Favorite Books for Babies & Young Children

favorite children's books

As a mother of six young children, I’ve read my fair share of children’s books. It would truly be
impossible for me to pick one solid favorite for each age-range but I do have particular books
both my children and I enjoy greatly. Read-on to see my top-picks.

Ages 0-2 Years Old

While not a single specific book, but rather a collection of books written for the very young,
Priddy Books are the best! With the brightly colored yet simple photographs and the large board-book format, these are an amazing introduction to reading for even the youngest child. Book-choices range from everyday vocabulary to construction vehicles and jungle animals. It’s amazing to witness your baby/toddler learn new words and bridge the gap, over time, between being able to identify the pictures as you read the labels aloud, to actually verbalizing the words on his/her own. Your toddler will love being able to “read” this book to you as his/her vocabulary expands.

Ages 3-4 Years Old

I Love You, Stinky Face, written by Linda McCourt, is a wonderful, whimsical story that follows a young child who wants to know “what if…?” as Mom says, “goodnight.” The illustrations bring to life the imaginings of a boy who wants to know if fantastical physical changes (for instance, being a monster or an alien) would change his mother’s love for him. With an equal level of imagination, his mother reassures him that her love could never waiver, even if she has to live near a swamp or pack bugs in his lunch. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and it’s the perfect bedtime story to share with your preschooler.

Ages 5-7 Years Old

A classic book with simple words and even simpler drawings, The Giving Tree, written by Shel Silverstein, has deep content and acts as a great conversation-starter about friendship, selfishness, love, and the seasons of one’s life.

I’m sure that both you and your child will enjoy these picture books. Curl up next to your little one and read one of these today. Reading together is such a cozy way to interact with your children and it seems for many, to be one of those positive memories that imprints for a lifetime.

5 Car Seat “Don’ts” You Want Avoid

car seats

Parents-to-be have so much information to absorb. It’s difficult to keep track of it all. Then, baby
arrives and the sleep deprivation sets in. It’s easy to mistakenly do something dangerous,
especially when it seems that the safety recommendations are constantly in flux. Even if this
isn’t your first go-round, it’s likely things have changed since the last time you had an infant in a
car seat. Keep on reading to be sure you’re avoiding these common car seat mistakes.

Don’t put the Car Seat on top of a Shopping Cart

There’s no doubt you’ve seen lots of babies in car seats perched atop shopping carts. It’s a very
common practice but it’s not a safe one for baby nor is it a good move for the integrity of the car
seat itself. The major safety issue at play here is the potential for the shopping cart to tip over
due to becoming top-heavy from the weight of your baby and baby’s car seat. This could then
cause the car seat to topple over which could harm the baby. Additionally, car seats are not
designed to clip on to shopping carts even though you may be able to clip your seat onto the
cart. This is actually warned against in car seat manuals and can damage the mechanism in the
car seat that holds it securely to the base. Either scenario, a fall from the top of the cart or
unknowingly continuing to use a seat that has been damaged, could end tragically so it’s best to
avoid this practice altogether.

Don’t use Aftermarket Products

There are boatloads of aftermarket products sold for car seat use. Everything from hanger toys
for the infant seat’s handle to fancy headrests and infant inserts. Since they’re sold at leading
retailers and because they often have a stamp of “approval” listed on the packaging, parents
often figure they’re totally safe for use. The truth of the matter is that the car seat you own has
only been tested and proven safe to use with the items that are originally included with the seat
(or those sold by the manufacturer that are listed as safe in the instruction manual). So, while
those little teddy bear strap huggers are adorable, it’s better to leave them on the shelf and stick
with the products from the manufacturer of your seat designed for your specific seat.

Don’t put Baby in a Bulky Winter Coat

When the temperatures drop, it’s only natural to want to keep your baby warm and cozy,
especially when heading outside. It seems the sensible thing to do would be to bundle baby up
in a sweet, fuzzy bunting or a warm, puffy coat before strapping them into the car seat. The
thing is, car seat harness safety depends upon the snugness of the harness against baby’s
body. This means that in a collision, particularly at high speeds, the “fluff” of a winter coat
compresses, leaving baby loosely strapped in, and vulnerable to being ejected from the seat,
even if the harness had been pulled tautly over the coat at the onset of the ride. With small
babies, a blanket tucked around them or a “shower cap” style seat cover are the best options for
keeping baby warm in the car seat. With older children, simply having them put the coat on
backwards once strapped in their seats or using the coat as a blanket are the easy alternatives.

