Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Art of Slowing Down

The other day, Bug and I took a walk up to the post office.

Our Ergo can keep going until he's 45 pounds!

He rode on my back on the way there, because sometimes wearing a toddler, even a 30+ pound toddler, is still easier than pushing a stroller. It was a cool morning (well, for San Diego, anyway), and it was nice to be able to revisit the days of having my son on my back, listening to him talk about anything and everything he saw. The walk there took about a half hour.

The walk home, on the other hand, took at least twice that long. Maybe three times as long. Not that I was watching the clock or anything.

Because Bug wanted to walk.

Being a mother has already taken me through many different stages during the three years since Bug's birth. There were the early days of motherhood, when baby just sleeps all the time and is nursing whenever not sleeping, but I didn't mind taking it easy and resting because I felt like a zombie most of the time from lack of sleep. There were the days when baby still slept a lot but I had finally started to adapt my own sleep schedule to his, the days when I was starting to feel somewhat human again, the days when I wanted to get out and walk around and could do so easily thanks to the magic of baby carriers. There were the days when I felt like I could never get anything done, because he wanted to crawl and explore his little world. There were the days when he started walking, which quickly turned into running, where we seemed to spend all of our time going to parks or the zoo or other places where But could get out and move.

And now? Now I'm learning how to slow down.

Walking with a toddler is a journey, that's for sure. There are times when it seems like Bug only has two speeds: running and sleeping. Even on simple walks up to the mailbox or laundry room, he will often run the entire way there, only slowing down or stopping when he gets to the parking lot (most of the time, anyway...) or if I ask him to (read: yell at him to). I often run with him because it's just the easiest way to make sure he doesn't get too far ahead of me; I have been known to joke that caring for a toddler can easily be a workout in itself, if you run when they run, jump when they jump, climb what they climb.

There are other times where we can't go for more than five steps before Bug stops to look at something: a "yucky" snail, a flower, a bee, a rock. Or maybe he's carrying one of his billions of little cars with him, and he stops so that he can drive it along a crack in the sidewalk or over a rock. Or maybe he wants to pick up a stick so that he can draw in the dirt, or a rock that he can gently toss in the bushes. Maybe he wants to dig his fingers into some sand.

Whatever it may be, sometimes it seems like our walks don't involve actually getting anywhere fast.


And that's exactly what it was like this particular day. After we left the post office, we stopped for tea for me (we needed to use the restroom, so obviously I had to buy something). And then we headed out. At first, Bug wanted to run, which was challenging since we were still in a parking lot. But once we got back out on the street, he stopped.

Bug spent a good, long time picking up rocks and throwing them into the bushes. Then he'd pick up a stick and wave it through the leaves of the nearby plants. Then he'd pick up some dirt and throw that; I'd tell him not to throw dirt, so the next handful would get lightly dusted across the bushes instead.

Then we'd take a few more steps, and Bug would find another likely pile of rocks, and he'd commence with tossing them into the bushes again. And he'd find more sticks. And then more rocks.

And on and on. And on.

At first, it really was an exercise in patience for me. I'd stand and wait, sip my tea, and then wait some more. Eventually I would urge him to keep going, but he always wanted to stop again. Get on with it! I wanted to say. I was tired. I was getting hungry for lunch. I was not quite caffeinated enough, despite the tea. We had a long walk ahead of us, and I just wanted to go.

But at some point, I really began to appreciate just watching him. How happily he was entertaining himself. (Aren't I always wishing he would play by himself a little bit more?) The big smiles, the giggles. (It's impossible to be in a bad mood when a baby or toddler is laughing!) His pride in being able to dig rocks out of the dirt, or in being able to throw them just a little bit further sometimes. His curiosity when he'd encounter something new, asking about different flowers or where a specific rock came from. The way he'd push his limits, going slightly up a hill or edging toward where the downhill slope started, looking back at me all the while to see how I'd react.

Honestly, toddlers are a riot. The endless babbling about everything, questions about things I haven't thought about in years, songs both identifiable and clearly made up. The way they explore everything, their burning need to understand how things work. The brilliant creativity, and the way their face just lights up when they've mastered something new.

Right now, though, this is one of my favorite parts of having a toddler. I love just watching the ways Bug chooses to interact with his world. And I'm making a conscious decision to try to let him do it his way as much as possible. There will certainly be times when we truly don't have time to play like this, but most of the time? Most of the time the need to rush is all in my head. Most of the time, we have plenty of time for this, for Bug to learn the way toddlers learn best: through play.

Most of the time, there is plenty of time to just slow down a little.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"The Gentle Sleep Book" and Other Recent Releases

A Review of Three New-ish Baby Sleep Books

Is it just me, of have there been a slew of books about babies and sleep hitting the market lately?

It's probably just me, actually, lost in my own little bubble of being a book reviewer. But there have been several new ones out in the past few months. Lots of parents worry over the way their babies sleep. Does their baby sleep too much? Not enough? Should they be this noisy? How often should they wake up to feed? When can they stop feeding them at night?

Many authors are willing to step in and help parents answer their questions, but unfortunately not all of them have good advice to give.

