Friday, July 29, 2005

Gifts for the Baby Who Has Everything

We all know one-- the baby who has everything in the world: lots of fashionable outfits and baby gear, every baby toy in the book, and a really cool nursery. Buying gifts for this type of child can be challenging at best. So what can you by for that baby who already has everything? Here are a few ideas:

Savings Bond. If you purchase a series EE savings bond for Junior, it will be worth more money as time goes on. Savings bonds can be purchased in a variety of increments and are a great investment. Check the Treasury Direct website for the most up to date information on U.S. Savings bonds, including interest rates and maturity dates. You can even order the bonds online. You can start a tradition with this great gift idea.

A scrapbook. If you have a lot of pictures of baby, put them together in a scrapbook. Check your favorite craft store for decorative stickers and background papers to make a wonderful, personalized gift that both mother and baby will enjoy.

Stocks. Get baby's portfolio started by buying him or her a share or two of your favorite stock. Some large companies even offer special stock programs just for kids. Check online for companies that sell framed, decorative stock certificates -- this is especially good if you decide to purchase stock from popular children's companies like Disney.

Piggy bank. It's never too early to start saving, so a piggy bank is a great gift. For something unique, look for a personalized piggy bank or buy a plain one and hand paint it yourself with the baby's name. Of course you'll want to start baby off by putting a few coins in the bank yourself. For older toddlers, check your local toy or discount store for Leapfrog's Super Saver Teaching Bank-- this is a great little savings bank that can help the child learn about coins and program savings goals.

Something personalized. Personalized gifts are all the rage and they are always one of a kind. If baby has a unique name, a personalized gift is especially great. You can buy baby a personalized Christmas tree ornament, a blanket or quilt or a piece of artwork.

A special book. I don't think that any child can have too many books. Start baby's personal library off by purchasing some beautiful children's books that he or she will read for many years to come. Very young babies love board books and these days even some classic children's books are available in board book form. For older babies and toddlers, look for lavishly illustrated picture books. Some suggestions include "I Love You as Much" by Laura Krauss Melmed and "Good Night Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown. Babies also love the Baby Einstein series of books and DVDs.

A gift of your time. This may be the best gift of all. Simply spend the day with the child. Take him or her to the park or a fair or just hang out and play. Even the youngest of children love one on one attention. Sometimes the best gifts don't have to cost a cent.

Layette Needs for Baby

There are certain items that you will need to have on hand before bringing your new baby home from the hospital. If you are participating in the planning of your baby shower, you may want to consider having a layette shower. The party planner (usually a member of your family or a friend) will have a list and tell guests what it is that you will need. This is a great idea to supply the layette especially if your budget is limited

This list will provide the start of things you will need for the first few months, but by all means add anything to the list that you think would be an asset.

In the clothing department, you will need about five undershirts. The 3 to 6 month size work well to start. Sleeping gowns are also important, at least three in size 3 to 6 months and a couple in size 6 to 9 months. Don't forget caps, sweater, snowsuit, etc. for babies born during the winter months if you live where it gets cold.

A few "onesies" (one piece sleepers that have snaps at the bottom) will be needed and heavily used, as well as a couple of footed sleepers. If this sounds like a lot of clothing, remember that babies spit up often and as a new mother, you will have plenty of things to keep you busy without doing laundry every day. You will also need about 5 pairs of socks and / or booties to start.

For keeping warm, be sure to have some receiving blankets on hand. Four or five of them should be enough.

For bath time your needs will include soft towels, hooded towels, and soft baby wash cloths. Baby shampoo, powder, baby oil, diaper rash prevention medication, and lotion are in this category. No powder with talc, please, it is not good for the baby.

Other things you will want to have on hand for the first few weeks include cloth diapers to use as burping pads (certainly not necessary if you wish to use something else. Cloth diapers *do* work very well, however). You will need an outfit to bring the baby home from the hospital unless someone will be bringing that to you when it is time for the discharge. You will definitely need a car seat to take baby home. Make sure to have some of the diapers on hand that you plan to use. Don't buy a lot of the very small ones, however, until you see what the baby's birth weight will be.

Have some baby bottles on hand even if you are breastfeeding. If you will be using them, have at least two pacifiers. And bibs, don't forget the bibs! You will need a diaper pail and you may want to allow yourself the perk of a baby bathtub. Many parents don't use them but they are more convenient than other ways to bathe the baby.

When you are preparing the crib or bassinette for baby's arrival, be sure to have more than one mattress pads that are waterproof. You will need at least three fitted sheets for the crib and a bumper pad for safety.

Poor Baby! It's Diaper Rash

Sometime in the lives of most babies, diaper rash will come along to annoy them. It is more prevalent after the baby has been started on solid foods, but that certainly isn't the only time that diaper rash can happen.

Parents often feel guilty that they somehow caused the diaper rash to develop, but much of that guilt can be avoided if you take steps to prevent the rash from occurring in the first place. That said, it often can't be avoided at all, so there are ways to keep baby more comfortable if diaper rash strikes despite your best efforts to avoid it.

The best way to prevent as much of this problem as possible is to make sure that the baby's diaper area stays dry and clean at all times. Don't let a wet diaper stay on the baby just because you changed it 30 minutes ago and diapers are expensive, for one example. The diaper should be changed at least a dozen times a day. Some baby doctors will recommend up to 15 times especially if the diaper rash has already started. If you are dealing with diaper rash check the diaper often and change it if it is wet or dirty.

While you may have baby wipes on hand for cleaning, they are not recommended to use if diaper rash is present. A soft wash cloth and warm water is a better choice. If the baby has soiled the diaper, a little very mild baby soap will be alright to use.

When the diaper area is dry again after cleaning, you may want to use powder, but make sure it is free of talc. This is not only diaper rash advice; talc should not be used with the baby at any time. Do not use powder or lotions that contain any perfumes. Even the powder with cornstarch that was very popular in the past is no longer recommended. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a powder that you can use. Often a medicated powder will work very well if it doesn't contain cornstarch or other adverse ingredients.

You may want to use a diaper rash cream at this time as well. It should contain zinc oxide which will help to keep the wetness from the diaper from touching the baby's skin. Make sure the skin is completely dry before putting a clean diaper on the baby.

A word of caution here is that you need to make sure the rash is actually diaper rash and not something else such as a yeast infection. If it doesn't clear up in the amount of time it should, give the doctor a call just to make sure. Most of the time it will indeed just be diaper rash, though, but it's always a good idea to be aware of the symptoms and the length of time healing should take just to be on the safe side.

Be extra vigilant about diaper rash as the baby is beginning to eat new foods. As more and more new solid foods are introduced, the bowel movements will be changing and this is a time that diaper rash could become a problem even if there hadn't been any difficulty with it in the past.

Baby's First Words

Listen carefully, and you may find that your baby is "talking" long before you expect this big event. We all know that little ones understand language long before they can respond in kind, but the gap may not be as large as most people think.

Listen carefully to your baby's babbling, and you may find that there is a funny consistency about it. Baby may be making the same sounds in the same situations, over and over and over again. The sounds may seem to be random, but I bet that you will find patterns there if you look. Your baby may well be making his or her first attempts to talk!

When my firstborn was that age, I was thinking that she wouldn't pop out with her first recognizable word until she was somewhere around twelve months of age. I wasn't listening carefully! I have no idea now when it all started, but it was much earlier than the twelve months that my pediatrician and other experts were saying.

I remember clearly one evening when my husband had given her a bath. She was lying on her changing table getting dry and comfy, when he yelled "Come Quick!" I raced into the nursery, sure that there was some sort of crisis. He said, "Listen to this:" He pulled his hand back and got a silly grin on his face. The little one squealed in delight just the way babies do when they are anticipating a fun game about to begin. Then it happened. She made a really odd noise that sounded like a bunch of consonants all strung together. I could pick out a t sound, a k sound and an l sound. My ever-thinking better half responded by tickling the baby while she squealed and giggled.

He stopped and pulled his hand back to get ready for another round, and she said it again: t-k-l. He tickled once more. She was trying to say "Tickle!" There wasn't an I sound anywhere in sight, but she had all of the other sounds in the right order. If he hadn't been listening carefully, we never would've noticed, since her version wasn't very loud or clear. Try saying "tickle" without putting an I sound in it, and you will see what I mean. It comes out as a kind of a whisper, since most of those sounds are what speech experts call "unvoiced." They sound the same whether you are whispering them or saying them out loud.

Once we heard that, we began to listen for other patterns. Whenever she saw her bottle, she said, "Bung-gah!" Didn't sound much like "bottle" to me, but she surely knew what she was trying to say. She even had nightmares about it! I heard her crying one night and went into her room to see her lying in her crib sound asleep, and yelling "Bung-gah! Bung-gah! Bung-gah!" while she reached her arms up imploringly. I can only guess that she was dreaming about a bung-gah that was out of reach or being taken away while she still wanted it.

It wasn't long after we noticed the "tkl" and the "bung-gah" that "kyock"appeared every time our big grandfather clock chimed. There was now absolutely no doubt in our minds: the baby was definitely talking and getting better and better all the time. She had indeed uttered her first word, weird as it was, at about nine months. By twelve months, she was talking a blue streak with over a hundred words that we could recognize.

