Amy's Corner. our lactation consultant answers your questions about nursing.

Does my Baby Need Therapy

Developmental milestones are guidelines to help parents, caregivers and doctors determine if a child is advancing towards physical, mental and psychological achievements appropriate for his age.  Usually milestones are set with an age range in mind since we know that all babies progress differently.  This range may encompass a few months or even a few years, depending on the milestone.  Childhood therapies including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy may be recommended for children who are not reaching milestones within the typical age range or are displaying abnormal tendencies, habits or behavior.

Many parents fret when their baby does not reach a milestone as soon as he enters the appropriate age range.  Sometimes babies are just not ready for that skill.  Sometimes they need a little encouragement and practice.  Other times, there may be a developmental delay that can be assisted by therapy.  Today we are exploring the three most common types of therapies in early childhood.

Physical Therapy

baby-with-specialistsPhysical therapy is the most common type of therapy for infants as the other skills covered in early childhood therapies are not addressed until children are older.  Physical milestones are the first to emerge and therefore the first problems that may be noticed.  Physical therapy is recommended for babies who are not meeting their physical developmental milestones such as rolling over, kicking and reaching for objects, sitting up, pulling up and bearing weight on their own legs and eventually walking.  Many parents are alarmed when their babies don’t crawl, but crawling is not a developmental milestone.  Some babies never crawl and simply go straight into walking late in the first year or early in their second year.

Physical therapists work on building strength so that muscles, ligaments and joints will be able to support normal physical developmental milestones.  They also work on balance, flexibility and coordination.  For babies and toddlers, a physical therapy session may include the therapists moving the baby’s body for him to eventually encourage independent movements, adaptive games, obstacle courses, mimicking movements and even aquatic therapy.  Physical therapy is not designed to improve the athleticism of a child, but rather allow children to perform daily tasks within a normal range.

Occupational Therapy

website-with-borderOccupational therapy works to improve a child’s physical, cognitive and sensory motor skills.  You have probably heard of fine motor skills and gross motor skills.  Gross motor skills are big movements like walking, hopping and jumping that would be covered in physical therapy.  Occupational therapy focuses on smaller movements such as hand precision that will eventually be required for fastening a button or writing, as well as sensory input and processing and learning disorders.  This type of therapy involves psychological, social and environmental evaluation because each of these play a role in a child’s sensory processing.

Occupational therapy is usually not recommended for children until the late twos, threes or fours as that is when the deficiencies in skills covered in therapy will be discovered.  Occupational therapists work on fine motor skills such as grasping toys, utensils, crayons and balls and will help improve hand-eye coordination, focus and social skills.  They also work on behavioral concerns to help children function appropriately in a variety of situations.

Speech Therapy

Speespeech4ch therapy helps children work on language development, articulation, fluency and voice control.  While not every child in speech therapy has a speech disorder, there are two categories or speech disorders: receptive and expressive.  Children with receptive disorders have trouble understanding and processing language.  Expressive disorders encompass the inability to produce language due to lack of vocabulary and difficulty expressing words in a socially appropriate way.

Speech pathologists evaluate children to rule out physical complications in the mouth that may prohibit proper speech.  Then they work through a play-based therapy by modeling sounds for the child to repeat.  They often us books, games and pictures to help stimulate language, motivate discussion and give the opportunity for lots of communication through play.  Usually speech therapy is not recommended until at least age three, and typically speech therapy is reserved for children four and older.  Before this age, mispronunciations and missing letter sounds are completely normal.

If you are concerned about your baby’s development, consult your pediatrician.  Your doctor may recommend an evaluation and then you can decide if therapy is right for your child.  Early intervention is always the best way to resolve minor problems or to help your child find a path to continual improvement.

Best Finger Foods for New Eaters

As you child moves from exclusively breastfeeding, to spoon fed solids to finger foods, you may be wondering what to serve your baby’s budding appetite.  This early stage of eating “real” food is a wonderful time to solidify a diverse and healthy diet.  What your child eats as a baby and the habits he picks up will likely stay with him throughout his life.  When parents make good choices for their babies, children will grow up to be healthier adults.

toddler-wit-foodThe key to appropriate finger foods for new eaters is ensuring they are small and soft so your baby won’t choke.  It’s crucial to supervise new eaters at all times to ensure they are not silently choking on their food.  Also, the act of self-feeding is an exciting milestone for your baby so let him explore food with his hands.  Yes, this means that things will surely get messy around your kitchen, but it’s all part of the process.  Place a mat under your child’s highchair to catch flying food and be prepared to clean up a mess after every meal.  Set a good example for your baby by sitting at the table and eating some of the same foods that you serve him. This concept of social eating is an important life skill, plus it’s more fun for everyone.

