Flame Retardants in Baby Sleepwear: the Invisible Poison

Emily in her Fleece PJs (Before I Knew about Flame Retardants in Sleepwear)

Emily in her Fleece PJs (Before I Knew about Flame Retardants in Sleepwear)

I learned last week that pretty much all of the baby microfleece sleepwear out there is coated with flame retardants. So, today, I spent the afternoon going through Emily’s sleepwear and chucking all of the microfleece. I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspected that it was all toxic, but the prints were cute, and I had other topics to think about. I recently joined DiaperSwappers, and one of the discussion threads mentioned the flame retardants used in fleece pajamas. Say, what? A lightbulb went off in my head.

I immediately Googled “flame retardants in baby sleepwear.” Here’s what I found:

Ok, the first thought that went through my head was, “My baby doesn’t smoke in bed, so who cares?” But babies don’t generally catch on fire from lying around in their cribs — they crawl and toddle too close to fireplaces, stoves, candles, space heaters, and other sources of heat. Since we have a wood stove that heats the house, I just bought a metal fence that surrounds it and keeps little hands, feet, and other body parts and clothing far away. Before I installed the fence, Emily would always make a beeline for the wood stove in the morning. It was impossible to steer her in another direction, because she would always head back to the stove just like it was a beacon in the darkness. I feel better now.

In 1971, Congress passed a law declaring that all baby sleepwear from 9 months to size 14 needed to be flame resistant enough to self-extinguish if exposed to an open flame for 3 seconds or more. At first, companies used an extremely toxic flame retardant called TRIS on baby pajamas, but it was phased out in 1977 because it caused cancer and sterility in test animals. Nice. In 1996, Congress decided that tight-fitting cotton sleepwear didn’t need to be doused in flame retardants because the snugness of the sleepwear prevented the flow of oxygen between the garment and the baby’s skin and automatically prevented the sleepwear from catching on fire. But worried parents still demanded flame-resistant sleepwear. Cotton sleepwear is now being treated with a chemical called PROBAN, which has been linked with genetic damage, cancer, and damage to the liver and nervous system. The fleece fabric in baby pajamas is almost always treated with flame retardants. Even if a company brags that its fleece sleepwear has not been treated with flame retardants, the fabric itself might have been chemically bonded with the flame retardants before the garment manufacturing process even began, and the clothing company doesn’t have to disclose that information to you. It’s a bit deceptive. Emily’s fleece sleepbags and blanket pajamas had no labelling of any kind indicating they were doused with toxic chemicals. Maybe they were and maybe they weren’t, but I chucked them all just to be sure.

So, I’m going to just assume that all fleece sleepwear contains flame retardants. But how do you figure out which cotton sleepwear contains PROBAN? Look at the label. If it is flame retardant-free, the tag should say, “For child’s safety, garment should fit snugly. This garment is not flame resistant. Loose-fitting garment is more likely to catch fire.” The permanent label should say, “Wear snug fitting. Not flame resistant.” I chucked a lot of cotton sleepwear that was neither snug-fitting nor labelled as not flame resistant. I also discovered tags that offered laundering instructions to preserve the flame retardant properties of the sleepwear. I chucked those garments too.

So, how do you keep those harmful chemicals away from babies while keeping babies safe from fire? Here are some options for you:

  1. Be a label reader. Stay away from microfleece sleepwear and look for garments that say, “Not intended for sleepwear” or “This garment is not flame resistant.”
  2. Choose organic cotton sleepwear or other natural fibers like bamboo.
  3. Make sure your baby’s natural fiber sleepwear is snug-fitting.
  4. Fall in love with wool. Wool is naturally fire-resistant and keeps babies warm in winter and cool in the summer. This winter, Emily has been sleeping in a merino wool sleepsack over a long-sleeved merino wool onesie and footed pajama pants that are all made by a company called Woolino. With the nights warming up a bit in the last week, I’ve been dressing her in a short-sleeved cotton onesie over a Disana wool diaper cover and covered by the Woolino sleepsack.
  5. Remove sources of flame from your baby’s proximity or put barriers around them.

We have enough toxic chemicals in our environment. Please do your very best to keep your baby safe from fire, but use natural alternatives to flame retardants whenever you can.