Now, I don't know if all babies do this, but my three all did. Their first words were only there if we listened carefully. I don't know if they would've continued to talk so much and so early if we hadn't encouraged those first strange sounds. Others around us told us repeatedly that we were imagining things, but when you stop to consider, it makes a lot of sense. Babies don't have really good motor control at these very early ages. It's quite possible that those first words are so garbled and slurred that some parents don't recognize them for what they are.

So be on the look out. Listen VERY carefully. Watch for sounds that are made over and over in the same circumstances. Your baby may be trying to tell you something long before you expect him or her to talk.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Baby's Motor Skills

It is always exciting to see babies gain more and more ability with things like their motor skills. Each new milestone is worth celebrating and when we do that, the baby certainly picks up on the positive reinforcement. Whether it is an accomplishment with gross motor skills or fine motor skills, it is always a good feeling to see our children learning new things.

Keep in mind that all those development charts are only to be followed loosely and not a guide for when things will be happening. If you look at them at all, it will at least give you an idea of what to be expecting in the near future. Parents need to avoid looking at neighborhood children or cousins to compare their own child's particular accomplishments with stages the other baby has reached. The rate at which babies grow and learn new things will definitely not all be the same and trying to compare simply causes stress if our children aren't doing exactly what their contemporaries have started doing.

Some of the very first motor skills that babies learn are basic movement things such as lifting his or her head and playing with feet or hands. Before too long, the baby will be able to hold onto toys you give him, although he will not be holding them for very long periods of time in the beginning.

Soon after those skills, you will find that the baby you put on her back is now lying on her tummy. She has learned to roll over and that, too, is use of the gross motor skills.

When baby just rolls over and plays with things in the crib, there is relative safety. Very soon, however, he will be out of the crib and you will begin to see still another gross motor skill developing, that of crawling. She will look comical with the way she tries to learn this skill, but in no time at all she will be crawling all around the house. This is the time to baby proof and put up your baby safety gates, etc.

After crawling, the next natural progression is walking. This will happen usually between 11 and 14 months of age. Besides the walking, this is the time period when the baby will be using many of the motor skills he has been learning, including playing with some kinds of toys that need those fine motor skills.

After the first year is when some very important fine motor skills will be more fully developed. These things will include steps such as using a crayon to "draw" on paper (make sure there's enough actual paper on the floor or table so that the colors stay on the paper) and picking up some finger foods such as dry cereal if she is old enough for those foods. This is also the time to teach the baby how to start using a spoon, but be prepared for a very messy meal until she gets the hang of it.

Other milestones will be coming along in their own time so don't rush them. You will notice the toddler running and jumping when he is ready, along with hundreds of other small and large achievements. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Parenting Magazine Gift Subscriptions

by Christina VanGinkel

Magazines make excellent gifts for parents both new and experienced. Magazines aimed directly at parents, often offer up a wealth of up to date information on subjects ranging from health and spiritual, to crafts and travel. Chances are if you are shopping for a gift for someone that is hard to buy for, you can find a magazine subscription to match the recipient perfectly. With the Internet so prevalent in most homes today, people often skip purchasing magazines, figuring they can get all the information they need or want online. While that is occasionally true, it does not always work that way, especially if you are a busy parent and do not have an unlimited amount of time to search the Internet for subjects that may be of interest. Many magazines today also coordinate their print version with an online version, making both valuable resources in their own right, and pointing the reader in the direction they want, saving them valuable search time.

A few magazines currently available that have fantastic websites to match include Parents, Working Mother, Parenting, Child, and Family Fun. Each magazine is a wealth of information on issues such as dealing with a crying infant, feeding issues including meals and menu suggestions, travel destination that are kid friendly, crafts to do with kids and for kids to do on their own, education issues, such as readiness for school and dealing with difficult teachers. They also have articles aimed directly at the parents, such as vacation getaways without the kids, how to pick a babysitter, and ways to relieve that tension at the end of the day.

Each of these magazines, as I noted earlier, also has a website with additional information for busy parents. Coupons to save budget minded parents are often available on the websites, as are links to other websites that they feel will help parents save time and get them the information for subjects that are important to parents.

Besides the magazines suggested, there are also a number of other ones available. A quick search online for parent magazines, or family magazines, will provide you with a wealth of choices. If you feel that a matching website is important, do a follow up search for the particular magazine you are considering to see if a matching site is available.

If you choose to give a magazine subscription as a gift, dress it up to make it a more personalized gift than just a card that arrives in the mail. You could purchase the current issue on the newsstand and wrap it with a note to the effect that they have a year, or two year's subscription coming. My favorite way to give a gift subscription is to make a diploma style announcement on my computer. I tie it with a fancy ribbon and give that to the recipient. You could also print a few pages from their website; articles that you feel the new parents might enjoy, and add a card with the subscription information. Either way, any parent will appreciate a gift as thoughtful as one that arrives every month.

Talk to Your Baby

I don't know about you, but when I was a new young mom, I felt this strong urge to talk to my newborn. I felt rather silly; after all, she couldn't understand me and she certainly wasn't anywhere near the age where she was going to talk back. Yet I persisted, day after day after day.

It was almost compulsive. And it wasn't baby talk, either. We "chatted" about daily routine, housework, politics, the family dogs and cats, the weather, and nearly any other topic that came to mind. It didn't matter who was listening; I talked almost nonstop to that little girl in private and in public. I included her in conversations and even paused a few beats to wait for her answer before responding to my own questions and comments. I even read out loud to the baby. We read the usual books for small children, but we also "read" the Readers' Digest and Better Homes and Gardens, Sherlock Holmes mysteries and a host of science fiction books.

I wasn't particularly lonely or lacking in adult conversation partners. And I wasn't losing my mind, though some around me doubted my sanity at times. In fact, I knew exactly what was going on and did all of this quite intentionally. Babies are born ready and anxious to learn language. They respond to the sound of the human voice and quickly learn to participate in "conversations" by reacting to those pauses where we give others a chance to respond.

The whole process helps little ones build the mental framework that will later help them actually understand and later use language themselves. The more language they hear from the earliest moments onward, the better equipped they are to learn to talk.

Try it with your own baby. Position the infant where he or she can easily see your face. Carry on an animated conversation. The topic doesn't matter! All that matters is that you handle it like you would if you were talking to another adult. Make statements. Ask questions. Wait for responses. Follow the natural rhythms of conversation. It won't be long before your baby is smiling and gurgling as if on cue! You can ask what the little one thinks of the current foreign policy, and baby will "talk" back! Actually, it can be kind of fun....

Babies are not born understanding language. They are sort of a blank slate that we adults can focus and shape. Did you know that infants around the world make the same sounds? They all are born making all of the speech sounds in all of the languages. As they hear the language of their homes, however, they start to narrow down this speech set and focus on the sounds they will need for their own language. They can do this most efficiently if they hear lots and lots of language around them. Babies also understand language long before they can answer back. This learning also takes place more easily if they are hearing lots of language throughout the day.

And avoid that "baby-talk," PLEASE! It's not particularly helpful to baby's growing understanding of the language to hear about the "wittle itty-bitty doggie-woggie." In fact, it might even hinder the process.

I don't know if those early discussions were the only reason, but I'm sure that they contributed to the age at which all of my daughters spoke their first words. Like clockwork, each girl poppped off that all important first word at nine months of age. They were speaking in sentences remarkably early, as well.

So talk to baby. Read to baby. Sing to baby. Surround baby with as much language as you possibly can. Know that you are fostering neural connections that will be vital to language development no matter when you hear that first word.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Baby Record Book

by Christina VanGinkel

Rummaging through some boxes in our spare room, I recently turned up my children's baby books. My daughter's was already on top, as she had dug hers out shortly before her son's birth, and had referred to it throughout his first year, making comparisons for fun as to when he did things in regards to when she did the same things, such as when they each got their first tooth. Hers had arrived at an astonishing early two and a half months, while his was very close to the one-year-old mark.

All of my children's baby books contain quite a bit of information from their first year of life. After that, I was not that good about inputting information. Still, I was glad that I had recorded what information I had. Notes about their first weeks at home, their feeding habits, what presents they had received from family and friends, and numerous firsts, such as first smile, first tooth, first haircut, even their first booboo!

Looking these over, I realize they may not be as complete as they could be, but they are a wealth of information as is, or for inclusion in a scrapbook of their lives, a project that I have had on the backburner for some time. I would like to create a scrapbook to give each of them that would highlight their lives from birth through high school graduation. For the same reason my daughter showed such an interest in hers, they would then have a reference, just for fun, for when they each had children of their own.

They could be given as a gift to them when they each had their first child, save for my daughter who has already christened me a grandmother. I could give hers to her whenever the project was complete. A scrapbook fanatic herself, I will most likely be drawing on her expertise to help compile the scrapbooks.

If you have a baby shower you will be attending soon, or need a gift to bring a friend who recently gave birth, consider presenting them with a baby book to chronicle baby's first year, or first several years. What was once available in mostly generic packaging, blue for baby boys, pink for baby girls, and a green or yellow for when the baby's gender was not yet known, are now available in a wide range of patterns and fabrics. I have even come across a baby book that is in essence a memory box with book to help you catalog and store important firsts that may otherwise be kept separate from the book, such as baby's first rattle or favorite toy. My oldest son had a small blanket in the shape of Snoopy, which I would have loved to preserve better than it was. A box such as that would have been ideal. The box was described, along with the pages in the book, as being acid free, another major plus for storage of memorabilia. Well, it is time to get started on those books, as you never know when I might become a grandmother once again!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Are You a Parental Packrat?

