Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Post-Baby Body

In this post, I'm brutally honest about my body.

Before I became pregnant with my first child, I had always taken my figure somewhat for granted. It's not that I was skinny or in shape - I've always been a couch potato - but I could wear the clothes I wanted to wear and was comfortable with myself. I never thought I'd gain lots of weight in pregnancy or have trouble losing it. I never realized how different my post-baby body would look and act.

I gained 50 pounds in my first pregnancy. I took pregnancy as a license to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I knew I wasn't actually eating for two, but everything looked so good and my appetite was ridiculously large. And it's not as if I was active. I sat around all day at work and then sat around all evening at home. I've never been an active person, and if you're not active before pregnancy, you're surely not going to want to be active during those days of morning sickness and fatigue! After the birth, I lost about 30 of those pounds, mostly fluids and baby, and, over time, I got down to about 10 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, which, admittedly, had been 10 pounds over what I wanted to weigh. I then got pregnant with my second, already 20 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. My biggest issue was with my post-c-section belly, which has what we who have had a c-section like to call "the shelf." When they sew you back up after the surgery, they pull the skin tight, leaving a "shelf" of fat and loose skin that hangs over your incision. No matter how much your abs tighten back up, that bit of floppy skin and fat remain as an unsightly and unexpected bulge.

In my second pregnancy, I found the only way to keep morning sickness at bay was to be eating constantly. Though I had promised myself I would not gain 50 pounds again, though I knew how unhappy I was with my weight the first time around, I couldn't stop eating. Even as the morning sickness passed, I had developed the terrible habit of eating all the time, and my appetite was enormous again. And so I became enormous and gained about 55 pounds the second time around. When I was supposed to be gaining a healthy 1/2 to 1 pound a week, I was gaining 2 to 4 pounds a week. It was out of control. The only advice my midwife had to offer was to "eat off smaller plates" and try to stick to healthy foods. Well, I might eat off a smaller plate, lady, but I'll go back for thirds and fourths. It wasn't helpful, and I gave up. And, no, I wasn't any more active, either.

I gave birth and lost that 25 or so pounds of fluids and baby again and at least wasn't left with a second surgical scar, but the "shelf" remained from the first time. So did the other 30 pounds. I couldn't get rid of it. Everybody said that breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day, and I'd lose the weight easily. Only, breastfeeding made me hungrier even than pregnancy had, and I found myself eating those extra 500 calories and then some. Suffice it to say, I only lost some weight when I convinced myself to start counting calories. I did lose about 16 pounds, was very happy about it, then rewarded myself at my birthday party with a red velvet cake. And then I started eating again. Though I was exercising a bit more - a friend and I took almost-daily 1-hour walks with our strollers - I simply couldn't drop the weight or keep it off.

I got pregnant for the third time at the same weight I was just after giving birth to my second. This time, I said, I will not gain 50 pounds. And, suprisingly, I didn't. As soon as I weaned my second and stopped breastfeeding (during my first month of pregnancy), my appetite vanished. I hardly had any morning sickness, and I found myself eating noticeably smaller portions than I had in years. I was thrilled. In the first trimester, I gained no weight. I wish I could tell you what my secret was, but I don't know how it happened. By the end of this third pregnancy, I had gained about 30 pounds, and now I've lost all of it. During the first couple of months postpartum, though I haven't actively dieted, breastfeeding and a healthier appetite seemed to have helped me get rid of what I gained in this pregnancy. But I still have 40 pounds I'd like to lose, and I can't seem to do it. My appetite is back, I'm eating huge portions again, mostly carbs and sugar. Every morning I say "today's the day I cut back," and by evening my resolve is gone and I'm snacking on cookies again. (And even if I don't buy cookies, I know how to bake them!)

I'm not happy with how my body looks. My hips are wide, my belly looks like I'm perpetually four months pregnant, I can't find pants that fit properly, and I feel like my lumps are in all the wrong places. My breasts have grown from a B-cup before my first pregnancy to about an E cup now, and they don't show signs of shrinking. I hope that losing weight will help my breasts shrink back down a bit. The oddest thing is that my face, arms, legs, and butt are all fine - I'm actually quite happy from the shoulders up and hips down, but my middle is jiggly, bulgy, and weirdly shaped. Clothes fit strangely, and almost five months postpartum, I still wear a lot of maternity clothes because that's all that fit reasonably comfortably around my middle.

