5 surprising ways to build your family’s immune system

5 surprising ways to build your family’s immune system

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 toxins to fear in your non-organic nursery

5 toxins to fear in your non-organic nursery

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

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

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:


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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are your cloth diapers REALLY green?

are your cloth diapers REALLY green?

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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baby steps to detox your kids from the almighty screen

baby steps to detox your kids from the almighty screen

Some people say that kids act better when they don’t watch any TV. Or iphones. Or DVD players. Or any screen, unless a window counts, although of course not a car window because people who don’t watch any TV probably don’t ever drive either.

These people are more eco-friendly, more green, more creative, and generally better parents than I am. They are parents you can make it through the day without needing a TV break. They spend their afternoons doing Pinterest-worthy educational crafts with their two year olds using nothing but materials found in the woods.

I am not one of those parents.

But I did decide recently to cut back on my daughter’s TV habit.

This decision was sparked by a variety of factors. None of them had to do with health or being more green. They mostly had to do with behavior. They culminated on the day she told me “if you don’t do what I want I’m going to kill you” before she flipped me off. She readily admitted that she learned this from television.

(From TV shows that Daddy let her watch, of course. Like Robin Hood. I would never let her watch anything inappropriate for a preschooler. Unless Glee counts. Which she didn’t pay any attention to anyway.)

Anyway. That was when I decided we were going on a TV detox.

I wasn’t ready to give up screens entirely. I’m still not ready. For one thing, I just don’t have the patience to respond in a calm, adult manner when she climbs all over me constantly for hours straight because she’s bored. For another, the baby really needs two naps a day, and he won’t take them in a carrier or in the car or in the stroller or anywhere other than in a quiet house in bed. And much as I think my almost-five-year-old ought to be able to entertain herself quietly for 30 minutes while I put him down, the fact remains that she doesn’t. Not because she can’t, but because the minute she realizes I’m trying to get the baby to nap, she also realizes that this means her playmate will be out of commission for 90 minutes and she follows me to try to keep him awake.

(She knows he needs to sleep, but it’s hard to believe he’s really ready for a nap when the sight of her makes him squeal with joy and jump up to get out of bed. Sometimes I think I should just let her put him to bed. Or not. Lock them in the room for 90 minutes and let them cage match.)

So I am working on baby steps. A gradual screen detox. Maybe eventually we’ll go screen free. But for now, we are cutting back. Here’s how.

1. Sneak in new routines. I used to announce naptime.”It’s time for Teddy’s nap!” I’d say. “You stay out here and be quiet for a little while, and when he’s asleep I’ll come back and play with you.” But announcing this is stupid. My daughter doesn’t hear “It’s naptime.” What she hears is “Come into the bedroom with me and Teddy and make lots of noise and funny faces. See if you can get your brother to laugh so hard he snorts milk out his nose.”

So I’ve started sneaking out instead. I nurse Teddy in the main room till he’s sleepy, and I wait till Anastasia is occupied coloring all over her table with purple marker. Then I just pick Teddy up and carry him to the bedroom when her back is turned. And lock the bedroom door.

Sure, sometimes she’s tried to follow me. Worst case, she’s sat outside the bedroom crying because she can’t get in. But she’s never been loud enough to stop Teddy from falling asleep. And usually she gets over it by the time I come out.

Whether sitting outside my bedroom crying is actually a healthier, more educational, and more eco-friendly activity for her than watching TV is a question I haven’t considered. And I won’t. Ignorance is bliss.

2. Cut back on your own use. I almost never watch TV when the kids are awake. The only show I want to watch is Walking Dead, which, hello? Will never be on when my kids are awake. And is more fun to watch after dark anyway. (Is that a zombie face in the window?) However, I am often tempted by my computer when my kids are around. And my iphone. My computer is full of half-baked articles, blog posts, emails, and forum posts, all begging me to finish writing them. And my phone has The Great and Evil Addiction known as Facebook (which is much worse for me than TV is for kids, probably, but I’m allowed to do unhealthy things. I’m an adult).

