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Baby Pictures and Family Photos: Taking Commemorative Photos Every Year

As the holidays approach, it’s a good time to think about traditions.  Traditions can be as simple as baking pumpkin pie as a family for Thanksgiving dinner, reading the same story every Christmas morning or delivering cheer to friends and neighbors.  Today, we’re focusing on one family tradition we know every new parent will love: family photos.  Because if there is one thing you cannot have enough of, it is baby pictures.

The holiday season is a terrific time for a planned or candid photo shoot with the family.  Everyone’s in a festive mood, usually dressed in their snazziest attire and you can probably count on the whole family being present.  That’s especially true if your family photos will include extended family.

same photosWhether you pictures will capture a large family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, just your immediate family or just your kids or baby, you have a wonderful opportunity to create commemorative photos.  One of the most fun ways to achieve memorable moments year-after-year is to recreate the same or similar scene.  The evolution of your family from year-to-year will be incredible to watch and display.

Recreating poses works well when it includes another object.  For example, your family could pose in front of a newly planted tree and each year, as you see your family grow, you’ll see the tree grow as well.  Or, depending on your traditions you may want to take family pictures with Santa Claus or a menorah.  You could go to your favorite park, sit in front of your fireplace or have each person sit in their favorite chair.  The possibilities are endless.  By posing in a similar way, you’ll be amazed at how your family changes each year.  Even if you haven’t selected the same pose every year, try recreating one from 5 or 10 years ago.  Or a different twist on this idea is to pose your current family the same way a previous generation posed, perhaps one from when you were a child.

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Another excellent way to take commemorative pictures is doing something that defined your year.  If this was the year of bike riding or boating, take your family photos on your bicycles or in a boat.  If you were a family of jet-setters this year, add a globe or some stickered suitcase to your photos.  Or maybe your family loves to dance.  Take some wild shots of everyone in the act of dancing to mark the year.

And while posed portraits are wonderful to have, so are some silly photos.  Have your photographer take some candid photos of your family playing, running, tickling and otherwise acting goofy.  You can also wear something silly, such as costumes or your pajamas.  You can’t beat a natural smile that was made with the pure joy of having fun and being together as a family.  If the candid action is too much, try posing in a candid way, such as upside or walking hand-in-hand.

baby photoBaby pictures can be a bit challenging, especially if your little one tends to be fussy or is already mobile.  If you have an infant in your family photos, try to take your pictures at a time when your baby is happiest, has gotten plenty of sleep and is well-fed.  Have lots of hands on deck to pose your baby and to do silly things that will make her look towards the camera and remain generally pleased.

Some people line the walls of their home with expensive artwork.  But with baby pictures and family photos, your wall hangings can be priceless. Wishing you a warm and festive holiday season.  To that we’ll say cheers and “say cheese.”

Ways to Ease Baby’s Runny Nose

This time of year, we all get a case of the sniffles.  If this is your first fall and winter season with your baby, you’ll probably soon experience her first never-ending runny nose.  While we are all more prone to drippy noses in the cold weather, babies are more likely to get colds and congestion because their immune systems are still developing.  Plus, they are constantly on the floor and putting things in their mouths, which contributes to more germs.

It may break your heart to watch your baby suffer from a stuffed up nose, but know that getting a cold is very common.  Just think about how many colds you’ve had in the past few years.  And if it gives you any comfort, exposure to small amounts of germs at a young age helps build immunity.  Also, that amazing breast milk you’re providing is a life-long immune booster as well.

Unless prescribed by a pediatrician, medication is usually not necessary for a baby’s runny nose.  Instead, help her relieve the congestion and the annoyance of a cold.  Fortunately there are several things you can do during this cold-weather season to help ease baby’s runny nose.

sneezing-babyFirst, try to keep your baby’s nose clean.  Wipe away runny mucus as much as possible to prevent the spread of germs.  You may be able to suck out some of the mess in your baby’s nose with a bulb syringe.  It has a soft tip that is safe for a baby’s sensitive nasal cavity.  If the mucus is not moist enough, use saline drops before suctioning out the nose.  There are some brands of wipes that are designed to help pull out dried mucus, or you can use cotton swab or regular tissue if your baby will tolerate it.

A cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier can be very helpful to clear nasal airways.  Use it during naps and at nighttime until your baby’s congestion clears.  Just be sure to clean it regularly to avoid mold.

