Q&A: toddler climbing out of crib

Ally, who’s been in the middle of sleep battles for, well, ever, writes:

"As you know, we’ve been working on getting Jamie, who is 17 months, back to his crib full-time. Last night was one of those where I’d lay him down drowsy and almost asleep and he’d pop up, "HI!" the minute his head hit the pillow. I decided to let him blow off some steam and sat in the glider, pretending to sleep, while he cruised around his crib, turning his music box on full blast and playing with his aquarium. Then, quiet, which is never good, so I opened my eyes, and there he was, hanging on for dear life, his entire body balanced on the crib rail. He’s been throwing one leg up trying to figure out how to escape for a little while now, and I’ll be damned but Houdini somehow figured out how to get both of them up there.

So now what do we do? I figure our options are to a) hope like hell that he doesn’t do it again, and to not let him hang out in his crib anymore, or b) ditch the crib for either a toddler bed or a twin mattress on the floor. While we’ve been working on moving him back to his crib the biggest challenge has been getting him to actually fall asleep there, and I’ve wondered if a bed would be a better option at this point because he will fall asleep if I’m just laying next to him. I’m not worried about him getting in and out because he hops off our pillow-top, king-sized mattress just fine by himself.

But a bed for a 17-month-old could open up a whole ‘nother kettle of fish – keeping him in it, for the most part – and I don’t know if it’s a challenge I’m prepared to take on. Of course, keeping his limbs intact and attached to his body are the top priority, so if that’s what it takes, that’s what we’ll do.


The first thing I thought when I read this email was "She has a pillow-top king-sized mattress. I’m so jealous." But then I moved on to focus on the problem, which is a real classic of the toddler years–kid who climbs out of the crib. I think a bunch of us have had brushes with it in one form or another. One night when El Chico was around the same age as Jamie is now, I heard him calling for me from his room. It took me a minute or two to get out of bed, and as I walked through the kitchen to his room I ran into him walking toward me! That was the only time for us. But I’ve heard of kids climbing out and falling and breaking limbs, and I knew a girl who climbed out and fractured her skull(!). (She was completely fine, although she had a really nasty bruise around one eye for a few weeks.)

When my son climbed out that time we figured out that it was because his dresser was too close to his crib. Once we moved the dresser we knew he couldn’t get out again, and we got another few months out of the crib. But if there’s nothing helping a kid climb out that can be easily removed, you can’t just hope the kid will stay in the crib. You have to move the child to a bed of some sort.

I just read Ally’s most recent entry on her blog, and it seems she’s implementing the exact strategy I would have suggested to her. (Should I be proud or nervous that she’s taking my advice before I knew I was going to give it? Am I obsolete?) She’s buying a twin-sized mattress and putting it on the floor in his room.

Before I discovered that she’d figured it out herself, I was going to tell Ally that there are two ways  you could go with this problem. You could try to force your kid to stay in the crib by putting one of those lids on top (they’re really supposed to keep cats out of the crib, aren’t they?), or you could put the kid in a bed (toddler or twin, or even adult-sized).

If you try to force the kid to stay in the crib you might win on this one issue for awhile, but in the long run you’re setting up a dynamic of control that you’re not going to win. You may win it when your kid’s 18 months or 2 years or 5 or 10 or even 15, but at some point your kid is going to get the best of you, because you set up a win-lose situation. Is it worth it? Not to me, but I really don’t like to use a control model of parenting anyway. I think it’s my job to help my kids learn to be independent, and the best way to do that is to help them feel secure and to teach them skills. Setting up a fight doesn’t do either of those things. I’d rather lose a little sleep right now than end up with serious rebellion later on.

If you go with a bed, you’re trusting that you’re going to be able to help your child solve his or her current sleep problem and stay in that bed, even if it doesn’t happen right away. It’s going to be more work for you at the beginning, but it’s going to release tension in your relationship with your kid instead of creating it, and it will help your kid be able to sleep more soundly because there won’t be stress associated with bedtime.

Ally has identified that Jamie falls asleep with no problem with her lying next to him. So the twin mattress is the perfect solution to bedtime because she can just get up and leave when he falls asleep. As he gets older he’ll get better at going to sleep by himself, and she won’t be stuck lying down with him forever.

The middle of the night is a crapshoot. He could wake up and start roaming around. (If it’s in his own room it’s not a big deal since it’s all childproof, but Ally might want to consider gating off any other areas of the house so he can’t wander freely around.) He could wake up and start screaming for Mama (or Daddy, if you get lucky). He could walk into their room and hop into bed with them for the rest of the night. He could sleep longer and longer and eventually stop waking up in the middle of the night.

What happens after moving to a "big boy" bed will depend on your child’s personality. I think many "spirited" children really chafe at being stuck in a crib, and sleep better once they have more freedom. El Chico went from waking every morning at 4 screaming for me (I’d have to haul my carcass out of bed, go into his room, and either get him back to sleep or give up adn hoist him out of the crib and back into my room) to waking every morning at 5:30 and walking into our room and sneaking into bed with us (half the time I didn’t even wake up). Jamie fits the profile of the spirited child, but he’s a little on the young side, so I guess we’ll have to see what happens. If nothing else, bedtime is going to be less stressful for all involved. My hunch is that that’s going to make the entire night easier, but I’m not willing to bet actual cash money on it.

