The #1 Reason to Wash Your Baby’s New Clothes

laundryLike many things that shaped my new parenting experience, I found out quite by accident about washing my baby’s new clothes. When my daughter was a newborn, a visiting aunt said, “You know it’s important to wash her clothes before she wears them.”

Not thinking to ask why (it just made sense!) I put that into practice. Only later did I learn about the prevalence of formaldehyde in new clothes.

Formaldehyde is added to clothes for many reasons – to prevent wrinkling, resist mildew growth and stains, and to set in the color. Those who are most aware of environmental and health issues in the apparel industry are beginning talks on reducing or eliminating its use, but they’re far from being implemented across the board.

You can recognize formaldehyde by its chemical odor, which is more intense depending upon how much of it has been used in a given garment. Though for health reasons I’d advise you not to sniff it and just throw it in the laundry instead.

According to the CDC, breathing too much formaldehyde can cause sore throat, cough, scratchy eyes and nosebleeds. And prolonged exposure can cause cancer. Because formaldehyde is a carcinogen. But your colors will be brighter, so… tradeoff.

To eliminate as much formaldehyde as possible in your child’s clothing, and yours (you’re his parent, so your health is top priority too!):

  • throw all new clothes in the washer, at least once.
  • air dry them or hang outside after machine drying.
  • dry-clean only clothes should be hung outside to dry
  • keep washing them and/or hanging outside until you can’t detect the smell of formaldehyde (a sharp chemical smell)
  • buy used clothes! wash these too to be safe, but likely the formaldehyde is mostly gone after it’s been cycled through one or more wearer.

As parents, it can be overwhelming to learn about the long list of potential health hazards facing ourselves and our kids. What’s helped me to navigate these is to take as much reasonable action as I’m inspired to do in any given moment. Throwing new clothes in the wash before wearing is a no-brainer for me.

To your health!

Pasta Bath!

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Winter has hit us really hard this winter in Boston. And when we’re stuck indoors, it’s crucial to find new activities to keep the little ones busy, stimulated and giggling.

Enter Pasta Bath.

The idea came from our brilliant friend Tricia, who dumped a pot of spaghetti on her kitchen floor and let her kids swim in it. My husband wasn’t so crazy about the mess, so… the bathtub!

Have you noticed how cheap spaghetti is? We bought a value pack for $3.41 that let us make 4 pounds of spaghetti!

To address the food wasting issue: anyone who has kids knows that wasting materials is inescapable. If you go through a pack of construction paper, you’re wasting trees. If you go through a pack of pasta, you’re wasting wheat. Which has a smaller footprint? If you’re feeling guilty about it, you can match this activity with a contribution to the food bank.

We boiled up the pasta, dumped it in the tub, and let it cool. We brought up some kitchen utensils – nothing too sharp, and led the kids inside.

Squeals of delight! They played, they ate, they squished and scooped.

When the kids were tired of the dry pasta, we added some warm water! They loved being in a pasta bath, pretending they were pasta in a pot, playing with the now slippery smooth and squooshy pasta. I loved it too.

All in all, a fun hour of sensory play and a lifetime of memories via the camera for just $3.41. Not too shabby!

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome internal blocks to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

Team Fairy vs Team Princess

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Parents of young girls today are inundated by all things pink and frilly. It’s often taken for granted that every girl wants to be a princess.

As a tomboy who grew up with little interest in barbies; an environmentalist who seeks to minimize my footprint; and a feminist who wants to prevent my daughter from measuring her worth by her beauty, I decided to limit the impact of the “princess factor” on my daughter. Enter the fairies.

While every child has innate interests, there are also many that are developed through social interactions.  Using my influence as a parent, I subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly steered my daughter away from princesses and toward the fairies. And I’ve been very pleased with the results. Here’s why.

Values.

Fairies engage in environmental stewardship. They take care of the plants and animals, and are careful not to kill any living thing nor introduce non-natural items (like plastic) into the natural habitat. These are values that help to build a healthier future for our planet, and frankly they’re much more exciting coming from fairies than from mommies.

Princesses value material wealth and external beauty. They seek to acquire beautiful dresses, shoes, jewelry, and other princessly accessories like makeup tables and palaces. These desires are very cleverly played upon by marketing giants such as Disney, who also engage in questionable business practices like marketing “educational” videos to infants (whose brain development is harmed by screen time) and selling products to children with toxic chemicals like PVC.

Tips for parents whose girls love princesses: you may want to look to your child’s own closet for “fancy” dress up clothing and work together on creating tiaras from headbands and embellishing hair clips using materials around the house to create a fun and inexpensive opportunity for hands-on creative play.