I haven’t quit using my screens during the day, but I have come to recognize the signs that it’s time for a break. If my kids are happily playing without me, I’ll sneak a glance at my newsfeed. When either kid comes crawling into my lap and types “SDCE3420$%&(%Sdns0eeeepepf” as my status, I put the screen away.

3. Keep sessions short. We still have TV in our routine, especially at bedtime, because essential self-care (like, you know, brushing teeth) without distraction is an endless fight with my sensory kid. But if she only watched it while we were actually brushing teeth, that would be a mere 5-10 minutes of TV a day. Whereas it’s all too easy to do what we actually do, which is turn it on right after dinner and leave it on till bedtime. So I’m working on keeping the sessions short — just a scene or two instead of an entire show. Or (more likely) entire movie. Whatever. The point is, less is more. Or something.

4. Distract and redirect. Lucky for me, there are two activities that will almost always distract my daughter. Even luckier for me, they’re both healthy, creative, educational activities. Her favorite things in the world to do (besides watching TV) are reading and playing dress up. So now if she asks for TV, I offer a book. If that doesn’t work, I suggest we play dress up. Which pretty much always works. And only requires total and limitless dedication of my mind and body for a minimum of 17 minutes.

And if by some chance that doesn’t work, I can always distract her with Halloween candy.

(Which is totally more healthy than TV. Right?)

5. Lose the remote control. Ok, so that wasn’t exactly something we did on purpose. But it worked beautifully. Our Apple TV remote was last seen in Teddy’s mouth (don’t worry — it’s much too big for him to have swallowed), and since we lost it our TV viewing has gone down by 32.458%. We can still watch TV, because Apple knows you’re going to lose the remote (Apple knows everything) and designed the TV so you can use your iPhone as a remote. But it’s kind of a pain, and it doesn’t always work, so it makes me less likely to even try.

So is all this making a difference? Is our house more peaceful? Is my daughter more calm? Has her behavior improved? Is the baby getting smarter?

I have no idea.

I do think we’re watching less TV. But I haven’t actually timed it. At the very least, I’m pretty sure the TV we are watching is more appropriate for a preschooler.

And more importantly, I’m feeling better about my parenting skills.

But I will never, ever post pictures of our crafts on Pinterest.

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5 tips for picky eaters that every mom of a toddler can use

5 tips for picky eaters that every mom of a toddler can use

If your toddler will only eat macaroni & cheese, raisins, and occasionally ketchup, you’re not alone. Your toddler is perfectly normal. Every child goes through this stage — and for some, it lasts for years.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any healthier. And like every mom of a toddler, you’re probably desperate to persuade your child to eat something that isn’t a carbohydrate. And occasionally something that’s green.

And sometimes, the only way to do that is to sneak it in. After a few years of dealing with a baby-who-loves-broccoli-turned-picky-eater, I’ve discovered many ways to motivate a kid to try new foods.

1. Smoothies. Okay, so I said this last time I made a list, but seriously? It deserves to be listed twice. It’s by far the easiest way to get toddlers to eat fruits and vegetables. You can put anything in a smoothie, and most toddlers will eat it. Add a little chocolate, and every toddler will eat it. And if you think kale doesn’t go with chocolate, you are obviously not a toddler.

2. Serve it off a different plate. Preferably your plate, because vegetables that are disgusting when served on a toddler plate magically transform into something delicious when eaten off your plate, especially if eaten while sitting in your lap and using your fork. Go figure. Failing that, try your favorite fancy china. Just supervise carefully.

3. Use smaller portions. It’s hard to appreciate how little a toddler really needs to eat (especially when your baby eats more than your big kid does). But they’re not growing as fast as they were when they were younger, and they’re still really small people. They don’t need a lot. Big portions can feel overwhelming to a toddler — and they can make you think your child ate even less than he really did since his plate is still full. Serve a tiny portion, and you’ll both feel less overwhelmed.