I've never had body image issues. I've never worried so much about what I weigh or how I look. I dress so that I'm comfortable. But lately I've found myself gazing angrily at myself in the mirror. I realize I won't ever have a model's figure (I never did), and I realize that my pregnancy-altered body will never look like it did when I was 20, no matter how much dieting and exercising I do, but I really would like to be able to find clothes that fit me well and flatter me a little. I don't consider myself unattractive, and my loving husband tells me every day that he thinks I'm beautiful, but it's hard to feel beautiful when you're lumpy and don't like any of your clothes.

I have a friend who lost 50 pounds by eating better and exercising. She looks amazing, after three kids and two c-sections. She tells me that at some point, I'll find the motivation, and losing that weight and getting in shape will become the most important thing. Maybe it will. I hope so. I know how to do it. I just don't have the resolve yet.

I think it's important to accept that pregnancy and childbirth change your body. You've brought life into this world! Of course there will be changes. I don't expect to be modeling swimsuits, and I don't especially want to wear a bikini to the beach anyway, so I'm not so concerned with getting rid of every stretch mark and jiggle. But I do want to be healthy, to maintain a reasonable weight and to be in decent shape, if only to be able to keep up with my kids and to do fun activities with them. I also want to set a good example for them, of a healthy diet, healthy eating habits, and healthy activity.

I'll get there. In the meantime, at least I'm aware of what I want to change. I suppose that's a first step.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I have a love-hate relationship with pacifiers. With NJ, pacifiers were sort of a given from the start. He had one in the hospital, liked it, and didn't have my boob for soothing. I didn't know up from down when it came to pacifiers, he liked it, we liked it, so we used it. I was aware that he shouldn't use it past three years old, and I knew I didn't like seeing kids walking around with pacifiers in their mouths, but other than that, hey, great, it calms him down, let's use it!

He liked the pacifier. A lot. And he wasn't picky, either. I know some kids become attached to one particular kind of pacifier and won't take any other, but NJ didn't care. If he could suck on it, he wanted it. It helped him fall asleep. It kept him calm in the car. It kept him quiet between feedings. All-in-all, I'd say the pacifier was fantastic for him. If sucking is soothing for a baby, and a pacifier is something he can safely suck on, then he should have at it!

Unfortunately, he loved the pacifier well past his second birthday, by which point I was tiring of seeing it in his mouth all the time. He couldn't/wouldn't sleep without it, and he wouldn't look for it on his own if he awoke in the night, so we'd have to go in, feel around for it, and give it back to him. He had to have it in the car. Then, of course, he'd drop it, and we'd have to fish around on the floor of the back seat trying to find it so he'd stop whining for it. "My binky! My binky! My binky!" (I don't know why he called it a binky. We always called it a paci. Funny how kids pick up on a name that they like. I assume he learned it at daycare.) We found out that the daycare managed to keep it away from him except at naptime, but he wasn't as agreeable to that with us.

Then, when he was about two years and three months old, he had an accident at daycare where he was flipped off a garden swing and knocked some teeth loose. The dentist suggested that we not use the paci at least until the teeth reintegrated (6 weeks!), but she understood that it might be impossible to keep it away from him. We managed at that point to tell him that the pacifier could hurt his teeth more and that he shouldn't have it except when he was sleeping. From then on, he only had it for naps and bedtime, which was great. Eventually, he would just forget to ask for it at bedtime, had it maybe once in three nights, and then finally just didn't use it anymore. I was so thankful that we didn't have to wrestle it away from him.

As my love-hate relationship became more of a hate>love relationship with the pacifier, we only half-heartedly tried to get SB to take one. At first, I didn't want to offer one at all, partly because I didn't want it to interfere with breastfeeding, and mostly because NJ was still using his and I hated it by that point. Our half-hearted attempt to introduce the paci at 4 weeks fell away quickly. There were times when we kind of wished he used one, like when he would be crying inconsolably in the car, and because I was the only one who could get him to sleep (yes, I was a "human pacifier"). I don't think it occurred to me at first that a pacifier would have probably gotten me a bit longer between feedings, if I had been willing to try anyway, since he was doing a lot of comfort-sucking. But once those initial problems ended, and especially when he was down to only breastfeeding at night, we were glad to have a toddler who didn't have the darn thing in his mouth all the time.