Here are our favorite finger foods for new eaters:

Avocado Chunks:  Packed with healthy fats and omega-3 fatty acids, avocado is a fabulous brain-boosting food for your baby.  It is rich and creamy in texture, a fun shade of green and does not have a pungent taste – a winning combination for a baby.  Cut avocados into small chunks and let your baby enjoy popping them into his mouth.  Oh, and they are thrilling to mash up too!

Veggie Pasta:  Whole grains mixed with vegetables in a fun pasta shape; what could be better?  You may need to half twirly pasta or bowtie pasta to make it the right size for your tot.  This is an easy on-the-go food that travels well and can remain unrefrigerated for a few hours.

Sweet Potato Squares:  Bright orange sweet potatoes are filled with vitamins, minerals and essential antioxidants that will help strengthen your baby’s immune system.  Steam a sweet potato and let it cool.  Then cut it into small squares that will be easy for your baby to grasp.  You can also experiment by adding butter, nutmeg or other spices to broaden your baby’s palette.

Hard Boiled Egg:  Eggs are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and they are relatively easy to prepare.  Hard boil several eggs at a time and refrigerate them – they’ll last for a week.  Slice eggs into small pieces for your baby.  The rubbery whites may take some getting used to but eggs are a terrific way to add protein to your baby’s diet.  *Note, eggs are not appropriate for children under one.

Beans:  Canned, frozen or self-cooked beans are super simple finger foods for babies.  They contain a fair amount of protein and lots of iron, vitamins and minerals that will support your baby’s blood.  Try black beans, kidney beans, great northern beans, edamame or a variety of others you find in the grocery store.

Cheese:  This squishy food is delicious and packed with calcium.  You can serve it in small pieces or shredded.  Your baby will probably enjoy the tangy taste.  But be careful, cheese can cause constipation so limit cheese to one or two servings a day.

Soft Fruits and Veggies:  Of course some of the healthiest foods in the world are fresh produce, many of which are appropriate for babies.  From the fruit categories, try chopped peaches, bananas, strawberries, mangos, grapes and blueberries.  For your baby’s fill of veggies, go for peas, broccoli, cooked squash, cauliflower and cooked carrots.

Soft Meats:  Your baby’s palette may be more sophisticated than you think.  Cut chicken, turkey, salmon and other cooked fish into small bites for your baby.  Some meats and fish have mellow flavors while others are more distinct.  Find out which suit your baby’s individual taste.

All about the Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord is the lifeline between you and your baby.  It’s how your baby receives all the nutrients, oxygen and blood required for growth and development in the womb.  You can think of it as a love-line, the way you are able to nurture your baby before she is even born.

What is the Umbilical Cord?

Averaging about 20 inches, the umbilical cord is connected on one end to the placenta and on the other to what will become your baby’s belly button.  There are three blood vessels that run through the umbilical cord:  one vein that carries nutrients, oxygen and blood to your baby and two arteries that carry carbon dioxide and other waste back into your body. gbbtsp2q-1374730116The umbilical cord is covered in a protective jelly and then surrounded by a membrane called amnion.  Toward the end of pregnancy, antibodies from your body travel through the umbilical cord to your baby to help protect her for her first few months of life.

Once your baby is born, the umbilical cord is clamped about half an inch from your baby’s belly.  The cord is then cut between mother and baby, ending the direct blood supply between you and your baby.  Over the next two weeks, the cord will turn black and fall off completely, leaving an adorable belly button in its place.  The belly button will heal completely within a few weeks.  But caring for the stump and the freshly exposed belly button are an important part of newborn care.

Umbilical Cord Care

The key to umbilical cord stump care is keeping the area clean and dry.  Most pediatricians recommend a sponge bath until the umbilical cord stump falls off.  Afterwards you can fully submerge your baby’s abdomen.  Clean the area with soap and water and dry it completely after getting it damp.  Also, fold down diapers to avoid snagging fabric on the stump or introducing urine to the area.  Call your pediatrician if there is pus, redness or swelling around the area before or after the stump falls off, or if you baby seems uncomfortable when you touch the area or has a fever.

