5 surprising ways to build your family’s immune system

Pitiful sick kids.

Cold and flu season is supposed to be long gone by now, but this year it’s hanging on like winter in Narnia. In my house, anyway. One or another of us has been sick for so long that I’m not sure I remember what healthy feels like. One illness has followed another, blending together so smoothly that I don’t even know where the flu ended and the stomach virus began.

Now that it finally feels like spring — it is spring break, after all — getting healthy is even more appealing. Am I the only one who’d rather be sick when the weather’s bad? Lying on the couch all day doesn’t seem so bad when it’s gray and cold and rainy. But on days like today, when it’s sunny and 75 degrees, it’ll make you more stir crazy than the kids in The Cat in the Hat.

So I’ve been plotting how to get us back to health fast. These methods aren’t really quick-fix cures, but they’ll help. I hope. At least for next year.

1. Eat local vegetables. You know that vegetables build your immune system, right? — because they’re nutritious, and better nutrition means better health. But what you might not know is that to really get nutrition in, what you need is local food. The reason is that food starts losing nutrients as soon as it’s harvested. (Yes, fresh food in storage actually leaches nutrients. Crazy but true.) So if you want lots of nutrition, especially micro-nutrients that are especially important to improve your immunity, you need to eat food that was harvested recently. And that means local food.

And — bonus! — it’s April! Which means the Grant Park Farmers Market, my favorite source for local food, is opening in just 11 days. You’re welcome.

2. Go on vacation. Stress strains your body and makes you more likely to get sick. Vacation reduces stress, which makes you healthier. Unless you have young kids, in which case vacation actually increases stress. Unless you bring a babysitter with you, which is what I’m going to do (love you, Mom! It’s a win-win! She gets a free room at the beach; I get a free babysitter). Or if you go to one of those resorts that includes childcare (did you even know those existed? I just discovered them. Staying in one has now become one of my life goals). But if neither of those is feasible, a staycation might be less stressful. Take a week off work, play with your kids, and organize that closet that’s been driving you nuts. That’s another a win-win.

3. Get enough sleep. Of course, this is impossible when you have young kids. At least on a regular basis. But you can take steps to mitigate your lack of sleep. You can switch off nights with your partner (or a grandparent, or even a mom friend) so you each get good sleep at least half the time (I’ve talked about doing this with other breastfeeding moms and taking turns nursing each other’s babies all night). You can cosleep (which means better sleep for a lot of parents). You can night wean (which may or may not help, but it’s worth a try). And you can do whatever possible to make sure your baby gets enough sleep.

Or you can just wait for your kids to grow up. That works eventually.

4. Take probiotics. I won’t lie. Probiotics freak me out if I think about them too much. The idea of getting little creatures to colonize your digestive system on purpose is freaky and gross. (Although not as freaky as people who deliberately infect themselves with parasites, which supposedly can help with autoimmune disorders.) Just do it and don’t think about it, because it really is good for you. And yes, baby can take probiotics too.

5. Eat garlic. Garlic is a natural immune booster, along with echinacea, shitake mushrooms, and of course vitamin C. I actually hate garlic (Ironically, I blame an incident when I got sick immediately after eating some heavily seasoned vegetables. The immune boost did not help at all. And garlic does not taste good the second time around, at all), but (flavorless) garlic supplements are effective too. Babies can start eating spices (in moderation) around six months.

And, of course, it protects against vampires too.

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5 things a breastfeeding mom can do when she can’t sue

boobie beanie

Texas representative Debbie Riddle got all the lactivists up in arms last week when she posted on Facebook that she opposed a bill that would enable breastfeeding women to sue someone who interfered with their right to breastfeed. Her argument was that breastfeeding is already legal, and a lawsuit would be going too far, and anyway there’s nothing wrong with a little modesty. All reasonable points — if she had never breastfed. Since she claims she did breastfeed, I can only conclude that 1) She only breastfed for six weeks and never left the house with her baby during that time; 2) She did scheduled feedings instead of the (recommended) on-demand feedings; or 3) Her breastfeeding days were so long ago that she just doesn’t remember what it’s like to breastfeed a newborn. Or maybe 4) She was just lucky and was never criticized for breastfeeding.

