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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13 little-known tricks to gently help your baby sleep

Parents don’t need to sleep.

You know that, right?

Babies need sleep. It’s absolutely essential for their neurological development that they get at least 70% of the recommended hours of sleep (which you can reference here). If they get less, their cognitive development will be permanently stunted, mostly because their parents will be too tired to play with the baby or do anything other than sit and stare at him.

Toddlers need sleep too — even more than babies. If a toddler or preschooler doesn’t get at least 75% of the minimum recommended hours of sleep, he will become so cranky, irritable, and difficult that most parents will be forced to shut themselves in a closet and hold the door closed while the toddler pounds on the other side and screams that he needs a cookie NOW. This can have permanent negative consequences on a toddler’s emotional and social development.

But parents? We don’t need sleep. It’s perfectly fine — normal, even — for a parent to stay up all night trying every trick imaginable to persuade a wide-eyed baby to drift into dreamland.

And fortunately, there are a whole lot of tricks to try. You can fill a whole night with different creative attempts to get a baby to sleep.

If your baby sleeps well, you will never need to try most of these. I hope you never do. But if you have a baby who can’t sleep, there are many ways to help him. Here’s a collection of some of the less common ones I’ve tried.

1. Play different kinds of white noise. You’ve probably heard that white noise is helpful for sleep, because it sounds similar to the rush of blood through your veins that your baby listened to while in the womb. For most babies, the noise should be louder than you would expect it needs to be. The sounds in the womb are really loud. But what you may not know is that some babies might be soothed by a particular type of white noise even though other types disturb them. So it’s worth it to try different kinds if your first attempt isn’t helpful. Some babies like random noise, like a vacuum, radio static, or a coffee grinder. Others prefer rhythmic noise, like a heartbeat toy, a train, or rain falling. Get a white noise machine with different sounds on it — you can buy one for about $20 at Target — and try them all.

2. Vary the motion. You know that bouncing or rocking can help your baby sleep. But you may not know that alternating between them can be more effective than either alone. Try swinging your baby back and forth in a cradle motion and then shifting to a gentle up-and-down bounce. Sometimes the shift in motion distracts your baby enough to enable him to relax and fall asleep.

3. Ignore him. No, I don’t mean leaving your baby alone in a crib and sleep training him. I just mean not looking at him. For some babies, the stimulation of eye contact is so exciting that they have to stay awake for it. If your baby is older than four months and has good head control, try wearing him on your back — the physical contact combined with the lack of face-to-face interaction might do the trick. If that doesn’t work, try holding him or patting him without looking at him. You can gaze over his head or close your own eyes to set an example of what you want him to do. Yes, you’ll look silly. But nobody’s looking.

4. Try a new bed. If your baby is sleeping well, then you should keep the bedtime routine — and location — the same. But if he stops sleeping well, he may be telling you that he’s outgrown his current location. If he’s in your bed, try a hammock bed or a crib. If he’s in a crib, try a floor bed or your bed.

5. Breathe deep. Of course you can’t control how your baby breathes — although you can teach a toddler to breathe deeply and slowly — but you can help him relax by relaxing yourself. Try holding him close to your body or lying next to him and relaxing your own body. Take deep, slow breaths, and slowly relax all your muscles. Your baby might follow suit.

6. Make a nest. Little babies often love to be swaddled, but older babies and toddler can benefit from similar strategies too. A smaller space can make sleep come more easily. For babies too old to be swaddled, try a sleep sack, a hammock bed, or a “human swaddle” — wrap your arms around him gently so he can’t wiggle around so much. Your toddler may love a body pillow to snuggle up against or a canopy bed so he’ll feel more enclosed. My daughter often sleeps curled up in her play tent on top of her bed.

7. Experiment with lighting. Think pitch-black darkness is the best way to induce sleep? It may not be. Remember that babies are biologically adapted to sleep outdoors, so light that mimics the night sky might make sleep come easier. A nightlight that projects stars onto the ceiling will give an older baby or toddler something interesting to look at. Or a flickering nightlight that imitates candlelight could help your baby relax.

8. Lower the temperature. The evening drop in temperature is one of nature’s signals telling your brain it’s time to sleep. That’s why baths are often a useful part of a bedtime routine: when you take your baby out of the bath, the air on his wet skin makes his body temperature drop, which helps make him sleepy. Try turning the thermostat down a degree or two, or open the window if it’s nice out, and the evening chill might make your overactive baby chill out.

