Saturday, July 26, 2008

Breastfeeding while pregnant

I make fun of BabyCenter so much that I knew I had to share this positive article with you. When I saw the title in my e-newsletter -- "Is it safe to continue breastfeeding while pregnant?" -- I automatically shuddered and assumed the worst, that BabyCenter would recommend against it, claiming that it caused premature labor or was just weird.

But the article is written by lactation consultant Jan Barger, and it starts off "Absolutely!"

I was also pleasantly surprised by the commenters, usually more mainstream mamas, who often defied their ob/gyns' outdated and inaccurate advice to wean immediately, and who wanted to tandem feed their newborn and toddler.

Nice to see something so pleasant!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bringing baby to the movies

theaterSam has a movie-critic past, so we used to go to lots of movies in actual theaters -- the kind with the big screens, sticky floors, and wafting scent of greasy popcorn. When we had Mikko, we wondered how we would continue to enjoy this experience with a baby. Some mothers said they could just bring their newborns with them, and the sweet little angels would nurse and snooze through the whole showing.


One try at that when Mikko was a few months old put the kibosh on that particular plan.

We looked up information on movie theaters that allowed in babies, but all we could find online at the time for our area was sorrowful posts about the defunct Reel Moms showings at AMC/Loews. That had sounded perfect -- weekly showings for just parents and babies, crying allowed, and current movies showing, not just kiddie flicks -- but it was no more. Why stop such beauty?

So, sadly, we gave up our dream of visiting a movie theater until we wanted to leave Mikko with a babysitter, something we haven't felt like doing yet. It was only one experience that we were unable to do with an infant, and there were plenty of other ways to fill our time.

But then we earned some free movie passes, and the search for baby-friendly theaters began again.

And, wouldn't you know it? Several theaters hereabouts had stepped in to fill the AMC gap. So I want to let everyone know that these options may be out there, so you don't wait till your baby's a year old like we did!

We saw The Dark Knight today, and Mikko actually did sleep through quite a bit of it. Score!

Since it's not necessarily national chains running these promotions, your experience may vary, but feel free to call and ask local theaters if they have any such amenities. We've found that, curiously, the theaters don't tend to promote their baby-friendly showings, so sometimes it's a question of ferreting them out. These ones we found, below, are in the greater Seattle area and should give you an idea of what might be offered in your neck of the woods -- or what to campaign for!

Lincoln Square Cinemas in Bellevue offers Mother's Day Thursdays -- look on the main page for the link for current showings. It's every Thursday at 10 a.m., and they rotate through a selection of the current movies they have playing, so be sure to check if your preferred movie is showing. Admission is the standard rate for adults. The website says this is parents' "chance to bring their strollers and come watch the latest movies with like-minded parents." Lights are turned up a little, and sound is turned down a little, though it's still plenty loud. It's billed for "infant children," but we (ahem) bring our 13-month-old, and no one's protested, and today I heard the pitter patter of little toddler feet behind me. And, despite the "Mother's Day" name, Sam was not turned away. One fun treat is that you're handed a menu and golf pencil upon entering, with which to order snacks to be delivered to your seat. There's a parking garage, and validation at the theater is free.

Columbia City Cinema, in the south of Seattle, offers Cry Baby Tuesdays (see tiny text notice on main page), in which babies are welcome at all shows before 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. This is not a babies-only showing, so the sound and lights are the same as in a regular screening, and you're likely to share the theater with a confused non-parent patron or several. But the newly renovated theaters are, in general, uncrowded and provide plenty of scootching space if your baby so desires (cough, cough...Mikko...cough). And the peanut-oiled popcorn is to die for.

Kirkland Parkplace Cinemas offers Baby's Day at the Movies every other Friday at 9:45 a.m. Yes, if you can't tell, all the baby showings are for the otherwise most sparsely attended times. Call ahead to find out which movies will be offered. Lights are up and sound is down.