Because anybody who has breastfed a newborn out of the house — and especially anyone who’s been criticized for it — knows perfectly well that 1) Modesty in that situation is frequently impossible; and 2) A lawsuit isn’t going too far. If anything, a lawsuit doesn’t go far enough. Combine postpartum hormones, leaking boobs, a screaming baby, and a nasty look from a stranger, and that stranger should count himself lucky to walk away with a lawsuit. He could walk away with much, much worse.

So. If you are like me and live in one of the many states where even though your right to breastfeed is nominally protected, you have no legal resource if it’s questioned, fear not. You have many other recourses. Like these. Feel free to try one the next time someone gives your boob the stink eye.

1.  Throw a blanket over his head. (The critic’s head. Not your baby’s.) Problem solved.

2. Use this hat. That will make him look twice. And three times. Actually he probably won’t be able to look away. He’ll be entranced by your baby’s clever fashion sense. And who can blame him?

3. Spout statistics and facts. Most people are easily overwhelmed by science and/or numbers. Memorize the legislation citation for your state’s breastfeeding law (it’s Ga Code 31-1-9) and recite it verbatim, complete with the number. Practice this till you can say it fast. Memorize a few statistics or facts on the benefits of breastfeeding, and recite those as well. Keep talking till the naysayer gets scared and backs away slowly.

4. Laugh. And mean it. Criticism is silly. It’s nothing to get mad about. Just smile and nod and keep doing what you’re doing.

5. Squirt him in the eye. It’s poetic justice, really. He doesn’t want to see breastmilk? Let him get a closer view. It won’t hurt him.

See what I mean? Lawsuits may not be so bad.

Photo: Lorna Watt

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5 toxins to fear in your non-organic nursery

poison sign

Healthy Child, Healthy World is launching an interactive toolkit this week to help you get toxins out of your nursery. I got a sneak preview, but I’ll be honest: haven’t read the whole thing. Truth is, I may never read it. I can never decide how much I actually want to know about toxins around my kids. Much as I like being informed, knowing this stuff never fails to completely freak me out.

Which it shouldn’t. Really. Yes, the world is a dangerous place, and our children are surrounded by toxic chemicals, and everything causes cancer, and we all have to die of something.

(Sidenote. Did you know that in the Middle Ages cancer was considered an ideal way to die? Because it meant you had time to say goodbye to your family and put your affairs in order. It beat the heck out of being stabbed by a highwayman or eaten by a dragon. Just sayin’.)

However. I do not want my kids to die of cancer. Or to get endocrine disorders or hormonal imbalances or severe allergies or asthma. None of which are caused by environmental toxins, necessarily, but all of which may be linked to them.

And since I’m sure that you, too, want to create the healthiest environment for your kids that you possibly can, I’m giving you a sneak preview too, in the form of a list of some of the scariest toxins (scariest in my totally random, unscientific, personal view) that are probably in your house. Luckily, these are all toxins you can totally get rid of. Sort of. Then you can stop worrying. At least until you get the toolkit and read about all the toxins I left out.

You’re welcome.

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)

Why it’s scary: Because you hear all the time about how dangerous it is. Even if you don’t read about eco issues, you’ve seen the “BPA-free” packaging on baby items, which instantly made you wonder what things you already have in your house that were manufactured before all the outcry against BPA, and you realize that you probably have ten thousand things in your house with BPA in them.

Also, it’s associated with hormonal problems like low sperm count, breast cancer, obesity, and early puberty.

Where you find it: In plastics. Scariest part? Even the ones that are labeled “BPA free” might not be. That label isn’t certified by any third party.

How to avoid it: Skip the plastics. Wooden toys are prettier anyway. If you must have plastics, look for opaque plastics with the recycling number 2 or 5. And, of course, the BPA-free label, although it’s best to also research the company to find out if the label is accurate.

2. Flame retardants

Why they’re scary: Because they’re in everything. Especially things that your baby spends a lot of time around, like crib mattresses, pajamas, blankets, and car seats. They’re linked to everything from cancer to neurological and hormonal disruptions to lower IQ.

But it’s also scary to not have them, because what if your toddler somehow gets hold of that box of matches you were using to try to have a romantic candlelit dinner and starts a fire in his diaper pail? Then you will be glad if he’s wearing flame-retardant pajamas.

