Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Night-weaning, or: Can I get a venti anything... with an extra shot?

You know, normally I sit down to blog, and I want to talk about cloth diapers. I'm happy to talk about them aaaaalllll day long; it's how I got this job in the first place. What's a better diversion from my First World Problems, like running out of half-and-half or dealing with Instagram lagging on a 3g connection, than talking to other parents about those little bits of colorful, fluffy, money-saving, landfill-sparing, baby skin-pampering cuteness?

Let me tell you, though--I haven't even gotten around to washing diapers since we started night-weaning. (And thank goodness for that pack of gRefills I previously kept in my hurricane kit at the top of the hall closet....)

Oh, night-weaning. Night-weaning was a breeze with my oldest--or, at least it was for me. My husband valiantly handled it all. He knew I'd spent 15 months handling every second of the nighttime parenting, so he devised his own night-weaning scheme and stuck to it, gradually and gently teaching our little co-sleeper to sleep in his own room all night, and to calmly tell us over the baby monitor if he needed anything, assuring him and proving to him that one of us would be there to help him immediately, just like it had always been when he slept in our room.

But that was when my husband was working at his old job, with his old hours. This time, it has to be up to me, admittedly the less patient parent. And this time, I've spent 20 months nursing all.night.long. Why? Well, she's always been such a good sleeper as long as she had access to her milk!

She loves her bed... for playing!
Now, I know some of you are thinking, "Twenty months old is way too old to be finally night-weaning." And some of you are thinking, "Twenty months old? That's so young! I would never night-wean before age 2." And some of you are thinking, quite pleased with yourselves, "Ah ha! That's why I never started the habit of nursing to sleep! You should start as you mean to go on!"

Although I recognize that there are advantages to each of the above approaches, suffice it to say I have my reasons for doing things the way I've done them. A one-size approach can be fab-u-lous for cloth diapers (boy, can't it?), but every family's needs and dynamics are different. If I could go back and change the way I approached nursing and sleep up to this point, I wouldn't see a need to. But what I do need now is a plan.

Faithful readers know I'm a researcher. (If this is the first post you've encountered, then, hi! I'm the eLeMeNO-Pee blogger... and I'm the daughter of a career librarian, a 21st-century American parent, a coffee fiend, a night-owl, and a product of liberal arts education: in short, a researcher.) I've read plenty of night-weaning articles and chapters in books. Any approach or method you could tell me about, I'm at least a little familiar with. Yep, I have read Pantley, Sears, and Gordon. But at 3 am, our only "method" has been to bicker with each-half-asleep-other about which room I should take the hysterical toddler into, then apologize to each other for the bickering in a sheepish morning text-message exchange.

Monday night's plan was for my husband to go to our daughter, the subject of this little experiment in less lactating, who would be awakening on her mattress in the kids' room, and change her diaper (because she has recently begun waking when she wets her diaper, no matter if it's stay-dry cloth or a disposable gRefill), help her fall back asleep quickly, and put her in her brother's bed. Our hope was that having the milk-free parent parenting her back to sleep would cause her to fight less, and that having a snuggle partner would keep her asleep.

Somehow, though, I ended up with a 3 am bed mate who is about three feet shorter--and a lot less hairy--than my husband. And who had a wet diaper, and who, after her diaper change awakened her fully, cried desperately for milk, pawing at my clothes, for two hours, dozing in between her pleas while I rocked, held, bounced, paced, and tried to lie down beside her. What it comes down to is that my husband is not going to be able to help this time around, and I need a zip-up-the-back body suit that comes up to my chin.

During their waking hours, toddlers are decidedly single-minded creatures. Mine have thus far seemed particularly impliable (I wonder where they got that?). So I think that the key to nighttime peace--or relative peace--is going to be helping her achieve a daytime understanding of what will befall her come Mr. Moon's ascent in the sky. I've got a few ideas in mind to accomplish this, but I'm very interested in what worked for you, friends.