9. Start bedtime in the morning. Forget bedtime routines. For a troubled sleeper, your bedtime routine starts the minute your child wakes up. You can’t control what time he goes to sleep, but you can control when he wakes up, so wake him up on time, and get him outside, even if just for a few minutes. Being out in the sunlight will trigger his brain to be awake — which will mean better sleep once night rolls around.

10. Plan your day around naps. Try scheduling your day around naptimes. Even if you can’t get your baby to sleep for “naptimes,” make sure he rests and has the opportunity to sleep. But don’t spend all day trying. Schedule a reasonable amount of times for naps (60 minutes if he’s on 3 naps a day, 90 if he’s on 2, or 2 hours if he’s on one nap), and if he doesn’t go to sleep in that amount of time, then continue with your day and wait for the next nap. And if he falls asleep late (say, at 10:30 for a nap that was supposed to start at 9:30), then wake him after an hour if he hasn’t woken on his own. Napping too late will push bedtime later, which will push your day later the next day, which will start an endless cycle of later-and-later sleep.

11. Forget about naps. Some babies resist all attempt to be scheduled. If your baby is one of those, try ignoring nap schedules. You might discover that your baby sleeps better while you go about your day. He might resist all efforts to sleep at home but fall asleep happily the minute you put him in the stroller, the car seat, or the Ergo. If that’s the case, you might be able to shift him onto a nap schedule that involves you going out for a walk instead of putting him in bed.

12. Give him lots of exercise. Even non-mobile babies need exercise. Wearing him in a carrier gives him the opportunity to move his body in tandem with yours and feel how to balance his muscles. A few minutes on the floor give him the chance to stretch his limbs and discover his fingers and toes. Older babies and toddlers, of course, need to practice crawling, standing, walking, running, jumping on trampolines, and climbing to the top of the bookshelf.

13. Know your baby’s personality. I don’t advocate “crying it out” for any baby (although if you decide that’s what you need to do for yourself and your family, I support you in making that choice for yourself — it’s just not a technique I’m going to address here), but the reality is that some babies need to fuss before they can sleep, especially if they’re overtired. Some babies work up more stress by crying, and some let out stress by crying. So if your baby needs to fuss in your arms while you soothe him to sleep, don’t feel bad for “doing CIO.” You’re not. An earlier bedtime can sometimes help, but not necessarily. If your baby calms down pretty quickly and goes to sleep, then you know it was because he was tired. It’s okay to be tired at bedtime.

And if none of these work? Take comfort in the reminder that you, at least, do not need sleep. You are strong. You are like a Spartan who can fight for days without food, water, or rest. All you need is a little caffeine and a sweet baby smile.

And as for your baby’s neurological and socio-emotional development being affected by lack of sleep? Don’t worry about that. Worst case scenario is that your baby turns out a little less smart than he otherwise would have been, which seriously? Is okay. It just means he’ll have to work a little harder to outsmart you.

Disclaimer: I am kidding about parents not needing sleep. Obviously. You need lots of sleep and you should get it however and whenever you can. Also, I’m kidding about the brain development. Your baby will be fine if he doesn’t nap. 

I’m not kidding about caffeine.

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the why stage: how to answer the questions to life, the universe, and everything

the why stage: how to answer the questions to life, the universe, and everything

A friend of mine recently reminded me about a stage I’m looking forward to experiencing with my second child: the Why Stage.

If you’ve ever had a three year old, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s something you’ll never forget. The Why Stage can be worse than tantrums, worse than fights over clothing, worse than bedtime battles. Like the slow drip of water torture, the Why Stage wears you down subtly. Drop by drop, question by question, it erodes your brain into mush.

In case you’ve never had a three year old and don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll explain. The Why Stage is the point at which your child’s long-anticipated ability to talk transforms from “cute and fun” to “frustrating and annoying.” One minute you’re making videos of your child saying “Hi! Bye! Baby!” The next minute you’re trying to ignore him as he chatters on and on outside a locked car in the parking lot while you try to remember what you did with your keys. But you can’t ignore the Why Stage. Because in the Why Stage, your child asks questions, and questions require an answer. If you don’t answer, he will keep asking over and over and over in a louder and louder voice. He will keep getting louder until you break down and respond or the parking lot security guard comes over to make sure you’re not torturing him. Whichever happens first.