Where you find them: Like I said: everywhere. Anything with foam in it probably has them, as does all furniture and anything designed for sleeping. Manufacturers aren’t required to label products that have chemical flame retardants, so you can usually assume they do.

How to avoid them: Buy organic sleepwear and mattresses. Wool is naturally flame resistant, so that’s what they use in organic crib mattresses. If you can’t afford organic wool mattresses, polyester is better than foam, because it’s made flame retardant with silicon instead of chemicals. Wool pajamas are also naturally waterproof, especially if you treat them with lanolin. And we all know why waterproof pajamas are a good idea.

3. Formaldehyde

Why it’s scary: It causes cancer. As in, it’s not just suspected that it might cause cancer. It’s a known carcinogen. Also, it’s the same stuff that they used to preserve the dead frog you dissected in high school biology. That awful smelling liquid that took days to wash off your hands? Yeah. Gross.

Where you find it: Any furniture with pressed wood like particle board. Also in lots of skin care products. (Which makes absolutely no sense, if you think about it. Maybe we’re trying to preserve dying skin by treating it with embalming liquid?)

How to avoid it: Buy real wood furniture. If you can’t afford solid wood, skip the furniture. Seriously. Your baby is going to chew on it anyway. Most of the time you can hold off on buying furniture till you find the right piece. We have only bought solid wood furniture for years now, because my husband hates particle board with a deep and abiding passion (I think he’s broken too many dresser drawers or something), and you can find some great deals. We bought an entire bedroom set for our daughter off Craigslist (bed, dresser, nightstand — all solid wood) for $300.

4. Lead

Why it’s scary: It’s been linked to behavior problems and learning disabilities. Also, it may have caused the fall of the Roman Empire.

Where you find it: Paint in older buildings and PVC products like vinyl floors, plastic blinds, shower curtains, and waterproof mattresses.

How to avoid it: If you live in an older house, have the paint tested. If you have lead paint, don’t remove it yourself — hire a professional. This is really worth it because if you leave it there, it can deteriorate and get into dust particles that your kids will breathe. And avoid vinyl products, especially teethers and toys.

5. Phtalates

Why they’re scary: They’re associated with cancer and reproductive problems. I am scared of anything that could cause reproductive problems. I don’t want anything to mess with my future grandkids.

Also, they’re kind of in everything. See below.

Where you find them: In PVC plastic, which is about a million and a half things right there, and also in skin care products and some wood finishes. (Just when you got the lead out of your paint.)

How to avoid them: Seriously, skip the plastic and vinyl. If you need toys, buy wood; if you need waterproof, buy wool. I know everything is plastic and your baby loves plastic but PLASTIC IS FULL OF TOXINS, PEOPLE!

That said, I totally have plastic toys in my house. A few. All things in moderation. I try to redirect teething to wooden toys or raw carrots.

Are you scared now? I understand. Really, I do. I hate knowing this stuff. Ignorance is so much happier. But it’s good to be aware. If you have some idea of the common toxins, at least you can lessen your exposure. Even PVC plastic is probably okay in moderation.

And look at the bright side. Your modern home is probably full of carcinogenic chemicals. But your child’s chances of being eaten by a dragon are pretty much zero.

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why I’m starting a new blog

superheroS

Big news here, friends: I’m starting a new blog.

Actually I already started it.

Check it out. It’s got a cool title: How to Be Supermom.

You may be wondering why I would do something so crazy as start a new blog when I have no idea how I’m keeping up with this one.

Here’s why.

1. I want to focus this blog more. If you ever look at the title of this blog (you do, right?), you may notice that I diverge a lot from what I originally meant for this blog to be about. It’s supposed to be about eco-friendly parenting with a local focus. But then I get ideas for all sorts of crazy, funny, and off the wall topics. Now I have a new place to write about off the wall stuff. The more off the wall the better.

2. There’s no such thing as too much blogging. I’ve been writing seriously on this blog for about a year now, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this: I love blogging. If I could blog full-time, I would be totally okay with that. So, well, I decided I needed another blogging outlet. So there you go.

3. I’ve learned a lot about branding. If there was one thing I didn’t know when I started this blog, it was branding. I’m not going to point out all my errors here if you don’t notice them. Suffice it to say they are many. So I wanted a chance to start over with everything I’ve learned here.