The first in my rundown of recent books on baby sleep is The Good Sleeper by Janet Krone Kennedy. I'm not going to give this one too much space here because, to be honest, I hated it. (If you'd like somewhat more detailed thoughts, read my full review of The Good Sleeper over at San Diego Book Review; it hasn't been posted yet, but the link will be updated once it is.) Does the world really need another book touting harsh sleep training methods? Apparently some people think so. But in reality, this is just another typical book by another typical sleep trainer, offering the same tired old ideas for forcing your baby to sleep more by ignoring their cries until they give up and shut down. Babies sleep trained in this harsh way don't learn to sleep better so much as they learn that mommy and/or daddy aren't going to come help when they're needed in the night. The method used by this book is the typical Ferber method of sleep training, where you leave your baby to cry by itself for consecutively longer periods of time every night, until baby learns to "self-soothe." Supposedly, every night baby should cry for shorter periods of time, and before you know it, they're truly sleeping like a baby! (I'm being sarcastic here; in reality, the thought of parents willfully ignoring their baby's pleas for help makes me want to cry myself.)

What really galls me about books like this is how they recommend starting when baby is three or four months old, and it usually goes hand-in-hand with complete (or at least partial) night-weaning. We wonder why so many women don't meet their breastfeeding goals. Early night-weaning is most likely a contributing factor, since cutting out nighttime nursing can dramatically reduce a mother's milk supply. In reality, there is no arbitrary age when babies no longer need to be fed at night; that age is different for every baby, and night weaning also might damage baby's growth.

I also don't want it to seem like I'm bashing people who sleep train (although it should be abundantly clear by now that I do not agree with it). I know plenty of parents who have sleep trained their babies, and I certainly don't think it means they love their babies any less than I love mine. But I also believe there is a lot of misinformation out there about baby sleep, about what's normal, about the wide range of ages when babies should "sleep through the night," about what sleeping through the night actually means (the technical definition is a five hour stretch, not an eight hour or longer stretch like many books would lead you to believe), about age appropriate ways to encourage more sleep. A lot of parents mistakenly believe sleep has to be one extreme or another: you let your baby cry until they are forced to learn to sleep without you, or you tend to their every sleepy need for years until they gradually learn better sleep on their own.

"It's an awful truth, but some babies vomit when they cry hard or for long periods of time... If your baby does throw up, clean her up and go back to letting her cry. Vomiting might slow down the learning process, but if you persevere, your baby should be falling asleep with minimal or no crying (which means no vomiting) soon." (from The Good Sleeper)

But it doesn't have to be that way.

Enter The Happy Sleeper by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright. (You can also read my review of The Happy Sleeper over at San Francisco Book Review, if you're so inclined; it hasn't been posted yet, but I will update the link once it is.) For a parent who has reached the end of their rope and feels that they absolutely have to do something NOW to make their baby sleep more or else they will go insane, this book offers a much gentler approach to sleep training. This is now the book I recommend to people who are determined to sleep train; the people who don't believe (or refuse to believe) that their baby will ever sleep on their own without sleep training; the people who just don't have the time and/or patience to wait until their baby figures out sleep on their own. (And even then, I only recommend it after trying to gently convince them to consider not sleep training at all.) The authors don't recommend any kind of sleep training for babies younger than four months (I personally think it should be at least six months), and they offer a variety of ideas for soothing your baby in a way that promotes sleep without being draining to mommy/daddy.

This book thoroughly discusses the importance of making a safe and comfortable sleep space, how to develop a bedtime routine (and why babies absolutely thrive on routines and patterns), and explains why good sleep is important for everyone. The point out that pitting cry-it-out (CIO) sleep training against attachment parenting is a bad idea, because it makes it seem like baby sleep has to be entirely one or the other. (Note that the first book mentioned above made a point of doing just that; the author seems to have taken quite an issue with attachment parenting in general and Dr. Sears in particular, which shouldn't be surprising, considering her profession as a sleep trainer.)

The actual sleep training method (because it is sleep training, although the authors shy away from that term) is called the Sleep Wave, and it does involve letting your baby cry, but never for longer than five minutes at a time. By checking on baby regularly, on the clock, babies will soon detect a pattern (according to the authors), and even if they are distraught for short periods of time, they will quickly learn that you will be coming back soon. They will understand that you will never be gone forever, and this understanding will comfort them enough to help them relax and begin to figure out falling asleep on their own.

This book also has a ton of information on dealing with regressions, naps, early wakings, and other sleep issues, including how to help parents get better rest too. I love that this book doesn't demonize bedsharing, that it encourages parents to continue night feeding during and after using the Sleep Wave (although this method will still most likely reduce the amount of night feeds and potentially damage a nursing mother's milk supply). I love how it's not an all-or-nothing approach, that they offer gentle ways of helping baby sleep that can work alongside or independently from their Sleep Wave. I love the pleasant, conversational tone of the book, and how friendly it feels to parents. I love that it address sleep through toddlerhood and all the way up to school age children.

"This is why we use the term 'attunement' instead of 'attachment' - so we can be clear about the goal. To be attuned is to be present and curious, so you can watch your baby and know when to help and also when to give her space. Attuned parents are responsive, while also having clear expectations." (from The Happy Sleeper)

But in the end, it's still sleep training. What about parents who truly don't feel that sleep training is right for them? I was one of those parents, and while I was relatively confident that I was doing the best thing for my son by letting him figure out sleep on his own schedule, I still faced frequent doubt that I was doing the right thing.