Don’t get me started on the baby products like car seats, crib mattresses, and changing pads containing polyurethane foam that are completely doused in toxic flame retardants. I’ll save that rant for another day.

Stealth Manicures: How to Trim Your Baby’s Nails

Trimming Your Baby's NailsWhen Emily was born, I bought a pair of Green Sprout baby nail clippers. How difficult could trimming baby nails possibly be? Famous last words. I know that some moms just bite their baby’s nails to trim them, but I could never get into that. I’m just not a nail biter. This means that every week since Emily was born, I have had to trim those ^**%# nails!

At first, I could trim her nails when she was awake, but that only lasted about three months while she was in her quiescent newborn stage. Now she wants to grab the clippers out of my hands, wave her hands around, and crawl away while I’m trying not to trim the tips of her fingers off. It’s a complete disaster. So now I’m doing the stealth manicure: trimming her nails while she is sleeping. At first, I would turn the nightlight on and get right in there with the clippers at bedtime or naptime. In the darkened bedroom, nail trimming was only so effective, and her nails were long again by the next week. I thought about buying a headlamp, but it wasn’t high on my priorities list. She always wears footed pajama pants and a sleep sack to bed, so trimming her toenails almost never happened. Luckily, I could peel the tips of her toenails to trim them, so that was a project that was mostly successful during the day (except for the big toes).

The next smart thing I did was invest in a nice pair of teeny tiny, pointed tip, curved blade cuticle scissors. That was a huge step up from the clippers. I don’t think I ever want to use those stupid clippers again. Seriously, what was Green Sprout thinking when they designed them? I accidentally impaled Emily’s thumb once while trying to clip the nail. Poor little baby — I thought I had maimed her forever. I learned to pull the skin of each finger down and away before I trimmed the nail, but it was still a harrowing experience, even with a sleeping baby. The cuticle scissors weren’t perfect, but there was no more fear of finger maiming, and suddenly I was able to trim her hangnails!

Last week, I bought a pair of blunt-tip baby nail scissors, and I’m embarrassed that I took so long to buy them. I found the nail scissors on Amazon.com, and the users rated them very highly (just short of 5 stars). They’re called Piyo Piyo scissors, and they’re made in Taiwan.

Now that I’ve made plenty of mistakes and figured some things out along the way, I have some gems to share with you.

How to Trim Your Baby’s Nails:

  1. Buy a pair of baby nail scissors and the tiniest cuticle scissors you can find
  2. Put both pairs of scissors in your purse
  3. Trim your baby’s nails when your baby is ASLEEP
  4. The best time to trim them is when your baby is asleep in their car seat in broad daylight. Don’t even mess with the darkened room stealth manicure. In the car, you can actually see what you’re doing, and you can trim off hangnails as well as fingernails and toenails with your duo scissor combo.
  5. Don’t buy baby nail clippers. They are seriously scary.
  6. If you’re planning a stealth pedicure, make sure your baby isn’t covered by a blanket or wearing socks when the car ride starts

If your baby doesn’t fall asleep in the car seat, I’m really very sorry for you. Buy a headlamp and remember to plan stealth pedicures in advance: no blankets, footed pajamas or socks before sleeptime. May the Force be with you.

 

Book Review: “The Attachment Parenting Book,” by William & Martha Sears

About 14 years ago, my friend Roxy gave birth to her daughter Isabelle. She told me that she and her husband were following the “attachment parenting” philosophy. I was new on the birthing world scene, and hadn’t heard of it before. She described attachment parenting to me, and I was so inspired that I went out and purchased this book, “The Attachment Parenting Book,” by William and Martha Sears. It has sat on my bookshelf for the entire time, waiting for me to have my own children. When I became pregnant with my daughter this past year, I knew it was time to read the book. After I read it, I set it down for seven months. When I was getting ready to write this review, I thought I would need to read the book again, but while I was leafing through it, I realized that I’ve just seamlessly integrated the attachment parenting philosophy into my life.