4. I want to write a book. Yeah, I know, every blogger wants to write a book. But I actually have (ghost)written books before, so I know I can. I’m still focusing the idea, but this blog isn’t quite the right platform for the book I want to write. Hence the new one. If you want to be first to know about it as it progresses, you should subscribe to the How to Be Supermom mailing list.

5. I’m now freelance blogging for clients. And you can never have too many samples, right? Actually that’s probably not true. Never mind. Go back to #2, that one I’m sure about.

Oh! And if you want to know more about hiring me as a blogger, look here.

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5 lazy weight loss techniques I bet you’ve never tried

Ah, the new year. Time for resolutions and all that. Which, for 97.52% of moms, means it’s time to lose weight.

I won’t lie: I’m on the bandwagon. Mind you, my baby only just turned a year old, and considering I didn’t even start losing pregnancy weight till my daughter turned two, I think I’m doing pretty good already. I’m only 10 pounds over what I weighed before I got pregnant the first time. But I would love to lose some those 10 pounds. Plus 20 more to get me back to my pre-second-pregnancy weight. Okay, so maybe I’m not doing that great.

And now that the holidays are over and the New Year is upon us, there’s no better time to step up, shape up, eat healthy, and melt the baby pounds away.

And I’ve got a plan. Five of them, actually. I bet you’ve never tried any of these. But one of them is bound to work. Maybe.

1. Not eating after dark. Back in November, I ran into a friend of mine at the farmer’s market. She had a baby around the same time I did — a few months after I did, actually, but who’s counting? — but she had already lost all the weight and then some. She looked stunning. After I overcame my jealousy of her perfect hourglass figure, I asked what she did to lose the pregnancy weight. And she told me she had simply stopped eating after dark. She’d done it for health reasons — something about how in hunter-gatherer societies, people wouldn’t be eating after dark, and our metabolisms aren’t adapted to digest when the sun is down, blah blah blah. I didn’t really listen to the explanation. But the premise is simple: you stop eating when the sun goes down. Eat dinner early (ish), and don’t eat again till breakfast. Easy, right?

I’ve been doing it (mostly) since November, and it’s had no effect. This could be because I’ve been balancing it out with all those Christmas cookies and peppermint mochas during the day. Now that Starbucks will soon take peppermint mochas off the menu till next year, maybe I can take a break and actually get some traction from this semi-diet.

Or not. We’ll see.

2. Joining the YMCA. Do you think I can lose weight just by joining? I’m convinced that I can. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t mean just walking around with my membership card. I fully attend to go to the Y. Often. Because they have childcare. Free childcare included in your membership. I’ll go almost every day.

I just don’t know how often I’ll actually work out. I’m not sure that’s the best use of my child-free time. Do you think sitting in the hot tub could help me lose weight? Will being more relaxed because I have a few hours to myself every day cause my metabolism to spike? What about showering by myself on a regular basis? That will at least make me more attractive, weight loss or not, right?

I’ll work out too. At some point I will feel silly admitting to the childcare workers that I’m just there to sit in the hot tub.

3. Sleeping more. Sleeping better really does help you lose weight, and I’m determined that Teddy is not going to keep me up all night every night for years like his big sister did. She didn’t sleep all night (by which I mean five hours straight) till she was 3.5. He is not allowed to do that. Sucks to be a younger sibling and all, but he doesn’t get the free pass that she had. He’s over a year old, so it’s time to cut back on night wakings. Mind you, I’m not going to do cry-it-out — there are plenty of ways to ease into better sleep without hours of crying. I’m pretty sure. More on that later. In any case, longer stretches of good sleep will happen, one way or another. It’s for everyone’s health.

4. Chasing a toddler. Don’t you hate those women who have two kids under two and their youngest is a newborn and they’re super skinny, and they say it’s because they were busy chasing the toddler so the weight just melted right off?

Me too.

The weight didn’t melt off for me, probably because my older kid is big enough that she didn’t need to be chased when my younger was a newborn. (Which was intentional, by the way. I planned them that far apart for precisely that reason. Who wants to chase a toddler when they’re nine months pregnant?) But now that my baby is a toddler, maybe I can catch this weight loss magic on the second wave. My toddler is fast. I must run and stop him before he eats something out of the trash can.

Or I could just sit here on the couch and send big sister to stop him. That’s much more fun.

Yeah, maybe this technique isn’t going to work out for me.