For parents like this, for parents like me, for all parents everywhere, really, my new favorite baby sleep book is The Gentle Sleep Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. This is the book I wish I had had when my son was a newborn, squirming and making strange baby noises. This is the book I wish I had had when I struggled to understand why some babies slept for 5-6 or more hour stretches, but mine continued to wake up every few hours well into his second year of life.

What is the most common complaint one hears from new parents? My baby still wakes up a lot. My baby is not a "good" sleeper. But perhaps your baby's sleep patterns are not a "problem" that needs to be "fixed" with harsh, potentially traumatic sleep training methods. Perhaps the fact that so many parents feel this way about their baby's sleep is indicative of a deeper cultural misapprehension about how babies are supposed to sleep.

To put it another way, your baby does not have a sleep problem. You, the parent, have a problem: misinformation and unrealistic expectations about normal baby sleep. Don't try to fix your baby; fix your own understanding of how babies sleep.

The Gentle Sleep Book is, in my opinion, the best book out there about the way babies, toddlers, and preschoolers sleep. One of the biggest points she tries to convey is how so many people, including supposed experts, really don't understand how babies naturally sleep.

You know those charts you see in every baby book ever, as well as in occasional magazine articles or blog posts, the charts that list the number of hours a baby should be sleeping at a certain age? Those recommendations are not based in fact. When you compare them to studies that document how babies actually do sleep (Ockwell-Smith cites a good deal of solid research in her book, both about this and so many other things related to sleep), the recommendations in those charts almost always overestimate how much sleep a baby "should" be getting. It's worth remembering that you can't apply such singular standards to baby sleep any more than you can apply them to milestones like walking and talking.

The first few chapters of this book focus on helping readers to understand more about the process of sleep. The way that a baby's sleep cycle differs from that of an adult (hint: it's much, much shorter). The fact that, throughout much of history, humans tended to sleep in two chunks, with a period of wakefulness in between; when you consider this, it's perfectly normal when your baby wakes up at 1:00 A.M. and is ready to play, since humans did that for a long, long time. The fact that a traumatic birth can impact sleep in a negative way long after birth actually occurred. The way that diet can affect sleep, including how breastfed babies naturally wake more often than formula-fed babies, as well as the fact that early weaning does not improve sleep.

"Scientific research doesn't support the idea that weaning a baby onto solid foods will help them sleep through the night. Research has consistently found no difference in the sleeping habits of babies who had been weaned onto solids or were given baby rice prior to bedtime. Weaning before six months of age carries several risks for babies, including an increased risk of asthma, eczema, allergies, and digestive problems. Bear these risks in mind and don't be tempted to try to wean your baby early in an attempt to get more sleep, particularly given the evidence showing it makes no difference." (from The Gentle Sleep Book)

Ockwell-Smith also tackles the problems inherent in traditional methods of sleep training (such as the kind advocated by The Good Sleeper), namely the fact that small babies and toddlers are not actually capable of learning to "self-soothe." Seriously. Their brains are just not that developed yet, and won't be until they're at least four or five years old.

To put it gently, self-soothing in babies is a myth. To put it more bluntly, it is a lie.

But that doesn't mean that you can't help baby sleep better. There are many ways you can encourage better sleep that are appropriate to a baby's age and developmental stages. These are not magic bullets that will suddenly net you long chunks of sleep; they take time to work, and they can do nothing if your baby, at this age, just needs less sleep overall or more frequent feeds at night.

"It is biologically, neurologically, and physically impossible for a baby, toddler, or even perhaps a pre-schooler to be able to 'self-soothe'. Their brains are too immature. It's like trying to teach a three-month-old baby to walk or a one-year-old to have a full-on conversation with you. We accept the physical and neurological limitations of children in almost every other sense, apart from sleep. What we expect of babies and children when it comes to sleep is, in my opinion, impossible." (from The Gentle Sleep Book)

But there are things you can do.

The author lays out her general ideas for helping your little ones sleep better using the acronym BEDTIME. This includes:
  • Bedsharing or co-sleeping - many babies just sleep better with their parent(s) nearby, and there are guidelines you can follow to make it safe for you and baby; did you know that keeping baby in the same room as you until they're at least 6 months old reduces their risk of SIDS?
  • Expectations - chances are good that your expectations of how much sleep your baby needs, how often they should wake up, whether/how often they should need to be fed, etc. are wrong; that's probably not your fault, but understanding what's normal for your baby will help in a major way; this section also covers the importance of routines before sleep
  • Diet - this includes understanding the differences between breastfed babies and formula-fed babies; acknowledging that most babies really do need to be fed at night for much longer than many experts believe; and being aware that allergies and food intolerances can affect sleep
  • Transitional objects - teddy bears, security blankets, or similar things that can help calm a baby when you're not immediately there to snuggle; learn how to (try to) condition your baby to use one
  • IT or screen time - most children are exposed to too many screens anyway, and when it's too close to bedtime, it can inhibit sleep
  • Me-time - you need to take care of yourself too!
  • Environment - consider how things like lighting, scents in the air, and sounds can either prevent sleep or make it easier

If this all sounds a little vague... well, you ought to consider picking up a copy for yourself, since I certainly can't give away all of the ideas here! (The Gentle Sleep Book has actually not been released in the U.S. yet, but I was able to purchase a copy through Book Depository, which ships free worldwide.) Ockwell-Smith delves into each of these topics in depth in the book, especially with relation to different age ranges.