My family accuses me of being a parental packrat. My children are now in their teens and have recently become aware of my stash of memorabilia from their earlier years. I caught them going through the large plastic bins the other day! There they stand in my basement: giant plastic bins with snap tops labeled neatly with each child's name. The oldest daughter has several, the middle daughter has three, and the youngest has two.

"What's in these?" pondered daughter number three.

"Those are mom's things," replied eldest daughter. "She keeps stuff in there from when we were little."

Gleefully, I heard the middle child chime in: "Let's take a look!" and they fell to, happily unpacking all of the memories that I've managed to squirrel away for the past eighteen years or so. They spent several hours going through the treasures in those boxes, and even found a few things that they had thought gone for forever. One daughter found the remnants of her favorite blankie and another exclaimed over a board book that had been tucked away in her box. "Mom! Why did you put my book in here?"

I answered, "You said you were done with it and wanted to give it away. I know that one was special to you, so I saved it." She grinned from ear to ear.

"Can I have it back??" Now, there's a quandary! I had always planned to give these things to their rightful owners when they were "old enough to appreciate them." I'm not sure that time is here yet at age sixteen. We agreed on a loan from the treasure box, to be returned in a day or two before the book was found lying on the floor forgotten in the rush to answer the telephone call from the boyfriend. No, they're not quite old enough yet.

Those boxes of treasures *will* become very important someday, though, I'm sure. The things I've saved freeze moments in time. The first pictures drawn, the first attempts at writing a name, silverware used by toddler hands, and favorite toys have all found their way into the boxes. There are T-shirts lovingly decorated by Grandma, stuffed animals, and yearbooks from early elementary school. All of these things together paint a picture of the young child that no longer exists except in our memories. Put them together with the baby books in which their father and I noted observations about their lives and you have a nice history of the things that they cannot recall on their own. Someday, when they are grown and on their own with new young families, they will skip down memory lane with these boxes. Each carefully stored item will hopefully bring "ooh's" and "aaah's" reminiscent of a fireworks display.

They accuse me of being a packrat now, but just wait! I firmly believe that they will end up treasuring each and every item in their boxes. I know this because it's hereditary! My mom presented me with a box, as well, the Christmas before my first daughter was born. I remember the fun of going through there and finding toys that I hadn't thought of in years, old report cards, and books I had loved.

You may want to consider starting a similar project in your home. These memories and connections to the past are very important in my life, and I suspect in nearly everyone's. We all long for a sense of history and a feeling of belonging. Eventually, the girls' boxes of memories will include a few of the things that my mom passed on to me. Those boxes of stuff will have a history stretching back to well before their births. My hope is that they will take the hint and save things for their children, as well. After all, it's a family tradition!

Budgeting for Baby

by Christina VanGinkel

If a new baby in the house does one thing besides providing a new bundle of joy to care for and love, even at a lack of sleep, he, or she also leaves your wallet a little bit thinner. Diapers and formula alone can take a budget that was relatively normal and leave it feeling down right sparse. If possible, begin working all the little extras into your budget before they actually arrive.

If you use a checkbook, one simple way to do this is to create a column in the back of your register specifically for a baby supply fund. Every time you write a check, subtract a dollar extra or round it up to the nearest dollar. For example, if you write a check for $10.22, subtract $11.00 and transfer 88 cents to your baby fund. This does not seem like much, but if you write out quite a few checks each week this can add up quickly.

If you pay mostly with cash, take all your extra change, even singles if you can spare a few, and toss them into an old-fashioned piggy bank at the end of the day. Both of these methods work surprisingly well. Even though they are both mind over matter, you just do not seem to miss the money all that much when you subtract it in this way.

Another way to gain quick cash for all the extras associated with a new baby in the house is to take a serious look at where your money goes in a given week. If you or your spouse happen to be a coffee or tea lover and purchase a cup or two regularly from a restaurant, cafe, or coffee house, just cutting these out, or cutting them back, can be a huge boost alone to your budget. One friend I know usually bought himself a cup of flavored cappuccino every morning on his way to work, plus a cup every Saturday morning when he would head to the park with his dog. He cut out his weekday cappuccinos, having a cup of regular coffee at home, but keeping his Saturday morning splurge. He said the first week or two was difficult, as it was such a habit, but it left him enjoying his cup on Saturdays even more, plus he could hardly believe how fast his dollars saved started to add up. Every morning before he left for work he would toss the couple of dollars he would have normally spent into a jar on his dresser, so he had a visual each day, right from the start, just how fast his dollars were growing.

Personally, I cut my magazine habit when I found out I was pregnant with my youngest son. Always grabbing a magazine nearly every time I walked into a grocery store was so easy to do. Those glossy covers just about begged me to bring them home. I subscribed to the ones I really enjoyed, and just held my ground against all the others. I too took the money each shopping trip, estimating what I would normally have spent, and tossed it into a bowl on my dresser. By the time my son was born, I had saved enough to cover diapers and incidentals for almost the entire first year.

It is possible to squeeze money out of almost any budget. Just take a realistic look at where your dollars go and decide what things you can do without, or do with less of.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Book of Baby's Lineage

While you are thinking of things that your new baby will need, especially if you are a first time parent, there may be an item that is overlooked very often. Most new parents buy or are given a baby record book as a gift. There is usually space for the baby's grandparents and sometimes even great grandparents, but it is always a good idea to start a separate book of the baby's family tree.

One reason why it is important to do this while the baby is still so young is that you will be able to get information and ask questions of family members who may not have as good of a memory when the baby is old enough to want to work on his or her genealogy or need to do such a project for school as many classrooms are doing these days.

The baby's great Aunt Grace may have wonderful stories about the family or the baby's grandparent from decades ago and she may have family recipes that could have been lost forever if you would not be asking her now for the baby's book of lineage.

Interview people or simply ask a few questions when you are visiting, attending a family reunion, or when they come to see the new baby. Tell them that you are going to be writing the answers down and even use a micro cassette recorder if they do not mind. As a side note, it is a great idea to have one of those small recorders around for capturing baby's sounds and baby's talking in a year or so. You will find yourself using the recorder often over the years when the baby is growing up and talking a mile a minute, singing, playing a musical instrument, or reciting poetry.

Don't forget to interview the baby's grandparents and get as many anecdotes, recipes, family stories, and life advice for baby as you possibly can. Hopefully the grandparents will be in the baby's life for a very long time and he will get to know and love them well into adulthood, but often things are not so ideal. More often, however, stories and family traditions will be lost more and more as the years go by.

Ask any and all questions that you can think of concerning things you would like the baby to know about his family tree when he is old enough to appreciate the information. Write it all into some kind of journal or notebook that will stand the test of time. Remember to add stories and facts about yourself, too, and the other parent. Keep the book or journal within reach at all times so that if you remember something else to add or hear grandma talking about the way old Uncle Gus always sang Jingle Bells while milking the cows, you will be able to write it down right away.

A book or journal as a companion to the micro cassette is the best idea. Tapes can get worn and torn over the years, so the main idea in using that is to capture what is being said so you can write it down. Having it on tape in the interviewee's voice is an added bonus, but the tape may very well be worthless if it gets torn, while the journal will last much longer.

When Baby Wants to Party at 2 A.M.

Countless new parents spend a lot of time reading all the baby books and articles they can get their hands on. They look at the charts and think that every baby will hit every milestone at the exact time that the book says things will be happening.

One of the biggest "chart disappointments" happens with when the charts indicate that a baby should be sleeping through the night. Even well meaning friends and relatives will sometimes say things like "oh, don't worry, in two more months, she'll be sleeping through the night!" This simply can not be estimated because babies sleep through the night at different times just the same as they start to walk and begin to talk at different times.

My daughter followed the charts on many things, but not the night sleeping patterns. Waking in the middle of the night went on for much longer than I ever read or heard could actually happen. It started when she was very young and had colic and continued until the colic was long in the past. After a certain amount of time, I was always so tired that I had fears of still waking at 2 a.m. to make her pizza and hamburgers when she was in college!

Unfortunately, I didn't have the internet back then. I was not able to look things up that may have helped the situation. I was not able to research what other parents going through the same thing were trying. All I knew was that it was 2 a.m. and baby wanted to party. She never went right back to sleep but I know now that there are perhaps things I could have done to keep her sleepy. I needed to stay awake so I usually turned the television on for one thing. Not a good idea. I kept the lights very low. Good idea. I talked to her. Not a good idea.

One thing I would have liked to try is baby massage before bedtime. There is no guarantee that it would have worked, but I think it would have made for some excellent bonding times. I would have probably tried it while applying baby lotion. There are many more benefits than just possibly relaxing the baby enough to get a good night's sleep. Massage is said to help with circulation and digestion as well. It helps to relieve some pains baby may experience such as gas pain. If this is something you may be interested in, by all means research it and ask questions of pros or the baby's doctor. There are techniques that should be learned before attempting baby (or any) massage.

Another thing I may have tried, had I known about it, was having soft music or even white noise in the background while baby (and mom!) slept. Soft lullabies may have helped her to fall asleep, but more importantly, to stay asleep. Some of the "nature sounds" CDs that are manufactured now would seem to me to be a good choice. You can choose rushing water, wind, or the sound of waves on the shore to name a few.

Have You Considered Making Baby's Food?

