Tummy Time Tip

June 29, 2012

I was just hanging out with my friend and her eight week old baby and discussing tummy time, so I thought I’d share.

For those of you whose babies haven’t arrived yet, tummy time is exactly what it sounds like: time babies spend lying on their tummies. We’re talking about small babies here – ones who can’t hold their heads up yet or roll over – which is precisely why you put them on their tummies in the first place: so they strengthen their neck muscles so they can hold their own heads up. You know, for later when they want to go to a movie without a neck brace or whatever.

Just so I’ve said it, of course don’t leave your baby alone on his tummy, and, as I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times don’t put him to sleep on his tummy.

Some babies are fine with tummy time and will hang out on their little floor mats for ten minutes at a stretch. Some babies will hate it like the plague and start crying in under sixty seconds. If you’re in the first group, yay you! However much time Arnold wants to spend on his tummy is fine. If you’re in that second group, here are a couple things you can do:

1. Don’t try for tummy time right after Murgatroyd eats. It might be upsetting his stomach.

2. Get down on the floor with him, right at his level and give him something to be interested in, namely your face. It’s the #1 most interesting thing in his life right now. #2 most interesting items include baby mirrors, black and white or brightly colored and patterned toys that make little noises that don’t drive you bananas. Anything to distract him is fine, provided you’re not, like, juggling chainsaws. Which would be dangerous. (Unless that’s your thing, of course. I don’t mean to imply that you’re not good at it or anything.)

(These tips also go for helping him learn to roll over: just put your face or that intriguing toy on the floor a little bit out of his reach. He’ll get there eventually.)

3. When he’s just had enough (and this can be 1-2 minutes later: don’t shoot for the moon if he’s miserable), roll him over onto his back before you pick him up. A child development expert at Astrid’s playgroup made a great point about this: if your baby is upset about being on his stomach and you pick him up from his stomach, he’s making the association that tummy time is something he needs to be rescued from. If you roll him over first, well then you’re just picking him up the way you do 1000 times a day. No big deal. Plus it gives him a little mini preview of what it’ll be like to roll over on his own.

Some books recommend lots and lots of tummy time, and I know moms who were super stressed about getting exact amounts of it in every day. My opinion on this, as on everything, is that moderation and sensitivity to your specific baby trump hard and fast rules. Yes, get some tummy time in every day, but don’t buy a stopwatch and have at it every two hours on the hour. If you’re regular about it, good enough. They all get there: you don’t see any kids walking around at high school graduation who can’t hold their heads up.


Blackout Curtains

May 15, 2012

I posted about blackout curtains over on Minimalist Mama Expecting, in case any expectant parents were redecorating pre-baby. We didn’t even have a dedicated room for our baby when she arrived, so we came to the cause of darkness kind of late after we realized Astrid wasn’t going to be a power sleeper. Here’s what I advised:

Unless you have those awesome European interlocking blinds that can turn your baby’s boudoir into a room fit for developing film, you might want to consider investing in blackout curtains. They’re not absolutely essential, no, but if you have a baby who has trouble falling or staying asleep, or if your nursery is sunny – which is otherwise lovely but might not be the best for naps and early bed times – blackout drapes are one of the things that will help.

There are two types:

  1. Curtains with a built-in light-blocking backing.
  2. Panels of just the light-blocking material that you can hang behind your existing curtains.

Pottery Barn Kids Gingham Panel with Blackout Lining

The former are easier to manage since they’re all one piece, but the options in design and color are limited. The latter won’t require the cost of re-purchasing curtains you might have already, but they will hang heavier on your curtain hardware (so you might need to keep an eye on how it’s holding up with the added weight), plus you will get a few more gaps that let in light because you’re arranging two layers.

Since I liked our existing curtains, we opted for the panels and here’s my advice: absolutely, 100% get the panels that are the same width as your curtain panels. You want them to hang exactly behind your existing panels. Trust me on this.

I thought I was brilliant saving money by buying the narrow-slice panels that add up to the width of a single panel of our curtains. The site claimed that hotels buy these: the narrow widths allow you to buy however many you need to match any width of curtain panel. After falling for this marketing, my conclusion is that they are jerky liars. I can’t imagine a hotel dealing with the annoyance of these mini panels: they separate when you breath on them and let streaks of sunshine into the room at every seam which ruins the whole point of having them in the first place. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Gargh!

So just spend the extra money and get the nice Pottery Barn Kids ones which line up with your curtain panels. Seriously.

Blackout Panels, Pottery Barn Kids $39-$59 per panel, depending on width

Blackout Curtains in nursery-friendly designs and colors, Pottery Barn Kids $49 – $229, depending on size, or anywhere else that carries them, e.g. Overstock.com, $40 and up

Skwish Mobile

February 22, 2012

I was in Giggle the other day and came across the Skwish Mobile. I love me some mobiles, so I had a look. Even though I don’t think I would’ve jumped on it before the baby came along, I’m a fan now.