4. Eat fresh from the garden. My daughter will eat stuff straight from our garden that she would never eat otherwise. Like tomatoes. She won’t touch them from the store, but from the garden? She’ll gobble them up. She also eats lots of stevia from the garden, which is technically a leafy green if you eat it fresh, right? Work with me here.

5. Try dried fruits and vegetables. And freeze-dried. They are easily portable and they taste like candy.

Which brings me to my giveaway. You didn’t even realize this was a giveaway post, did you? I have some freeze-dried fruit to give away! These:

They’re Snack Healthy’s Crispy Fruit snacks, and I got some to eat and some to give away. My kids loved them — they’re delicious. The best thing about freeze-dried fruits is that they melt quickly in your mouth, so they’re safe for babies. But my preschooler ate most of them, which is just as well since she’s the picky eater. Like I said, they taste like candy. But they’re actually 100% pure fruit, with nothing added at all. I loved them too. The only issue I have with them is that the packs aren’t resealable — once they’re open, you have to eat them all.

Which, on second thought, is actually a good thing, because why would you save them for later when they’re so delicious?

Want to win? Just comment on this post! The winner will get three fruit packs: one banana, one pineapple, and one apple. Or, if you can’t wait, go to the Snack Healthy website to buy some now.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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5 cloth diapering mistakes that make you look like a newbie

5 cloth diapering mistakes that make you look like a newbie

Let’s get one thing straight. Cloth diapering is not rocket science. Even when it involves a little origami, it’s not all that complicated. At least not in the way that giving birth, surviving school breaks, or explaining the ultimate why is complicated. Some things in parenting are more difficult than others, and on the big-picture scale, cloth diapering falls somewhere between cooking macaroni and breastfeeding in a carrier. So: not that hard.

However, in the years I’ve been teaching people how to use cloth diapers, I’ve noticed there are a few mistakes that everyone tends to fall into. I don’t know why this is. Maybe the most obvious resources all tend to skip over these things. In any case, I thought it would be helpful to list them all in one place. So here you go: a few of the most common — and most easy to fix — mistakes that people make with cloth diapering.

1. Putting a microfiber insert directly against the skin. This is by far the most common mistake I see, and honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. It’s particularly common with people who start cloth diapering by using two-part systems (i.e., prefolds and covers) who then switch to one-part systems (i.e., pockets). It makes a lot of sense. You get used to only changing the inner part of the diaper and reusing the cover. And then you look at a pocket and think, Hey, this diaper has two parts. Why can’t I just change the inner part and reuse the outside? Which you could, except for one small problem: microfiber is very, very absorbent. So absorbent that it will actually pull moisture out of your baby’s skin. Which will dry out your baby’s skin. Which will cause a rash.

But don’t feel bad if you’ve done this. I totally did it myself.

2. Reusing diapers that aren’t meant to be reused. Along the same lines, a lot of people feel like they ought to be able to reuse a diaper that’s meant for only one change. This is another common problem when you’re switching from prefolds to pockets. You’ve gotten used to prefolds feeling really wet, and pockets have a microfleece layer (not to be confused with microfiber) against your baby’s skin, which feels a lot dryer. So you feel the diaper and think, Gee, this is hardly wet at all. Maybe I can just change the insert and reuse the diaper. Which technically you probably could do occasionally without causing a rash. But the part of the diaper that lies against your baby’s skin is wet, which means the entire diaper is meant to be changed.

My mom always does this for some reason. She doesn’t actually reuse the diaper, but she doesn’t put it in the wash bucket either. After she babysits, I often come home to find damp diapers spread out next to the changing table. “It was only a little bit wet,” she says, “so I wasn’t sure what you wanted to do with it.”

Well, I wanted to wash it. It’s not like I’m throwing it out. Don’t worry, I’ll use it again. When it’s clean.