Attachment parenting is the philosophy that babies become smarter, healthier, happier and calmer when you are bonded to them. “Attachment” means both having them literally attached to you through breastfeeding, babywearing and co-sleeping, and also bonding with them — paying close attention to and responding to their body language, communication, and energy signals. This philosophy focuses on the emotional development of the child, and argues that children who grow up having their needs met grow up well-adjusted and confident in themselves and in the world. It’s not a new philosophy, but really validates parents’ natural intuition of how to take care of their babies, and returns more to how indigenous cultures raise their children.

This book has seven focal points (the 7 “B’s”) that it uses to explain attachment parenting:

  1. Bonding with your baby at birth
  2. Breastfeeding
  3. Babywearing
  4. Bedsharing
  5. Belief in baby’s cries
  6. Balance and boundaries
  7. Beware of baby trainers

Birth bonding asks parents to spend lots of quality time with their babies immediately after birth and beyond. Skin-to-skin contact is very important to calm and soothe the newborn, as is giving them lots of touch, making eye contact, talking with them, and noticing them when they are in a state of quiet alertness, which is when they are most receptive to their environment. Bonding is better achieved by delaying medical procedures that are commonly administered to newborns, breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, and always staying in the same room as your baby. To help you bond with your baby better after birth, they recommend taking maternity and paternity leaves, ignoring baby advice that is counter-intuitive, getting help when you need it, eating well and often, getting exercise as well as lots of rest, and learning to delegate tasks to Dad so that Mom can get her needs met.

I feel like breastfeeding, babywearing and bed sharing are at the core of the regular practices of attachment parents. The book goes on and on about the benefits of breastfeeding, which includes better eyesight and hearing, better smiles, healthier lungs, fewer respiratory and food allergies, healthier digestive tracts, healthier skin, better eating habits that protect them from becoming obese as adults, immune protection from childhood illnesses, and healthier moms. Because of the close contact between breastfeeding moms and their babies, moms learn to read their babies better, and can respond quickly to babies’ cues that they are hungry, tired, or something else. The chapter on breastfeeding is a pretty good pep talk for helping moms breastfeed successfully, including where to go for support. It includes a list of long-term benefits of breastfeeding, and again advises moms to follow baby’s signals and their intuition for breastfeeding, rather than trying to put their baby on a feeding schedule.

The babywearing chapter is also a good pep talk. Babywearing is all about the baby being in the arms of one of its parents most of the time (at least three hours a day). Your baby is literally attached to you with a sling or a carrier, and feels comfortable and safe. It can be a witness and participant in your daily activities and learn about its world through your eyes rather than being on a mat or in a stroller with some toys shoved in its face. Babywearing helps babies be calm and content as they are close to mom. They travel around in a state of quiet alertness and learn about the world as you go through your daily actions. Babywearing enhances speech development as they are tuning into your conversations and listening to your voice. It makes you attentive to their needs with them so close to you. Babies breastfeed better in slings, so wearing your baby can help eliminate breastfeeding difficulties. You can also run errands and go out in the world more easily with them on you as they slip into that state of quiet alertness instead of fussing and crying, and doing chores around the house is easier as well when you have a quiet baby on you instead of them crying for you on an activity mat.

The co-sleeping chapter was very useful to me personally. The message is: “If William and Martha Sears could do it, I can do it too.” Parents have been co-sleeping with their babies for thousands of years, and it’s only been recently that co-sleeping has been looked at with fear and horror by society. Everyone says, “You’re not supposed to sleep with your baby,” and yet we seem to be the only mammals that put our babies so far away from us when we sleep. The chapter encourages attached parents to sleep either in the same bed, with an attached co-sleeper, or at least in the same room. Mothers who bedshare with their babies continue that empathic bond all night long. Babies cry a lot less at night because they are close to mom and their needs can be met easily. Mothers sleep better because they don’t have to trek down the hallway, nurse the baby, put the baby back to sleep, and then trek back to their bedroom multiple times each night. They just nurse the baby and then fall back to sleep. They are very responsive to their baby in bed, and babies love it. The chapter includes safety tips for how to co-sleep without putting your baby in danger, and includes a very informative piece on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and Dr. Sears’ hypothesis that SIDS is caused by a sleeping disorder in young infants. He argues that attachment parenting and co-sleeping allow mothers to pay close attention to the breathing of their babies and respond if the breathing changes in any way. There is also advice for weaning your baby off co-sleeping and nighttime nursing when it’s time.