In fact, the latter chapters of the book are dedicated to exploring sleep at different age ranges. Ockwell-Smith first gives readers an idea of what to expect with regards to specific sleep patterns for each particular age group, then follows that with general guidelines creating a good sleeping environment for that age. More helpfully, she follows up with several case studies for each age range, real stories from real parents who were struggling with their child's sleep. The author describes the ideas she offered to those particular parents; these case stories help readers understand how to apply different parts of the BEDTIME solution to different issues, while reinforcing the fact that there is no single solution, no quick fix, and that the answer will be different for every situation.

All in all, this is an amazing book. Like The Happy Sleeper, it offers ideas for children up to five years old, but the ideas are all gentle and designed to foster trust in a way that sleep training, even in its least aggressive form, can not. The Gentle Sleep Book is so empowering, offering lots of reassurance and so many different ideas that parents can immediately begin to implement (even as it stresses that it will likely take at least six weeks for any improvement to show). Best of all, it empowers parents to come up with their own sleep plan, tailored to their individual child and family situation.

This book doesn't just give you a one-size-fits-all solution; it gives you tools and support and reassurance, and then trusts that you are smart enough to figure out how to make it all work for your family.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Staying Healthy... Naturally

My collection is growing.

As my days of breastfeeding my son slowly wind to a close, I am finding myself getting a bit uneasy about the seasons ahead, and all of the little bouts of sickness that are sure to come along with it.

You see, that's always been my primary plan of attack whenever Bug gets sick. Nurse, nurse, nurse. And, in all honesty, it's been pretty successful thus far. I know my milk boosts his immune system, and I know that when he's sick, my body responds and produces milk that specifically helps him fight it off. When Bug gets sick, he often loses his appetite for a few days, but I have never really had to worry before since he has always kept nursing, and I know that he's getting enough nutrients to keep him going through the worst of it. (And then his appetite always returns with a vengeance once he's feeling better!) Bug has had a few stomach bugs over the course of his young life, but even those weren't really that frightening to me, because I knew my milk was the best thing to keep him hydrated and nourished. (For the record, one of those stomach bugs was actually frightening enough initially for me to take him to the ER. But we breastfed our way through it; not even norovirus and all of the grossness it entails could keep my Bug down!)

He still nurses now, usually just a few times per day. My supply is pretty low, but I know this is just all part of the process for a three year old. I'm okay with it all, with this process of Bug slowly weaning himself. But next time he gets sick, I'll probably be suddenly less okay with it!

So it will be interesting to see how things go the next time Bug does get sick. And there will be a next time; I have no illusions about that. It will likely be soon. He's small and is still building his immune system, and every little cold he gets is only making him stronger. But I know we will probably need a new plan of attack for one of these next times, whenever it happens.

For now, I'm just focusing on keeping him as healthy as possible. We eat a good, clean vegetarian diet, with lots of veggies and legumes and whole grains and hopefully a good balance of nutrients on most days. He drinks lots of water. He takes a multivitamin almost every day, just as an added safety net. (Do I lose natural mommy points if I admit he loves gummy vitamins? Yep, store-bought gummy vitamins. From Target. One of these days I'd love to try something like this herbal multivitamin tincture from Modern Alternative Mama, but we're not quite there yet.)

I must admit that I do keep some more "conventional" medicine on hand too. Just in case. I have a bottle of children's acetaminophen, just in case he ever gets a fever that is too high for me to be comfortable with. (I can count on one hand the number of times he's ever taken the stuff though!) For stuffy noses, I have saline spray and a warm mist vaporizer (with some "vapopads" that smell delightful and supposedly help him breathe and sleep even better; one of these days, I'm going to try making my own vapopads though!).

And that's pretty much it for Bug's medicine cabinet. I tend to prescribe more to the school of thought that it is always a good idea to promote health, and that when sickness does strike it's generally better to let it run its course as much as possible, rather than treat every little symptom. So yes, I have the acetaminophen on hand, but I would rather just monitor his temperature and let it run its course (assuming it doesn't get dangerously high), since I know fevers serve a physiological purpose. I will give him saline when his nose is so stuffed up that he can't sleep, but I avoid medicated decongestants. (I don't know that there are any I'd be comfortable with that are safe for a three year old anyway!)