You can also try to loosen the mucus from your baby’s chest by patting her back gently.  Much like burping, this may help your baby cough up some mucus that would otherwise get caught in her chest or sinuses.

If your baby is not feeling well, she may need some extra TLC.  Breastfeed as much as possible during “sick days” to ensure your baby is getting plenty of nutrients and emotional comfort.  Try clearing the nasal passages just before breastfeeding.  You may need to take breaks often during a feeding to allow your baby to breathe if your baby’s nose is very clogged.

Typical signs of the common cold are congestion, cough, sore throat, sneezing, nasal discharge, headache, watery eyes and a mild fever.  Usually a trip to the pediatrician is not necessary for a cold or seasonal congestion, but be vigilant of your baby’s temperature.  If your baby is under 3 months and has a fever of 100.4 or more, call your doctor.  Do the same if your baby is 3 to 5 months and has a fever of 102 or more, or if any amount of fever persists for more than three days.  Always call and visit your pediatrician immediately with any fever 105 or greater at any age.  Temperatures 106 and above can affect the brain.

If your baby shows other symptoms such as a bloody nose, a smelly discharge from the nose or seems to be in severe pain, there could be other causes for the stuffiness and you should call your pediatrician.  Also, keep in mind that as the wind begins to blow, it picks up particles in the air that may cause allergies.  That could be the culprit of your baby’s sniffles rather than a cold.  Additionally, be aware of any new foods you introduce to your diet if you are breastfeeding as food allergies can cause nasal congestion as well.  And as you may already know, a runny nose is a symptom of teething too.

Although a nuisance, a clear runny nose is usually not much of a health concern.  Help your baby keep her nasal passages and other airways clear and she should be back to her bubbly, babbling self in no time.  If anything, use her sniffles as an excuse for some extra cuddling!

Trends in Family Size in the U.S.

Have you seen a lot of large families lately?  If you feel like family sizes are on the rise, you may be watching too much TV.  Celebrities do tend to have large families, but in general, trends in family size in the U.S. remains the same.  Two children per family is still the “norm,” but large families are still very common too. Approximately 34% of women have two children and 28% of women have three or more children.  But that hasn’t always been the case.

In the 1950s, family sizes were substantially larger. As the baby boom took off, families with three or four children were quite common.  According to a Gallup poll, in 1957 the average ideal number of children per family was 3.6.  For the past 25 years, the average number has been around 2.6.  Sociologists expect the trend will remain the same in the U.S.

Tips-for-moving-a-large-family_16001070_800813782_0_0_7072123_500But what about all those families with three or more kids you see at the park, schools and grocery stores?  Well, the mother of those children looks a lot different than she did in the 50s.  Today’s mom of 3+ kids tends to be a professional and wealthier than her 1950’s stay-at-home mom counterpart.  Historically, “older” women in their child-bearing years would have less children.  Now even those who postpone children well into their 30s after their careers are established still may choose larger family sizes.

There are several potential reasons for this shift.  Having more children requires more money.  And there are more wealthier families now, in part due to women having high-powered jobs.  A dual income makes a big difference in family planning.

Some families plan to have many children for religious reasons.  Others find out how much they love children once they have their own.  After the first one or two kids, they feel they are not done and decide to have more.  Family size trends also vary regionally.  So in some ways, family sizes may be “contagious.”

The debate remains whether large families breed large families.  Some people who grew up with many siblings choose the same for their own families, while others want to offer their children a different, more individualized experience.  The opposite is also true.  Only children sometimes want to have large families after longing for siblings in their own youth.

There are certainly pros and cons to large families.  Studies have shown greater social skills from an early age in children from larger families.  The theory is that the children always have playmates and learn how to get along with others starting in infancy at home.  They also have to take more responsibility in the home, for themselves and for each other.  Conversely, academics may suffer in larger families as parents don’t have the time and resources to spend on each child’s education.  This also may be a reflection of socio-economic status in low-income larger families.

The trend in U.S. family size has held steady for years.  Whether you’re in it for one child or seven, family planning is a personal decision.  But no matter the size, families are as strong, happy and loving as you make them.

Pregnancy Beauty: Using Cosmetics During Pregnancy

You have probably read a lot about what you should not eat, drink and inhale and what medications you should avoid during pregnancy.  The list may seem obnoxiously endless and restrictive, depending on your lifestyle.  The reason for such caution during pregnancy is that everything you consume is passed to the baby in some way.