But answering, you will soon learn, does you no good at all. Because on the other side of your answer, your child lies in wait with another question. And another. And another. Your answers aren’t satisfying; they’re just fodder for more questions.

A typical conversation might go like this:

Child: Mommy, what are you doing?
You: I’m peeling potatoes.
Child: Why are you peeling potatoes?
You: So we can eat them for dinner.
Child: Why are we going to eat them for dinner?
You: Because we need to eat something, and I felt like making potatoes.
Child: Why did you feel like making potatoes?
You: Because my body is hungry for potatoes.
Child: Why is your body hungry for potatoes?
You: Because it’s been five hours since I ate lunch.
Child: Why has it been five hours since you ate lunch?
You: Because five hours ago was lunchtime.
Child: Why was that lunchtime?
You: Because it was noon.
Child: Why was it noon?
You: Um. Because the sun was halfway between rising and setting.
Child: Why was the sun halfway between rising and setting?
You (realizing uncomfortably how little you actually know about astronomy): Because of the rotation of the earth.
Child: Why because of the rotation of the earth?
You: That’s just how it works.
Child: Why is that how it works?
You: I don’t know.
Child: Why don’t you know?
You: Because I don’t know everything! I’m not going to answer any more questions now, okay?
Child: Why aren’t you going to answer any more questions?
You: Because you’re driving me crazy.
Child: Why am I driving you crazy?
You: !?!?!?!?!

And if you think that’s cute, then you have obviously never lived through it. It’s cute when it goes on for five minutes with somebody else’s kid. But when it goes on for twelve hours straight, it will do you in. By bedtime you will be reduced to a screaming puddle of goo, like the wicked witch of the west, and you will have no energy left to do anything but sit on the couch and stare at the wall. If anyone — like, for example, your hapless spouse — asks you one more question — like “How was your day?” — you will throw a pillow at them. Or possibly a shoe.

But I told you I was looking forward to this stage, right? Because I have found the secret way to survive it. No, not to survive it. To overcome it. I have learned how to defeat the Why Stage. Yes, my friend: I can outsmart a three year old.

What’s my secret?

Big words.

Big words, and long, detailed answers.

Here’s the thing. Your three year old, despite his impressive ability to (mostly) switch pronouns correctly from “I” to “you” when repeating your words back in the form of a question, doesn’t really understand most of what he’s saying. That’s why he asks why. He’s practicing the art of conversation. He’s uncovering how things work. He’s trying to learn the meaning of life.

He is, in other words, trying to exercise his mental capacities to the limit. He wants to grow his brain.

So all you need to do is oblige him.

Stop trying to give him toddler-sized answers. Instead, give him more information than he can understand. This will cause his brain to stop flipping answers to questions as it pauses to try to digest the information. Which will cause a reset that will stop the endless question-answer-question cycle.

For example, let’s take the conversation above. We’ll start where things get interesting and potentially complicated — when you introduce the topic of astronomy.

The new conversation would go like this:

Child: Why was five hours ago lunchtime?
You: Because it was noon.
Child: Why was it noon?
You: Because as the earth was completing its daily rotation around its axis, we had reached the place where the sun’s meridian reached the zenith, placing it at its highest point from our perspective, which makes it noon local time.
Child: Oh.
Child: Can I have dinner now?

It doesn’t always work that easily, but that’s okay. That just means your child is smart. It takes more than a few big words to challenge his brain. Just keep going, making your answer as detailed and complicated as you can, and eventually you’ll reach the limit of your child’s understanding. Like this:

Child: Why was five hours ago lunchtime?
You: Because it was noon.
Child: Why was it noon?
You: Because as the earth was completing its daily rotation around its axis, we had reached the place where the sun’s meridian reached the zenith, placing it at its highest point from our perspective, which makes it noon local time.
Child: Why did the earth complete its, um, rotion around its axes?
You: Because as planets form through the coalescence of space dust, the gravitational pull of the star causes them to spin, and the conservation of angular momentum makes them spin faster as they collapse into planets, and then they keep spinning because of inertia, because the vacuum of space offers no resistance to their movement.
Child: Oh.