But when GI was born, we decided that maybe we'd try it again. See, we began to think back fondly on how if NJ was fussing in the car, pop in the pacifier. Trouble falling asleep? Pacifier! Wants to suck but nursed recently? Pacifier! My mother-in-law came to stay with us for a couple of months after GI was born, and she would watch him and the other boys for me while I ran errands and such (such a luxury!), and if he'd get hungry while I was out, she'd first try soothing him with the pacifier so he would wait until I got home, if I knew I would only be 15 or 20 minutes longer. (If it was longer than that, she'd give him a bottle of expressed milk - I wasn't starving my baby!) He reached a point where he was willing to accept the pacifier to help him fall asleep, to go back to sleep if he had eaten recently, and to calm him in the car. The greatest part is that his brothers can find and pop in the pacifier in the car so we don't have to reach back and feel around for it.

I'm concerned that he'll start rejecting the pacifier now, though. I've tried to give it to him a few times the past few evenings when he's been fussy, and he wants none of it. From me, he wants boob and nothing else. Now that we've decided he should have a pacifier, it would be a cruel irony if he decided he didn't want it! We'll see what happens. If he does reject it on his own, at least I won't have to worry about trying to get it away from him in toddlerhood. He has discovered the joys of sucking on his fists or fingers. I wonder if he'll be my first thumbsucker. I have mixed feelings about thumbsucking, mostly leaning toward "OH NO PLEASE NO." But there are positives - your thumbs are always there. You can't drop or lose them. You know where to find them. They never change. You never have to buy new ones. On the other hand (har har), well, hands covered in spit all the time. Dirty hands in mouth all the time. (Although, admittedly, both NJ and SB have their fingers in their mouths all the time anyway. Ew.) Can't "take away" the thumb the way you can take away a pacifier. I sucked my thumb in secret until I was seven. So, yeah. Thumbsucking, I think, would be worse than the pacifier.

A pacifier is aptly named. Sucking is calming for babies. It makes perfect sense. If they enjoy sucking, then they'll enjoy breastfeeding. The sucking is good for mom and for baby. But once milk supply and latch are  established, it is helpful to have a means to soothe the baby if mom isn't around to nurse him just at that moment, or if mom wants a few minutes to put the baby down, or if someone else is trying to get him to fall asleep when he isn't hungry. I don't, however, like seeing a pacifier dangling from the lips of a two-year-old, or stopping up the mouth of a three-year-old. I did find myself saying the other day that the pacifier is awesome, though, when it let me put GI back to sleep and then get back to what I was doing, rather than having to let him comfort nurse for hours.

I am a big fan of the "blankie," except for the "oh shoot, we forgot the blankie" moments. A lovey can be very helpful for sleep and soothing away from home, especially. NJ had six blankies. SB didn't have a lovey. I'm curious to see what kind of kid GI becomes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Babywearing

I have a confession to make: I hate babywearing. I don't hate it as a trend, or as a practice, or as an ideal. I just hate doing it.

Ever since NJ was a baby, I've owned a Babyhawk mei tai. I put the brand name here, even though I don't usually specifically endorse products, because I believe this is a well-made, quality product that deserves specific mention. After all, I've been using it for 5 years, with three babies, and it's still going strong. Mine has a cool dragon pattern on the outside.

Here's NJ in it:

And here's SB in it:

And, of course, GI in it, famously breastfeeding as we hiked (as seen in pictures last week as well):

The point of this is to show you that, yes, I've used it with three babies. Granted, it may not be obvious that this is three different babies, but you can see that I've aged a bit in five years, and certainly gained some weight (although that's a post for another time!).

See, in theory, I like the concept of babywearing. I should define that, first, I suppose. The idea of babywearing is that the baby still needs to be close to mom even after birth, so rather than putting him down all the time, you should be holding him. Holding the baby helps him adjust to your rhythms of life, your breathing, your heartbeat, and your daily activity. The motion soothes him, being exposed to daylight during the day helps him regulate his circadian rhythms, and it's comforting to him to be near mom. Of course, carrying a baby all day isn't practical, since we typically need our hands free for, well, everything else, so we have many cultures throughout the world who have invented various types of baby carriers, so that rather than hold the baby in arms, we can "wear" him. (Obviously, anyone can wear the baby - dad, grandma, aunt, big sibling, but I'm talking about me, so it's a generic "mom" right now.)

There are many types of carriers. There are upright, structured carriers like the Ergo or Beco. These are variations on the Asian-style carrier, the mei tai, like the one I use. There are slings, which are basically just a folded-over piece of fabric sewn into a loop you put over one shoulder and put the baby into the pouch that is created. There are several different kinds of slings. There's the ever-popular Moby Wrap, which is a very long strip of fabric that you can wrap and tie around yourself in various ways to hold the baby in different positions. And more well-known brands such as Baby Bjorn and Snugli are contributions to the plethora of baby carriers that allow you to keep baby close at all times, rather than put him down.

