For the first time in my mothering life, I’m heading back to work full time. Declan is 2.5 months old and while I’m excited to return to work I enjoy, I’m also sad that we have to be apart (I will save my rant about the deplorable state of maternity/paternity leave in the US for another day). Fortunately, technology – the breast pump – makes it possible for me to maintain my breastfeeding relationship despite being away for the work day. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I have a snazzy new Hygeia Q (the insurance branded version of the Hygeia EnJoye) with which to pump.
Ah pump time!!
Breast pumps help mamas provide their babies with breast milk when they are apart, they help mamas maintain lactation when baby is unable to nurse due to illness or physical barriers, and they offer mamas an alternative way to provide breastmilk if for whatever reason they do not wish to nurse at the breast. So yay for breast pumps!!
But…as with most technology there is a downside to the breast pump. And I don’t just mean the odd feeling one gets when sitting hooked up to a whirring machine wondering if one’s co-workers can hear said whirring.
Rather, sometimes the very thing that makes breast pumps such a blessing – the ability to express milk efficiently without a baby involved – also makes them a bit of a curse. Let me explain.
“Do I have enough milk?” That concern in some iteration plagues many a breastfeeding mama. And for many women, pumping compounds the concern. Heck, I’m on baby #3, I’m an accredited breastfeeding counselor with Breastfeeding USA, and have read more about breastfeeding than most medical professionals and I still watch the drips into those bottles with an eagle eye as I try to still the voice in my head saying “you need more; you need more!”
Because we can pump, sometimes it feels like we have to. You’ve heard the advice to “pump now after every feeding to build that freezer stash!” Don’t do it!! (see below for why it’s a bad idea). And because we can pump, it feels like we need to pump more. I’m sure I’m not alone in that nagging feeling that no matter how much I pump, it’s not enough – even when it totally is.
Things don’t necessarily get easier even when we’ve been pumping for a while; in fact, often they get harder. Many pumping mamas experience drops in output, increasing stress over finding time to pump, and just burn out from being hooked up to a machine multiple times a day (thus the popularity of the “smash the pump” ritual at the end of one’s pumping career!).
I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture. Really, truly I’m so glad breast pumps exist! But I do think there are some fairly simple things pumping mamas can do to stay sane and have a more positive pumping experience. These come out of my breastfeeding education, working with other nursing/pumping mamas, and my personal experience.
- Don’t pump too early. Many mamas want to know when they should start pumping. For mama-baby pairs where breastfeeding can proceed normally, pumping prior to 4-6 weeks postpartum is not necessary and can be counter productive. If baby is unable to nurse at the breast (or if mama chooses to be an exclusive pumper), than of course pumping needs to happen right out of the gate. But if you are nursing at the breast, leave the pump in the box during those early weeks.
- Pumping on top of nursing is a lot of extra work. And if you’ve had a newborn, you know that’s not the time for extra work! Use your time to rest, to get a solid foundation for nursing at the breast, and to enjoy snuggling your baby.
- Pumping too much too early can also give you an oversupply. The early weeks of breastfeeding help to “establish your supply”; if you up the demand on your breasts by pumping, your body may think you are nursing multiple babies and will produce accordingly. While that may sound attractive (bonus milk! freezer stash!), those who have dealt with oversupply can tell you it’s not. Oversupply can cause trouble for your nursing newborn (including difficulty latching and gas and colic symptoms) and for you (including engorgement, clogged ducts, and mastitis).
- Use breastfeeding friendly bottle practices. Overfeeding baby at the bottle is probably the #1 pumping problem. What does baby’s intake have to do with pumping? Well, consider this…let’s say you are away from baby for 9 hours between your workday and commute. And let’s say your well intentioned care provider gives baby 3, 5 oz bottles in that time frame (because in her experience, that’s what formula fed babies generally take). So baby has had 15 oz in 9 hours; potentially 2/3 of her intake for the entire day (as the typical intake for a breastfed baby is 19-30 oz per day). So you’ll just pump 15 oz right? For some pumping mamas that’s no problem. But for many of us, that’s simply not a realistic pumping amount. So what to do??
- Remember that a breastfed baby’s intake does not increase after the first month (growth spurts excepted). A formula fed baby does start to take larger bottles; a breastfed baby does not. The typical breastfed baby will only ever take a 3-4 oz bottle.
- Babies, particularly young ones, are designed to eat frequently. Instead of forcing baby to stretch out feeds and take larger amounts, care providers should be attentive to baby’s feeding cues. That may mean baby is taking smaller amounts every 2 hours vs. larger bottles every 3-4 hours.
- Babies like to suck! And sucking is comforting! When at the breast, babies change their suck (those little flutter sucks) when they want comfort vs. food. That change in suck triggers a change in milk flow (smart breasts we have!). Babies will do the same at the bottle BUT bottles aren’t so smart and don’t change milk flow. Result…baby gets more milk than baby really wanted (which can lead to tummy upset and excess spitting). So…
- Paced bottle feeding is your friend. Make sure you care provider understands paced feeding (which I would argue is equally important for formula fed babies) and that your baby may not eat the same amount at every feeding (do you eat the same portion every meal??). Make sure to that your care provider is willing to distinguish baby’s different cries – is that a hungry fuss? A tired fuss? A want to suck fuss?
- Consider whether a pacifier might help. I don’t love pacifiers, primarily because I abhor the “baby is using me as a pacifier” line. But…when mama’s breasts aren’t available and baby truly isn’t hungry and just wants to suck, a pacifier can be a lifesaver.
- Send your milk in smaller increments. If you send a 5 oz bottle to your care provider, baby is likely going to get a 5 oz bottle. Consider storing your milk in 2-3 oz increments. Baby will get a more appropriate amount and you are less likely to end up with wasted milk.