Don’t Leave Baby in Car Seat when not in Transit

With the convenience of a carrying handle, it seems that infant seats are designed to help
parents avoid having to remove your sleeping newborn from the seat once you’ve exited your
vehicle. However, the most recent recommendations warn against this practice, citing examples
of cases where infants have died when left to sleep in a car seat when not in-transit. They
believe this is a result of the angle of the seat and the position of the baby when the seat isn’t in
the vehicle versus its safe and proper angle when it is properly secured in the vehicle. So, while
it may seem counter-intuitive to disrupt a sleeping baby by removing him/her from the car seat
upon arrival to your destination, this is exactly the recommendation given for optimal safety.

Don’t Skip Reading the Manual

Perhaps this should go without saying, but with the constant need to maximize the use of our
time and the seemingly easy installation of car seats, it would be faster to skip reading the
manual and still feel confident that you have installed your car seat correctly. However, there
are so many nuances to the seats themselves as well as the vehicle in which the seat is being
installed, that failing to both read the manual and follow the instructions accordingly, could truly
be an endangerment to your child.

Keeping track of all the “rules” can be overwhelming when it comes to childrearing. However,
car seat safety is something that just cannot be glossed over. Car travel is so commonplace in
our society that we tend to overlook the inherent risks; but the proper safety measures must be
taken to keep your baby secure and out of harm’s way.

 

For car seat installation and support in the Baltimore area, please contact Sheena Hill, CPST at Parenting Works.

5 Popular Pieces of Baby Gear You Can Do Without

If you’re expecting your first child, you’ve likely started a baby registry. This can be both a fun
and daunting task. Without having your baby here, how exactly are you supposed to know what
baby gear is needed and which products you’re better off passing up? Look no further. I’m going to
give you a list of five very popular baby registry items that truly are unnecessary, some are even
considered unsafe.

Baby-Specific Laundry Detergent
If you’re seeking a gentle detergent for your baby, it’s likely your favorite brand has a
hypoallergenic, fragrance-free laundry detergent available. Most brands of laundry detergent
offer this option and all are less expensive than brands like Dreft that sport a much larger price
tag solely because new parents are willing to pay more for what they believe is “best for baby.”
Simply by avoiding baby-specific detergents, you can save quite a bit of money while still
providing a safe washing alternative to conventional, highly-scented, often high-allergen laundry
detergents. Truthfully, the “free & clear” detergents are actually a better choice for the whole
family since artificial fragrance has been linked to a wide variety of health issues no matter
one’s age.

Bumbo
The Bumbo seat and other brands like it allow baby to be in an upright-seated position before
baby is naturally able to sit unsupported on her own. Many parents may view this as a positive
thing to help baby learn how to sit upright or to develop the muscles necessary to reach this
milestone more quickly. However, it seems the opposite is true. Propping a baby into this
position at a time when his body has not organically achieved the muscle tone to do so, could
have a negative effect on baby’s core strength and in some cases could even delay or hinder baby’s natural trajectory to meet this milestone. A better and free (yay!) option is to allow baby ample time on both back
and tummy so that all muscles are getting a solid workout in a natural way, allowing baby to
reach this development in her own time.

Large reclining high chair
This common-style of high chair is not only large and awkward, difficult to store, and often in the
way, it’s also totally unnecessary. The main purpose of a high chair is to facilitate feeding solids
foods to your baby. The latest recommendations for introduction to solids include waiting for
baby to show signs of physical readiness, one of the most important signs being the ability to sit
upright unsupported. If one is waiting until baby is physically capable of doing this, the reclining option on the seat is negated, leaving this type of seat largely pointless. A simple booster seat with a tray that straps to an
existing dining chair or a seat that latches directly to the table are both far less expensive and
take up far less space than does a traditional stand-alone, reclining high-chair.

Bucket Car Seat
I know, I know, this is a tough one for people to swallow because it seems like such a high-
priority item. However, with convertible car seats available that are made to hold brand new
infants up through older toddlers, if money-savings is at all a thought for you, skipping the infant-
carrier/baby bucket type car seat is a great option! Many people lean toward this handled car
seat because babies sleep so much in the first few months. It’s thought to be a no-brainer that
you can just carry baby from car to destination and leave baby sound asleep without
disturbance. However, the latest information and recommendations warn against babies
sleeping in this type of seat other than when in-transit since the positioning is not ideal and can
pose a risk to baby. Taking away the convenience of keeping a sleeping baby asleep once
no longer in a traveling vehicle, really seems to greatly decrease the appeal of this type of seat.
You may now wonder what one would do with a baby in a grocery store for instance or out at a
social event if there isn’t a car seat to keep baby contained. This is where babywearing really
comes in handy and is often less cumbersome than lugging around an infant in a heavy car
seat.