Here’s one you may not have thought about: the substances that enter your body by absorption through your skin, such as skincare, nail and hair products and cosmetics.  Many of these items can contain ingredients that are toxic to any woman over time.  Passing along even small amounts of certain substances to a growing baby can be dangerous, especially early in a pregnancy as your baby is developing rapidly.

pregnancy-beautifulMany beauty, skincare and personal care items contain toxins.  They aren’t put there to be harmful, but rather to help the product do its job such as foam, smell nice, cleanse, congeal, spread smoothly, prolong its shelf life or to give the product a tint.  Unfortunately, these toxins can be filled with chemicals and heavy metals that are damaging to our bodies – in every way from general lethargy to life-threatening cancer, and everything in between – and certainly the developing baby in your belly.  Some of the worst-offending toxins to avoid during pregnancy are:  parabens, fragrances, formaldehyde, oxybenzone, retinoids, phthaltes, toluene and p-phenylenediamine.

Hard-core naturalists may recommend postponing use of all beauty products and cosmetics during pregnancy to be extremely cautious.  It’s something to consider, but most doctors would not tell you to stop wearing makeup or halt your entire beauty regimen.  They may, however, urge you to consider some alternatives or suspend some beauty practices until after your baby arrives.

Which beauty routines are a no-go during pregnancy?  We’re breaking it down for you here:

Cosmetics often contain heavy metals that can be poisonous as they accumulate in the body.  Lipsticks, eye liner, mascara and liquid foundations can be the worst culprits.  Almost every brand, premium or your drug-store variety, contains some level of toxins.  Eliminating makeup altogether is a personal choice.  Dare you let your pregnancy glow shine unmasked for 9 months?  If you want a healthier alternative to general cosmetics, try organic or all-natural cosmetic brands, or go for mineral makeup.

Sunscreen, the ultimate precautionary product, may itself be problematic during pregnancy.  It contains oxybenzone, which could cause low birth weight in female babies.  Nonetheless, sunscreen is a necessity, especially during pregnancy when skin is more sensitive due to elevated hormones.  Try using non-chemical all-natural sunscreens or mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Also, wear protective clothes and hats and avoid excessive sun exposure.

Skin Creams such as anti-wrinkle creams may contain a potent yet non-prescription substance called retinol.  Some studies have shown it is related to miscarriage and stunted growth.  Check with your doctor to determine if your favorite cream is OK during pregnancy.

Skincare products are often smelly and flakey, two bad signs when you’re trying to avoid inhalation or absorption of toxins.  Smelly products may indicate unstable chemicals and flakey products are more easily inhaled or digested.  With all of the products on the market, try a variety until you find ones that have safer qualities.  Or try a food-based facial instead.

Acne Medications should be avoided during pregnancy as they may cause birth defects.  Ask your doctor or dermatologist for a topical alternative, especially if your hormones are creating more than your share of unwanted blemishes.

Nail Polish has been linked to increased risk of stillbirths, birth defects and spontaneous abortion because it contains three toxic substances:  formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate.  Instead, trim, file and buff your nails for a more natural look.

Hairspray also contains phthalates that may interfere with the development of male reproductive organs.  The simple solution: use mousse or gel instead of hairspray.

Hair Dye contains various chemicals that work to magically cover gray hairs but could also cause problems for your baby.  Most experts recommend avoiding hair dyes during your first trimester and using it sparingly for the rest of your pregnancy.  Always dye hair in a well-ventilated room so the ammonia fumes do not make you sick.

Fragrances contain phthalates as well, which again are linked to reproductive toxicity by mimicking hormones and interfering with the growth of babies.  If you are jonesing for a sweet scent, try using fragrant flowers or fruit instead.

Poison Prevention: Keeping Your Baby Safe

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As we prepare to set back our clocks, daylight savings time is a good opportunity to ensure you have proper safety measures in place to protect your family.  Many people use daylight savings as a reminder to change or check the batteries on their smoke detectors. But, with a baby in the house, we recommend taking safety precautions one step further to reduce the risk of poison prevention.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that 2.4 million people come in contact with poisonous substances and at least half of them are under the age of 6.  As your baby becomes more mobile and inquisitive, she may start to explore new spaces in your home – spaces that may contain cleaning supplies, medications and outdoor and automotive chemicals, such as antifreeze, pesticides and gasoline.  According to the AAP, most poison incidents occur when parents or caregivers are home but not paying close enough attention to their children.  That’s why everyone should practice important safety measures to ensure the health and wellbeing of our families, especially babies.