There are numerous reasons why parents decide to make their own baby food when the newest member of the family is ready for solids. There are two reasons for choosing this route that stand out above others, however.

One of the major reasons this is chosen is for the sake of the family budget (it is much more economical to puree the vegetable or fruit the family is already having for dinner, for instance, than to stock up on countless jars of the same vegetable in baby food jars.

The other big reason many people make this decision is to have control over the ingredients that are fed to the baby. If the food is made right there in the family kitchen, there will not be concerns about too much salt, sugar, or preservatives being added to it.

By all means, wait until the baby's doctor says that it is time to put him or her on solid foods before beginning to feed anything besides breast milk or formula. Many times the plan will be to start with a little baby cereal and then fruits and vegetables. The order in which those three things are started varies from parent to parent and doctor to doctor.

Chances are that sometime around when the baby is in the 4 month to 6 month age range milestone, you will be able to start with the cereal, fruits, and vegetables. This, too, is a thing to make a decision about with the baby's doctor because some choose to wait even longer.

Store the fruits and vegetables you puree in cubes inside of freezer bags. Hard fruits and vegetables will have to be cooked before blending, mashing, pureeing, or however you are preparing the food. (Steaming or softening in the microwave will save more nutrients than cooking.) Ice cube trays work great for making the cubes of food. Do not reheat uneaten food that you have thawed.

When the baby gets a bit older, you will be introducing meats that will need to be ground or pureed until it's nearly smooth until the baby gets used to it in a couple of months. Grind the meat with a little liquid like apple juice or formula.

Sometime after the age of nine months, you will be introducing the meat and also mixed foods. This is when you will be able to offer baby some of the same foods that the rest of the family is having for dinner. Don't season it for the family until baby's portion is removed, though. Do not add spices or sugar to your baby food.

One word of advice whether you are using homemade or store bought baby foods is to wait a few days between introducing new foods. Your doctor will probably offer that same advice because it allows you to pick up on any food allergies right from the beginning.

When preparing homemade baby food, remember that certain things, egg whites, citrus fruits, beets, spinach, corn, and honey to name a few, should not to be given to a baby under 12 months of age according to many experts. Research those food limitations before beginning to prepare the meals for baby.

What's in a Name?

Deciding what to name an expected baby is one of the most fun times in a pregnancy. Mothers and fathers-to-be read baby name books and make lists until they can whittle it down to just a couple of names. Then it is time for the big decision of what to name the baby when the "big day" arrives and he or she is born.

It is always a good idea to get one of the most comprehensive baby name books when you are starting to decide on a name. If you don't want to actually own such a book, check on availability at the library.

Next you will be deciding if you want to choose a name for the melodic sound of it standing alone or with the middle name or surname, or if you want to choose a name for its meaning. Try to avoid names that could give the child problems growing up with the nicknames that could be derived from the name. Also pay attention to names that are too "cutesy" because what might fit for a baby or toddler may not be so great for an adult.

Many of the baby books that are available will divide the names into sections according to their origin or ethnic background. You should be able to find everything from American to African, Celtic to Russian, and Native American to Biblical names all in the same book.

To get you started, here are a dozen American names, both male and female, and their meanings. Try them out with the surname the baby will carry and you may come up with a "that's it!" moment.

Names for Boys:

Name: Andrew ------ Meaning: Manly
Name: Anthony ------ Meaning: Priceless
Name: Dakota ------ Meaning: Friend
Name: Ellis ------ Meaning: God is Salvation
Name: Jason ------ Meaning: Healer
Name: Kevin ------ Meaning: Little Gentle One
Name: Matthew ------ Meaning: Gift of God
Name: Nicholas ------ Meaning: Victory of the People
Name: Ray ------ Meaning: Wise Protection
Name: Steven ------ Meaning: Crown
Name: Vincent ------ Meaning: Conquering
Name: William ------ Meaning: Resolute Protector

Names for Girls:

Name: Alyssa or Alicia ------ Meaning: Nobility
Name: Amanda ------ Meaning: Lovable
Name: Bonita or Calandra ------ Meaning: Beautiful
Name: Eden ------ Meaning: Delight
Name: Felicia ------ Meaning: Good Fortune
Name: Hilary ------ Meaning: Cheerful
Name: Katie, Kathleen, etc. ------ Meaning: Pure
Name: MacKenzie ------ Meaning: Fair One
Name: Megan ------ Meaning: A Pearl
Name: Sadie or Sarah ------ Meaning: Princess
Name: Sophie ------ Meaning: Wisdom
Name: Zoe ------ Meaning: Life

Another thing to keep in mind when naming a baby is that you probably won't want to "go with the crowd" and use whatever name is most popular at the time. Each generation has had its own overflow of names in the same classrooms from the Jean's and Jane's of the 1940s and Susan's, Karen's, Linda's and Debbie's of the 50s, to the more modern Tiffany's, Brittany's and Emily's in the more recent generations.

If you have done any genealogy work, you will notice that it has always been basically the same. Take notice of all the Catherine's, Mary's and Anna's in your family tree. Giving a baby his or her name that will travel along all throughout life needs to be given the care and attention it deserves. When a name is chosen, it's a great feeling of accomplishment.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Shopping Online for Baby Gear

Shopping online for baby related gear is one of the best outcomes of having the Internet. New and expectant parents can shop from the leisure of their homes. For those who happen to live in an area that does not have a lot to offer in the way of baby gear, beyond the basic Wal-Mart and other assorted discount shops, the Internet also provides access to items some of us may not even be aware exists.

During a recent online browsing session I decided to do some shopping for an upcoming baby shower I have been invited to. I always try to make a gift, such as a crocheted blanket and sweater set, but I also like to include an item or two that can be helpful or just plain fun to the new parents to be. I typed in 'baby gear' in the Google search engine, and was provided with more matches than I would ever be able to use, but did I ever have fun looking through some of the hits that the search had provided.

It is constantly amazing to me how fast things change. When I gave birth to my first child nearly a quarter of a century ago, there were some interesting things available for babies, but the basics were comparable to what they had been for the previous quarter of a century. A basic layette of undershirts, bonnets, booties, sleepers, and an outfit or two for going out to church or having visitors in. While fancy clothes for babies existed, rarely would you see a baby dressed in fancy clothes unless the parent's were well to do or for a very special occasion. Furniture consisted of a crib, dressing table, maybe a playpen and swing, and a stroller.

Today's parents have choices between dressing their baby in nearly any clothing style that they themselves might wear, from baby Gucci to Armani, to blue jeans and t-shirts, and parents of even modest means do just that. Baby gear still includes all the basics from years gone by, but much has been added to the basic list, items such as Diaper Genies, Baby Bjorn Baby Carriers, musical light show swings, and strollers especially designer for use when a parent wants to take baby along with them while they jog. Even baby gates have evolved from the wooden gates that would pinch both adult and baby fingers indiscriminately, to soft touch, easily expandable ones, and an improvement surely.

New parents today have enough options before them to provide an expansive list of gear for baby. For those who want to give a gift that is fun and useable, the large array of baby items makes the gift giving part very enjoyable for both the giver and the receiver. Ultimately, though, what will matter the most at the end of the day is the love the new parents provide their newborn, and the love given with any gift family and friends may provide. I still have to pick out a gift, as I have been having so much fun looking at the new and exciting things available, but I know I will have plenty of gifts to choose from, thanks to the Internet.

The Most Important Word

There is a single word that is possibly the most important word that you can teach your child. Just by learning this one word, your baby will make strides towards self-control and independence. It will help immensely with the little one's behavior and make baby much more pleasant to be around (eventually!). What is the magical word? It's not please, nor thank you, nor excuse me. It's the teensy little word: no.

One of the tough lessons of parenthood is that we are the ultimate authority in the child's world. It's up to us to teach this little person how to grow up to be a good citizen, a good worker, a good friend, and a good person. We eventually need to teach all of the aspects of character that we feel make up a moral being. What a job! But complex as this task is, it has its beginnings in the teaching of the word "no."

When we teach a baby the meaning of "no," we are laying the foundation for most of the traits that our culture agrees are positive and good. "No" begins with the adult limiting the child's behavior. We tell the baby "no" generally for its own good and safety. "Don't touch the hot stove, NO!" "No, don't climb on the steps." Gradually, the negations broaden to include acceptable behavior: "No, you can't pull your sister's hair." "No, I said don't eat with your fingers."

From the stage when we must constantly tell children no, no, and no again, they mature to a point where the "no" becomes internalized. They learn to tell themselves "no!" At first it's just because they remember from last time that parents or care givers disapprove. They avoid actions that had less desirable outcomes because they are afraid they will get caught. If all goes well (and we adults are doing our jobs!), then the growing child internalizes the reasons for the no's. The restraint becomes a conscience. Their behavior won't change based on who's looking, but rather is governed by their developing sense of right and wrong. Eventually, a child with a conscience grows into a moral adult. That's the goal.

But the entire process starts with telling the baby "no-no" when needed. This, however, can be very difficult to do. It's just plain tough to thwart your little one! In the first place, they usually cry and protest at this age when they don't get their own way. They make a fuss, and it's often easier, less stressful and less embarrassing to give in. Bad idea! This will undermine your vital teaching about the word "no." Even more distressing is the fact that once you've given in like that, once you've caved in, baby will try all the harder to get you to change your mind next time. You've set yourself up for a battle and effectively sabatoged your work to teach the little one about being civilized. Secondly, at times whatever baby wants doesn't seem all that wrong or harmful. For example, what's the harm in allowing little Percy to tear up pages from an old catalog? After all, the baby is just learning about pages, right? The problem is that little Percy won't be able to tell the difference between an old catalog that you don't really care about and an expensive library book that he happened to get ahold of. Pages are pages to him. It's better policy not to allow any behavior consistently rather than sometimes letting it pass and other times trying to stop it. Finally, we just do not want to cause the baby to be upset. We love the little darlings, and it's really hard to be the cause of their tears, even when we know it's really in their long term best interests.