Belief in the value of a baby’s cry continues the close bond you have formed with your baby. This chapter in the book emphasizes that whenever your baby cries, it is communicating with you rather than “manipulating” you. Babies stop crying when parents respond to them, and develop and strong sense of trust that their needs will be met. By paying attention, you can also notice the baby’s “pre-cry signals,” and you can address their needs before they even start crying. As a result of this close attention and response, attached babies cry less. Of course, there are times when a baby needs to cry to alleviate tension, but having a loving, supportive parent right there for them helps them through it. According to this chapter, letting a baby “cry it out” is not only unhealthy for the baby, it has been scientifically debunked as a parenting technique. Babies who are allowed to “cry it out” without receiving comfort by their parents actually cry more and are more clingy and dependent on their parents. The end of the chapter includes some advice for parents whose babies cry a lot.

The rest of the book includes advice on creating balance in your life and in your relationship with your baby and your partner by setting boundaries with your baby so that you can avoid burnout. It also advises attached parents to avoid “baby trainers:” people who give you counter-intuitive advice on how to raise your baby and put them on feeding and sleeping schedules, rather than relying on your own biological signals to tell you what is right for your baby. There is a chapter on staying attached while being a working parent, a chapter on being an attached father, a chapter for attachment parenting in special situations, and a chapter of testimonials.

All in all, I feel like this is one of the only books that parents need to read about how to take care of a newborn. If you read this book and “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” you’ll be set for months after your baby is born. What really struck me about “The Attachment Parenting Book” was how very intuitive this book is. The advice made sense to me on a very deep level. I have followed its wisdom ever since my daughter was born. She is bright-eyed, inquisitive, and has a look of calm observation when we go walking together with her in the baby carrier. We have a sidecar co-sleeper that she uses for the first stretch of the night, and then she sleeps next to me and nurses on and off for the rest of the night. I feel well-rested and deeply bonded with this amazing little being. When she cries, I address her concerns as soon as possible, and we rarely have complete meltdowns. I am grateful that I read this book, and grateful to my friend for recommending it to me.

My 10 Favorite Reasons for Wearing My Baby

10. Emily looks very fashionable on me.
9. People get really, really, really happy when they see her on me.
8. Emily can interact (i.e., flirt) with people at eye level instead of craning her neck up to see them. It’s a more equal distribution of power.
7. My hands are free to do something besides push a stroller.
6. It’s easy to get her in and out of the car and I don’t have a huge stroller to fold up and lift into the trunk.
5. It’s safer to have her attached and close to me than riding in a stroller.
4. Emily loves being worn. She goes into calm observation mode and watches the world from a place of peaceful contentedness.
3. I can get stuff done with her on me (i.e., vacuuming, laundry, dishes, cleaning) that I can’t otherwise do because she’s crawling all over the house and needing constant supervision.
2. It’s very easy to walk while wearing her and I have high maneuverability.
And then my #1 reason:
1. I can smell and kiss the top of her head All.The.Time. Seriously, it doesn’t get better than this.

For the Love of Babywearing: My Personal Experience with the 5 Baby Carriers I Own

My new ERGOBaby carrier arrived in the mail yesterday. Yippee! Yes, Emily is 8 months old and I just bought ANOTHER baby carrier. Well, in my defense, they’re all different. And I absolutely love wearing Emily. I would much rather wear her and be able to kiss her head than push her around in a stroller any day of the week. I thought I’d spend some time sharing my personal experience with all of our baby wraps. I’ll go in chronological order from the time each of them arrived in our house.

