Friday, February 3, 2012

A practical & personal reflection on cloth diapering ...

There are a lot of blogs out there discussing the "411" of cloth diapering: the pros, the cons, the costs, the savings, the environmental impact (or lack thereof), the options ...

... this is not one of those posts.

This is just a personal review that will hopefully give any non-cloth parent a glimpse into the world of "fluffy love" ... and hopefully bring a knowing smile to the face of those who are firmly fixed in that world.

It wasn't until my second child was 4 months old that I launched headfirst into the world of cloth diapering (my first step into real sustainable living).  I had flirted with the idea before when my firstborn was an infant, but made a bad investment and promptly gave up.  First life lesson: don't trust big retail.  They make their money off disposable diapers and consequently will not carry/sell quality cloth.  Use your search keywords wisely.  Join a cloth-oriented community and get veteran advice.

Armed with new information but still very much a novice, I ordered a large starter package from a small business "CD" retailer.  Second rookie error: purchasing an entire stash based on pictures and description (not to mention the assumption that the economy option was holistically best for us).  Prefolds, one-size covers, and a half-dozen pockets: here I come!  Of course, my baby's shape did not work well with the prefold + wrap method.  I was having enough trouble finding clothes to fit her chubby frame, but the added bulk of her diapers made the effort almost fruitless.  The only diapers that fit well were her pockets ...

... rookie error #2.  I resold her almost new stash at well below their standard resale value (remember what I said about joining a community?  I hadn't yet ...) and stashed up on the only other type/brand of diaper I was familiar with ...
... and to my utter dismay, 10 days after I moved her entirely into her pocket diapers, she developed a sensitivity to synthetic fibers.  And the term "sensitivity" is putting it lightly.  My poor baby girl developed a lobster-red, evenly raised, weepy rash that covered her entire diaper region.  She could not even sleep.  We both cried for hours ...
... and via Facebook I wailed to my only two CD friends about my sweet baby's agony.  One sent me straight to the web's leading cloth diapering community,  And for that, I am forever in her debt.

I spent hours in the Diaper Chatter forums, posting desperately about my epic fail at CD.  Fortunately, some much wiser mamas came to my rescue and redirected me to the wonderful world of natural fibers.  Using Froogle as my guide, I searched the lowest prices on a selection of recommended diapers and found a few options to try. (Sadly, it didn't occur to me at that time to to sample diapers via the DiaperSwappers Marketplace, or I would have saved substantially.)   A month and several hundred dollars later, my daughter finally had a stash of diapers that 1) fit well and 2) was kind to her skin.  With that settled, I was blessed to learn the wonders of the For Sale or Trade forum, where I recovered about 75% of my losses.

Edit: You may be wondering why I didn't simply give up and put my daughter back into disposable diapers after the rash issue.  Well, initially we did.  However, after that sensitivity to synthetics was triggered, the only disposables she could wear without relapsing the rash were Huggies Pure&Natural (though I'm sure 7th Generation would have also worked).  After my husband and I crunched numbers, we realized that even after our losses and another substantial investment in organic cloth diapering products, we'd still come in marginally ahead of diapering her in disposables.  Besides, one of my favorite aspects of cloth diapering is the utter lack of "pooplosions."  I'd rather routinely launder dirty diapers than routinely grapple with blow-outs as I did with my son.

My daughter grew, and still more diapers were purchased and resold.  I honestly don't know if I have saved anything over disposables in my cloth diapering journey with her, but I have gained so much that disposables would never have given me.  I have learned about the wonders of natural fibers (especially wool!) and the hidden dangers of synthetics.  I have learned the art of resale.  I have developed relationships with some incredible women that I otherwise would never have met.  Cloth was my gateway into both thrifty and green lifestyle education and decisions.

And hey, after dropping easily $1000/year in disposables, wipes, rash creams, and increased garbage costs on my son - who, because of the "feel dry" nature of disposables, didn't potty train until the age of 3 1/2 - even if I dropped $2000 dollars on diapers to from birth to toilet on my elder daughter, it's well worth it.

Armed with over a year of life lessons in cloth diapering, I was excited rather than overwhelmed to prepare to CD my third child from birth.  Yes, I showed the true sign of "fluff addiction."  After picking myself up from the shock of discovering I was pregnant, my first thought was "Yay!  An excuse to buy more diapers!"  I know, it sounds crazy.  How does that saying go?  "You'd have to be there"?

Well, if you made it through this disjointed post, stay tuned.  I'll give you an insider's view of one child's stash from birth to potty training.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

New Baby Checklist

A friend of mine, expecting her first child, asked me for a list of what she'd need.   After three kids, I focused on what I wish I'd known while preparing for my eldest 6 years ago ...  

