Last year I told you all about my daughter (then six) and her fantastic talent for what we call ‘Poopcrastination‘. Since then, not only her allergy to tidying become worse, her baby brothers have become mobile and impressively destructive. Yep, my name is Mom… and I have three kids that won’t clean up. After a couple of months of swinging between embracing the chaos, and chasing them around like a headless chicken with a sponge and trash bag in tow, I’m done. I’m worn out and have come up with a plan of action.
I touched on this a few weeks ago… I am in purge mode, in a quest for mild minimalism. But the household is working against me… Between Husband, addicted to buying random junk from Walmart, and my three kids who have gone wild with Arizona-summer-cabin-fever, it feels like two steps forward, one step back.
I continue to work on the ‘tidy up game’ with the twins, they’re totally into it but unfortunately it’s so much fun they insist on throwing everything they’ve just tidied away in order to clean up again… the video explains what I’m talking about:
They’re only 20months old so for now we’ll cut them some slack on the tidying. But do they really need to throw everything? I swear I’m bringing up two olympian shot put throwers. However, my real problem is my darling Elsie. She has many talents, but tidying up is not one of them. No exaggeration here – many times we have spent an entire day trying to get her to tidy a few toys off the floor. A five minute job becomes a five hour job.
Tried, tested and failed remedies for kids that won’t clean up:
Share the tidying up – results in Mom tidying and Elsie playing while pretending (badly) to tidy up;
“If you tidy up we can go out to crazy golf!” (She loves crazy golf… who doesn’t). Results in tears and no crazy golf;
“Tidy up before lunch please,” Ten minutes later… “You’re not having lunch until your play area is tidy.” Results in rolling around on the floor, screaming and crying due to extreme hunger… even though it’s not even lunch time yet. (Don’t mess with Elsie’s food… she’s like her father).
The trash bag method… “You have 10minutes to tidy up, then I’m coming up with a trash bag. Anything still on the floor goes in the bag.” This method worked a few times, until she called our bluff. Everything went into trash bags and she had to earn the toys back through the following week. Trouble is, the toys were in such a jumble, Mom had to spend ages sifting through the bags to find out what went with what in order to return ‘the box of Shopkins’. Plus the drama caused by American Girl doll Julie entering the trash was quite traumatic for all, including Julie… ugh, back to the drawing board.
It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally the words of my mother-in-law pop into my head. Some time ago, when I was talking about tidying up, she said
“When we were children, we were only allowed to play with one toy at a time.”
In that moment I didn’t think much of it, after all, some of the best games are those involving a Shopkins/Barbie/Toy Kitchen mash-up. I often see Elsie creating a picnic for all her toys, or allowing My Little Ponies to sinfully shack up with Calico Critters. I consider myself a creative, and I hate the idea of dampening my daughter’s imagination… but I’ve reached the end of my tether.
Kids that Won’t Clean Up… Enter the Toy Library
Elsie loves the library, always has done. So rather than telling her all the toys were going to be separated and shut into a cupboard, I told her we were going to create a toy library.
“What do we do when we go to the library? We take back the books we’ve finished with and check out new ones.”
Elsie was instantly sold. No more sea of toys on the floor, no more open boxes for the twins to take handfuls from and throw across the room.
Two Weeks Later
I’ve tried so many things, I’m going to be honest… I didn’t hold out much hope for the magic toy library. But, it has worked wonders and delivered unexpectedly positive results. The toy library came just in time too, because I managed to trip over the dividing baby gate in our playroom and demolish it in the process; so the twins are now on the loose full-time. They love it; because there’s more stuff to throw, whoop! But, slowly we are removing more and more stuff, to allow one big space for simple games… all three bouncing on Elsie’s bed together has become a favorite.
A slightly unexpected side effect… all three are playing together; a total mom win, even if some of their activities are questionably dangerous. It may be a coincidence; the twins are just reaching a more playful age. But I would suggest that removing Elsie’s toys from the play room has encouraged inventive, creative play that works for all ages. Perfect for kids that won’t clean up because there is minimal mess to tidy! The dress up box is still out, because all three love dressing up and it’s much easier to tidy up than Shopkins and Barbie’s wardrobe.
So, we may have lost the opportunity for a toy mash up, but we’ve gained the opportunity for siblings to play together, awesome result I’d say. Now when Elsie checks out a box, she tends to bring it to her brothers… they love seeing what she’s going to pull out!
And the checked out toys do make it back to the cupboard… most of the time.
I’m often in awe when I see a Mom in the park, cafe, library (pretty much anywhere) breastfeeding. They have this wondrous way of whipping the baby under their nifty top and popping he/she on the nipple without even a wince, or even a pause in their conversation with friends. Sometimes I catch myself staring, and quickly correct myself so as not to look like a total weirdo, but I honestly can’t get over how easy it seems. I wonder how much these Mom’s struggled at the start, how many times they cried through the pain, or struggled for an hour to get a nipple in their baby’s mouth. Because that was the reality for me… breastfeeding didn’t work out. And although I’m OK with that, I do think my infant feeding choices could have been made with a little more knowledge and preparation under my belt.
My first born was exclusively breastfed for all of 10 days; by which point I was in tears every time I fed her, I had thrush in my nipples, and was swamped in guilt because I dreaded feeding my own child. I abruptly stopped, and inevitably came down with mastitis, and the whole experience felt like one big disaster. On reflection, I was massively underprepared, I just didn’t realize how hard it would be, and I didn’t have any help on hand to get me through it.
Preparing for Feeding Twins
Having learnt from the experience with my daughter, when I found out I was pregnant with twins, I didn’t really know what to think. I hadn’t managed to successfully breastfeed one baby, how on Earth was I going to manage two? Yet people do manage it, frequently… so why not me? In the build up to the birth, I was recommended a lactation consultant. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to talk to such an expert; would it create too much pressure to breastfeed when I wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to myself? If I signed up with a consultant, would she frown upon my decision to formula feed if that’s the way I decided to go? I just wanted the freedom to make my own decision, without pressure from anyone else. On reflection, this was’t a good decision, because the experience I gained with my daughter turned out to be totally irrelevant to my experience with the Twins.
When the Twins Arrived
The Twins arrived by C-Section at 36wks, and I was all set to get those babes on the boob. What my previous experience hadn’t taught me was that premature babies don’t tend to feed well. While my daughter was a fabulous feeder (it was me that struggled), the Twins wouldn’t latch… in fact they struggled to stay awake long enough to even try. I spent the first three days stripping them naked, putting a wet cloth in their diaper, tickling and pretty much anything the staff and I could come up with, to keep them awake long enough to feed. I found the only thing that worked was to ramp down the air-con in the room at feeding time, probably not recommended when you’re trying to keep a newborn warm.
When I did manage to get them awake, I couldn’t get their mouth open wide enough to stuff that nipple in where it needed to be, so I would grapple for 45mins to get things going. Bearing in mind, newborns need feeding every two hours, I had two of them, and it was taking up to an hour to get them on the boob and another hour to feed… the schedule wasn’t adding up. The babies lost weight, a lot of weight. After three days I was told if the boys didn’t at least plateau, they would have to move to the NICU. Terrified, I turned to formula… even though my milk had just started to come in.
The First Few Months
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend only breast milk for the first six months. Looking back, I wish I had given pumping a good go, while the boys got to grips with feeding. Unfortunately it’s easy to look back and say what you should or would have done, because you’re no longer sleep deprived and healing from major abdominal surgery.
The first month was a bit of a blur; the boys took 45mins each to bottle feed and I fed them back to back. They fed every three hours, so I had a 1.5hr gap between feeds to sleep during the night. I worked my way through many episodes of Midsummer Murders… I recommend it because each episode is exactly 1.5hrs long and there are a lot of them, so you won’t run out in a hurry. It’s also nostalgic for me, having moved from the UK three years ago. I digress… I don’t remember a lot during that dark month, but I do remember Midsummer Murders.
Things became much easier as the boys began to feed more quickly and were able to lay in a Boppy pillow… I could suddenly feed two babies at the same time, hooray! However, you do miss out on the baby cuddles when you bottle feed two babies at the same time. The snuggly gaze you get from cuddling while feeding can’t be beaten, which is why at night I always fed one at a time. It’s simpler, and more calming for all, despite it taking twice as long.