1) The Beco Gemini

This was the first carrier I got and it is hands down my absolutely favorite carrier. It’s very comfortable for me to wear, and the buckles are a cinch to clip. I clip the waist belt on, place Emily either facing out or facing in, throw one of the shoulder straps across my back and clip the buckle under my opposite arm, and then do the same with the other shoulder straps. Three buckles and I’m done. I’m so good with this carrier that I can lift Emily out of the car seat, place her in the carrier, and then start walking towards my destination while I’m buckling the shoulder straps. This carrier also has a hip-carry option and a back-carry option. I started using this carrier the moment she hit 8 pounds (and maybe a little sooner), and it was so easy that I haven’t stopped. I also tried out the back carry position a few weeks ago, and after a few practice tries that didn’t go so well, I got the hang of it. I get so much more done now! She weighs 16 pounds now, and carrying her in the front is starting to feel like I’m 20 months pregnant — a little overbalanced! Now I can vacuum, do laundry, do dishes, and walk and hike with a 16-pound baby and her weight distribution on me is terrific. I love this carrier!!!! It has a weight limit of 35 pounds, which means it will stay in our household a long time. If I could only have one carrier, I would have this one and ditch all the others.

2) The Moby Wrap

When Emily was born, she weighed 6 pounds 14 ounces, and dropped down to 6 pounds 4 ounces. The Moby Wrap was absolutely perfect for my sweet little newborn. I wrapped her up in the newborn hold, and both of us just thrived on it. We would sit in the hammock swing together, her in the Moby Wrap, and me just swinging and looking at this beautiful baby (and kissing her head). Once she got to be 8 pounds, I started using the Beco Gemini and haven’t looked back, but I treasured this as a newborn carrier.

3) The Maya Wrap

I also used this when Emily was born, and I’ve used it off and on. It’s a gorgeous sling, with green woven stripes, but it’s not my favorite. The Maya Wrap is a ring sling, and I’ve never quite got the knack of cinching the strap down in the rings. When I watch the process on YouTube, it looks so easy, like you could do it in your sleep. Then when I do it, the rings slip off my shoulder and the fabric gets all bunched up in the rings. You might say that I’m ring wrap-challenged. And it pulls on whatever shoulder it’s slung over. Ouch! My body hurts enough from lifting and carrying Emily around all day. I want my baby carrier to make my shoulders feel like I’m not carrying a baby at all. HOWEVER, this seems to be the perfect carrier for the dinner table. I put her in the sling in the hip-carry position, and she can face outward and interact with us without her head being in the way of my getting food into my mouth. She also has her hands free in this wrap, and can hold onto a spoon and gum it while the rest of us are eating. And since she’s in a sling, that means that MY hands are free to eat dinner with. A win-win situation, so I’m keeping this wrap around.

4) The Baby Bjorn

I read so many negative comments about the comfort level of this carrier on Amazon.com that I didn’t want to get one. But my husband didn’t like the fit of the Beco Gemini. It was uncomfortable on him. He said that when his son, Levi, was a baby, he carried Levi around in the Baby Bjorn and loved it. He complained so much about the Beco Gemini that I broke down and bought him a Baby Bjorn. Problem solved. Sort of. I was curious, so I tried the Baby Bjorn myself. Meh. I didn’t like it. It pulls on my shoulders and my mid-back, and my shoulders hurt within the first 5 minutes of putting it on. But John has loved it and it’s been his go-to carrier for months. I think that for broad-shouldered men, this is just a more comfortable carrier for them. But now that Emily is 16 pounds, he’s been complaining that her weight is pulling her forward and pulling on his shoulders more. The Baby Bjorn is supposed to go to 25 pounds, but he’s probably going to stop using it soon because the ergonomics work better for a smaller baby.

Last, but not least:

5) The ERGOBaby

Like I said, this one just arrived in the mail yesterday. I bought it primarily for my husband to replace the Baby Bjorn, but I took it for a test drive today. Pretty good! I can carry her in the front comfortably, and getting her in the back carry position is easier than with the Beco Gemini. I even nursed her in the front carry position, and I will say that while the other carriers boast that you can nurse a baby in them, I never got the hang of it. But for the Ergo Baby, I just pulled out a boob and stuck the nipple in Emily’s mouth. She nursed for quite a while in that position. Damn, that was easy! It’s got a privacy hood too, but I was at home, so I didn’t care. The straps are well padded and comfortable, and there’s a zippered pouch in the front. My husband will love that! The only minus is that you can’t wear your baby forward facing in this carrier. The Beco Gemini and the Baby Bjorn are better for that. But the ergonomics of a hip strap to distribute the baby’s weight over your hips rather than your back combined with comfy shoulder straps is pretty good. Both the ERGOBaby and the Beco are my favorite designs. Oh yes, one more minus: there’s a chest strap that you need to buckle, and you need to move it way up in order to reach it to buckle it when it’s on your back. Some people might not be flexible enough to reach behind them and clip that buckle, let alone unclip it. And then you need to move it way down if you switch to a front carry (or else the strap is choking you). It doesn’t move up or down particularly easily, and I thought this logistical detail was a bit of a pain. But when the strap is buckled, it really makes a huge difference in the comfort level of your shoulders. The weight of the baby is distributed quite nicely. The weight limit of this carrier goes up to 45 pounds, and I can see why. I felt like I could carry Emily for hours in this carrier.