Some of you will have nightweaned babies who are younger or older than mine. Some of them will have been developmentally capable of understanding what was happening, and some of them were more easily "deceived" or distracted. But tell me this:

1) How old was your baby or toddler when you night-weaned?
2) How long did it take?
3) What was your system?
4) Did you have to be flexible with your system?
5) Were you co-sleeping when you began night-weaning? Did you choose to continue co-sleeping or to move your child to his or her own bed or room?
and, most importantly,
6) How much should I budget for extra coffee and coffee accoutrements (sugar, half-and-half)?

Thank you for your answers! You'll help me formulate a plan... and also realistic expectations for this whole thing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"I like your baby's Mardi Gras beads!" and everything else about Baltic amber jewelry

In honor of my pre-schooler's scheduled dental cleaning today, the time is ripe to blog about Baltic amber, the teething remedy that everyone and their favorite know-it-all great aunt is talking about these days.

Everywhere my daughter goes each spring, she gets complimented on her "Mardi Gras beads." When my son was younger--and teething--and wearing a necklace made of raw Baltic amber nuggets, he was described by many as either "tribal" or "surfer-boy."

Photo credit: Baltic Creations.
A lady at our church asked if we had visited a traiteur, a traditional Cajun healer, because she'd grown up with babies who had been given Baltic amber necklaces that had been prayed over, in traiteur or traiteuse tradition, decades ago when their parents were desperately seeking strong, effective teething remedies. She was shocked to learn that they are made from amber from the Baltic region, that amber has always been used to combat teething pain by many cultures worldwide, and that you can now order them online "from just anyone!"

We asked our Facebook fans what kinds of comments they receive about their children's Baltic amber jewelry in public, and y'all gave us some good ones!

"'Is that, like, voodoo or something?'" from Shayna M.

"'Oh, so he chews on it?'" from Lisa D.

"My son, whom I dress like a boy, oftentimes gets confused for a girl with his necklace on. I've also heard, 'Oh, so he chews on it?' more times than I can count!" from Leslie M.

"EVERYONE comments on her 'pretty necklace.' They all think she's just a fashionista (which is laughable since I barely remember to brush her hair or put on shoes that match). So far only a handful of people have actually known what it was and asked if we liked it. Around Mardi Gras, people even asked if they were her Mardi Gras beads!!" from Elizabeth C. (I guess you know you're from Louisiana when....)

"People always seem intrigued, but I frequently sense the skeptical undertones. A few have tried them and now they swear by them! I freely admit to my friends/family that I thought it sounded hokey, too - but I'm eating crow on that one and have been for two years. They are a lifesaver!" from Danielle P.

Speaking of skepticism, most parents who employ amber jewelry for their children and/or themselves know about the claims surrounding its analgesic properties. Amber, hardened pine resin, naturally contains succinic acid, or succinite. Amber from the Baltic region contains the highest concentrations of succinite, which is an acid also produced within the human body that helps the body to heal from any inflammation and tolerate the pain associated with it. Amber experts claim that when Baltic amber is worn against the body, it is heated, and that succinite is released into the bloodstream through the skin's pores.
My daughter and her "Mardi Gras beads."
Honestly, I understand the skepticism. It all just sounds a little oversimplified to me, and I guess that's why I didn't jump on the bandwagon as soon as I heard about it as a teething remedy. But you know what? Myself and the overwhelming majority of skeptics have found that, by golly, there's a reason this remedy has been used to treat pain for millennia. However it works, and whether it's as simple as it sounds or the result of a more complex process (or, heck, whether the placebo effect really is at play), it works. Ask anybody (or any baby!) who's ever worn it for a while and then taken it off.

Speaking of how it works, remember that hard water build-up can decrease the efficacy of amber beads, so it is important to take it off during bath times or times of extended water activity. Clean your amber jewelry every now and then with a mild soap and warm water.  And remember to purchase authentic Baltic amber* from a reputable retailer, made with safety in mind.