- Know your equipment. Although each breast pump has its own “quirks,” they should all be used the same basic way to mimic baby’s action at the breast. Your pump should also fit you comfortably; an uncomfortable pump will yield less milk.
- Babies use a faster, gentler suck to trigger your milk letdown and then switch to a slower, slightly stronger suck for active nursing. Your pump has two variables – cycle rate and suction strength – that you can use to mimic this pattern. Use a fast cycle rate and comfortable suction to trigger your letdown; when the milk starts flowing (and only then!) slow the cycle rate and bump the suction just a touch (still should be comfortable). You can repeat this pattern to trigger a second let down. I prefer pumps such as the Hygeiaor Ameda which allow you to independently control both cycle rate and suction. If you have a pump like the Medela that automatically switches after a set period of time, remember to use the letdown button as needed to continue the faster cycle rate until you let down. The amount of time you need to get a let down will vary from session to session.
- Make sure you have good flange fit. If your nipples are rubbing the sides of your flanges, you need to size up. If your areola is being drawn in with your nipple, you should probably size down. If you have a properly sized flange and are still feeling chaffed, try a little coconut or olive oil to lubricate before pumping.
- Pumping shouldn’t hurt! If you are having pain, or if you are having trouble getting a letdown with your pump, seek hands on help (see below).
- Have spare parts handy. Make sure you always have back up parts for your pump – flanges, valves, tubing, etc. Over time, you will need to replace some parts. Extra parts stashed at work can also save the day if you forget something. Some mamas like to keep a manual pump handy as well as a back up; learning to hand express is also a good idea.
- Use hands on pumping to maximize your output. When we nurse at the breast, our breasts get a lot of touching that the pump just doesn’t provide. Mimicking that touch can also help us relax – important for our milk ejection reflex.
- Be smart with your scheduling. Another hurdle many pumping mamas face is finding the time to pump. A busy workday and shared pumping spaces can make it challenging to maintain a regular pumping schedule. It is important to try to pump on a schedule that mimics how baby would eat. Although missing or delaying a scheduled pump every once in a while won’t cause huge problems, repeatedly doing so can easily lead to issues including a drop in output (less demand = less supply), engorgement, clogged ducts, or mastitis. So how to carve out pumping time?
- Know your rights! Employers must provide adequate time and a location for pumping. Have a conversation with your employer prior to your return to work to make sure that expectations and accommodations are clear.
- Use a hands-free bra to help you master multi-tasking. These are also great if you need to use your commute as pumping time.
- If you can nurse at the breast, do. Nursing baby right before you leave and right when you pick up can save you from needing to pump that extra 3-4 ounces. If you have the option of nursing on your lunch break, take it.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. We’ve all heard the stories of mamas who routinely get 12 oz per pump session or who have gallons of milk as back up. They are outliers! A “normal” pumping supply provides just what baby needs; anything extra is actually an oversupply. So great if you do have more milk – you can donate! But if you are “breaking even” – that’s ok! Your body is doing exactly what it should – producing just what baby needs.
- Use biology to your advantage. As noted above, babies are designed to eat small frequent meals. And babies of all ages (yes, all ages) often need to eat at night. If you continue to feed on demand, baby will most likely naturally space out feedings around the clock – meaning less you have to produce pumping. Many babies will also reverse cycle as a way to reconnect with mama after being apart. Those extra night nursing sessions not only offset ounces you would otherwise have to pump but are also great to keep your milk making hormones jumping. Many mamas find that bed sharing helps them to still get good rest while meeting the needs of a reverse cycling baby. If baby isn’t reverse cycling or if you aren’t comfortable with bed sharing, you can get in extra snuggles in other ways (for example by wearing baby during the dinner routine).
- Seek support. You are not alone on your pumping journey. Seek out other women who have been there or who are pumping along with you. If you are having trouble pumping or concerns about pumping, reach out. Breastfeeding USA counselors are available through local meetings but are also happy to work remotely with mamas. A good IBCLC can also help troubleshoot pumping and bottle feeding. As with any aspect of breastfeeding, hands on help is essential to overcoming challenges!
I’m officially a mama to three! Baby Declan joined us on June 4, weighing in at 9 lbs 12 oz and measuring 22 inches long. Here’s our birth story!
My belly shot at 40 weeks – went into labor that evening.
Given that my last baby (Eleanor) was 10 days “late,” I had mentally been preparing for a repeat this pregnancy. By my June 3 due date, I’d been having random mild (as in not the least painful but noticeable) contractions for several days, although nothing at all regular. On the afternoon of the 3rd, Jesse and I took the kids to a book signing about 30 minutes down the road. Apparently I was looking pretty pregnant as the bookshop staff insisted that we move to the front of the line! On the way home (around 5) I was definitely feeling that I was having semi-regular contractions – still nothing the least painful; just a “hey, my uterus is doing something” feeling. Although didn’t want to get too hopeful as I’d had spells of that with Eleanor off and on for over a week.
Ordered some delicious white clam pizza for dinner – kinda regretted that one later! And got the kids ready for bed. By 8 or so I was starting to feel that maybe this was the real deal. I was having noticeable (although still not painful) contractions every 2-3 minutes (all 3 of my labors started with close contractions) that seemed to be ramping up a bit. Jesse and I debated when we should call in our child care crew – one of my co-workers and her husband graciously volunteered to be on call to watch Callum and Eleanor. We decided to err on the safe side and they came over around 9:30 or so; by then it was pretty clear this was the “real deal” – turns out Declan wanted to be pretty punctual!