What happened when you moved your kid to a big boy/girl bed? Did it go more or less smoothly than you’d hoped?


Q&A: baby will only suck no mom’s finger

Elspeth writes:

"My 4 month old girl is a real sucker – but only sucks my breast or
finger.  I’ve tried 10 different pacifiers and she refuses them all.  I
try almost daily as sucking on my finger anytime she’s tired or fussy
is a real drag for me.  So far she has no interest in her own thumb –
I’d by happy with anything other than my finger!

She wants to suck my finger essentially when she’s cranky, tired or needs a cuddle.  Really any
time she needs calming or soothing.  She can have her eye’s closed
tight and still know if my finger is near and quickly move her head to
catch it. If I don’t let her soothe on my finger she’ll scream in displeasure.

of this she’s a great baby and even sleeps through the night (11 hours
straight, 90% of the time!) most nights.  She’s very healthy and
gaining well, 100% breast fed.  Only other trouble is that to sleep
during the day she’s in my arms – but crib at night (goes in asleep).
As you can imagine she refuses a bottle too."

I’m going to work backwards on this question. I don’t think the sleeping in your arms during the day is anything to worry about, since she’ll probably grow into naps more as she gets closer to 5 months. Many kids at 4 months don’t take naps longer than 20 minutes in any location, so you’re already a little ahead of the game. All you’ll have to work on is location, and I wouldn’t worry about that until after you’ve got the finger-sucking thing resolved.

I also don’t think there’s a thing wrong with going into the crib asleep. IME the less stress you put on a kid’s own resources to get to sleep, the easier it’ll be for them to go to sleep on their own later on, because they associate sleep with snuggly comfort.

This finger-sucking thing sounds like an enormous pain! I’m imagining you trying to sneak away while she’s sleeping, only to have her reach out and chomp for your finger like a toothless shark.

I’m pretty sure the ship has sailed on her sucking her own thumb, if she’s 4 months old and won’t do it by now. So I think your only chance is to try to get her to switch to a pacifier. I’m not going to be super-helpful with this, since my first took a pacifier at three months (before three months he absolutely refused, but at three months he took one easily) and my second one never took a pacifier (although when he’s not sucking your finger, that’s not a big deal).

The one thing I can think of is that it might help her accept a pacifier if she was a little more calm before you tried to make the switch. Have you tried giving her any homeopathic chamomilla? Homeopathic remedies are perfect for babies and children because they have no side effects whatsoever (the remedes are in sugar pills and are in such small doses that they couldn’t have any side effects unless you swallowed a few whole bottles). You can buy chamomilla pellets at a natural foods store (there are several fine brands, but I usually get Boiron because they’re easily avaibable to me). Get Chamomilla 6X. (The 6X is the dose. If you can’t find 6X strength, get 20c or 30c–whatever they have–and
dissolve a few pellets in some water, then put a few drops under her
tongue.) When your daughter gets fussy, put a pellet (it’s a sugar pellet, so she probably won’t reject it) under her tongue and let it dissolve. If it’s going to work for her, it should start working in a few minutes.

If you can try to make the switch when she’s a little calmer, it might go more smoothly. In the old days, people would put a little honey on the pacifier to get the baby to suck on it. We obviously know better now than to use honey, but you might try putting a few drops of breastmilk to see if that helps. Or you could try putting some sugar water on your finger for a few sucking sessions, and then putting the same sugar water on the pacifier to make the switch.

The other thing to ask is how your partner (if you have one) soothes her? Will she take a pacifier from him/her? Sometimes nursing moms don’t develop any other repertoire (I’ll be the first to stand up and raise my hand here, even after two kids) because the milk jugs solve almost any problem. When you hit a problem that can’t be solved by a nipple, you’ve got nothing. I’ve learned to watch what my husband does to see how to calm my kids without nursing them. Your partner may have some trick to calm your daughter that you haven’t tried. Or maybe your partner’s also got the finger-sucking problem, in which case I’m going to give up and open it up to the readers.

Did any of you successfully make a switch to a pacifier? How did you do it?


Q&A: “loopy” toddler

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

"I hope you can shed some light on some worries I have about my son, who just turned two a few days ago.

He is happy, high energy, extremely affectionate, and a very precocious talker (he has been saying four, five, and six word sentences for many months now, and has a large vocabulary).  He asks for things he wants (including to snuggle and to nurse) and refuses things he doesn’t.  He’s just started using "I" to refer to himself (although he still sometimes gets confused about that).  But sometimes he is a little . . . well, the best word for it, I think, is loopy.  He entertains himself really well and wanders around singing songs, saying lines from books, and imitating the characters from the one kids’ TV show we let him watch.  Sometimes you can get his attention while he’s off in his own world — he almost always (eventually) answers what I’d term very "concrete" questions:  What are you holding?  What color is it?  and so on.  But sometimes (and once in a while for pretty much a whole day at a time) it’s almost impossible to get his attention, and therefore his responses to you are non sequiturs — most often a memorized line of some kind. And he virtually never — even at his most engaged –answers a less concrete question like "what did you have for dinner?" or even "do you want a snack?"