Here are some safety reminders to avoid poison prevention in your home:

  • Lock cabinets that contain any hazardous substances including medications, cleaning supplies, laundry and dishwashing detergents, outdoor chemicals, automobile liquids, paints and lighters.  Remember, eventually your crawling baby may be a climbing toddler and an acrobatic child.  Even high cabinets that are reachable by standing on a counter or nearby chair should be locked before your growing tot becomes mobile enough to reach them.
  • Always keep potentially poisonous items in their original packaging so they are properly labeled.  You may want to add a hazardous material sticker to all dangerous items and explain to your child that the symbol means “NO.”  Never place potentially poisonous substances in food or other containers that may be deceiving about its contents or look appealing to young eyes.  Also, store dangerous items in a separate place from food.
  • medsMost household cleaners and medicine bottles come with child-proof caps and or simple lock-in-place devices.  If you feel the original packaging is not secure enough, add security measures like placing the item in a locked bin or adding a child-proof device to the top.
  • Keep purses, bags and briefcases out of the reach of babies.
  • Discard outdated or no-longer-needed medication for both you and your children.  Always check labels before giving your child medicine.  And always call medicine, even vitamins, by their name so your child knows it is not candy.
  • Never leave your child unattended around hazardous substances.  If you need to leave the room, bring the child or the item with you.
  • Keep all appliances in working order to ensure they do not create a fire hazard, produce dangerous fumes or emit toxins.
  • Check smoke and carbon dioxide detectors twice a year to ensure they are functioning properly.
  • Batteries, especially small button-cell batteries found in small toys, sound books, remote controls and thermometers, can be extremely dangerous if swallowed.  Make sure battery covers are secure for these items.

If your baby does come into contact with a poisonous substance and is having visible side-effects or is unconscious, call 911 immediately.  If know or think your child has come into contact with poisonous substances but is acting normally, call poison control:  1-800-222-1222.  You can also use the following guide for non-critical immediate treatment:

Poison via mouth:  Make your child spit out all of the substance and take it away from her completely.  Do not induce vomiting.

Poison via skin:  Strip your child and wash skin in warm water for at least 15 minutes.  Wash clothes thoroughly.

Poison via eyes:  Holding the eyelid open, rinse the inner corner of eyes with room-temperature water for 15 minutes.

Poison via fumes:  Take your child outside for fresh air.  If your child is in respiratory distress, administer CPR until she can breath on her own normally.

As we all get ready for Halloween and then daylight savings time, take the opportunity to put the skull-and-crossbones to good use.  That is, for poison prevention and the safety of your baby.

7 Pumpkin Sensory Activities to do with your Baby

It’s pumpkin season and a great time to do fun pumpkin activities with your little pumpkin.  Halloween may be a bit over your baby’s head this year and exposing babies to some of the frightful scenes and sounds of the holiday may be too scary for her, but there pumpkins-clusterare still plenty of fun ways to celebrate the holiday with the gourd of the season: pumpkins!

Babies learn by using their senses and having the opportunity to explore the world around them.  This Halloween season, incorporate pumpkins into playtime for a festive and exciting time.  Here are 7 ideas of sensory activities that can engage your pumpkin with pumpkins:

 

 

Play with Pumpkins:  You may see a decorative gourd, but to your baby, pumpkins can be fun toys and musical instruments.  Collect a few small pumpkins and use them as a sort of ball.  Roll them around on the floor and let your baby try to chase after them.  If she’s not crawling yet, put them in front of her during tummy time and try to get her to reach for them.  The bright orange color will be an enticing way for her to stretch towards a goal. You can also set up several larger pumpkins like a drum set and let baby tap them with her hands or rhythm sticks.  Rock on, little pumpkin!

Hunt for Pumpkins:  If your baby is mobile, hide miniature pumpkins (or even plastic, cardboard or cut-out pumpkins) around your playroom or back yard and let baby try to find them.  Collect them in a basket and when she’s done finding them all, count them together.  Counting objects that your baby proudly found is a good introduction to numbers and counting.