5. Weaning. Everybody talks about how breastfeeding burns calories, but the truth is it doesn’t burn that much. Not even when you’re breastfeeding multiple kids. And prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production, also stimulates hunger. So for some people (read: me), breastfeeding actually causes weight gain.

Will weaning help? Probably not, since I’m not going to wean the baby — er, toddler. Of course not. He’s only one, and I’ll nurse him at least till he’s two, probably quite a bit longer than that. No, I’m talking about big sister. She’s almost five. She’s done. I’m cutting her off. That’s all.

I highly doubt this will make any difference to my weight gain. But it will still be awesome.

I don’t know if any of these methods will actually move the numbers on the scale, but I’m pretty sure they’ll make me a bit healthier. At least they’ll make me feel healthier. Which has to count for something.

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10 things I love about holidays with family

Holidays with extended family are so much fun. Sure, there are challenges when ten or eleven people spend a week in a house that’s usually home to two. (At some point some of us are going to have to stay in a hotel. I figure we can postpone that longer if we cosleep.) But still. I love my in-laws, I really do. For a million reasons. Here are some of them.

1. My mother-in-law gets up early. Every morning. My kids usually sleep in till a reasonable hour, but if by some chance they do get up early, Grandma is happy to play with them.

2. My niece is exactly the same age as my daughter, and my nephew is only 18 months older. Cousins the same age = built-in playmates. What could be better? True, the first four or five family get-togethers of my daughter’s life all culminated in her biting her cousin (we can blame sleep deprivation and overstimulation for that, right?). I guess that’s a hazard of living with playmates. It certainly was when I was growing up, anyway. My sister has the scars to prove it.

But most of the time, the kids actually entertain each other. It’s pretty awesome.

3. They live in Virginia. I love Virginia. Sure, we’re pretty established in Atlanta right now, but I love visiting Virginia. You can see real mountains from my in-laws front yard. And it actually gets cold there. Sometimes it even snows for Christmas.

4. My sister-in-law (the one who’s also a mom) makes tea every night. Sure, I can make it myself. But it’s so much more fun to drink with someone else. And it’s even more fun when it’s actually cold outside. Which it is in Virginia.

5. My (fellow mom) sister-in-law brings out the ice cream. She’s from Canada, so she never thinks it’s too cold for ice cream.

6. My father-in-law plays piano. When my husband and I were dating, he used to play piano a lot. I loved listening to him play — it’s so romantic! — but since we’ve been married, he rarely gets to play anything besides nursery rhymes on his synthesizer. But my father-in-law is a talented musician, and he has a real piano. Which my husband also plays while we’re there. It’s great. There’s a lot of music in the house.

7. Everyone likes to read. I married into a literary family, and yes, that was on purpose. Actually, I pretty much decided I had to marry my husband after I met his family. They talk about interesting things like books and history and religion and family traditions. They’re fascinating people.

8. My brother-in-law loves G.K. Chesteron. Need I say more? I need not.

9. My (cool single) sister-in-law loves ALL THE BOOKS that I love. And she’s a writer. She and I have spent many hours at family events huddled in a corner talking nonstop about the latest novel we’re reading or writing or about Oxford commas or blogging or work or the meaning of life. I think if I hadn’t married my husband, I still would have become close friends with her. She’s awesome. Tragically, she couldn’t come to Virginia this year. Boo.

10. They’re frugal. Translation: we don’t buy gifts for everybody. I love this. Buying a present for everyone in your family means a whole lot of shopping, even when your family isn’t that big. So a few years ago, we started drawing names for gifts instead of everyone shopping for everyone. We all still get presents for the kids (because really, how can you resist?), but we put all the adult names in a hat and we each draw one. Then everybody gets one nice present instead of a bunch of not-as-nice presents. And the whole present-opening ritual isn’t so involved and lengthy. It’s great all around.

Plus, my (cool single) sister-in-law and I have drawn each other’s names almost every year since we started, which is just a bonus. She gives the best presents.

How about you? Are holidays with extended family fun or stressful?

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happy Christmas eve!

Stasia meeting Teddy

A year ago today, my son was one day old.

On Christmas Eve morning, my daughter came home from spending the night at my mom’s house and met her brother for the first time.