Since I was not positive for group B strep this time, there wasn’t really any need to be at the hospital early (side note, we have moved to New Haven, CT since my last birth. Since the nearest birth center was over an hour away, I opted to go with a hospital based midwifery practice.). Plus we only had a 5 minute drive this time. So it seemed really silly to jump the gun. But by 10:30 it seemed like things were moving pretty quickly – I was getting to the stage where you have to stop what you are doing to focus through the contraction and didn’t want to still be home when I got to the “make a lot of noise to get through the contraction” stage. So off we went.
Declan fresh from the womb!
As it turned out, the timing was quite good! Between home and the hospital I got to the “can’t walk through these contractions” phase – which was fun because we had a bit of trouble actually getting into the hospital (which gets locked down at night). We apparently parked in the wrong parking deck and couldn’t find a way out of it that led into the hospital; finally sorted that out although the security guard that let us in seemed a bit alarmed that I might have a baby in the hallway (wasn’t even close!). I think we arrived at L&D sometime around 11 and met Melanie, the midwife on call that evening. We delivered at the smaller hospital in town – things were very quiet which was nice. Baby looked good on a quick check on the monitor and it turned out that I was already at 6 cm, -3 station, with a bulging bag of waters (Hadn’t had an internal at all to this point so no clue where I started. Was also impressed that I was never checked again during labor.).
Labored on the ball a bit and then decided to try the squat bar on the bed (which is actually a nifty set up). Hit the puke stage but fortunately it passed much more quickly this time than in previous labors. Switched to hands and knees for a while but went quickly back to the bar. I was torn between thinking “wow, feels like I’m getting close” and “no way have I been laboring long enough to have this baby!” I realized that Melanie was staying in the room at this point – just chilling in the corner. Honestly, aside from occasionally checking baby’s heart rate, I’m pretty sure no one really said anything to us at all. And the first hour or so we were pretty much left alone – so really great job on the part of the L&D crew as far as supporting intervention-free/physiologic birth.
I do lots of squats and did so during pregnancy. And I have pretty strong legs. But squatting is hard work! What worked well was to squat up on the bar during a contraction; Jesse would sort of sit behind me to offer support. And then I could sit back on the bed between contractions. And don’t laugh but for some reason I kept thinking “open flower” during contraction – I’m going to blame my recent reading of an Ina May Gaskin book for that one! Not sure how long this went on for (couldn’t have been that long) – I kept watching for Melanie to glove up or otherwise indicate that things might be getting close. Leave it to me to overanalyze such a situation! Was feeling more and more pressure during contractions so knew baby was moving down. Suddenly there was a “pop” – my water broke and was pretty full of meconium (which it also was with Callum although it broke early in labor with him). At which point I said “oh shit!” and noted Melanie was finally gloving up…and that the baby was crowning!
Oddly I stopped feeling contractions at that point so not sure if I wasn’t contracting or just wasn’t feeling them. Got the head out quickly, kinda sat on the edge of the bed (still leaning back on Jesse) and delivered the shoulders. I’m told it was 2 minutes between my water breaking and baby being out. And about 2 hours of “labor really hurts” labor – by far my shortest.
Because of the meconium, they cut the cord pretty immediately and popped him in the warmer for a quick check. But he was back on my chest in about a minute. My first thought was that he was not as big as Eleanor (he was a few ounces shy) and my second was that I was actually really done having this baby! The placenta delivered fairly quickly and we were left to rest and snuggle. And no stitches needed – whew! After poking around a bit, Declan latched on and nursed like a champ about an hour after birth. A bit later we were wheeled down the hall to our postpartum room and tucked in for the night.
Things got a bit interesting the next day as Declan had a post-birth NICU adventure not so unlike his sister’s (he’s fine now)…but that’s a story for another day. We are all home now. Big brother and big sister are pretty impressed with their “adorable” little brother and mama and daddy are slowly catching up on some sleep
12 month old Eleanor napping peacefully.
Let me let you in on an important secret that society doesn’t seem to want us to know about sleep. Babies wake up. Sometimes a lot. Older babies wake up too. So do toddlers. Even school aged kids wake up. And you know what? Adults often wake in the night too!
So why is it that we so often hear “my baby is a BAD sleeper” from parents struggling to deal with night wakings if waking is a normal part of sleep?
I’ve written before about the problem with the labels “bad” and “good” when it comes to children. I think the language we use to describe our children and their behaviors matters. In the case of sleep, labeling a child a “bad” sleeper sets parents up for a lot more stress and anguish over their child’s sleep patterns than is healthy or necessary. And when what we are calling “bad” is in fact NORMAL, it is doubly frustrating – we are setting parents up to feel like failures when their children behave in a perfectly typical and developmentally appropriate fashion.
For whatever reason, Americans have pathologized normal infant sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the parent of an infant who is waking at night ask “what am I doing wrong?” – Nothing. I mean I suppose if you are blasting death metal at 2 a.m. or taking your kids out late night partying, you are doing something wrong as far as helping your child develop healthy sleep habits. But if your 2 month old, or 4 month old, or 10 month old, or 16 month old wakes in the night and needs you, you are not doing anything wrong!
All healthy humans sleep in cycles – we go through periods of lighter and deeper sleep throughout the night. And many of us actually wake up enough to be aware of our waking – I know I do every night. We wake up long enough to roll over, maybe fluff our pillow, or even grab a drink of water. That’s not “bad” sleep; that’s normal sleep.
Infants and children do the same thing. But there’s an important difference. Like pretty much everything else an infant does, they need our help with sleep – they need help getting to sleep, sometimes staying asleep, and help getting through those periods of light sleep. As they get older, they naturally develop the ability to do these things on their own – just like adults do. But that’s a gradual process just like any other developmental task. Our babies aren’t born walking, talking, or eating independently – we help them learn those skills over time. Why is sleep different? Why do we expect magically independent sleep overnight? Why the obsession with “sleeping through the night” at an early age when we don’t expect them to do any of those other things so quickly after birth?