Three Landmark Theatres in Seattle feature first-come, first-served soundproof cry rooms with glass windows and the sound piped in. Here's a super-useful blog post for how to determine which showing is in the auditorium with the attached cry room: "What's Playing in Seattle Crying Rooms?" Guild 45th, 2115 N. 45th St., seats up to two adults. Metro Cinemas, 4500 9th Ave. N.E., seats up to four adults. Varsity Theatre, 4329 N.E. University Way, seats up to two adults. If you scroll to the first picture, here's an example of what a cry room might look like, from a San Antonio forum -- but remember that everything's bigger in Texas. ;)

For summertime viewing fun, consider outdoor movies. Somewhat further afield, but if you want to feel old-timey, Everett's SRO's Puget Park Drive-In Theatre boasts a 50'x 100' screen with FM stereo sound and 700 parking stalls, and double-feature first-run shows seven days a week at dusk from May to mid-September. Blue Fox Drive-In in Oak Harbor has the same sort of set-up but is a little cheaper. Either would definitely be a whole-family possibility.

Many other locations throughout Seattle have outdoor movies in the summer, usually projected on walls. The casual atmosphere should make bringing a baby a cinch. Rather than repeat this blogger's work, I'll just link to Zee Grega's compilation of showtimes and resources: "Outdoor Summer Movies: a semi-comprehensive guide." The screenings range from golden-oldies to cult favorites to slightly more recent on-DVD favorites, and the showings are in Fremont, West Seattle, out on Lake Union in a float-in screening (!), Edmonds, Seattle Center, Rainier Square, Capitol Hill, Lynnwood, and more, not that that order made any sense. I happen to know, living in West Seattle, that High Point Community Center also did an outdoor showing this year -- check your local park schedule for family events like that. (For instance, there's a pdf to download at the link.)

popcornWell, I didn't mean for that to be as long as it was, but it turns out there are quite a few options for baby-friendly moviegoing! So avoid the glares and stares at your crying or cooing young'un, and head off to a place where you'll fit right in.

If you know of other family-friendly movie options, in Seattle or in your own region, please feel free to post them in the comments so other parents have ideas of where to go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Signing readiness

I found this FAQ at that says blowing and clapping are early signs and show the start of the progression to full signing dexterity:

"Many children do not start signing back until they are closer to 11 or 12 months old [like our child!]. Typically, they will start with the signs and gestures that involve facial expression (blowing, panting), then whole arm signs & gestures (i.e., bye bye, clapping), then hand signs (i.e., hat, milk) and finally signs involving various hand shapes and more dexterity (i.e., cat, pointing)."

Mikko began with blowing back when we would blow on him, though we weren't using it as any sort of sign. He then began to love clapping, and now he does it throughout the day, appropos of nothing much. His first real sign was "cat," but it was a modified one that was essentially a hand sign (similar to the sign for "milk"). Now we're working on "all done" (he likes to throw his hands in the air), "more" (akin to clapping), and "daddy" -- I'm debating whether it's worth tossing "mama" in there as well, considering the placement of "dad" and "mom" seem like a fine distinction for Mikko at this point. Mikko's closest approximation of "dad" right now is sort of a "Heil Hitler." We'll try not to let him do it in public.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Judging other mommies

Tanya at the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog wrote a recent post titled "You never know" about usually assuming that a baby being fed a bottle in public is getting formula, and whether that was (ethically, morally) appropriate. Many commenters wrote in to say that we need to stop the Mommy Judgment wars and let each other be.

I, however, have high respect for judgment.

How am I supposed to decide what is best or right for my family and me if I can't use my discernment to weigh opposing ideas and choose the path that works for me? When I see other people choosing a different path, how can I not wonder if they chose what's best -- or only what was easiest?

I think it's a good idea not to judge individual mothers, and not to be an out-and-out jerk about it. If I saw a single mother bottle feeding in public, I would wonder why she didn't feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, or why she didn't consider breastmilk a better option than formula. I wouldn't go up and smack the bottle out of her hand -- I wouldn't say anything to her at all about it. But if she asked me for my opinion, I'm sure I'm allowed to offer my "judgment" of what I think would be best for her and her baby. If it turns out I'm off base with her in particular -- that she's bottle feeding an adopted baby or what have you -- then I haven't put my foot in my mouth, just offered my general opinion that applies in most situations.