Decorate a Pumpkin:  Carving with sharp knives around babies – probably not a great idea.  But letting a baby decorate her own pumpkin – brilliant!  If your little one enjoys your help while coloring, use markers to decorate a pumpkin together.  You can also decorate pumpkins with stickers.  Peeling stickers is a great fine motor skill exercise for babies to practice.  If she’s not quite able to peel them herself, hand her the stickers and help her place them on the pumpkin.  The stickiness will feel interesting on her fingers and she can make decisions about where to place each one.

pumpkin-baby1Dress Up Like Pumpkins:  What’s cuter than a pumpkin as a pumpkin?  Not much!  This time of year, pumpkin onesies or costumes are easy to come by.  Or you can make your own using an orange shirt, black felt and a green hat for a stem.  Better yet, hollow out a pumpkin and set your baby inside for an adorable holiday photo.  You can also cut out leg holes for larger babies.   Your baby may get a kick out of seeing mom and dad in their pumpkin costumes too!

Dig into a Pumpkin:  You have surely experienced by now your baby’s longing to touch everything in site.  The slimy, stringy inside of a pumpkin is a pretty cool sensation.  Cut off the top and let your baby dig right in with her hands.  We bet she’ll love making a mess and you’ll get some hysterical pictures along the way.

Taste a Pumpkin:  What better way for baby to learn about pumpkins than tasting them?  If you have introduced solids, let your baby feast on scrumptious pumpkin foods throughout the month.  They can be as simple as pumpkin purée or pumpkin and apple purée, if you’ve just begun with blended solids.  If your baby is older and has a more adventurous pallet, try roasted pumpkin chunks, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie filling or pumpkin pudding.  Not only is pumpkin delicious, it also has great nutrients and fiber for your baby.

Visit a Pumpkin Patch:  Use pumpkin season as an excuse for a fun family outing to a pumpkin patch.  You can stroll your baby through vineyards to see how pumpkins grow and pick out your own pumpkin to take home for all the fun activities you have planned.  Many pumpkin patches designed for families also have hay rides, games, petting zoos and other exciting new things for your baby to see and do.

We hope you enjoy all of these pumpkin activities.  Have a wonderful Halloween with your little pumpkin!

 

 

 

The Dos and Don’ts of Baby Sleep Training

Baby sleep training is a hot topic among new parents.  Everyone is ready to get back to a full night’s sleep, however not everyone agrees on how to get there with baby.  Experts themselves have a wide range of opinions on the subject.  Some feel it’s important to create boundaries from the beginning and support the “cry it out” method of letting baby cry in the crib for increasingly longer periods of time until he learns to soothe himself to sleep.  Others take a “no tears” approach by comforting a baby to sleep and continuously picking up the baby if he cries.  Still others take a middle of the road stance in which parents comfort their babies without picking them up from the crib.  And there are also disagreements on whether to always put babies in their cribs awake, or to nurse or rock them to sleep before putting them down.  The debate goes on and on.

Selecting a sleep training method is a personal choice based o a family’s own comfort level and parenting philosophy.  None have proven to better or worse off for babies in the long run.  Regardless of which program you chose, there are some standard dos and don’ts that are helpful to keep in mind while sleep training your baby.

Do develop a nighttime sleep schedule that works for you, your family and your baby.  This may require being hyper-attune to natural cues and logging sleep and feeding routines until you can find a schedule that jives with you and your baby’s rhythm.

infant-sleep2Don’t keep your baby up later at night to make him more tired.  This usually has the opposite effect.  Babies that are over-tired sleep less and tend to be crankier during waking hours.  Earlier bedtimes often result in longer overnight sleeps.

Do ensure your baby is well-fed and takes necessary naps during the day.  Again, if your baby is getting regular sleep, he will fall into a nighttime sleep pattern more easily than if he’s exhausted by bedtime.  Also, once your baby is getting plenty of breast milk during the day, he won’t wake up and want to nurse as much at night.

Don’t start sleep training until your baby is two or three months old.  Trying to force sleep training on a young newborn can be disastrous for everyone.  Chances are, you will know when the time is right because sleep patterns will emerge and your baby will sleep for longer and longer at night on his own.

Do develop a nighttime routine that is soothing and invokes sleepiness.  This may include a warm bath, a baby massage, a lullaby and breastfeeding.  Associate these sounds, smells, tastes and sensations with restfulness so your baby understands the day is winding down and he should prepare for sleep.

baby sleepingDon’t let your baby’s sleep environment work against all of your efforts.  Get to know the way your baby wants to sleep.  Some babies like complete silence while others enjoy soft music or sounds machines.  Some babies like a hint of light and others need complete darkness.  Some babies can ignore the stimulating and adorable décor of his nursery while others are overwhelmed by these exciting objects.  Adjust your baby’s room to ensure he can sleep. Also, learn how your baby likes to be dressed at night.  Swaddling works well for many infants who enjoy a snug and cozy sleep zone.