Well, there you have it. I hope this review is useful to some of you out there in cyberspace.

How You Can Help a New Mom

Newborn EmilyBeing a new mom can be overwhelming. When I gave birth to Emily, I was pretty anemic at first, and walking around made me out of breath quickly. My husband is a teacher, and I birthed the last week of school before summer vacation. He had to go to work and was exhausted himself. Plenty of people wanted to hold the baby to “give me a break.” To them, I ask, “What kind of break did you want to give me?” Holding the newborn baby is the best part. At that time, what I really needed was for ME to hold the baby and rest while other people took care of the finer details of running a house for me. My parents came to visit 3 days after Emily was born and they stayed (in a hotel) for 3 days. Every day, they stopped by the grocery store and brought us rotisserie chicken, olives, sandwiches, smoothie ingredients, and anything else I needed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My dad went out to the garden and installed drip irrigation in my vegetable garden for me (I was going to finish installing it before I gave birth, but…). He installed the diaper sprayer on my toilet (for cloth diapers). Every day, Dad vacuumed the carpets and Mom washed and put away the dishes after every meal. In the morning, they would bring breakfast for me (omelettes, fresh fruit, toast…). They ran to the integrative health pharmacy and picked up a jar of my prenatal vitamins for me. They held the baby while I took showers(that’s when other people holding a baby for you comes in very handy!). They came to visit two weeks later, and my mom filled my freezer with black bean chili, chana masala and rice for later. They drove me and Emily to a chiropractic appointment so that we could get there on time (both of us needed adjustments!), and then we drove to the Department of Vital Statistics so that I could fill out a birth certificate application. I am so grateful for their help, and for those of you who want to help a new mom, I have some suggestions for you:

  • Bring breakfast, lunch or dinner. Ask ahead of time if the mom has any requests, or foods she’s avoiding. Organize a phone tree of friends who can bring meals. Bring food that she can easily eat while holding a baby. Corn on the cob and ribs are downright impossible to eat while holding a baby. Try it sometime.
  • Bring extra food (all ready to go in freezer containers) for the freezer. Chicken soup is a winner (unless you’re a vegetarian).
  • Do the dishes. Wash the dishes in the sink and/or run a load in the dishwasher.
  • Take out the trash and/or recycling and/or compost.
  • Clean the house. This includes running the vacuum.
  • Do a load of laundry for her.
  • Go grocery shopping for her. Ask if there’s anything besides groceries she’d like you to pick up (menstrual pads, Tylenol, nursing pads, diapers…). Costco runs for bulk items are deeply appreciated.
  • Ask her if she needs a ride anywhere to do errands. Getting out of the house can be overwhelming, and having a helping hand is the best!

Last but not least, never forget that a mom still appreciates help long after the baby has stopped being a newborn. Emily is 8 months old now, and getting on toward 16 pounds. I have tendonitis in both of my elbows from lifting and carrying her all the time. I’ve also had a bout with symphysis pubis disorder, which seems to be resolving after two months and four chiropractic adjustments, but it’s made walking while carrying a baby challenging to say the least! Now is the time when I appreciate other people offering to hold the baby for me. Babysitting for 30 minutes or an hour is deeply appreciated so that I can rest my elbows and shoulders.

Having a baby and caring for one is very physically demanding, but the emotional rewards run deep. If you’re reading this to help out a new mom, I thank you for her and for all new mothers out there.