When I posted this picture on Facebook, one of her preschool friends saw it and said, “But I wanted a baby for Christmas!”

I hope you and yours get everything you want for Christmas! I know I have everything I could hope for!

Here’s Teddy celebrating yesterday wiTyson’s of the most exciting experiences of his life — chocolate cake!

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is organic juice better if it’s not real juice?

juicy juice boxes

Last week I was at the grocery store. In the juice aisle. I know, I know — juice isn’t that great for kids, but I started sending juice boxes in my daughter’s lunch as a special treat and now she kind of expects it and at least if she’s drinking juice then she’s not too dehydrated and don’t judge me, okay? I was in the juice aisle.

I was looking for organic juice. Of which there were several varieties. But I noticed something missing from the organic juice boxes — something that was prominent on many of the non-organic versions. This:

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So, of course I looked at the ingredients. And it turned out that none of the organic juice were actually juice. I mean, not entirely juice. They were all a mix of (organic) ingredients of dubious value. And all of them had added sugar.

Which left me with the puzzling dilemma: which juice is worse? Real juice with pesticides, or organic not-juice with added sugar?

It didn’t take me long to figure out the answer is — you guessed it — neither.

100% juice isn’t really juice.

Let’s start with the obvious: juice made from non-organic fruit has pesticides in it. Arsenic, fungicide, and other pesticides are often found in 100% juice, sometimes at levels that the FDA considers unsafe. Personally, I consider any level of poison in my kids’ food unsafe. I’m just sayin’. But that’s obvious, right? — that’s the main reason you want to buy organic in the first place.

But unfortunately, the problems with 100% juice don’t stop there. Just because the label says 100% juice doesn’t mean the drink is actually 100% juice. If you were juicing fruit yourself, you would peel the fruit (maybe, depending on what fruit you’re using), take the seeds out, and run everything else through a processor or juicer. You’d probably keep a lot of the fiber, and all the juice would be freshly squeezed straight from the fruit. That is 100% juice.

But shelf-stable juice is something else. First, they use big machines that do a much better job of getting out just the juice — which means there’s less fiber and more sugar even in the pure juice. Then, they have to pasteurize it by heating it, which kills any bacteria that would cause it to spoil, but also kills most of the enzymes and vitamins that make the juice healthy. Which leaves? Sugar. Flavor and sugar. That’s in 100% juice.

Also, in some cases, the juicing and pasteurization even removes a lot of the flavor, so they use the leftover parts of the fruit to make flavor packets and add that back in. It’s still considered 100% juice, because everything in it was made from the fruit, but the fruit has come a long way from its natural state.

Oh, and those vitamins that were lost in pasteurization? Don’t worry. They get added back in too. But the addition of vitamins and nutrients that aren’t naturally in the juice means they’re not balanced by other ingredients that help your body process them.

So 100% juice? Is hardly juice at all.

Organic juice isn’t much better.

Take out the bit about the pesticides (assuming, of course, that the label says “100% certified organic,” and not just “organic.” “Organic’ means it has some organic ingredients; “100% certified organic” means it has all organic ingredients.), and everything else I said about 100% juice holds true for organic juice. Except that instead of starting with the fruit, juice that isn’t “100% juice” starts instead with water and sugar. (Organic cane sugar, but does that really make much of a difference?) Then it adds all sorts of juice concentrates (think dehydrated juice) and flavors. And maybe some vitamins too. Leaving you with a sugary drink that isn’t that much different from fruit-flavored soda.

And with any kind of boxed juice, there’s one more insidious little problem I haven’t mentioned yet: the incredible amount of trash generated by a single-serving package.

What should my kids drink?

So what should I be sending in my kid’s lunchbox?

Obviously, the best solution is to buy a nice (preferably steel) water bottle and send water.

Since she’ll barely drink water, the next-best solution would be to make my own juice and send that in the nice steel water bottle.

Failing that, the third best choice is to buy real juice (organic, unpasteurized, 100% juice) and put that in her water bottle.

All of which I am adding to my New Year’s Resolutions.

In the meantime, we may as well use up the Juicy Juice. Hope she enjoys it while it lasts.

Now excuse me while I eat a real orange.