3. Not adjusting the absorbency correctly. This is mostly a problem at night, although it can be a problem during the day if you’re not changing frequently enough (or if your baby is a really heavy wetter). One common problem is overstuffing a pocket so much that it ends up gapping around the legs. You think it’s leaking because it’s not absorbent enough, so you keep stuffing more in — inserts, boosters, prefolds, and maybe the kitchen sink. But it keeps leaking, because the problem isn’t the amount of absorbency — the problem is that it’s so overstuffed that you can’t tighten it properly. So instead of having elastic nice and flush against baby’s legs, you’ve got big gaps. The pee isn’t even going into the diaper at all — it’s rolling right off the microfleece onto your baby’s clothes. The solution is to use trimmer absorbent layers, such as hemp or zorb, so you can fasten the diaper correctly.

4. Not researching your wash routine adequately. I hate to put this on the list, because people are often so intimidated by the whole washing issue that they give up on cloth entirely. And the reality is that much of the time, you can get away with all sorts of “bad” washing habits and your diapers will be fine. At least for a while. But after a while, you start to have problems, and instead of googling, say, “dryer sheets + cloth diapers,” which will tell you right away what you’re doing wrong, you assume it’s too complicated and give up. One particularly common problem here is Charlie’s Soap, which causes a rash for some babies, especially if you’re using a different detergent for the rest of your laundry. It’s an easy problem to fix if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use, but it’s really common (so much so that when someone tells me their diapers are causing a rash, my first question is always, “Are you using Charlie’s Soap?”).

5. Not trying different types of diapers. There are a few brands that almost always work for everybody, but since every baby is a little different, chances are that you’ll like one brand a lot better than another. Which is why I always recommend that you not buy a lot of diapers until you’ve tried a few different types. With all the stores offering trial packages and rentals these days, there’s no reason not to experiment a little before you invest a lot of money.

Of course there are plenty of other mistakes people make, but if you avoid these, you’ll at least avoid looking like a total newbie. And if you share this list with your friends who are just getting started with cloth, you’ll look like a complete cloth pro.

You’re welcome.

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fuzzibunz vs. charlie banana: pocket diaper smackdown

fuzzibunz vs. charlie banana: pocket diaper smackdown

Choosing the right cloth diaper is hard enough when there are so many different types of diapers. But it’s even harder when you have to choose among several diapers that are almost exactly the same.

Babywearers face a similar problem comparing soft structured carriers, and since my post comparing them has been pretty popular, I thought it was time I offer a solution to the pocket diaper problem too.

Plus, more people are becoming familiar with FuzziBunz since the owner appeared on Shark Tank recently. I didn’t see the show, but apparently (and unsurprisingly), she talked a bit (without mentioning names, of course) about the Charlie Banana problem. You can read it all in the owner’s own words here, but in a nutshell, the founder of Charlie Banana had worked with FuzziBunz before she branched off to create Charlie Banana, and although she changed the design slightly, she also used a lot of similar features. There was nothing unethical about it, but it was a big controversy for a while, even to the point that some retailers refused to sell CBs. (Which meant nothing since Target and Walmart were — and are — perfectly happy to sell them.) But what this means for you as a cloth diapering parent is this: choosing between FuzziBunz and Charlie Banana is like choosing between the East Atlanta and the Grant Park farmer’s markets. It’s practically impossible, because they’re practically the same.

And as if things weren’t confusing enough when Charlie Banana first came out, FuzziBunz followed up the CB release with a new version of their own (the FuzziBunz Elite) which, intentionally or not, is even more similar to Charlie Banana than the old one-size Fuzzi Bunz were. But there are a few small but key differences that make a choice possible. Maybe.

Unless you’re just obsessed with diapers like me, in which case you need to get both.