So what else is in our toolkit to stay healthy? The basics, really.
  •  The aforementioned healthy diet and plenty of liquids. We eat lots of real food, plenty of fruits and veggies. I tend to always have some coconut water on hand (all the better to naturally stay hydrated!).
  • If I am worried about dehydration for any reason, I can always make a batch of oral rehydration salts/solution (a natural and completely acceptable alternative to that nasty Pedialyte stuff that Bug won't drink anyway).
  • Doing my best to ensure that Bug is always as rested as possible, by encouraging an early bedtime and doing my best to get him to take a nap at least every once in awhile.
  • Washing hands before/after eating, after using the potty, and periodically "just because" while we're out and about.
  • Trying to minimize exposure to other kids without hiding in our apartment all the time (meaning no daycare, which is absolutely unnecessary for us anyway, and only occasional trips to indoor play areas, as fun as those are!). (Really, what I'm going for here is avoiding spending lots of time surrounded by other children in enclosed spaces.)
  • Keeping the stress down by not rushing too much, keeping our schedules open, and, of course, soothing Bug when he needs soothing.
  • Keeping our home clean without overdoing it.
  • Encouraging exercise; we try to get out and walk or run around every day, and goodness knows toddlers never stop moving!
  • The ingredients to make simple, effective remedies at home. Not only can I give my son "medicine" that I feel good about, but I can also avoid last-minute trips to Target.
    • Mama's Soothing Homemade Cough Syrup from Mommypotamus is made with just honey, olive oil, and lemon juice, all ingredients I always have on hand. Honey is very effective for coughs; when Bug had RSV, that's actually what his doctor recommended I give him to soothe his throat!
    • This Homemade Vapor Rub, also from Mommypotamus, does not contain petroleum or other questionable ingredients. Instead, it relies primarily on essential oils to deal with congestion. There's also a slightly different recipe for babies under the age of two, which is nice, even if my little guy no longer fits into that category.
    • If Bug (or anyone else in the family, for that matter) is ever seriously congested, I plan to make these vapor shower discs to help breathe better; they're made of baking soda, water, and essential oils.
    • Should Bug ever get an ear infection (hasn't had one yet, and I'm crossing my fingers he never will), I can always make him this Magic Salt Sock to help deal with the discomfort. 
    • I keep both kid-friendly elderberry syrup (maybe someday I will make my own elderberry syrup?) and chewable vitamin C supplements on hand for Bug, to help boost his immune system when he is fighting something off.
    • I recently picked up a copy of Healing with God's Earthly Gifts by Kate Tietje, author of the blog Modern Alternative Mama, and I'm very excited to try out some of the recipes in it!

And I'm always on the lookout for new ideas. Like this antiviral spray recipe for fighting off the flu, which just might be what gets me serious about starting to really look into essential oils. Or this purification essential oil blend, which has all kinds of different uses; I finally obtained the last of the oils, but I haven't mixed up a batch yet. (Soon!)

Got any ideas for me? What else should I keep in my natural mama "medicine" cabinet? I'd love to read your suggestions in the comments below!

This post has been shared at the Healthy, Happy, Green, & Natural Blog Party Hop on 3/17/2015.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Vegan Pumpkin Cream Pie

Today is Pi Day. And not only is it Pi Day, but it's quite possibly the Pi Day of the Century:

Today: 3/14/15
Pi: 3.1415(9265358979323)

Clearly, this calls for some pie. Because in this household, we celebrate pi with pie.

In this case, pumpkin cream pie! Why? Because I have frozen pumpkin puree galore in my freezer right now, leftover from last fall, and this seems like a good opportunity to use it. Also, because I once tried this AMAZING recipe for pumpkin cream pie, the first time I had ever heard of such a thing actually, and ever since then I've been wondering if it would be possible to make something similar that did not have the Jello pudding mix but still tasted amazing.

It's not that I'm overtly against Jello pudding mix. Well, actually, I might be. I'm not entirely fond of the ingredients list (Carrageenan, food dyes, and artificial flavors? No thank you!), but my issues with processed food are a topic for another day.

So I set out to make my own version. A vegan version. But I was feeling picky about how I wanted to veganize it. I did not want to make something that used tofu, although I know from my own past experience that tofu can make for some pretty amazing desserts. And while that Jello pudding mix technically doesn't have any dairy in it (that I can see, anyway), I worried that simply using nondairy milk to make it would not result in the same rich pie filling that I loved so much the first time around.

The solution? Coconut cream, of course! Canned coconut cream adds that depth of flavor that I wanted, but also didn't add an overtly coconut flavor to the dessert. Make sure you get canned coconut cream; refrigerated coconut milk-based coffee creamer is not what you want. You can get straight coconut cream in cans at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, possibly in other health food stores. Or you can just buy a can of full fat coconut milk, refrigerate it for a day or two, and then open it without shaking it up first; the coconut cream will have separated to the top, and you can scoop it out and use it! But you'll need 2-3 cans, I imagine, to get the 1¼ cups total coconut cream needed for this recipe.)

So yes, this recipe is dairy free, soy free (unless you use soy milk), egg free. Could potentially be gluten free if you found gluten free graham crackers for the crust (or just went with some other gluten free pie crust).

I also wanted there to be more actual pumpkin in here. The original recipe only had a half cup, for crying out loud! What kind of pumpkin pie only has a half cup of pumpkin in it? Surely I could fit a bit more. I do love putting vegetables into my desserts, after all, and it turns out that putting in twice as much pumpkin only made this pie better.

For nondairy milk, I used a blend that was coconut milk and almond milk, but I imagine you could use most any nondairy milk you like. I used a plain variety, but I guess if you like sweet you could probably use some of that vanilla flavored extra sweet stuff.