Think about language development – first babies babble. Then maybe we get some words, followed by short sentences. As a child grows older, her language becomes increasingly sophisticated. She experiments. Maybe stumbles sometimes. But all the while she becomes more able to use language. And these milestones occur at different times for different children. Some children start talking in sentences by 1. Others don’t have a single word at 2. And both might be very fluent speakers at 2.5. Kids develop in different patterns; normal covers a large range.
Sleep is no different. Some babies start sleeping in long stretches right off the bat and never stop. Some sleep long stretches and suddenly start waking again. Some babies never do long stretches until they are toddlers. Some babies need lots of rocking; some babies don’t. Some babies love to nurse/suck to sleep; some don’t. And it is all NORMAL!
If you are like me and are persuaded by hard science, head over to Evolutionary Parenting and check out her excellent series on normal infant sleep – peer reviewed research folks – it’s good stuff!
But even without the science, common sense tells us that babies just aren’t hard wired to sleep 12 or 8 or even 4 hour stretches just because they’ve reached X age or Y weight. Think of how many adults struggle to get to sleep. Why should a tiny baby have some magic way to do it on her own? Consider how many adults dislike sleeping alone. Should your child be any different?
So, no, your baby is NOT a “bad” sleeper – stop telling yourself that! And stop listening to all those who are not in your house and not the parent of your child on what you SHOULD do. And, yes, that includes your pediatrician who may be well intentioned in her advice but is NOT the parent of your child (nor most likely an expert in infant sleep!). Follow your gut and trust in the fact that sleep takes learning and gentle nurturing – not training, or “cry-it-out.”
Instead of “bad” sleep, think of “wakeful periods.” All babies have them. Some last longer than others. The “4-month wakeful” is particularly notorious. Teething, developmental milestones, illness, separation anxiety, just wanting a snuggle – they all cause babies to be wakeful. And they are all a normal part of infancy and toddlerhood.
Parents often worry that night waking means their child just isn’t getting enough sleep. Certainly true sleep deprivation isn’t good for anyone (and yes, baby’s wakings may cause you to have some – remember, you are awake longer than baby!). But waking doesn’t automatically equal sleep deprived. If your baby is happy and well-rested acting, he is getting enough sleep.
And if baby isn’t acting well-rested or if baby is not just waking but WAKING and wanting to party at 3 a.m., there are things you can do. My favorite approach is that outlined in The No-Cry Sleep Solution. But even if your baby is having trouble in the night or trouble napping (there’s The No-Cry Nap Solution too), he isn’t a “bad” sleeper anymore than a baby who is struggling with speech would be labeled a “bad” talker. We don’t leave kids who are struggling to master a developmental skill on their own to figure it out. We give them support. We should do the same as far as helping our babies to learn to sleep.
I know it’s tough dealing with frequent wakings – I have two kids who were pretty darn wakeful and no delusions #3 will be any different. Bed-sharing helped me stay rested; I recognize it’s not the solution for everyone, but it is worth considering if you are just.so.tired. I also found it very helpful to constantly remind myself of two important facts:
- What I’m experiencing is normal.
- All children learn to sleep independently eventually.
So consider a change in perspective: You don’t have a “bad” sleeper; you have a normal infant who is perhaps experiencing a wakeful stage. With your responsive nurturing, your baby really truly will learn to sleep independently – promise.
Baby Eleanor in Ellaroo LaRae – a very thin all-cotton and one of my favorites for a summer newborn.
Woven wraps are definitely far more high profile and more readily available in greater variety than they were even five years ago when I started babywearing. The question “how do I choose my first woven wrap?” pops up frequently. And with good reason! With so many brands, so many blends, so many styles, it can be truly overwhelming to figure out what’s what. So I thought I’d throw in my two cents on what to look for and why when selecting your first woven wrap!
Buy an all-cotton, thin-medium weight wrap that’s in your price range and that you think is beautiful!
That’s the short answer For more details, keep reading!
The #1 rule in choosing the right woven wrap (or any baby carrier) is to be wise with your dollars. While it is often true that the cheapest available carrier isn’t going to be “as nice” as a more expensive brand (in terms of materials, etc.), the same doesn’t quite hold true for woven wraps. Some wrap companies do use higher quality materials (say organic cotton vs. conventionally grown) which means a higher price point. Some companies use US based mills (or European based mills) which means their operating costs are higher than those who say manufacture in India – so their product is likely to run higher. Certainly if those things are important to you, vote with your dollars!
But don’t be fooled into thinking “higher price tag” = “better wrap.” It’s just not always the case. There are very good “bargain” wraps (Colimacon & Cie Miel et Malice wraps spring to mind as a good example) that wrap just as well as wraps with a much higher price tag. In fact, you may end up like me and actually prefer the wrapping qualities of a less expensive brand. Now of course if you have the cash and fall in love with wrap X – go for it
There’s a HUGE second hand market for woven wraps, which like the wrap market in general has evolved a lot in recent years. It’s gotten a bit harder to “flip” a wrap (that is sell quickly for nearly what you paid) than it used to be; however, you can still get a 50-75% return on your wrap on the second hand market fairly easily. Consider a $150 wrap that you use for a few years – even if you sell for $50, that’s not bad given the use you got out of it! See below for more tips on navigating the second hand market.
If even the less expensive wovens or buying used are more than you are up for paying, fear not! There are great DIY options. Osnaburg is the most popular DIY “woven” wrap choice. You will want to be cautious and avoid picking up any old fabric at the fabric store. One reason wovens run more than the typical fabric store yardage is that the weaving/production process for making that type of fabric (with the right sort of give that makes for a good wrap) costs more (and you aren’t likely to find that type of fabric for less than a woven would cost). For more information on DIYing, check out my DIY guide.
A smaller Callum in Zara Fresh – again all cotton and a thinner-medium weight.