As you get better at this, you can make it into a game. My husband and I used to have contests to see who could keep going the longest and come up with the best answers. He always won, because he knows more about science and math than I do. I was often embarrassed to realize that I don’t actually understand electricity, gravity, or the manufacturing of pretzels well enough to explain them to a three year old. But that’s another advantage of using big words: it doesn’t matter if your explanation isn’t exactly correct. Your kid won’t understand anyway.

And if your spouse happens to be listening to your not-precisely-correct explanation of how cell phones work, you have the perfect excuse for your lack of knowledge. It’s not that you don’t know these things. It’s just that your child is in the Why Stage. You’ve been answering why questions all day long. You have every right to be confused. Your brain is mush.

Finally, when in doubt, you can always resort to the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. Just keep repeating it in answer to every question: 42.

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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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how to choose the best cloth diaper

People often ask me which cloth diaper is best. Which is a reasonable question. But like many “best” questions, it has no answer. It all depends on what you’re looking for.

The trouble is figuring out what you’re looking for. And most people don’t want to put this much thought into diapers. (Can’t really blame you on that one.) So they don’t know what questions to ask.

I’m working on a tool that’s going to walk you through everything you need to know to find the perfect cloth diapering system. But in the meantime, I thought a visual aid might help. This doesn’t cover all the options, but it does narrow down your choices. If you’re trying to decide which cloth diaper is best for you, this will at least get you started.

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what not to do when your preschooler is on school break

My four year old is on break from preschool right now. Which is awesome. Really. I love being with her all day. She’s fun and clever and interesting.

Except when she’s crazy and impossible and wants to climb all over me while I’m holding the baby and wants to nurse more often than he does and wants to play with all her friends who are of course not available.

Because they’re in school.

I absolutely love her preschool, and she does too, but right now I hate the fact that they are on a different schedule than the rest of our county. I don’t know what the reason was behind their logic — and I’m sure it was good — but all I know is my daughter is on break and almost none of her friends are. Most of her friends are starting public pre-K this year, which means they started school yesterday. Pretty much the only kids her age that we could play with are her friends her age who are also staying at her preschool for another year. Of whom there are two.

Friday was the last day of school, and on Saturday I texted the parents of both her friends asking when we could set up playdates. Because Anastasia woke up saying she missed them. The first day of vacation.

That’s when I knew it was going to be a long three weeks.

And I seriously don’t know what parents do with a whole summer. If you just did that, my heart goes out to you. I could not be more in favor of year-round school right now.

I love the idea of homeschooling. Or better yet, unschooling. But the truth is that preschool is great for my kid. She thrives on being around peers and having a routine and having adults in her life who aren’t her parents. I thrive on it too. But now I have three weeks of break, which really isn’t long and I should be grateful. And I am. I am also discovering everything that you shouldn’t do when you have a young child who is usually in school but is currently on break.

For example.

1. Renovate your house. Seriously? What were we thinking? I guess we were thinking that we really wanted to fix our fireplace, which was installed incorrectly and was not usable as it was, and plus we had this really cool energy efficient wood stove that we’ve been wanting to install for years. We definitely didn’t plan to be doing this renovation when school let out. But being stuck out of the house all day during break — without anywhere specific to go — was not the brightest idea. We can’t stay in the house while it’s being worked on, because my daughter will try to help the contractors as they lay the hearth, which seems really sweet as an idea but doesn’t turn out great in practice.

Luckily, there’s a wonderful new kid-friendly coffee shop I’ve discovered. And when I say “discovered,” what I really mean is, “moved in.” Come check it out. Yes, I’m here now. I’ve been here constantly the past few days. I will probably be here for the next three weeks. Don’t worry, I’m buying lots of coffee.

2. Work. I guess whether you can work with kids around depends on what your work is. If your work involves anything that a preschooler shouldn’t help with — like, say, writing, just for example — then you shouldn’t try to do it while your child is out of school. Because she will want to help, which means typing your keyboard while you are trying to and hitting your caps lock key and closing your computer and opening it again and somehow opening another program like Photoshop or Evernote. You will not get much work done.

3. Blog. See above. Don’t blog when your kid is on vacation. Just don’t.

So if you don’t hear from me much over the next few weeks, that’s why. I didn’t really plan for an absence because, well, I didn’t realize we were going to have three weeks of vacation until last Thursday, when I casually asked the director of the preschool when we were starting back up again. So if you don’t hear from me for a while — or even until after Labor Day — now you know why.

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