Next time I make this pie, I may experiment with adding more spices; the original recipe is very lightly spiced, and this is tasty, but sometimes you just want that full autumn spice experience.

Last note: I am not including a recipe here for graham cracker crust, since mine always come out terrible. Meaning, they taste great, but they're crumbly and don't hold together well. (I can make an amazing pastry crust though!) But really, it's super easy to veganize any recipe for graham cracker crust. Just make sure that your graham crackers are, in fact, vegan, and then use either coconut oil (my choice) or Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine, although I'm not a fan of most margarine either) in place of the butter.

Vegan Pumpkin Cream Pie

 Inspired by the Pumpkin Cream Pie recipe from The Pioneer Woman

vegan graham cracker crust (use recipe of your choice)
¾ cup coconut cream
¾ cup nondairy milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
dash salt
pinch cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
½ cup coconut cream

In a medium saucepan, whisk together cornstarch, sugar, salt, and spices. Slowly whisk in ¾ cup coconut cream and nondairy milk. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring continuously (it might get lumpy if you stop stirring), until mixture starts to thicken (10-15 minutes). Continue to cook and stir until the mixture is good and thick, another couple of minutes. Stir in vanilla extract. Stir in pumpkin puree. Put a lid on the pot and set it aside to cool. When it's cool enough, put the pot in the fridge so that the mixture can cool completely.

When mixture is cool, remove it from the fridge. In a mixing bowl, add ½ cup coconut cream and beat until peaks start to form. Fold the pumpkin cream mixture into the whipped coconut cream until combined. Pour into graham cracker crust.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, preferably overnight. If desired, crumble additional graham crackers on top before serving.

This post was shared at the Healthy, Happy, Green, & Natural Party Blog Hop on 3/10/2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Days Are Just Packed

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life
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 given us a special glimpse into their everyday.
Life is always busy when one has a toddler!

Busy in a good way, of course. Most of the time.

Our days are filled with all kinds of fun. Breakfast...

Om nom nom.


We would probably bake things every day if Bug had his way!

And of course, snuggles. Endless amounts of snuggles. I am so blessed to have a child who is so sweet and loving, who always has hugs and kisses for me and seems to care as much about my happiness (well, sometimes) as I care about his.

I love him so much I can't even.

Bug is an early riser. That means that most mornings, he wakes up sometime between 5:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M. And no matter how kindly I ask him to try to sleep some more (or grumble at him to get back in bed, as the case may be), once he's up for the day there's no stopping him.

"Wake up, Mommy! It's morning!"

So after we get some food going, we usually have some quiet time at home. Partially because I need time for the caffeine to kick in. Partially because nothing is open that early in the morning. Partially because it's often too dark to go to the park. So we read books, or we color, we do housework, we play Minecraft, or we otherwise just spend time together.

Sometimes, coloring will actually entertain him long enough for me to get something done on my own!

I freely admit that Bug does get some cartoons every day. That's the best way for me to get my workout in, and since exercising helps keep me sane... well, sometimes a mama has to do what a mama has to do, right?

What we do during the day depends on all kinds of different factors. What day of the week is it? Do we have a car? Did we make plans with friends? Do we need to pick up more bananas? On Thursdays, we almost always go to the library for story time, and sometimes we go on Mondays as well (for sign language story time, which is twice a month). There are at least 5 parks within walking distance of us, and we try to go to a park of some sort at least once or twice a week. If we need to go to the grocery store, I usually end up getting Starbucks, because... well, Starbucks. Earl Grey tea lattes. Need I say any more?

Them cake pops, though. (And no, he doesn't get them very often. Stop judging me.)

One of the great things about living in San Diego is the abundance of beaches. There are so many beautiful beaches in this area. And since our weather is usually so pleasant, we can even hit the beach in winter.

Regardless of what we do, we try to get outdoors for at least part of the morning, weather permitting. Burn off some energy and be home by lunchtime.

At Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.

Bug is currently in the process of giving up his daily nap. Which makes life all kinds of fun for me, let me tell you. Most days, he does not nap, and most days he does pretty well without it; later in the afternoon, he might get a bit crabby or have small meltdowns over otherwise inconsequential things, but for the most part he has been handling the shift in his sleep patterns pretty well. (I, on the other hand, have been having a bit more trouble with it, but I am slowly adapting too.) But he does still nap once or twice a week, thankfully.

The elusive nap.

In the afternoons, whether a nap happened or not, we usually just hang out close to home. More reading, playing with his toys, doing jigsaw puzzles. Riding his tricycle outside, decorating the sidewalks outside with chalk.

Our neighbors love the brightly colored sidewalks! Right?

Often at some point, we make a trip to the mailbox. Bug loves going to the mailbox! He loves getting to run around outside, he loves seeing if there is any mail for him. (And often, there is; between his Highlights High Five magazine, books I order him from Paperback Swap, and little packages from his grandma, Bug does get mail with some regularity.)

Ready, set, GO!
Even the AAA magazine is exciting when you're three.

Eventually, it's time for dinner! I also feel blessed to have a child who will eat most anything I put in front of him. Whether it's pasta filled with veggies, omelets, tempeh chili mac, chana masala, stir fry, or something else exciting from one of my many cookbooks, Bug usually happily eats whatever D and I are eating.