*Unfortunately, inauthentic Baltic amber jewelry is commonly sold, usually "wholesale," by anonymous "manufacturers" on large retail Web sites such as eBay and Amazon. Authentic amber (1) may smell a little like pine but taste like nothing after it's been cleaned with a mild soap and warm water, (2) will burn away, rather than melt, if tested with flame, and (3) is buoyant in salt water. It is also not harmed by acetone, alcohol, or other solvents, while plastic or even copal (immature amber) is.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kitchens, vehicle upholstery and... guns? Charlie's Soap testimonials beyond just laundry.

My mother-in-law is one of the greenest women I know.

Stay with me here. This is relevant, I promise!

She recycles, she composts, she uses only cloth napkins and real dishes. She never wastes anything (and puts me to utter shame in this regard). While putting seven children through Catholic school on one income, she learned decades ago what most of us are learning right now: that green and frugal go hand-in-hand.

But the woman just doesn't believe me that environment-friendly cleaning solutions can work.

Bleach, ammonia, Ajax, you name it. If it's cheap, corrosive, and hazardous, she believes in it. She's wonderfully old-school that way.

And, honestly, I have always had a hair of skepticism in me about "green" cleaners, too. Vinegar and lavender? You want me to believe that that's an adequate anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner? Maybe for vegans, but raw Andouille touches this Louisiana gal's counter tops three nights a week. Bring on the chemicals, right?

Well, while I've never been able to jump all the way on the 'homemade' cleaning solutions bandwagon, I am happy to announce that I've been very pleased with Charlie's Soap's expertly formulated Indoor/Outdoor Solution as well as the Kitchen & Bath Natural Cleaner.

My mother-in-law has been, too. She just doesn't know it.* When we lived at her house for a month last Fall to take care of her late father while she attended to other family business out-of-state, I brought my own cleaning supplies from home, you see, and she was none the wiser. (Her kitchen sparkled, by the way.)

Want more information about what Charlie's Soap's amazing green cleaning products can do?

Here are a couple truly fascinating testimonials from our North Carolina consultant Carol:

My FIL was a big antique car collector, and his collection included old tractors. He had a tractor with an engine that had so much buildup on it and around the bolts, etc., that nothing he tried would get it off. He remembered that on the Charlie's Soap bottle it says "From dentures to diesel engines," so he thought he'd give it a try. That engine came out clean as a whistle. Looked brand new!
My middle child stepped in tar when they were patching cracks in a parking lot. I didn't notice it until she stepped in my car and climbed into her car seat. Naturally, I assumed both the car seat cover and my car carpet were ruined. THREE months later I decided to try CS on them. Sprayed it on... and it came up in seconds! I barely had to scrub and there was absolutely NO trace of the tar on either. I was thrilled. It was so clean I was able to resell that car seat cover on eBay to replace it with a boyish print!
When I first switched to cloth diapering, I was using Charlie's Soap for diapers and other detergents--whatever I found on sale or whatever the trendy homemade recipe du jour was--for our other laundry. It got to be a hassle, and finally I convinced my husband that it'd be worth the investment to just purchase the largest unit of Charlie's Soap that I could and use it for everything. How did I convince him? I started washing his oil-covered work clothes in it. He was a hydraulics mechanic at this time, and his entire work wardrobe was covered in five years' worth of oil buildup. Once Charlie's Soap and enough hot water cut the grease, they softened up immediately.

Sometimes guys just need a little convincing that something really will have multiple and verifiable uses.

One of Charlie's Soap's strangest reported uses is as a gun cleaner. Right? Who knew! But the laundry detergent can be used to restore and retain the waterproofing of your husband's hunting outerwear, and the Kitchen & Bath cleaner works to clean any hard gear, like weapons, tools, or boots. Here are the instructions for both, straight from Charlie's mouth:

 For washing your hunting gear: 
  • Clean your machine of all residues of other detergents before washing your garments in Charlie’s Soap. Put 2 TBSP of the Powder or 2 fl. oz. of the Liquid into the machine and some old rags and run a full cycle with a double rinse.
  • Follow care garment care instructions for water temp, agitation, and drying.
  • Always use the full amount of Charlie’s Soap for a load: 1 fl. oz. for the Liquid or 1 TBSP for the Powder. Call for info if you have hard water.
  • Garments washed in detergents other than Charlie’s Soap have detergent residues. Please wash garments new to Charlie’s Soap 2 or 3 times before wearing them the first time to remove these performance wrecking residues.
  • Charlie’s Soap will remove odor causing chemicals and bacteria from your garments allowing any cover scent or extra scent blocker to be more effective.
  • Charlie’s Soap contains no optical brighteners that can be seen by game. Take care to never use detergents with optical brighteners on camouflage. 
To clean and maintain your hard gear: 
  • Use Charlie's Soap Kitchen & Bath Natural Cleaner.  
  • Spray on, let sit, rinse off.
  • Perfect for cleaning heavy soil from weapons, cleaning tools, tents, boots, etc.
  • For heavy soil, use Charlie’s Soap Indoor/Outdoor Surface Cleaner Concentrate and rinse thoroughly.

Charlie's Soap has provided instructions like the above for a number of uses, including home exteriors, vehicle care, pet cleaning, and camping and hiking cleanliness--including a way to use Charlie's Soap to handwash your clothes while in the field without putting harmful chemicals into the water supply along your chosen trail!

Do any of these uses for Charlie's Soap intrigue you? Let us know in a comment; we'll be more than happy to give you the details!

The Charlie's Soap family of non-toxic, highly effective, biodegradable green cleaning products.

*No mothers-in-law were harmed in the composition of this piece. The subject in question does not use the Internet. ;)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"So is perfect-size really perfect?" and other aspects of the Perfect-Size vs. One-Size question

L to R: Thirsties XS diaper cover, Thirsties Duo, Sz. 1
A question I got often when I was a consultant was, "What's better: the diapers that come in sizes or the ones that grow with the baby?" These cloth-curious moms were asking about the distinctions between "perfect-size" and "one-size" diapers. So what is the best? It depends on what you're looking for!

Some history

Back in the early days of modern cloth diapers, diapers that were shaped like disposables (contours, fitteds, pockets, all-in-ones) also came in sizes just like disposables. Some contours* and fitteds had a fold-down rise, so there was some measure of adjustability, but for the most part, you were looking at sizing up every few months. Many moms chose the "sell to fund" method, selling off, say,  their small diapers to purchase a stash of mediums, and since as babies age, they tend to require fewer diapers throughout the day, the normal resale value of the entire previous stash was enough to pay for the next stash.

But as cloth diapering became more popular, the "sell to fund" method became less popular in comparison. Not every mom gets a thrill out of listing and successfully selling items. Some of us (ahem) are Craigslist-illiterate.

So industry innovators (then mostly still WAHMs--so impressive when you think about it!) designed various ways to manufacture diapers that could be adjusted and used from "birth"--or about 8 lbs.--to potty-training, or somewhere between 30-40 lbs.

Sounds amazing, right?

Because it pretty much is. But I think perfect-sized diapers like FuzziBunz Perfect-Size and gDiapers are pretty amazing in their own right.  

Here's a breakdown of the pros and cons:

Perfect-Size Pros:

-There are no adjustments, no learning curve. Just wrap the diaper around the baby and go. Tell Grandma to do the same.
-You'll notice, traditionally, that you get a trimmer fit, especially through the crotch.*
-Your perfect-size diapers will almost certainly make it through two or three children if you hold onto them, because each size will have been used for only a few months. One of your stashes will probably see a bit more wear and tear than the others, depending on your child's growth curve.
-Bonus: by the time you're bored with the color palette and prints, or even the style or brand, in your stash, it's time to size-up, which totally legitimizes your coveting that new limited edition print and your burning desire to try something new. (Sometimes we never intend to become collectors, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans....)

Perfect-Size Cons:

-You have to size-up, buying a new stash when baby outgrows her current size.
Bottom drawer: where outgrown dipes go to hibernate.