Feeling Confident in Your Infant Feeding Choices
Although the result may have ended up the same, I do wish I had felt more confident about getting advice and support for feeding choices. At the time it felt like there were only two choices – either I feed both babies on my boob, or I bottle feed them formula. In reality, there are all sorts of choices in between. I could have pumped and bottle fed breastmilk while the boys gained strength; I could have supplemented with formula for weight gain, without giving up on breastmilk altogether. And I kick myself that, despite it being my second attempt, I still didn’t prepare myself properly and feel confident in the decisions I was making.
Introducing the Happy Family Infant Feeding Platform
You may be familiar with the Happy Family brand, however you may not know they offer free resources and support for parents. If you have questions about breastfeeding, supplementing, bottle feeding or infant nutrition, they’ve got your covered! The Happy Family Feeding Platform has a team of ‘Mama Milk Mentors’ on hand for live chat through their website. These lactation specialists and Cornell-Certified nutritionists are all moms themselves, and are here to support your infant feeding choices.
Learn more about the Happy Family Infant Feeding Platform –> here.
In addition to chatting in person, the team at Happy Family offer articles on infant nutrition and feeding tips. It really is a fabulous resource to feel more confident about feeding your baby.
I have three happy healthy children, and do not preach any one feeding choice. But I would recommend getting advice, support, and feeling confident in the infant feeding choices you make.
The choice for diapering these days has become overwhelming. Companies have come up with an amazing myriad of products to serve your baby’s backside, and they are making a fortune doing it. But are disposable, cloth, biodegradable diapers really any better than each other? Are they better for the environment, or better for your bank account? And then there’s the logistics… I have twins, I was changing over 20 diapers a day when they were first born!
**This post contains affiliate links. This means I get a small commission if you buy these products. The price is not affected.**
I have been part of a small online mom’s group since I found out I was pregnant with the twins, and they are my go-to for any questions about motherhood, I call them my baby-ladies. Between us we seem to have beautifully covered every mom-type there is, so I knew they would be the source of wisdom I needed to put this post together. In researching the real cost of disposable, cloth, biodegradable diapers, I have three main factors to consider:
How green/eco-friendly are they?
How cost-effective are they?
How practical are they?
What I haven’t yet delved into is the potential health benefits of disposable, cloth, biodegradable diapers, which may also be something to research in your consideration.
The Disposable, Cloth, Biodegradable Diapers Debate
Despite what might be happening politically at the moment, I would like to think many people seek to reduce waste and their carbon footprint. I almost feel dirty telling you that my twin boys have been in disposables since birth; I did consider giving cloth a go, but to be honest I was so terrified at the prospect of having two babies to take care of, I figured I’d just keep it simple. Disposables are nice and easy… use it, chuck it, get a fresh one, brilliant. But that’s where is all goes wrong. According to Dawn at ‘Small Footprint Family‘, disposable diapers are responsible for 7.6 billion pounds of garbage each year in America alone. Dawn also breaks down the cost in resources to make disposables, claiming (even taking into account washing) compared to cloth they:
waste twice as much water,
use three times more energy,
use 8 times more non-renewable raw materials (like oil and minerals),
and use 90 times more renewable raw materials (like tree pulp and cotton).
On the flip side, others such as Kendyl Salacity from the Washington Post are concerned that the cotton inserts and prefolds used in cloth diapers are encouraging the growth of unsustainable cotton farming:
Cotton is an extremely thirsty crop. Although roughly 30 cloth diapers serve the function of 4,000 disposables, cloth’s water demands are almost nine times the alternative.
So Dawn says disposables use twice as much water as cloth, and Kendyl claims cloth uses nine times as much as disposables. I really have no idea what to believe. Biodegradable diapers’ green credential aren’t as black and white as you may think either, more on that below…
Choosing Between Disposable, Cloth, Biodegradable Diapers
You may automatically presume disposable diapers are going to break the bank… cloth is going to save you loads of money, right? Not necessarily. It really depends which style/brand of cloth you choose and which brand/seller of disposables you choose. We had a huge discussion on this last year in my mom’s group… who could find the best deal on disposable Pampers? In the end it was agreed… Having your diapers delivered to the door on a monthly subscription through Amazon Prime was the cheapest option for all. Their prices are great anyway, and you get 20% off!
Every time I look up the annual cost of diapering I see different numbers; but many sites are massively over inflating the cost of disposables (usually based on boxes of 25 from the Grocery Store) to make cloth look cheaper. This is what I believe it cost us to keep our babies’ butts in Pampers Swaddlers (per baby) for the first year:
2500 diapers at at average cost (price varies slightly with size) of $0.14…. total $350 per year. Other sites report anywhere from $500-$900 a year and it’s just not true. Shop sensibly and disposable diapers are reasonably cost effective. The second year is cheaper too, because you’ll probably only use 2200 diapers, costing around $300 if you shop wisely.
Pampers Swaddlers are obviously not the only brand available. Baby-lady Nina outsourced her disposable diaper research to her teenage daughter. For a school science project big sister tested Pampers, Huggies and Seventh Generation Diapers and found:
While the Huggies and Pampers absorbed more, they both smelled SUPER weird when exposed to liquid and didn’t absorb fast enough. If a diaper wasn’t applied just right, it would be easy for large amounts of liquid to escape before they got absorbed.
Thanks to Nina’s daughter, her little brother has been in Seventh Generation ever since and they haven’t looked back. I love a good experiment… and I’m now wondering if my children smell weird. Baby-lady Kaila prefers Pampers Cruisers, and many ladies love Target’s own brand ‘Up and Up‘ – great value for money and you get a discount if you subscribe with them too.
With a hybrid, you can decide how green you want to go… use either ‘biodegradable’ disposable inserts or washable cloth inserts in your cloth cover (see All-in-Two below for more on washable inserts). The disposable inserts mean the bulk of the waste doesn’t have to be dealt with, and there is considerably less washing to do.
The cost though is not so pretty if you want this happy halfway house. Not only do you have to buy the hybrid covers, but the disposable inserts are more expensive that a disposable diaper, up to twice the price in fact, compared with big brand disposable diapers. However, if you plan on using the cloth inserts most of the time, and want a little extra convenience when you leave the house, hybrid diapers might just be perfect. After all, who wants to carry around a wet soggy diaper in their bag for the rest of the day?
In regard to the green side of things, the hybrid brand gDiaper got into a little bit of trouble in 2012 after it was asked by the FTC to back up it’s eco-claims. There was concern that customers were under the impression that their ‘biodegradable’ inserts will naturally break down in landfill. This is not the case, and when flushed they can’t promise they’ll break down either. No… you have to get your home composting going if you want to stay green. Diapers even had to ditch the ‘certified’ wording before ‘biodegradable’ to keep the FTC happy.
Despite all this, I still love the flexibility of this option! gDiaper, Charlie Banana, Flip and GroVia all offer disposable liners. Here are some of my favorite picks:
All-in-one, as it suggests, has the convenience of being a single part, no separating, no folding, no stuffing. However, some have a pocket to bump up the absorbency when needed, at night for example. After trying a number of brands, baby-lady Kate is a big fan of Blueberry Simplex All In One Diapers for their all cotton inners:
“What I ultimately realized is that I hate synthetic fiber diapers (microfiber).”
The all cotton diapers are a little pricey, especially if you go with the organic cotton version, but nothing is too good for that beloved toosh, eh? Kate has 30 diapers to keep her going, totaling a cost of around $700, but these system are designed to last from newborn to potty training.
In reality, small newborns may not quite fit, and chunky toddlers may burst out, but overall these system are a one size thing. You can get some brands in newborn and larger sizes if needed. Kate has a selection of sizes and admits she deals with a bit of “diaper addiction”… there are all so pretty after all! Here’s a photo of a portion of her stash for size comparison:
Pocket diapers, as the names suggests, have the absorbent material stuffed into a pocket. This may be a purpose made insert, or a folded ‘prefold (yes, you have to fold the prefold, aha). This additional step is a bit of a headache, but it gives the flexibility of filling it with whatever you want. These stuffed pockets can make Baby’s behind on the large size though, so be careful with your clothes choices. Baby lady Jen says:
“we can only use bumGenius brand of pocket diapers because Baby’s skin needs true stay-dry or she breaks out horribly,”
It seems the freedom to stuff that diaper full of all the absorbent stuff mean you may have a better chance of making it through the night without leaks and avoiding the dreaded diaper rash. And although some cloth diapers system can get pricey, there are cheaper alternative such as ALVABABY Pocket Cloth Diapers.