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how sharing breastfeeding can change your life

me nursing Eli

Our culture is squeamish about breastfeeding. We think breasts are sexual, breastfeeding is a private act, and breast milk is a dangerous substance that spreads disease, pestilence, and subversive thinking. Sure, breast is best and all that, but keep it in private, people. And nowhere is this more obvious than in our attitude toward cross nursing.

Cross nursing, in case you don’t know, means nursing someone else’s baby. It was common as daylight a hundred years ago, when wet nurses were employed by women who couldn’t or didn’t want to breastfeed. But since the invention of formula, cross nursing has been stigmatized. Even the “lactivist hippies” of La Leche League discourage it, and the average woman on the street is disgusted by the idea. Sure, the breast-is-best movement has sparked a small but noticeable revival of wet nursing. But those who do it are secretive about it.

And when it happens accidentally? Bad news. This woman’s baby was breastfed by another mom last week because of a hospital mix-up. This ought to have sparked an outcry about hospital procedures that involve separating babies from their moms (this could never have happened if the babies were rooming-in), but instead the hospital is saying that the poor baby needs to be repeatedly tested for HIV and hepatitis over the next year. Seriously? Was the other mom HIV positive? Because if she was, then why was she breastfeeding her own baby? And if she wasn’t, then why the worry? Sure, I’d be concerned too if my baby was breastfed by a total stranger, but I don’t think it deserves this level of fear. But maybe that’s just because I’m a crazy hippie mom who always wished for some help breastfeeding my babies.

I haven’t done much cross nursing, but I often wished to. I finally have a mama tribe now that’s comfortable with cross nursing, and it really has changed my life. Here’s how.

You can take a break. Having a babysitter who can nurse your baby is magic. Baby won’t take a bottle? No problem. Baby will only fall asleep nursing? Taken care of. If I’d had this when Anastasia was little, let me tell you, I would have had a lot more evenings out with my husband. I haven’t actually taken advantage of this with Teddy, because right now if I skip or even shorten a nursing session, I get mastitis. (At least it seems that way.) Which brings me to my next point:

You can get help with engorgement when you’re away from your baby. Last weekend I went to a party with my mama tribe. I left both kids at home with Dad — my first time doing that, so it was a real treat! But three hours away from the kids? Not good for my boobs. Lucky for me, my friend who has twin newborns was at the party. While she was nursing one, she handed me the other, and I nursed him to sleep.

You can learn to breastfeed. When my friend handed me her second twin, she told me I could breastfeed him if I would fix his latch. He makes a clicking sound. I wasn’t able to fix it — I suspect he has a tongue tie — but it made all of us at the party think about the value of experienced moms breastfeeding new babies. After all, when you have your first baby, you’re both totally new at breastfeeding. You learn to do it together. Which is why it’s often easier with your second baby — by that time, at least one of you knows what you’re doing. So if a first-time mom is having a problem breastfeeding, it just makes sense for a more experienced mom to try breastfeeding her baby. She knows how a good latch is supposed to look and feel, and she knows how to hold a baby and help him latch. It takes one variable out of the equation.

You can bond with other mamas and babies. I don’t agree at all with the idea that breastfeeding is a special, private bonding. (In case you hadn’t figured that out.) At least I don’t think it’s any more private or bonding than bottle feeding, or rocking to sleep, or babywearing. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t special. I love rocking other people’s babies to sleep and bottle feeding them, and I love cross nursing in the same way, for the same reasons. Knowing that another mom trusts you enough to help her take care of her young baby is a special thing. Cuddling, rocking, and bonding with someone else’s baby is a special thing. And having friends that you trust like that, and who trust you, is pure magic.

You can do it safely.  I mentioned that I thought the mother, not the baby, was the one who should be tested. And ideally, I think moms who are nursing each other’s kids should be tested. I wouldn’t let anyone breastfeed my babies before I asked them what they’d been tested for — and trusted them enough to believe them about the results. But with a few guidelines in place, I think cross-nursing can be very safe, and it can help in many ways.

I feel lucky to have a mama tribe that practices cross nursing. You can feel squeamish or laugh all you want. Someday I’ll get a job as a wet nurse for some big celebrity. Then I’ll be the one laughing — all the way to the bank.

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are your cloth diapers REALLY green?