Do pick a smart time to sleep train.  If your baby is sick, you’re about to go away on a trip or it’s almost daylight savings time, wait for a better opportunity.

Don’t go it alone.  Seek guidance from online resources, friends and experts.  If you’re not sure how to create a schedule for your baby, there are plenty of samples online that you can use as a starting point and adjust to suit your needs.  Additionally, read up on the different methods and challenges of sleep training so you have a game plan and are mentally prepared when the time comes.

Do be flexible.  Babies are human beings, the most fickle of sorts too. During growth spurts or on an off day, you may need to change the schedule to allow for an earlier bedtime and extra sleep.  Be vigilant for signs of sleepiness and act on them before your little one gets too tired.

Don’t give up.  Sleeping is a learned behavior.  Many adults still haven’t got it all figured out so cut your baby, and yourself, some slack if it doesn’t happen “overnight.”  Your baby will learn to sleep if you are dedicated to whatever method you think is best.  While it may be challenging now, getting back to a good night’s rest should be a pretty good incentive to keep persevering.

5 Ways to Raise Smart Babies

Most of us enter parenthood with the highest aspirations for our children.  Will he read by age 3?  Will he be deemed “gifted” in elementary school?  Will he become a doctor, engineer, or great world leader?  It’s fun to “dream big” for our offspring, but at the core of these hopes is our desire to have intelligent children.  While some intellectual prowess is genetic, raising smart kids has much to do with opportunities we give our children to grow and develop.  And it all begins when they are babies.

Today we’re sharing 5 ways to raise smart babies.  None of them involve pricey tutors.  None of them require brainiac parents.  With a little effort and a lot of love, anyone can set their baby on a bright and promising path.

1)       Prenatal Brain Power:  What mom eats, does and thinks during pregnancy is connected to how a baby’s brain will develop.  A baby’s brain grows more in the womb than at any other time in his life.  Therefore, all of the nutrients, activity and even thoughts transferring from mom to baby really does matter.  Beyond the obvious recommendations – taking prenatal vitamins with DHA, not drinking or smoking, avoiding toxins – moms should eat a well-balanced healthy diet full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3s, good fats, fiber, calcium and whole grains.  Additionally, moms should use their brains productively during pregnancy.  When moms read, play music, and have stimulating intellectual interactions, growing fetuses benefit.  Conversely, when mom is stressed and anxious, it creates a hormone surge that baby receives and can affect the hard wiring of his molding brain.  For many new moms, worrying is unavoidable, but managing these emotions through exercise, meditation or sharing with a partner can calm the body for mom and baby’s sake.

2)      Breast Milk = Brain Food:  Breast milk is the best possible nutrition for your baby.  It’s formulated by nature with the perfect nutrients for your baby’s body and brain to grow and develop in every way.  Specifically, breast milk contains 400 nutrients that Breastfeeding with Leading Ladycannot be replicated in other foods.  Countless studies indicate that baby’s who are breast fed show greater cognitive abilities throughout life than those who are not; and the longer the baby is breast fed, the more benefit he reaps.  Breastfeeding also involves touch, nurture, warmth and responsiveness – all of which contributes to smarter, more well-adjusted human beings.  Babies do not need much in their early months of life, but love and tenderness are essential.  Skin-to-skin contact helps babies develop physically and intellectually (babies who are held more actually have larger brains!), and as mothers and babies sync, a mother’s milk can respond to her baby’s needs to effectively provide what baby needs to grow and thrive.

3)      Loving, Expressive, Learning Friendly Caregivers & Environments:  For thousands of years, babies have blossomed without high tech gadgets.  How?  Through human interaction and loving environments.  Babies are drawn to faces where they can begin forming emotional connections and having meaningful experiences.  Active, engaged play is one of the best ways for your baby to learn.  This evolves as your baby grows. For newborns, it can be as simple as smiling, singing and trying to elicit those first smiles and giggles.  As your infant gets older, games of peek-a-boo, sensory books or shaking instruments can be engaging.  Be sure to make lots of eye contact, be animated and remain attentive to your tot during playtime.  Find ways to peak your baby’s curiosity and foster his interests from an early age.  A passion for learning starts now.  In fact, our brains map out the way in which it will learn within the first five years of life.  This is when we’re producing and connecting brain cells that will dictate our thought processes for a lifetime. Also, be responsive to your baby’ cries.  A child develops a sense of security from knowing someone is there to tend to his needs.