All-in-two systems appeal to me because the entire diaper does’t get washed every time. You’ll probably do the same amount of dedicated diaper washes, but you won’t need as many covers and there will be less drying costs. I like the idea that you just snap/tuck in and out a freshly washed insert, and wash the whole thing when things get messy. Baby-ladies Jillian and Bethany both like Flip diaper covers, combined with a charcoal and bamboo washable insert. The inserts just tuck in with no stuffing into awkward pockets required.
Baby-lady Abby also find the All-in-Two system is less bulky than the Pocket system which is why she uses them by day.
“We are 100% cloth: daycare, weekend trips, swim time. We use Bumgenius at night and Best Bottom during the day. I only do laundry once a week so I have a decent stash without going overboard.”
Abby’s stash of diapers to wash only once a week however comes at a cost… 9 Bumgenius pocket diapers, 15 Best Bottom All-in-Two Covers, and 32 Best Bottom inserts is coming to around $850, which sounds like a lot, but these systems go from newborn through to 35lb+, therefore if you potty trained at 2.5 it would only cost $350 a year plus the energy/water cost of washing.
Most mom’s however wash every two/three days, so you could reduce your cloth diaper stash to as much as half the example above, costing more like $175 per year plus the energy/water cost of washing.
Best Bottom Cloth Diaper - To The Point
Flip Diaper Cover - Clementine
GroVia Hybrid Diaper Shell - Calico
How much do it cost to wash cloth diapers?
According to this cool laundry energy calculator, if I do three loads a weeks set to hot wash in Phoenix (with a sensibly priced detergent), I will be spending at extra $180 a year.
Based on this… a modest cloth diaper system plus washing is going to set you back around $355 a year, pretty much the same as disposables. But nothing goes into landfill… nothing. And you can even pass on your outgrown diapers through sites like Diaper Swappers or your local moms swip-swap site.
However, not everyone has it that easy, and baby-lady Jen reports that a single wash and dry isn’t always enough:
“Washing diapers well means a pre-rinse, then heavy soiled main wash and rinse, then another rinse to get every last bit of detergent out to avoid rashes. Then two to three runs in the dryer to actually dry. Our electricity bill has skyrocketed…”
Jen lives in California where utilities are notoriously high, and she saw a raise in bills of up to $120-$150 a month because of the extra cycles she was having to run to avoid rashes on sensitive baby skin. This little ones sensitive skin was soaring costs into around $1500 a year! Others too have reported that getting those poopy diapers perfectly clean is difficult, and some prefer to use a service to do it for them (more on that below).
We’re into retro territory, Grandma would be proud. Brush up on your folding skills and have a go at traditional diapering. The ‘flat’ diaper is exactly what your parents would have worn as babies – folded up cotton, held together with a pin or a ‘Snappi‘ at the front. Prefolds give a little less prep work as the name suggests; there is less folding involved because they are thicker ‘pre-folded’ panels. I was wondering if you could just leave it at that, after all I’m pretty sure that’s what you see in the movies set pre-1950. But baby-lady Jeanine says:
“We definitely need to use covers, otherwise she’d wet right through the prefolds; there’d be no waterproof lining.”
Despite the cost of the cover, flat and prefold diapers are a notoriously cost effective option. Lets look at the numbers:
Baby-lady Jen recommends 24 Cloth-eez refolds, if you bought sizes Small, Medium, and Large it would cost around $90 total. Add some Snappi Cloth Diaper Clips and 12 sensibly priced covers, and you’re looking at around $270 a year.
Baby-lady and diapering guru Meredith has tried them all, including the traditional flats your mother would have worn. She says:
“People think flats are a ton more work, when really I think they’re easier than prefolds and less bulky! And they clean up so much better, especially with hard water, so I love them for stinky toddler pee…”
However, you are going to have to learn some diaper origami to make it work, which family members and daycare may not approve of. For the super frugal mama, Meredith recommends two sets of flats (you may need half flats for littles and regular for when they’re bigger) and a very basic waterproof diaper pant over the top. You can make this work for as little as $200 a year.
After feeling fed up with mountains of washing and inflated utility bills, Baby-lady Jen decided to ditch the cloth diapers and opt for biodegradable disposable diapers. Similarly to the gDiaper inserts above, these diapers are not going to degrade in your regular trash bag in landfill, and it’s unlikely you’ll have the scale of composting at home to make it work. However, Jen has opted for a door-to-door composting service.
Jen claims the cost of the service ($30 a month) is the same as the increase in her water bill alone when washing cloth, without even considering the rise in electricity on top. She gets her Naty by Nature Babycare Diapers delivered straight to her door, and the used ones are picked up in the same way. They are taken to a composting station to be broken down as best they can, and the whole service costs $80 a month, or $960 a year.
‘At Naty we use renewable resources whenever possible, however our nappies are not 100% biodegradable.’
Although the plastic outer layer found on conventional diapers has been replaced with a biodegradable, breathable material, there is no getting away from the ‘super-absorbent granules which are necessary to enhance the absorbency of the nappy‘. The bulk of the diaper is made of ‘biodegradable chlorine free cellulose fluff pulp‘ so I’m sure there’s not a lot left for landfill, but I’d be interested to know how these composting stations separate the two different materials. Still, this is surely a greener alternative, especially for those extra sensitive bottoms that don’t always like cloth.
Nature Babycare Eco-Diapers (Naty)
Andy Pandy Bamboo Diapers
Bamboo Nature Diapers
Door to Door Washing Services
If the idea of unpredictable utility bills and mountains of washing is holding you back trying cloth diapers, a door to door washing service might be for you. Baby-lady Ahhlexiz is using a door to door service to wash the cloth diapers she uses by day and the biodegradable disposable she uses at night.
“Since the company we use does both compostable and cloth, we throw everything in the pail (cloth, disposable and wipes) no rinsing/washing required.”
The service delivers her a pack of biodegradable diapers and freshly washed cloth diapers very week for $114 a month. They compost the biodegradable and deal with all the poop she sends them… easy peasy.
Other baby-ladies that use door-to-door services for only prefolds are reporting prices between $70-80 a month, and claim they come back cleaner than they can get them at home. The trouble is, you have to buy a two week supply of diapers to have in rotation, so if you buy 120 prefolds to have in rotation (and replace with new ones as they grow to the next size), plus 12 covers and a door to door service, you’ll be paying around $1000 a year.
Cloth is Not for Everyone
Plenty of Moms report giving cloth a go and find it doesn’t work for them. Sometimes, Baby’s behind just doesn’t stay dry enough, leading to constant battles with leaks and diaper rash. Some find the difficulty and cost of washing too much. Some just get fed up with scraping, shaking and spraying poop off diapers… who can blame them. Baby-lady Cristina says:
“Baby got the absolute worst diaper rash every time I had them on him for more than a couple of days. At first, he only leaked during the night (despite 1-2 changes) and then he started leaking during naptime…”
Baby-lady Kaila says:
“We loved cloth, however I quit at 8 months due to the poop. I couldn’t handle it.”
And for Baby-lady Monica, when baby number two came along close behind, two lots of cloth diapering was just too much to do.
And if your mind wasn’t already blown enough… Baby-lady Jenelle didn’t find cloth diapering worked for her, but does love reusable wipes:
“We have been super successful at using cloth wipes. I make my own solution and stopped buying the Kissaluvs brand wipes, preferring to buy yards of a similar hemp/cotton blend fabric and cutting my own wipes.”
Let’s not even go there… I think I already broke the internet with the length of this post! I have loved doing all this research, and it wouldn’t have been possible without my amazing gang of online baby-ladies. You guys are the best, thank you!
It feels like my daughter spends a lot of time at school… that will soon become very apparent when she’s under my feet for ten weeks. Yes, the summer break is upon us, and I’ve been sitting down to consider how on Earth I’m going to keep her occupied. The first couple of summer breaks I had as a SAHM I never even thought about science camp, or any other camp for that matter. We had just moved from England to Texas, so in true expat style we spent everyday swimming. Elsie literally couldn’t get enough of it, and it was a skill I was desperate for her to learn. However, with the twins in tow, swimming is no longer the relaxing option it used to be; and I would highly recommend having more than one adult present when swimming with two toddlers. So what am I going to do with her? Last year I didn’t really think about it… she got bored, I sent her to activity camp last minute, and she knocked her two front teeth out in the first week in a freak accident. My small experience with summer camp didn’t gone well; so this year I decided to give it more thought.