There are many conveniences to babywearing. My hiking example is a great one. You can't put a young baby in a structured backpack - they don't have the trunk strength to support their upper body and head in one of those until they're older. But you can wrap them securely around your front, where your body supports theirs. Plus, as mentioned, you can even nurse them in there. 

Another example is shopping. Before baby is able to sit upright in the seat of a shopping cart, shopping with baby can be a real challenge. I'm not comfortable propping the baby's carseat atop the cart, as many, many people do. It is not safe; the cart and carseat are not designed to fit together, and a little bump can send the carseat tumbling to the floor. But what to do? You can try shopping with baby in a stroller and putting your items in the stroller basket, but that's inconvenient, and it's hard to buy larger items or a lot at one time. Some supermarkets have infant seats attached to them, but they're often grimy, in disrepair, and don't have a great harness. But, if you wear your baby while shopping, you can push the shopping cart, fill it to the brim, and know baby is safe at all times.*

*I'm assuming here that you are using your baby carrier in its intended way and that you know all of the safety guidelines and instructions for using it properly.

You can baby-wear around the house, when doing laundry, vacuuming (the sound of a vacuum is usually soothing to a fussy newborn), caring for older children. You can wear the baby at the park or the zoo or at school so that your hands are free for your older children and baby is always with you.

So now that I've talked up babywearing so much, what about what I said up there, about hating it?

Well, the thing is, I do.

I hate grocery shopping while wearing the baby, because I can't lean over to get things from low shelves or to unload my cart onto the belt at the cash register. I can't lift anything heavy, like a case of water, because my center of balance is off and I have this big bulge of baby in front of me.

I don't feel comfortable cooking or washing dishes while wearing the baby. What if oil should splatter or hot water should splash?

I can't pick up my toddler while wearing the baby.

I can't sit down while wearing the baby - his feet get in the way.

I can't do my day job while wearing the baby. See feet problem.

I hate the extra weight on my feet and hips. My back and shoulders and legs always ache after a day of wearing him. I suppose if I wore him all the time, I'd get used to it?

I can't eat while wearing the baby. My arms feel like they're so far away from me, and I'm afraid I'll drop food on his head.

Most of all, I hate tying and untying, tying and untying, tying and untying the darn thing all the time!

I think my problem is that I want to babywear, but I'm not comfortable doing it. It's possible that some other carrier might work better for me - a Moby, perhaps - although I haven't tried one. An Ergo or Beco would eliminate the tying-untying thing, but still have all the other problems.

When the baby is a bit older, I'll be able to wear him on my back, and then I suppose I could cook and shop and such more easily. But you can't wear a newborn on your back in a mei tai.

I have to admit it, though. I really look forward to when GI is able to sit on his own and I can just plop him into the seat of the cart or in a high chair in a restaurant. Much easier. For me.

I'm not trying to disparage babywearing. In theory, I love the idea of it. I love that there are so many choices of carrier out there, and so many different ways to "wear" your baby as he grows. I agree wholeheartedly with all of the benefits of it. I do use my carrier. I do. But it's out of necessity and not love, and only when the convenience outweighs the irritation.

Whew. Glad to get that off my chest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

4-Month Well Visit and Cosleeping Commentary

I had an interesting visit to the doctor yesterday for GI's four-month physical. I like this doctor for reasons you will shortly understand.

First of all, GI was 26.75" long (tall?) and 17lbs., 7.7oz. This makes him slightly heavier and longer than SB was at the same age, but not nearly matching NJ's robust 18lbs., 14oz. SB's weight gain didn't level out until six months. GI may be slowing down sooner, possibly because he was born in his own time and was bigger to start with than SB was. SB had some catching up to do because he was a couple of weeks early. It will be interesting to see which brother's build GI's more resembles as he grows. My guess is that he's going to be a big, tall guy like his oldest brother, though. SB had his three-year physical last week and was in the 75th percentile for his age, but he always strikes me as being short and skinny, probably because NJ is just so big.

Anyway, back to the pediatrician.

First, he said obviously I'm doing fine with breastfeeding and to just keep doing that. (Not that I was worried!) He asked if I was giving Vitamin D supplements, which I'm not, mostly because I'm bad about it and not because I don't recognize that Vitamin D is important. I've been taking a supplement for myself, and we do get some sun every day. He then said that he's not so crazy about them, either. Ha!