‘Smart’ Monitors
With all the hoopla surrounding the many smart-monitors available now, it seems parents are
flocking to these pricey products in the hopes of preventing SIDS or other potential health
issues. The problem with these is that they haven’t been shown to reduce or prevent either of
those scenarios nor have they been approved by the FDA. A study done in 2017 shows that
false alarms are common while actual potential issues for oxygen saturation or heart-rate were
sometimes not detected at all. Doctors are warning parents not to rely on these physiologic
monitors since their effectiveness is questionable and could cause parents either undue distress
or an assurance everything is fine when perhaps it is not. It seems that outside of a true medical need for
constant oxygen/respiration monitoring, which should be done with only hospital-grade
machinery prescribed by a medical professional, this type of monitoring is not needed at all and
should not be viewed as a guaranteed accurate measure of baby’s state of physical well-being.
With baby items, like anything else, most of what is sold is unnecessary. Babies, particularly
young babies, require very little in the way of material goods and a great deal in the way of
physical nurturing and emotional support. If you don’t have the desire for or cannot afford all the
latest gadgets marketed to new parents, take heart, you and your love for baby are what is
needed most and that cannot be purchased!

Sleep-Training Considerations: Part I

sleep training

If you’re a parent, you know sleep-training is a hot topic. Fueled with passion from both sides, some swear by it and claim that it’s the only thing that can be done to teach a child to sleep, while others say it’s not necessary and that baby will learn over time, without it. There’s so much talk about whether it’s right or wrong that folks don’t sit back, take a deep breath, and consider the implications of sleep-training and how it feels for them personally, away from all the chatter.

The two most-recommended sleep training methods are: 1) extinction, often referred to as cry-it-out (CIO), where a parent puts a child down awake and does not return until morning, and 2) the Ferber-method, where a parent puts down a drowsy child and increases the duration of time baby is left alone while periodically checking-in when baby is distressed; offering some reassurances (verbally, picking-up and putting back down, pats on the head or back, etc) until eventually the parent stops re-entering the room at all. Being that these two are the most popular and the methods that come with such heated debate, these are the two being considered for the purpose of this post. Now that we’re on the same page, let’s unpack what this looks like.

 

Night-feedings

It’s no secret that babies need to eat frequently. Some people try to convince parents that once babies have achieved a given weight or once babies hit a certain age, night-feedings are no longer necessary. The issue with this, particularly for nursing babies up to a year old, is that the intervals at which they feed and the number of feedings needed in a 24-hour period depends largely on Mom’s biology, namely her breast storage capacity and breast fullness. By prematurely cutting out night-feedings in the hopes of more sleep, baby’s total daily caloric intake is reduced. This has the potential to negatively affect baby’s growth, mood, and overall well-being. Additionally, it introduces the possibility of creating clogged ducts, mastitis, or supply issues for Mom.

 

Nighttime Parenting

As parents, clocking-in and clocking-out just isn’t an option. We need to have a realistic expectation that we’ll be up through the night with our babies for at least the first year, perhaps even longer. Reframing the idea of the often frustrating parental night-waking into “nighttime parenting” is helpful. While the sun is no longer shining and the goings-on of the day have wound down, the parent is still on-call, the baby is still fully dependent on the caregiver for all of the same things the caregiver provides during daylight hours. With that in mind, it’s important to reflect on how you respond to baby during the day. Do you let baby fuss for several minutes before responding? Do you wait to respond until baby is crying heartily, obviously needing attention? Do you tune out the cries and wait for baby to sort it out on her own? As parents, while we may deeply desire uninterrupted sleep, we don’t clock out at the end of the day. We’re always on and babies are relying on us. When considering how differently nighttime presents itself; the dark, the quiet, baby is often totally alone; one can clearly see how baby’s needs are likely to increase, rather than decrease. Instead of nighttime lending itself to a hands-off approach to parenting, nighttime is a time of high need for baby. High need for baby means the need for high responsiveness from parents.

 

Physiology of Distress and Self-Soothing

Babies are tiny humans so their bodily systems operate similarly to an adult’s. Being so much smaller however, babies’ bodies are more easily overcome by physiological changes than are our adults’ bodies. As babies cry and then cry harder, their physiology responds the way ours would as we get increasingly upset. Blood pressure increases, body temperature increases, heart rate increases, cortisol levels rise, respiration increases, skin may flush, sweating ensues. Baby may begin to get a headache, nose will run, voice will become hoarse.