Activities.

Fairy play involves creative activities like building fairy houses from the natural environment. You can learn more about the rules of the forest from the fairy houses books (affiliate link). Fairy play also involves using your imagination to explore what it might be like to have magical powers. It can engage children in exploring leadership challenges like being charge of the weather or animal welfare.

Princess play involves dress up, and princesses often engage in role play around traditional story lines like making themselves look beautiful by wearing the right clothes and meeting princes at balls. Princesses often need to be rescued by a prince,  which may lead to marriage. This storyline creates an idea that women need to make themselves weak in order to be loved.

Parents of princess-loving children can work with them to identify the gender assumptions behind those story lines and rescript a more empowering story.

Paths to learning.

Fairies open doorways to loving the natural world. One passion that has grown out of the fairy realm for my daughter is learning about and working with medicinal herbs. A fabulous series that we’ve been using to explore this area more deeply is the herb fairies. Another product we’ve used to cultivate her knowledge and conduct kitchen experiments is the Kid’s Herb Book (affiliate link).

Princess obsessions often lead to reading princess stories, AKA fairy tales. There are some decent newer stories out there (we like Part-time Princess), although the traditional volumes often contain fear-inducing and/or disempowering plot lines which I do my best to avoid for my 4 year old.

If your child is already interested in princesses you can discuss the roles women play as leaders, and which leadership qualities can benefit humankind. Other royal topics worth exploring are social welfare issues and conflicts between nations. Together, you and your princess can engage in creative  problem-solving through role play.

Fairies or Princesses? It’s all in the presentation.

Parenthood is a maze marked by competing interests. As parents of young children, it’s our job to get clear on our values, and shape our kids’ worlds accordingly.

I love the fairies for the gifts they’ve brought to my daughter. But even princesses have gifts to share if we can co-create them to reflect the brightest future we can imagine for our children.

 

Why favorites are not my favorite

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Like many conversations with children, it’s almost innate. “What book is your favorite?” “Which ice cream flavor is your favorite?” You like Sesame Street? Which character is your favorite?”

Harmless, right? It seemed so. But as I watched my daughter integrate the implications of this question, it created a shift in perception that was dark and disappointing.

It happened around age 3. At first, it was a total anomaly to her. What is this “favorite” they’re asking about? Initially she didn’t respond to the question. And it kept on coming.

As understanding dawned, she took some time to process this new idea. It was as if I could see the wheels turning in her head. “You want me to rank these things – to put something above something else.”

Toddlers are full of joy, wonder and amazement. They love everything – well, most things, and they shower those they trust with unconditional love.

So this shift from unconditional to conditional was difficult for me to anticipate – I’d never read or heard another parent’s account of the conceptual shift – and altogether disappointing.

Suddenly, my child, who’d embraced her surroundings with the wonder we all aspire to, had somehow become jaded. For her world had categories. And these categories not only elevated some things – the effect we’d anticipated – but they also made others worse.

Serendipitously, around the same time that her understanding of favorites took hold, we hired a fantastic babysitter. She was fun, childlike, compassionate, and she brought her ukelele with her to let my daughter play with it. And after one session with her, my 3 year old approached me, darkness in her eyes.

“Mommy,” she said, “Steph is my favorite person.” I was taken aback. Deep breath. “How wonderful that you love your new babysitter!” I managed with genuine enthusiasm. But her small, pensive face was clouded with conflict.

What could it mean to a developing toddler, to feel she has to rank someone above the person who for her whole life was her safe place? How might that compromise her feeling of safety, of attachment?

I did my best to explain that we could like “this and that.” That people didn’t need to be ranked above other people. That parents especially didn’t need to be ranked. We have special relationships with our parents, and they will always be special in ways that other relationships aren’t.

But it was too late. Sure, my ego was bruised briefly. But for her, the concept of favorites made her world a little less safe, a little less open, and a little less welcoming. For suddenly she felt compelled to make and declare a choice that somehow lessened her primary relationship.

If I could take it back I would. In our world it’s not altogether realistic to avoid the concept of favorites. It will emerge eventually. But to extend that joyful, unconditional innocence of toddlerhood; I’ll do my best to keep “favorites” out of my vocabulary the second time around.

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Miriam KatzMiriam J. Katz is co-author of The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year, where you can find a guide to safe co-sleeping and other fun tools. Miriam is an intuitive life coach whose passion is to help others overcome internal blocks to living their life purpose. She lives in Boston with her husband and two children.

Is the Erica May Rengo Case a Hoax?