My husband thinks I’m crazy for worrying about this. He points out that the boy gets tons of stimulation, and thinks that’s it’s fine for him to "retreat" into his own head for a while.  But I work full-time (my son has an amazing substitute grandma nanny) and almost never see other kids his age (although he does — he goes to music class and the playground and so on during the day when I’m not there).  So my question is — is this "loopiness" normal?  At what age can I expect him to say "chicken" (a word he knows perfectly well) when I ask him five minutes after dinner what he just ate — or should I really be concerned that he is already not more conversational when he knows so many

This is so tough. There’s no way for me to diagnose this without seeing him in action. It doesn’t sound completely normal, but I haven’t seen him. And I think each parent is convinced about 50% of the time that our child is appallingly normal and the other 50% of the time that there’s something seriously odd about our kid. You’ve got the problem of not spending time around other kids his age as a control group to compare him to, and you also don’t have an impartial daycare provider with a group of children who could tell you how he compares to the other kids.

My first reaction is that it sounds like he’s reacting to something he’s ingesting. What you’re describing sounds exactly like I feel when I’ve eaten MSG. It also sounds a lot like some of the symptoms of ADD, and a successful treatment for ADD is the Feingold Diet, which focuses on eliminating things like artificial flavors and colors and foods containing salicylate. Even if what’s happening to him doesn’t match exactly with the Feingold program, it still sounds suspiciously like a reaction to something that he’s ingesting in small doses most of the time, and in large doses at other times.

I think you need to get your husband to understand that this doesn’t sound like typical behavior. Then the two of you need to keep a log for a couple of weeks of what he eats and drinks and when, and how he acts. When it’s worse, and when it’s better. Include things like toothpaste with artificial flavors or colors, any medications (especially OTC), and any "extra" foods like lollipops or other treats that don’t affect his mealtimes. I think you’re also going to have to be very diplomatically direct with your "grandma nanny" (I’m sure she loves being there with him to be a substitute grandma). It’s possible that she’s feeding him some stuff (read: treats) that she doesn’t tell you about, and they could be chock full of artificial crap. Delicious artificial crap, but crap that could be aggravating his loopiness nonetheless. So you’ll have to be very open about how much you love her and that she loves him and spoils him, but that you’re concerned that he’s having bad reactions to something he’s eating and you hope all of you can be detectives to figure out what it is. I hope she’ll be able to come clean about anything extra she’s giving him, if anything.

So track what he’s eating and what symptoms he’s having, and see if you can find any connections. If you can, try eliminating things from his diet to see if you see any change. It might be as simple as changing brands of things you eat.

If you can’t find any connection between his diet and his symptoms, I’d ask his pediatrician for a referral to have him evaluated by a developmental psychologist. It could be nothing and he’s normal. It could be something common that kids grow out of. It could be something more serious that means he’s going to be a brilliant writer but never a news anchor. It could be something that means he needs some therapy to help grow out of. But if you get him evaluated, at least you’ll know. You’re obviously worried enough about it to write to me, so don’t let your husband talk you out of pursuing it. If it turns out to be nothing, then your husband can say "I told you so." But if it turns out to be something your son needs help with, you’d never forgive yourself if you ignored your instincts and didn’t get him help.

I hope it’s something easy and obvious in hindsight. Please check in with me in a few weeks to let me know what’s happening.

Q&A: alternative teethers

Kate writes:

"My daughter is almost 10 months, and she’s teething
and thankfully being pretty reasonable about it. But she just loves chewing on
things, and the usual plastic teething rings just aren’t cutting it for
her. There’s nothing she likes better than chewing on a cork-backed drink
coaster; a leather handbag strap, or the timber baby gate. These things aren’t
really convenient or safe though (finding her with little bits of cork in her
mouth isn’t my idea of kid safe). She does regularly get a frozen
flannel, and that’s great for 5 minutes.

Do you have ideas for alternative teethers?
I found one suggestion on the net of using a large unstained curtain ring with
the screw removed, which I thought was a great idea. I was so tempted to give
her a leather doggy chew strap, until I heard they’re cured with

I’d love to hear any suggestions from you or your

You could try the classic-but-always-relevant wooden spoon, which has the added benefit of having several different shapes and angles (handle, shank, and spoon itself).

Or you could get a carved wooden teether. I had one that was kind of a rattle, with a long handle and a ball inside two carved rings. My mom saved it and my older son teethed on it when we were at my parents’ house when he was cutting a tooth. My wonderful brother-in-law gave us a carved rattle like this one that my son also teethed on quite often. (And look at this beautiful one shaped like a fish from the same site. Or this multi-media one with a wooden teething ring attached to a terrycloth body. Another store has just a plain wooden teether finished with beeswax.)

I couldn’t find any kind of leather teething toys online (and am a little sorry that I did a Google search on "leather straps nontoxic"), but I’m thinking braided rope might do the same trick. You could look for a small verison of the braided dog chew toy I talked about in this post about stopping aggressive behavior in 2-year-olds.

You’re already doing the frozen wet washcloth thing. Have you tried frozen mini-bagels? They’re nice and hard and chewy, and absorb the drool.