When new wrappers ask the “what should I buy” question, inevitably they get “oh, you must have brand X” or “brand Y for sure!” We all have our favorites. And if you get into trying out different wraps (“churning” in wrap speak) you may fall in love with some favorites too. But here’s the real scoop – if you’ve never wrapped, you don’t know what you like. And if you were to only want ONE wrap in your life (and that’s totally ok!), and if that wrap were an all cotton thin-medium weight wrap, you’d likely be totally happy and never give a second thought to brand X, Y, Z.
So again, go with what’s in your budget and what you like the look of. Don’t get caught up in the “it” brand of the moment as somehow being better than the brand no one is hyping. There are lots of lovely wraps that get very little chatter and I can’t think of a single major brand I wouldn’t recommend (please see my note on my wrap page as to why I don’t list EVERY brand out there).
So I’ve told you to get an all cotton wrap. But Sally and Mary Sue insist that you for sure want linen/hemp/unicorn hair because your baby is hot/heavy/a toddler. Blends are great. I have blends. And it is true that you – if you decide to try many wraps – may decide that blend X is totally your favorite. But if you are just starting out or just aren’t sure, all cotton is the way to go. Why? It’s easy to care for (requires no special washing); takes a beating and keeps on ticking; handles spit, poop, pee with grace; and it’s easier to learn to wrap with.
Many blends are sort of love/hate; they change the wrapping qualities of a wrap making them in most cases harder to get a good wrap job with. Doesn’t mean they are bad; just different.If I were to have a one and only wrap, it would totally totally be all cotton. It’s just as cool as linen (if you are worried about heat), and it’s just as supportive as hemp or linen (note the preschooler photo – that’s an all cotton C&C).
5 year old Callum in a Colimacon & Cie Miel et Malice – medium weight all cotton “bargain” wrap.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you to stick with all cotton for your first wrap. Great! Now on to weight. There’s a lot of buzz these days about the grams/meter measurement of a weight which tells you something about how “thick” a wrap is. Some worried about support think “thicker = better.”
Granted I’m not a thick wrap fan in general, but I think trying to learn to wrap with a thick wrap is an exercise in frustration. One, a thick wrap generally needs quite a lot of breaking in before it’s manageable. If you want to buy your first wrap, you want to get rolling right away and not spend hours beating a beast into submission (although if you do…go for it!). More importantly, a thinner wrap teaches you to wrap well. And…
The key to a supportive carry is a tight, snug wrap job!
I can’t stress the above enough. If you have a wrap that allows you to get snug passes, to feel where you’ve over-tightened or under-tightened, you are going to get a good wrap job. You may have heard rumors about wraps getting “diggy” or uncomfortable if they are thin and baby is heavy. Diggy means you haven’t tightened evenly and that means you need to fix your wrap job – not buy a new wrap! Learn to wrap well with a thinner wrap and you will be comfortable in anything – true story!
Now, I fully recognize that some people like thicker wraps – maybe they like the weight. Maybe they like having a wrap forgiving of sloppy wrapping. Maybe they just like the challenge. Totally cool. But if you are buying your first woven, I’m assuming you want to learn to wrap. And to learn to wrap well, you want a thinner wrap.So, get a thin-medium weight wrap (if you are paying attention to grams/meter, somewhere in the 180-220 range give or take a bit).
As for the most important part of the question…this one is easy. Choose something YOU think is amazing! Don’t worry about what the resale value will be or what’s popular. Take some time to browse what’s out there (thebabywearer.com is the place to do this in my opinion) and then go for it!
Buying used can be a great money saver or a way to get the wrap that you fell in love with that’s out of stock everywhere. A few quick pointers:
- Check the price of the wrap you are buying used against the new price. Used doesn’t always = bargain.
- Be aware that some wraps are being sold at “market” value and not retail – meaning they are currently highly sought after for one reason or another and come with a price tag to match. This doesn’t mean they are “better” wraps; it means they are currently “hot” collector’s items.
- Ask questions about the wrap if you have them. If you have say allergy concerns, ask the seller if she has pets, uses scents, etc. Often this is included in the listing, but if not, it’s on you to ask.
- Have realistic expectations. You are buying a USED item. That means it may have flaws. Sellers should disclose major flaws (say lots of pulls or other cosmetic damage) but it is normal for wraps (even new ones) to come with nubs, small pulls, or small broken threads. If these sorts of things worry you, buy from a vendor with a solid return policy instead of buying used.
- Check seller feedback. Reputable swaps will have some feedback system in place. I highly recommend the FSOT forum on thebabywearer; given the strong community there, shenanigans are far less likely.
- Always use paypal NOT gifted paypal. Paypal is great as far as providing buyer protection – but only if you pay as “goods.” Sellers should include the cost of fees and shipping in their asking price (or be up front about what those prices are in their listing). Do you part and make sure your paypal address is correct as you and the seller are only protected if that shipping address is used.
- Communicate with your seller. Do ask questions. Do be realistic in your expectations (like don’t expect same day shipping!). And if you have concerns, be kind and approach the seller. If you have trouble, swaps do have administrators to assist in mediating.
So there you have it. You are all set to find the perfect first woven wrap! If you haven’t already, pop on over to the woven wrap page of my babywearing guide for more information on wrapping (including information on choosing the right size wrap for you) and babywearing in general. Happy babywearing!
I’ve been dabbling in teaching myself to sew for the last few years. Still have lots to learn to make things look really professional, but I’ve got enough confidence to sew baby carriers and bags and a few other odds and ends. My ultimate goal is to learn to sew wearable clothing for myself, primarily because I LOVE dresses but have a really long torso and have trouble finding ones that fit well. With a growing belly, it seems not quite right to play with more structured styles; instead, it’s time to conquer knits!