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Baby Levi, Erica’s oldest son

About three years ago, there was a news story that caught the social media world by storm. “Habiba” was a homeless nursing mother whose baby was taken away from her. You can read more about that heart-breaking case here. I was quite surprised to find that the google search term “Is Habiba a Hoax” sent thousands of web surfers to our blog. I ended the post with these sentiments:

For the sake of argument, if this is a hoax, it’s one I’d be proud to be duped by: protecting the rights of mothers and babies everywhere.

So now, here we are again with the story of Erica May Rengo, a home-birthing, breastfeeding mama of three in Washington. Erica had her children taken away from her by Child Protection Services. There’s not much news coverage of the case yet, aside from this article on Medical Kidnap. At the end of the article, readers are encouraged to call or email the mayor, which I did. The office said they had received hundreds of calls and were going to be in touch with CPS regarding the case. (Erica and Cleave go to trial on Dec 2nd)

Some people are questioning the validity of the information in the article, the omission of facts, and the entire story in general. As I said in Habiba–it’s true: we don’t have all the facts! Of course we don’t. Do we ever? But I think that’s missing the point in this instance. I always want to do the best with what I have. And what I have is a story that tugs at my heart.

However, it’s not up to me to have the facts. I’m not a trained CPS professional. I’m not a judge hearing the case, or a lawyer presenting it. This isn’t a charity that I’m sending money to, or an organization I’m devoting time to. BUT what I can do, I want to. Like, calling a governor’s office to ask him to please investigate, (immediately!) and if the facts remain as presented in the article, to reunite the Rengo family as soon as humanly possible? Maybe there are additional details that will come out, and there are other avenues that would be better for this family before reunification. I don’t know. But I want her to have a fair investigation. Erica has twin babies and a toddler that need their mama. (The goal of CPS is to keep families intact as often as possible, BTW. So unless there are some egregious facts omitted from the article, CPS failed.)

This is a story that hits close to home. As a nursing, home-birthing mother, I relate to Erica. I feel for Erica. I hurt for Erica. And quite honestly, I find it hard to even think about how her children are doing. I imagine how mine would be without me, and it’s painful to consider. Yet, seeing the outpouring of support for this family inspires me, and shows our mama-solidarity in the face of injustice. If this story is true, imagine the difference a ten second phone call, a quick email, or even a Facebook post can make in a family’s life. And if it isn’t, I will never regret time spent helping others in good faith.

**Updated to add (11/27): For the record, I don’t believe this is a hoax. Ask my mother. I called her to talk about it – and she called the governor too. Ask my husband, every 15 minutes last night I asked him, “Could you imagine if…”, “That could have been us…”. Ask my 4.5 year old, who came in and out of the dining room as I wrote the post, watching Mommy “help another mommy.”

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

5 Favorite Tools for Going Diaper Free

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We practice Elimination Communication. While the goal is “early potty training,” my younger daughter is turning nine months now, and I’m itching to go entirely diaper free with her. When you remove diapers from the equation, you rely more on cues and intuition, putting yourself more in tune with baby and YOU! Plus, I’m all set with the weekly diaper load down two flights of stairs, and the exploding diaper bin in her room. She is also a huge wiggler and does not like getting a diaper on lying down. We’re in undies/bare bum part time now, but in the next month or two, I’ll pack up all but about 6 cloth diapers, and use them as rags for any misses. I have been thinking about what I’ll need to take the diaper-free plunge, given my experience with her sister. Here are 5 important things for a diaper-free journey!

1. Toddler training undies. We’ve used undies part time at eight months with both my daughters. I didn’t want to go bare bottomed with my first as it was cold. And because I knew some misses were inevitable, and I didn’t want to wash more pairs of pants than I had to. But try to find undies for petite bums! It took me weeks of researching and trialing, but I settled on these because they were both affordable and absorbent. They worked well for my average sized 9 month old. I’ve had friends who swear by these ones by Blueberry.

2. A throne and a corner. You may already have one of these if you’re practicing EC, but I found that having a designated potty space, where my girls would read books or play with toys, was key to consistency and making pottying an enjoyable experience. I bought an antique wooden potty at a yard sale for $10. It’s literally one of my favorite baby purchases ever. I feel like half of my older daughter’s waking hours were spent on that potty! I’d post a picture, but she’s half naked in all them. We got something like this. 

3. Vinegar and water. You probably already have both these things in your home, but when you ditch the diapers, there will be misses and messes. Yes, WILL. So, have a spray bottle of 50:50 handy, and wipe down the floor, carpet, or high chair. The first time I tried this, I was skeptical, but after the vinegar spray dissipates, there’s no trace of urine!