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Parents who use cloth diapers don’t usually worry about how green our diapering choices are. We feel pretty safe in assuming that cloth diapers are better for the environment than disposable diapers. It seems obvious, right? They fit all the criteria: Reduce (36 diapers instead of 6,000), Reuse (use the same diapers over and over, use the same diapers for subsequent children, and then resell them for someone else to use), Recycle (use old diapers as rags, or make diapers out of recycled materials like sweaters). And as it turns out, we’re right. True, a handful of studies have claimed that the differences are negligible, but the studies were flawed in a lot of important ways. If you don’t want to read a detailed analysis, I’ll sum it up: the studies didn’t look at enough cloth diapering families, and they only took the worst-case scenario for cloth (environmentally speaking) to compare to the best-case scenario for disposable. Conclusion? Cloth diapers with the highest environmental impact have an overlap with disposables with the lowest possible impact. But take a few steps to make your cloth diapering choices more eco-friendly, and your diaper system will beat any disposable options, hands down.

Sound like a lot of work? It’s not. Chances are you’re already doing things that reduce the impact of your diapers on the environment.

1. Evaluate the manufacturing process. The studies comparing cloth to disposable assume that cloth diapers are manufactured with conventional cotton, which requires a lot of pesticides and water to grow. So if you buy organic diapers, consider yourself off the hook. And if organic is out of your budget, consider buying used. Try Diaper Swappers or the Cloth Diaper Swap on Facebook. Or just make your own.

2. Consider location. Many diapers, such as Sustainable Babyish, Thirsties, and Happy Heinys, are made in the USA. Some also use local fabric and materials, enabling you to cut the impact of shipping across the ocean from your diapers’ environmental lifecycle, and others, like Mommy’s Touch, are manufactured solely by work-at-home moms. But a diaper made overseas isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Gaelle Wizenberg of Charlie Banana chose a China-based manufacturer for her diapers, not because that’s where the factories are, but because it’s where she lives. Her Hong Kong office is less than two hours from the factory, so she personally oversees manufacturing to ensure processes are as eco-friendly as possible. She also limits shipping by air, opting for more environmental sea shipping. A little research can tell you a lot about the source of your diapers and the company’s efforts to reduce their impact.

3. Adjust your wash routine. In the comparison studies, the way cloth diapers were washed made the biggest difference to their environmental impact. The best option is also the easiest: use a diaper service. (Actually, you could probably be more eco-friendly than a diaper service if you washed by hand in grey water using homemade organic detergent. Have fun with that.) But if that’s too expensive or not available, a high-efficiency washer makes a big difference too. Avoid very hot water (which isn’t good for your PUL anyway) to save more energy; hang to dry and you’ll save even more (while also disinfecting your diapers and naturally getting rid of stains). If all that is too much work, you can do what Wizenberg does for her own cloth diapers: wash the rest of your laundry a little less often. “I used to change my sheets every week,” she says, “and now I do it every ten days. That’s a lot less loads per year.”

I think I change my sheets every two months, and my jeans only slightly more often, so I figure I can probably wash as many diapers as I want.

4. Buy offsets. I know, offsets are greenwashing, and they don’t really mean anything. Right? Well — maybe. Again, do your research before you buy. The best offsets are the ones that put money toward developing renewable, sustainable systems to replace what you’re trying to offset. Thirsties offsets its transportation with Renewable Energy Credits. Charlie Banana buys offsets for their manufacturing from Climate Action, a Beijing-based company that’s developing clean energy for China.

5. Go diaper free. A friend of mine says that cloth diapers are just a gateway drug to elimination communication, but really, if you want to be green, there’s no better choice. EC doesn’t mean you never use diapers, but every catch in the potty means one less diaper to wash in the short term, and for most families, being potty independent sooner means fewer diapers in the long term too. I’m writing this at 1 pm, and Teddy is still wearing the same flat fold I put on him 5 hours ago. It’s still dry. He’s peed four times and pooped once, all in the potty (or, er, the sink, or maybe the bathtub). That’s five diapers I don’t need to wash. (And if you want to learn more about EC, you can find out about local Atlanta meetings by signing up for my DiaperFreeBaby mailing list.)

So are your cloth diapers really green? To tell the truth — they probably are. But could a few simple steps make them even more eco-friendly? Only you know the answer to that.

Me, I should really hang to dry. At least every once in a while. But I’m too lazy, so I’ll probably just wash my shirts less often instead. Nobody minds the milk stains, right?

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