No parent wishes this type of physical distress on their baby. However parents will willingly allow this to occur when convinced that baby is manipulating them or that baby is “only” frustrated and needs no intervention. Parents, with broken hearts and large glasses of wine, sit outside the door of their hysterical baby because they’ve been told that without this, baby will simply never learn to sleep-through-the-night.

The phrase “self-soothe”  is mentioned again and again; along with the idea that babies can only learn this skill by working it out alone through tears, screams, and sobs. However, when taking a step back, one can see, as is pointed out in this chart, that a baby’s capacity for soothing is virtually totally limited to reliance on the parent. And of course, the younger the baby, the higher that reliance.


Reflect on How it Feels

You’ve waited 40 long weeks (give or take) to hold this sweet baby in your arms. Now that your baby has arrived it seems like everyone is encouraging you to treat her like a hot potato. Don’t hold the baby while he sleeps, you must get baby sleeping in her own room, you must teach the baby to self-soothe, you’re going to spoil him, the baby will never learn to sleep along if you’re always holding her. How does that advice feel for you? When you hear your baby crying, does it feel in your heart like you want to tune the cries out or do you feel drawn to your baby? Do you feel a strong urge to snuggle your baby up and soothe the baby through nursing or rocking or patting? If there weren’t all the outside noise blaring well-intended advice at you, what would you do instinctually?

We need to find our way back to our natural leanings as parents rather than listening to so-called “sleep experts” and well-meaning friends and family members. We are physiologically hard-wired to be hear and respond to our children. To attempt to desensitize one’s self to the calls of our offspring can prove detrimental to both parent and child. This period of such high physical need, while admittedly challenging, is short-lived but vital to a child’s attachment to parents and overall trust and security.

 

How Did We Get Here?

If the claim is that we’re being coerced to deviate from natural responses to our children, it begs the question why. What has happened in our culture that some parents have made a choice to tune out a crying infant in order to catch some Z’s of their own? Are these heartless parents? No. These are desperate parents! Parents desperate for sleep, desperate for routine, desperate for the ability to function on the job.

This desperation is at least, in part, rooted in the fact that our society does not value parents in actionable ways. There is a major lack of support for parents in our country. Mothers are expected go back to work at 6 weeks postpartum; the “lucky” ones who can manage financially without pay, go back around 3-4 months postpartum. Neither is  enough time to establish one’s position as a parent, let alone get the hang of breastfeeding, become accustomed to frequent night-waking, fully embrace the notion of being totally responsible for sustaining another human life. These are all huge emotional and physical undertakings and there is little to no cultural understanding of that. Then when returning to work, it’s often a struggle for breastfeeding mothers to fit in time for pumping and can require a lot of legwork upfront to get approval and space for pumping breaks.

The challenge for mothers to be able to perform at work without falling asleep at their desks in-between their rushed pumping sessions is very real. This weighs heavily on these women who are trying so hard to manage a very new and very stressful lifestyle. Going home at night only to lose precious sleep once again is enough to wear anyone down. Something has to give and oftentimes the promise of more sleep makes sleep-training seem like the only option.

 

Is there an Alternative?

There is an alternative to traditional sleep-training that improves sleep for both Mother and baby! Keep an eye out for Part II of this post which will address that.

The Call for Limiting Ultrasounds During Pregnancy

ultrasound pregnacy

Fetal ultrasound is a method of viewing a fetus while in the womb. Ultrasound technology uses
sound waves, that bounce off the baby’s mass, to produce a picture of the baby. While both the
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and the Food and Drug Administration
both agree that limiting fetal ultrasound is important, some doctors continue to insist on
frequently looking at baby in-utero without caution.

To avoid unnecessary viewing of your unborn baby, ask why an ultrasound is necessary.
Oftentimes, doctors utilize certain technology simply because it’s readily available without taking
into account the potential risks at-hand. In the case of fetal ultrasounds, it seems that
obstetricians, especially those with direct-in-office-access to ultrasound technology, like to “take
a peek” at baby in-utero far more frequently than may be clinically-indicated. Some women have
a fetal ultrasound performed at nearly each prenatal visit. Patients, trusting the doctor, don’t
always question why the ultrasounds are being conducted, and understandably so, enjoy being
able to view baby. However, if there is not a clear clinical need to have these images taken,
these ultrasounds are better off being declined.

What are the potential risks you’re even avoiding if you were to decline an ultrasound? In this
FDA article, Dr. Shahram Vaezy, an FDA biomedical engineer, states that,
“Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles
(cavitation) in some tissues.” Dr. Vaezy also warns that, “…prudent use of these devices by
trained health care providers is important.” Ultrasound has also been utilized recently to help
heal fractured bones and is also used to “blast” away kidney stones. Something that has the
potential to change the tissues of a developing fetus should be used with caution and operated
strictly by a trained health professional. This means that not only should the storefront
“keepsake” ultrasonography shops be completely avoided but frequent viewing of baby under
any circumstance increases risks to the fetus.