Then he asked where GI is sleeping. I told him in my bed. He said the AAP is now recommending officially that babies not sleep in their parents' bed but in a crib nearby. I said the AAP is welcome to come and take care of GI at night if that's how they feel about it. He said that SIDS dropped to almost nonexistent after the back-to-sleep campaign in the '90s, but that the rates have been creeping back up, and that most of the babies who are dying of SIDS are in their parents' bed. He said he's supposed to tell me that but then admitted that all three of his kids slept with them (and sometimes still do) and that he loves cosleeping and understands why I do it. Ha!

According to my reading, in a controlled bed space with sober parents, especially if the baby is breastfeeding, cosleeping is quite safe and healthy for a normally developing baby. And mom gets a lot more sleep! But having the baby in the room with mom, whether in a bassinet, crib, cosleeper, or the same bed, has been demonstrated to be the healthiest way for a young infant to sleep, and the AAP does recommend room-sharing, if not bed-sharing! (Remember that in many other cultures, the family bed is the norm.)

This article by Dr. William Sears puts it very succinctly.

To be honest, I cosleep because it's convenient for me. Frankly, I don't love cosleeping. I find I wake up with a stiff neck and shoulder and feeling like my torso is twisted. It takes a hot shower and some time upright before I feel like I can move freely again. I'd rather him sleep in the crib which is currently wedged between my side of the bed and the wall. I had intended for him to sleep there, take him out when he woke to nurse, and put him back in when he was done. That lasted one night. I found myself getting totally confused when he'd rouse, take a while to realize that he was awake and looking for me, and then I'd fall asleep nursing him, so he wouldn't make it back into the crib. Ah well. The same thing happened with SB. Eventually the inconvenient squirminess of a mobile baby will outweigh the convenience of popping out a boob and going back to sleep, and GI will be in the crib more regularly.

GI is currently showing signs of the four-month sleep regression, so while he does sleep soundly, he's waking  more often to nurse and spending more time with my nipple in his mouth. The other night, I kept trying to roll to my back, only to find there was still a baby attached to me. The choice was to stay on my side or unlatch and risk a wake-up. My typical choice in that situation is to stay where I am. This is where cosleeping works out so well, because I'm not up and down and up and down all night. I wouldn't say I'm getting lots of quality sleep, but I'm getting more than I would if I couldn't "sleep-nurse."

In other news, GI is still showing dairy sensitivity, having spit up rather dramatically just now. I tried a smidge of dairy the last few days, and it seems I, well, shouldn't have. It does seem he now tolerates soy and caffeine better, so at least I have that. I'll get to have macaroni and cheese again one day. Just, not today. I did get an ice cream maker and have been making non-dairy ice cream, which is loads of fun and takes the edge off the whole dairy-free thing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Nursing In Random Places

When many of us breastfeeding advocates talk about breastfeeding, one of the benefits we tout is that it can be done anywhere, any time. You don't have to take time to mix a bottle, or worry about running out of it, or warming it up to the right temperature, or properly sterilizing anything, or finding a way to wash a bottle, or anything like that. You can breastfeed wherever you are, in a car (stopped, of course), in a restaurant, at the mall, at the zoo, at an amusement park, at the doctor's office, at an older child's sports event or concert, with very little in the way of preparation. Indeed, a confident breastfeeding mother can even breastfeed on the move! When I was pregnant with GI, I saw a woman in Kohl's (department store) striding down an aisle with a blanket draped loosely over one shoulder, a baby held to the breast with one arm while she continued her shopping. I was mightily impressed, as I had never managed such a feat with SB. I vowed to learn to do it with GI. When he was very small, I did manage to do it once or twice while shopping, but I find it fairly uncomfortable and prefer to take a few extra minutes to find a place to sit!

The thing is, although I am willing to nurse wherever, whenever, it's not always so simple. GI doesn't seem to like to nurse when we're out and about! Honestly, it's not that I so enjoy nursing in public that I'd seek out opportunities to do so, but I don't mind doing it if necessary. I'll plop down wherever I am, though I certainly prefer a comfy chair, and hook him right up. I don't bother with a cover of any kind, as I find that makes me more conspicuous and makes it more difficult to get GI comfortably latched. Anyway, he's kind of wiggly, so a cover wouldn't stay on for long. As it happens, I rarely convince GI to nurse effectively when not in a comfy chair or lying down in bed, or at least in a quiet place, and he seems willing to wait until we get home to have a long, satisfying feed anyway, so I don't stress about it too much.