4. Towels or wool blankets. If you are going cold turkey and moving out of diapers at night too, these may come in handy. Some moms put them over the sheets and then just throw the wet towels on the floor in the middle of the night (assuming co-sleeping) if their little one pees. I found them really annoying while l was trying to sleep, and since the night time misses were only about once a week, I just had an extra folded towel near my pillow, and then used a few under the sheet as an extra mattress protection. I would throw a clean towel over a miss and deal with it in the morning. We prioritize sleep here!

5. Patience (and a sense of humor!). It may take a little getting used to for both you and your baby! But once you take the plunge and put away the diapers for good, it will likely take your EC relationship to a whole new level. I found that when we were relying on diapers for back-up, I would get lazy, and just let my daughters go in their diaper. But once that wasn’t an option, we developed a potty rhythm and misses were far less frequent than with the diapers! It took a few weeks though, so don’t give up! You will have good days, and not-as-good days. I found that the whole process was far more enjoyable when I took it all in stride and armed myself with the vinegar and some diaper rags!

Good luck! Are you considering taking the plunge to go diaper-free? What’s holding you back?

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

5 Ways to Bond With Your Baby When Baby-wearing Isn’t an Option

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I’m a huge baby-wearing fan. My first daughter literally fell asleep in the carrier, and only in the carrier, for the first 21 months of her life. She lived in a brown Boba for almost two years. She did weddings, funerals, holidays, shopping, walking, cooking with me. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. I loved wearing her, and assumed the rest of my babies would have that same luxury of living their first few years so close to mama.

Shortly after my second daughter was born though, I realized it wasn’t going to be such smooth sailing. I had incredibly painful varicose veins for much of my second pregnancy, and though they went away after birth, once my baby passed the ten pound mark, I could feel them flaring slightly. As her weight increased, my leg felt worse, and around six months postpartum, I developed pelvic pain and hemorrhoids that made it challenging to hold her, never mind wear her.

I felt guilty, sad, and at a loss. It seemed like one of my best mothering tools had been taken from me. Luckily, my daughter was an early crawler, and a very content baby so I managed to make dinners and do other tasks around the house while she played, instead of carrying her. But still, I wanted to be close to her. I’ve had to be more intentional but I’ve worked through the feelings of loss and instead try to focus on the ways we CAN bond! Here are my top five ways of staying connected to my daughter while trying to preserve my body.

1. Co-sleeping. My little one sleeps in the crook of my arm part of the night, sometimes on my chest, and sometimes, when I’m tired, on the other side of the bed. But we are always close, and I wouldn’t trade our nighttime snuggles for anything – not even an uninterrupted night’s sleep! We also spend about a half hour snuggling in the morning with her older sister in the bed, so everyone feels like they have their physical needs for love and affection met before our feet hit the ground! (If you’re concerned about safety, check out some of Dr. James McKenna’s research on safe co-sleeping, and his safety guidelines.) 

2. Co-bathing. Yup, it’s as easy as it sounds. Jump into the bath with your baby. If they are going through that distracted nursing stage, it’s a great way to gently encourage a good feed. It’s relaxing for you too!

3. Floor time! I am so much more intentional about tumbling on the floor with my second baby. She does “airplane” on my legs while I lie on my back, and crawls over, under, and around me. I barely ever sit on a couch, and when I do crafts or read with my older daughter, we always sit on the floor instead of at the table, so the baby can participate at all times. We also do lots of hugs and kisses on the floor.

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4. Use your stroller wisely. I didn’t use a stroller at all until my eldest turned 2. And even then I used it sparingly. I just felt like they inhibited our freedom to walk off the path, to get through doors, down stairs etc. I still feel that way, but there’s no way we could do museums or park trips without one now that I can’t hold my baby for more than a few minutes at a time. I try to push her to a destination, and then take her right out, and play on the floor for a bit before we need to move again.

I considered buying a stroller with a seat that faced toward me, but I knew my girl wouldn’t be in a stroller for that much longer–as soon as my kiddos can walk, they do–it just takes a bit longer to get places! If circumstances were different though, I may have bought something like this as a long term investment so I could interact and so that my girl could feel safe. (When babies face the world in their stroller, it can be stressful.)  As it is, I like to have my older daughter push the stroller when we walk around town, and I sometimes walk next to or in front of the stroller, making faces, and being silly with the baby.