A trained ultrasound technician should be the only person performing these scans but it’s not
just the operator that holds significance. The length of time the ultrasound takes place is also of
significance. The longer the fetus is exposed to ultrasound, and the longer the fetal temperature
is altered, the higher the potential risks. The ACOG, in an October 2017 “ACOG Committee
Opinion” release note specifically that, “Ultrasound imaging should be performed efficiently and
only when clinically indicated to minimize fetal exposure risk using the keeping acoustic output
levels As Low As Reasonably Achievable (commonly known as ALARA) principle.”
Worth noting is that fetal Dopplers, often used by care providers to listen, not look, at baby in-
utero, also utilize ultrasonic sound waves to pick up baby’s heartbeat. These monitors carry a similar risk to visual ultrasound and also carry warnings as to be used only by healthcare
professionals. By purchasing this type of monitor, many mothers feel reassured by being able to
listen to baby’s heartbeat at any given time. However, Doppler monitors have not been
designed for at-home use.

The decision for frequency of ultrasound exposure during pregnancy remains with the patient.
With information regarding both risks and benefits of this medical intervention, one can make an
informed choice as to how she wishes to proceed when ultrasound is recommended by her care
provider. It is always important to have an open dialogue with your provider regarding any
concerns about recommended procedures. Only when the patient is comfortable and in
agreement, should a non-emergent procedure take place. As a patient, you have the right to
decline any or all ultrasounds recommended by your care provider. You also have the right to
question what the provider is hoping to find through the recommended imaging and how the
imaging itself would affect future medical recommendations.

While ultrasound is widely accepted in the medical community as being safe and carrying little
to no risk, it is still wise to proceed with caution. Let us not forget that several decades ago, X-
rays were used readily for a host of reasons, including fetal imaging and were considered “safe.”
Of course, now more is known and there is great caution with X-ray use. This is a good lesson
in why, for a healthy pregnancy, less medical intervention is often the best choice.

Babywearing: The Holiday Helper

babywearing

With the holiday season in full-tilt, those of you with new babies may be feeling a bit hesitant about taking your little ones to holiday gatherings or to community events. Concerns range from not wanting Aunt Susan to sneak your baby a taste of that pumpkin pie to trying to avoid kisses from every well-meaning friend and family member.

Prevent the Pass-Around
Of course you want to show off your little bundle, but you want to do it on your terms. It feels uncomfortable to have baby being passed around from person-to-person. Cue babywearing! People are far less likely to reach out for baby when baby is snugly wrapped or strapped to Mom or Dad. It offers an unspoken barrier stopping people from requesting a chance to hold baby since it’s clear that baby is very comfortable and secure. This gives the caregiver the ability to offer baby up for a snuggle if one so desires rather than having to refuse the request or even worse, oblige the request even though it’s not what you want to do.

Don’t Miss Feedings
With the hustle and bustle of holiday events, it’s far easier to accidentally skip a feeding. As babies get a bit older and more easily distracted, all the noise and goings-on of a holiday celebration could result in baby bypassing her typical feeding cues. While baby might not even fuss at the missed feeding, a nursing mom may experience engorged breasts and even risk mastitis. With baby held closely in a wrap, sling, or carrier, the physical proximity helps keep caregiver and baby attuned to feeding needs.

Do Miss Unwanted Feedings
There’s always that one relative who feels it necessary to give baby “just a little taste” of the whipped cream or “just a pinch” of Grandma’s beloved holiday cookie. It’s frustrating to find out, after-the-fact, that your baby has been given something that his sensitive gut might not be ready for yet. Thankfully, with baby comfortably enjoying the party secured to your chest, no one can sneak an unwanted taste to your baby.

Avoid Overstimulation
Babywearing provides a grounding experience for baby: the rhythmic sound of the wearer’s breathing, the steady heartbeat, and the gentle movement. All these things offer baby a familiar, safe, and comfortable environment even when the surroundings may be totally unfamiliar. It even allows baby to snuggle in for a much-needed nap with music and laughter and chatting in the background.

Babywearing is the ultimate holiday helper. You can attend your holiday event with the peace of mind knowing baby is cozy, comfortable, and insulated from unwelcomed circumstances. Even better, you can keep baby close with your hands totally free. That means more trips through the buffet line for you. That alone is a reason to celebrate! Happy holidays!

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