My finished maxi skirt – let’s pretend my house is clean and that a 5 year old didn’t take this picture :)
About a year ago, I thought I’d try my hand at making a knit skirt with a fold-over “yoga” style waist band. I got as far as trying to cut the darn thing out…and gave up cursing. Knit is slippery stuff!
But now I’m back and thanks to the magic of the internet, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve that helped me find success!! So I’m not quite to “wow, that totally doesn’t look handmade” but I’ve created something wearable And as the talented Sew Mama Sew advises, I’m going to share with you how I did it despite my novice status.
Let me apologize now for not taking pictures during the process. But hey, that’s reason to make another one, right?!? And let me apologize for the poor quality of the pictures I do have – really need to use this fancy camera and get some better lighting!!
Step one: Figure out a “pattern.”
There are loads of maxi skirt and yoga waistband tutorials out there. I read a bunch and grabbed my inspiration maxi I purchased at Athleta last year – and used the “wing it” method from there. I did find this tutorial a useful starting place for making the waist band (although I made mine to fit on my hips under my growing belly). I also cut my fabric wider than she did at the bottom (about 45 inches) so I had to cut my two pieces out separately (as I couldn’t fold the fabric as she did). But I did pretty much the same thing of just running a line from my “waist” band down at an angle to the bottom of the skirt. I initially cut my skirt longer than I thought it should be in case of “oopsies.”
Because I was using a thin knit (and because my inspiration skirt is double layer) I wanted to make a double layer skirt. I figured out how to do that (as I’ll explain below) by looking at how my inspiration skirt was assembled. In theory, one could make a reversible skirt using this method – will try that next!
Step two: Conquer my fear of cutting knit.
Turns out the key ended up being using the floor (so I could fully spread out the fabric), my self-healing mat, and a rotary cutter. A metal yard stick is also helpful as a straight edge. What really helped was the realization that I didn’t have to get things just perfect – in some ways, knit is pretty forgiving.
Step three: On to sewing!
I don’t have a serger which I know many prefer for sewing knits. I have my eye on the Brother 1034D which my sewing friends tell me is a great “starter” serger. One day. Until then, the regular ‘ole machine will have to do. I knew that knits require a “stretch” stitch of some sort so I popped the sucker on zig-zag and messed around with the tension and stitch length until I got a seam that laid flat. Two other big keys: use a ballpoint needle and a walking foot. The latter isn’t required but it sure did help me keep the fabric moving smoothly.
And as with cutting, I tried not to stress too much about getting things exactly perfect. I repeat: knit is pretty forgiving.
I sewed up my waistband as directed in the tutorial linked above. Then I sewed up the sides of both my skirt and lining pieces (wrong sides together of course!). At this point I “tried on” my skirt to make sure I’d actually cut it wide enough for my hips given that I wasn’t super careful with measuring Had it been too tight, I’d left enough extra length that I could have whacked off the top couple of inches giving myself a wider opening up top. Lucky me it was just right!
To assemble the double layers I did as directed in the tutorial above – so skirt right side out with the waist band on top with the raw edges facing up (sorry, I know pictures would be helpful!). Then I took my lining and put it on the outside of all of this, right side facing in (actually, I goofed on this one so my skirt won’t be reversible this time). So you’ll have lining and outer layer right sides facing with the waist band in the middle. Line up all your raw edges and sew around the sucker. I went around twice for good measure. Going over the seams was a tad tricky because it was so many layers – you could offset them a bit to help with this if you don’t mind the seam on the waist band not matching that on the skirt perfectly.
After that it was just a matter of clipping the seams of excess fabric and turning it right side out! I didn’t hem my skirt (knit won’t ravel). For the length, I just put it on, marked the length, and trimmed the excess.
Tada!! A skirt!! I definitely want to make another so I’ll try for an actual tutorial with pictures (!) next time
Having successfully created something I can safely wear out of the house feels pretty good! Give it a go!
The subject of birth plans comes up quite often for pregnant women. Do I or don’t I? The idea of a birth plan is becoming increasingly “mainstream” and more women and their partners are starting to think about birth preferences. Even so, I am always surprised when the question “What should I put in my birth plan?” gets multiple replies along the lines of “Don’t bother; you don’t know what will happen.” While hardly scientific, my personal observation suggests that more women actually advise against writing a birth plan than advocate for it. But why?
I think the anti-birth plan sentiment floating around is symptomatic of the larger problems around birth in the U.S. (specifically the passive role women are too frequently asked to take in their own births – see my recent review of Jennifer Block’s Pushed). But lest I go off on too great of a tangent, I’ll focus on rebutting the the idea that birth is too unpredictable to plan for – and arguing for the value and importance of putting together a birth plan for every birthing mother regardless of the birth choices she makes.
One-day old Eleanor and I in the NICU – definitely wasn’t in my birth plan! But planning helped us weather the storm more easily.
“Don’t bother; you don’t know what will happen.”
It’s quite true that labor and birth is full of the unexpected, something I know full well from personal experience. But does that mean we shouldn’t plan and prepare for it? Think of all the life events that aren’t entirely in our control that we plan for: A vacation – no way to control for the weather, cancellations, a sudden illness, attractions being closed – and yet we typically put together some idea of what we’d like our vacation to look like. How many brides spend months planning every detail of their weddings? And even so, something always goes “off-plan.” Many expectant mothers spend months researching all manner of baby gear, not knowing if baby will like this swing or that bouncer or the $10 exercise ball best. Rarely are our plans perfectly executed, but that doesn’t mean that the ACT of planning wasn’t worthwhile or purposeful.