Teaching your baby the meaning of the word "no" is very important. It lays the groundwork for later moral training and self-control. It is the foundational concept for nearly all character traits that we want to nurture. Even if it is hard or inconvenient or noisy or embarrassing, it is vital that very young children learn to listen to and respect the word. Hang tough, and make sure your baby learns the word "no."

Friday, July 22, 2005

Baby's Old Clothes

Every parent soon discovers that babies grow out of their clothes very quickly. The cute outfit that you purchase with anxious anticipation during pregnancy will probably be too small for your baby after just a few months. Experienced parents know this, and tend to forego expensive name-brand items in order to save a few bucks. But it can be hard for excited first-time parents to pass up all the adorable baby clothing creations that fill the racks of department stores across the country.

When I had my baby, I received so many clothing items as gifts from proud grandparents that I hardly had to buy any baby clothes on my own. My parents and in-laws gave us so many outfits that we couldn't even use them all. It would have just taken too much of an effort to get a regular clothing rotation set up in order to incorporate every single outfit that we had. Consequently, I was left with many brand new outfits (with the tags still on them) that my baby had outgrown. There were several other outfits that had been worn maybe once or twice. What was I supposed to do with those? What should you do with your leftover baby clothes if you are ever faced with the same situation? It would be a shame to just throw those items away.

The easiest thing to do is pack the clothes away and put them in storage. This is probably the route you will want to take if you plan on having more children, or even if you remain undecided about future children. That way you have all the clothing you will ever need for your second child, too. It's important to store the clothes properly to ensure that they will not succumb to such things as humidity or mold, which will destroy them or render them unusable. So, use moth balls, airtight bags, or whatever technique you think is best for long-term storage.

Another thing you can do with your old baby clothes is sell them. There are many second-hand children's clothing stores that would be happy to either purchase your pristine items or take them in on consignment. You can also hold a garage sale or put the clothes up on an auction website. Selling baby clothes that you no longer need is a great way to recoup some money and help out new parents at the same time by giving them a cheaper alternative to retail stores.

Speaking of helping out new parents, you can also just give your clothes away to friends or family members who are expecting. If the clothes are new, you can wrap them up and give them as gifts. If the clothes are slightly used, then it would be tacky to wrap them. Instead, just put them into a nice shopping bag and hand them over without a lot of fuss. This would be a nice gesture, especially if the expectant parents are on a tight budget.

So remember, you don't have to throw those outgrown baby clothes away. Somebody can use them!

Choosing Quality Toys: Rattles

Rattles are among baby's first toys and they are very important to your little one's physical and intellectual development. Babies have been given rattles since the beginning of time. These early rattles were likely made from dried gourds or similar items, and some were actually carved from wood. Today's rattles are much safer for baby, and are available in a wide array of colors and sizes. There are rattles that click softly, those that rattle loudly, and many in between. There are rattles that chime, rattles that play music, and rattles that clatter. Each one holds a secret for baby to unlock, and little ones will adore playing with them.

Choose a safe rattle for your baby. Check its construction to be sure that it is sturdy. You don't want any risk of the rattle breaking or coming apart, because those small broken bits could be choking hazards. Be sure that the decorations are securely fastened, and that the colors are put on with safe dyes or paints. Some rattles are set up as items on a ring: be sure that the ring will stay closed while your baby is too small to have such little pieces. Many of these are designed to be taken apart by toddlers and preschoolers, so be sure that the clasp mechanism will stay closed when you need it to. Cloth rattles need to be free from hanging strings or other entanglement hazards. There are a number of rattles on the market that are manufactured more for looks than with baby's safety in mind. Watch out for rattles with thin or weak handles, and those with loud, clattery sounds. Some rattles are designed with too much weight in the head, and so would be very difficult for a young infant to use without clonking itself. That would make for a very poor rattle experience!

Babies will enjoy rattles from the time when they first learn to focus their attention on things outside of themselves, so those first rattles need to be chosen for the very youngest of infants. Babies much prefer bright, primary colors, so rattles for your young infant should be brightly-colored. Little ones can handle cloth rattles at a very early age, and these are quite nice. They often are in the form of a small and limp stuffed creature, and many babies develop quite a fondness for them. Be careful that the rattles that you give to young infants are not to loud and raucous! Loud noises can frighten and upset many little ones.

Older little ones will enjoy rattles that have a bit of variety. Try to offer a collection that make different sounds. Greater coordination and stronger muscles mean that older babies can manage larger and heavier rattles. Babies who can sit up and stand are ready for the rattles that would have been hazardous because of their weight earlier in life. As your younster grows, shift gears from rattles to rhythm instruments to keep this sort of play going.

Rattles build intellectual muscle as well as improve coordination and muscle control. Very young infants will be interested in seeing and hearing adults shake rattles. It will help them learn to localize sounds, develop their understanding of cause and effect, and build social interaction skills as they respond to the world around them. Older babies will learn about control over their environment as they shake and experiment with rattles. Rhythm, sequencing, and intention are all important aspects of your developing child's abilities.

There are good reasons why rattles have been favored baby toys for generations. They can enhance your child's development in many ways, and babies find them to be just plain fun. You can occupy your child in constructive ways over and over again with a good collection of rattles.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Journal for Baby

I don't remember where I first got the idea for it, but I started a journal for my daughter before she was even born. Well scratch that, I actually didn't start with a journal at all . . . I started with letters. I wrote letters to the unborn baby with the idea that when he or she turned 18, I would hand them all over.

After a dozen or so letters, the baby had been born and I decided that it was time for a journal instead of all the loose letters. I bought a thickly padded blank book with a teddy bear on the cover.

Before she was born, I told her about the doctor appointments and I told her about what life was like while I was pregnant. I couldn't help but wonder if the baby would ever know the amount of love that was being written into every word or if it would somehow appear to be "just a dumb old ancient diary." How I hoped that would not turn out to be the case!

I made more entries into the book after she was born. She would someday be able to read about her doctor checkups and milestones in her life. There was a lot to write about in the beginning because she decided to make her entrance into the world five weeks early and weighing in at a whopping 4 pounds and 13 ounces.

Before my daughter's first Christmas even arrived, my grandmother passed away and I had to write about the baby's great grandmother in her journal. It seemed to be a good way to introduce her to the wonderful lady she was suddenly stopped from getting to know while growing up. It certainly wasn't an easy entry for me to write, but I was always very glad that I was able to do that when all of the memories were still so sharp with me.

Then a month after that, baby's first Christmas did indeed arrive. She was only four months old, so it didn't mean nearly as much to her as it did to me! And what bittersweet one that first Christmas was for me. On the one hand, it was my first Christmas without my grandmother and on the other hand it was the first Christmas with my miracle baby that I'd tried for years to conceive.

As many entries as I remembered to make into that journal, there should have been a lot more. It was a great idea and I am glad for the entries I made but looking back I realize that I should have filled it and started other volumes. It is always so much easier to look back on "what should have been" but at least I recognize the error.

Believe it or not, I plan to make up for that overlooked matter. I think if I look through pictures and videos I have of those first years, I will be able to perhaps fill in some of the blanks. It would have been much easier just taking the time to do it back then, but this is all I have right now. Maybe she will have some memories to add to it and we can do it together.

The Stroller

by Christina VanGinkel

The stroller in question was beautiful. It was padded in all the right spots, the handle flipped from front to back, allowing the user to push it with baby facing forward, or with baby facing the user. The seat reclined from sitting upright, to completely lying flat, with several points in between. For when baby was at their tiniest, the footrest also folded up and snapped into place, thus turning the stroller into a buggy. It had convenient storage pouches and bins in all the right places, and came equipped with a cover that was large enough to protect baby from the sun, but had a window on both the front, and back, side so you could still see the infant no matter whether you had the handle facing towards you or away. I could not stand that stroller one bit. I would stick my son in the little umbrella stroller that a friend borrowed me given half a chance over pulling out 'the' stroller every time.

Everyone assumed I was just being difficult because the colors of the stroller befitted a little girl much better than my son. The colors had absolutely nothing to do with why I disliked the stroller so much. I would tell everyone to go ahead and use the stroller, after which each would, for a few minutes, then push it back over and apologize to me for not understanding. My sister asked once, pushed it, then every time she came over and we would head out for a walk, she would just grab the umbrella stroller and not even suggest that we use 'the' stroller.

What I vehemently disliked about the stroller, was that its oversized wheels, supposedly made to be useable in any terrain from blacktop to grass, were the hardest pushing wheels I had, or to this day have ever, encountered. We even went so far as to remove them and reinstall them thinking we did something wrong. We WD-40 them, and even sat on the floor and took the wheels in our hands, turning them this way and that, trying to break them in. Nothing worked. As we never even opened the box it was in, until four months after we received it as a gift at our baby shower, returning it to the store for a refund was not an option. The small store it came from had a very strict 90-day return policy.