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The Importance of ‘Progress’ and Champagne
We had teacher conferences last week. Following on from our last teacher conference experience, I’m afraid to report that both our organizational skills still need working on. Results are good though… can you believe we have to discuss results when talking about a seven year old? As a teacher myself, I feel a little despondent looking at the piece of paper printed with numbers; I’m supposed to impressed with Elsie’s ‘progress’. She was a 4.2, but she’s now a 5.5… oh fabulous, crack open the champagne. I wonder sometimes whether my British sarcasm comes across properly in my writing… just to make it crystal clear, these numbers mean nothing.
Before I go on a total rant about the state of the education system on both sides of the Atlantic, I will reign myself back in and just highlight this point:
Data collected by the National Survey of Science and Math Education indicates that “just sixteen minutes per day in the typical K–3 classroom are dedicated to social studies, with just nineteen minutes earmarked for science.” (Michael Petrilli, edexellence.net)
I’m getting a little tired of hearing about ‘progress’ in reading and maths. I know very well how my daughter is progressing in these subjects, thanks to the utterly tedious and soul destroying homework that is delivered in her backpack every week. But how are her problem solving skills? How is her ability to develop questions, work as a team and evaluate her own progress? Is curiosity in the world around her growing? Does she know how to explore her observations and share them with others? Does she understand the application of her knowledge, or is the weekly maths and spelling test just being banked in the ‘boring school work’ compartment in her brain?
Why Science Camp?
This, along with the squealing of excitement when I suggested it, is why Elsie is going to Science camp this summer. Science as a subject incorporates plenty of reading, writing and mathematics… so don’t worry, that 5.2 will survive unscathed, despite getting involved in activities beyond the all important Common Core. Science is more valued than it used to be; the push for Engineers seems to be working, although I do wish other science careers would be sold to kids too. Are my kids going to be competing in an oversaturated market when graduating with their Engineering degree, because it’s the career buzz word of their generation? Engineering, and Snap Chat… they both seem to be doing well with the kids these days.
I do hope people will start to think outside the box a little, and truly understand the purpose of scientific thinking. When I studied for my PGCE I was shown ‘Shift Happens’ in my opening lecture. It has stuck with me since, and I think of it often. It’s a little old now, which is ironic given the content, but I continue to find it inspiring. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you watch it now… I hope you get from it what I did:
The key point for me is that we are teaching children for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We cannot possibly imagine what wacky jobs are going to be out there when they graduate, so lets focus on inspiring, and building the confidence to seek out new knowledge.
What Can We Do at Home?
Many schools offer science camp over the summer for a sensible price. Many external companies also run camps which can get expensive but involve a lot of equipment, specialized teaching and supervision, so can be justified in their budget. There are also plenty of activities you can do at home with your kids to encourage critical thinking and scientific values. Elsie will be doing a couple of weeks at official science camp, and I also plan to get stuck into some fun at home. Watch this space, I’ll come back next month with an activity to share, in the meantime here’s some resources to get your creative juices flowing:
Having reached the grand old age of seven, Elsie is now an expert in pretty much everything. Today she’s offering up a range of ideas to get your creative sprogs outside. Some of these suggestions are tried and tested… solid ideas that will help your children get out and about and explore their imagination. Others… well, despite being an expert in all things fun and imaginative, there’s still a little work to do on practicality and common sense before she’s ready to leave home. After running through her ideas for outdoor creative activities for kids, she was ready to hear one of mine. I’m pretty sure it passed the fun-with-mom test, so between us I can confirm the Twin Pickle Think Tank is going pretty well.
*This post is sponsored by NaturePrint paper*
Elsie’s carefully, yet spontaneously considered, outdoor creative activities for kids:
We are lucky enough to live in a house constructed in the late 1980’s. A time when landscaping usually involved pebbles rather than gravel. It may not be so popular with homeowners now, but it has been a great resource for various projects at school and home. We have a fine selection of pebbles in our yard – if you don’t, get out there and find some. You can paint your pebbles in any way you like, how about pebble bugs, Tic Tac Toe, or recreating the rock trolls from Frozen?
When Elsie suggested this, I’m not entirely sure if she meant cutting flowers from the outdoors to bring in, or planting flowerbeds in the garden at home. Either way… I’m liking both ideas!
What kid doesn’t love a race? Why waste time leisurely enjoying the great outdoors, when you can turn it into a competitive speed sport? Collect as much as you can, as fast as you can!
We’re returning to a somewhat sensible suggestion here. Elsie has always had a thing for puppet shows and frequently makes puppets on sticks to play with. Explore for leaves, flowers, sticks and feathers, and create a collection of nature puppets. You may even find the perfect setting for the show.
Although you can make paper airplanes inside, if you make them properly, they are much more fun to fly outside. A well made airplane can get some decent distance, so construct and tweak your design, and see what works best. For a good starting point, check out this tutorial for the best paper airplane ever… (although there are a lot of people claiming this title on youtube so I think someone needs to step in an officiate).
Homemade juice paint to make rocks into easter eggs
Now I know it was Easter last weekend, so Elsie was in the egg painting mind set, but we’re back to the fruit picking. I tried to explain that the juice from the grapefruit in our yard is likely too watery to give good color to a rock, but she wasn’t convinced. Needless to say I do not recommend painting with grapefruit juice… however, there are plenty of natural food colorings you can make yourself (including those from fruit), and there is no reason these couldn’t be used as paints. I love this fun video on making homemade colorings (despite the slightly dramatic intro about poisoning our organs with artificial dyes).
Build a rockpool birdbath
Kids love digging holes, it’s personally satisfying… I understand why dogs are into it. Elsie suggests digging a hole, decorating with pebbles and filling with water. She also suggests making a sign saying ‘only birds allowed’ to keep away potential predators.
And what we really did this past weekend…
All these creative juices were putting the pressure on Mom this past weekend to offer something awesome for Elsie to get stuck into. As well as her role as Think Tank Chairman, Elsie takes her role of Chief Blog Product Tester very seriously, so when she got her hands on some NaturePrint Paper she was excited to put it to the test.
NaturePrint Paper is a photosensitive paper that doesn’t require any fancy chemicals to develop. It’s crazy simple, which I consider an important factor in the success of family fun. Outdoor creative activities for kids have to be easy to get started, or they get bored listening to instructions and your idea is axed for a round of ‘Nature Run’ (see above). Once Elsie and I had experimented with a few different images, she was hooked and I left her to it. She really enjoyed watching the paper change color and seeing how different pictures turned out. We laid over plants, toys, rocks and anything else we fancied trying, and Elsie particularly enjoyed the little stencils that came with the ‘sun printing kit’ (the butterfly shown above is one of the stencils… no real butterflies were harmed in the making of this blog post).
There is more information, including where to buy, on the NaturePrint Paper website, so do go and have a looksy. Rather that go into detail about how to use it, we made this little video showing all the action…
NaturePrint Paper passes the ‘outdoor activities for kids’ testing panel here at Twin Pickle, and Elsie gives it a solid thumbs up! And if you don’t fancy the paper, you can always try baking a fruit pie in the sun…
It’s that time of year again… Elsie’s turning seven, and we’re planning a kid’s birthday party. Ten years ago I was elbow deep in planning for our wedding, and there are many reasons why planning a kid’s birthday party is more stressful. There are definite similarities… cake, songs, the guests will cry. But kid’s parties do have their own unique challenges, here are just ten.
1 Kids have unreasonable expectations
Some time ago I promised Elsie she could have a piñata at her birthday party. Since then she has requested a roller skating disco party, which involves small children doing loops in the dark, with lots of flashy lights and loud music. A few days ago she checked in on the piñata and couldn’t understand why it was a bad idea.
“Everyone’s going to be wearing roller skates, Sweetie. And it’s really dark, so it’s probably not safe, and you’d have trouble finding the sweets. Plus I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be allowed…”
“But you said I could have a piñata!”
2 You are catering for the fussiest people on the planet
In planning a kid’s birthday party, pizza is the go-to party food because it’s one of the only universally acceptable foods to the under 18s. Unlike grown-up guests at a wedding, kids will not politely smile and eat enough to get them through. They will make it public news that they only like pink lemonade, not the yellow stuff. And make sure your pizza looks as generic as possible, or risk tears over a sprinkle of oregano.
3 Kids are honest
Prepare yourself for brutal honesty. I’m not sure when the white lie filter kicks in, but I haven’t seen much sign of it yet. Last weekend, we went to a kid’s pool party; and despite living in Arizona, the weather was still a little chilly in early March. On leaving the pool, Elsie shouts with appropriate drama:
“I am soooo cold, I never want to swim again!”
“Where’s the pizza? I’m soooo hungry!”