The other day, I was talking with the parents of a baby boy and the expectant parents of a baby boy, and up came the topic of circumcision. Without being too graphic or too vehement, because I didn't know what the parents of the current baby had chosen, I needed to give my take on the benefits of not circumcising and explain that, in my judgment, circumcision is worse than leaving a baby's genitals intact. I tried to use tact so that no one present would feel "judged," but I was still giving a judgment. If the parents in question then choose to circumcise their son, despite now having more facts at their disposal, then, yes, I will judge them for it. I won't be a jerk or shun them, but I will think to myself that it's a shame.

I think part of being a judgmental mother is being in the minority. When circumcision rates are over half the population and breastfeeding rates at 6 months are below half, I feel it's appropriate to make some judgments -- to people's faces when necessary.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Why are adults in charge of playing?

I've discovered a new tool in our work-at-home arsenal: the playground.

It's going to seem obvious when I say that Mikko enjoys the playground, but truly, he didn't until this month. Before that, he found the slide befuddling and the creaking noise of the swing chains eerie. And getting on the swings? Fuhgedaboutit.

But the beach this past weekend was ├╝ber-crowded, so I headed inland and stumbled upon the nearest playground. It was a playground we had scoped out when we decided to move to this neighborhood when I was pregnant, but we hadn't needed to use it before now. I saw that it had a sizable sand area littered with communal sand toys, so I stored that information away in my head and toddled back home, past the sunbaking masses. Mikko was in the Ergo on my back, and I didn't feel like letting him down and getting him back up under the gaze of so many curious eyes -- getting him on my back by myself always ends up seeming like I'm berating him: "Give me your hand. Give me your hand. Mikko, give me your hand!" One of us usually ends up crying, too.

The next day was hot. Our apartment, sans outdoor breezes, was even hotter. Sam was away, and I was desperate. I tried to blow up our kiddie pool to put out on the porch, but Mikko freaked when I flipped the switch for the electric pump. No way was I filling that thing with lungs alone.

So I pulled out our umbrella stroller, stashed my laptop in a backpack I looped on the back, added a couple granola bars and a drink, and headed off to the park.

Mikko loved it. I plopped him down in the sandpit, and he promptly scooted away from me, just like the mobile babies in The Continuum Concept. He picked up a rake and then mostly just held it and people-watched. And, boy, were there a lot of people to watch. He was fascinated by the 2-year-old girl and the 8-year-old boy, the 11-month-old baby and the mother and father helping their 2-year-old pour sand into a tractor. Mikko didn't made eye contact with me only rarely, but he must have felt confident in knowing I was nearby to continue scooting around and, well, staring -- one of his favorite pastimes when we're out and about.

I pulled out my laptop, hacked into an open wireless network, and got to work goofing off online, what I do best. That said, when I told Sam what we had done that day, we both realized that we could use the time to work while Mikko amuses himself, which is a great strategy for a mom-and-pop business.

Every once in awhile, I'd glance around and find I was the target of inquisitive looks. I investigated the scene more thoroughly and realized that I was (a) the only parent who had brought something to do and (b) the only parent not interacting with her child. I found this strange.

For (a), why wouldn't people want to take the opportunity to read a book or talk with other parents or chat on a cell phone rather than be caught up in what their children were doing, something they would have to do when they were somewhere less interesting to their children? Why not take advantage of the distraction that the playground offered?

Granted that it was a Sunday, and many of these parents were probably off work and enjoying some interactive time with their kids. Ok, but on to (b).

For (b), I enjoyed seeing some parents, fathers in particular, roughhousing and playing imaginative games with their kids, utilizing the equipment. Some just ran around on the grass playing tag, which seemed like fun as well. But 80 percent or so of the parents just nagged and directed.

"Don't eat that. No, icky." (I was the only one letting her child sample the sand and mulch, and Mikko had the dirt goatee to prove it.)

"You want to go to the slide now? Come on, let's go to the slide. Put down the shovel. Come on, let's go to the slide." (This said as the child is crying and reaching back toward the sandbox.)

"Don't you want to share your bucket? Let Braden have a turn with the bucket. What good sharing!" This emphasis on sharing became especially problematic because Mikko has entered a phase of unrehearsed, undirected sharing. He offers items to anyone nearby, whether it's a half-chewed piece of apple with all the juice sucked out, or a booger from his nose, or, in this case, a sandbox toy. He scooted up to a little girl and offered his rake to her. She clutched her shovel in response and shied away, rightly fearing that if she accepted his rake, she would have to give up her pink shovel, per her parents' instructions. They tried in vain to get her to "share," while I debated how or whether to intervene. I wanted to reassure the girl that Mikko didn't at all expect her shovel in return, and in fact would probably take back the rake within 4 seconds (he's not a permanent giver), but then I felt I was interrupting the parents' "lesson." In the end, I just picked him up and brought him back toward me so the girl could continue her play.