I’m comparing the one-size diapers, which means they both adjust in size and can be used on most babies from birth to potty training. Originally, the elastic adjustments were identical: they both used a button system, similar to what many toddler pants have. FuzziBunz still uses that system:

Charlie Banana, however, has switched to a buckle system:

I think the Charlie Banana system is a little easier to adjust, especially since it’s labeled with sizes instead of numbers. (FuzziBunz has a chart that tells you what numbers correspond to what size. Confusing.) But FuzziBunz allows you to adjust both the waist and the legs, while Charlie Banana only allows you to adjust the legs. Also, Fuzzi Bunz has buttons on both sides, which means you can switch the elastic out — and each diaper comes with a spare set of elastic. Since elastic is usually the first thing to go on cloth diapers, being able to switch the elastic out easily — no sewing required! — can really extend the life of your diaper. I have a whole pile of old non-adjustable FuzziBunz that I’d be using instead of selling if I could adjust the elastic.

So: if convenience is most important to you, then Charlie Banana has a slight edge on elastic. If you want diapers that are built to last, go with FuzziBunz.


Both FuzziBunz and Charlie Banana are pocket diapers. This means they have three parts: an outer waterproof layer, an inner layer that wicks moisture away from your baby’s skin, and an absorbent insert that you stuff between the other two layers. Some people don’t like pockets because they’re more expensive than two-part diapers (like prefolds, where you only have to buy a few covers and a bunch of prefolds; with pockets, you need a whole new diaper for every diaper change), but they’re less convenient than all-in-ones (where you don’t have to stuff or fold or adjust anything). But pockets are my favorite type of diaper, because they offer a great combination of convenience and flexibility. Once they’re stuffed, they’re easy to put on (unlike prefolds, which need folding), but they wash and dry faster than all-in-ones, and unlike all-in-ones, you can adjust the absorbency for different needs (like adding inserts for nighttime).

There’s one small problem with pockets, though: you’re supposed to take the insert out before you wash them. That means you have to take a dirty insert out of a dirty diaper. So the ease of getting that insert out with as little touching as possible is a big factor when comparing pocket diapers.

Charlie Banana and FuzziBunz Elite have two main differences when it comes to stuffing. First, on Charlie Bananas, the opening is in front, while on FuzziBunz it’s in the back. A front opening is better when there’s poop on the diaper, because poop goes toward the back. But a back opening is better for boys with a pee-only diaper, because boy pee goes in front. (Girl pee goes in the middle, so it doesn’t matter much either way). I would give the advantage on this to Charlie Banana, because it’s less likely you’d ever have to touch poop, except for the fact that Charlie Banana also has a flap over the opening. You can see what I mean here:

What this means is that if there’s poop on your FuzziBunz, you can just shake the diaper over your pail and the insert will come out. Whereas with Charlie Banana, you have to reach past the flap to pull the insert out.

Some people like the flap because it looks more finished; others prefer the convenience of shaking the insert out. I like both. It’s a matter of taste.


Both diapers use tab snaps, which means they wrap around in front to snap. Both have two rows of snaps, which means the waist and the leg can be adjusted separately. The only real difference in snaps is that Charlie Banana has an extra crossover snap. This is a snap in the middle of the wing that allows you to cross the tabs over each other. It’s great for a small baby (it’s the way you can fit this diaper on a newborn even though you can’t adjust the elastic in the waist), but it’s also great for wrapping the diaper around itself and securing it when it’s dirty and you’re out and you forgot your wet bag. Which of course I never do. But if I did, I’d want a crossover snap. FuzziBunz doesn’t have this feature.


The old FuzziBunz inserts are identical to Charlie Banana inserts (except for the big Charlie Banana tag on the latter). Both are microfiber, which means they’re very absorbent and they have to be used inside the diaper (not against the baby’s skin). However, the latest version of FuzziBunz Elite includes a minky insert, which can go directly against the skin. And really, you want to put it on the skin, because it’s so soft. I only have one FuzziBunz Elite diaper, but my four year old digs through the laundry to find this insert so she can carry it around and rub it on her face. It seems like a real waste to stuff it in the pocket, but even though you could use the diaper as a cover and lay the insert on the inside, that’s not really how FuzziBunz are designed. Charlie Banana, however, is designed to be flexible that way — that’s the other reason for the pretty flap over the pocket. If you want to use the diaper as a cover and put an insert inside, the flap holds the insert in place. And Charlie Banana also offers disposable inserts which are meant to be used against the skin, making it a hybrid diaper.

