Tuesday, April 30, 2013

12 items for the first 12 months

As Emerson's first birthday approaches, I find myself taking stock of the past year. One way I've been doing that is by creating lists in my head…some of which I've decided I will share here. Up first: twelve items I couldn't have survived the first twelve months without. 

I remember the enormous list of "suggested items" I printed out when registering for baby gifts. I ignored half the suggestions, opting for a relatively minimalist approach, but now looking back it's amazing to see that I could've gotten by with an even smaller list of items. This is surely not an all-inclusive list, but without giving it too much thought, these were the first items that came to mind…..

(Click the item name next to each number in the list for links. #1 and 4- links found within paragraph) 

1) Baby carriers. Multiple.

Reasons: The reasons are unending, really. On the whole, though, wearing your baby just makes life easier. Most babies are happy in a carrier, which makes parenting them easier. You can comfort and engage your child while simultaneously going about the business of your life (i.e. get stuff done with the use of two hands!). It's also a great way to breastfeed or allow your child to nap in public. What's more, babies that are carried cry less, are smarter and learn more, and benefit from plenty of skin-to-skin time. Wearing your baby also reduces the risk of SIDS and helps comfort colic. I could go on and on about the reasons I could not live without, and highly recommend, baby carriers. 

I will say, that it is beneficial to have a few different options. For instance, I heavily relied on the Moby Wrap during the newborn phase, then a combination of the Ergo and a standard Ring Sling (they don't make the one I used anymore, so I'd recommend a Maya Wrap) for the next phase, and now I rely solely on the Ergo, which will work for a few more years.

2) Exercise ball.
Auntie bouncing 3-week-old Em
Reasons: I purchased an exercise ball while I was pregnant after using one in my birthing class (great to use during labor!). After I gave birth, the ball was tossed into the corner of a room as there was little time to clean or organize with a newborn in the house. I thought we'd eventually deflate and store it until we discovered the ultimate newborn soother: bouncing on the ball while holding the baby. Emerson rejected the rocking chair, bouncy seat, swing and sleep n' play. But, holding her while bouncing on the ball was magic (it mimics the bouncing a baby experiences in utero when their mama walks). And, truth be told, at almost one-year-old, it is still our go-to sleep inducer. We deflate it and bring it with us on every overnight trip. 

3) Wool Diaper Cover

Reasons: We do cloth diaper in our household, but this recommendation is not for cloth diapering families (though I do recommend it for that, as well). We use disposable diapers at night, because Emerson "sleeps" for twelve hours and is a very heavy wetter. But, we were so frustrated for months dealing with annoying diaper leaks. Emerson woke up soaking wet constantly. Pajamas and bedding destroyed. Sometimes daily. And all of my "genius" ideas to jimmy rig some kind of leak-stopping device eventually failed. Until I discovered wool diaper covers. They are totally old school. The one Emerson has makes her look like she's wearing a man's swimsuit from the 1920s, but it's inpenetrable. Wool does need to be cured before it becomes waterproof, but after that point nothing gets through. We have not had a night time leak since we started putting the cover over Emerson's disposable diaper! No more doing laundry and changing the bed EVERY DAY. Bonus: wool is self-cleaning and only needs to be (hand) washed about once a month. Really.

4) Nipple Cream + Nursing Pads.

Reasons: I could not have made it through the first four months without these items. My nipples took a beating. It was the worst. Cracked, raw, sore and sometimes bleeding nipples. Enter a gallon of nipple cream every hour. I used a combination of Mother Love and Lanolin (which is also great for healing cuts, scrapes, diaper rash and to cure your wool diaper cover). And nursing pads. Everyone is different, but personally I went through a truck load. I had them stashed everywhere—nightstand, diaper bag, coffee table, bathroom, car—so I'd never be stranded without them….leaking or sometimes literally spraying like a fire hydrant through my shirt. 

5) Bambo Nature Diapers.

Reasons: If you use disposables and/or want to use a non-toxic, sensitive-skin-friendly diaper, Bambo Nature is where it's at. I have only tried non-toxic diapers on Emerson (but I've tried them all) as I personally cannot stomach the scary health risks associated with most disposable diapers. But, I have tried a wide variety of "regular" (think Pampers and Huggies) diapers on babies during my time as a nanny and daycare teacher. And I have determined that Bambo Nature is amazing. So amazing. They remind me of Honest diapers, but work so much better. They are the most luxurious (yes, I think a diaper can be luxurious) I've ever seen or felt. They are thick, super soft (rare for a non-toxic), fit well, super absorbent, contain blowouts and leaks, never ever cause diaper rash, all while being a healthier option for my baby and the earth.

Nature Babycare diapers run a close second. They boast all of the above benefits, and fit great (love the elastic backing). The only difference is that they are not as thick and absorbent for night time use, which is why I stick with Bambo.

*For those of you who do cloth diaper—I cannot live without Thirsties Duo Wraps. They fit well, don't leak, and are friendly on the wallet since they are adjustable.