I just kept wondering at why all these parents had an agenda in mind for the playground. What difference did it make to them whether their children spent their whole time in the sandbox or on the slide? Wouldn't they learn to interact socially without constant advice and praise? Mikko gave a fine example of just that, with his natural inclination toward gifting. Would a little sand tasting hurt so very much? How will they build up a healthy immune system otherwise? Ha ha.

Here's what Peggy O'Mara writes in one of her "A Quiet Place" essays:

"Self-direction is one of the great values of play. We all enjoy it. Children love to--need to--play. This is how they create themselves. They practice different realities in play and from them form a personality. It is easy for parents to forget the importance of simple, unstructured play because of the pressures we all feel to make sure that our children have all of the appropriate advantages. The greatest advantage to childhood, however, may simply be free time.

"When my children were young, there was a growing number of programs for children. Now there are endless choices of dance, music, art, sports, drama, martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, etc. for children of all ages. Many parents feel pressured for our children to compete with other children for excellence and achievement in these and other pursuits. We often feel in competition with their parents. We also feel pressure to begin our children in formal educational programs at younger and younger ages, and for longer and longer periods.

"While it is important that children and families interact with their peers and take advantage of appropriate learning opportunities, it is also essential for us not to expect of our children too much abstract learning in their first three to five years. This is when they are learning from the home environment, digging in the dirt of themselves. This is their matrix, their focal point of learning, during these early years."

To "dig in the dirt of themselves" might require basic digging in the dirt.

I was feeling nostalgic and a little sad as I walked Mikko's stroller back to our place and remembered my own childhood of freedom. We had a playground right outside our door, and my friends and I spent hours flipping over monkey bars and spinning ourselves dizzy on the merry-go-rounds. (Those, along with tall metal slides that have actual slipperiness to them, seem to have gone the way of the woolly mammoth.) We would dig up edible plants or shovel in the sand right down to the clay. We would pick up worms and observe roly-poly bugs. We would create forts underneath willow trees and pretend our bikes were horses. When I was in junior high, we could ride all over the city I lived in then.

I don't see junior-high children out riding their bikes alone in this city. I don't see elementary-school children at the playground by themselves. I question whether I would be comfortable allowing that for my own children. I suppose it's an issue of safety, and maybe that's for the best, but I long for those good old days that I remember enjoying.

Because the unintended consequence of always needing to observe your child playing is that parents don't seem able to stop themselves from doing more than observing. We should sit back and let our children get on with the business of play, inserting ourselves only when invited.

Here's an article by Greg Richmond titled "Bring Back Play." As with Peggy O'Mara, he points out that one of the pressures sabotaging child-directed play is the parents' drive to make their children successful. In the sandbox, that translates to drilling the concept of sharing toys and behaving appropriately around the other kids. What mother wants her kid to be the only one eating the sand? (Well, me.) But the benefits of free play that Richmond points out are so great that we really need to step back and let our children make choices, make mistakes, and maybe even hurt themselves as they explore their world.

Benefits of play include building social skills by uninterrupted interactions with other children, burning off physical energy and developing fitness, learning creativity and problem solving, and what Richmond calls self-regulation, or the ability to control behavior, which is a component of self-talk, present in imaginative, free-form play. Getting outside for the play also provides the benefits of sunlight-induced vitamin D and a break from the television and computer screens. (Well, for Mikko, at any rate -- I'm bringing mine with me!)

Here's another article from PBS' The Whole Child about the benefits of self-directed play: Creativity and Play: Fostering Creativity.

"Play is the serious business of young children and the opportunity to play freely is vital to their healthy development. ... As caregivers, we must be careful to avoid dominating the play ourselves. Play should be the result of the children's ideas and not directed by the adult. ... Our goal is to stimulate play -- not control it -- and to encourage children's satisfaction in playing with each other."