So, for the two years we had the stroller in our possession, we would look at it in wonder, knowing how useful it could be, if it would only push. The stroller did teach us a good lesson though. We learned to look over any purchase we were considering, whether for the kids or ourselves, in every manner we could think of. If an item could be put through a trial run, we tried it. If something could be sat on, such as a car seat when said son progressed from his infant seat to a toddler seat, it was not only sat on, it was buckled up. We learned how one feature that did not work as expected could over rule any benefits that an item might have. I do still feel sorry for the unsuspecting person who acquired it at our rummage sale. We had put a FREE sign on it, but did put a disclaimer on it to push it first. One man pushed it all the way to the trunk of his car, folded it up, stored it, and drove away. His wife probably thought he was the most wonderful husband for bringing home such a beautiful stroller, free at that. That was until she tried to use it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Choosing Quality Toys: Puppets

Puppets are not the first toys that parents think of buying for their babies during the first few months, but they should be high on the list from about age six months on, and many people vastly underestimate their importance. Puppets are closely tied with the development of a number of important language skills and thinking skills, and every little one should have a collection of them. In fact, if puppets are not provided, many babies will create their own!

When my daughter was about eighteen months old, she busied herself at the table during dinner one day. A few minutes later, she proudly waved all of her fingers in the air-capped with black olives! She proudly announced "Finger puppet show!" Of course we clapped and made a big fuss and secretly laughed quite hysterically, but the point is that children adore puppets, and will go to great lengths to create them.

When choosing puppets for your baby, you don't have to spend a lot of money. In fact, some children's favorites are simple, old-fashioned sock puppets. Be careful how you decorate them, though-you don't want your young puppeteer pulling off button eyes and choking. A safer alternative might be fabric paint instead of sewn on geegaws.

Soft puppets are ideal for young children. They move easily and are simple to manipulate. You may want to wait a bit before giving puppets that require a lot of manual dexterity (like several fingers to be placed into different holes or straps). Your baby is quite likely to find these too overwhelming and frustrating to be much fun until a few years down the road when he or she has mastered the necessary fine motor skills. Again, though, make sure that there are no small decorations or strings that can harm your baby. The puppet's texture will also be important for little ones. Often, it is the parents or care givers who use the puppet first and a common game is to use the puppet to stroke or kiss the baby's cheek or arm. Make sure the puppet's texture will make that game pleasant and nice.

As children grow, you'll want to provide puppets that are more complicated to use and more intricate. Puppets made from gloves can be a lot of fun. Sometimes each finger is decorated as a separate character and sometimes the glove is the base for one character with a lot of moveable parts, like a bug or a spider. In any case, more complex puppets will challenge and stretch your son's or daughter's manual dexterity and thinking skills.

Now, why are puppets so important developmentally? There are several reasons, including language development, nurturing of creativity and imagination, and encouraging communication skills. It's fun to watch! Your baby will say and do things that he or she doesn't normally when using the persona of the puppet. The puppet will want to talk, and your little one will be the voice, encouraging verbal skills. The puppets will spark many shows and the kids will need to think up lines, retell stories, and more. Children who have something deep on their minds that perhaps they'd rather not talk about are surprisingly open when the puppet is doing the talking.

It doesn't really matter what form the puppets take, as long as they are developmentally appropriate for your youngster. They can be fancy or plain, store-bought or home-made. You can use a stage or a table turned on its side. The kids can make props or use their imaginations. No matter what the details, your young puppeteers will be building a host of important skills while they have a lot of fun!

Shopping Carts and Kids

By Christina VanGinkel

Standing in the checkout line at our local Wal-Mart the other day I became visibly upset as the mother in front of me let her child, who appeared to be about two years old, stand up in the seat area of the cart. She did see him, she was not busy watching other kids, and it was not her turn at the register. She watched him stand up; and in all fairness, she did tell him to sit down. She then turned her back to him, while he was still standing, and proceeded to read the covers on the magazine rack.

No, the child did not get hurt, but he almost did, because the mother could not take the time to reseat him or to at least put a hand on him and hold him. He continued to stand after the mother had told him to sit, and shortly after she turned her back to him, several of us in line watched helplessly as, thankfully, the elderly woman in front of her turned around at just the right time and caught him as he tumbled over the side of the cart. The mother then acted all self righteous, as if it was anybody's and everybody's fault that the cart was so high, and that he nearly landed on his head. Never mind that she failed to watch him herself or to buckle him in, as the cart did have a simple buckle built in.

Why the mother was so careless I have no idea. Why she continued to be rude to those around her who were just thankful that her son had not been hurt, I have no clue either. What I wanted to say to her was did she not realize that enough real accidents happen to children every day of the year, and accidents caused from carelessness were not needed, as the true accident numbers were high enough all on their own. Grocery carts are not made for children to crawl on, stand in, or hang over the side. They are made for the collection of groceries, and to allow a child, a supervised child, to sit strapped in while the adult shops.

This narrow escape brought back memories of when my two oldest were in early elementary. I was at the grocery store with not only them in tow, but a friend of my sons also. My daughter was sitting in the cart, in the back, amid the groceries. My son and his friend were walking alongside the cart. When I stopped to peruse an item on a shelf, both boys decided to stand on the same side of the cart. It took all of a second for that cart, heavy to one side, to tip over. Right onto the two boys came all my groceries, the cart, and my daughter. Other than a few bruises and a few smashed vegetables, all was fine, but it was an ardent reminder of how quickly accidents with a grocery cart can and do happen. Keep in mind the simple fact of what a grocery cart is technically for, the next time you head out shopping and your children are with you. Accident can and do happen, so do not up your ante by being careless.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Creating a Birth Plan

If you're expecting baby, you may have heard about the growing trend of preparing a birth plan. The birth plan is simply a document that lists your preferences for the delivery of your child. The birth plan can be a guide to help your doctor to ensure that you have a positive childbirth experience-- and even more so it can also help your partner or birthing coach know where you stand on things.

Because all deliveries can be unpredictable at best, it's important to keep in mind that no birth plan can ever be set in stone. But the birth plan can let your doctors know your feelings on things such as labor positions, medications, and episiotomies.

Your birth plan can be as detailed as you want it to be and you can go over it with your doctor during one of your routine prenatal visits. You should also take a copy of your birth plan to the hospital with you.

To create a basic birth plan, you should include the following information:

The name of the hospital you will be delivering at
Your expected due date
The name of your baby's pediatrician

You should then include any special instructions that need to be given. For instance, if you have been diagnosed with preclampsia or have been put on bed rest, indicate any precautionary measures that need to be taken.

You can then state your feelings on medications. You should have already done your research on this topic before you prepare your birth plan. Don't expect the anthesiologist to explain all of the different medications to you while you are in the middle of labor. The most common pain medication used during childbirth is the epidural. If you feel strongly that you do not want an epidural or any other pain medications, clearly state that on your birth plan.

If you have taken Lamaze classes, you may want to include instructions for your coach on what type of coaching you would prefer.

Indicate what you would like done in case of an emergency. If you have to have an emergency cesarean section, for example, or if you experience problems delivering the placenta, are there any special measures you want taken?

Next, include your preferences regarding the care of your newborn. For instance, if you are expecting a baby boy, do you want him to be circumcised? If your baby needs special care, is there a particular doctor that you want him or her to see? While we don't want to think that anything bad can happen (and more often than not things go just fine), you need to have a plan in case there are complications with you or your baby.

Birth plans are not for everyone and some doctors even find them to be a nuisance. If you feel strongly about having a birth plan and you doctor is not supportive of it, you should reconsider putting your care in that physician's hands. The delivery of your child is one of the most important things that you will ever experience. A birth plan can help you feel that you have at least a little control over things.

Comfortable Pregnancy? It's Possible!

Most of us who have given birth remember "both sides" of a pregnancy. That would be the pure bliss that a wanted and planned pregnancy brings along with the discomforts that often come along with it.

Constipation, especially during the last few months of a pregnancy, can become a problem. There are things to do for this malady, but one thing that should not be done is to medicate yourself with over the counter remedies without asking your doctor first. He or she may very well allow you to use a milder over the counter therapy, but it is not a thing to make assumptions about.

One natural way to lessen the symptoms of constipation is to pay attention to your diet. Often foods like vegetables and fruits will help. Add more cereals and grain breads to your diet as well as legumes.

Another problem that expectant mothers frequently have to deal with is backache. Remember to squat down when you are lifting something (but remember that heavy things are not to be lifted at all!) and pay attention to what kind of shoes you are wearing. Shoes with low heals are much better. Also remember to move and change your position often if you are doing desk work or something else that is not allowing much movement.

If you are being plagued by heartburn, try eating your meals in smaller quantities but more frequently. Take note of which foods are especially bothersome (this may include caffeine, certain spices, or extra greasy foods) and avoid them until after you deliver the baby. Remember to NOT use traditional remedies such as seltzers or baking soda because of the extremely high sodium content. Stay sitting upright after meals and if this is a nighttime problem, try sleeping while propped up with pillows.

Nausea (also known as "morning sickness") should, but doesn't always, disappear after the first four months or so of pregnancy. Nor does it just happen in the morning and can be any time of day. Many women find that eating crackers or dry toast will lessen the feeling of nausea. If you choose to try the crackers, it would be a wise choice to try saltines with unsalted tops. Extra sodium is definitely something that you want to avoid at all times, especially during a pregnancy.