6) NoseFrida

Reasons: Just do yourself a favor and pick one up before you have a baby. This is something you want to have on hand right away when you need it. We were very fortunate in that Emerson never got sick until she was almost a year old. But, most babies get sick. A lot. And even in the absence of colds or flus, Emerson still had plenty of occasions that required booger suctioning. And a bulb syringe is completely useless and ineffective. The Nose Frida really gets all the boogers out and allows your little one to breathe, nurse, and sleep! I was up all night with my sick baby until I purchased the Nose Frida. And trust me, you will NOT get boogers in your mouth. Not even close.

7) Mustela Stelatopia Line.

Reasons: This line is made for babies with eczema, very dry or sensitive skin. So, it might not be a "must" for everyone. For us, it is. Emerson developed eczema pretty early on and it's only gotten worse with time. We have tried so many products that are fragrance-free and made for sensitive or dry skin. Nothing helped. Most products instead exasperated her condition. This line is very pricey, but a god-send. I would rather pay for the moisturizer, cleansing cream, and milky bath than have to put the icky steroid cream Emerson's doctor prescribed on my baby's vulnerable body. Once in a while E does still have a flare-up, but Stelatopia has greatly, greatly reduced the frequency. Bonus: the line is made from primarily natural ingredients and is paraben-free (which is a must for me).

8) Regular, grown-up sized nail clippers.

Reasons: Babies nails grow at an insane rate, and they are razor sharp. This is the reason we put mittens on newborns. They don't just cut themselves either—I had cuts all over my breasts when Emerson was brand new. Ouch. But, the problem far outlasts the newborn phase. Emerson still cuts us all up if we don't keep her nails in check. The problem is, I was never able to effectively cut my baby's nails with protective baby clippers. I would instead peel her nails off, as suggested to me in the hospital. But, this took FOREVER, was difficult to accomplish and was not very safe (easily draws blood). I was seriously crazy about the nail situation—everyone being sliced by them, but not able to find a way to cut them—until Emerson was 7-weeks-old when I took a chance and trimmed her nails with regular, adult clippers. It took me under a minute and for the first time, all of our faces were safe from the claws of Em. I continue to use adult clippers (which now requires a bit more distracting to accomplish). Of course, you need to do this in good light so you can see, and very carefully. 

9) Beaba Babycook.

Reasons: It's easy to make your own baby food using this baby food maker. I feel so much better about what I am putting in my baby's body when it's freshly prepared—no hidden ingredients, more nutritious, and much tastier than jarred food. This machine steams, blends, and reheats food. So simple. We even take it with us on road trips. Also BPA- and PVC-free.

10) Mustela Foam Shampoo for Newborns.

Reasons: First of all, it smells amazing! There is nothing like the smell of Emerson's head after using this shampoo. But, the real reason I recommend it is because it treats cradle cap, or if used preemptively can prevent your baby from ever experiencing cradle cap, which can be tough to treat and not so pretty to look at. Emerson may not have a lot of hair, but she's had a beautiful, cradle cap-free head from day one (let the 'poo sit on baby's head for a minute after rubbing in). The shampoo can be used through toddlerhood though it's labeled "for newborns." Also, it's paraben-free and made from primarily natural ingredients.

11) Weleda Calendula Diaper Cream + Earth's Best Wipes.

Reasons: Diaper rash is pretty inevitable in babyland. And it can get so bad that your baby's skin bleeds or is open and raw. It's terrible to watch your baby go through. There are a million and one products made to keep this condition at bay, and I have personally seen and used a great majority of what's out there during my days working at a daycare and as a nanny. In my experience, one of the best ways to prevent diaper rash from happening in the first place is to use reusable cloth wipes and plain water the majority of the time (and non-toxic diapers or cloth diapers). Still, sometimes you need a disposable wipe when on-the-go, or as a final clean-up when there is poop involved. Wipes can do a number on a baby's bum, though. Enter the thickest, softest, gentlest wipes I've found: Earth's Best. They also have just the right amount of moisture and are chlorine- and paraben-free. Second, Weleda Calendula Diaper Cream. Because, rashes are inevitable sometimes (teething, for instance). This stuff usually clears Emerson's rash up after only one application. Completely natural and paraben-free.

12) A Mama Group.

Reasons: Last is certainly not least here. I think it might be virtually impossible to survive motherhood with your sanity intact without a group of (hopefully like-minded) mamas to talk to. There are so many resources out there. Use them! It's a great way to meet other mamas in your area (which, believe me, you will need!) and a great way to vent, regroup, and pick up tips. Mind you, leaving the house and finding the energy and motivation to seek out a group can be difficult with a baby at home. But, it's so worth it. I started going to a group for new moms almost immediately after Emerson was born. And have subsequently joined an amazing mothering group that meets throughout my area. I've also been lucky enough to form play groups, walking groups, etc. with the women I've met through these groups. VITAL. to. my. sanity. P.S. Joining online mothering forums is also very helpful (there are so many to choose from).

There you have it. The twelve things that have proven critical to our survival this past year. Happy parenting!

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