First off, it’s ridiculously hard to sort out how to hang mobiles. You either get one that hangs from the ceiling, in which case you need a very tall stepladder (not a good combo with pregnancy) and a lot of confidence that you’re hanging it at exactly the right height for baby safety (no tangling in strings) and in a location that you will never need to change (see: stepladder + aggravation). This is well nigh impossible. Get OK with the fact that you’ll be up that stepladder again when Junior decides he prefers to hang out at the other end of the crib.

If you decide the kind of mobile that attaches to the side of your crib or playpen is more versatile, good luck finding one that you like and fits onto your crib. In my experience, if you have a Graco crib, the only mobile that fits onto its rail is a Graco mobile. If you have a snazzy crib that you love, there will be no mobile that fits its rail and you will have to resort to some Rube Goldberging of this “one size fits all” arm thing with the mobile you like. Which, naturally, will look like you sorted the whole thing out while you were drinking and will undermine that whole “cool minimalist parents” aesthetic you were going for.

Second issue: babies with poor eyesight (all of them) can’t distinguish the tasteful, muted colors of that Eames-ian mobile you found at that great baby boutique in Chelsea. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get it. Be my guest. I love it too. But little Theodore Pancreas III will not be able to appreciate it for many months. What you want up front are either black and white patterns or, shortly thereafter, primary colors that are easy to distinguish.

In both of these case, Manhattan Toy is there for you again: the Skwish Mobile has a crib-agnostic arm that screws into place on pretty much any crib rail (and can be moved) and the basic, bright colors are ideal for your little new addition to the world.

So I love it. Try it: you might too!

Manhattan Toy Skwish Mobile, $47 at Amazon or $44 at FatBrainToys

Clothes: H&M

November 26, 2011

Ah, H&M, emporium of cheap, of-the-moment knock-off clothes! We love you Swedes! Here’s another reason to love them: they make baby clothes. Really, really cute ones too. And now that they’ve expanded beyond New York, you too can have their inexpensive tot togs for your little one.

For babies, they carry basics like onesies/bodysuits in fetching colors like light pink and burnt orange as well as a great selection of sweaters (mostly handy cardigans, some in cotton solids, more in heavier weights and seasonal patterns that I love: not loud but still colorful) and shirts (manly blue stripes for boys, peasant blouses for little girls in flowered prints – on Astrid in the photo). Some of the lighter weight clothes don’t look like the sturdiest – a few hanging threads to snip – but none of the ones I’ve had Astrid in for the last eight months have torn or disintegrated, so they’re tough enough.

A couple of caveats:

  • I haven’t had a lot of luck with their pants: the leggings are a little thin for San Francisco weather and there isn’t a wide selection of other bottoms.
  • Their socks are both synthetic and run small, so those were a no-go for us.
  • Their web site has nothing in their infant section. Well, something: one thing, to be exact. So you can’t buy online and you can’t get a sense of what they carry in-store, but take it from me: the baby clothes are great. Seriously. Go already.

And finally:

  1. Avoid disappointment: call your local H&M before you go to see if they carry baby (or kid) clothes. Not all of them do. (In San Francisco, only the store on Powell does – 2nd floor, back corner to the right of the checkout registers.)
  2. Go and shop to your heart’s delight (and your wallet’s) before Baby is a year old. Their largest baby size is 12-18 months, and then there’s an unfortunate gap. It’s almost impossible to find anything labeled, “18-24 months,” the smallest kid department size is 2-4 years, and the kids department’s buyer hasn’t got the same excellent taste as the baby department’s buyer. Loud colors, big appliques and inconsistent stock are the hallmarks of our local H&M kids department. So enjoy the cozy Nordic-print leggings while your little one is still under 2!

H&M Store Locator, infant and baby clothes from $4.95

Nipple Confusion

November 7, 2011

Moms’ confusion, not babies’, that is! How do you know when to move your baby up to the next size nipple on your bottle of choice? Most bottle “systems” come with nipples labeled “Stage 1” and most say that by 3-6 months, your baby will want a “Stage 2” nipple, and then, later, a “Stage 3.” They usually stop there, but that’s plenty of buying nipples, assessing your little one’s drinking habits (no, not that kind of drinking habit!), and sorting through confusion.

So here’s the deal, plus the advice that made sense to me: the stages bottle manufacturers refer to are, as usual with babies, general estimates, in this case of when your baby will be both big enough to drink more and want to drink that more faster. Stage 1 nipples have relatively small openings which means Baby has to work a bit to get the milk (as with breastfeeding) but also so that the milk or formula doesn’t come out faster than he can drink it. Stage 2 nipples have a bigger opening and therefore a “faster flow” and Stage 3, as far as Astrid and I were concerned,  basically has has an opening that the milk pours out of onto your baby’s head!