It also helps to eat smaller meals more often during a day if this (or indigestion) is a problem. Four or five smaller meals during the day may help but be sure that you don't end up eating more than you normally would eat if your choice is for the more frequent meals. As with anything else that is bothersome to you, report it to your doctor if nausea becomes severe or seems different from the regular morning sickness.

Swelling is another annoyance that many pregnant women have to deal with. Suggestions that doctors may have to deal with it are eating enough protein, drinking seven or eight glasses of water each day, limiting your sodium intake, and elevating the legs. If the swelling becomes acute or affects the face, contact your doctor immediately.

It goes without saying that any symptom should first be mentioned to your healthcare provider before trying to take care of it yourself.

Baby's Dry Summer Skin

by Christina VanGinkel

Babies are susceptible to dry skin. Keeping baby's skin moisturized is all-important. With this summer ending up as being one of the hottest on the record books, this is more important than ever. Summer task such as bathing more often and spending time at the lake or in the pool, are often the culprits. With my grandson visiting this past weekend, I was reminded how some daily tasks that we often take for granted with infants and toddlers can lead to the drying of their delicate skin.

When my grandson arrived at my house Friday evening, my daughter asked if I would make sure and give him a bath as he had spent a good portion of the day doing what two year olds do, playing outside in the dirt and in and out of his small wading pool. After a late meal and some more time spent outside in his swing, we headed inside to fill the tub with both water and toys. After his bath, I dried him off and put lotion on him. By the next morning, he was scratching away, actually leaving marks along his waist where he was intently scratching. I tried to remember if I put lotion all over and after coming to the conclusion that I was unsure, I pulled the lotion back out and made sure to apply another layer on him from head to toe.

When I asked my daughter about it that afternoon, she reminded me that with the heat and with him being in and out of the water both in his wading pool and at the larger community pool, which also is chlorinated, his skin was overly thirsty for moisture. She said that while he needed a bath the night before, if I did not think he really needed one the following night, to skip it. She said that she only bathes him about every other day, as he is prone to dry skin to begin with, and with all the extra moisture stealers that come with summer, she often just washes him up with a warm washcloth in the evening before bed. She also applies sun block on a regular basis, and a chap stick to his lips that also has a built in sun block.

While not every child's skin will be as dry as my grandson's will, some kids may be even more prone to drying and cracking. The best way to deal with this is to limit any activities that you know dry them out (lots of baths and time spent in pools) and to moisturize their skin on an as needed basis. Be careful not to use products that are aimed more at adults that may also contain additional fragrances. These often will cause more problems than they will fix, as delicate skin can often be irritated by these added ingredients. If their skin is overly dry and nothing you do seems to alleviate their skin's drying and even cracking, make an appointment with your pediatrician to rule out any underlying conditions that could be contributing to baby's dry skin.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Things Not to do When You're Expecting a Baby

Being pregnant is a hard enough job for most women. Add to that the many things that people tell you not to do, things to avoid and -- worst of all-- the personal pregnancy horror stories some women will be inclined to tell you about, and you may find yourself in quite a tizzy from an overload of information. Still, there are a few things that pregnant women definitely should avoid. Here are a few things NOT to do when you're expecting a baby:

-- Do not drink alcohol or smoke. This should be a no-brainer, but it's unbelievable how many pregnant women still continue to smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes are unhealthy for everyone, but most especially for pregnant women. Besides affecting your baby's birth weight, you can also be setting up your baby for lifelong health problems, such as asthma, if you smoke during pregnancy. Alcohol can also greatly harm your fetus and should be avoided during your entire pregnancy. Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause your baby to be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which may mean your child will be mentally or physically impaired. While some doctors feel that a glass of wine once in a while during pregnancy is no big deal, why risk it?

-- Do not eat foods that can harm your fetus. This includes soft cheeses such as brie and blue cheese and deli lunch meats, which pose a risk of listeria bacteria. Mercury containing shellfish are another no-no during pregnancy. Also, make sure your meat is fully cooked before you eat it and avoid unpastuerized foods and beverages.

-- Do not listen to other people's delivery horror stories. This is a biggie. People love to recount their delivery stories-- and sometimes their descriptions can be a little embellished. While it doesn't hurt to ask close friends or family for advice on what to expect, don't listen to your gossipy neighbor down the street who knows every pregnancy horror story imaginable.

-- Do not clean the kitty litter. Pregnant women should steer clear of Fluffy's cat box, as it may pose a risk of toxoplasmosis, an uncommon but very serious disease that can greatly complicate your pregnancy. While some doctors say it's okay to clean the litter box if proper precautions are taken, it's best to have your spouse or partner take over the kitty litter duty just to be on the safe side.

-- Do not look for things to worry about. Sure, you can obsess over your blood tests and ultrasounds and you can research every possible thing that can go wrong during your pregnancy and delivery, but why burden yourself with unfounded worries? It's not healthy for your or your fetus to worry about the unexpected. Until your baby is born and in your arms, you really don't know what to expect, so don't stress yourself out while you're pregnant. If you're pregnant, limit your time on the Internet and avoid researching scary pregnancy
topics-- it really will just give you more to worry about and do you really need that when you're pregnant?

You and Your Newborn: Leaving the Hospital

After you give birth to your baby, you will look forward to the day that you and your newborn can go home from the hospital. When that day comes, however, you may be surprised at how nervous you are-- especially if you are bringing home your first baby.

Even if you don't like hospitals, there is a sense of security that you may have while you and baby are in there. Your doctor will check on you daily to make sure that you're not having any postpartum problems, such as heavy bleeding or unusual cramping. You baby's doctor will also make the rounds to check on your newborn to make sure that he or she is eating enough and progressing well. And if you're having trouble with nursing, the maternity ward nurses are experts that are always there to help you get baby to latch on properly.

So even if you are looking forward to going home, you may be surprised to find that you are a bit apprehensive about it. As you leave the safe confines of the hospital, the realization may hit you like a ton of bricks: you are responsible for this precious little baby. There will be no doctors or nurses to call into your room for help. No one to remember to feed your baby while you catch a few extra winks of sleep. No one to ensure you that your baby's diapers are wet enough (a sign that baby is getting enough fluid). Sure, you may have an eager grandparent or relative that will come by to help you out, but the bulk of the responsibility will be up to you. This can be hard, especially since you will still be recovering from giving birth and may not be feeling particularly energetic yourself.

The first few days home with your newborn are typically the hardest days that you will experience. Besides the chaos you will undoubtedly encounter just from being away for a few days, you will have well wishers calling, friends and neighbors stopping by and a baby that will need your constant attention. You will be tired and possibly a bit cranky.

If you're nursing, your milk will come in in full force a few days after you give birth. While the arrival of your milk will be a relief because you will be able to better gauge that your baby is actually consuming some nourishment (before your milk comes in, baby lives on a very small amount of pre-milk, or colostrum) it can also be a tad bit uncomfortable.

If you're lucky, your spouse, partner, or a family member will be home with you and the baby for the first week or so after you get home from the hospital. This will be a great help to you, as you may have difficulty getting around after the delivery (especially if you had a cesarean section delivery).

The good news is that most of your apprehension about bringing home baby will be quickly forgotten. You will be amazed at how you instinctively "know" what your baby wants. You will learn to decipher baby's hungry cry from baby's tired cry from baby's "dirty diaper" cry. You and your baby will naturally fall into a routine together and by the end of the first few weeks, you will be on a schedule that works for you both.

You will come to realize that the greatest joy in the world is bringing your baby home from the hospital.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Reclaiming Your Time

One thing that new parents, and new stay-at-home moms or dads in particular, quickly discover is that having a baby often means that you suddenly don't have time to do all the things you once were able to do. For example, we all know that when there's a new baby in the house, we can kiss a full night's sleep goodbye. We have to wake up to soothe baby's cries or for the cliched 3am feeding. That's something that we expect to happen, so we are somewhat prepared for it. While I can't help you get back your lost sleep, here are some suggestions for accomplishing other tasks even when you are taking care of baby at the same time.

One chore that I never had time for when I first brought home my newborn was cleaning my house. I admit that I sometimes used the baby as an excuse to take time off from housework, and I often let the cleaning slide. But if you let things get too far out of hand, you will soon feel overwhelmed. It's hard to dust or vacuum when your baby is crying and wants to be held. If you keep letting yourself get interrupted by your baby's cries, you will never get anything done. Instead, why don't you try doing your housework while wearing your baby in a sling or a suitable carrier? It's easier to use a sling or carrier than to simply hold your baby and try to get the housework done one-handed. And more likely than not, your baby will be soothed both by being close to you and by the constant motion as you vacuum, sweep, etc. This is a great way for the two of you to bond.

I have always been an avid reader, but once I had a baby, I just never had time to sit down with a book and make some serious progress. Reading was a way for me to unwind and relax, so I really missed not being able to do it. Then, one of my friends suggested that I get an iPod or similar MP3 player and listen to my books instead. It sounded intriguing, so I decided to give it a try. It took a little while for me to get used to concentrating on listening to someone read a book, but now I am addicted to these audio books. I play them in the car when I am running errands, or listen to them when I am cooking or doing housework. There are thousands of audio books available, both as MP3 downloads and as traditional CDs.

If you find that you don't have time to exercise anymore, why not buy one of those special strollers designed for joggers? They are a bit expensive, but you will be able to get a bit of exercise and will feel and look much better because of it. Your baby will love going for a ride, too!