Perhaps part of the problem is the idea that a birth plan is supposed to be an instruction manual to follow. It’s not. It’s a way to organize preferences. But more importantly, it’s a way for mamas-to-be and their partners to carefully consider all the options available to them. There are a lot of choices offered to women around birth – meaning there’s a lot of research to be done if one wishes to be fully informed. When I was pregnant with Callum, I was pretty sure that I wanted a med-free birth. But given that I knew “anything could happen,” I felt it was important to do some research into the the different options available to me.
In my own planning, I found Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth a nice, even-handed look at the pros and cons of various birth interventions. Although Goer is pretty clearly in the “less-interventions = better birth” camp (which meshed with my personal birth goals), it was still a nice way to consider all the possibilities. Unfortunately, the book hasn’t been updated recently so it doesn’t reference birth research from the past decade. A more up-to-date option is Penny Simpkin’s Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn which offers sample birth plans for a variety of settings and situations in addition to information about various birth interventions. Finally, the website Childbirth Connection is a great starting point for examining evidence based childbirth practices.
In some ways, writing a birth plan is a part of the “informed consent” process that should happen before any medical procedure. I’d argue that medical providers have a duty to, for example, tell their birthing patients that the hands and knees or squatting positions open the pelvis up far more than lying on one’s back – and that the epidural may make it difficult to use those positions meaning a prolonged or even “failed” labor. But many providers don’t volunteer such information. Writing a birth plan should at the least raise those questions for the mother. If in writing a birth plan you consider “well, what position do I want to labor in?” you may then have that discussion with your provider or do a little research on your own (or better yet, both!). And then whatever choice you make about labor positions is an informed one – not one that was imposed upon you. If you decide that you’d like to get an epidural during labor, writing a birth plan makes that decision an informed one made after weighing pros and cons and deciding what is best for you. Even if you are having a planned c-section, a birth plan matters as you still have choices about your care – a voice in what happens to you.
Labor is intense – physically and emotionally – it’s hardly the time for a woman to be able to make rational choices quickly. In fact, some birth researchers argue that asking a woman in labor to think actually distracts from the birth process – basically, birth is sort of a primal thing that requires a laboring woman to block out thinking and listen to her body and instinct. It’s not the time to ask me how I feel about procedure X. But if in the process of writing a birth plan I’ve considered procedure X, when I’d be open to it or what alternatives I’d rather have instead, and I’ve communicated that both in writing and to my partner (and doula and care provider), then I don’t have to think about it while in labor.
Birth plans don’t have to be fancy. They don’t need to take a certain format. They aren’t a mile-long list of demands to hand over to your provider. Write them in the way that makes sense to you. Maybe it’s a list. Maybe it’s filling out one of the dozens of forms available online. Maybe it’s writing a story about how you imagine your birth. Whatever it is, it should start a conversation, get you thinking, and help you become informed. Yes, you should discuss your preferences with your provider. Doing so doesn’t make you pushy or “that patient” – your provider is there to provide for you! Yes, you should know that anything is possible. But if you’ve made a birth plan, you also know that you are confident and prepared.
Jennifer Block’s Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care
is one of those books that’s been on my “to read” list for ages. I finally had a chance to give it a read over the holiday break and wanted to briefly share my thoughts.
As I’m a bit of a birth geek, I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know. BUT if you don’t know much about the politics of birth in the U.S., it’s a real eye-opener. Even as someone who does know a fair amount, I was still really engaged – and really enraged.
Block makes a case for the (mis)treatment of women in labor as a civil rights issue. Through a series of powerful first hand accounts, she explores where birth goes wrong – the way women are “pushed” into making choices either through lack of information or a lack of options that are not in their (or their babies’) best interests. Although medical professionals are not presented as without blame, Block fairly illustrates the way even those providers who want to do differently for their patients are finding their hands increasingly tied by medical bureaucracy. She also takes a look at the home birth scene, focusing on the issues that have forced many home births “underground.”
I feel like this is a must read for anyone who cares about women’s issues or anyone who is preparing for birth. I do think that most health care providers want to do what’s best for their patients. However, I also feel that the current medical model of birth – and the political and financial pressures around it – are NOT in the best interest of mothers and babies. For that to change, we need mothers to be informed and supported.
Block’s central claim is essentially that too frequently mothers are forced to take a passive role in their labor and delivery – the opposite of ideal. Through her readable prose and well-selected vignettes, she paints a compelling picture of why there is an urgent need for change.
I’ve been quite frankly the world’s worst blogger over the last year. Longer than that really! But I have lots of ideas kicking around that have been dying to get written; it’s time to dust off the new post button and get cracking!
It’s been a busy year for me personally. Finishing up my dissertation, finally finishing my Ph.D., getting a faculty position (I’m in Secondary English Education), moving out of state, selling a house, and a new baby on the way! Whew
This year is already off to a pretty productive start. A few (sort-of) blog related things…
- As a result of my move I had to say good-bye to my crew at Babywearing International of the Triangle. I had a great time helping to build such a strong chapter and feel pretty proud of the work the group has done and continues to do.
- But moving to a new place has given me the opportunity to make new friendships and connections and start a new BWI group! Excited we have Babywearing International of New Haven up and running and ready to grow!
- As is pretty clear from browsing my blog, I’m a big babywearing supporter. I’m pleased that I was able to recently certify as a Master Babywearing Educator with Babywearing International and to accept a position as regional director for the North East. BWI is a great group with a solid mission and I’m happy to be able to support them in these new roles. And, if you happen to be interested in forming your own affiliate chapter, let me know
- I’m looking forward to attending the International Babywearing Conference in AZ this summer. Would love to meet you if you are there too!!
- I am also working towards being more involved in another great advocacy group – Breastfeeding USA. I’m excited to begin work as an official BFing USA counselor …just as soon as I finish my course! My new home of Connecticut has an active BFing USA crew, and I’m eager to help them out.