I know the baby industry is overwhelming, and pre-formatted “registry checklists” are often misleading.   Too often, they cite luxuries as “necessities” and occasionally overlook something you might actually need.  They also tend to leave an expectant parent with the impression that they have to acquire everything before the baby arrives.  This is simply not true.  As a friend once put it, all you need to bring baby home is “boobs, diapers, blankets, and carseat.”  Technically, this is true, though a tad minimalist for my taste.  Still, it stands as a good reminder to take it easy.  Also, keep in mind three things as you shop:

1)      What’s your budget?  If you live hand-to-mouth, I advise only acquiring items as your baby is in need of/ready for them.
2)      What’s your lifestyle?  Do you plan to nurse or bottlefeed?  Reuse diapers or dispose them? Wear your baby or “stroll” him/her?  Co-sleep, bed-share (yes, there is a difference), or separate nursery?
3)      Less is more!!  Remember, every item you accumulate is something that you will have to maneuver around and keep clean.  It is also something that could get lost or broken (or break your toes in the middle of the night).

If you plan to exclusively breastfeed, you really don’t need anything, though a good handpump and one or two bottles (along with a pack of storage bags) for emergencies or “parents’ nights out” might not be a bad idea.  There’s nothing worse than being caught unprepared with a severe illness rendering you incapable of feeding your baby for 24 hours.  Believe me, I know!

Part-time bottle feeding:  3-4 small (4-6oz) bottles, a regular pack of storage bags, and a good single or double-electric breastpump (Lansinoh is a good choice).  Make sure your bottles are “nature shaped” to minimize nipple confusion; and determine number of large bottles later when you decide how you want to continue (a lot of part-timers transition directly from small bottles to early sipper cups).

Full-time bottle feeding: 6-8 small &  4-6 large (8-12 oz) bottles; a large pack of storage bags; and a hospital-grade breastpump (look into Medela or Ameda); or supplement with formula

Diapering:  For the sake of this list, I’m only going to advise what you’ll need within the first month or two.

Disposables – expect to go through a standard “jumbo” pack every 3-5 days with a newborn (sadly, "value packs" are generally unavailable in newborn or preemie sizes).  As most babies lose their umbilical stumps between 10 and 20 days, I'd recommend starting out with 4 packs of the newborn size (given your baby has an average birthweight).  That should give you two weeks of diapers, give or take.

Reusable/cloth – if planning full-time cloth diapering, build a stash of 2.5-3 dozen changes for a newborn.  This can look like 30 pockets or all-in-ones; or 3 dozen fitteds/flats/prefolds with 6 covers; or 5 hybrid “daypacks” (which typically include two covers and 6 inserts).  You'll also want cloth wipes (half again as many as you have diapers) and a wetbag for travel (a step garbage can makes a great diaper pail).

Part-time cloth – if you want to supplement with cloth at home to ease the strain on your budget, then start with a half-dozen pockets/all-in-ones; or 6-12 fitteds/flats/prefolds and 2-3 covers; or one hybrid system daypack.  I highly recommend using a “one-size” option to maximize the value. A dozen cloth wipes and a medium wetbag are also advisable purchases.

Transport: your carseat choice will tie in closely with your method of pedestrian transport.  Most strollers are not designed to safely accommodate a newborn (improper recline, neck support, and restraint placement).  So if you plan on using a stroller, I recommend an infant-only bucket-style carseat that can snap into s stroller.  Try to go with one that can accommodate a wider length/weight range, like the Graco Snugrude 30 or Evenflo

If you plan to Babywear look for a high-quality soft-structured carrier with proper ergonomic support for both parent and infant.  Beco and Ergo are good brands.  Or, you can wrap, but consider how long you plan to do so.  Moby’s are popular for younger babies but tend to stretch as babies grow.  A woven (like Wrapsody) is a better option for long-term use.  Ringslings (like Sleeping Baby Productions) are very user-friendly but limited as to options for carrying positions (the bulk of baby’s weight will be on one shoulder or the other).
Babywearing also opens up the option of starting your newborn immediately in a convertible carseat.  Built to accommodate babies from 5 to 40 lbs in a rear-facing capacity, this type of carseat really gives you the best “bang for your buck.”  It will also encourage you to rear-face your child to the age of two (a direction most state laws are heading).

Furniture: in terms of the first 6 months or so, this really boils down to where you want your baby to sleep and where you want to change them.

Bedsharing: there’s really only one safe way to bedshare.  Remove all blankets/pillows from your bed and invest in a sleep position like the now discontinued Tres Trias.  This prevents baby from rolling off your bed but minimizes the risks of smothering by loose blankets or soft pillows.

Co-sleeping:  my preferred method of sleeping a newborn entails a separate bed in the same room.  We use an Arm’s Reach Mini Cosleeper, which is essentially bassinet-sized pack-n-play that can lash to the side of one’s bed.  If you’ve got a night-time nurser, it’s a lifesaver.  Another option is a classic bassinet or pack-n-play. 