More noms!

The bedtime routine starts sometime after dinner; the exact time depends on whether or not he took a nap (he goes to sleep earlier on no-nap days), what time D got home from work (sometimes he gets to stay up just a bit later to get some time in with Daddy), and whether or not he needs a bath.

Bug does get a bath (or a shower) most days. The vast majority of the time, it's just regular, clean water he sits in; he likes bubble baths sometimes, but I often don't use any kind of soap if he hasn't gotten particularly dirty. I try to get his hair wet, but I hardly ever shampoo it.

Why yes, that handle is reflective.

The rest of the evening routine consists of pajamas, bedtime snacks (sometimes it's the rest of his dinner, sometimes it's yogurt, sometimes it's an egg or some carrots or some fruit...), brushing teeth, and books, of course! (We read all day, actually; I couldn't even tell you how many books we read in a typical day.)

In our home, we read books about vegetables. Wearing underwear.

Then it's lights out! Nursing and snuggling. Sometimes a few songs.

And then sleep. Glorious sleep.
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!
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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Breastfeeding: Tips for a Great Beginning

If you're planning to breastfeed your incoming baby, you are definitely not alone! It is well known by now that breast milk truly is the best thing for your baby, and that anything other than breast milk is, to put it bluntly, inferior and associated with an increase in the risks for various health issues.

And the vast majority of women do initiate breastfeeding immediately after birth. According to the CDC's 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card, which lists statistics for babies born in 2011, 79% of babies born in the United States started breastfeeding. But there are a number of things that can make it hard for a woman to achieve her breastfeeding goals, and the numbers also reflect that: only 49% of babies were still breastfeeding at 6 months, and only 27% at 12 months. And the numbers of babies that were exclusively breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months - meaning they were receiving no supplementation with artificial formula milk - are significantly smaller.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and breastfeeding supplemented with solids until at least 1 year of age (at least; "Babies should continue to breastfeed... for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby."). The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and "continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond."

Whatever your own breastfeeding goals are, there are ways you can improve your chances of meeting them. Here are some suggestions.

     Educate yourself thoroughly about breastfeeding before your baby is born.
Don't make the common mistake of assuming that breastfeeding will come naturally to you! For some women, it is a very natural and intuitive process, but for many more, initiating breastfeeding is a struggle. But the more you learn about it ahead of time, the more likely you will be to have success. Understand how your body makes milk. Get an idea of what a proper latch looks like, some of the positions you can breastfeed in, and some of the ways you can remedy any discomfort you feel. Consider taking a breastfeeding class, either in person or using a DVD, while you're still pregnant to begin learning. There are also many great books out there on breastfeeding; my favorites are The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Theresa Pitman; and Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding by Ina May Gaskin.

     Be informed about how medical interventions during/after birth can impact breastfeeding.
The way you give birth can affect breastfeeding. Medical interventions are not necessarily going to be the difference between successful breastfeeding and unsuccessful breastfeeding, but it is still useful and important to know ahead of time how the decisions you make (or are made for you, as the case may be...) might affect the beginning of your breastfeeding relationship. Here are just a few things to think about:
  • Receiving IV fluids during labor may artificially inflate your baby's weight prior to giving birth, which in turn may make it seem like baby is "losing too much" during the first days of life, which can lead to suggested supplementation with formula. IV fluids can also cause baby to have neonatal hypoglycemia, which means a stay in the NICU and being separated from mama, which can make early breastfeeding very challenging.
  • Receiving an epidural (which necessitates IV fluids, if you weren't given them already as a matter of course) can mean that baby is sleepier at birth, and uninterested in nursing. Epidurals can also affect the levels of certain hormones that are important in breastfeeding.
  • If your baby is born via cesarean section, it could affect your start to breastfeeding in a number of ways (although many women have great success nursing after a c-section!), including: longer delay before trying to initiate nursing the first time (although more and more hospitals are actively working to counter this); breastfeeding is more uncomfortable due to the incision (try different breastfeeding positions to counter this one); if the events leading up to the c-section were stressful, mama's milk may take longer to come in; a c-section necessitates both IV fluids and an epidural (see above points); the antibiotics prescribed after a c-section can lead to an overgrowth of yeast, which increases the possibility of thrush.
  • If baby is given antibiotic eye ointment after birth, it can blur his vision and irritate his eyes, which can interfere with that crucial early window for mama/baby bonding, and can make it difficult to get started breastfeeding.
  • If you choose to circumcise your baby boy, you should be aware that the pain from the procedure can make it much harder for your son to learn how to nurse effectively; after circumcision, it is common for babies to withdraw into themselves for awhile and to completely lose interest in breastfeeding, and a study has shown that pain relievers don't help counter this. Pain disorganizes newborns, and circumcision is extremely, traumatically painful.

     Initiate breastfeeding within a hour of birth if possible.
Everyone who's anyone recommends early initiation of breastfeeding if possible (that is to say, within the first hour after birth). Why? For one thing, this ensures baby gets ample amounts of colostrum, that delightful golden premilk that is so beneficial to newborns. This kind of early breastfeeding usually comes hand-in-hand with skin-to-skin, which helps baby regulate breathing and body temperature, among other benefits. Possibly one of the most important reasons is that during the first few hours of life, baby will likely be very awake and receptive to bonding with mama; take advantage of this alertness and get baby nursing!