Despite feeling like the only one at the playground practicing benign neglect, I'm going back there, and I'm going to sit back and let Mikko get to work at playing.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Beginning to communicate, Part 2

I'm not one of those people who goes ga-ga over the newborn stage. I think they're cute, don't get me wrong. But as a former cat sitter, I know that kittens, while adorable balls of fluff, are made purely of fur and energy. They're much more work than reward than an adult cat.

So it's with pleasure and anticipation that I look forward to Mikko's burgeoning skills and growth as a human. Our cat, Mrs. Pim, has not learned more than a couple new tricks since we adopted her, but Mikko is learning new things every day. And it seems like being able to communicate is what makes us uniquely human, so that's what I've been most excitedly watching for.

So, a few weeks ago, we noticed that Mikko was balling up his fist numerous times a day, as if he was waving to himself or perhaps -- our cat? Because he seemed to always wave at the cat. Isn't that cute? we thought.

A few days later, our oh-duh moment: He's SIGNING "cat."

It's a crap version of the sign, but that's my own fault. The ASL sign for cat is pretty much what you'd expect -- drawing whiskers away from the nose, like so. He has been fascinated with the cat from a very young age, so I chose it as one of our first signs. But since he'd always been looking at the cat when I thought to sign it to him, I ended up doing the whiskers somewhere out in the air, or occasionally on Mrs. Pim. So, a scrunching hand it is -- CAT. Our baby's signing.

He also uses his sign for dogs, as we found out when we visited a friend with a boxer mix. He's not particular.

What he is is consistent -- he uses it every single time he sees or hears the kitty.

Now, the next exciting news -- and I had thought the signing update would be enough for one post, but I didn't post soon enough -- is that he has now said his first word as well! And wouldn't you know -- KITTY.

Too bad (poor, beleaguered) Mrs. Pim doesn't love him back.

I recommend baby sign language both for the early-communication possibilities and for the thrill it gives you to have your baby "talking" earlier than you had hoped for. I've particularly heard that boys tend to talk later, so signing can help bridge the gap, and it's also useful for multilingual families to make concepts accessible in more than one language.

As a quick intro, start with just a couple signs, and try to mix up highly motivating and need-based signs. The need-based ones are the ones you'll want your baby to learn for your own convenience: "more," "eat," "milk," "hurt," and so on. But the motivating ones, like "kitty," "light," "truck," or "fan," are for objects or ideas they're interested in and want to talk about -- as we discovered!

You might as well go pure ASL when you can, because American Sign Language is its own language and your child might be able to learn more down the road and communicate with Deaf people. You might need to make up signs for specific concepts in your own family, but be aware that those signs won't be translatable outside of your household. Our other first sign has been "nummies," which I did make up -- it's an adaptation of the ASL for "breastfeeding," but less embarrassing. (Well, look it up and see what I mean -- Variation 2.) I wanted to retain "milk" for when Mikko's drinking cow's milk. My sign is like the sign for "breasts," as in Variation 1 above, but with an "N"-shape hand. Here's hoping I didn't inadvertently pick some real, offensive sign.

Once your baby's caught on to the first couple signs, you can race to keep up!

Here are a few resources to get you started:

Photos of kids signing (helpful for seeing the signs in action on a baby -- as our experience with "cat" shows, kids' signs don't always match exactly the adult versions)

American Sign Language online dictionaries (oh, glory -- I remember when my only option was to interpret line drawings in books)

Books & DVDs

Comprehensive sites

And here, my friends, is a much smarter baby than mine:

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Frozen feeding cubes

We had tried to follow the dictates of Baby-Led Solids, outlined here on this excellent Dutch site (picture above is from there). We haven't been entirely successful (or, perhaps, just not entirely obedient) for a few reasons, although I still believe in the philosophy of baby-led solids.

First of all, you're supposed to give your baby large pieces of food that they can easily hold and then gnaw around. What's in their fist is supposed to be the "handle." Mikko thinks handles are delicious, apparently, because he shoves the whole thing in his mouth, regardless of size. So we've had to resort to pea-sized bites that he can pick up in his pincer grasp, the way conventional baby-feeding advice articles recommend. I know the difference between gagging and choking, and Mikko was one second away from the Heimlich maneuver at least three times, so pea-size it is for now.