4)      Brain Boosting Toys:  Studies show that videos and high tech gadgets are not the best toys for babies, contrary to what manufacturers may want you to believe.  What is important is that you have simple toys that are appropriate for your baby’s developmental bouncy-ballsstages.  For the first four months or so, you are probably the best toy your baby can have.  Make funny faces, sing songs, talk – he really can’t focus on many tangible things but people are tops to a newborn.  After the first few months, introduce brightly colored and highly textured toys and books, especially things baby can bat at with his hands or kick with his feet.  As he progresses in infancy, play together with mirrors, balls, stacking toys (cups, bowls, blocks, whatever!) and anything that makes noise.  Water play is fun for babies, even if it merely consists of a small dish of water that he can splash around.  Concepts like numbers and letters are for older one-year olds and beyond, so focus on fun, interactive toys that capture your baby’s attention and require imagination.

5)      Reading & Talking – The Brain’s “Other” Food:  It is never too early to start reading and talking to children.  Constant chatter and reading books aloud, even adult books, can bolster a baby’s vocabulary from the start.  The more exposure a baby has to a variety of words, the more efficiently and productively he will grasp language.  When talking to your baby, narrate your day using lively messages with short, digestible phrasing.  Address your baby by name as if you’re having a conversation.  In fact, often engage your baby in babble conversation and respond as if it means something to you.  It certainly does to him!  Ask questions and wait for him to respond.  Look at him just as you would anyone else you may converse with.  When reading, be as dynamic as possible.  Use hand gestures and find rhymes with repetition and swinging cadence that will delight your baby’s ears.  Make reading a habit early in life.  Even if your little one cannot concentrate for long, read a short bedtime “story” with rhymes or lift-able flaps to keep your baby’s attention.

You don’t have to be born a genius to raise a smart baby.  Smart babies come from parents who give them smart opportunities to grow, develop and expand their minds through nutrition, love and learning through play.

The Benefits of Music for Babies

Music is designed to invoke emotions.  Upbeat tunes make us happy.  Lullabies make us sleepy.  Thoughtful lyrics make us ponder.  Patriotic scores make us proud.  The same is true for babies.  Music can change a baby’s mood in quite the same way it can change yours.  And beyond a mood enhancer, benefits of music for babies include being more communicative and joyful and having a better trained musical ear.

Next time your little one is having a crank attack, try putting on some jazz or pop music and see what she does.  The upbeat tune may be just want she needs to snap out of her bad mood.  A harmonious blend of uplifting music that your baby can hear, feel and – should you feel inclined to dance – see, is pleasing to babies and parents alike.  Even before your baby can shake a musical instrument, sing a note or dance about herself, having singing and dancing parties with baby in your arms can be a fun, invigorating and rejuvenating activity for all.

And most parents know that soft lullabies are a great way to soothe a baby to sleep.  Hearing the sweet sound of your voice, or a recording if you prefer, can take babies from extreme wakefulness to dreamland in just a short time.  Playing or signing lullabies around bedtime can train your baby to associate these sounds with sleep, making an easier transition when you leave the room.  An advantage of you singing to your baby is that she can feel the vibration of your voice during breastfeeding or skin-to-skin contact.  This peaceful moment can sync your bodies and transfer calming feelings between the two of you.  Singing makes a terrific bonding experience between babies and partners as well.

Babies can hear voices and music while in the womb.  Researchers believe that babies can even distinguish their native language from this early exposure to sound.  Almost any type of music is great for your baby and it’s good to expose babies to a variety of styles.  Kids music, nursery rhymes and lullabies work well, and so does classical, jazz, pop, classic rock, religious and big band music.  Experiment with sounds your baby likes to hear.  Just like reading and learning, a love of music starts at a young age from repeated interaction and exposure.

Children playing with musical toys. Isolated on white backgroundWhile most children are not ready for formal music lessons until their early elementary school years, there may be more benefits of music for babies in an interactive learning through play setting.  In an infant musical study, babies who took a music class in an interactive setting – doing hand motions to songs and playing simple instruments with the help of their parents – showed more early communication skills, greater emotional stability and were more social with their peers than babies who only passively listened to music.  The interactive group also had a better understanding of the structure and pitch of music, which was determined by their preference to listen to songs in key than with stray notes.