     Nurse on demand. Completely.
This is quite possibly the most important idea in this post. Nursing on demand (sometimes called nursing on cue) will have a significant impact on your overall milk supply. To simplify the idea, breastfeeding is all about supply and demand, so if you want your body to produce enough milk to feed your baby, you need to let your baby eat as often as he wants to. Nursing on demand will help your mature milk to come in. Nursing on demand will help reduce and ultimately eliminate early engorgement. Nursing on demand will regulate your supply; your body will adjust the amount you make automatically from day to day based on how often your baby wants to eat. Nursing on demand will help your baby to thrive.

     Build a support network.
Who do you have to support you as you navigate breastfeeding? Make sure your partner is on board, as it's been pretty well-documented that when dad openly disapproves of breastfeeding, mama is more likely to stop sooner. Gather friends to you who breastfeed their own babies, who will not be uncomfortable when you feed your baby in the coffee shop or who can offer advice when you hit a rough patch. Find local breastfeeding support groups, where you can get questions answered, receive advice on the actual physical motions of breastfeeding, and even weigh baby before/after nursing if you're concerned about the amount he's getting. (La Leche League is the most well-known breastfeeding support group, but also check in hospitals, local birth centers, and baby stores, or ask local birth workers [midwives, doulas, childbirth educators] about independent groups.) Make sure you have the contact information of at least one local lactation consultant, preferably an IBCLC.

     Stay hydrated.
Think about it logically for a second: when you are breastfeeding, you are using more liquid, so doesn't it make sense that you probably need to drink more liquid in order to stay hydrated? Being dehydrated might not always directly influence your milk supply, but it can increase feeling of fatigue and stress, and those will definitely decrease the amount of milk you are making. Try to drink at least 4 extra 8-oz glasses of water per day to make sure you're getting enough. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere. Make it a habit to always bring a big glass of water with you when you sit down to nurse.

     Eat healthy foods to support a good milk supply.
Remember how everyone urged you to eat well during pregnancy to support your growing baby? You're not off the hook yet! It is important to keep eating a well-rounded, whole-foods diet while breastfeeding to ensure an ample milk supply. Don't stress out too much about what goes in your mouth, though; if you have a hard time eating anything other than take-out and frozen dinners for awhile in the weeks after birth, chances are good that your milk supply will be fine so long as you're eating enough. If you are concerned about the amount of milk you're making, certain foods have a reputation for being galactagogues (a substance that increases milk supply), including fenugreek (an herbal supplement, and often one of the primary ingredients of lactation teas), oatmeal (and other whole grains), nuts and seeds, papaya, ginger, leafy green veggies, and garlic, among other foods. The important thing is that you are eating plenty of real foods and eating to your appetite.

     Don't worry about losing the baby weight!
Seriously. No matter how eager you are to get back to your prepregnancy body, trying to substantially restrict your calories during the early months of breastfeeding can really damage your milk supply. Breastfeeding burns about 300-500 calories per day; a nursing woman should be taking in 1800-2200 calories (or more, as the case may be) every day. Yes, breastfeeding can help you lose weight. Listen to what your body asks for as far as food goes, eat what you're hungry for, and that weight will start to come off eventually. Remember that it took you nine months to put on that weight, so it'll likely take at least that long before your body gets anywhere near to where it used to be. Trying to lose that weight too quickly could mean your body is not getting enough calories to make the milk your baby needs.

     Get as much rest as you can.
Everyone and their mom will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps, and while that's good advice in theory, in reality it's probably not likely to actually happen much. There is housework to do, food to cook, and, of course, a baby to hold and snuggle. But to be honest, the housework can probably wait, and hopefully you'll have someone else around to help you get nutritious food. Because you really, really need to get that rest! Try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, since you'll be up several times every night. Try to take at least one nap with baby during the day. And otherwise, spend as much time as possible just sitting and snuggling; even if you aren't sleeping, simply resting is going to do your milk supply some good.

     Try to relax.
While it's unlikely that you'll be in the kind of truly stressful situation that can actually reduce your milk supply, the normal stresses of everyday life and new parenthood may still take their toll. Perhaps one of the most noticeable ways is that when you are feeling stressed, your milk may be slower to let down. So this is where a lot of the other tips above get tied together. The more you know about breastfeeding, the less likely you are to stress over your baby's cluster feedings, or to worry that a normal growth spurt (and the seemingly unusual frequent nursing sessions that come with it) mean that baby suddenly isn't getting enough milk. Having a solid support network means that you'll have people who you can bring your questions to, people who can talk about their own experiences, people who understand what you're going through. Occasional naps during the day mean that you'll be able to handle the nighttime wakings with, if not poise, then at least with some semblance of acceptance.

Remember that you can do this! And by taking steps now to get breastfeeding off to a positive start, you're more likely to be able to achieve your goals.

This post has been shared at the Healthy, Happy, Green, & Natural Party Blog Hop on 3/3/2015.