5. Relax. We are an on-the-go family. We live close to downtown Boston, and my older daughter and I used to go into town weekly. We loved riding the train, exploring the parks in the city, and going to museums. It’s been really hard for me to slow down in that respect, and plan our day around home naps (rather than carrier naps, as in the past), but it’s been a sweet time for my older daughter and I to have time cooking, drawing, reading, or just resting. It’s a season! Before I know it, my baby will be walking, and it will be hard to catch her, never mind pick her up!

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A few other strategies made life a bit easier too. Accept help! Dad puts baby to bed when he’s home, Nana carries her down the stairs if we are going out together, Big Sister watches her when I run to the laundry. At church, instead of carrying the baby up the stairs to Sunday School while I drop off her sister, I leave the baby downstairs with a loving friend. (One of her favorites happens to be a male friend who is at least 6’4″ with glasses and a booming voice. He’s also a trained NICU nurse.)

I’m also much more organized. All the diapering supplies are in one place. The things we need to get out the door are all by the door. I can’t afford to be running around the house looking for things with her in my arms. I also do use the Ergo back carry in a pinch!

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

How and Why to Practice Elimination Communication

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Yesterday we looked at the history of diapering/pottying in the US. Today, let’s see why we may want to take a different road…

Given our recent past, it’s easy to see why anything but a diapered baby is met with skepticism and even condemnation for parents “pushing” their children too quickly. But, as with co-sleeping, experts have failed to clarify the real issue. How you respond to your baby’s elimination needs is entirely different than when.

We don’t advocate turn-of-the-century tactics. In fact, we cringe when people comment that our little ones are “potty trained.” We aim to understand their needs, and lay the foundation for a relationship of mutual respect. We’re communicating with our babies, not training them. The difference may seem subtle (and possibly even irrelevant) before you start.

Let’s draw a firmer boundary between traditional toilet training and potty-based communication. First and foremost, with EC there’s no negativity around elimination. If your child arches his back when you put him on the potty, you’re free to let him go—even if he pees in the corner, or in his diaper a moment later. Sometimes that’s frustrating for mom, but it’s counterproductive to obsess about the miss, shame the child or use any form of punishment.

EC philosophy inherently rejects all timelines as well. Babies are individuals, so assuming they should be at a given stage is detrimental to all involved. EC is about responding to your baby’s needs—so have fun and relax. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing!

In many societies throughout the globe, babies are pottied in response to their cues. In China, for example, cotton, water, and soap are all scarce items. Mothers make a whistling sound to cue their babies, and little ones dressed in split-crotch pants easily eliminate in response. By the time children can walk, around 12-14 months, they know to squat and eliminate on their own.

In many places throughout the globe, including India, Africa, Russia, and South America, locals use a similar method. In warmer climates, babies are carried naked in slings. Mothers respond to babies’ cues and signals by taking the baby out of the sling, and little ones are free to eliminate without soiling themselves or their mamas.

So…What Now?

You want to start communicating with your little one about elimination, but you have no idea where to start. We didn’t, either. Here are four tools to launch your EC relationship.

Get going. You can potty your baby from birth, or as early as you feel comfortable. Miriam got started soon after birth; Megan waited three months until they had settled into more of a routine. It’s most important that pottying is enjoyable for everyone. If you’re overly stressed by the idea, it’s probably not the right time.

Read cues. It may seem hard to believe, but during his first few months, your little one probably communicates before he goes, whether you respond or not! Common signals include sudden fussing, squirming, grunting or crying out, becoming still, waking from sleep, or a specific facial expression.

Once your baby’s old enough to notice visual cues, you may want to incorporate the sign for potty. Around six months—or earlier, if you’d like—you can show your baby the toilet sign every time you say potty. In American Sign Language, it looks like a closed fist, shaken from side to side, with your thumb peeking out between the index and middle finger.

Once a baby begins signing, it’s pretty amazing to have him deliberately tell you that he needs to go. For some, this happens as early as nine months, but all babies develop and communicate at different rates and in different ways.

Give cues. Around the world, mothers give their babies cues, like “ssshhh” or “psssss.” In the early days of your EC journey, the cue is given when mom notices her baby going. Eventually, her baby associates the cue with relaxing his bladder and releases when he hears the sound.

Get support. In today’s wired world, if none of your neighbors practice EC, you can still get all the help and encouragement you need online. Check out The Other Baby Book’s Facebook page or Diaperfreebaby.org for more support!

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This post was excerpted from The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year. Check out our book to learn more about other baby-friendly practices, like natural birthing, on-cue nursing, baby-led weaning, co-sleeping, and baby-wearing! And the e-version is FREE from October 9-12!!

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Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.

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