My teething 10-month-old likes to chew on his leather Robeez-type shoes, but the dye’s not good for him and I don’t want him to shred his shoes, so I don’t let him do it.

Anyone else have any ideas? Anyone who started a kind of sleep-away camp for teething babies would have a big business going, I think.

Q&A: postpartum bridesmaiding

Ria writes:

"I am expecting my first baby in late June or early July, and my brother is getting married in mid-August. It’s all very wonderful and exciting, especially as I am to be a bridesmaid (bridesmatron?) at the wedding.  My question is not related to parenting as such, but I’m hoping you and/or your readers can give me some advice on a few specific things.

First, I have to get measured for and order this dress now, almost into my third trimester.  Luckily, I have a set of measurements taken last August before I got pregnant. My instinct is to order a dress one or two sizes above what those measurements would indicate and have it altered at the last minute. I also thought about getting some measurements taken now and shooting for a size halfway in between those sets of measurements.  Does either of those sound reasonable, or one better than the other?

Second, the chosen dress is strapless. Even if they sold strapless nursing bras, I’m not sure I would want to invest in one just for one use.  Any wisdom or thoughts on the best way to be a newly-nursing mother *and* wear a strapless dress? Perhaps some kind of underwire or support sewn into the dress? A normal strapless bra with breast pads inside? (I know you’re going to suggest Lilypadz, but they alone don’t solve the support garment issue; I was a D cup before I got pregnant, and who knows where I’ll end up by next August.)

Third and lastly, dress alterations take time, and time is one thing we’re not going to have a lot of.  My chest and belly will probably still be actively changing size six weeks postpartum. Having never gone through this process, I have no idea whether to go see a seamstress two weeks after the birth, or four, or when at all. If I wait long enough to get the best fit, there’ll be very little time to get the alterations done. On the other hand, at a fancy wedding with eight bridesmaids and a dress that costs more than the baby’s crib, I don’t want to look like my dress doesn’t fit me. Any insight into this? And while we’re at it, any recommendations of places in the Boston metro area that specialize in working with pregnant/barely unpregnant bridal parties?

Someone out there has to have gone through a similar experience. All thoughts and advice will be gratefully accepted!"

I think that with dresses, as with the rest of life, it’s all about the boobs. If the dress fits the ladies correctly, the tailors can always alter the waist and hips etc. to fit you a week or two before the wedding. Since you’ll be fewer than 8 weeks postpartum for the wedding, it’s highly likely that your breasts will be the same size they are in the third trimester. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ll be two cup sizes and one band size up from your prepregnancy size. You probably will have lost a lot of the swelling and water weight around your midsection, but it’s likely that you’ll still be at the same band size you were at the end of pregnancy at that point. Most women go up a cup size when they become engorged in the first week postpartum, but the engorgement will have gone down by the time of the wedding and you’ll be back down to the cup size you were in the third trimester. (For more data points on sizes postpartum, read the comments to my nursing bra post.)

So I’d go get measured right now and figure your breasts will be the same size then, and they can just alter down the rest of the dress for you.

A strapless bra is, by nature, a nursing bra, no?, because you can just pull it down when you need to nurse. I’m assuming that since your baby will still be so small you won’t be ready to nurse in front of a reception hall full of people anyway, so if you’re sitting in some ladies’ lounge on another floor somewhere you might as well just pull down the dress and strapless bra and nurse. So I’d go for a good, supportive strapless bra (maybe a long-line to give you a little extra support and slimming effect) in the size you are in your third trimester. But if you do your reconnaissance work now and find out the styles available to you, you can get sized closer to the actual wedding. OTOH, if you do want to find out if strapless nursing bras exist, I’d give the women at your local nursing supply store or Upper Breast Side in New York City a call at 212-873-2653 to see what they have to say.

(And I am going to suggest Lilypadz, but just so you don’t soak through the beautiful teal or burgundy taffeta of your dress, not for support, which they don’t provide.)

As for the timing of all of this, I’m going to hope that someone can suggest an awesome seamstress in the Boston metro area. When you get this info, you’re going to call and tell her your dilemma and ask how much time she needs to do alterations. She’ll tell you exactly when to come in for alterations, and you’ll feel better and it’ll all work out.

Congratulations to your brother, and good luck to you. If you find a good seamstress, it’ll all be fine and you’ll be able to enjoy the wedding with your little baby.

Q&A: cloth diapering part 1

Amanda and Jennifer both asked for a primer on cloth diapers.

I want to start out by saying that using cloth diapers doesn’t make you a better parent, and using disposibles doesn’t make you a worse parent. The kind of diapers you use has nothing to do with your parenting. I do think it reflects the importance you place on preserving natural resources, which is another important topic, but it’s not directly related to parenting.