And that brings me to these past couple of weeks. We took a spontaneous family trip to Las Vegas. It was our first family vacation, and the older two boys had a blast. GI was fairly oblivious to the significance but was very good in the car, only fussing a bit, sleeping most of the time, and otherwise allowing NJ to entertain him with singing, amuse him with funny faces, or calm him with pacifier. (By the way, NJ earned full big brother points on that drive!) But, I got to nurse GI in all sorts of random places. I nursed him in a casino, in restaurants, at the Adventuredome (indoor amusement park at Circus Circus), and in the Excalibur's arcade. Most of the time, people didn't even notice what I was doing, or I got an encouraging wink, or, best of all, the waitress at a restaurant in the Red Rock casino noticed what I was doing, commented that now she understood why I had drunk all my water so fast, and said she'd be sure to keep my water glass filled! So sweet. The least comfortable nursing situation I found myself in was trying to nurse standing up at the Excalibur arcade because I couldn't find a convenient chair. GI didn't like it too much, either.

But, by far the most random place I have now nursed this baby is at Hellhole Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. We took another spontaneous drive this past Monday. We thought to end up in Julian, a lovely mountain town known for its apples and apple pie. But when we stopped for lunch, the waitress told us about some neat stuff to see in the town of Borrego Springs, down in the desert below the mountains. We stopped at Hellhole Canyon on the way down, where there was a map of some hiking trails. One of the trails was a very short (.3 miles), easy hike, so we decided to try it. I put GI in my carrier of choice, my trusty mei tai, and started off. He got hungry, and I happened to have dressed in a way that made feeding him on the go easy: A loose tanktop under a short-sleeved shirt. I pulled the t-shirt up, popped my breast out over the top of the tank top, and pointed GI's mouth in the right direction. He latched right on and nursed for most of the hike (all of 20 minutes). So, this kid, who won't nurse nicely sitting in a chair at a restaurant, on a bench at an amusement park, or in the fitting room of a department store, this kid who will wait until we get home so we can both stretch out on the bed and nurse in a relaxed position rather than just about anywhere else, this kid nursed for 20 minutes quite contentedly while I hiked in the desert! Go figure. (It's winter, so it wasn't absurdly hot - maybe 80 degrees. I don't think I'd have attempted that in the summer!)

Here's a picture!

Now, be honest, if I hadn't told you what I was doing in this picture, would you have known?

I also nursed him in the car at a random scenic overlook.

I made my husband take these pictures so that I could write this post and have photographic evidence.

I have to say, I've never encountered any negativity towards my nursing wherever I happen to be. I know other women have been harassed, asked to move, given the evil eye, or put down for their decision to nurse their baby when the baby was hungry. I have never had such an experience, and I'm glad of it. It shouldn't be that way. Feeding a baby is feeding a baby, and wouldn't we all rather see a happily nursing baby than one screaming in hunger?

I especially like nursing around younger girls and women. I feel like if those girls grow up thinking of breastfeeding as the normal way to feed a baby, they'll be more likely to choose to breastfeed. I only remember seeing someone breastfeed twice as a girl. I remember my aunt nursing her youngest daughter when the baby was about 10 months old and I was about eight years old. I also remember someone at my synagogue nursing her baby while I was in the room. I think I was about 10 years old then. I think if I had been more exposed to women breastfeeding, the idea would not have seemed so abstract to me when I had my first baby. Thus, I hope that by being available to answer questions and being visible when I'm nursing will help normalize the image for younger women who will then think of breastfeeding first when they're ready to have their own babies.

Really, most of the time when I nurse in public, it's not about a statement or education or information or to make a spectacle of myself. I just want to feed my baby when he's hungry. And so I do.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quick-Reference: Car Seats

I have a nice post about nursing in random places planned, but I wanted to post this quickly (a) so that you'll know I'm still around, and (b) because it's useful.

Types of Car Seats:

Infant carrier: This is a rear-facing-only seat intended for infants from birth until approximately one year of age (longer if you have a smaller child). These are sometimes also called a "bucket" seat. They usually have a handle for carrying and can be easily taken out of the car with a base left installed in the car. Has a five-point harness (straps at each shoulder, each hip, and between the legs). Smaller models have a weight limit of 22 pounds. Newer, larger models may go to 30, 33, or 35 pounds. Check your manual. Seat is outgrown when baby either reaches the maximum weight limit or the top of baby's head is within 1" (one inch, 2.5cm) of the top of the shell. Harness shoulder straps should be in the slots AT or BELOW baby's shoulders.