I love the minky insert, although I haven’t really tested it well enough to compare its absorbency to the microfiber. So far it seems to be wearing better than a microfiber insert, but that may be just because I don’t use it very often. It’s one of my two favorite diapers, so I’m always saving it for special occasions.

Fit and Look 

I honestly can hardly tell a difference in fit between the two diapers. Both are trim and snug and look great. The biggest difference to me is the colors and the prints, which of course are just a matter of opinion. Charlie Banana has some fabulous colors (I’m a sucker for black and orange diapers), but I hate the prints (although plenty of people love them). FuzziBunz has similar colors, and they regularly offer limited-edition prints, which I almost always love. So for me, FuzziBunz has a slight advantage here.


The verdict? They’re both awesome. You need both. Lots of both. They mix and match well.

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how to potty your kid in public without being a jerk

how to potty your kid in public without being a jerk

Several friends sent this story to me last week. If you didn’t hear about it, here’s the deal: last week, a woman brought her potty training twins to a Utah restaurant. Where she proceeded to potty them. In the restaurant. At the table. Using little portable potties. While they (and all the other diners) were eating.

Now, I’m the last person to be offended by a little baby pee. For one thing, it’s sterile, and for another, I’ve had occasional pee puddles on my floor pretty much constantly for the past few years. Poop is a different matter, but still — I’m not easily offended by baby poop. Even toddler poop is just one of those realities of parenting. No big deal.

But however much I may love diaper free time, even I think it’s totally unacceptable to potty your toddler at the table in a public restaurant.

I’ll admit: I’ve been tempted. There have been times when I’ve sat in a restaurant and noticed my baby signaling a pee. Sometimes I just happen to have the baby potty in my bag or the bottom of my stroller. Sometimes I don’t feel like getting up and schlepping everything to the bathroom just for a quick little pee. But I’ve never done it. Not once in four years. I’ve never pottied my kid at the table, and I never will.

Because even though I think there are times and places where it’s okay to potty a baby in public, at an indoor table of a restaurant is not one of them.

And this is just one of the many reasons why elimination communication is so much less stressful than potty training. Potty training, at least in many of its common methods, is an all-or-nothing deal. You have to ditch the diapers and never look back. You have to commit to it all day, every day. Which means either that you are stuck at home till you finish, or you are going to be tempted to try something like this. And honestly? I understand where this mom is coming from. She’s got two kids in the middle of potty training. They probably always pee while they’re eating. At home, she sits them on little potties at the table, and they pee while they sip their juice, and she doesn’t have to use a diaper, and everything works out great. I’m sure she struggled with what to do at the restaurant. Do I put them back in diapers and undo all the work we’ve put into training? she thought. Do I risk them peeing all over the restaurant seats? Or…do I just do what we do at home?

I can understand why she opted for C. It’s a better choice than B. She probably thought nobody would even notice what she was doing — those chairs do look a lot like booster seats, after all. It was a risk she was willing to take.

Unfortunately for her, it backfired.

But you don’t need to make her mistakes.

If you’re practicing elimination communication, then you know that it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. It’s perfectly okay to go back and forth between diapers and underwear as much as you need to. Your baby won’t get confused. You communicate about it, and you potty the baby if you can, and if you can’t then you reassure them it’s fine to use the diaper and then you change as quickly as possible. It’s no big deal. The babies don’t mind.

But even if you’re going for the more conventional potty training route, you can learn a few tips from the EC crowd. Because those of us who are used to pottying our babies from birth everywhere we go, in the house and out in public, have developed a few codes for when and where it is — or is not — okay to potty a baby. So even if you’re doing conventional training and ditching the diapers once for all, you don’t have to be stuck in the house. At least not entirely. Here’s how to find an appropriate location to pee a baby in public.