Cord Blood Banking

Some families consider cord blood banking, which is a process of collecting and storing the blood from the umbilical cord for potential medical use.  The umbilical cord contains stem cells that may be used to treat medical conditions and diseases.  Stem cell intervention is being studied for such medical issues as blood disorders, cancers, autism, brain injuries, immune deficiencies and other life-saving or life-altering measures.

To extract cord blood, your doctor will stick a needle into the umbilical cord after it is clamped onto your baby but before it is cut from the placenta.  Approximately 1 to 5 ounces of blood will be collected into a bag and then sent off to a cord blood bank to be tested, frozen and stored.  The process does not hurt the baby or the mother.  Cord blood banks charge a fee for storage, or you can donate the cord blood for medical research or use by others who may need it.

Many parents choose cord blood banking as a measure of caution for their child’s future.  If a disease is attacking your child’s body, use of her own stem cells is best as she will not reject them.  But if your child is producing mutated cells, which is the case in cancer or blood disorders, donor stem cells would be needed to overcome the genetic tendency of her own blood.

The umbilical cord is an amazing lifeline and love-line from mother to baby.  You may never even notice anything but the leftover stump during the excitement of birth and as you receive your beautiful baby for the first time.  But it’s a very necessary, powerful and miraculous way you’ve been able to nurture your baby for the past 9 months.

World Breastfeeding Week: Mammals and Lactation

It’s World Breastfeeding Week so we’re jazzed about all things breast milk.  As mammals, we have the unique ability to nurse our young.  Do you ever wonder how other mammals breastfeed?  Today we’re exploring fascinating trivia about mammals and lactation.

Mammals are classified by several physical characteristics including having spines, being warm blooded, growing hair on their bodies, requiring air to breathe, and giving birth and nursing their young.  With all of these similarities, mammals are a very diverse bunch ranging from dogs, elephants and monkeys, to seals, dolphins and rodents.  But all mammals have the amazing ability to breastfeed.  Check out these fun facts about various mammals and lactation that we bet you didn’t know:

  • Babies, babies everywhere:  Usually mammals have around half as many babies in each pregnancy as they have nipples.  For example, human females have two nipples and typically have one child at a time.  The biggest liter ever reported was 33 babies from a naked mole rat.
  • ss_63716578_lioness-with-cubsOne big happy family:  Most mammals only nurse from their own mothers.  One exception is the lion.  Since lions live in prides they are all close blood relatives and emotionally attached.  Lionesses will nurse any of the cubs in the pride regardless of whether she gave birth to the little one.
  • Where’s that milk:  Mama whales can’t afford to have nipples flapping around as they swim underwater.  To preserve their sleek, aqua-dynamic shape, their nipples are hidden in layers of blubber.  When babies rub their noses against the area, milk squirts out for them to enjoy.  Also, the Pacific Grey whale produces up to six tons of breast milk for one baby.
  • downloadExtended breastfeeding:  Orangutans, the largest type of ape, spend the longest amount of time breastfeeding and caring for their young.  Baby orangutans spend up to seven years coddling their babies, including breastfeeding them while hanging upside down.
  • They grow up so fast:  Hooded seals have the shortest breastfeeding journey of only around four days.  Because seals have to nurse out of the water, they rely on dangerous floating ice as their lactation room.  The ice is unstable so childhood lasts for less than a week before these pups are on their own.
  • Mysterious milk:  The female platypus nurses its baby without even having nipples.  How?  She secretes milk through her mammary glands onto her skin and her babies lap it up.
  • 17a9e962c58ab6cfe59fd5a0f5357aaaWater birth:  It’s an alternative way for humans to give birth, but hippopotamuses have been doing it since the beginning of their species.  Hippo mothers give birth to their babies underwater and guide them to the surface for air.  The baby hippos then plunge back underwater to nurse and instinctually return to the surface for air.
  • No diapers for one month:  Okapi, a giraffe-like animal from Africa, do not poop for up to a month after birth.  They perfectly metabolize their mother’s milk without having to eliminate any waste.
  • And you thought your pregnancy was long:  Larger animals tend to have longer gestation.  Horses, whales and elephants have the longest gestation periods of all mammals.   Compared to the average 266 days of gestation for humans, horses are pregnant for an average of 336 days.  Whales can gestate between one year and 550 days, while elephants have the absolute longest average gestation of 624 days.  Now that’s a long pregnancy!
  • When its time to wean:  In nature, weaning usually occurs when females are pregnant with another baby and are preparing for childbirth.