Separate room:  if you’re going to have your baby in a separate room from the get-go, you might as well skip straight to the crib.  Remember to avoid bumpers and other loose bedding.  Skip Hop makes some cute sheets and baby-sized blankets with all the style of a cribset if you’re wanting to liven things up a bit without compromising your little one’s safety.  Also, projectors are safer options than mobiles (you don’t have to worry about a climber pulling it down).

Changing station:  while you can invest in a separate changing table and dresser, I’ve found (particularly when co-sleeping) that simply using a curved changing pad on top of a low-boy dresser gives you what you need with the benefit of an extended life.

Bathing: focus on what will keep you and baby relaxed and secure in the early days of bathing.  Again, less is more.  In truth, newborns really shouldn't be bathed too frequently as their skin is so delicate.

Bath positioner or newborn-to-toddler tub (I selected a folding newborn tub for my youngest)
2 towels and 4-6 fine baby washcloths (the latter are a must when caring for blocked tear ducts!)
Gentle baby wash, and lotion or essential oils formulated for infants (ideally natural and unscented or minimally scented)
Comb and Brush
Nail clippers and files

Clothing:  rule of thumb: don’t buy too far ahead.  Not all babies match up with the retail idea of sizing.  My eldest wore 6 month clothing when he was 6 weeks old.  Sadly, he had been given a plethora of 6M clothing in spring/summer weight (he was a fall baby) … which he couldn’t use in the dead of winter.  For a newborn, you don’t need much:

6-8 side-snap tees (more if you have a spitter), preferably long-sleeved unless your baby is born in the heat of summer
3-4 swaddling blankets or woombies
3-4 rompers for quick outings
1-2 dress-up outfits (not really a “need”, but they’re fun)
6-8 pairs of socks (you really only need 4-6 pair, but baby socks have a notorious habit of disappearing)
Baby blankets – 2-3 (more if your baby is a spitter) of seasonal weight.

In 3M size, start small:

6-8 bodysuits (single use or for layering)
2-3 pairs of pants
4-6 rompers/sleepers
2-3 dress-up outfits
Jacket (as weather warrants)

Add sizes clothing as growth and seasons demand.

Health & Safety:

Pacifiers (optional, particularly if you plan to breastfeed) – they get dropped a lot, so you’ll want 3-4 to get started, long with 1-2 pacifier clips
Burp cloths – 2-3 is enough unless your baby is a spitter (my elder daughter would saturate 6 a day!)
Cool mist humidifier (warm mist if you can afford it!) 
Free & Clear detergent (note: Dreft contains Fabric softener, to which some babies will react)
Advisory: ignore the urge to stock up on baby "meds".  Most should not be administered to a child under three months without a doctor's recommendation, so you'll spare yourself the temptation to medicate.

Other gear:

Bouncer/rocker/swing:  You’ll want one to rest baby in the room you’re working, particularly if they’re awake.  The incline is invaluable when you baby inevitably gets a cold for the first time.  But which do you choose?  They all have pros and cons.

Bouncers are economical, compact, and provide a vibrating sensation that is incredibly soothing to most babies.  The danger in them comes in the form of addiction.  My eldest couldn’t sleep without his.

Rock-n-plays are simple, portable, and mid-range (price).  They also elevate baby nicely if you have other young children or pets. (I opted for a Rock-n-Play and haven’t regretted my decision.)

Swings are generally pricey and space-consuming.  Their benefit is a catch-22.  Many babies find them incredibly soothing; others (like mine) hate them with a burning passion.  Generally, you won’t know until after you’ve purchased and assembled one.

Playmat/Gym:  while not necessary, they make a nice clean floor space to introduce baby to tummy time or to keep them occupied in their “quiet alert” times.  If you live in a small space, aim for one that rolls or twists into a compact bundle.

Baby Booster: while I never had one of these for my first two, pics from friends have convinced me that a Bumpo or BeBePod is a worthwhile investment for a younger baby, particularly if he or she is showing signs of early independence in sitting or a desire to interact with the family.

Highchair:  Find a sturdy one that can support a younger baby and cleans easily.  You have a plethora of options; and if you live in a small home look for a space-saving highchair like one by Fisher Price.

Entertainer/Jumper:  an absolute must for an active baby who can not yet support his/her own weight.  This will enable them to burn off some of their curious energy without giving mom or dad a heart attack.  Look into Johnny Jumpers for a small-space solution.

“Older Baby” Safety: outlet covers are a must once your little one is mobile; and cabinet slip-locks are advisable.  Don’t bother with most other safety paraphernalia (our parents didn’t have them and we all survived to adulthood).

Bottom Line:  After three babies in tiny spaces, I learned the value of 1) downsizing; and 2) acquiring gear as baby needs it (and reselling what she no longer needed).  She’s 3 months now and the crib remains in storage.  We’ll probably invest in a highchair and entertainer for her in 3-6 months (though I do plan to get her a BeBePod next month).  Keep it Simple, Sweetheart!