Informing Yourself about Childhood Vaccinations

I’ve been a childbirth educator for the last thirteen years. When I teach HypnoBirthing childbirth classes, I always emphasize the idea that parents become “consumers of childbirth.” By that, I mean that they need to do their due diligence and research and make informed decisions about the medical care they receive during their pregnancies and births. They need to carefully select a caregiver to work with and inform themselves about medical procedures that might or might not be used on them. When my own pregnancy came around this year, I felt like I was extremely prepared for my birth. I was calm and confident, and the birth was a beautiful experience.

Fast forward to two months later, at my daughter’s two-month well baby check-up. Imagine my shock when my pediatrician said it was time to vaccinate her for whooping cough, diptheria, tetanus, pneumococcal disease (PCV), rotavirus, and Hib meningitis. Huh? What? I was completely unprepared. I had never even heard of rotavirus, pneumococcal disease or HiB, so I said yes to the whooping cough vaccination combination (DTaP), and refused the other three so that I could go home and do a little reading up on the subject.

I’m sure I’m not alone here. The first eight weeks postpartum were my babymoon. I was deeply in love and getting to know this new little amazing being in my life. The sudden onslaught of recommended vaccinations completely took me by surprise. If you’re going to be an informed consumer of childbirth, you need to extend your information to the world of vaccinations. In the United States, a child will receive 36 vaccinations by the time they’re five. That’s a whole lot of injections. Inside each injection is a certain quantity of aluminum and formaldehyde as well as the virus or bacteria you’re vaccinating against. California passed a law to prevent drug manufacturers using thimerosol (mercury) as a preservative in vaccines for children under the age of five because of fears of nervous system damage, but there are still some vaccines that have it.

So, what can you do? Educate yourself early, before that two-month well baby check-up comes around. This article is not written to advise you to vaccinate or not vaccinate your child. That is a personal decision that only you can make. Instead, be prepared and do your background research into the vaccines that are used in your area. In California, we have the Hepatitis B vaccine that a baby is injected with at birth, and then there are recommended vaccines for two months, four months, six months, twelve months, fifteen months, eighteen months, and another batch before the child starts kindergarten.

Here’s what I did. First of all, I went online to see what the recommended vaccine schedule was for children in California. Then I compared that with the recommended vaccine schedule from 1974 to get a sense for what the bare bones vaccinations were forty years ago. Then I looked at vaccine schedules that other countries use. And then I started reading books. There are two books that I recommend. One is “The Vaccine Guide,” by Randall Neustaedter, O.M.D., and the other one is “The Vaccine Book,” by Robert W. Sears. And finally, I visited a naturopathic physician and asked him about alternatives to vaccinations. He didn’t recommend or not recommend vaccinating my child, but he did emphasize to me that I can always delay vaccinations. It’s ok to wait. I don’t need to follow the recommended schedule, and there are catch-up schedules that I can follow instead of the regular schedule. If my child catches one of those childhood illnesses that we vaccinate against, we also discussed ways to boost my child’s immune system to minimize the impact of illness on her. He uses homeopathy, which is incredibly effective against childhood illnesses, both in prevention and minimization. Also, I spoke with my pediatrician about spacing out vaccinations so that my baby would only have one injection per visit. It would require more visits, but there is less chance of overwhelming my child’s immune system with too many vaccinations at once.

Be ready for childhood vaccinations before they overwhelm you. Whether you decide to follow the recommended schedule or the catch-up schedule or choose alternatives to vaccination, it’s up to you to research the benefits and the risks of vaccination and to be confident in the decisions you make for your child’s health. There’s a lot of hype in the media from both the pro- and the anti- vaccine groups. It’s up to you to decide what’s best for your child.

Book Review: “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” by Harvey Karp, M.D.

One of my clients recommended this book to me, and I filed its title away in my mind for future reference. And then when I was six months pregnant, I suddenly became very interested in what the heck I was going to do with this baby once she was born. I loved this book. I not only read it, I read it TWICE. It was THAT GOOD.