*Information obtained from Science Naturally and Breastfeeding USA.

World Breastfeeding Week: Supporting Moms Supporting Babies

Mom_nursingIf you haven’t heard, it’s World Breastfeeding Week, and we’re very excited!  This annual celebration is spearheaded by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and is supported by UNICEF, the World Health Organization and thousands of other worldwide organizations, companies, community groups and individuals who are champions of breastfeeding.  All of us at Leading Lady are proud to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week and salute new moms who strive to nurture their babies in the best way possible.

World Breastfeeding Week is not just a celebration for moms, however.  This worldwide event is truly for everyone because breastfeeding is a global mission.  In many countries, breastfeeding quite literally saves lives as it is the only available, non-contaminated source of nutrients for babies.  But around the globe, no matter what country you hail from, exclusive breast milk is the very best nourishment for babies for the first six months of their lives, according to the World Health Organization.

Breastfeeding offers seemingly endless benefits for babies, including stronger immune systems, less risk of immediate and lifelong diseases, lower risk of diabetes and obesity and a stronger bond with mothers, to name a few.  Mothers reap many benefits of breastfeeding too, such as lowered risk of certain types of cancer, less postpartum depression and an easier time syncing and bonding with their babies.  When you tally up all of these benefits and the many more not listed, breastfeeding is priceless when it comes to the health of babies and mothers.

But the value of breastfeeding goes beyond the two people involved.  It can uplift an entire family, communities and societies by cultivating healthier citizens.  As less people are sick, less illness and disease spreads.  With less sickness, health care expenses are reduced including physician bills, testing, treatment plans, medication and long term care.  All of these result in fewer burdens on our healthcare system, our workforce and our environment.  Plus, more people get to enjoy lives as they are meant to be.

wbw2015-logo-mTherefore, supporting moms supporting their babies is up to each of us, not only mothers.  As the saying goes, it takes a village.  But how does the village support the act of breastfeeding?  The theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week speaks to this very notion: Breastfeeding and Work, Let’s Make it Work.  For mothers to return to work and meet their breastfeeding goals, breastfeeding or pumping will be an essential part of a new mom’s workday.  The goal of this World Breastfeeding Week is to open the eyes of employers to create change in the workplace so moms have the opportunity, space and freedom within their careers to continue breastfeeding.

As co-workers and friends, we can help in supporting moms supporting their babies by furthering a breastfeeding friendly workplace.  Moms will likely have to pump two or three times during a workday for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.  This means she’ll be away from her job for about an hour a day, but it doesn’t mean so won’t still be good at her job.

Supporting breastfeeding moms at work begins by letting them know that you are on their side and are happy to help when you can.  An ally goes a long way, especially when others are less supportive.  When you do find someone who doesn’t understand breastfeeding or makes inappropriate comments, stand up for your co-worker and be her advocate.

Additionally, consult your co-worker on her pumping schedule and try to avoid scheduling important lunches, meetings or other work events during those times.  If you see that a breastfeeding mom is leaking or uncomfortable during a meeting, call a break for yourself without calling attention to her.  Respect that she needs and wants to get home to her new baby as soon as possible so don’t keep breastfeeding moms at work later than necessary.  And remember, breastfeeding is strenuous work for new moms.  Your co-worker may be hungrier than usual so offering a snack may really get on her good side.

Supporting moms supporting babies is truly for the greater good.  At work, at home or out in public, you can be a champion for moms and help support the goals of World Breastfeeding Week.

Hair during Pregnancy and Postpartum Hair Loss

hairFor most women, hair is important.  So when hair starts changing for better or worse during pregnancy and postpartum, it’s a big deal.  Today we’re sharing what to expect for your hair during pregnancy and postpartum hair loss.

Hormones are a strange and phenomenal thing.  They can help us create and sustain a brand new life in our bodies, but also be the cause for countless negative symptoms during puberty, pregnancy and beyond.  In the case of your hair during pregnancy and postpartum, once again, it’s all about hormones.