I assure you my child is not a total brat; she’s just saying the first thing that comes into her head, because she’s six. At least your wedding guests will politely shiver and quietly ask their neighbor when lunch is served.
4 Party bags are very important
I can’t see any wedding guests kicking off about the quality of their party favor. However, be prepared for kids to be scanning the room for those party bags. I have a real issue with buying small plastic bags and filling them with total crap. A pocket sized dinosaur, one of those parachuting men that never work as well as you’d hope, and a whistle that will very quickly and conveniently go missing. It’s a total waste of money and a personal pet hate. I have suggested alternatives such as giving a single small plush toy… something more substantial that might actually have use, and not end up in the trash within a week.
“But will it come in a bag?”
It seems the bag itself is extremely important. At the recent pool party the hosts gave out a fun airplane craft kit, and sure enough the end third of the box was snuggly squeezed into a multicolored party bag. So give them anything you like, just make sure it comes in a bag or risk public shaming.
5 Parents don’t RSVP
You may have to chase a few of your wedding guests for a response, but planning a kid’s birthday party is another level. I have tried traditional paper invites, and the more common evite. Both get the same response rate, and it’s not good. Maybe it’s our own fault, we’re sending an abbreviated request in a foreign language. For those that are unclear, R.S.V.P. stands for ‘répondez, s’il vous plaît’ which means ‘please reply’. Many parties, such as the one we are planning next week, is paid for per child attending, therefore knowing how many kids are coming is important. And then there’s those pesky party bags… how many do I need? No-one wants to risk a little one in tears because we’ve run short, so you know you’ll buy extra, and then you’ve got ten annoying whistles to slyly dispose of afterwards.
6 Cake is Important
OK, so cake is also important (and extremely expensive if I remember rightly) at a wedding. But for Elsie, it’s the number one most important factor for a party. If you’ve watched Elsie baking chocolate chip cookies or chocolate fudge cake you’ll realize she’s big into cake. We had to leave a couple of parties early last year when the Twins were young, and had major tears because she didn’t get cake. Cake even takes precedent over party bags, and I’m with her, it’s my favorite part of taking her to parties too.
7 Friends change on a daily basis
Hopefully those invited to your wedding are friends for life. Unfortunately, kids are not so loyal, and this can make planning a kid’s birthday party difficult. The easiest thing to do is invite the school class, but what about ballet, swim club and buddies from the park? Numbers can spiral out of control, but if you just invite the besties, things get political. I’ve made the mistake of sneaking a few of the moms at ballet an invite at the request of my daughter. Unfortunately another girl in the class caught wind of this, and proclaimed loudly that Elsie was not invited to her party now. Elsie quickly tried to add to the list in response, to which she was told “It’s too late now.” Yes, the politics of kid’s party invites can almost rival a wedding.
8 Present etiquette is very unclear
Do we open presents at the party or at home afterwards? Most parties I’ve been to open their presents after the party, because kids don’t have the attention span to watch, and some people may feel self-conscious as their deck of Top Trump cards is placed beside that $50 Lego set. Personally, I am less concerned with value (because kids really don’t understand that stuff), and more concerned my present might just get shunned… see point 3 above. Having said this, last year at Elsie’s party, when we started to give out the party bags of crap, one parent expressing their disapproval at our choice not to open the presents at the party. It seems you can’t keep everyone happy.
9 You’re competing with sporting activities
Kids are on a busy schedule. Unlike grown-ups, that mostly like to do as little as possible at the weekend, kid’s weekends are filled with soccer, lacrosse and baseball. Yes, six year-old play lacrosse now. At least a wedding is important enough to override sports practice, but it seems yet another birthday party is not. You might invite 30 kids, but you’ll be lucky to get double figures turning up, because the other 20 are busy working towards their football scholarship.
10 You’ll be planning a kid’s birthday party again next year
Hopefully, you will only ever plan one wedding. However, you are unlikely to be so lucky with planning a kids birthday party. All this faffing about with guest lists and plastic bags of land fill is over with quickly, and you’re left feeling exhausted, relieved, and secretly pleased with leftover pizza and cake. I would suggest not going overboard in the early years, because next year they’re going to expect the same. We waiting until Elsie’s 5th for the official birthday party, and since it’s been expected every year. It seems I’m stuck planning a kid’s birthday party every year from here on out. At least the Twins can share a party… although I was told by a twin once that she was traumatized as a child because she was always expected to share a cake with her sister. One party, two cakes… note to future self. I think by the time the Twins are turning seven I’ll be so done with planning parties, I’ll just chuck them in the back yard and deliver a slice of pizza in a party bag an hour later. Job done.
It’s official… the Twins walked. A few steps counts, doesn’t it? We have been waiting for this day for months – they’ve kept us hanging, but they both broke the seal on the same day at 15months. Although the excitement of those first few steps in huge, it’s closely followed by panic, because when babies become toddlers, the falling begins. This has led to a little reassessment of how to baby-proof the house – stay tuned, we’re delving into the exciting world of risk management…
**This post contains affiliate links**
How far you go with baby-proofing is a personal choice, and a difficult one for many. The more you look around, the more corners and pointed objects you see; and every cupboard you open seems to contain a machete and a tube of superglue. Babies are magnetized to these things, it’s a fact. And toilets… as I’ve mentioned before, babies love toilets, dog poop and pretty much anything that makes you want dry heave.
When you’re dealing with risk management of any kind there are two main factors to assess:
How likely is it to happen?
How severe would if be if it did?
It is extremely likely that the Twins will make it to the toilet yet again this week. However, I keep the toilets clean and once I’ve found them, dry heaved a little, and told them off, I can thoroughly wash the Twins’ hands and the risk of infection is low. That is of course as long as they don’t… I’m not even going to think about it.
‘The most severe injuries are associated with heat-related accidents and falls from a height. Older children are more likely to sustain fractures than younger counterparts. Younger children have a higher percentage of burns and scalds as well as poisoning and ingestion accidents.’
I would say this is a good place to start. I’ve recently noticed that my 96th percentile boys are tall enough to run their hand along the edge of the countertop already. It will not be long before they can touch the hot plate on the cooker. They are also working on opening the oven door. As for falling… will someone please tell me how to stop them playing peekaboo with each other over the back of the sofa? I just know one of them is going to topple over the back onto the hardwood floor… eek! And poisoning, gah… I caught Arthur sucking on a can of spray paint the other day. Thank goodness the lid was still on.
Statistically, the kitchen and the stairs are where your child is most likely to do some serious damage, and it’s most likely to happen when your little one is starting to get tired in the late afternoon / early evening* When thinking about how to baby-proof the house, the first thought that comes to mind may be socket covers and stair gates, but there’s a lot more to consider that does not involve turning your home into a padded cell.
Three different approaches to baby-proofing:
Baby-proof everything in sight and let them run wild;
Create baby-safe zones and impound them as much as possible;
Teach them about rules and boundaries from the start;
In all honesty, I never did any of the first two with my first born. We were in the house a lot less than we are now; and she was not adventurous, and pretty much stayed where I put her. I believed it better to watch her carefully, and correct dangerous behaviour… in essence I baby-proofed the baby. Having said that, there is considerable risk in this approach. If Elsie came into the kitchen, opened the cupboard door and pulled out a bottle of bleach, I sternly told her ‘no’ and she would put it back. Slowly over time, she stopped going into the cupboard altogether. This worked because when I was with her at all times, I could give her my full attention, and she was one of those obedient babies that didn’t generally break rules once she knew they existed.
The Twins on the other hand know fully well they are not allowed to play in the toilet. Do they care? No. I am busier now I’m a mom of three, and can’t watch their every move – I need back-up. In reality, not one of the above approaches works well on it’s own. Your house is never going to be perfectly baby-proofed, but you should do your best to address high risk areas, as well as teaching your children about rules and boundaries. Despite the Twins defiance, I am still a strong believer in the last approach. If you do not teach your children boundaries, when your back is turned and the baby-proofing is breached, those littles Tikes will get themselves into all sorts of trouble.
How to Baby-Proof the House by Age
Challenges and Measures to Be Taken
Baby-Proof the Parents
When parents are exhausted from feeding and sleepless nights, it is easy to make mistakes. All I can suggest is double check… Have you left them on the countertop in their bouncy chair? Have you left them in the car? Is their sleeping arrangement safe? Have you left the dog alone with the baby? It all sounds obvious to people in the land of the living, but new parents are on a different planet, and sadly, accidents do happen.