This book should be required reading for every single new parent out there in the universe. It focuses entirely on the “fourth trimester” — those first three months of the baby’s life outside the womb. The author of the book, Harvey Karp, is a pediatrician in Hollywood, and his premise is that because babies’ brains and skulls are so big, they are born at a time when their heads still fit through their mothers’ birth paths but before they’re actually ready to be outside in the world. In essence, they’re still fetuses for three more months. And they miss life inside the womb. A lot. He says that “colic” doesn’t actually exist — the symptoms of “colic” in a baby are simply the baby wanting to be soothed exactly like it was when it was warmly and comfortably tucked inside mom. The whole book is about recreating that womb experience for new babies so that they can be calm and well-adapted to life in the outside world.

Harvey Karp describes five techniques that recreate the womb experience, what he calls the “5 S’s”: swaddling, side-lying or stomach-lying, shhhhhh-ing (or white noise), swinging and sucking. Swaddling creates a nice pressure all around the baby where the baby is inhibited in its limb movements. My husband thought that this looked like our baby was in a straight jacket. But when you think about it, babies are extremely limited in their movements for 40ish weeks. It’s not a “straight jacket” for them — we’re just anthropomorphising their experience. For the first four to six months, babies have a “startle reflex,” where, if they are lying on their backs (either in bed or in your arms), they feel as though they are falling backwards. To catch themselves, they throw their arms back, and instantly wake themselves up. Swaddling inhibits the startle reflex, and I can’t overemphasize how wonderfully well it works. It doesn’t calm the baby, but it sets up the baby to be soothed by the other four techniques. And by firsthand experience, I can tell you that a baby that wakes herself up every five minutes because of the startle reflex is a very unhappy baby (and her parents probably aren’t getting much sleep).

Ok, now that your baby is swaddled, the other four techniques will finish the job of soothing her. Side-lying or stomach-lying(when you’re holding her) prevents her from experiencing the startle reflex. Only babies who are on their backs will startle. Good to know. So, you’re holding your baby either on her side or facing the floor. Next, you start making a loud “shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” sound. This is a white noise that replicates the loud noise of the blood flowing through your blood vessels when she was inside (kind of like when you are lying in the bathtub and you dunk your head under the water. The water amplifies all of the sounds of your house’s plumbing.). Harvey Karp explains that babies love white noise. It’s the peace and quiet that disturb them. So, air conditioners, fans, white noise machines, and “shhhhhhhhhhhh” sounds calm them down. Adjust the volume of the “shhhhhhh” to match your baby’s volume if she’s crying.

Next, start swinging your baby from side to side. This mimics the lovely hammock-like swinging and swaying they experienced when mom was walking around every day. During my pregnancy, I never really noticed my baby moving around when I was in motion, but she really moved around at night. Maybe she was thinking, “Hey, mom! How about a little movement out there! It’s a little too still and peaceful for me to get to sleep!” You can do little jiggly movements or turn your body back and forth like a top-loading washing machine agitator.

Sucking is last, and Harvey Karp calls it “the icing on the cake.” Babies can either suck their thumbs, your fingers, or a pacifier. This satisfies their hunger, calms them, and soothes them in a fantastic way. Harvey Karp says that if you use a pacifier, the best time is between two to three weeks of age (so that breastfeeding goes well to prevent nipple confusion) and four to five months. Around four months, babies learns to stick their own thumbs in their mouths (sometimes both at once) to soothe themselves, and the pacifier is no longer needed. With some creative swaddling, you can also swaddle your baby so that her thumb is directly next to her mouth, and she can soothe herself at an early age. And now that your baby is soothed, you can put them down to sleep (on their back).

The last few chapters of the book continue with the theme of creating happy babies. One chapter goes into more details about some other tried and true “colic” remedies like infant massage, walking outside with baby, keeping them warm to soothe them, preventing food allergies, treating constipation, troubleshooting feeding problems, dealing with actual acid reflux (which is rare amongst babies), and using alternative medicine like chiropractic, homeopathy, herbal teas, and osteopathy. The last chapter is about baby sleep patterns, weaning your baby off the 5 S’s, techniques for helping babies sleep better, room sharing, co-sleeping, techniques to help prevent SIDS and suffocation, and answers to frequently asked questions.

In conclusion, the contents of this book saved my life, it probably saved my marriage and definitely saved my sanity in my first three months of parenting. For even more information (and for all of those visual learners out there), Harvey Karp’s techniques are featured on YouTube videos, like this appearance on Dr. Phil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_64-LbhT3M. Cheers!