During a normal, non-pregnant period of your life, hair grows in regular cycles.  At any given point, approximately 85 to 95% of hair is in a growth stage, while the other 5 to 15% is resting.  Every three months or so, the hair in the resting phase begins to fall out and new hair growth begins.  However, this all changes during pregnancy and postpartum.

During pregnancy, hair loss is rather uncommon.  In fact, women tend to lose less hair during pregnancy because more hair remains in the growth stage without falling out.  This is due to excess estrogen that encourages hair growth.  Many moms-to-be experience thicker more lustrous hair during pregnancy.  It’s part of that pregnancy glow that is bestowed on expectant moms.  If you do experience hair loss during pregnancy, talk to your physician as it may be a sign of a nutrient deficiency.

Postpartum hair loss is much more common.  Most women note a significant hair loss three to four months after childbirth.  It may feel like hair is falling out in clumps, which is alarming for many new moms.  What’s happening is all that hair that was growing for so long during pregnancy is now in the resting stage and falling out, due to decreased estrogen levels.

Women with longer hair tend to notice the affects of postpartum hair loss more as lost strands are easier to detect, especially when they end up on your bathroom floor or hair brush.  For this reason, some new moms opt for shorter haircuts that are easier to manage with a new baby.  Also, long hairs can get caught more easily on a baby’s fingers and toes, potentially cutting off circulation.

While postpartum hair loss cannot be stopped since the hormonal changes are out of your control, you can try to reduce the hair loss somewhat.  First, don’t wear your hair in tight ponytails, braids or buns as this can pull your hair and snap strands.  Try a mild shampoo and conditioner that will moisturize your scalp and hair and won’t exacerbate hair loss.  Avoid over-brushing your hair and detangle when your hair is wet.  Also limit use of chemical-based hair products such has hair dyes and don’t over-use heated tools including hairdryers, curling irons and straighteners.

Postpartum hair loss is usually well over by the time your baby is one and there are rarely ever lasting effects on the look and health of your hair.  In the mean time, enjoy your silky hair during pregnancy and know that postpartum hair loss is normal.

5 Ways to Get Kids to Drink Water

kid drinking waterIn the heat on summer, dehydration can cause parents major concern for their kids.  As one of our most basic bodily needs, water is essential to your child’s health.  But reaching for a glass of water may not be their first instinct, and telling a child to drink water because it’s good for his health usually doesn’t cut it.  That’s why today we’re sharing five ways to get kids to drink water.

Water is required for almost every function of your child’s growth and development, as well as his immediate health and performance.  Water keeps muscles, joints and organs working properly and helps blood deliver nutrients and oxygen throughout the body.  Dehydration can make kids lethargic and impair their concentration and ability to learn.  Use these tips to get your kids to drink water this summer:

Do me a favor and add some flavor:  Water may seem boring to your kids, which is why they probably prefer juice.  Spice things up by adding some flavor, texture and color to your kid’s water by dropping in a few slices of fruit.  You can mix it up and let your kids pick their flavor every day, and you can even come up with fun concoctions by adding multiple fruits at a time.  Let your little ones mush or twist their fruits to fully enjoy the flavor of the day while they also benefit from the nutrients of that particular fruit.

Fun is in the eye of the cup-holder:  For kids, sometimes, drinking water is all about the cup or the straw.  Make a special trip to the store to let your kids pick several fun water-only cups.  If they want to use these new awesome cups, they’ll need to drink water.  They may opt for cups with their favorite characters or they might pick ones with funky, twisty straws.  It doesn’t take much to make a kid go wacky for water when you give them a cool cup of their choosing.

Melt away the objections:  Another terrific way to get kids jazzed about water is through fun ice cubes.  You can make flavored or colored ice cubes in traditional ice trays by adding fruit or natural food coloring.  Alternatively, you can buy ice trays in fun shapes that will make your kid want to drink their way to the bottom of their cups.

Clear the way:  Water is an important substance in nature and biology, so use drinking water as a lesson about the human body.  Teach your kids that water helps flush the system, including making them have to urinate more often.  If your kids are potty trained, you can make a game out of trying to produce clear urine by drinking lots of water every day.

Don’t leave home without it:  Water should always be accessible to your kids.  If they aren’t old enough to get a cup for themselves, strategically place cups of water throughout your house so it is always available.  For older, more responsible children, you can leave a jug of water with a nozzle dispenser on a table so they can refill their own cups.  Also, take water bottles with you wherever you go.  Whenever your child has down time, such as riding in your car, encourage water drinking.  And remember, the more active your kids are, the more water they should drink.