Moving Astrid from Stage 1 to Stage 2 was confusing because I was still breastfeeding, so assessing how much milk she was getting every day was tough with her only taking bottles intermittently. How would I know if she were drinking “enough” through her Stage 1 bottle?? Plus, she was easily distracted while eating, so there was that evolving feeding challenge in the mix too. But gradually I noticed she was getting frustrated with her bottle (pulling off, etc.), we tried the Stage 2 bottles instead and voila – the annoyance went away and feeding went faster. Wins all around. Which is to say, this isn’t an exact science and trial and error is perfectly fine. There’s no harm done if you try the next stage nipple, your baby doesn’t go for it, and you switch back down. No big deal.

A few months later, I arbitrarily decided Astrid was ready for Stage 3 (based on Born Free‘s pamphlet recommendation), and, as above, the milk poured out all over her. So back to Stage 2 we went. When I asked the lactation consultant at my mom’s group about the necessity of moving Astrid up to Stage 3, she pointed out that the stage distinctions are a creation of the bottle manufacturers and there’s no need to ever move from Stage 1 or Stage 2 if your baby is getting enough to eat and is happy with her bottle. Fair enough. Perfectly logical. Done. We never moved up to Stage 3 and everyone’s happy.

(That said, I can’t quite imagine not moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2, since the Stage 1 opening is so small. Based on my sample size of one (!), I’d say that probably you will want to move to Stage 2 at some point since a baby needs more food faster than a newborn. And, of course, if your little one is not a fan of the bottle, that’s a whole separate question that can be really tough, so I’ll defer to your pediatrician and offer you a remote hug if you’re in that boat.)

So that’s my brief 411 on the subject. As with so many new mom questions, don’t stress too much, just pay attention to what your baby’s up to at the bottle and trust your instinct.

Gap Baby / Kids

October 20, 2011

Did you see Crazy, Stupid Love? You should. It was funny. It’s hard not to pull for Steve Carrell. Ryan Gosling (well, his character) takes Steve’s frumpy, middle-aged dad under his dashing wing, teaching him how to dress and act. On a shopping trip when Steve admits to wearing Gap on the weekends, Gosling takes his shoulders and says, “Be better than the Gap!”

When he said this, Ramon looked at me pointedly. OK, yes, I get a lot of Astrid’s clothes at the Gap, but here’s the thing: I don’t buy ALL her clothes, there, I don’t buy any of the ones that have the Gap logo visible (she’s not a billboard, my little darling!), and Gap corporate is having some serious inventory and design issues, so I can’t remember the last time I paid full price for anything there. Honestly, I get pretty much everything  I buy there for 30-40% off and it’s decent quality, so done deal. (Getting a Gap Visa card that I pay off immediately only helps: I get even more discounts on top of the ridiculous markdowns that arrive every week.)

They’re a great source of sweaters, leggings and pajamas. And I got her a black and white polka dot dress with a 1950’s crinoline built in for $29 for a wedding for Pete’s sake, so give it a try.

No, they’re not organic, but they’re also not trying to sell me a kimono shirt that she’ll fit into for 20 minutes for $40. Of course I wish I could buy her all cashmere or Tea Collection, but that’s just a silly investment for a baby or a toddler. Save that cash for the day when she has to have an iPhone or a college education. In the meantime, Gap Kids works just fine, thank you very much.

Music Boxes

September 20, 2011

I loved music boxes when I was a kid. The little machine inside – OK, yes, I broke one in half to see it – was like magic and the music was just my size. I don’t know how boys feel about them, but they were one of my favorites and Astrid seems pretty intrigued, so I’m going to say they’re at least a good bet for little girls (with supervision until they’re three, I imagine).

When I set out to find a music box for Astrid, it was surprisingly hard to find ones that weren’t either very expensive and fragile antiques or Barbie-type jewelry box pop-ups. I just wanted one A. could listen to as a baby and maybe try to wind herself without breaking while she was developing some motor skills. After some searching, I found these three, all of which we like.

The best one ever for little ones is the KidO Melodia Music Box. It’s genius: no matter which direction you turn the little handle, the song continues to play. Brilliant for little learning hands. Safe and wood and colorful too. Sadly, also hard to find. If you live in San Francisco, try Ambassador Toys. If you don’t, try searching online or at your local high-end toy store (It’s less than $20 but will be with the Euro-type toys, not at Toys R Us.)

In the long tradition of kids buying their parents self-serving presents, Astrid got her dad a Kerri Lee music box for his birthday. They’re pretty sturdy, the tunes are nice and the pictures are retro and sweet. Not exactly as ornate or interactive as I was looking for, but a nice addition to the nursery and a basic mechanism for when she gets the hang of twisting the knob.

And finally, I couldn’t resist buying this little dancing ladybug music box one afternoon at the counter of The Ark toy store. Never underestimate the impulse buy! It’s a little too complicated for a one year old, and I think Astrid takes inexplicable exception to the tune (Fur Elise), but those bugs are a serious attraction. At about $15, it’s an ideal gift item for little girls. (See it in action on YouTube.)

KidO Melodia Music Box, about $20 at Amazon or offline

Kerri Lee Music Boxes, about $54 at Amazon or, in New York, at Granny Made

Schylling Busy Bugs Music Box, $14.99 at Amazon and offline