Baby-Proof the House
Baby is pulling up to stand, crawling and drawn to sharps edges. Corner padding, foam play mats, carpeting and rugs will all help. You do however have a bigger problem… everything goes in their mouth. Everything. The only way to baby-proof this properly is to keep things tidy and small objects out of reach. As Baby’s vision gets better, they can focus on tiny details for the first time. This is a very intriguing new skill, and when they master the motor skills to pick up those tiny pieces, the automatic questions is “I wonder what it tastes like?”
Baby-Proof the Baby
Once baby becomes toddler, they mean business. They will surprise you everyday with the trouble they can get themselves into. They love exploring little nooks and cupboards, and they can climb with impressive agility. They will grab your hot cup of coffee in the blink of an eye, and they will work out how a door handle works. At this point stair gates and cupboard locks will help; but your toddler is also beginning to understand the concept of what is right and wrong. They understand a stern tone in your voice and the removal of their hand from a door handle. It is time to start teaching them boundaries – it will not only serve as back-up for house baby-proofing, it will make your life a whole lot easier when you visit the relatives.
Baby-Proofing I Couldn’t Live Without
There are endless products out there designed to take your money and make your baby safe. However, most serious accidents happen because of distractions and lapses in supervision. Not because the house wasn’t filled with expensive baby products, but because we’re moms, and we’re still human. Here is a summary of baby-proofing interventions I couldn’t live without:
A safe enclosure. This can be a play pen, a playroom, their bedroom… anywhere really. There needs to be one space that is totally safe where you can leave baby alone for a moment. You need to pee, and shower, and make tea… do this alone. We are lucky enough to have a playroom, but because the Twins share it with Lego mad big-sister, we have a partition splitting it into two zones. Despite this, Arthur did poop out Barbie’s ballet slipper some time back.
A stair gate. Babies love to climb stairs, and they are one of the biggest culprits for bad accidents. We have a gate at the top (where their safe play room is) but at the bottom I have chosen to ‘baby-proof’ the babies, which means I am slowly teaching them they are not allowed to climb up on their own. Obviously you can get a gate for the bottom too but I personally chose not to.
Doors that lock. I have had to baby-proof myself into remembering to lock the external doors. Arthur has shut himself into the garage twice, because the door is on a self closer. The Twins both let themselves out into the back yard, and if they made it out of the front door I hate to think what could happen.
Move dangerous items out of reach. You can invest in clever cupboard locks, but all it takes is that one time you forget to lock it for the baby to find it. Do you trust yourself to always close it properly to catch the lock? Do you trust the baby not to lick the cleaning products under the sink? There is a simpler option… move the really dangerous stuff somewhere else.
Once you’ve baby-proofed yourself, the house, and the baby, life will be a breeze… that’s what I keep telling myself anyway! I left some links below to some products to make baby-proofing easier, just remember it takes more than stuff to keep Baby safe.
Last week, I was sent a book called ‘Women, Motherhood & Independence‘. Anyone that’s read my post ‘Why I Don’t Do Parenting Books‘ can imagine that self-help books have never really been my bag. I don’t get much time to read, and to be honest when I do, I’d rather read a gruesome murder mystery. Should I be worried that murder takes priority over self-help? Probably… but for me, TV, books and going out on the town are all about escapism. Escaping the day-to-day madness that is life… escaping my own personal chaos. Now, because I’m more of a scientist than a spiritualist, stick with me while we take a look at Chaos Theory. It’s a real thing, with scientific laws derived by people with highly effective brains… now that I can work with.
‘Chaos is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected.’ (FractalFoundation.org)
What did I tell you… science is the answer to all your problems. Chaos Theory is going to teach us how to expect the unexpected. So when I turn around from the cooker and the Twins have instantly vanished, I’m going to know that they have made it down the corridor to the bathroom, and are happily playing in the toilet bowl – unexpected? Not anymore.
Principals of Chaos Theory:
One of the main principles of Chaos Theory, is the idea of the butterfly effect. The chaos theorist in Jurassic Park (one of my favorite movies of all time by the way), played by Jeff Goldblum, talks of how the flutter of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil could, through a complex sequence of events, cause a tornado in Kanzas. It’s a idea that has come up again and again in movies – ‘Sliding Doors’ portrays the knock on effect of whether or not Gwyneth Paltrow’s character catches a particular train on a particular day. And then there’s the time traveling disaster of Ashton Kutcher’s character in ‘The Butterfly Effect’. This idea of feedback is important in Chaos Theory – even the smallest interference in a system can have dramatic effects.
What Chaos Theory is Not:
Chaos theory is not a lazy branch of science, just writing everything off as unpredictable, uncontrollable and without order. It looks for underlying patterns, and unifying ideas. It studies the inner workings of non linear systems, and makes predictions about outcomes. And it’s not just for mathematicians; Chaos theory is used to study physiology, biology, economics and pretty much anything that’s real life. Because chaos is the nature of… nature.
Why Choas Theory is Important to Consider:
It is important to understand that life is a non linear system. Although we may feel like we’re rolling along the conveyor belt of day-to-day life, in reality, small interventions in the system are giving it feedback, resulting in an infinitely larger, more complex system. So when life feels chaotic and unpredictable, blame the butterfly in Brazil. But we can also use Chaos Theory to our advantage… remember, small interventions can, in the long term, have dramatic effects.
This is where I return to my self-help book, the trigger for this post on Chaos Theory. In ‘Women, Motherhood & Independence’, author Penelope Magoulianti talks about how she worked for the same employers for twenty years, and despite wanting to, never pushed for more from her career. ‘Every year the frustration and anger grew greater’ she explains, because she was afraid to do anything about it. In the eyes of Chaos Theory, I would suggest those feeling of frustrations and anger are giving her life system feedback; creating a more complexly unsatisfying work environment as time went on. It was only when the company closed down, she was forced to reflect, consider her passions, and kick start a new confidence and career.
If Life is Chaos, Is Anything Linear?
Penelope totally burst my ego bubble when she explains to the reader that research has proved:
‘98% of people can’t multitask’
So, either you’re in the lucky 2%, or you’re not getting more done by trying to do it all at the same time. It seems our mental to-do list should be a linear system. We have enough chaos in nature, let’s keep simple task management in linear form, we’re much more effective that way.
What Science Can’t Help Us With
In amongst all this science, there is a place for self-help books. Science will struggle to tell you how to feel more confident, and inspire you to find your passion and achieve personal success. My favorite chapter from ‘Women, Motherhood & Independence’ was ‘Slow Down to Achieve More’, because this is exactly what I promised myself I’d do this year. Penelope talks of creating ‘silent time’, as well as adding relaxing activities and re-charge time to your life. This is exactly what I need to do, and it was great to read some tips on how to achieve it. It has also given me the push I needed to get a few things done that I have been meaning to do for ages.
‘Have you been putting off plans because they didn’t seem perfect enough?’
Yes Penelope, actually I have. I have been meaning to redesign the blog, and this week I actually did it…
Create a Positive Butterfly
If Chaos Theory is inherently present, lets work with it. Create your own butterfly effect… just make the feedback you give the system positive. Make time everyday to take time out and re-charge. As Chaos Theory states, even a small intervention in the system can have dramatic effects; so if you feel you’re too busy for an hour of meditative yoga, or a long walk on the beach, try spending just 15minutes doing something creative. It can be anything you like, but take Penelope’s advice and turn off the phone/ipad.
If you would like a copy of ‘Women, Motherhood & Independence – A Guide to Financial Freedom, Beauty and Confidence After Childbirth’, you can find the ebook at womenmotherhoodandindependence.com.
Today is a Twin Pickle first… I’m handing over the blog to someone with far more experience and knowledge on this subject than myself. We were lucky enough to avoid the NICU when I had the Twins at 36wks, but I still didn’t manage to successfully breastfeed. This was partly because I panicked about their weight loss, when preemie’s don’t have much to spare; and partly because I lacked knowledge on preemie babies and pumping. Therefore I’m extremely happy to have Katharina from breastfeedsuccessfully.com offer her expertise, for any moms-to-be or new mums worried about how breastfeeding at the NICU is possible.
“Don’t stop pumping the plane! My wife is still boarding for our baby!”, my husband blurted out, while sprinting towards the airport terminal staff, after they had made the final boarding call for our flight. By the time I walked up, the airline staff welcomed me with a chuckle and by saying “Good job pumping, Momma!” We had just spent the first 7 days of our precious baby’s life at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), after being air ambulance to a different city shortly following his birth. Needless to say that my husband and I were excited, exhausted, and apparently we were both suffering from major “Mommy Brain”.