Having a baby means making lots of sacrifices. Nevertheless, there are ways to reclaim at least some of your time. Try these tips today!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Baby and Parenting Websites

by Christina VanGinkel

If you are a brand new parent, thinking of becoming a parent through pregnancy or adoption, or you just learned that you are expecting, head to the Internet for some exciting offers! What is this you might be asking? The Internet is filled with information, freebies, offers, and coupons for expectant and new parents. From magazine subscriptions, to coupons for diapers and formula, and a place to correspond with other new parents, the Internet is today's version of our Grandparent's front porch.

While information and baby gear was once shared and traded among friends and family, and still is sometimes, too often new parents are not as close to family as they would like to be. Many have turned to the Internet for a friendly place to share information about the trials and tribulations, and the joys of child rearing. Many companies have realized that the Internet is a growing place for these new parents to head when they are not in close proximity to family and have joined the cause by offering samples and freebies to these same brand new and expectant parents.

How do you find these offers? Go to any major search engine such as Google, and type in exactly what you are looking for. Free baby formula, free diapers, diaper coupons, new parent group, expectant parent chat, baby products, free baby products, etc. You will be pleasantly surprised with all the links that you find. You can also head directly to the websites of your favorite and better-known baby products, such as Similac, Huggies, Pampers, and Johnson & Johnson. Many of these sites offer coupons for their products along with informational articles, essays, and chat rooms.

A favorite gathering place online, Baby Zone, offers up a bit of all of this and much more. They have links directly to freebies and places to read about other mother's birthing stories, the terrible twos, decorating the nursery, and product comparisons. If you happen to be in the planning stages of pregnancy, they offer information and resources for you too. Their site has links to local resources, where to shop, communities, contests, information on adoption, cord blood storage, toys, even information and opinions on whether to pierce your babies ears or not. If a subject is even remotely associated to babies and birthing, you will be sure to find an article, or at the least, a link to it from within the pages of the Baby Zone website.

A few other great places to checkout include Parents.com, from the publishers of Parents magazine, AmericanBaby.com, parenting.ivillage.com, and FamilyEducation.com. Each of these also offers their own unique blend of articles, chat, and links, in community styled websites, which make them easy to navigate and find information. If you are looking for something specific, or just looking to find a gathering place to share stories, check these sites out. You will surely find a site that offers friendship, familiarity, advice, information, tips, and anything else you might hope to gain from a parenting site in general.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Cutting off Baby's Curls

My baby boy has a head full of curly hair. I'm not talking just a slight wave here, I'm talking thick, curly hair complete with perfect little golden ringlets that graze the back of his neck. The kind of hair that grown women pay big bucks to get. My older son had the same exact type of hair when he was a baby, but now he's grown and his hair is jet black and bone straight. Which brings me to why I don't want to cut off my baby's curls.

I know from experience that once my little guy gets that first real barber shop haircut, he's not going to be a baby anymore. He'll look different. He'll act different. He'll seem older. And I'll miss those adorable curls!

My husband doesn't agree. He tells me to get the kid's hair buzzed. It's a hot July in these here parts, and my hubby is all about being cool and comfortable. He just doesn't understand the ramifications of cutting off our little boy's curls. Okay, the one benefit would be that people would hopefully stop mistaking the kid for a girl. This probably happens a couple of times a week, although I tell myself that it's just because my boy has a pretty face and that the hair has nothing to do with it. But other than the gender confusion, I see no reason for cutting off his lovely locks.

Besides, I did have my son's hair trimmed once. I finally caved in after my husband's repeated groaning on the subject and I took the boy to a local salon for a trim. And I just mean a trim, by a stylist that I trust. I watched like a hawk as the stylist did a little snip here and a little snip there, carefully sweeping the bangs out of his eyes.

"Just don't cut off the curls," I warned her repeatedly, not taking my eyes off of the situation. "We're not ready to lose those curls yet".

"I know, you told me," she said, as she artfully clipped a miniscule strand of hair.

After tipping the stylist handsomely for a job well done, I took my son home and my husband just looked at me incredulously and said, "I thought you took him to get his hair cut".

"I did," I beamed. "Doesn't he look cute?"

"It looks exactly the same as it did before you left," my husband said.

Whatever. My husband just doesn't know good styling when he sees it.

Recently a high school friend of my husband's came over for a visit and he looked at our baby boy and joked that the kid had the same hairdo as my husband did in the 70's. Ha ha ha. Very funny.

Well I digress-- it's hardly a 70's hairdo. Okay, so maybe it is a little bit Peter Framptonesque, but so what? There's only a short window of time before my little guy will be calling all the shots. Until then, I plan to hold onto every last curl as long as I can.

Picture Book Recommendations

by Christina VanGinkel

Always a fan of reading to babies, I have compiled a new list of must read books to get any reluctant parents and caregivers going on this all-important task. Most are written in rhyme, a favorite genre of mine, and always a favorite for the littlest listeners. The repetition of rhyme is soothing to babies and fun for the reader, so give a few of these titles a try, and you will soon be picking out titles on your own and rereading these as they become top s on your very own favorites list.

On a Wintry Morning by Dori Chaconas, illustrations by Stephen T. Johnson.

Written in beautiful rhymed text, it shares the story of a Daddy and baby heading out to play in the snow.

Bear Snores On, Bear Wants More, and Bear Stays up for Christmas, are a trio of books written by Karma Wilson, and all three are illustrated by Jane Chapman.

This trio tells three stories about bear and his forest friends, including mole, raven, hare, mouse, and several more. Each is written in such a way that children will be reciting them back to you before you know it and asking these to be read repeatedly. The illustrations lend as much to the story as the words, with such vivid colors, and the animals drawn in a way that they are instantly recognizable from book to book. The only problem with these three books is that there are only three!

When Moon Fell Down by Linda Smith, illustrations by Kathryn Brown.

One of my personal favorites, this is the perfect bedtime story. It tells the tale of what might happen if moon came down to earth for a visit one evening, which is of course as silly a tale as they come, yet it is written with such love it makes you wonder if it happened just as it says!

Mrs. Biddlebox, also written by Linda Smith, with illustrations by Marla Frazee, tells the tale of how one enterprising woman deals with waking up into a very bad day. She bakes the whole day into a cake, and eats it!

Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, is my all time favorite picture book to read aloud. Not written in rhyme as all the previous recommendations were, it nonetheless has such a flow to it that it is often my first choice when pulling out books to read to my grandson. As it was when I was reading to his mother and uncles. A tale of one little boy who has been naughty and sent to bed without dinner, he travels to the land of Wild Things in his imagination, to only realize that maybe he really wanted to be at home, where dinner was waiting after all.

No, David! Written and illustrated by David Shannon, is another non-rhyming favorite. It is about a young boy constantly being told no for a variety of everyday occurrences. It has a happy conclusion with him getting a hug from the one telling him no throughout the story, his Mother. Fun illustrations make this a sure winner for both the reader and the listener, with oversized pictures, bright colors, and fun throughout the illustrations that depict childhood at its most hilarious.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Choosing Quality Toys: Nesting Cups

For many babies, one of the first toys is a set of nesting cups. You know the ones: a set of cups that fit inside one another because each is smaller than the last. These sets are popular gifts for babies because they are safe, they are colorful, and they are among the first toys that baby can learn to manipulate.

Nesting cups are made by a wide variety of manufacturers, and vary dramatically in their quality and details. Nearly all sets are safe, but make sure the ones you choose have no small parts that could present choking hazards or sharp edges that could hurt the baby. The plastic needs to be sturdy so the toys can stand up to normal drops and tosses as baby explores. A good set of nesting cups should have at least five pieces and each should be a different color. Babies prefer bright, solid colors, too. Round cups are more easily manipulated by younger children, since any orientation will work. Square or triangular shaped cups must be turned the right way to nest or stack, and so are more challenging. Look for numbers on the bottoms of the cups. This will help ensure that the toy grows with baby and will be educational well into the preschool years.

Babies of different ages will play with nesting cups in different ways. For newborn and young infants, the cups can be used for eye focus and tracking. Bright colors will make the toys more noticeable and interesting. Talk to your little one about the colors, shapes, and sizes, even though the baby has not yet begun to explore these aspects. You will be laying the foundation for later learning and expanding your child's grasp of language. Encourage your little one to reach, touch, grab, and hold, as well. Nesting cups can be ideal for small hands to grasp.

As baby gains fine motor control and intellectual ability, he or she will learn to fit the cups inside of one another. At first this will be completely at random, with any smaller cup fitting inside of any larger one. Your little one will work, however, to discover the correct sequence to nest all of the cups at the same time. This is a great time to introduce comparative size words, like big, bigger, and biggest, and small, smaller, and smallest.

When your little one has mastered nesting the cups, try building with them. They will stack quite nicely if the smaller ones are placed on top of the larger ones. See if your child can figure out how to stack all of the cups at the same time by getting them in the right order. The numbers printed on the bottoms of the cups may also help your child at this time.

You can use the nesting cups to build sequencing skills. Sequencing skills are important in learning to read because students need to keep track of and imitate sequences of letters and sounds in order to read and spell. Challenge your child to follow sequencing instructions with the cups, such as "Put the blue cup next to the red one. Put the yellow cup before the green one." Be sure to use a left to right and top to bottom pattern, too, so as to reinforce the skills needed for later reading.