(If we’re talking about doing the least damage to the environment, cloth diapering is only second-best, anyway. If you really want to make the least impact possible, you’re probably focusing on using elimination communication so you don’t need diapers at all. EC causes the least damage to the environment, followed by hemp or organic cotton or wool diapers you wash at home, followed by regular cotton or artificial fabric diapers you wash at home, followed by a diaper service (all that water!) and biodegradable disposible diapers like g-Diapers (the liners are flushable) or Nature Boy & Girl (compostable in a community compost system, which means that Americans are hosed because we don’t have them), followed by "natural" diapers (like Tushies or Seventh Generation), followed by national-  or store-brand gel-filled diapers. But you also have to factor in the cost and your ability to wash, too. If you have your own washing machine, you can do cloth. If you don’t, and have to go to a laundry room or laundromat, it’s super-tough to do cloth, and you’ll probably choose to use a diaper service or disposibles. And the cheapest of those options is store-brand gel diapers. So while washing your own cloth diapers is cheapest by far, that’s only if you’ve got easy access to a machine, which takes some money to begin with.)

Let’s talk about a little history here. If you’ve mentioned cloth diapers to anyone over the age of 60, you’ve probably gotten horrified looks or chuckles and mutters of "You’ll change your tune soon enough." That’s because years ago the only diapering options were flat diapers–a big single layer diaper that you folded into the shape and thickness you wanted. You’d take them off the line, fold them, and then when you put them on the baby you’d fasten them with two (or one if you were really adept) diaper pins. Then you’d put rubber or plasticky bloomers with elastic waistbands and leg openings on over the diapers. It was a lot of work, between the folding and the pinning and the elastic pants. And don’t forget that washing machines weren’t as powerful as they are now, so almost everyone soaked their diapers in a "wet pail" full of water and Borax or some other kind of soaking detergent. (Let’s think about how many toddlers tipped wet pails and got poopy, detergenty water all over the floor. Ick.)

So it’s completely understandable that these women think people our age are nuts for using cloth. They have no idea how technology has been such a boon to cloth diapering, making it almost as easy as using disposibles. Even the most complicated systems are a piece of cake compared to what our grandmothers had to do.

There are a ton of different ways to cloth diaper now, since most diapers are made by small businesses (many by work-at-home moms). I’ve put links in here so you can click and see what all the diapers look like, but I don’t have personal experience with any of these sites, so don’t limit your research just to these sites.

The cheapest way: The cheapest way is to buy 2 dozen diaper-service-quality (DSQ) Chinese prefolds and 6-8 nylon pants (with elastic waistbands and leg openings). A "prefold" is called that because it’s an old-fashioned flat diaper that’s been folded and sewn into place so that there are 4 layers of absorbancy on each side and 6 down the middle. You can get bleached or unbleached. Bleached are nice and white, but unbleached are softer. You’ll also need some diaper pins or a Snappi. A Snappi is a little rubber thing that lets you fasten prefold diapers without pins, and reduce the danger of poking yourself or your baby. You put the diaper on the baby and pin both sides with the pins. The benefits of this system are that it’s cheap–around $75-80 to get set up for a newborn. The drawbacks of this system are that you have to pin or use a Snappi (this site shows how to fold and pin a prefold with a Snappi), which takes time when your baby is old enough to squirm, and the nylon pants might not fit your child correctly and could leave gaps (which cause leaks) or bind and leave red marks on the legs and waist.

The most common way: Also cheap, but not as cheap as going with plastic pull-on pants. You buy 2 dozen DSQ Chinese prefolds and 6-8 velcro or snap covers (a.k.a. "wraps") (scroll all the way down). Fold each prefold loosely in thirds the long way, then lay it in the cover. Then attach the sides of the cover with the velcro or snaps, and you’re done. If you really want a tight fit on the diaper, you can pin or Snappi the diaper first before you put on the cover. The benefits of this system are that it’s still pretty cheap (around $110 to get set up for a newborn), it’s easy, and you won’t have many poop blowouts with runny breastmilk poop because the cover stops it (the covers will get poopy, though). The drawbacks of this system are that the two parts are confusing for some people, you may have to play around with cover brands before you find one you like that really fits your child well, and you have to buy new covers (and, eventually, diapers) when your child grows out of a size.

IME the real drawback of using prefolds and velcro covers is that you feel like you should or could be using something fancier and you let your head get turned. For most SAH parents and even many WOH parents, this system is completely adequate to all their needs (except for nighttime, which I’ll cover below). But there are fancier, more exciting diaper systems, which most people end up dabbling in unless they make an effort not to look at anything else.

Fancier two-piece systems: There are fitted diapers (either with their own velcro or snap closures or without) that go in covers. They can be made of cotton or hemp. All sorts of WAHMs make fancy fitted diapers and/or equally fancy covers out of all sorts of fabrics: PUL (fabric that’s basically been put through a laminating machine so it’s waterproof), polar fleece, felted lanolized wool (which is natural and very breathable, but also NOT machine dryable!) in snap style covers or long pull-on pants, and probably three or four more choices I’ve never even heard of. You can get covers with teddy bears, dinosaurs, Dora, your favorite sports teams, Darth Vader, flowers, tie-dye, and almost anything you want (go to Ebay and search for "covers" in "Baby" > "cloth diapers"). The benefits of these diapers are that they’re really, really cute. The drawbacks are that they’re more expensive and can become an addiction.