To this day, I still tear up every time I see a picture of a preemie. We only spent 1 week at the NICU, but other parents spent much, much more time there. If you’re expecting twins, then your doctor may have already mentioned that depending on how early your babies arrive and depending on their birth weight, they may be admitted to the NICU. Even though it probably is not what you’re hoping for, you are already ahead of most expecting moms by facing this possible scenario head on and mentally preparing for it. This way you’ll enter and exit the NICU much stronger and more confidently, and you’ll be able to keep your focus on your sweet babies.
If your goal is to breastfeed your twins, know that premature babies are often too weak to start breastfeeding after birth, and they may be tube or bottle fed at the NICU instead. Therefore, the foundation to successfully breastfeeding your twins later down the road, is to first learn how to pump successfully. Many other moms of twins have done this before, and while there are some challenges to overcome, it’s completely doable!
“Will I have enough milk for my babies?” is a very common question, especially for moms of twins. It can be easy for people (even well-intending family and friends) to knock your confidence, when it comes to producing enough milk. Your best strategy to silence your inner critic and to create a generous milk supply is to thoroughly understand how milk production works. Breasts create more or less milk, depending on how frequently and efficiently they are emptied. So, the more often and the more thoroughly your breasts are emptied, the more quickly your body will replenish. Usually, it’s your babies’ job to empty your breasts and to tell your body how much milk to produce, but if things start off at the NICU then you’ll take charge of this yourself via pumping. If managed well you can get explosive results.
What kind of pump should I get?
While your NICU will provide you with a pump, you may still choose to buy one ahead of time or know where you can rent one in a jiffy, so you are also prepared for pumping at home. If you’re expecting twins, a hospital grade double-pump will cut your pumping time in half, because you’re emptying both breasts at the same time. That’s a huge time saver! When shopping for a pump, pay attention to reviews of other moms about how thoroughly the pump empties their breasts.
Pumps usually have a “Stimulating Phase”, which is a single setting that lightly stimulates your breast to trigger the milk flow. Once the “let down” happens and your milk begins to flow, you’ll switch the pump to “Expression Phase”. In this phase, you’ll be able to choose from several intensity levels. Don’t use the highest level when you first start pumping. Work your way up towards it, so you can get used to the higher settings more slowly. For the first few pumping sessions, start by pumping only one side at a time. You’ll learn how to handle the pump more easily and also have a free hand to massage your breast during pumping. Light massages and compressions can help ease breast engorgement, which is quite common in the early days. Later on, a pumping bra, will free up your hands, so you can enjoy a little mobility while pumping. By the way, do not do any pumping, while you are still pregnant, because stimulating your breasts towards the end of pregnancy can actually bring on your labor.
Where will I pump?
During my pregnancy, I always imagined spending the first couple of days of my baby’s life bonding in the privacy in our own hospital room together with my husband, with the occasional doctor, nurse, or close family member checking on us. NICU life is quite different. Your babies will likely be inside an incubator, in a large, open room together with several other babies. Our NICU had approximately 20 babies in the same room, with a nurse to baby ratio of 1:2. You’ll be sharing the room with the NICU staff, the other parents, as well as the visitors of other babies. The only means to create some privacy are mobile wall panels, that you can set up to create a “quiet corner”. Pumping bedside allows you to spend more time with your babies and also gives you an opportunity to ask the nurses for help if needed. If you’re having any difficulties, ask multiple nurses, because each nurse may have a different suggestion or solution. Also, take advantage of the hospital’s lactation consultant and discuss your progress with her as frequently as possible.
During busy visitor hours, you can seek out the “Mother’s Pumping Room”, which every NICU has. It’s probably not the fanciest of rooms, but it will give you some well-deserved privacy. During the night, you’ll be pumping either at your hospital room or at home. If you’re able to set up your pump beside the bed, you may be able to “rest” a little while pumping in bed. Just use some pillows to prop yourself up and get comfortable.
How often and how long should I pump?
Due to our delayed transfer to a different hospital, I didn’t get my hands on a pump until almost 16 hours after my son’s birth. Delaying pumping past 6 hours after birth is never recommended, but it goes to show that you can have success with pumping, even when things start out less than perfect. When I was finally handed a pump by a nurse in her early 20s, who undoubtedly had never pumped or breastfed herself, she told me “Here you go. Pump for 10 minutes on each side, every 3 hours”. So, off I went and started pumping, strictly abiding to her instructions. Once my milk came in more heavily, 10 minute pumping sessions weren’t nearly long enough to get the job done, leaving me completely engorged. At the time, I didn’t realize what my breasts should feel like during this stage. I had heard so much about how sore and uncomfortable women’s breasts get, so I figured this must be all part of it. I was so grateful, when a more experienced NICU nurse told me to keep pumping each side until my breasts were empty and felt “soft” again. No more of this 10 minute nonsense! Remember how important emptying your breasts frequently and thoroughly is for your supply? I quickly learnt that pumping more often than every 3 hours and emptying my breasts completely did wonders to my milk supply. So I aimed for more frequent pumping during the day, and stuck with a 3 hour routine during the night. Also, if one breast still feels heavier and lumpy in certain spots after pumping, there is still some milk left. It may indicate plugged ducts. Keep pumping, and massage the lumpy area, starting from the top working down towards the nipple. You may pump quite some time without any milk flow, when all of a sudden the duct unplugs and milk flows full force for a few seconds, until the duct is completely emptied.
Why is no milk coming?
Pumping during the first 3 days, can be mental torture. Sure its physically exhausting, but what’s even more difficult is staring at an empty bottle, session after session. It can be outright disheartening and cause moms to throw in the towel, saying “I literally had no milk!”. I remember panicking over this, too!
Generally, colostrum is produced over the first 3 days, followed by a noticeable increase in milk supply after day 3. That is textbook milk supply, though! If your story is different that’s completely OK. Multiple factors, can trigger delays in milk production, such as being a first time mom, large amounts of IV during labor, medications during labor, traumatic birth, c-section, long pushing stage, delay in pumping, and many more 1. I checked off at least 6 of these factors, which caused my milk to come in quite late. I still stuck to my pumping routine, remained focused, and was eventually able to exclusively feed my son with breastmilk. Know that under difficult circumstances, it may take over a week or two (even several weeks in severe cases) to slowly build up a full milk supply. If your twins are born quite prematurely, it may mean your breasts missed part of the growth period of late pregnancy, resulting in less milk producing tissue at birth 1. Again, frequent and thorough pumping, will help your breast tissue to continue to grow and develop after birth 1. Once you’ve done the hard work of developing your supply, you’ll reap the reward of watching your twins getting “milk drunk” on momma’s milk.
Almost no milk is coming!
When you finally start seeing a thick drop of colostrum slowly coming out of your nipple and running down the horn of your pump there is a good chance the precious drop will go completely to waste. Why? Because by the time it has made its way from the horn, through the pump’s valve, all the way down the inside of the bottle, it’s likely going to have dried right up. That’s why hand-expressing is usually more effective at this stage. Simply press a spoon or tiny cup tightly against your breast, just below your nipple. Use your other hand to compress and massage from just above and below your areola down towards your nipple. Ask a NICU nurse or a lactation consultant for help with this if you need any. They will also help you feed your colostrum to your babies. Always remember to still pump after hand-expressing to stimulate your production. It’s absolutely fine if no or almost no milk is released during your pumping sessions. You’re simply sending your body a message to start producing milk. Give it some time.
You may see other moms entering the pumping room after you and leaving before you, holding two 8 ounce bottles of milk, filled to the rim, while you’re struggling to create a single ounce. Instead of getting discouraged and being struck down with milk envy, try to remember that this mom has likely spent much more time at the NICU than you. Stay focused on your goal: Building a generous milk supply for your sweet babies.
Once the pump starts to express some milk, you may want to attach the pumping horn to your breast upside down, resulting in the bottle being held upside down as well. This shortens the path your milk has to travel, saving your precious milk right inside the pump’s horn, where you can syringe it out of later on. NICUs carry syringes in various sizes, and you’ll feel incredibly accomplished every time you move up a syringe size, because you’re supply has increased again.
What about supplementing?
While you are working very hard at boosting your milk production, your babies may still need some supplementing in the early days. Trust your NICU staff about when and how much to supplement. It was gut-wrenching for me, when my baby wasn’t getting enough milk and needed to be supplemented. I unnecessarily put myself through the ringer about not having enough milk. It’s completely okay and absolutely necessary in this situation to supplement! Formula or donor milk can be heaven-sent, and you should never feel guilty about having to supplement.