1. Look for a bathroom first. This is obvious, right? If there’s a bathroom available, use it. If your kid doesn’t like public toilets, bring a little potty and put it in the bathroom. Nobody will have a problem with that. You can even take him into a stall and put the potty on the floor in there. That way he’ll have privacy, and he’ll be in an appropriate place. If there is a bathroom, the fact that it’s gross or small or has a loud toilet is not an excuse to go somewhere else. If you can get to the bathroom in time, then you should potty in the bathroom. Period.

2. If you can’t get to a bathroom, go outside. The basic rule of public pottying for babies is this: if it’s an okay place to pee a dog, then it’s an okay place to pee a baby. So, grassy spot behind a tree in the park: good. Middle of the pavement in a basketball court: bad. Bushes or trees are best; grass is next best; dirt will do in a pinch. Avoid pavement.

3. Bring your bathroom with you. A portable potty such as the the Beco potty (which is compostable, bonus points!), the Ikea potty (cheapest option), or the potette potty (my favorite) is easy to keep in your car or even your diaper bag. Very few people will be offended by a baby or toddler sitting on a portable potty in an appropriate place such as behind a tree near the playground. And if you must potty on pavement, then you should definitely use a little potty. If you’re in a public, crowded place such as a festival and you can’t get to the bathroom in time because there’s a line, then you should put your little potty close to the port-o-potties, in an out-of-the-way corner, and let your child use it there.

3. Look for privacy. This is the reason why I prefer trees and bushes to just grass: you can hold the baby between your body and the tree and screen him from view in most directions. Most babies don’t care whether people are watching (although some do!), but it’s still more polite — to other people and to your baby — to try to avoid public view. You can also use a little potty inside your car (vans, station wagons, and many hatchbacks have a wonderful flat spot in the back where you can set the potty and hold the baby comfortably).

4. Consider the people around you. Other parents will generally be more understanding than singles and childless couples. An outdoor birthday party in a garden for an adult with few or no other children as guests is not an appropriate place to potty your baby, no matter how private and appealing those bushes seem. The playground, however, is probably okay.

5. Always clean up. If you have a potty, this is easy — just dump the potty in a toilet (preferably) or a trash can (if necessary). If you’re using the grass, then pee, of course, requires no cleanup, but you should always be prepared to scoop an unexpected poop. If you know a poop is coming, you don’t have a portable potty, and you have to use the ground, then the easiest way to scoop is to place a disposable wipe on the ground, hold the baby over that, and then use another wipe to pick it up. You can also have the child squat over a diaper. Ideally you should always dispose of it in the toilet, but I’ve thrown poop in the trash at the playground before. I figure since 99% of my kids’ poops go into the septic system, I’m allowed to dump the occasional one in the trash as a last resort. It’s also a good idea to keep a trash bag handy.

6. Consider your child’s age. At some point, it becomes inappropriate for your child to use the bathroom anywhere other than in the bathroom (except when camping). At six months, it’s not a big deal to potty your baby on the grass. At age two, it’s generally still okay in a pinch. At ten, it’s no longer okay. I’m not sure exactly when the transition happens, and it probably depends on the culture where you live. Out in rural parts of Georgia, kids probably pee in the backyard till they’re six or seven. I’m just guessing. Here in Atlanta, the limit is closer to age three. Of course, if your backyard is fenced and you don’t have close neighbors, then nobody will know, so it’s your call. I have heard of boys who insisted on peeing on trees till they were school age. Actually I’m pretty sure my husband has peed in the backyard at some point. Sometimes guys need to mark their territory.

Ultimately, it’s your call how to handle potty emergencies in public. At some point, most children will need to pee in a less-than-perfect location. Heck, even adults may need to take advantage of these public pottying tips on occasion. I won’t lie: I’m not too good to pee behind a tree. Postpartum recovery can be a real pain.

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