifts that don't take much time to make from Doña at Nurtured Mama.
  • Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaves - A Delicious Holiday Gift — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares one of her favorite recipes to make and give during the holidays. This Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaf is much anticipated by her friends and loved ones. Learn how to create this delicious gift from the heart!
  • Christmas gifts for dreamers — Tat at Mum in search shares her favourite books and resources that have helped her get inspired and move forward towards her dreams this year.
  • Natural parent's baby shower registry — Since she had everything already for baby #3, Lauren at Hobo Mama is amusing herself by building a list of essentials and a few fun fripperies for a natural-parenting nursery.
  • Gifts of love — Charlie at PeelingClementines recalls her favourite Christmas gift of all time and thinks about how to add this magic to her little one's first Christmas.
  • The Gift of Letting Go — Dionna at Code Name: Mama has discovered that when you're a perfectionist, sometimes the best gift is simply releasing yourself from self-imposed expectations.
  • Montessori Inspired Gifts for Babies and Toddlers — Rachel at Bread and Roses shares gift ideas that were a hit with her son last year and what's on her wishlist for this year.
  • Giftmas Ideas for KidsMomma Jorje offers an original gift idea that hasn't been overdone and is good for the kids!
  • Favorite CDs for Babies and Toddlers {Gift Guide} — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares her family's favorite CDs for babies and toddlers, some of which were favorites of her children and are now favorites of her granddaughter.
  • The Birthday Turned Christmas Wish ListThat Mama Gretchen forgot to share her birthday wish list this fall, but she's still wishin' and hopin' a present or two will arrive for Christmas!
  • 8 Thoughtful Non-Toy Gifts for Baby — Is your family asking for hints for presents to give baby? Moorea, guest posting at Natural Parents Network, offers this list of ideas that won't overwhelm your little one with toys.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Butternut Spinach Soup

A few weeks ago, I had about half of a roasted butternut squash languishing in my fridge, just begging to be made into soup.

I also had the rather sad-looking remains of a tub of baby spinach. It wasn't bad, per se, but it definitely needed to be used quickly.

So what's a hungry girl to do? Make soup, of course! I dreamed this up while walking home from the library with Bug. You can't go wrong with winter squash and spinach, right? This soup was creamy and delicious; the nutritional yeast and peanut butter added (vegan) cheesiness and a slightly nutty flavor that was not in the least bit overpowering (it didn't taste like peanuts at all!).

Curry powder completed the deal.  I almost always add curry powder to regular butternut squash soup (trust me, it's amazing!), and it was definitely vital here.

I've made this soup a couple of times now, with several different kinds of winter squash, and it's been delicious every time!


Butternut Spinach Soup 

1 c broth or water
2 c cooked butternut squash chunks
4 c spinach
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp peanut butter
½ - 1 tsp curry powder
salt/pepper to taste

Warm broth in a medium pan; add other ingredients and heat until spinach has wilted. Then toss the whole thing in a blender (or use an immersion blender) and blend until smooth. Add curry powder to taste; mine is hot curry powder, so I didn't add that much, but you might want to add more if yours is milder.  Taste and add additional curry powder if desired, plus salt and/or pepper to taste.

Serves 2-3.  Or 1, if you're feeling particularly gluttonous.

This post is shared at the Special Holiday Edition: Healthy, Happy, Green & Natural Party Hop.