One-size two-piece systems: Some companies sell fitted diapers that fold and snap in different ways to fit babies from around 8 pounds up to around 35 pounds, with covers to match. If you like fitted diapers, this can be a far more economical way to go, because you only have to buy one set. You can get them in white or in cute prints. However, they have a larger entry cost (around $280 to start).

All-in-ones: For people who are confused or creeped out by separate diapers and covers, all-in-ones (AIOs) can be great relief. AIOs (click on "All-in-ones" on the left side) are exactly what they sound like: a cover and diaper all together in one. They fasten with either snaps or velcro, and are basically the same to put on and take off as disposible diapers are. This makes them great for daycare situations or reluctant partners. The benefits are that they’re so easy to use, so you may end up using cloth diapers longer than you would if you had a two-piece system. The drawbacks are that they’re expensive ($12-15 apiece) and they often take a long time to dry. To fight the drying time, some AIOs have snap-in liners that dry separately.

Pocket diapers: This is a fabulous solution to the problem of AIO drying time. Pocket diapers consist of two pieces. The diaper is an outer layer of PUL or waterproof fleece, and the inner layer (that touches the baby) is fleece or suedecloth. There’s an opening so you stuff the diaper with a folded prefold or hemp or microfiber soaker pad. The pee goes through the fleece layer and gets absorbed by the soaker, and the surface of the fleece stays mostly dry to the touch. This makes this system especially good for nighttime, because you can put in a bunch of soakers to be super-absorbant. The benefits of this system are that it’s super-easy (great for daycare and reluctant caregivers), quick-drying, trimmer than most other cloth diapers, and good for people who can’t change their babies as often (like little siblings who go along to the older one’s activities). The drawbacks are that it’s expensive ($15-20 per diaper), although you can mitigate that cost by getting one-size pocket diapers (like Bum Genius or Wonderoos) so you don’t have to buy new sizes.

Other issues:

Cotton vs. hemp: Cotton farming is really hard on the environment, but cotton is soft and cheap and absorbant. Organic cotton is more expensive, but far better on the environment. Hemp is fine for the environment, 40% more absorbant than cotton by weight, and has natural anti-bacterial properties, but it’s more expensive than cotton and is stiff until it’s been washed a bunch of times.

Work-out-of-the-house parents: You can do cloth diapers part-time at home and on weekends, and you’ll still save a bunch of money. A mom friend of mine used only 10-12 disposible diapers a week in a daycare center once her son was over a year. Depending on your childcare situation, you may be able to use cloth diapers full-time. With a nanny it’s no problem, although you’ll probably want to get her input on which system you go with. If you’re doing in-home daycare or a daycare center, ask your providers–you never know what they’ll say. Ally uses pocket diapers at home, but her in-home daycare providers actually prefer prefolds–with pins!–and covers.

Part 2 is here.

Tell me your questions or experience and recommendations in the comments, please.


Q&A: getting your groove back

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous writes:

"I got the all clear to have sex again at my 6-week appointment, and we’ve had sex somewhat regularly since then, but  the Pumpkin is 7 months old and I’m really not all that into it. Is there something I should be doing that I’m not? I’m breastfeeding and don’t want to wean until at least a year.

Please tell me the sex drive comes back."

Yes, it comes back. Eventually.

There are a bunch of theories about why post-partum moms aren’t all that interested in sex for awhile after the birth. I think the best one is that it’s a protective mechanism of the body so that we don’t have kids so close together that we lose our minds. Of course people end up having kids that close together all the time by accident, but I’m really not sure that all those moms were just dying to have sex right then.

I do think it’s normal to just not be interested in sex loooong after that 6-week mark passes. It’s a huge disservice to couples that 6 weeks is touted as the magical time when we’re going to be getting back to Sex The Way It Used To Be, when in reality 6 weeks is just a fairly reasonable time that a woman with a non-complicated vaginal birth with no tearing would be healed enough not to be damaged by penis-vagina intercourse. It doesn’t mean things are back to normal. It doesn’t mean that a mom is going to actually want to have sex. Even if the nursing is making her hormones rush during the day, by the time nighttime rolls around, she’s probably so tired and touched out that, well, you all have been there and know what I mean. You love your partner and want him or her to be happy, but there’s probably a certain amount of faking going on, at least for awhile.

I don’t want to give body image issues (for the mother) and sheer exhaustion, resentment, and self-image and role confusion (for both parents) short shrift, but ths is a how-to post, not a 5,000 Ways Having a Baby Can Screw With Your Head post. So let’s move on with the good news, shall we?

What I think gets most women back on track is going through the energy shift toward the end of the first year and going through the hormonal shift of getting the menstrual cycle. Once the baby gets out of the first 6 months and closer to a year old your energy just shifts. Instead of being intimately connected almost 24/7 with the baby, you’re dealing more with helping the baby negotiate her own body and learning new skills. It’s more about playing with blocks and finding foods they’ll eat than snuggling for hours and nursing around the clock. I personally, find the pre-toddler stage more frenzied and cumbersome than the in-arms phase, but it does give you a little more mental space and emotional energy, and some of that will go straight down to the lady parts.