- With baby #3 on the way, I’ve started thinking more intensely again about birth related issues. And of course looking forward to all those newborn snuggles. Hope you will stick around for this latest part of my mamahood journey!
So there’s a wee update on what’s been keeping me busy. I’ve got several posts drafting so check back soon for more (less personal!) content.
You may have noticed that it’s been a while since I’ve posted. And sadly it may be a bit longer before I get up and running again. As some of you know I’m a PhD student in Education. And I’ve finally hit my last semester of frantic dissertation writing and job hunting. So the rest of life – including fun things like blogging! – is a bit on hold for the next few months.
But look for a return this spring! Lots of posts are bubbling in my head…so stay tuned
Since it’s Black Friday/Local Saturday/Cyber Monday season, it’s hard to avoid thoughts of shopping. I admit…I like to shop…too much probably. Like most Americans, I have a bit of a consumerism problem (I could bore you at this point with my long academic ramblings on the subject…but I’ll spare you!). But lately I’ve been thinking more and more about the impact of my purchases. And wouldn’t you know this popped up on my Facebook feed today:
Clearly a sign to think harder (and to write a blog post!).
These are wise words on many levels and have implications for how we parent and what we teach our children about spending and buying. Consider the following:
- The things we buy impart our values on our children – mostly in subtle ways, but in ways that are long lasting. One very basic example, if we buy our children strictly gendered toys (more on that in another post), we send messages about expected gender roles. The way we shop – brands we choose, the types of items we buy – all of those things influence the way our children will one day shop. Consider that it took me years to change toothpaste brands from what my parents always bought or that my instinct is to always buy the same brand of frozen vegetables they did.
- Products are not without history, that is they do not magically appear on stores shelves waiting to come home with us. I recently caught the tail end of a news story about chocolate, and the fact that a large portion of the world’s chocolate is produced under questionable circumstances including child labor and forced labor. So do I buy the bag of chocolate for $3 that has a potentially questionable production history? Or do I buy the $6 bag of fair trade organic chocolate? How does this decision mesh with efforts at budgeting and teaching fiscal responsibility? Surely, I could just lay off the chocolate – but we could ask this same question of nearly every product we buy, food or otherwise. Are our purchases supporting someone in a sustainable way? Or are they supporting corporate profits at the expense of thousands of nameless individuals?
- Labor considerations go beyond just the production of products. Consider the recent workers’ action against retail behemoth Walmart. Many Walmart employees (and for that matter the employees of other big box retailers) don’t earn enough to put themselves above the poverty line. Low prices aren’t without cost. And of course the big retailers also push smaller, local retailers out of business in many cases.
- What do we spend money on? Things or experiences? Quantity or quality? Is it better to spend $100 on 5 different toys for the holidays or on one year’s membership to a local museum?
I am just beginning to think about this and would welcome your thoughts. I am by no means anywhere close to where I’d like to be on this. I admit I love Amazon and Target, buy way more clothes than I (or my kids) need, and could stand to downsize in many respects. I don’t always buy fair trade/organic/local/sustainably – or even think about those things when I purchase. But small steps are the first step – so let’s walk together!
Here’s what I’m working towards – a more ethical ethic of shopping:
- Buy less! That’s pretty obvious and in some respects the hardest to do. I’ve made a start by focusing on certain areas – like my closet – and avoiding trips to Target.
- Buy used! Buying used is great in many respects – it saves you money and it puts added use into an item. Kids’ clothes are the most obvious place to start with this as kids’ consignment shops and consignment sales are found almost everywhere. And if you don’t have one near you, there’s always eBay or services like threadUp which allow you to exchange used kids’ clothing online. Lots of great used mama clothes out there too. Another advantage to buying used – you’ll be able to purchase higher quality clothing which lasts longer – and more importantly may be made with more ethical labor and resource usage practices.
- Buy local! Buying local supports the local economy. The most obvious place for me to make this change has been with our food – we are lucky to live in an area that not only has abundant year round farmer’s markets but also a variety of CSA (and even home delivery CSAs). Local produce uses fewer resources from field to plate than buying produce that’s shipped in. My next step…work on local meat and eggs on a more regular basis.
- Buy small! Supporting small businesses is great as is buying from WAHMs and small scale artisans. Scope out local craft fairs or the ultimate craft fair…Etsy.
- Buy simple! The simpler the product, the more “ethical” it is likely to be and, in the case of food, the more likely it is to be better for you. There’s a good rule of thumb about avoiding the center aisles when grocery shopping. Processed food is harder on your budget and your waistline – and is more likely to have problematic production practices. I’ve been dabbling in things like bread baking and yogurt making – fun and fairly simple (and the kids can help!). Stay tuned for future posts on making ethical food choices.
- Buy quality! Handcrafted wooden toys last ages; mass-produced plastic ones don’t. A few more expensive but well made items will last long and leave a smaller footprint than the dozens of cheap things that replace them.
- Buy globally! Consider the impact your purchase makes on the world – in terms of both resources and labor. I love shops such as Mata Traders and Global Girlfriend that offer fair trade products crafted by women around the world – that means economic security for the producers vs. wage slavery.
- Buy experiences!! Most of us remember experiences over things – that says something about what we value. Membership to local museums, tickets to cultural events, day trips to special places – all make great gifts. This goes for adults too; we’ve started a tradition of gifting grandparents donations to organizations (our local animal shelter and Heifer International) instead of yet another thing they don’t need. And of course they get some kid crafts too – because all grandparents need more of that
So there’s a start. I definitely have a long way to go to be a truly ethical shopper. Maybe I’ll never get there. But in this season of shopping, small steps can lead the way to big difference – a shift from getting to giving and a better understand of how our dollars shape the lives of both those we will never meet and our children.
I hope to explore this topic more in depth in the coming weeks – would love to hear your ideas, questions, and suggestions!