The jury is still out on whether or not music can make babies smarter, but research shows music improves cognitive skills and test-taking in older children.  In a study done with children ages 5-7, music instruction improved neurological communication between the right-brain and left-brain.  Music also improves early math skills in young children due to repetition of counting beats, creating patterns and memorizing numerical finger placements.

The key to early music exposure is keeping it fun and consistent.  Make music a part of your lives by incorporating songs into your daily routines, and having designated times for interactive musical play.  As your baby develops and is able to grasp objects, encourage her to shake rattles, bang on drums and even play a few notes on a piano if you happen across one.  Embrace opportunities to see live music at festivals, parades and other events in your community.

Music is a universal language that can bring much happiness into your home.  Whether it’s soulful and sweet or a rockin’ good time, keep playing that beat and watch your little one blossom into a music lover.

Co-Sleeping: The Pros, The Cons and Safety Recommendations

Many parents wonder if the family bed is a good choice for themselves and their babies.  While it offers some convenience, especially during the breastfeeding stage, there are also some safety concerns that all parents should consider.  Ultimately sharing a bed with your tot is a personal decision, but knowing the pros, cons and safety guidelines should be part of your decision-making process.

The Pros

Some parents find the family bed to be comforting and results in more sleep for both baby and parents.  Co-sleeping is more convenient for nighttime breastfeeding; Moms and babies need not move much for feedings.  Less movement and disturbances makes it iStock_000008954862Smalleasier for both to get back to sleep quickly.  Additionally, if mom is sleeping next to baby, their sleep patterns will sync, which may increase sleeping time for both as well.  Studies show babies sleep more soundly next to their parents, who can soothe them back to sleep if they wake in the night.  Additionally, parents find cuddling during co-sleeping to be a bonding experience and offers their baby emotional security and stability.  During this fleeting stage of infancy, co-sleeping can keep the family close and strengthen the family unit.

The Cons

On the flip side, co-sleeping may cause problems for parents and babies immediately and in the future.  The American Academy for Pediatrics reports more instances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) occur when babies are sleeping in adult beds alongside their parents.  In an adult bed, the risk of suffocation from bedcovers, pillows and parents is increased.  Therefore, the AAP recommends against co-sleeping for the safety of babies.  Instead, the AAP recommends a dedicated safe sleeping environment for babies.

In addition to an increased of SIDS cited by the AAP, parents tend to sleep less in the family bed because they are woken by the noises and movements of their babies.  In some cases babies also sleep less because parents are over-attentive and cause more wakefulness from soothing and calming babies who may have otherwise gone back to sleep quickly on their own.  Some experts believe co-sleeping discourages independence in the sleeping environment.  Babies don’t learn to put themselves to sleep or fall back asleep, which carries over into toddlerhood and beyond.  Parents also have less privacy when babies sleep in their beds.

Recommendations

Many people find the best compromise to the co-sleeping conundrum is to allow their babies, especially newborns, to sleep in their own cribs or bassinets in the parents bedroom.  Parents can be close enough to comfort baby and breastfeed easily, while still maintaining a safe environment in baby’s own sleeping space.  For infants that means no pillows, blankets, toys, bumpers or even overhead mobiles in or around a crib.  Nothing should be within arms reach for baby to pull down into the crib either.  If the comfy cozy time is what parents are seeking from co-sleeping, they can have a pre-bedtime routine of snuggling with their baby to ensure a solid bond and lots of love is shared between them.  Also, breastfeeding throughout the day offers that same comforting intimacy between moms and babies.

If you do choose to co-sleep with your baby, take the necessary precautions to keep her safe:  Never leave the baby unattended in an adult bed.  Make sure there are no spaces that your baby could fall through, such as next to a wall or between the mattress and headboard or footboard.  Keep extra blankets, pillows and sheets away from your baby to avoid suffocation.  Do not wear clothing or jewelry or bring anything into the bed with long strings that could be a strangling hazard.  Keep older children and pets away from the bed while your baby is sleeping.  Never smoke in bed with your baby and make other sleeping arrangements for your baby if you’ve been drinking or are under the influence of any type of drug that will make you less aware of your baby’s presence.

Co-sleeping should be a joint decision between parents.  Both parents should read and understand the benefits and risks and make a decision that fits their family.  If both parents agree, whether it’s co-sleeping or independent sleeping or something in-between, the entire family is likely to sleep more peacefully.  And a rested family is a happy family.

Sweet dreams!

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