Secondly, this kid has a gag reflex the size of Utah and has trouble swallowing anything but breastmilk. This really isn't an issue at this point, although it does get us comments from the relatives. Everyone wants to feed the baby, and everyone wants to see the baby eat. He's over a year old now, so everyone figures he should be scarfing down solids by now. Well, he's not. recommends 25 percent solids at 12 months and 75 percent breastmilk, and we're probably close enough to that. People used to formula-fed babies having rice cereal shoved in starting at 6 months (or earlier) are aghast that he still nurses so much.

I think it's amusing that our larger-than-average baby can be accused of under- and overeating at the same time. When he was born, everyone was worried that he must have high glucose (he didn't) and then that he didn't seem hungry enough to breastfeed (they were wrong, because he's a nursing champ). That first week they worried that he was losing too much weight, and then they worried that he was gaining weight so quickly his first six months. Now that he's been holding his (high) weight steady for the past several months, it's solids -- they think it's strange that he's not hungrier for solids than he is, but they worry that his appetite for breastfeeding is too high.

Here's my theory: He's doing what's just right for him and his body.

I have to keep reminding myself and hinting to others that we can't take adult perspectives and hangups about weight and food and apply them to babies. Mikko isn't overweight, and he's not overeating or undereating. There's a distinction between being "larger than average" and being "fat" in the way we as adults understand the latter term. If a healthy baby is allowed to choose his breastfeeding and solids for himself, there's no way he's what we would call fat, even though I'll be the first to admit Mikko's a roly-poly little guy.

But, back to our issues with baby-led solids -- Sam & I were having problems finding solids on our plates that were appropriate and tempting. I'll just say it -- we eat crappy food. I have resolved to change this so that Mikko stands a chance at growing up without the food hangups alluded to above, but that's a post for another day. I wanted to offer him tastes of vegetables and fruits that he could eat, and most of the veggies on our plates were raw, which were hard for him to handle.

Enter purées.

I had sworn I would never feed him baby food, and certainly never buy those costly little jars instead of at the very least making my own mashes.

Oh, well. Safeway Organics were on sale, so I grabbed a variety. Turns out, the kid likes prunes -- who knew!

He still barely makes a dent in the spoonful we give him at mealtimes, but he's enjoying playing with silverware and making a mess, and it gives us a few seconds to wolf down our (pruneless) meal.

It came in really handy a week or so after we bought them when Mikko had surgery and needed pain medicine. Here's where his aversion to solids, drinking from a cup, and swallowing really bit us in the butt, because now he needed pain medicine, and the pharmacist couldn't understand our insistence that a suppository form would be much easier than the sugary flavored syrups they'd sent us off with. Sigh. Red dye everywhere, screaming baby, thrashing limbs -- it seemed like the medicating was worse than the pain.

Until we mixed his meds with purées. Ah, see, they have their purpose! Suddenly, he was eating fruity-tasting, sweetened, slightly reddened prunes, butternut squash, "lentil dinner," applesauce, and, yes, sherbet. Hey, ice cream is the one food where he'll actually let us wield the spoon and feed him!

Despite all this heavy feeding and the tiny little jars, he had eaten maybe a quarter of each when they all went bad. You're supposed to use them up within three days after opening. We pushed that deadline, and how.

So, here's my little tip o' the day, one I'd read before and seen nifty overpriced gadgets to dedicate to the task, but it bears passing on for those like us who appreciate variety in our baby food jars but find that having more than one opened at a time just means that more than one will spoil in short order.

  1. Empty out an ice cube tray. Seriously, just a regular one will do, but wouldn't a rubber ducky one be awesome?
  2. Save the ice cubes for chilling summer drinks. (Hot where you are? It's been stifling here.)
  3. Spoon the contents of the little jars into the ice cube tray.
  4. Freeze it.
  5. Next feeding time, pop out a little frozen cube of mashed bananas or chicken-and-rice surprise, and defrost in the microwave.
  6. If you need the tray back, you can pop them all out and store them in a bag or freezer-proof container. But it also works well to pop just one hideous ice cube at a time.
  7. Add pain medicine to taste. Just joking on that one. Unless you really do need to force feed your baby some meds. In that case, go to town mixing it on in, and hope your baby feels better soon. Ours does.