Side Sleeping During Pregnancy

pregnant-woman-sleeping-on-side-Sleep during pregnancy, or lack thereof, may be nature’s way of preparing new moms for sleepless nights with a newborn.  Many pregnant women have trouble sleeping because it’s downright hard to get comfortable.  With a growing belly, back pain and heartburn, in addition to anxiety over bringing home a new baby, sleep may be hard to come by during pregnancy.  But when you do, side sleeping during pregnancy is the best position for optimal sleep for both you and your baby.

It is quite common for pregnant women to toss and turn to find a comfortable sleep position.  Although staying in one position all night long is unlikely, side sleeping during pregnancy offers the maximum benefits of sleep, circulation and relieving back pressure.  Specifically, side sleeping on the left side is absolutely the best way for pregnant women to sleep.

Why is left side sleeping during pregnancy best?

Many experts believe that sleeping on the left side helps maintain blood flow throughout the body, especially to the placenta.  Of course with blood comes oxygen and vital nutrients that baby’s need to grow and thrive.  Left side sleeping also aids kidney function by allowing kidneys to flush waste and fluid from the body to reduce swelling or edema commonly associated with pregnancy.

Sleeping on your side may not come natural but training yourself to side sleep during pregnancy is important.  Start early before your abdomen gets large and your body becomes extremely uncomfortable.  Every time you wake up during sleep, turn from one side to the other, favoring your left.

Some moms-to-be find the strategic use of pillows helpful for sleeping during pregnancy.  Placing a pillow between your knees while side sleeping can keep you ergonomically aligned.  You may also want to place a pillow behind your back or to prop your chest.  Often elevating the chest can help reduce heartburn and acid reflux that can exacerbate nausea and vomiting.

As you progress in pregnancy, it is best not to sleep flat on your back or on your stomach.  This may be a difficult habit to break if these have been your sleeping habits for years, but you’ll want to make the effort for your best health and the safety of your baby.  Back sleeping can put a lot of pressure on your spine and back muscles that are essential to supporting your movement during pregnancy.  It can also disrupt your digestion and restrict blood flow to your heart placenta.  Back sleeping has been known to cause hemorrhoids and shortness of breath as well.

For obvious reasons, stomach sleeping will become uncomfortable as your baby bump grows bigger.  Even before you begin to show, you will want to break the stomach sleeping habit and avoid putting major pressure on your abdomen.

If you are a back sleeper and find yourself in need of solid sleep on your back, try sleeping in an upright recliner.  This alleviates pressure on your back while keeping you upright enough for good blood flow.

Remember, side sleeping during pregnancy is best whenever possible.  And be sure to take plenty of opportunities for rest before your baby arrives. Sweet dreams!

Gender Neutral Parenting

Gender neutral parenting is a trend in raising children that aims to allow children the freedom to explore their world without gender based restrictions.  While there are many extremes to this parenting philosophy, the basic premise is to avoid stereotypes, offer children a variety of choices in their life, and to let their personality emerge without regard for social gender limitations.

Today we’re taking a look at the very basic form of gender neutral parenting from birth.  Of course this starts with your baby’s name.  The trend of gender-neutral names may be the most popular path to gender neutral parenting and has gained traction in the past two decades.  Even a reversal of gender names is now common.  Many parents select a name before knowing the sex of their baby, which ensures no gender bias.  After all, one’s name is their very first expression of identity.

Colors are another huge gender stereotype in our society, which many parents try to quash.  Most of us associate pink with girls and blue with boys, but gender neutral parenting advocates the use of all colors. To reinforce gender neutrality, families often select yellows and greens for their nurseries, as these colors are not typically associated with either sex.  Gender neutral nurseries frequently use patterns, a mixture of solid colors or nature themes.  Decorative blocks, alphabet lettering and framed artwork can add age-appropriate style and detail to gender neutral nurseries.

Colors also come into play when selecting baby gear, such as blankets, bath towels, bouncy chair covers and car seats.  Many manufacturers offer a variety of gender specific and gender neutral options for families to make their own choices.  Many patterns avoid the typical pinks and blues to appeal to a range of parents.