Even more than that, though, I think is the hormones. I guarantee that if this post gets many comments it will be women saying that their libidos came back when their cycles came back, whether they weaned before or after their cycles came back. I got my cycle back at 11 months with El Chico, and it was like a switch flipped on and it was fiesta time. (I nursed for a year and a half after that.) The women I know who didn’t get their cycles back until after they weaned say it felt like a switch flipping back on for them, too.

If your baby is 8 or 9 months old and you’re thinking, "I want to get my libido back but I’m not willing to wean," you might think about cutting back on nursing so you get a 7-hour stretch each day in which you don’t nurse. For many women that’s enough to bring the cycle back. If you think about it, that’s basically what happens when you nightwean (last feeding at 11 and then the morning feeding at 6), or if your baby nurses in the morning but is then too busy playing or eating solids until after lunch.

Or you may just decide that another few months of not feeling all that sexy isn’t going to hurt your relationship or your self-esteem, so you’ll just ride it out for a little while longer. If you’re not that concerned about it, that’s perfectly valid and you shouldn’t feel like there’s something wrong with you because you’re not worried about not being a sex goddess.

Now, if you’ve got the desire but just never seem to get around to having sex, I can tell you that what I found helpful was to plan ahead. In the morning, before either of you leaves the house, make a sex date. That way you can both think about it all day and get yourselves in the mood. If you want to stoke the fires with some phone calls or emails during the day, do so. But then as soon as the kids are in bed, that’s your time. Leave the dishes and other chores until after you’ve had sex, or you won’t start until 11 o’clock and you’ll be too exhausted to really enjoy it. You may even want to pick a cut-off time and if you haven’t started having sex by then you just roll the date over to the next night.

So. I guess that was a lot of TMI. Anyone want to make me feel better about flashing you by leaving some comments?

Q&A: pain relievers for teething

Amy writes:

"You mention in your supplements for pregnancy post that you are not much of a pill-popper, and in fact have been working on the same bottle of ibuprofen for 5 years (I paraphrase). So I respect your reluctance to overmedicate and with that in mind I pose this question:

What are your feelings on Tylenol and Motrin (or acetaminophen and ibuprofen)? Here’s the true-life scenario playing out at our house this weekend: Baby, almost 7 months old, has her first  I-don’t-know-what. Cold? Some congestion, some wet-sounding coughing, some fussiness. Last night her normally stellar sleep habits were all out of whack and we had to drive her around in the toasty car to get her to sleep. (Usually she’s down at 7 easily and sleeps until about 5 or 6. We are lucky in that regard.) She doesn’t have a fever, but she is cutting teeth. Knowing how much longer than usual it took to get her to sleep last night, I went ahead and gave her a dose of Tylenol before putting her down tonight. She cried in a lackluster way for about 10-15 minutes, and then went to sleep.

The other day I mentioned having given her Tylenol for teething pain to an acquaintance (yes, we use Hyland’s gel too). He smiled knowingly and said "Ah, liquid sleep!" I try not to feel defensive about parenting stuff, but I confess I felt a twinge of guilt when he said that, and he wasn’t even saying it in a disapproving way. It’s just that I suddenly wondered if I am too quick on the trigger, or dropper rather. Your thoughts?"

I have this thing about informed constent. I just don’t think I have the right to do something painful or permanent to a person without their informed consent unless there’s a clear, definite reason for doing it. This is why I’m anti-circumcision for my own boys–there was no way they could consent, and they certainly couldn’t be informed. (They can do what they want to when they’re old enough to understand and consent, and it won’t be my business.)

Pain relief falls under that same idea for me. I don’t take anything for my own pain very often, but I don’t think it’s fair to deny pain relief to someone who can’t ask for it in any way except by crying. If there was overwhelming evidence that the dangers of Tylenol and Motrin were huge I’d reconsider, but they’re both generally safe in the small, infrequent doses that a baby gets during teething. So I definitely use them when my kids are having a particularly rough time.

I do try other things, though, first. I use a lot of homeopathic remedies (my kids’ pediatrician is an MD and also a homeopath) and usually try either Humphreys #3 pellets (in a sugar base; you can get them OTC for around $5 from a pharmacist, who can special-order them for you and they should come in within a day or two) or Hylands Teething Tablets (in a milk base; you can get them for around $5 at a natural foods store). I’m not a fan of the Hylands Gel, which has been worthless for my kids. The homeopathic remedies are great at easing the crankiness and restlessness of teething, but they don’t do much for the really painful nights.

Our pediatrician told us to try to avoid Baby Anbesol and Oragel, because even the baby formulations can be too strong and can kind of burn the gums (like a frostbite kind of burn).

I’m really not crazy about baby Tylenol because I don’t want to give an infant the artificial flavors and colors. Plus it’s hard to measure out in the middle of the night, and they always end up spitting out half the dose. So I was thrilled to discover acetaminophen suppositories. No artificial colors or flavors, no measuring, and they get the full dose. Just remember to keep them in the refrigerator so they don’t melt all over.

I wish I could find ibuprofen suppositories, because the ibuprofen works so much better, and I hate the fake bubble gum (for babies?!) flavor.

So that’s what I do for teething.