Examples of Infant Carriers: Graco SnugRide, Chicco KeyFit, Britax B-Safe, Evenflo Discovery

Convertible: This type of seat may be installed either rear-facing or front-facing with a five-point harness. Some converstible seats may also have booster mode. These seats are designed to be used from birth through toddlerhood. They have a separate weight limit for each type of use. The rear-facing weight limits for newer seats is usually 40 or 45 pounds. The front-facing weight limits for the five-point harness on newer seats is often 65 to 85 pounds. Check your manual. If it converts to a booster, the weight limit for the booster mode is typically 100 pounds, sometimes as high as 120 pounds.

The seat is outgrown rear-facing and should be turned to face front when ONE of the following conditions is met: (1) The child reaches the maximum weight limit for rear-facing (e.g., 40 pounds); or, (2) the top of the child's head is within 1" (one inch) of the top of the seat. When REAR-FACING, the shoulder straps should be adjusted AT or BELOW the child's shoulders.

The seat is outgrown for the five-point harness in front-facing mode when ONE of the following conditions is met: (1) The child reaches the maximum weight limit for front-facing (e.g., 65 pounds); (2) the child's EARS are above the top of the seat; or (3) the shoulder straps cannot be adjusted higher than the child's shoulders. When FRONT-FACING, the shoulder straps should be adjusted AT or ABOVE the child's shoulders.

If there is a booster mode on your seat, the booster is outgrown when the child reaches the maximum weight limit for the booster (e.g., 100 pounds). Check your state's laws for when you can legally remove your child from any kind of car seat. Ideally, a child should remain in a booster seat until the seat belt fits properly across his hips and chest when not in a booster.

Examples of Convertible Car Seats: Britax Marathon or Boulevard or Advocate, Graco MyRide65, Safety 1st Complete Air65  or All-in-One, Evenflo Tribute or Symphony or Titan or Triumph, Sunshine Kids/Diono Radian, Cosco Scenera

Front-Facing/3-in-1: There are some seats which do not rear-face but do have a five-point harness and then can be converted to boosters. If you purchase one of these, remember that they are FRONT-FACING ONLY (i.e., they should not be used for infants or toddlers under about two years old). They are, however, very useful seats for toddlerhood through elementary-aged kids. Some of these seats have five-point harnesses with weight limits of 85 pounds!

See above for how to know when your child has outgrown this type of seat.

Examples of Front-Facing-Only seats are: Britax Frontier, Graco Nautilus or Argos

Booster: Booster seats simply act to position your child so that the car's seat belt fits properly over her shoulder and across her hips. There are two types of boosters, the high-back or belt-positioning booster, which features a back as well as the seat and the backless booster, which is just the seat. The high-back boosters usually afford more head support and protection and will properly position the shoulder belt so that it falls across your child's shoulder and the middle of her chest. Boosters without a back simply lift your child so that the lap belt falls across the hips and not the stomach and the shoulder belt falls across the shoulder and chest and not the neck or face.

Your child has outgrown the booster seat when he has reached the maximum weight limit (as much as 120 pounds on newer boosters) or when the seat belt fits properly without a booster seat (typically around a height of 4'9"). Check your state's laws for when you are legally permitted to no longer use a booster seat for your child. (For example, in my state of California, a new law was enacted this year requiring children to remain in a booster seat until age 8 or 4'9" tall. Several other states have similar laws.)

Examples of High-Back/Belt-Positioning Boosters are: Graco TurboBooster, Britax Parkway, Evenflo Big Kid Booster (Many high-back boosters can be converted to backless boosters if desired, such as the Graco TurboBooster.)

Examples of Backless Boosters are: Graco TurboBooster Backless, Harmony Secure Comfort, Evenflo Big Kid No Back Booster

Basic Rules:

1. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible. The minimum is one year AND 20 pounds. The recommendation is at least TWO YEARS. Check your state's laws for when you can legally turn your child front-facing.

2. Keep your child in a five-point harness as long as possible. The minimum in many states is 3 years AND 30 pounds. In some states it is 4 years AND 40 pounds. The recommendation is to remain in a five-point harness until it is outgrown. Check your state's laws for when you can legally put your child in a booster seat.

3. Keep your child in a booster seat until the seat belt of the car fits properly. Check your state's laws for when you can legally no longer use a booster seat.

4. When buckling a five-point harness, make sure the chest clip is buckled and aligned with the child's armpits.

5. The straps should be tight but not to the point that the child is put in an unnatural position. You should not be able to pinch the strap at the child's collarbone and maintain the fold (your fingers should slide off the strap when attempting to pinch it).

6. Car seats EXPIRE, typically six to seven years after the manufacture date. The expiration date should be printed on the car seat itself. Make sure you pay attention to this. The car seat cannot be guaranteed to keep your child safe after this date (the plastic parts or straps may wear out after prolonged use or storage).