Skin to Skin or Kangaroo Care:
The first time, I walked up to my son at the NICU, I couldn’t help but start crying. I had kept it together pretty well up until that moment, but seeing him inside the incubator, with cords attached all over his tiny body, and feeling that physical barrier between us unhinged something deep inside of me. All I wanted to do was to finally touch him and hold him. Luckily our head nurse was a huge advocate of “skin to skin”. She helped us take him out of his incubator and placed him properly between my breasts, so he could breathe well and so that the cords weren’t getting caught anywhere.
“Skin to skin” is also known as “Kangaroo Care” and has too many wonderful benefits to name them all. Honestly, we probably haven’t even discovered all of the incredible things it does for moms and their babies. Immediate benefits are stabilizing of babies’ breathing, sugar levels, heart rate, and temperature2. It is soothing to babies, and there are suggestions that it improves babies’ sleep cycles. Mothers feel more empowered and needed by their babies. It lessens the stress load and makes new moms more responsive to their babies’ cues. Most amazingly it is proven to increase the prolactin level in mothers, which is the hormone responsible for helping your body make milk2. So, skin to skin is absolutely wonderful for you, your babies, and for boosting your milk supply. A great time for skin to skin is after you’ve fed your babies. Go braless and have your babies wear nothing except their diapers. Be sure to ask the nurses to help you with placing the twins on your chest and placing pillows below & beside your elbows to help you relax your arms. Also, have them place a blanked over your babies backs to keep them warm. Tucking the blanket around your back will also help keeping your babies more securely on your chest. Dad can join in on the fun too, of course!
One last piece of advice: “Be patient with yourself. Be good to yourself. Be gentle with yourself.” This may be one of the more challenging and exhausting situation you’ll ever work through in your life. Don’t allow yourself or anybody around you to guilt you in any way, regardless of the path you choose. Your babies most and foremost need a strong mom. You may be struggling with a certain aspect of pumping or the NICU one day, and the next day you may have the most incredible moment with your babies erasing all the stress around you for a quick moment. Take it one day at a time, and you’ll do a wonderful job at handling pumping, the NICU, and eventually breastfeeding as well. But most importantly you’ll do a wonderful job being there for your sweet babies.
My daughter has always meant The World to me, and I was more than content with one baby for some time. Of course, when I did finally come round to the idea of ‘just one more’, we were surprised by twins, so Mother Nature had her own plans. I went from mom-of-one to mom-of-three overnight, which has been more of an adjustment than expected. My mother and mother-in-law have both since requested a set of girl/girl twins… er, no. We all have a soft spot for the big round belly and those newborn snuggles, but when is the right time to stop? How many kids is too many?
Why Three Kids Is Not the Magic Number
A few years ago, the press went mad for a survey from Today.com that claimed ‘three is the magic number… for stress’. According to the survey of 7,000 US moms, once you get to three you should just keep going to pass ‘the critical mass of kids’. The trouble with three, it seems, is that as moms we are still striving to do it all, and we can’t. We still want our kids to attend multiple play dates and activities; we still want to supervise homework, tell bedtime stories, and spend one-on-one time with each child. That’s a lot of time and pressure when there’s three of them.
‘“There’s just not enough space in your head” for perfectionism when you get to four or more kids.’ (Dr. Janet Taylor. Today.com)
It’s reported, when you get to four, you can just relax. Your previous level of momming just isn’t sustainable, so you can just breathe and let things slide a little… in a good way. I think it’s a sound theory but it’s quite the leap of faith – are you willing to put it to the test?
Going from One to Three
I can’t tell you much about having two kids, because we skipped that part. I can tell you the difference between having one and having three… there are two more of them, and only one of you. There’s a conceptual difficulty in being outnumbered, and when you have more kids than you do hands, mild panic is expected. As a twin mom, I have the advantage of two of my children doing (almost) the same thing at the same time, but with three young children of different ages, I can imagine you could do with a few extra limbs.
Before kids, I imagined once the baby seal was broken, the number of kids you have is a financial decision; because your career and social life are already over, so why not just pop a few more? In reality, life with three is considerably different to life with one – here are just a few reasons why:
When we walk into a restaurant the staff look at us in horror… so do the other diners;
When you need to fit three car seats you have to drive a bus;
You become aware of your monthly milk budget;
Your selection of vacation hotels becomes dramatically reduced;
The dog gets ostracized;
Despite the above, you love every one of those little nuggets like you did your first, so who care’s if you never see the inside of a luxury hotel again?
If Three Is Critical Mass, How Big Do Some Families Get?
The Duggar family of the hit show ’19 and Counting’ have shown the world that bigger is better, to the extreme. You may wonder how one affords to feed that many kids, but they did make $45,000 an episode. So I suppose you just have to make enough babies to get yourself on TV, and live off cabbage soup in the meantime.
The Duggar family are a drop in the ocean compared to the biggest families recorded in history. The most babies birthed by a single mother is reported to be a staggering 69, including 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. The Vassilyev family records are questionable to say the least, and there are a number of conflicting reports that there was more than one mother involved. Let’s hope so, for her sake.
The largest family in the World is that of Indian polygamist Ziona Chana. He has 30 wives, 94 children, and lives in a four storey, 100 room house. You might wonder how he found 30 wives? Is he the most desirable man alive? Well, he runs a polygamist sect, which helps… top tip if you’re struggling to find love. For more on him and his family, including a photo of his ‘house’, check out the Daily Mail.
That fourth child isn’t looking so ridiculous now, is it?
How Many Families Break into Minivan Territory?
When I lived in the UK, the idea of anyone having four children was frankly absurd… you’ve got to be joking… or extremely rich with staff to do the hard work for you. However, when we moved to Texas in 2014, I was alarmed to discover a Land filled with enormous SUVs and minivans. More than that, they were filled with tribes of children, and twins… so many twins. You very rarely see twins in England; what are they putting in the water over here? I remember eaves dropping on a conversation at dance class between two moms, who were both adamant that despite their husbands protests, they were going have the four babies they’ve always wanted. As time went on I soon realized, in Texas you really aren’t a real mom until you’ve had four children pass through your vagina. And if you have a C-Section you must have a fifth to make up for it too… VBACs are all the rage now, don’t you know?
Despite the Texan’s passion for everything big, it seems the rest of the country has shied away from the minivan scale family. Pre 1970, the 4+ kid family was the fashion, however since then two has become the magic number for most. Two was my magic number, but would I change a thing? Of course not… I never was much of a conformist after all.
Is Having a Large Family Irresponsible?
There is a certain Taboo about going XL on family. People might presume:
You’re part of a polygamist sect;
You’re doing it for the State benefits;
You don’t understand the concept of contraception;
You’re taking advantage of child labour;
You’re striving for celebrity status;
Aside from the public judgement of our personal choices, there is an army of people that feel very concerned about the World population crisis. Do we have the resources to sustain us all? How are our children’s children going do deal with over population? It’s true, the World is bursting at the seams, and those of you in your fifties have seen a doubling in the World’s population. However, population growth has decreased considerably, with a peak in the 1960’s. There are a lot of us, but we are slowly becoming naturally squeezed, as the trend for smaller families and contraception education in developing countries continues.
So, How Many Kids is Too Many?
It is impossible to give a quantitive answer to this question. In reality, if you have the support, finances and general health to birth a tribe, go for it. Just be aware that if you have a fourth and life becomes easier than when you had three, what’s going to stop you from another and another? Be prepared to go XL.
Because I like to offer a little advice, I’ve come up with a check list quiz, see how you do:
The Twin Pickle ‘How Many Kids Is Too Many?’ Extremely Scientific Quiz:
How many of these statements would you agree with?
I always pictured myself with a large family;
I love being pregnant;
My perfect holiday involves camping;
I’m always chill, why is everyone so stressed?
Cooking is my hobby;
I am an expert budgeteer;
I don’t care what strangers think of me;
I’m a morning person;
I hate being alone;
I don’t understand the Tiny House movement;
If you agree with 7-10 statements you have not yet finished having babies, come back and read again once you’ve popped at least three more. If you agree with 3-6 statements you’re at your happy place, stop making babies and enjoy what you have. Unfortunately, those agreeing with 0-3 statements have reached ‘critical mass’… maybe you have three children? You either neither to learn to relax, or take the plunge and make just one more.
I myself and going to remain at critical mass. Three is plenty, so don’t go getting all excited when you read this Mom…