Baby toys are often gender neutral by nature, but as children grow, toys tend to be more gender specific.  Gender neutral parenting suggests offering a variety of toys – those that may seem stereotypically “boy” toys like trucks and tools, and those that are stereotypical “girl” toys like dolls and princess dress-up clothes.  By introducing choices, children can explore without boundaries and discover their own creative expression.

When children grow to the age when they can pick their own hobbies and interests, freedom from gender stereotypes is important too.  Luckily, modern society embraces female athletes in most sports so girls who want to play soccer or take karate are accepted.  Alternatively, boys may gravitate towards art and cooking, which should be encouraged as well.

Gender neutral parenting attempts to defy stereotypes in the home with parental role models.  Parents try to avoid discussions that align moms with cooking and raising kids and dads to working outside the home and doing yard work.  Rather, these families show that men and women can do anything and no one should be restricted by their sex.  Parents that employ gender neutrality are quick to point out female doctors and male nurses, female firefighters and male receptionists, and female religious leaders and male teachers.

Parents and psychologists often question the social aspects involved in gender neutrality.  Within the confines of the home, children are loved and accepted for who they are.  But in social environments, children can be ridiculed for gender-defying choices.  Boys wearing skirts or nail polish and girls playing rough and tumble with action figures may not be understood by their peers exhibiting more stereotypical behavior.

Gender neutral parenting is a personal choice that may or may not be a good fit for your family.  However, broadening your horizons to explore a variety of parenting styles can open your eyes to the perfect way to raise your kids.

Swimming with Baby

We’re smack dab in the middle of swim season so we thought a little discussion about swimming with baby would be appropriate.  Young infants usually love water because it is familiar to them from their time in the womb where they were floating and bobbing for 9+ months.  But easing baby into the pool may be wise to make her feel comfortable with water on this side of mom’s belly.

One of the best ways to start swimming with baby is in the bathtub.  In addition to making solo baths a fun, soothing and relaxing time, make it a grander family experience by hopping in the tub with your baby from time to time.  You can hold your baby the way you would in a pool to let her know you’ll be there to comfort and protect her throughout her early stages of swimming.  Make joint baths an exciting sensory experience by helping baby splash water with her hands and feet, pouring water into containers and watching it fall out, and playing with bath and pool toys.  If your baby is particularly attached to a toy in the bath, be sure to bring it along when you head out to the pool.

imagesWhen you’re ready for your first pool adventure, keep a few health and safety tips in mind before taking a dip.  Select a saline pool that doesn’t have too many chemicals that may be harsh on your baby’s eyes and skin.  While it’s not recommended that babies drink pool water, she may swallow some so you don’t want it to be laced with tons of harmful chemicals.

Also, the water temperature should be slightly warm.  If you don’t have access to a heated pool, wait until later in the day to swim so the sun has a chance to warm the pool.  Your baby is not yet able to regulate her own body temperature and can get cold very easily.  And don’t forget the sunscreen and protective clothing.  You certainly don’t want to associate sunburns with swimming, and baby’s sensitive skin is more at risk for burns than older children and adults.

When it’s time for the plunge, hold your baby while sitting on a step to simulate the bathtub swimming experience.  Then slowly ease her into the water, holding her tightly so she feels secure.  She may be more comfortable completely submerged in water as wet skin exposed to cool air can be chilling.  Plus, the feeling of being underwater is pretty neat for a baby when she can sense her weightlessness and move her body through the water gracefully.  Be sure to make pool time lots of fun by singing, splashing and playing with toys.  Many classics like “Ring Around the Rosie” and “Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall” work nicely as pool games too.

You can also use an upright baby float so your baby can sit in the water while you glide her around.  Never take your hand off the float though as these may not be completely secure.  Many baby floats have a cover to shade your baby from the sun, a nice added bonus.  But experts agree that strap on floatation devices are not a good way to introduce babies to the water as it will give them a false sense of safety around water.  They may grow to learn that they can always float in water and test their theory when not wearing floaties.

If your child seems to enjoy the water, you may want to begin swim lessons as early as six months old.  Usually introductory classes are group lessons with parents participating to continue feelings of trust and security in the water.  Certified instructors can help you teach your baby pre-swimming skills such as blowing bubbles and kicking.  As your baby grows into a toddler, you can take more advanced and individual swim lessons to sharpen swim and water survival skills such as floating and being able to get to the side of the pool.  This is especially important if you live near water or have your own pool.

Remember, make swimming with baby a fun, bonding experience so she will love this summertime activity for a lifetime.

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