-If you don't have the expendable income to up and purchase a new stash in the next size, you have to go through the trouble of re-selling. (Note: Your eLeMeNO-Pee consultant can help with this, especially if she is hosting her annual eLeMeNO-Pee Backyard Sale around the time that you need to "de-stash.")
-If you do hold onto your outgrown sizes to save them for the next baby, you have to find a place to store them in a climate-controlled area of your home.
-Fewer brands manufacture perfect-size options any more, so your selection is more limited.

One-Size Pros:

-"Sizing up" is merely a matter of readjusting your rise, either using an internal adjustment system (a la SoftBums and FuzziBunz) or rise snaps (a la Tots Bots).
Snap-down rise adjustment: easier.
-Purchasing an initial stash and making it work for the duration of diapering a child is a real possibility, especially if you purchase a one-size system with maximum adjustability. This means you will spend less money on cloth diapering a single child.
Internal rise adjustment: prettier.
-A hard-to-fit body shape can be fitted more easily because of the multiple adjustment possibilities. This applies mostly to one-size diapers that employ internal rise adjustment.
-A single stash can be shared by two (or, heck, three!) children at different ages or sizes. We recommend using a one-size system that adjusts using rise snaps, like the Tots Bots EasyFit, for a "joint stash," because the re-sizing process is significantly quicker.

One-Size Cons:

-A one-size stash that is put through the wringer (and washer!) for three years will probably not last through the entire diapering duration of another child, so a perfect-size system may actually be more cost-effective if you are hoping to cloth diaper several children using mostly the same stash of diapers.
FBPS XS, small, and medium: cheaper in the long run?
-Many one-size diapers can't be made truly small enough for a newborn or truly large enough for an average-to-late potty-trainer, so you may end up sizing up someday anyway, or starting out with a stash of tiny newborn diapers before moving into your one-size stash.
-There's a temptation with one-size diapers to cinch in as much fabric as possible to create the trimmest, smoothest fit you can. This often leads to compression leaking, which, without proper support, leads to giving up on one-size systems or on cloth diapering altogether. (Note: If you have a local eLeMeNO-Pee consultant, she can help you find the correct way to adjust the size of your OS diaper to avoid this problem!)
-Snap-down rises can create extra bulk when they are snapped up to make the diaper smaller, and the snaps look a little "messy" when they're unsnapped. All those snaps can also confuse and intimidate other caregivers who are cloth-skeptical.

So what's this "two-size" option about?

Thirsties XS vs Duo, Sz. 1 unsnapped.
Thirsties XS cover vs. Duo, Sz. 1.
An even more recent trend combines the benefits of both perfect size and one-size diaper systems: two-size systems, like the Thirsties Duo line. A two-size system can be applied to any diapering system--prefolds, covers, inserts that can be lain inside covers, fitteds, pockets, and all-in-ones. How does it work? Well, you do have to size-up, but only once! In the Duo system, a Size One will fit from approximately 6-18 lbs. and a Size Two will fit from approximately 18-40 lbs. The only drawback? You have to be okay with a snap-down rise adjustment.

So how do I choose the best system for me?

The best thing to do is think about what you value the most. You're already going save approximately $2,000 per cloth diapered child. If you anticipate cloth diapering only one child, you will save the most if you choose a one-size system, but if you are looking to gather a stash that can be used for a Round Two or even a Round Three, a system with several sizes will make for longer-lasting elastic, PUL, and closures.

There are two possible routes you can take when you decide to make the switch to cloth diapers and need to determine what will belong in your stash. You can go the "there's room for some of everything in a starter stash" route, or you can make a choice based on what looks best to you, and never look back. The best way to know which of those will suit you is to get your hands on some cloth diapers for the first time!

*a now-mostly unpopular style, similar to a fitted but without an attached closure mechanism, such that it requires pins or other fasteners to secure it around the baby.
*Although this is increasingly less of a concern, because our favorite OS brands, FuzziBunz and SoftBums, have a narrow crotch to accommodate younger and smaller babies.