7. If your car seat has been in a moderate accident (even if there was no child in it), it should be replaced.

Car Seat Scenario:

Let's take a typical family with two kids, two years apart in age, and see what a car seat saga for them might be like. In a case like this, the family can probably get away with buying two to three car seats for the time the children are all in car seats, and then one or two booster seats. (Booster seats are inexpensive. You can get a backless booster at Walmart for about $15.)

Probably, you'll start with an infant carrier, such as a Graco SnugRide, for the first child. You'll use this seat until it is no longer comfortable or until the child outgrows it. Let's say this happens when the child is seven months old. You'll then purchase a convertible car seat with a rear-facing weight limit of 45 pounds and a front-facing weight limit of 70 pounds, for example, a Britax Advocate. You'll put your baby in that, rear-facing.

Some time passes and you have a second baby. Your first is about two years old. You keep him in the Britax Advocate and put the baby in the carrier, the Graco SnugRide. (The SnugRide is now two years old and is still safe to use, assuming it's been stored safely and it hasn't been in a car accident.) When your second baby is about nine months old, you decide he's too big for the carrier. But what to do? Do you buy a second convertible seat for the baby and keep the two-year-old in his Advocate, or do you buy something new for the two-year-old and put the baby in the Advocate?

Well, that's up to you. If you want to minimize your carseat-buying, here's what I suggest.

Buy a new seat for the two-year-old, perhaps a front-facing-only seat such as the Graco Argos. Put the baby rear-facing in the Britax Advocate and the two-year-old front-facing in the Graco Argos. You'll be able to use the Britax Advocate for about four more years, but you'll then have to replace it. By then, your older child will certainly be big enough for a booster seat (at six years old!). By then, too, your younger child will be front-facing, so he can use the newer seat, and you can buy an inexpensive booster for the older child.

Total number of car seats for both kids: Four (including the inexpensive booster).

If you forego the infant carrier, which some people do, and start out with only the convertible seat rear-facing for your first child, you'd only need to purchase three total car seats.

There are car seats that are purported to be "the only car seat you'll ever need," such as the Diono RadianR120. This is mostly true. This seat can be used from birth (5 pounds), rear-faces to 45 pounds, then turns front-facing with a five-point harness until 80 pounds, then converts to a high-back booster until 120 pounds! This is probably a very good buy, especially if you have a larger child who will make full use of those higher weight limits. I also like the Radian because it has a higher height limit, so a taller, skinny kid can use it, or a tall and heavy kid can use it, much longer than some of the other seats that aren't as high. However, remember that a car seat expires about six or seven years past its manufacture date, so keep an eye on that date. Still, if you bought two of these and then one or two inexpensive boosters, you probably wouldn't need any more seats if you only have two kids two or three years apart. **Correction: I was just reading the description of this car seat on Amazon.com, and it says it has a 10-year life span. So it really would be the only car seat you'd ever need! And at less than $260, that's a great value. The added perk for Diono Radian car seats is that they are some of the narrowest seats on the market, meaning it would be easier to get three across in a mid-sized car. (That's why I'm in the market for one!) I have an older model Radian, and it works well for us.

As for us, we have something like six car seats and I'm looking to buy a seventh. But I have three kids I'm trying to fit across the back seat of a mid-sized SUV, so that changes my parameters a bit. If I had a minivan, I'd have more car seats than I'd ever need. Plus, one of my seats expires in September, so I have that in my defense! It is handy to have an extra seat or two on hand in case your child needs to ride in someone else's car, or if you have two cars (another reason we have an excess of car seats - my kids often ride in dad's and grandma's cars). Especially if there's an emergency situation where your car seats are with you in your car and your child is not, it can be reasonable to have a seat stored in your garage just in case. For a just-in-case seat, it's good to have one that any of your children could use in a pinch, with just an adjustment of the straps. That's where my Graco Nautilus comes in handy! (Well, the baby can't use that one, but the other two kids can.) This scenario happened when my youngest baby was born. A friend took the older two boys for the day, and we wouldn't have had to take any seats out of our car to put in hers. (Except the Nautiluses were in my mom's car, because we were expecting her to take the two boys. This is a long story that has nothing to do with car seats.)

I did once have a situation where my cat peed in my baby's car seat. It would have been very nice to have a backup seat to use while I cleaned that one. (I didn't have an extra seat at the time, but it spurred me to buy one just in case there was a "next time.")

I hope that helps some. If you have a strange car seat situation you'd like help deciphering, feel free to ask!