It sounds to me like all her problems are symptoms of the teething. Some common symptoms of teething are:

* biting hands or anything that comes near their mouths
* crying out in yelps of pain
* drooling
* runny nose or congestion from drooling
* "smokers’ cough" from the drool going down the back of the throat
* spitting or throwing up from drool going into the stomach
* "drool stool," which is shards of drool in the poop (I know, and it’s truly stunning when you see it)
* rash around the mouth
* rash around the anus
* acidic poop (sometimes you can even smell the difference) and a burned monkey-butt look after pooping
* tugging or pulling at the ears
* not wanting to nurse
* biting while nursing
* flash fevers (fevers that come out of nowhere and are gone in 30 minutes to an hour)

Are there any I’m forgetting? Some kids never have any of these symptoms, some have a few, and some lucky children (like mine) have all of them. The congestion and cough sound like they could be from the drool. I hope her teeth come out quickly and she (and you!) gets some peace and sleep, and that the poor little thing stops crying "in a lackluster way" (which gave me a mental image of Simon Cowell telling her she has a beautiful voice but he just didn’t believe the crying, and she needs to work on "connecting" to the crying more for next time).

Q&A: toddler with a pacifier

Dorie writes:

"I have a 16 month-old daughter and I am thinking about weaning her from her pacifier. She only uses it when she’s sleeping, maybe on long car rides, and if she’s teething or doesn’t feel well. The rest of the time she’s fine without it. The only advice I can find about this pertains to infants who awaken during the night and cry for their pacifiers. Is it hurting anything to continue letting her use it? Do you think it will be easier to take it away now or later? Also, any idea how I should go about doing this? I’m hoping you have experience with this."

Time for full disclosure here: I sucked my thumb until I was, um, 11. Years. 11 years old.

My mom figured if I was having my emotional needs met, then I must just need to suck, and she shouldn’t try to stop me. I weaned myself from nursing, but kept on sucking my thumb. When I went to school I figured out immediately not to do it front of other kids, so I only did it at night before I went to bed. My teeth were fine (until a genetic tooth size problem that my brother, mother, and two cousins–none of whom sucked their thumbs–also have caught up with me and I got braces last year) and I never had any anxiety-related problems or other issues. FWIW, my orthodontist (who is quite well-respected) says that she doesn’t think pacifier use or thumb-sucking does anything to your teeth unless you’re doing them for hours each day.

My first son used one from 3 months to 8 months, and my "technique" for taking it away was that I forgot to bring any when we went on vacation and by the time I had a chance to get out to buy a new one he’d forgotten about them. (I highly recommend ineptness as a parenting technique.)

So my answer to you is that you should take it away if you want to, but if you don’t feel the need to now, don’t worry about it. It sounds like your daughter has a pretty good handle on her own emotional limits and uses it only when she really needs it, so you’re not going to have that "4-year-old with a pacifier in her mouth constantly so you can’t understand what she’s saying" syndrome anyway. A 16-month-old is still a baby, and I’m guessing that having the "home base" of the pacifier is probably a good disciplinary tool to help her calm down so things don’t devolve into bad situations when she’s overtired or feeling crappy.

I don’t know anyone who got rid of the pacifer at that age without a fight. It seems like it’s easier to do earlier (when you substitute something else) or once the kid is 2 to 3 years old. There are two techniques for giving up pacifiers after the age of 2 that have worked well. The first is to let the kid buy something s/he really wants with the pacifiers. You call the store ahead of time and give your credit card number (or make other arrangements for payment), then the kid comes in with a bag full of all his or her pacifiers, and gives them to the clerk to pay for a new Thomas set or dollhouse or whatever. Then later if the kid asks for a pacifier, you can remind the kid that they bought the new toy with them, and if they want the pacifiers back they have to return the toy.

The other technique requires knowing someone who’s having or adopting a baby. You tell your child that the new baby needs pacifiers to suck, and big girls/boys don’t need pacifiers, so let’s give your pacifiers to the new baby who needs them. It might take a few days of negotiation and discussion to get the child to agree to give the pacifiers. Then you wrap up the pacifiers as presents, and give them to the new baby (obviously the new baby’s parents need to know ahead of time that you’re giving a bunch of used, toddler-sized pacifiers!). If the child asks for the pacifiers later, reinforce what a loving gift it was to give the pacifiers to a baby who needs them, since your child is a big kid who doesn’t anymore.

Both of these methods recognize that pacifiers aren’t just physical tools, but are also emotional comforts that kids grow out of. Giving them to younger babies or using them to buy a new toy are ways of marking the passage from baby to "big kid" and give your child a measure of control over quitting that are more respectful than just saying "no more pacifiers!" and taking them away. I don’t know if there’s an easy way to do that with a kid under 21 or so months, and to me it doesn’t seem worth it to jump through a bunch of hoops to get rid of a pacifier (the way it would to do something like nightweaning, which has an actual effect on the mother’s emotional and physical state).

The bottom line is that for me, it wouldn’t be worth it to try to take away the pacifier right now, and I’d rather not lose that tool in the anti-tantrum arsenal. It seems like one of those parenting issues that people get all het up about, but really, doesn’t everyone with a 16-month-old have bigger fish to fry? But if it’s just really nagging at you and you’re dying to get rid of it, give it a try and see what happens. If it works, let us know and I’ll post your results.